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# The nature of concepts.

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"A concept is a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted." -ITOE

A concept thus is a mental integration. But what does Ayn Rand mean here by mental integration?

If we take mental integration here to mean the process by which you integrate existents into concepts (the verb) then that makes a concept a process. But, as she says later in the Appendix: a concept is not a process.

So, simply, this is my confusion (based on what what people have been telling me in the chat):

Concept = Mental Integration = A Process

But Concept =/= A Process

What's the solution?

There has to be some meaning to the word "integration", as a noun, in the definition of what a concept is in ITOE. What is that meaning? What is a mental integration?

Edited by patrik 7-2321
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You are equivocating on "integration". She said "a concept is a mental integration", not "a concept is mental integration."

It is similar to the mathematical use of the word. You "integrate" by adding up the numbers, and the result - the sum - is the "integration". Integrating (or integration) is the process, and the integration is the resulting sum. Likewise, the conceptual level does the processing, and the result is the concept.

If English is not your first language, then I can understand how easy this mistake is to make.

Edited by brian0918
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"the integration is the resulting sum"

But what is that? That's what I'm asking.

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"the integration is the resulting sum"

But what is that? That's what I'm asking.

Integration is finding the one in the many. It is the reduction of a multiplicity by finding the essence which is singular. It is turning / and / together into "2" as opposed to simply //.

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But what is that? That's what I'm asking.
It is something in the mind. I guess the genus would be "mental construct" or "idea".
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"Integration" is ambiguous in English, since it refers both to the process and the product of the process. Sometimes there are separate words, for example "addition", for which there is a separate word "sum" that refers to the product of the process as applied to numbers (but for non-numeric "products" we still call the product "an addition").

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Since I did, I don't understand the question. Are you asking an psychological question about the nature of "concepts" in humans, that is, what the neural underpinnings of "concepts" are? Nobody knows the answer to that. Rand's identification as "a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted" is as precise as you can get, philosophically speaking. In light of the ambiguity of the word "integration", you could re-state the definition as "the product of mentally integrating two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted". Does that help?
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An integration is a thing, but it is a thing that exists in the mind. A concept is a thing that exists in the mind.

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This discussion highlights a difficulty Rand expressed on the topic of the ontological status of concepts and how to express this. I see this as a problem with the definition of entity / object.

Prof. F: Okay, taking concepts, therefore, as entities: they do not have spatial location, do they?

AR: No, I have said they are mental entities.

Prof. A: When you say a concept is a mental entity, you don't mean "entity" in the sense that a man is an entity, do you?

AR: I mean it in the same sense in which I mean a thought, an emotion, or a memory is an entity, a mental entity—or put it this way: a phenomenon of consciousness........................

Prof. E: Would it be fair to say that a concept qua concept is not a concrete but an integration of concretes, but qua existent it is a concrete integration, a specific mental entity in a particular mind?

AR: That's right. But I kept saying, incidentally, that we can call them "mental entities" only metaphorically or for convenience. It is a "something." For instance, before you have a certain concept, that particular something doesn't exist in your mind. When you have formed the concept of "concept," that is a mental something; it isn't a nothing. But anything pertaining to the content of a mind always has to be treated metaphysically not as a separate existent, but only with this precondition, in effect: that it is a mental state, a mental concrete, a mental something. Actually, "mental something" is the nearest to an exact identification. Because "entity" does imply a physical thing. Nevertheless, since "something" is too vague a term, one can use the word "entity," but only to say that it is a mental something as distinguished from other mental somethings (or from nothing). But it isn't an entity in the primary, Aristotelian sense in which a primary substance exists.

We have to agree here on the terminology, because we <ioe2_158> are dealing with a very difficult subject for which no clear definitions have been established. I personally would like to have a new word for it, but I am against neologisms. Therefore I think the term "mental unit" or "mental entity" can be used, provided we understand by that: "a mental something."

EDIT: I mentioned this because I see it as the source of some tricky equivocations.

Edited by Plasmatic
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Since I did, I don't understand the question. Are you asking an psychological question about the nature of "concepts" in humans, that is, what the neural underpinnings of "concepts" are? Nobody knows the answer to that. Rand's identification as "a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted" is as precise as you can get, philosophically speaking. In light of the ambiguity of the word "integration", you could re-state the definition as "the product of mentally integrating two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted". Does that help?

No not all the way.

I'm essentially asking: what is that product and how do I locate it? (Or see/identify/become aware of it.)

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I'm essentially asking: what is that product and how do I locate it? (Or see/identify/become aware of it.)
You can't locate a concept because it isn't tangible, it is a mental object. But you can become aware of and understand the nature of concepts by looking at specific concepts (cat, snake, river, word, emulsion, furniture, fact, proposition, contradiction etc). Unless you are asking about the physical nature of the human mind and specifically that which corresponds to "concept", I don't see what more there is to know about concepts.
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No not all the way.

I'm essentially asking: what is that product and how do I locate it? (Or see/identify/become aware of it.)

The product is the word designating the concept. You locate it by introspection.

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Let me put it this way then.

(Btw. I'm not interested in any physiological aspects of concepts at this point)

How do you know that what you are dealing with, when you use words, are concepts the way Rand saw them and not just a random hash of memories and emotions?

I just want to know whether I'm understanding her correctly. Up until now I've been reading ITOE thinking that I "kinda know" what she meant by "Mental Integration" and "Blending of units" but now I want to get it more precisely.

Now I think of it like this:

The product of concept-formation is a "mental state" (From the appendix, ITOE), a phenomenon of conciousness, or simply something that you are aware of in your mind as a unit of some sort.

And that something is what we use words to represent. It is like giving a name to a similarity itself, after having seen it in two or more units.

So forming a concept is like giving a name to a similarity, a certain regognition that you've made (of quantitative differences within a range, with measurements omitted), and retaining and using that recognition by means of a word and definition. So it can also be said to be like storing, in your memory, similarities which you've obvserved in reality. So a concept is like a stored past observation(s). The product of concept-formation must thus be a type of stored observation which you can access in your memory and handle like a unit, and apply to reality (and to introspection) properly whenever that type of observation is made again.

Do you veterans agree here or do you see some fatal flaw in my description of what a concept is?

Edited by patrik 7-2321
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Let me put it this way then.

(Btw. I'm not interested in any physiological aspects of concepts at this point)

How do you know that what you are dealing with, when you use words, are concepts the way Rand saw them and not just a random hash of memories and emotions?

I just want to know whether I'm understanding her correctly. Up until now I've been reading ITOE thinking that I "kinda know" what she meant by "Mental Integration" and "Blending of units" but now I want to get it more precisely.

Now I think of it like this:

The product of concept-formation is a "mental state" (From the appendix, ITOE), a phenomenon of conciousness, or simply something that you are aware of in your mind as a unit of some sort.

And that something is what we use words to represent. It is like giving a name to a similarity itself, after having seen it in two or more units.

So forming a concept is like giving a name to a similarity, a certain regognition that you've made (of quantitative differences within a range, with measurements omitted), and retaining and using that recognition by means of a word and definition. So it can also be said to be like storing, in your memory, similarities which you've obvserved in reality. So a concept is like a stored past observation(s). The product of concept-formation must thus be a type of stored observation which you can access in your memory and handle like a unit, and apply to reality (and to introspection) properly whenever that type of observation is made again.

Do you veterans agree here or do you see some fatal flaw in my description of what a concept is?

Another resource you may consider to expand your comprehension of 'concept' and/or 'knowledge, as a product' is Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. Understanding that 'a concept is a mental integration of two or more units which are isolated according to a specific characteristic(s) and united by a specific definition' where units are the observed concretes also serves as an example of knowledge, being the product of analysing 'concept' and isolating what its 'specific charactistics' are, and the italicized portion serving as its 'specific definition'.

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Let me put it this way then.

(Btw. I'm not interested in any physiological aspects of concepts at this point)

How do you know that what you are dealing with, when you use words, are concepts the way Rand saw them and not just a random hash of memories and emotions?

One can introspect and observe the differences. One can point to the entities in the external world and see the similarities and differences.

I just want to know whether I'm understanding her correctly. Up until now I've been reading ITOE thinking that I "kinda know" what she meant by "Mental Integration" and "Blending of units" but now I want to get it more precisely.

Now I think of it like this:

The product of concept-formation is a "mental state" (From the appendix, ITOE), a phenomenon of conciousness, or simply something that you are aware of in your mind as a unit of some sort.

You are aware of it as distinct from other aspects of consciousness. I wouldn't say that the product of concept formation is a "mental state". That sounds vague. The "word" that designates the concept is a distinct concrete, like any word on this post is a distinct concrete symbol.

And that something is what we use words to represent. It is like giving a name to a similarity itself, after having seen it in two or more units.

It is giving a name to those entities that share a certain similarity in a specific characteristic. The concept does not designate the similarity, it designates the entities that share the similar characteristic.

So forming a concept is like giving a name to a similarity, a certain regognition that you've made (of quantitative differences within a range, with measurements omitted), and retaining and using that recognition by means of a word and definition.

Yes, and it represents the entity, not the similarity.

So it can also be said to be like storing, in your memory, similarities which you've obvserved in reality. So a concept is like a stored past observation(s). The product of concept-formation must thus be a type of stored observation which you can access in your memory and handle like a unit, and apply to reality (and to introspection) properly whenever that type of observation is made again.

Do you veterans agree here or do you see some fatal flaw in my description of what a concept is?

You've stored in your mind similarities of entities which you've observed in reality. Dogs and chairs have 4 legs, but one does not have a concept for such similarities of those entities. I agree to the extent that you apply the rules for grouping similarities and concept formation as defined in ITOE. You do not just observe similarities and form concepts without regard to the nature of the entities and the cognitive role of concept formation.

Many kinds of existents are integrated into concepts and represented by special words, but many others are not and are identified only by means of verbal descriptions. What determines man's decision to integrate a given group of existents into a concept? The requirements of cognition (and the principle of unit-economy).

(ITOE, Chap 7, The Obj. Research CD)
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How do you know that what you are dealing with, when you use words, are concepts the way Rand saw them and not just a random hash of memories and emotions?
A more direct way to put that is "how do you know that concepts are as Rand described them, and not just a random hash of memories and emotions?". Well, what you do is see what would be the case if the alternative is right. The main consequence of concepts being "random hash" is that there could never be agreement as to what things are, and you could never predict how an object would be names when you see it. You could see cow1, cow2, sheep1, fish1, bridge1 and knife1 and call them "cow", you'd call sheep2, sheep3, bridge2 and knife2 "goat", and you'd call fish2 and knife3 "milk". I would see cow1, sheep3, fish2, and bridge1 and call them "cow", I'd call cow2, sheep2, and knife1 'reindeer', fish2, and knife3 "goat", and bridge2 and knife2 "milk". Were I to see a new cow or a new knife, there's no way to predict what I'd call it, and very little change that we would agree on what to call it. In other words, the alternative is so bizarre (thus, so clearly false) that you can't even imagine the world being that way.

I don't see anything in your description of concepts that strikes me as wrong.

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There are certainly invalid concepts that people hold onto, especially at more abstract levels - e.g. "justice", "love", "freedom". The invalid concepts that many people attach to these words can be shown to be grounded on arbitrary whim, emotionalism, mysticism, etc, and rejected as such.

Edited by brian0918
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Since we are empiricists, we classify mental contents, most broadly, as effects of the impact of sensory energy on our senses. Hearing a sound is being affected by the reverberatory energy of, e.g., the slamming of a door. Seeing a blue ball is the effect of the impingement on the eye of certain wavelengths of light (leaving out contextual factors.)

Since perception is the primary level of consciousness, our sensory effects have been processed by the brain, and turned into a different rate/pattern of brain activity. The relation between the sensory energy that impinges on our sense organs and the primary level of consciousness of objects remains in part a mystery. I suggest the best way of conceiving of it is in terms used by Gibson's theory of perception, which is basically that there are invariances in the ambient sensible energy, and we extract those invariances in perceiving.

This means the genus of the "integration" of sensory information into perceptual is "effect." (The genus of the verbal form is "processing." Sense organs are affected by ambient energy. Those effects are transduced and propagated by the brain, so they might as well still be called "effects." Alternatively, we could say simply that they are "conditions" of the nervous system, where "condition" doesn't only regard states, but such activity as propagation (one nerve causing another to fire, and so on.)

The integration operates on effects, and produces different, but related effects on/within the brain. Notice that the propagation of peripheral (sensory) effects keeps them in existence beyond the incident of sensation. It also moves them centrally, and permits interactions among indivdual such effects.

I did mark that you didn't want an answer in terms of physical factors, but I believe it is only an explanation of this sort that could prove satisfactory.

-- Mindy

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Since we are empiricists,

Not true. Although Empiricism grants that the real world exists and so does Objectivism, Empiricism disavows the conceptual level of functioning so an empiricist explaining how concepts work is just impossible.

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Not true. Although Empiricism grants that the real world exists and so does Objectivism, Empiricism disavows the conceptual level of functioning so an empiricist explaining how concepts work is just impossible.

I thought I might need to qualify that. The original idea of empiricism is that all knowledge and information comes to us, in its original form, through the senses. The implication that has for a theory of universals, the process of concept-formation, propositional meaning and criteria of truth, etc., etc. has been construed in error, and in different ways, by different thinkers, some of who continue to call themselves "Empiricists," and some who use other terms.

My reference to empiricism is only to the original idea, saying all knowledge originates in sensory experience. Does that satisfy?

-- Mindy

Edited by Mindy
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Let me put it this way then.

(Btw. I'm not interested in any physiological aspects of concepts at this point)

How do you know that what you are dealing with, when you use words, are concepts the way Rand saw them and not just a random hash of memories and emotions?

First point: The only way to tell the difference between the two possibilities is to reduce the concept back down into what it refers to. If you find that it refers to a random hash of memories and emotions, then that is what it is. If it refers to some set of existents that can be distinguished from other existents and share a common similarity, then that is what it is.

Second point: Rand describes valid concepts, correctly formed concepts as opposed to other badly formed concepts. Both kinds of concepts exist, but one kind is better than the other. Epistemology is normative not merely descriptive.

I just want to know whether I'm understanding her correctly. Up until now I've been reading ITOE thinking that I "kinda know" what she meant by "Mental Integration" and "Blending of units" but now I want to get it more precisely.

Now I think of it like this:

The product of concept-formation is a "mental state" (From the appendix, ITOE), a phenomenon of conciousness, or simply something that you are aware of in your mind as a unit of some sort.

And that something is what we use words to represent. It is like giving a name to a similarity itself, after having seen it in two or more units.

So forming a concept is like giving a name to a similarity, a certain regognition that you've made (of quantitative differences within a range, with measurements omitted), and retaining and using that recognition by means of a word and definition. So it can also be said to be like storing, in your memory, similarities which you've obvserved in reality. So a concept is like a stored past observation(s). The product of concept-formation must thus be a type of stored observation which you can access in your memory and handle like a unit, and apply to reality (and to introspection) properly whenever that type of observation is made again.

Do you veterans agree here or do you see some fatal flaw in my description of what a concept is?

That is pretty good, although it does not attempt to distinguish which similarities can validly be the basis for concept formation and which not. Noting differences is just as vital to concept formation.

{not a transcipt}

Lecture II Thought as Integration - Hierarchy

Define integration

Gives examples of integration

Cover hierarchical reduction in depth

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My reference to empiricism is only to the original idea, saying all knowledge originates in sensory experience. Does that satisfy?

-- Mindy

Completely.

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Ok thanks for the advice all of you. I have a better idea of what a concept is now.

Second point: Rand describes valid concepts, correctly formed concepts as opposed to other badly formed concepts. Both kinds of concepts exist, but one kind is better than the other. Epistemology is normative not merely descriptive.

I'm interested in this. Would an example of a bad concept be like Peikoff's encirclist-example in OPAR? It is properly a concept, but it's a bad concept, because it's integrated by non-essentials(?). I don't quite understand what is meant by a 'non-essential' btw. if someone wants to explain that. The explanations avaliable are quite vague on that point. I personally don't think the term "encirclist" that LP describes is TOTALLY crazy, I wonder why I don't and he does...

And a new question:

I don't understand the comparison between concept-formation and algebra that appears in both OPAR and ITOE. It is said to be "more than a mere comparison" but I can't see how it is.

An algebraic equation represents a quantitative a relationship between variables. A concept represents entities of a certain kind. Where's the grandiose connection here?

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An example of an invalid concept is "square-circle". The characteristics of the shapes round and square are incommensurate and cannot be united in a unit. Note that this is NOT simply because the definitions of each are prohibitive to this. Of course a proper definition will reflect the facts/referents the concept was induced from but it is a mistake for one to think it's only a matter of defintions apart from perceptual data.

Edited by Plasmatic

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