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What is a characteristic?

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This concept appears everywhere in Objectivist litterature but I can´t find a definition for it from any Objectivists.

So could you help me understand it better?

I understand what an attribute is. It´s an entity viewed from a certain perspective. It´s an existent which can´t exist by itself but as an aspect of an entity. Now this is pretty much the working definition I´ve been using when reading the word "characteristic" but I´m starting to realize it´s used for a reason, i.e it isn´t a precise synonym for "attribute", so what does it mean?

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This concept appears everywhere in Objectivist litterature but I can´t find a definition for it from any Objectivists.

So could you help me understand it better?

I understand what an attribute is. It´s an entity viewed from a certain perspective. It´s an existent which can´t exist by itself but as an aspect of an entity. Now this is pretty much the working definition I´ve been using when reading the word "characteristic" but I´m starting to realize it´s used for a reason, i.e it isn´t a precise synonym for "attribute", so what does it mean?

I'm not super versed, so take my reply with a grain of salt, I may be wrong so I'll learn something too.

I've always taken it to mean that an attribute is like a part of an abstraction, like a leg is part of a man. A characteristic is something very particular to one man to further the example. Please correct me anyone if I'm wrong... but that's how I've always read it.

Asher

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This concept appears everywhere in Objectivist litterature but I can´t find a definition for it from any Objectivists.

So could you help me understand it better?

I understand what an attribute is. It´s an entity viewed from a certain perspective. It´s an existent which can´t exist by itself but as an aspect of an entity. Now this is pretty much the working definition I´ve been using when reading the word "characteristic" but I´m starting to realize it´s used for a reason, i.e it isn´t a precise synonym for "attribute", so what does it mean?

Several works ago, I started compiling every appearance of "characteristic" in Rand's works. So far, I've only gotten through "concept formation" in ITOE before I lost interest to more pressing matters.

Then I paraphrased the contexts of those appearances.

Here's what I figured out based on the chapter on "Concept Formation":

  • Characteristics can be used to isolate units.
  • Definitions specify and retain the distinctive characteristics.
  • Existents can have the same characteristics in different measures or degree.
  • Differentiations are made in terms of characteristics possessing a common unit of measurement.
  • Distinguishing characteristics represent a specified category of measurements.
  • Concepts of adverbs are formed by specifying a characteristic and omitting measurements of the action and of the netities involved--e.g. "rapidly" which may be applied to "walking", "swimming", "speaking".

Would you be willing to do something similar for chapter 3 and chapter 4?

I think we can help each other out.

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When we form a concept, we isolate its units by grasping a distinguishing characteristic. In the definition, this becomes what the medieval Aristotelians called the differentia. Further, we can differentiate only on the basis of a wider characteristic, the CCD, which is shared both by the concretes we are isolating and by the concretes from which we are isolating them. In the definition, this gives rise to the genus.
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Dreamweaver, yesterday: "When we form a concept, we isolate its units by grasping a distinguishing characteristic. In the definition, this becomes what the medieval Aristotelians called the differentia. Further, we can differentiate only on the basis of a wider characteristic, the CCD, which is shared both by the concretes we are isolating and by the concretes from which we are isolating them. In the definition, this gives rise to the genus."

Surely there is an error in this--a typo? The differentia ("rational" in "rational animal,") is not shared both by the concretes we are isolating and by the concretes from which we are isolating them! This seems to say we differentiate man from wolves by their both being animals...

-- Mindy

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No Mindy that´s a correct quote.

You said:

This seems to say we differentiate man from wolves by their both being animals...

We do! Wolves and Men are different kinds of animals. That´s how we know they are different in our context. Thought experiment: You could say we know they´re different because one has fur and the other doesn´t. But that´s to ignore the fact that we identify these things in an adult context, and a distinction based on fur is not sufficient to separate the two. (Ever heard about a disease some people have that makes them covered in fur? (Hypertrichosis), or ever heard about animals having a disease that makes them lose their fur (Alopecia)? Does that change the essential nature of the animal?)

The essential difference between men and wolves is that one has a very special conciousness while the other doesn´t. Other things differ too, but that is the most essential differece which serves to separate them even in the broadest context, so that you can identify them when and if you see them, despite for example diseases.

We differentiate them on the basis of their conciousness. And conciousness presupposes that they are both animals.

The differentia ("rational" in "rational animal,") is not shared both by the concretes we are isolating and by the concretes from which we are isolating them!

This I don´t really kow the answer to but my guess is that it´s correct. Because how would you otherwise come up with the concept "man"? There would then have to be some other thing with rationality to differentiate from. No, men are differentiated from animals because they themselves are animals with an additional very unique distinguishing characteristic.

(I just wanted to add that of course we start out by recognizing that men and wolves are different because of fur and shape and so on. And then later we build on that distinction between them when we find even more differences. So no, we don´t know from the beginning that wolves and men are different because they are both animals - but we do so now. context!)

Edited by patrik 7-2321
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I found something useful:

Page 15 ITOE:

"Attributes cannot exist by themselves, they are merely the characteristics of entities; ..."

So if you were to define "attribute" the genus would be "characteristic". A connection between the two at least.

The genus of Conceptual Common Denominator is also "characteristic".

That makes attributes and CCD siblings, though "attribute" has a metaphysical character (as attributes are attributes of entities) while CCD is most definitely epistemological.

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Since the search-function is now back: I could find this thread called Properties and Characteristics

In there Grames defines "characteristic" as a Dynamic and relational attribute.

I can add that I take "relational" to mean something that exists because of a relationship between entities.

(Definition from "thefreedictionary.com" Relational(adj): Of or arising from kinship)

And "dynamic" is something that changes.

(Definition from "thefreedictionary.com" Dynamic(adj): Of or relating to energy or to objects in motion)

So in other words a characteristic is an attribute which exists because of; and changes according to; a relationship.

Thoughts on this?

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Dreamweaver, July 31: When we form a concept, we isolate its units by grasping a distinguishing characteristic. In the definition, this becomes what the medieval Aristotelians called the differentia. Further, we can differentiate only on the basis of a wider characteristic, the CCD, which is shared both by the concretes we are isolating and by the concretes from which we are isolating them. In the definition, this gives rise to the genus.

I assume this is your own statement, but either way: We do not differentiate men from wolves on the basis of their both being animals. That is what you say, "...we can differentiate only on the basis of a wider characteristic..." The wider characteristic is "animal," but clearly, we do not differentiate on that basis.

If you mean that since they are all animals, we differentiate them on the basis of what kind of animals they are...just a guess, you are assuming the thing you wish to explain.

Mindy

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Actually, in post #5, it was attributed to OPAR.

The context is that of seeking an explaination of how 'characteristic' is defined within Objectivism.

In this example, characteristic is used in two contexts, the distinguishing characteristic(s) we use more often to identify differnces with, and the wider characteristic(s) we would use to integrate commonalities with.

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Actually, in post #5, it was attributed to OPAR.

The context is that of seeking an explaination of how 'characteristic' is defined within Objectivism.

In this example, characteristic is used in two contexts, the distinguishing characteristic(s) we use more often to identify differnces with, and the wider characteristic(s) we would use to integrate commonalities with.

Those are only nominally different contexts. "Characteristic" has the identical meaning in both, as an enduring partial identity of things.

When we say, "It is characteristic of him to be late," we are using "characteristic" in a somewhat different sense than as a differentia, in your statements. Notice the difference between "It is a characteristic of him, being late." versus "It is characteristic of him..."

Why do you assume "characteristic" means anything special in Objectivism? I read the posts, but the introductory one just assumes there is a special meaning.

Mindy

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Why do you assume "characteristic" means anything special in Objectivism?

Objectivism is all about definitions. A word as commonly used by Ayn Rand as "characteristic" surely can´t be without definition. Because if that was the case, the philosophy would collapse like a house of cards. And I don´t think that is likely.

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Objectivism is all about definitions. A word as commonly used by Ayn Rand as "characteristic" surely can´t be without definition. Because if that was the case, the philosophy would collapse like a house of cards. And I don´t think that is likely.

The word in question has long been defined. It would be very odd if it needed re-definition. Notice that a re-definition would disintegrate knowledge, as "characteristic" is a perfectly good, useful, well-defined term in the first place. It has been an important part of many important philosophical discussions and treatises. They would be rendered incomprehensible if the meaning of the term were changed. How atypical it would be for a thinker such as Rand to just take that term and re-define it.

Her use of the term, "selfishness" is undoubtedly the most notable example of this. But even in that case, she actually returned to the roots of the term, and showed that it had become corrupted by ideologies attempting to blind men to their own self-interests.

Mindy

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Perhaps you could enlighten me on this self-evident definition instead of hijacking the thread?

Btw. I´m not interested in "society´s definition" as I already pointed out, I´m interested in Ayn Rand´s (or the Objectivist) definition.

Edited by patrik 7-2321
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Perhaps you could enlighten me on this self-evident definition instead of hijacking the thread?

Btw. I´m not interested in "society´s definition" as I already pointed out, I´m interested in Ayn Rand´s (or the Objectivist) definition.

Try looking it up.

Objectivism, and philosophy in general, don't enlighten us by re-defining things.

Mindy

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I just have to correct myself on the definition of attribute. (What I said in post #4)

ITOE p. 276: "If the question is: "What is the CCD for the concept ‘attribute’?" the answer is: "entity." "

ITOE p. 41: "The distinguishing characteristic(s) of the units becomes the differentia of the concept's definition; the existents possessing a "Conceptual Common Deoniminator" become the genus."

That means the genus of "attribute" is "entity". But the differentia can vary in different passages:

ITOE p. 15: "Attributes cannot exist by themselves, they are merely the characteristics of entities; ..."

ITOE pg. 266: "When you form concepts of attributes, all you have done, if you are precise about it, is to have mentally stated, "By ’length’ I mean a certain aspect of an existing entity,[...]" My brackets.

So attribute can be defined either as "A characteristic of an entity" or "An aspect of an entity".

Adding further:

It is a metaphysical concept as is evident from the discussion "Attributes as Metaphysical" ITOE pg. 277.

(i.e. an attribute is not something epistemological, only to do with the way in which we know)

Edited by patrik 7-2321
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Concluding this thread: characteristic is the most fundamental term for naming anything about an entity. On par in terms of being fundamental must be the term "aspect", since that means essentially "A way in which something can be viewed by the mind".

I take characteristic to mean any aspect, or any unit, of an identity.

And attribute, in contrast, must simply mean "distinguishing characteristic", a characteristic that makes the thing stand out. I get that from this ITOE quote:

ITOE pg. 15: “In the process of forming concepts of entities, a child´s mind has to focus on a distinguishing characteristic –i.e., on an attribute – in order to isolate one group of entities from all others.”

There.

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Concluding this thread: characteristic is the most fundamental term for naming anything about an entity. On par in terms of being fundamental must be the term "aspect", since that means essentially "A way in which something can be viewed by the mind".

I take characteristic to mean any aspect, or any unit, of an identity.

And attribute, in contrast, must simply mean "distinguishing characteristic", a characteristic that makes the thing stand out. I get that from this ITOE quote:

There.

Attribute,characteristic and aspect are all synonyms. You could substitute one in all the quotes you posted for the other and say the same exact thing.

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I know, but.

Why did Ayn use those words following each other as in when she said somethig like "attributes and characteristics"? It has slightly different "meaning" although you can't really call it that, different perspectives I should say.

I know that concepts with the same referents are differentiated differently when formed. The point of this thread was to differentiate them from one another because I hadn't done that.

Edited by patrik 7-2321
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