Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

The Logical Leap by David Harriman


Recommended Posts

I have not read this book but if this is what the book outlines then I don't see this as anything novel or revolutionary. This is how scientific method looks like in practice and when things can be directly measured scientists apply this process every day without much difficulty. The method has not been under dispute.

The method you consider as taken for granted has never been considered philosophically justified, so in a sense has been under dispute. Because physicists and mathematicians and all varieties of applied science could appeal to reality for validation so much more easily than politicians and philosophers, they have been privileged to blow off their doubters and proceed with their work.

Harriman's book does differ from Peikoff's lecture course in its emphasis. Harriman's book ends on the declaration "Physics is dead—long live physics!" Peikoff's course ends on "The philosophies of the past, the philosophies that created the problem of induction, are dead. Long live philosophy, the science of philosophy, the inductive science of philosophy." Peikoff spends the last two lectures (out of seven) explaining the role of induction in philosophy, and how philosophy actually is scientific without being mathematical.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My reading of McCaskey's review on Amazon was that his point wasn't that Harriman's theory was bad or something. Remember, "inchoate" means "incomplete", which is possible (I haven't yet finished the book, plan to this week). McCaskey was saying that scientist's don't do things as cleanly as Harriman suggests, and that often they come up with an ill-formed preliminary concept to get them by and develop their theory a bit more, and as they are working they then refine the concept, and then the theory, and on and on (sometimes this happens over decades and centuries), and that finally the concept and theory will be finalized. McCaskey argues that one should take this spiraling feature of the process by which scientists perform induction into account.

Indeed, earlier in the thread, one saw examples of previous philosophers ideas about how concept-formation and induction were related. They got close, but their concept of "concept" wasn't quite right yet, and finally when Rand formed the correct one, then a proper theory of induction based on concept-formation became possible. This is an example of exactly what McCaskey's review and criticism is about: induction usually progresses by a rudimentary ill-formed sort of concept which enables a theory, and then proceeds as a process of refinement (at least in the more advanced areas of science, as opposed to, perhaps, typing words on a computer). McCaskey thinks that Harriman's book (and/or his theory of induction) is incomplete because according to him it does not address this.

Now, if that interpretation of McCaskey is right, and if his portrayal of "The Logical Leap" is correct, then I see nothing wrong with calling the book inchoate/incomplete if its aim is to really and truly present a full-fledged theory of induction based upon how scientists (and particularly physicists) perform it. Nor do I see anything that contradicts Objectivist epistemology. Nothing that Rand wrote suggested that a rudimentary/crude provisional concept might not be useful when someone is trying to figure something out, particularly when one is doing something truly new in the sum of human knowledge, like doing theoretical physics, as opposed to trying to learn a subject which someone has already worked out, like Newtonian mechanics. Indeed, no one forms a concept out of the blue, it always is a process of development and refinement until one has solidified it in one's head; it just so happens that in physics one has to apply the concept to a theory in order to refine it in most cases.

So, overall, if McCaskey's characterization of Harriman's treatment of induction (that it is enabled by proper concepts, and that without them progress cannot be made) is correct, then he is absolutely in the right (providing he didn't say anything dramatically different, which we have no evidence for). And given that, Peikoff is clearly in the wrong here.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I read this book about a month ago, and it is the best science book I've ever read. It makes crystal clear the nature of induction and how to think and solve problems inductively.

One of the clever insights is the concept of "conceptual framework", which is the knowledge you have acquired in a subject matter. This framework leads you to look for missing pieces to a puzzle, e.g. Ben Franklin could only have considered that lightening was electricity because of his extensive and deep knowledge of electricity. This is what led him to do the experiment to see if this was so.

I plan on employing these ideas in some of my work, but I'll have to reread to refresh my mind on a few things.

This is absolutely a revolutionary book that makes more clear than I've ever seen how to do science.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree that this is the best science book that I have ever read. What is revolutionary about it is the philosophical justification of going from the laboratory to real-life scenarios, and this justification is the nature of concepts as presented by Ayn Rand in ITOE. Due to the nature of concepts -- that those items conceptualized differ only by a measurement -- one is justified in starting with a controlled experiment and applying the results to every member of the class conceptualized because the only difference is one of measurement (more or less of the same things studied in the laboratory). For example, the concept "fire" covers everything from a match stick burning to a forest fire, the forest fire is simply bigger. So, when scientists study controlled fires in the laboratory and discover that fire needs fuel, heat, and oxygen; they are justified in thinking that a larger fire is just more fuel, heat, or oxygen by the nature of the concept "fire." So, it is not as if "The Logical Leap" is presenting a different type of induction that scientists have been using for hundreds of years, but rather he is presenting a new justification for them saying they are discovering universal principles -- that universality comes from the nature of the concepts that a scientist has, i.e. what he has conceptualized.

As to the specific arguments about which concept a given scientist had, often times it is true that they don't have the modern concept. For example, Galileo may not have had the modern concept of friction through a fluid (air) that we have today. But at a minimum all he needed was a conception that air is a resistive medium to something moving through it. So, in reality, it doesn't matter if he had the concept "buoyancy", "friction" or "air resistance" he still had a valid concept and could make determinations based on that concept. A ball falling through the air is deterred by both the buoyancy of the air and the friction generated by falling through the air, but Galileo didn't need to be that precise because he knew that air is a resistive medium.

As to the spiral debate, yes, a given scientist would have spiraled, because this is the nature of all knowledge, that one goes up and down the hierarchy in order to get the conceptualization more clear in one's head. However, Harriman didn't have to present the information in this kind of detail. All he had to do was to present the essentials of what ideas the scientist had and how he was able to move from those concepts to investigating existence using those concepts as a basis for his investigation. So, maybe Newton had some wavering about momentum and inertia, and maybe it took him 20 years to make a final determination; Harriman did not have to present that struggle with the new concepts to make his point clear. He just had to present the logic of the concepts and how one concept lead to many discoveries in a step by step manner.

Let me put it this way, I did a lot of thinking up and down the spiral to write this essay, but my final thoughts are more logically presented. You didn't need to have my stream of consciousness to understand what I am getting at. Similarly, "The Logical Leap" is not about the stream of consciousness of the given scientists. Rather it is a logical structure presented after the fact. Harriman studied the process of induction using real-world examples of it and refined out what was going on from a new philosophical perspective -- the Objectivist epistemology.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Let me put it this way, I did a lot of thinking up and down the spiral to write this essay, but my final thoughts are more logically presented. You didn't need to have my stream of consciousness to understand what I am getting at. Similarly, "The Logical Leap" is not about the stream of consciousness of the given scientists. Rather it is a logical structure presented after the fact. Harriman studied the process of induction using real-world examples of it and refined out what was going on from a new philosophical perspective -- the Objectivist epistemology.

Okay, I get what you're saying now. But if the book is meant to be a guide to how you should actually perform an induction, then it probably isn't meeting its task if all it presents is the final logical form, and not the intermediate steps (as you can't get to the final form without those intermediate steps). Provide a guide to what a complete/finished induction would look like? Sure. But act as a guide to how you actually arrive at that point? Not so much. And I think McCaskey in his review was probably saying simply that if you want to provide a theory of induction that can be used to perform induction, then you need to address the more messy details of how one actually goes about it, rather than simply go over what the final form of a completed process of induction should look like (in much the same way as a course on deduction would be helpful if it gave you the meaning and final form of a deductive argument, but if it didn't cover the methods by which one would actually go about constructing a valid deductive argument, it wouldn't be nearly as helpful as it could have been).

I'm going to finish the book this week, and post again when I'm finished with my review. As of the end of Ch.1 it seems quite good. I'm not sure about "best science book I've ever read" ("Hyperspace" by Michio Kaku was amazingly well written in my opinion, I've read it a half dozen times since I was ten), but we'll see.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think the book does provide a complete process of how to do induction. All his examples are logically presented one step at a time and with the results being very clear. I think validating one's concepts would be a normal part of thinking and not necessarily focusing on induction. But yes, please finsih the book, because I think it is complete.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well, I was discussing "The Logical Leap" and McCaskey on FaceBook, but my account was hacked into and I don't know if I will be able to get back in or not. To affirm that my FB account is mine, I have to indentify photographs of five friends, and I have 300 up there and have no idea what their FB profile picture is. So, I welcome discussions of those topics on this forum.

I do have to say that virus makers and phishers on the Internet are a vicious evil. I accidently clicked on the wrong link in a FB reply email, and had to give my password again, and that's when they got me. So now my account is closed and maybe I'll have to start all over again under a different account and will have lost those 300 friends. What I would love to do to virus makers and phishers cannot be put in writing on this board, because I'd be arrested for terrorism!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

McCaskey's criticisms of Harriman get a more in depth look here in these emails McCaskey has released.

Thanks for pointing out this page of those emails. After reading them, however, all I see is more historical disputes about which concepts a given scientists had. Within certain limits, I think this could be a fruitful endeavor to clearly identify which concepts various philosophers and scientists had. Nonetheless, I don't see this as distracting from Harriman's thesis, that the conceptual framework makes inductions possible. I don't think Galileo had a concept of gravity, I think he was going more by the ancient view that heavy objects have a natural place near or on the ground, which is not a conception that all massive bodies attract one another as per Newton. But these points can certainly be argued without destroying the philosophic underpinning of Harriman's thesis.

McCaskey really pushes Bacon and Whewell on his website, and I think that contains a clue as to the philosophical differences. Unfortunately, even after reading the articles on McCaskey's website on Bacon and Whewell, I don't know enough about either regarding their ideas of concept formation and induction. They most certainly did not have measurement-omission, which is from Ayn Rand and definitely not earlier. At best they had an idea that we get concepts, but how is uncertain, and that the concepts were important in framing an inductive generalization. Bacon, from that paper, seems to be more along the Platonic lines that Forms exist in nature and that the purpose of induction is to discover the Forms. However, there are no Forms in nature, there are only entities and we observe them and form concepts and generalizations according to how Ayn Rand outlined them in ITOE (measurement-omission). And I think this is crucial, it is precisely the measurement-omission of concepts that makes it possible to go from some to all of a class, because the members of the class only differ by a measurement; and this is something that is in neither Bacon or Whewell (and I'm not sure McCaskey grasps this crucial part of the theory of concept formation as laid out in ITOE, nor in Harriman's book).

So, I still have to conclude that Dr. Peikoff and David Harriman got it right, and that the answer eluded others because they didn't have the Objectivist epistemology and especially measurement-omission. Also, what is crucial is that we form or create a concept or a generalization, these are not things that exist in nature to be discovered aka Plato's Forms existing out there in nature is not true at all.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As a hypothetical question: If 1) Harriman's theory is correct, 2) he discusses a lot of history of science to help make his case but 3) he gets that history wrong.... does it not leave the theory (even if correct) open to criticism?

As I understand it, that is all that McCaskey has claimed--not that the theory is necessarily wrong but that McCaskey failed to bolster it properly with his examples.

I've heard McCaskey speak about Whewell and Bacon. I can't claim to remember much about what he said but I certainly did NOT get the impression that he was claiming either one of them was actually *correct* about induction, only that they had made major advances (especially Whewell). Unless someone can point to a statement to the contrary somewhere, I'd say bringing up his discussion of Whewell is irrelevant to the matter of whether or not McCaskey disagrees with Objectivism.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes, if Harriman got some of the facts wrong, then he would definitely be open to criticism, and I don't have a problem with McCaskey taking him to task on those issues. The historical record is important in that it would give the conceptual framework of the scientists, and so if Harriman got some of that wrong, then that example would be wrong in his book. Nonetheless, Harriman makes a great point about the conceptual framework and how this leads to induction, both in regards to the Objectivist measurement-omission of concepts and regarding the fact that induction is relating the referents of one concept to another. So, if he got some of the history wrong, then that is all that happened, he got some of the examples wrong, but it doesn't detract from his theory. If you haven't read the book, yet, I think you have to in order to discuss it in more detail. With my background in physics and philosophy -- though definitely not an expert on that history for physics -- there wasn't anything that stood out that would throw the theory off. It's not like he ever said something that was so far off the mark that he just didn't know anything about the history of that time period.

And I don't know what else McCaskey wrote on that forum or to Harriman to make a determination about how he argued re Bacon and Whewell. I think both Bacon and Whewell were mistaken in some of their views about concepts or generalizations, but I don't know what other arguments McCaskey was making regarding "The Logical Leap."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As a hypothetical question: If 1) Harriman's theory is correct, 2) he discusses a lot of history of science to help make his case but 3) he gets that history wrong.... does it not leave the theory (even if correct) open to criticism?
It definitely leaves it open to criticism. It may or may not destroy the thesis.

What I know about "Logical Leap" has been gleaned from things others have written, so take the following with a few cups of salt. Based on the commentary I have read, the following is my provisional summary of the feedback (to be corrected if I ever get down to reading the book):

Harriman seems to claim that having the right concepts is key to elucidating principles about the referents of those concepts, while having an incomplete concept or an incorrect concept can hinder one's thinking about those referents. One gives the thinker a "green light" to proceed", the other is like a "red light". From McCaskey's email, his feedback seems to focus particularly on the role of incomplete concepts (and possibly partly-wrong concepts). If one has arrived at the perfect concept, one has achieved great "green light" clarity. Hopefully principles and inductions will flow with relative ease. However, that is not how it works -- definitely not as a rule -- often one is groping for principles and for concepts at the same time. One might see some attributes or some apparent cause-effect that do not fit well either with one's current concepts nor with one's current principles.

When one ponders these apparent inconsistencies, differences, or contradictions one often starts to think about whether there are some different causation is at work in some cases. One may also be pondering whether there is a sub-classification within your current concept, or even if there is a fundamentally different way to conceptualize the referents. It might be that the observation of the causation leads one to start groping for a new type of classification -- and one might have a nascent concept that came from one's observations about causes rather than the other way around. One may even settle on some nascent concept (a grouping that one sees as having a certain set of attributes, but which is still a bit fuzzy in one's mind, and to which one has not given a name). Then, more observation of real world cause and effect might lead one to polish the concept. Hopefully, there is an "aha!" moment, when the concept becomes clear and you think "Huh! why didn't I think of it this way before? If I reclassify according to this new conceptual scheme, everything makes so much sense."

I don't know if Harriman's thesis somehow denies the above process, but from McCaskey's criticism, it sounds as if Harriman at least gives less weight to the direction of thought that goes from the point where one is generalizing of cause and effect, and then moving to new concepts, and gives more weight to the flow in the other direction. I cannot say if this a straw-man with respect to "Logical Leap": but that's how I sum up McCaskey's feedback.

Now, to defend this feedback, based on what scientists did, one would have to check the historical examples very carefully. McCaskey is saying that there are instances when Harriman is saying Galileo figured out some principle because he had arrived at a better concept; however, McCaskey is pointing out, that -- in those cases -- Galileos writings and other historical; facts show that the concept itself had already been around and was known to Galileo for a while. If so, there must be something more that explains why Galileo did not make a breakthrough earlier. The theory of induction should speak to this; McCaskey's implication is that Harriman does not do so.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

With all due respect, one has to read the book to understand why McCaskey's criticisms are unfounded. It's like he's being nit-picky instead of getting the philosophy in the book "The Logical Leap". I think the book does provide the answer to the problem of induction in much the same way that ITOE solved the problem of universals. And I'm beginning to suspect that there is something else going on with McCaskey because with all his research on induction and theories of induction that he presents on his home page of his website, there is no mention of "The Logical Leap" which provides the answers. While I still don't see where McCaskey violated Objectivism in his correspondence to Harriman et al, to not give any mention of "The Logical Leap" and it's answer to the problem of induction is to short shrift it like all academicians do to Objectivism.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

John McCaskey Emails

http://www.johnmccaskey.com/emails.html

"For those who don’t know him: William Whewell (1794–1866) was the last major advocate for a conception of induction that gained currency in Copernicus’ time and then dominated the philosophy and practice of science from the time of Galileo and Harvey to that of Darwin and Maxwell. It is too bad a discussion of writings on induction from those times was not part of Mr. Harriman’s book. Comparisons between what the scientists were taught to do and what Mr. Harriman said they actually did do would have helped highlight the new and distinctive features of the theory Mr. Harriman presents."

So, I looked up William Whewell on the Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy, and here are a few choice quotes:

William Whewell (1794–1866) British Philosopher

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/whewell/#SciInd

"These ideas, which he called "Fundamental Ideas," are "supplied by the mind itself"—they are not (as Mill and Herschel protested) merely received from our observations of the world. Whewell explained that the Fundamental Ideas are "not a consequence of experience, but a result of the particular constitution and activity of the mind, which is independent of all experience in its origin, though constantly combined with experience in its exercise" (1858a, I, 91). "

"Each science has a Particular Fundamental idea which is needed to organize the facts with which that science is concerned; thus, Space is the Fundamental Idea of geometry, Cause the Fundamental Idea of mechanics, and Substance the Fundamental Idea of chemistry. Moreover, Whewell explained that each Fundamental Idea has certain "conceptions" included within it; these conceptions are "special modifications" of the Idea applied to particular types of circumstances (1858b, 187)."

"This is important because the fundamental ideas and conceptions are provided by our minds, but they cannot be used in their innate form. Whewell explained that "the Ideas, the germs of them at least, were in the human mind before [experience]; but by the progress of scientific thought they are unfolded into clearness and distinctness" (1860a, 373). "

The article relates some historian of philosophy consider Whewell to be a Kantian, because of these innate ideas that govern our experience. But the article claims this may not be true because Whewell thought we could gain information about the world using these innate ideas. However, clearly, Whewell is in the Plato / Kantian axis and should not be promoted by any Objectivist. I consider this to be the smoking gun on Dr. Peikoff's dismissal of McCaskey. Since he is promoting Whewell, he has no authority or philosophical credentials whatsoever of serving on the board of directors of The Ayn Rand Institute.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

... clearly, Whewell is in the Plato / Kantian axis and should not be promoted by any Objectivist. I consider this to be the smoking gun on Dr. Peikoff's dismissal of McCaskey. Since he is promoting Whewell, he has no authority or philosophical credentials whatsoever of serving on the board of directors of The Ayn Rand Institute
You're groping at straws here. McCaskey was not claiming to be a Whewellian, nor claiming some aspect of Whewell is superior to some aspect of Objectivism. Edited by softwareNerd
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Seriously. According to McCaskey, Whewell did some good work on the idea of induction, but didn't quite have the notion of a concept down correctly. He attributes much of the progress of the very science Harriman praises so highly in the 19th Century as a result largely of the influence of Whewell's views on induction, and that when they fell out of favor, problems began to arise in science (in a very similar manner as Harriman claims the rise of bad epistemology has led to the corruption of physics, from the various articles I have read of his in the Objective Standard).

Indeed, looking over the induction section of Whewell's article on the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, I find it to be pretty good. His conception of "fundamental ideas" is stuff like "space","time", "cause", "resemblance" and the like. Those are, broadly speaking, directly observable things about reality. Indeed, we directly perceive color, shape, texture, length, differences between objects and attributes, simple causation etc., all through the nature of our perceptual apparatus. So in a way, the idea of "length" (generalized to "space") is provided for us in our make-up as people with a particular sort of perceptual apparatus, and we just have to work it out explicitly, as with the others listed above. Maybe he didn't get it entirely right, since we derive them and explicate them based on our observations of reality (but he does say that we need empirical evidence to clarify our conceptions in order to make them more precise and correct, so that's something). He seems on the right track at least. His idea that the identification of a concept is applied to data about the world in an attempt to find an integrating theme seems to be along the lines of what Harriman was talking about (again, from what I have read of "The Logical Leap", reviews of it, and from articles I have read of Harriman's online), even if it isn't exactly it, and he lacked Rand's idea of concepts.

Reading the section on induction, I see Whewell as someone who was on the right track, but didn't get some things quite right (like the nature and origin of his Fundamental Ideas, and what exactly a concept was and how one goes about forming one). But given those errors, he doesn't seem to be bad. He defends reason and induction, and the existence of an objective external universe knowable through the means of logic, experiment, and observation. Really, I don't ask much more of an epistemologist pre-Rand, and I certainly don't see him as some horrible philosopher that should be rejected absolutely as a bad pre-Rand epistemologist by every Objectivist. Heck, he seems to be pretty good, far far far far far far far better than say Popper or Hume or Kant.

I'll leave it up to everyone else to read the article and decide what they think, but I think my description of Whewell (based on that article as all the information I have about him) is a more accurate analysis than Miovas's (no offense Miovas, I just think yours isn't the correct conclusion to draw based on that article).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'll write a longer article on this probably later today, but at least you are making an attempt so show what is good in Whewell, and I think the onus of proof is on he who asserts the positive. In other words, those of you who want to side with McCaskey and Whewell have to prove that Whewell had something good to say about induction. And with "The Logical Leap"out there and published, it'sgoing to have to be a high standard because "The Logical Leap" has the full answer. But judging from that write up on the SEP, Whewell was too wrong to be defended, especially since it is unclear exactly what role has innate Fundamental Ideas played in knowledge and reality. And a "colligation of facts" is just too vague to supply anything about induction, as I understand it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'll write a longer article on this probably later today, but at least you are making an attempt so show what is good in Whewell, and I think the onus of proof is on he who asserts the positive. In other words, those of you who want to side with McCaskey and Whewell have to prove that Whewell had something good to say about induction. And with "The Logical Leap"out there and published, it'sgoing to have to be a high standard because "The Logical Leap" has the full answer. But judging from that write up on the SEP, Whewell was too wrong to be defended, especially since it is unclear exactly what role has innate Fundamental Ideas played in knowledge and reality. And a "colligation of facts" is just too vague to supply anything about induction, as I understand it.

McCaskey is a scholar who specializes in certain types of history. I would expect a good scholar in that position to carefully examine what philosophers have said on a particular topic of interest. When such a person finds a few philosophers who have made a case that sounds like good, though early, groping on the particular topic of interest, it makes sense to examine that philosopher more closely. Obviously this is not something that I want to do qua layperson, who is only interested in the final packaged end-product. However, it would be wrong for a professional scholar not to delve into the more promising arguments that are somewhat similar to the one he wants to make.

For instance, there are a few philosophers in many traditions (Greek, Chinese, Indian) who have groped toward a concept of egoism. A scholar who wants to chew on the topic of egoism much more deeply than would interest a lay-person, would be smart to understand the ideas of these ancients. He would ask himself questions like: why did that guy not get beyond this preliminary thinking? in what ways was his concept of egoism similar and/or different from mine? what was the weakness? does this illuminate things in some way that makes me re-frame certain aspects of my own concept, and stress certain things as being particularly distinctive and important.

Examining and studying the works of someone like that does not imply a broad sanction of everything that philosopher said or thought; nor does recommending that one students understand that philosopher's argument on some aspect of philosophy. For instance, one might study Laozi to understand his distinctive concept of Egoism, and then one might reject him as unimportant and move on to another supposed egoist. While doing so, one might find that one of them came very close to a proper concept of egoism. One might then study that person's work more closely, and might even recommend it to people who want to study philosophy. If that ancient philosopher was also very mystical, that is really besides the point. It is like not studying some ancient scientist's work on Fluid Dynamics because he also held an incorrect view on some other area of physics.

Criticize such scholarship for the right reasons of relevance and usefulness within the context in which the study is being done and advocated. However, to condemn this as such because that ancient scholar also held many wrong views, and even if he was more wrong than right, is wrong: one must be enthusiatic about anything that brings one closer to truth, no matter where one finds it.

Edited by softwareNerd
Link to comment
Share on other sites

However, to condemn this as such because that ancient scholar also held many wrong views, and even if he was more wrong than right, is wrong: one must be enthusiastic about anything that brings one closer to truth, no matter where one finds it.

I'm glad you edited this, because originally you claimed that I was borderline evil for throwing out Whewell.

Look, I'm not saying throw the baby out with the bath water. Sure, to the degree that Whewell had some rational views of reality, then he was correct and we need to accept them. What I am saying is that given the write up on SEP and McCaskey's own paper on Bacon and Whewell, I don't see the evidence that he was rational. McCaskey conveniently left out any mention of Whewell thinking we had innate ideas that somehow might govern the world (or at least our view of the world) and didn't mention that Whewell thought those innate ideas had to be right because God made us that way to conform to His world.

If you want to defend Whewell, show me the rational baby.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm glad you edited this, because originally you claimed that I was borderline evil for throwing out Whewell.
Wow! I edited that within less than 5 minutes because I thought the tone would not be fitting in public. I'm sorry I made you aware of what should have remained my private thoughts. As the poet said, "The writing finger writes..."

Anyhow, I am not objecting to you or anyone else "throwing out" Whewell". If you read him in some detail and reject him, how can there be anything prima facie wrong with that? I'm objecting to your notion that a professor of Philosophy who reads Whewell and who then says that Whewell has some interesting things to say on the topic of induction, and who then tells his students to check Whewell out is doing anything that should be faulted in the least degree. For him to do so likely demonstrates that he is a serious student of history. Prima facie it is commendable as the right course.

Therefore, to condemn him for this pursuit of rationality and, further, to call this a smoking gun and claim that it makes him unfit to serve on the board of ARI is ... wrong.

McCaskey has done much to promote Objectivism; much more than most people, barring a few like Peikoff and Brooks and a few others already close to ARI. Except for the recent facts (to which we are not privy) that caused LP to want him off ARI, I can think of few others who I would consider more qualified to be on that board. So, if you are going to say that he should not be at ARI, simply say that you trust LP's judgement. Surely there is nothing wrong with saying that -- given the private nature of the evidence -- you will trust that LP is doing the right thing. Why concoct fantastic reasons that will even embarrass the foes of McCaskey!

Edited by softwareNerd
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm glad you edited this, because originally you claimed that I was borderline evil for throwing out Whewell.

Look, I'm not saying throw the baby out with the bath water. Sure, to the degree that Whewell had some rational views of reality, then he was correct and we need to accept them. What I am saying is that given the write up on SEP and McCaskey's own paper on Bacon and Whewell, I don't see the evidence that he was rational. McCaskey conveniently left out any mention of Whewell thinking we had innate ideas that somehow might govern the world (or at least our view of the world) and didn't mention that Whewell thought those innate ideas had to be right because God made us that way to conform to His world.

If you want to defend Whewell, show me the rational baby.

Well, I don't defend Whewell's religiosity, but then again nor do I necessarily condemn him, as he lived at a time without the theory of evolution, or the highly advanced state of physics, and so I can tolerate a belief in a diety (in the same way as Newton or Locke believed in a god, I don't write them off for it). As for his "making us have innate ideas in order to conform to His world": I don't know Whewell's entire list of Fundamental Ideas, but they seemed to be mostly very very basic things according to the SEP article, attributes or objects which are very nearly things we directly perceive (such as length/space, causation, resemblance). Without the proper understanding of concepts given by Rand, I can forgive the error of seeing them as fundamental a priori ideas, as they are things that are directly perceived and thereby provided to our cognitive faculty by the nature of our senses. Was he incorrect? Yes. But he was on the right track definitely.

...(Took a break to read McCaskey's paper which you referenced)...

I have read McCaskey's paper on Bacon and Whewell now as well. I don't find anything objectionable about Whewell, at least not for a philospher pre-Rand. Indeed, his criteria for a proper induction don't seem to be bad at all. You seem to focus entirely on the fact that Whewell had this idea that there are "Fundamental Ideas". McCaskey explains that Whewell believed that they were what turned sensation into perception. Basically, these fundamental ideas are those processes by which our perceptual faculty construct percepts from sensations, and it is with these percepts that we deal. Objectivism holds perception (and therefore the apparatus which creates percepts from sensation) to be axiomatically valid; Whewell held that they were valid because God made them that way (not a good reason, but I won't just toss him out as a horrific philosopher for it either, given the time period). Regardless, the fact that sensation is turned into perception by an apparatus we human beings do not have volitional control over is unquestionable, and that that apparatus must be taken as valid is also unquestionable. The fact that we directly perceive various attributes of objects such as length and resemblance is the entire basis for the Objectivist epistemology based on measurement-omission. Whewell takes these attributes (and some modest extensions, such as "length" to "space") which we directly perceive as some sort of Fundamental Ideas which were given by God so we can understand the world, and employ them in creating our conceptions and in our inductions.

I'm not seeing a massive clash between the two, given that Whewell lacked Rand's theory of concepts, and lived in a time without any sort of explanations for the origin of life or the universe whatsoever. His belief in Fundamental Ideas, while on the surface very bad epistemology from the view of Objectivism, isn't nearly so bad once you look at what he actually thought about them. Again, it seems like Whewell was on the right track, but lacked certain philosophic ideas in order to get his theory of induction correct. Reading his article on SEP and the McCaskey article, I haven't heard of a better pre-Rand philosopher in the philosophy of science (I took a class on it, and he blows all the 20th century guys out of the water, which is mostly what we discussed, though we didn't cover any Objectivist thought on the subject of course).

So, is Whewell 100% right? No. Definitely not. Was he on the right track for someone back in the 1800s? Yeah, actually. Might "The Logical Leap" provide a better theory of induction than Whewell? Maybe (haven't finished it), and even probably, given that it has the advantage of the proper theory of concepts and the rest of the philosophy of Objectivism as its background. Though, what do you expect of McCaskey exactly Miovas? To ignore factual inaccuracies in a book? To repudiate Whewell as a terrible philosopher just because he didn't get induction right and Harriman did (for the sake of argument)? He is a scholar specializing in the history of induction and its relation to concepts, and Whewell played a huge role in the history in the 19th Century (and also happened to be on the right track, if wrong on some things). I don't think that expecting that of McCaskey makes sense. And so, concluding that McCaskey's belief that Whewell had some (emphasis on "some") good ideas on induction and there may be value in studying his ideas to help build a uniquely Objectivist theory of induction a "smoking gun" for his rejection of fundamental tenets of Objectivism is not valid. Maybe there is a real reason to say McCaskey is not an Objectivist. But from the articles that you have linked and discussed, I have absolutely nothing more to go on that Peikoff's word, which I refuse to take as gospel. I need evidence other than Peikoff's opinion to actually believe McCaskey is a wolf in sheep's clothing. And I haven't seen it yet. Now off to read "The Logical Leap."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is interesting, and I appreciate the replies to my previous posts. It seems as if some people are reading what I read on Whewell and coming to different conclusions. I basically said: THERE'S A KANTIAN IN THE ROOM! and others are saying: Paleese, he's not a Kantian, he's just mistaken. Even though Whewell seems to take the position that one's ideas control at least our perception of reality, some of you are saying this isn't Kantian. But our mind does not create reality, our physiology does make sensations into percepts, however it is not saying that ideas create percepts, and that is what I am questioning. If our ideas create perception and these ideas are innate, then what about the ideas that we do create as we observe reality? and how would this change our perceptions over time? or doesn't Whewell think this is the way it works? If our conscious mind creates perception, then we have no basis for being objective on the perceptual level without a method. In other words, if our conscious mind of ideas controls our perception, then we are in big trouble without an objective method of perceiving, and Whewell does not offer that in my reading of him. Unless Whewell is rejecting free will and all our ideas are automatic and create perception. But don't you see that if our conscious mind creates perception, then our vision of the world -- our perceptions -- would change as we gain knowledge, and this isn't the case at all. Getting sharper ideas doesn't improve our eyesight or give us super vision. Whewell's position undercuts the whole theory of knowledge, which has to be based on the automatic nature of perception that comes from physiology, not ideas. Ideas do not control, how we literally see the world.

Philosophers have to be taken literally and not figuratively. If Whewell is saying our conscious mind controls perception and perception is our contact with the world, then he is effectively saying that our mind creates reality, which is a Kantian premise.

So, again I lay down this challenge: If you want to defend Whewell as having something rational to say, then the onus of proof is on you to point that out. And if you are siding with McCaskey, and he is supportive of Whewell, then you have to show how Whewell is rational. I don't see it at all, unless one is going to be wishy-washy about the meaning of words. Taking Whewell literally, how is he rational?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...