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Let me unpack your questions a bit. Those are two different kinds of context, the conceptual and the perceptual. Then, asking if context "is necessary" is a bit misleading because context is always present whether acknowledged or not. It is a valid question to ask when does context make a significant difference in understanding, or in other words when to pay particular attention to context in thinking.

Dr. Peikoff address the topic of certainty in his lecture course "The Art of Thinking", and in particular addresses the question "Must one preface all statements with 'In the present context of knowledge?' " The following excerpt is from my Notes on The Art of Thinking

Problem #3 Must one preface all statements with "In the present context of knowledge"

No, don't say it about everything.

Not perceptual cognition and direct memory.

Not automatized conceptual identification (that's a table)

Not axioms - they apply to all possible contexts anyway

Not mathematics - delimited subject, where everything has been reduced to axioms

Not philosophy - delimited subject, is only about fundamentals, eternal universal principles that underlie everything else and are the framework for evaluating evidence in every other field.

Not "'Atlas Shrugged' is a great novel." - principles of aesthetics are timeless, and your knowledge of the novel is perceptual so this is a truth for all contexts.

Not "There is no God" - God contradicts axioms. Since axioms are for all contexts, God's nonexistence is for all contexts.

"in the present context" does not mean that you are actually uncertain. This just tells listener/reader that conclusion is not self-evident or perceptual. It is built on an accumulation of knowledge which may not be complete. It does not mean the opposite is possible, or that conclusion is untrustworthy.

Knowledge is limited. If you think this undercuts knowledge or makes it vulnerable to overthrow you are implicitly holding omniscience as the standard of certainty.

"in the present context" is not an assertion that anything else is possible. It means: everything known supports this but I know there is more to learn, and what that more might be can't even be speculated. There is more to come and I acknowledge this. My method is right so I know what I learn tomorrow will not contradict what I have learned so far.

What is the point of making the statement "in the present context" if it leaves nothing open?

1) Intellectual honesty - highlighting an inductive conclusion

2) Declares you will entertain evidence (related and credible) for further integration

More on the general topic of certainty is available at the link.

The conceptual context of knowledge is much less relevant to perception, but not entirely irrelevant. Perception is entirely automatic and not under volitional control, at the instant it happens. Volition does control what we pay attention to, so to that extent conceptual knowledge and context can be a factor in whether or not we perceive what is in fact there to be perceived. Also, practice can lead to some degree of perceptual learning which means the ability to make close discriminations where previously without practice such discriminations would be difficult or missed entirely. But practice and a conceptual-level decision to practice are in the past relative to the moment of perception, and a perceptual skill once automatized is no longer volitional.

There are three elements in an act of perception: the subject perceiving, the object perceived, and the conditions of perception. When a table varies in its apparent size when it is closer or further away it is not because the subject is changing nor is the table changing. The conditions of perception are changing when the distance between subject and object is increased. "Conditions of perception" are analogous to conceptual context. Unlike context in conceptual knowledge, it is simply impossible to make the error of dropping the context of perception, because the conditions of perception are external to consciousness and are always there.

But then there is the distinction between a perception and a perceptual judgement. Quoting from my Notes on The Evidence of the Senses : "Perceptual judgment is the conceptual identification of what is perceived. Recognizing a percept as belonging to a certain type is the only epistemological issue concerning perceptual judgment."

Being conceptual, volition is involved and so it is possible to make a mistake. Kelley gives three principles for making justified perceptual judgments:

First Principle of Justified Perceptual Judgment

For a judgment to be justified by perception, the person judging must perceptually discriminate the object he takes to be an instance of the concept predicated.

Second Principle of Justified Perceptual Judgment

One must perceive the object in a form which is normal for the perception of F objects (F a concept of a sensory quality).

Third Principle of Justified Perceptual Judgment

One must take into account any evidence one has that the conditions of perception are abnormal.

Ordinarily one can be certain in saying what appears red is red. But if you know you are under a pure blue light, then you can only make the judgment that "that apple is red" or "that coffee cup is red" based on conceptual inference or memory. In other words, by taking the context into account. A judgment based on what a red object actually looks like in a pure blue light would be that it is dark, almost black, but that judgment would have to be asterisked by "in the present light".

I hope that wasn't too much at once, but for whatever reason this is my area of special enthusiasm and study in Objectivism.

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Knowledge is limited. If you think this undercuts knowledge or makes it vulnerable to overthrow you are implicitly holding omniscience as the standard of certainty.

This is what Jacob is doing in the A is A thread. Thanks for inadvertently explicitly reminding me of this.

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Ooh this one too from your link... "Showing that something is" vs. "it is necessary that something is." Rand: "There are not two tasks in knowledge."

Sorry for hijacking the thread, but wish I had these courses. Need to move these over to that thread.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Re: condition of perception

I'd like to add that this includes the current condition of the perceiving mind which also represent context of perception. There are physiological limits which determine this context-for example our brain cannot separate objects which are moving with speed above certain limits-the illusion of movement of cinematography is based on that-frames of the film projected with velocity 24 frames per second are perceived as a single picture. The mind also adjusts percepts to the known previously internalized images and this process could be influenced by the person's emotionally status. So a lone and scared person at night may perceive the swinging bush as a threatening thug and run away. This is a source of cognitive illusions.



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Looking at your first question, no one has mentioned the idea of concepts of consciousness. These concepts are concepts dealing with actions of consciousness. For example, love is a concept of consciousness. Yes, this concept can be applied to contextual situations, but the concept itself is independent of context. The concept of love can applied to a wife, a family member, a pet, and so on. Other concepts of consciousness are things relating to evaluation, knowledge, and values. As another example, your values are in the form of a conceptual hierarchy. These values are not dependent on context (at least they should not be), instead context is applied to your concept of values in order to make an evaluation on the value of something.

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"For example, love is a concept of consciousness. Yes, this concept can be applied to contextual situations, but the concept itself is independent of context."

I disagree. The concept of love exists only in the context of valuation-to love is to value. The concept of value exists only in the context of life. The context of life is its metaphysical properties-this is a self-initiated, self-sustained goal orientated process when the goal is a continuation and bettering of life itself. To say "values are not dependent on context" would mean that rocks, sands and rivers have values. There is not and cannot be concept without context since context is concept's identity and nothing exists as nothing in particular.

Edited by Leonid
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It would be helpful to actually define context, so that we know what we are talking about.

In response to an inaudible question in the lecture course "Induction in Physics and Philosophy" Dr. Peikoff offered this:

Q: something about context

A: 'Context' is the knowledge that conditions and makes possible some cognitive item (concept or generalization). Using context as shorthand for 'the sum of all you know' is too broad.

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Here is another more precise definition of context:

"It would be helpful to actually define context"

"By “context” we mean the sum of cognitive elements conditioning the acquisition, validity or application of any item of human knowledge. " The Philosophy of Objectivism lecture series, Lecture 5

Or "Concepts are not and cannot be formed in a vacuum; they are formed in a context; the process of conceptualization consists of observing the differences and similarities of the existents within the field of one’s awareness" ( ITOE 42-43)

Concept defines the total integrated sum of one’s knowledge., in other words context is an identity of knowledge.

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  • 4 years later...

On a vary basic level - integrating two isolated items via a DC compared with another item (CCD) - that's the context.

All knowledge is relative, items grouped by a DC in relation to a CCD.  If you didn't have a context, if you only had to look at one particular item with no comparison to any other object or item, you wouldn't need knowledge.  The cognitive role of knowledge is to condense a vast amount of information to a manageable size.  As Donald Broadbent hypothesized, the brain is a limited information processing system, hence the need for attention to limit the perceptual data and take it in.  Likewise the conceptual level is an evolutionary result of overcoming the limited information processing system of the human brain. As she alludes to in ITOE, we may be at the beginning or in the process of this evolutionary change, given the limited ability for many to use it fully.

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