Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

On Objectivity -- The Method of Thought

Rate this topic


Recommended Posts

By Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.

04/06/2012

I just finished re-reading the chapter in “Objectivism: The philosophy of Ayn Rand” by Leonard Peikoff on “Objectivity” and this essay concerns that topic in a shortened form. Dr. Peikoff says that objectivity at root is a relationship between man’s mind and existence with regard to knowledge, neither coming only from reality (intrinsicism) nor coming only from man’s consciousness (subjectivism) – it is a relationship between the facts and consciousness necessitated by the fact that man has no automatic form of knowledge and therefore must volitionally adhere to existence in his thinking in order to be able to comprehend existence, and to live his life in existence. While Dr. Peikoff doesn’t mention it from the following perspective, I think the term “objectivity” comes from the word “object” – as in an entity or a thing one can directly observe (its attributes and its actions); it also comes from the term “objective” as in “taking specific actions to pursue a purpose.” So, at root, to remain objective one must be focused on the facts (entities, objects, things, their attributes, and their actions) in a purposeful manner to obtain knowledge of existence – to think in terms of identity and

causality.

But because man has no automatic guide in the pursuit of knowledge, and must develop a volitional / free will based methodology, this method must be clearly identified for a man’s mental contents to be based upon reality. The most fundamental component of being objective is to use logic, the art of non-contradictory identification. Contradictions cannot exist in reality, but are only evident in a man’s improper thinking or lack thereof. While Aristotle clearly identified the method and workings of logic (non-contradictory identification of the facts of reality as given by observation), Ayn Rand added two other components to objectivity that were only implicit in Aristotle’s work: context and hierarchy.

Thinking in terms of logic implies context, because in order to not be involved in mental contradictions one must take all the facts into account with regard to one’s topic of consideration. For example, if one is thinking about or talking about an apple, it is important to keep in mind that they are edible and grow on trees; whereas if one is thinking or talking about money, it is not edible and does not grow on trees, but is rather a medium of exchange of values in voluntary trade. Thinking in terms of logic regarding all of the relevant facts is a means of remaining consistent with what one already knows, and therefore to avoid contradictions. So keeping the context is a recognition of the fact that reality is one and that everything is relatable to everything else; that to isolate a thought from all others is to belittle this fundamental fact and to create the potential to have contradictions, which would be contrary to the facts of reality – i.e. of thinking that apples are poisonous to man or that money does grow on trees; neither of which would be helpful to one’s living on earth.

Hierarchy is a type of context, and refers to the fact that not all knowledge is graspable on the perceptual level. We can see apples on trees or one’s parents giving money to receive groceries, but grasping “farming” or “working for a living” are not immediately graspable or understandable to a young child. In order to reach the stage where someone can understand farming or capitalism requires a long chain of non-contradictory and contextual knowledge building up on previously understood knowledge; this is the role of being hierarchical – of starting with the perceptually self-evident and building up one’s knowledge. For example, a boy can grasp that things can be cut up – like cutting up the apple for a snack – but he cannot grasp that the apple is made of cells, molecules, atoms, and sub-atomic particles until after he has learned to organize his concepts into wider and wider concepts – concepts that are logically dependent on the perceptually self-evident, but not possible to directly point to as he can point to the apple. However, to remain objective, it is necessary to be able to trace the hierarchy of concepts and knowledge down to the perceptually self-evident; a process Dr. Peikoff refers to as "reduction."

By using logic, keeping the context, and developing his concepts into wider and wider abstractions, a man can rationally understand any aspect of existence as a single sum of knowledge, a single whole that is his guide to living on earth and enjoying his own life.

Note:

Thinking in terms of principles is an application of being objective; and so long as one follows the general guidance of objectivity above, one’s principles will be in accordance with existence and will represent a sub-set of one’s knowledge applied to specific cases of the facts.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

*Concepts are not necessarily wider when compared to their logical base, they can be more intensive – i.e. “Washington apples” versus “Delicious apples”, but hierarchy is first understood as wider and wider, such as “animal” being dependent on integrating “bird,” “snake,” and “beetle.” So it may be more proper to say hierarchically dependent concepts are higher and higher, rather than wider and wider; though for more intensive concepts the hierarchically dependent concept does not cover more items in reality, it is difficult to say they are “higher” when they cover less and less aspects of existence. Dr. Peikoff compares the conceptual / objective hierarchy of knowledge to a skyscraper, with “animal” being higher than “beetle,” which means that even more intensive concepts like “Washington apples” would be higher than the concept “apple” even though it covers less types of fruit. However, I find it helpful to consider intensive concepts as being more like a room on a floor of the skyscraper, rather than being upstairs.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes, well a page and a half essay is necessarily delimited, but I covered the essentials, which are logic, context, and hierarchy. Whole books have been written on logic alone (starting with Aristotle), and I didn't even cover how to organize one's observations into concepts (which Miss Rand wrote a whole book on), and there is also important applications, such as Mill's Method of identifying the cause of observed physical events, etc. Maybe one day I will write that whole book on Objectivism, but in the mean time, essentializing a topic is important guidance to the method of thought.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

*Concepts are not necessarily wider when compared to their logical base, they can be more intensive – i.e. “Washington apples” versus “Delicious apples”, but hierarchy is first understood as wider and wider, such as “animal” being dependent on integrating “bird,” “snake,” and “beetle.” So it may be more proper to say hierarchically dependent concepts are higher and higher, rather than wider and wider; though for more intensive concepts the hierarchically dependent concept does not cover more items in reality, it is difficult to say they are “higher” when they cover less and less aspects of existence. Dr. Peikoff compares the conceptual / objective hierarchy of knowledge to a skyscraper, with “animal” being higher than “beetle,” which means that even more intensive concepts like “Washington apples” would be higher than the concept “apple” even though it covers less types of fruit. However, I find it helpful to consider intensive concepts as being more like a room on a floor of the skyscraper, rather than being upstairs.

I would differ from your opinion about "Washington apples" being wider and covering less types of fruit. First, "Washington apples" are two concepts not one. It is a subclass of the concept 'apple,' thus narrower. Second, the important aspect of a concept is not how many units it covers but how much knowledge of the units it covers. If one regards "Washington apples" as a single mental unit, then it includes more information about apples, not less. It says that this class of apples has different characteristics from all these other types of apples. These "different characteristics" represent additional knowledge about apples, not less.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would differ from your opinion about "Washington apples" being wider and covering less types of fruit. First, "Washington apples" are two concepts not one. It is a subclass of the concept 'apple,' thus narrower. Second, the important aspect of a concept is not how many units it covers but how much knowledge of the units it covers. If one regards "Washington apples" as a single mental unit, then it includes more information about apples, not less. It says that this class of apples has different characteristics from all these other types of apples. These "different characteristics" represent additional knowledge about apples, not less.

That's a fair point, that the knowledge for a sub-class is greater than the knowledge for the original class, thus making it higher knowledge, in a sense. I just don't see such sub-classifications as being on the next floor up on the hierarchy precisely because it is a sub-division. It would be like saying all apples are on the second floor, but Washington Apples are on the third floor and Delicious Apples are on the fifth floor. So, if we are going to use the skyscraper analogy, then all apples would be on the second floor, while they are sub-grouped together on the second floor. Actually, however, I think "apples" would be a first-level concept, so they would all be on the first floor.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In the final analysis, any physical representation or analogy to the hierarchy of knowledge breaks down, because there is no counter-part to mental integration and the hierarchy of knowledge in the physical world. One cannot take a bushel of apples and somehow squish them all together to get one integrated apple that has all the attributes of "appleness." Similarly, if one were to continue the skyscraper analogy, all apples, all bananas, all grapes would be stored on the first floor (being first-level concepts); but all fruits would be stored on the second floor ("fruit" being a second-level concept). So, it cannot be done literally. And even if one moved to the computer database analogy, one can make a database of all the particulars of apples in one database, and all the particulars about bananas in another database, but the database is not an integration; and one cannot combine the apple database with the banana database and call it a fruit database, as that, too, would not be an integration. So, while it is helpful to consider "fruit" to be higher or wider than "apple," "banana," and "grape"; it's not really that way, it's just an analogy. It is better to identify it as a mental integration into one unit retained by the mind that has all the knowledge of bananas, grapes, and pears into one mental unit named fruit; but it cannot be done in physical reality.

Added on edit: One has to be careful with these analogies not to become concrete-bound, and literally think of a mental integration as a mere grouping of items. The mind does something different, which Ayn Rand identified as measurement omission, which, as others have pointed out, leaves nothing, if done literally in [physical] reality.

Edited by Thomas M. Miovas Jr.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

MacIntosh, Red Delicious, Granny Smith are examples of more intensive knowledge of apples, being the first level concept. Fruit, grocery produce, entity, existent would be stages of more extensive knowledge.

The skyscraper analogy may serve as a good introductory analogy, but "earlier-formed concepts can be integrated into wider ones or subdivided into narrower ones" (ITOE Chapt. 3), suggesting something other than a simply vertical approach.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Actually, existence, identity, and consciousness are some of the first implicit concepts (though not formerly named until later); and entity comes right after identity, and then causality. And going from fruit to produce is not more intense but wider, since product would include fruits and vegetables.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It is very important to realize that the axioms (existence, identity, and consciousness) are conceptualized first (at least implicitly) as they serve as the foundation for all future thought based upon reality. Shortly after that we conceptualize the concepts of entity, existent, and causality, a more explicit identification that existence is composed of entities and that these are capable of changing. Then we begin to conceptualize specific entities and their actions (dog, and dog barking). The reason it goes in this order is that at first, one does not focus on specific entities (which requires a specific differentiation), one grasps more existence as a whole and conceptualizes it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Considering that the process of conceptualization is not complete until the constituent units have been integrated into a single mental unit by means of a specific word, can one recognize that the axioms are conceptualized first, implicitly, before one has explicitly identified them? Or do you assign the importance of this recognition to those who have conceptualized them already?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That's an interesting question, especially in light of recent studies that have shown that a child's first words are "mommy" and "daddy" -- of course, these are proper names and not concepts. But I think the above is a recognition of the fact that existence, identity, and consciousness are the more fundamental concepts, rather than an actual order of learning words. The point I was making, however, is that the adult level of observing entities and their actions (things and what they do) is actually a differentiation from the background / all the rest of one's field of observation, and that, in a sense, the overall field of observation is conceptualized first. There is something there that I am aware of; is existence, identity, and consciousness in one sentence.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

And even if one moved to the computer database analogy, one can make a database of all the particulars of apples in one database, and all the particulars about bananas in another database, but the database is not an integration; and one cannot combine the apple database with the banana database and call it a fruit database, as that, too, would not be an integration.

I want to dispute this statement, but can you first explain what you mean by "not an integration"? Why couldn't you combine an apple database and a banana database into a fruit database?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My point is not that one could not combine the databases, which can certainly be done and is done all the time, but rather that a computer database is not the same thing as a mental integration. Remember that a mental integration omits the measurements (leaves them unspecified), thus making something like an algebraic symbol that covers a range of measurements, and the computer cannot do this with the items in the database. That is, no one has been able to come up with a program that would take raw data and have the computer do something like conceptualize it according to similarities.

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...