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Scott Ryan's critique of O-ist epistemology

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I haven't read it and couldn't find any past discussion on this forum (besides very minimal examination). Maybe there is some more detail about his arguments in the Amazon reviews.

I tried to view some of a section that sounded interesting in the Amazon preview, but didn't get much. He was writing about OPAR's discussion on the topic of sensation versus perception, and Ryan questioned the very need to even discuss sensation, stating that "Nobody in his right mind would worry about whether bare sensations were veridical" (p. 67). When I first read that section of OPAR, I thought it was particularly important to show that the base source of all knowledge is axiomatically valid. The point of OPAR was to start at the most fundamental level, so why the hostility toward such a basic examination?

And people certainly do question the validity and proper interpretation of the senses themselves. See David Kelley's Evidence of the Senses, summarized here by Grames (written before Kelley's break with Rand). So are we just to write such critics off as not being in their "right mind"? Is right-mindedness an unquestionable, axiomatic concept?

Just a brief critique of the first section I happened to read, and nothing more.

Edited by brian0918
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(edit: from books.google.com )

Scott Ryan is a theist. The introduction is pretty revealing of what is in store. He reminds me of that jacob86 character that posts here.

The first chapter:

He insists universals are ontological (Rand call that intrinsicism and Ryan realism), that the only possible alternative view is that universals are entirely within the mind (Rand calls that subjectivism and Ryan nominalism), and that Rand's view that universals are relational is entirely (objectivism) out of court because no one has ever stated that before. Ryan claims that in regard to the problem of universals Rand must choose between Realism and Nominalism or she just doesn't understand the problem. Ryan emphasizes identicality in qualities as if that were a special problem and holds real universals to exist, or in other words he believes in Platonic forms.

I am not inclined to finish the rest of his work, and as page 34-46 are omitted from the Google Books preview that makes a good excuse to stop.

Edited by Grames
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Scott Ryan:

"Rand is confusing two issues here: the possible existence of essences, and the process by which we allegedly apprehend such essences. Again she conflates the question what constitutes knowledge with the question under what conditions knowledge becomes psychogically possible."

Wonder if this is where Jacob got his idea on this from.

Edited by Plasmatic
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See David Kelley's Evidence of the Senses, summarized here by Grames (written before Kelley's break with Rand).

David Kelley didn’t break with Rand, he broke with Peikoff. He was at her funeral, and did the reading of Kipling’s If. Like him or lump him, he’s spent his life spreading her ideas. Here he is, just a couple weeks ago, working on the second part of the Atlas Shrugged movie series (second from left).

gallery_2_3_39961.jpg

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  • 4 months later...

For those who were curious above, I just recently (this morning) discovered Scott Ryan's book and, out of curiousity, searched on here to see if anyone had addressed it. I've only read small excerpts of the Amazon preview thus far, but will likely purchase it in order to study it more in depth.

He does seem to be saying much of what I would say in regard to epistemology (which is semi-exciting), but his form of "theism" (panentheism) and his inability to value those aspects of Rand's thought that are extremely and uniquely valuable is quite off-putting.

I'm glad you all thought of me though :)

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First, Scott Ryan claims that "Ayn Rand departs from standard philosophical using in usage of "universals" as a synonym for "concept" and " abstraction" ( pg 22) which is evidently untrue.

"The extreme realist (Platonist) and the moderate realist (Aristotelian) schools of thought regard the referents of concepts as intrinsic, i.e., as “universals” inherent in things" (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 53)

It is clear that Ayn Rand referred to universal as to concepts.

Second, he ignores Ayn Rand position which treats universals as epistemological not metaphysical problem.

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I have done quite a bit of review on this book and actually started a point by point review of his claims. Ill say this, the answer to his claim on Rands position on universals is considerably aided by reading Salimiari's work on "Aristotle's conception of universality". I actually quite enjoy the process of identifying his claims and discerning the relevant responses to them. At least he actually is discussing philosophical points and not the usual psychologizing.(except with his claims about her anti-religious motivation etc.).

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First, Scott Ryan claims that "Ayn Rand departs from standard philosophical using in usage of "universals" as a synonym for "concept" and " abstraction" ( pg 22) which is evidently untrue.

"The extreme realist (Platonist) and the moderate realist (Aristotelian) schools of thought regard the referents of concepts as intrinsic, i.e., as “universals” inherent in things" (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 53)

It is clear that Ayn Rand referred to universal as to concepts.

Second, he ignores Ayn Rand position which treats universals as epistemological not metaphysical problem.

Ryan clearly does not ignore her position that the POU is an epistemological one. Make no mistake, Mrs. Rand definitely departs from the standard conception of what the POU is. It's definitely an ontological "problem" for philosophers since the middle ages [in its present form]. They have been seeking to answer the question, "Are there actual entities that are in several particulars at once?" and "Do these entities exist?". If you answer "yes", you consider that there are real entities out there in several places at once and are a realist about the existence of these entities called universals. If you say "no", you are a nominalist. Salimiari's work seeks to demonstrate that Aristotle attempted to respond to this sort of debate by coining the term universal (from kata holou), so as to reconceive the way we approach the "problem" of forms in Plato's theory. (the metaphysical basis of similarity).

Edit: If you havent read other philosophers talking about it and only read Rand on universals you will be culture shocked by the entirely different way of regarding the entire topic.

"But concepts are abstractions or universals"

ITOE

Edited by Plasmatic
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Salmiari:

"My suggestion is that the term “katholou” is meant to identify what Aristotle thought

Plato had shown that epistēmē requires. In particular, I think it the word is a reference to

Socrates’ request that Meno tell him what virtue is as a whole. The new term focuses for the first

time on the universality that an account must have if it is to serve as a principle of demonstration

and thereby give rise to epistēmē. Platonic forms are supposed to be of wholes in the sense that a

8

there is a whole swarm of particulars participating in to each form; but the concept “form” did

not single out this feature of being “of a whole”. Rather the concept denoted a posited thing that

is supposed to have this feature (among others). “Katholou”, by contrast, conceptualizes the

feature of the posited forms in virtue of which they are supposed to make epistēmē possible.

Consequently, it puts us in a position to inquire about this feature, independent of the hypothesis

that there are forms.

Universality is a characteristic of our thought and, in some sense at least, of what our

thought is about. A universal is whatever holds of some multiplicity of things as a whole—it is

something that “by its nature is predicated of many things” (De Interpretatione 17a39-b2, cf.

Metaphysics Z.13 1038b11) and therefore is suited to serve as a term in a deduction. The

introduction of the term “universal” enables us to enquire into the nature and source of this

feature. It, thus reframes the debate over Platonic forms. Instead of asking whether and in what

way the entities posited by Plato exist, we can acknowledge that knowledge requires that

something be universal and pursue some of the implications of this point for logic and

epistemology, while (relatively independently) inquiring into the ontological question of what

things (if any) need to exist in order to account for the universality of our thought and

knowledge.

Moreover, the concept “universal” enables us to conduct both of these inquiries—to ask

the questions that the theory of forms is supposed to answer—in a way that is neutral between

Plato’s theory and any alternative answers that there may be. This cannot be done with “idea” as

it seems to have been understood in the Academy, and it cannot be done with “universal” as it is

too often used today. Both of these terms denote to a type of existent posited by certain theories,

rather than identifying the phenomenon that the posit was made to explain."

Edited by Plasmatic
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Plasmatic, if I understand the above correctly, it is similar to what I have been saying regarding this issue.

If universals have actual referents in the real world (to avoid subjectivism/nominalism) then some form of realism is true - we need not know the details about which form is true in order to know that some form is. Plato could have been wrong about the nature of the universals (an ideal cat in heaven) as well as how we come to know them (from a past life), without being wrong about the fact that they must exist in order for objective truth to be possible.

I don't know why it is so difficult for intellectuals to distinguish between good and bad elements of one's philosophy. It seems that followers of philosophy in general are wholly incapable of hearing "realism" without seeing a giant "ideal cat" sitting on a giant "ideal chair" in heaven. It's kind of sad.

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Okay, here is my go at it. These are my thoughts alone, so please correct me if I am misunderstand the issue or the Objectivist position.

Metaphysically, isn't everything at its core one thing? Not to say that it is an undifferentiated mass, but that the lines between where things end and begin don't exist metaphyisically, only as a tool of our evolved psycho-epistemology. I don't think that this is qute nominalism in that we assume that the distinctions that our senses make for us our actually valid.

That was the impression I got from Ayn Rand when she said everything was integrated.

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Rand never said that everything is one; this is fortunate because the assertion gets you into some well-known problems. If it's one thing, then it has a boundary in space, outside of which is nothing, a beginning in time, before which was nothing, and, most notoriously, a temporally prior cause, distinct from it, which is the theists' first cause. The notion of one thing only makes sense if said thing is distinct from some other thing. Ask yourself what that other thing is.

We use "existence," "what is," "the universe" and the like as syntactical singulars, but this is misleading.

Nor do I recall her ever saying that everything is integrated. She said that our thinking ought to be integrated.

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I don't really view those as problems as you are not supposed to attempt to understand the world as one thing anyways. We don't view the world as one thing. The only people who come close to veiwing it as one thing are infants and eastern mystics who can deconstruct their mind down to the fabled level of dzogchen.

Holism doesn't make sense epistemologically.

Its metaphysical speculation. I only infered this idea from the fact that our goal is to integrate all of our knowledge. Considering that all knowledge is related in some way, I can only imagine that the universe has everything related in some way. Implying a greater unity. This is the only evidence I can offer. Then I lifted some elaborations of this idea from spinoza.

As I said it is metaphysical speculation, and this is my problem with spinoza. However the fact that my answer is metaphysical speculation illustrates the problem with the way philosophers today approach the problem of universals. I can't see any way of talking about the problem of universals (in the way they want us to) that isn't metaphysical speculation.

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Jacob said:

"If universals have actual referents in the real world (to avoid subjectivism/nominalism) then some form of realism is true - we need not know the details about which form is true in order to know that some form is. Plato could have been wrong about the nature of the universals (an ideal cat in heaven) as well as how we come to know them (from a past life), without being wrong about the fact that they must exist in order for objective truth to be possible. "

You seem to be using universal in the sense Rand uses it and in the usual sense all in the same paragraph. You must understand that most folks mean by universal what Plato meant by Form. ( as Salmiari points out about Russel ) Realism specifically is a position on whether or not certain entities exist in several places at once so as to explain how several particulars can have tha same qualities. What Ryan contends is that this sameness is understood as "strict identity", that is identically the same. You can see how this way of thinking makes the way Rand uses the term universal seem like a different language or subject all together.( in fact it is different subjects epistemology and ontology)

You are trying to say that there must be a metaphysical basis for similarity and Rand says "yes" too but Rand maintained that this did not require "strict identity" and almost seemed to not be aware of the crazy business of universals being entities. She obviously says that Realist think universals "exist in things" but I'm not sure she understood that they are supposed to be a type of entity. Ryan gets confused because Oism holds both that there is a metaphysical basis for kinds/similarity and that this grouping is a function of the conceptual faculty.

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... because Oism holds both that there is a metaphysical basis for kinds/similarity and that this grouping is a function of the conceptual faculty.

Right. The metaphysical basis is the attributes of the entities that are similar. The particular attribute(s) of each particular entity in aggregate across all of the entities held to be of a kind form a multiplicity, not a unity. The unity is formed in the mind, it is epistemological.

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Could explain a bit more about what you mean by "strict identity"?

because Oism holds both that there is a metaphysical basis for kinds/similarity and that this grouping is a function of the conceptual faculty.

The question is this though: do the similarities still exist even apart from the functioning of a conceptual faculty? Does the conceptual faculty CREATE or DISCOVER the similarity? If it creates the similarity, we have nominalism and subjectivism. If it discovers the similarity then we have some

form of realism and objectivism.

I say that this second (discovery of the similarities) is a form of realism because it insists that the similarities are real - that they are metaphysically real.

The reason that I seem to use the term "universal" in both the Randian and in the "traditional" sense at the same time is because there is a sense in which I am. In line with the traditional sense, I hold that universals are real - independent of the subject's mind - metaphysical realities. In line with the "Randian" sense, I hold that (provided we are thinking accurately) we discover these universals and process them using concept formation - forming epistemological universals in our minds which accurately (to some degree or other) reflect the metaphysical universals in reality.

As an examples, all cats have their "cat-like" similarities (whatever they may be). The genus of cat (along with all the differentia) is all real, metaphysically before any subject comes along to notice it. This doesn't mean that they have something labeled "cat" on or in them, but it does mean that their similarities - their "cat-ness" is a metaphysical reality. This reality is gradually discovered by subjects who process it and eventually form concepts which accurately (to some degree or other) correspond to the reality of "cat-ness".

The implication is that "cat-ness" or "man-ness" or "blue-ness" etc... are all metaphysical realities - metaphysical objects. This much must be true. Are they objects up in heaven which communicate some of their essence to particular things down here? Likely not. But just because one (or a hundred) theories about the nature of these objects turns out to be wrong, this does not negate the fact that they must be objects none-the-less.

The hangup that Objecitivists seem to have with this is that they can't conceive of a metaphysical object which is not a physical object because they believe that only physical reality exists. This is why most "Materialists" are also nominalists. Objectivists have enough sense to reject nominalism but seem unwilling to follow through with the implications of realism.

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IOE2 pg.141

Appendix - Abstraction as Measurement Omission

Prof. B: So, "similarity" is an epistemological concept, and a formulation of the metaphysical base of that would be: quantitative differences within a range.

AR: That's right.

She elaborates further:

So that one of the important issues here, and the reason for going into the process in detail, is to indicate the metaphysical base of similarity and the fact that it is grasped perceptually, that it is not a vague, arbitrary abstraction, that similarity is perceptually given, but the understanding of what similarity means has to be arrived at philosophically or scientifically. And similarity, when analyzed, amounts to: measurements omitted.

The metaphysical basis for similarity is real (realism?) and it is grasped perceptually (perceptually given, if you will). Once the mind recognizes "Hey - these two things are similar), the "similarity" can be integrated into a single unit, a new entity (mental entity), a concept (universal). Stepping out on the limb a bit, this new entity is a metaphysical object which is not a physical object, but I don't know if this deals with what you referred to as a hangup.

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Weaver said:

"The metaphysical basis for similarity is real (realism?) and it is grasped perceptually (perceptually given, if you will). Once the mind recognizes "Hey - these two things are similar), the "similarity" can be integrated into a single unit, a new entity (mental entity), a concept (universal). Stepping out on the limb a bit, this new entity is a metaphysical object which is not a physical object, but I don't know if this deals with what you referred to as a hangup. "

This points at the area I think Mrs Rand was the weakest in being explicit. Her position on ontological matters are unclear and at worst equivocal. While she used the term "mental entity", she explains when challenged that entity does imply something physical and decides to call it a "mental something". This is the sort of thing philosophers have been debating for centuries in ontology/mereology. I prefer mental existent.

As far as I can tell "realism" is specifically a position on the idea that the explanation for the phenomenon of similarity/kinds is that the particulars involved have a type of entity residing amongst all of them at the same time. So simply saying yes that there is a metaphysical basis for similarity in common material architecture is not the same question. Now maybe there is a practice of generalizing the term to include any mind independent basis for kinds but a far as I know since the middle ages folks have interpreted Aristotle's term to refer to a type of entity.

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... Stepping out on the limb a bit, this new entity is a metaphysical object which is not a physical object, ...

This is very very wrong.

In this debate (the whole historical debate, not merely this thread) the term metaphysical refers to what exists apart from and outside of consciousness. And here you are claiming consciousness creates the metaphysical within itself, which is what "primacy of consciousness" means.

The mind exists in physical form, including all particular sensations, percepts, and concepts. But to move from their physicality to also claim they exist metaphysically is to blur the distinction between subject and object, knower and known.

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