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Michael Yang's criticisms of Oist Meta/Epis

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In "Reconsidering Ayn Rand", a guy named Michael Yang criticizes Oism.

He's a Christian and sums up his case with "I heard God tell me Objectivism was false", but, still, compared to most criticisms of Oism, he does a relatively good job of choosing his arguments, arguing his points, and not misinterpreting/mischaracterizing Oism.

I couldn't find a thread on him (via search) so I thought I'd summarize his points here. I hoping other people have read the book and/or can refer me to an essay/thread with counter-arguments.

Some of these criticisms I think get taken care of in Kelley's essay on abstraction/concept formation and Peikoff's theory of induction, but anywho, here are the main criticisms about Oist epistemology itself (as opposed to some seemingly contradictory statements Rand has made about her philosophy):

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***** Rand argues that her proof of the failure of skepticism therefore proves that all knowledge comes from sense perception, but that that doesn't follow. "Just because knowledge is possible, we cannot conclude that sensation is one of many pathways, much less the only pathway to knowledge...the refutation of skepticism is not a theory of knowledge".

Basically, he's implying that someone could get knowledge without sense perception, i.e., someone puts information into your head (like God, or technologically advanced extra-terrestrials). I suppose the counter-argument/clarification would be that a person understanding the information would be depend on their having a brain capable of assimilating it, which is a capability that is formed via sense perception. However, someone could argue that this capability could be created without sense perception (i.e. with advanced technology). So, while Rand is arguing that humans, thus far, have always gotten all their knowledge via sense perception, at least to the best of our knowledge, and while this may be correct, we cannot therefore infer that it's the only way we can get knowledge.

***** A standard critique of the "tabula rasa" claim. 'How can we form concepts with a blank mind?'

I think this depends on what Rand meant by tabula rasa (perhaps she didn't mean what most do when using the term), and has been misinterpreted. I'm sure this has been discussed a lot, so I'm interested in what people familiar with this criticism have to say about it.

***** A critique of the 'implicit concepts' argument about the development of children's minds.

I think Kelley's abstraction essay addresses this criticism. From what I can remember, it basically argues that the development to concepts goes on a spectrum as opposed to a jump from non-conceptual to totally conceptual.

***** It doesn't make sense to say something is "contextually absolute"

I think Peikoff's theory of induction addresses this criticism--it's makes sense to have X opinion based on the available context (subject to change/revision by an objective standard)

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Another major criticism:

"She write's, 'A concept subsumes all the characteristics of its referents, including the yet-to-be-discovered.' This is tantamount to saying that a concept is its referents. What Rand mean is this: The concept of a man includes all that has been discovered about man--man is a living thing that utilizes logic, moves, walks on two legs, possesses 1.2 million neurons in each of his optic nerves, etc.--but it also includes other characteristics yet to be discovered. That is, the concept of man is identical to existent man.

There are several problems with Rand's claim. First, if the concept of man is identical with the real existent man and all his characteristics, then the concept cannot represent a condensation of knowledge as Rand has said. It would no longer be an abstraction...the characteristics yet to be discovered about the extramental entity man are not yet present in the mind...what evidence did Rand have for these yet-to-be-discovered qualities?"

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Mnrchst said: That is, the concept of man is identical to existent man.

The identification via a concept of man via the nature of man's consciousness is identical to the identity of the existent man.

Existence is identity, consciousness is identification.

Man.

Man, oh man.

Imagine all the things that come to mind, isn't that what we abstracted it from, by invoking that short little condensed unit "man".

That short little condensed unit "man" has all those things that come to mind packed into that tiny weeny package, available to be unpacked and re-examined as need be.

And since we continue to discover new qualities*, all we can do is keep fitting them into it as well.

*Link to article from Science Daily: Sleeping Brain Behaves as If It's Remembering Something

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***** Rand argues that her proof of the failure of skepticism therefore proves that all knowledge comes from sense perception, but that that doesn't follow. "Just because knowledge is possible, we cannot conclude that sensation is one of many pathways, much less the only pathway to knowledge...the refutation of skepticism is not a theory of knowledge".

What does he think Rand's "proof of the failure of skepticism" was? The idea that "knowledge is impossible" is a statement that should apply to itself therefore skepticism is self-refuting goes back at least as far as Greek philosopher Epicurus.

Causality. If there is knowledge it is caused. The primary cause of knowledge is perception. Percepts count as knowledge and are the foundation of knowledge. What Yang seems to be doing here is defending a place for uncaused knowledge, mysticism.

***** A standard critique of the "tabula rasa" claim. 'How can we form concepts with a blank mind?'

Our minds are not blank. Percepts count as knowledge and are the foundation of knowledge.

***** A critique of the 'implicit concepts' argument about the development of children's minds.

I think Kelley's abstraction essay addresses this criticism. From what I can remember, it basically argues that the development to concepts goes on a spectrum as opposed to a jump from non-conceptual to totally conceptual.

You did not write what Yang argued, so I cannot comment on whether you are correct in taking Kelley to be the appropriate refutation.

***** It doesn't make sense to say something is "contextually absolute"

I think Peikoff's theory of induction addresses this criticism--it's makes sense to have X opinion based on the available context (subject to change/revision by an objective standard)

You don't give enough of what Yang writes to make sense of his objection.

Another major criticism:

"She write's, 'A concept subsumes all the characteristics of its referents, including the yet-to-be-discovered.' This is tantamount to saying that a concept is its referents. What Rand mean is this: The concept of a man includes all that has been discovered about man--man is a living thing that utilizes logic, moves, walks on two legs, possesses 1.2 million neurons in each of his optic nerves, etc.--but it also includes other characteristics yet to be discovered. That is, the concept of man is identical to existent man.

There are several problems with Rand's claim. First, if the concept of man is identical with the real existent man and all his characteristics, then the concept cannot represent a condensation of knowledge as Rand has said. It would no longer be an abstraction...the characteristics yet to be discovered about the extramental entity man are not yet present in the mind...what evidence did Rand have for these yet-to-be-discovered qualities?"

This is trivial. Of course there are attributes yet undiscovered about man, and every other thing that exists. The evidence is that we keep discovering more and more, and that there is knowledge that we now have which we did not have in the past. Sometimes we can even put names and dates on discoveries, amazingly.

To say that a concept is identical to the existent is to claim that actual physical existents, such as particular full grown adult men, are walking about inside one's skull. That is just stupid. As a critique this is incompetent.

Rand says the meaning of a concept is its referents, not that a concept is its referents.

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"What Yang seems to be doing here is defending a place for uncaused knowledge, mysticism."

Not uncaused, just not from sense perception. In other words, if someone "put an idea into your head" using a yet-uninvented machine or God/mysticism.

"Our minds are not blank."

How would you interpret Rand's 'tabula rasa' statements?

"You did not write what Yang argued"

Here's what is boils down to: how can children form a concept without a concept?

"You don't give enough of what Yang writes to make sense of his objection."

He basically reiterates the problem of induction. I think Peikoff solved it. I was hoping someone here would be familiar with Yang's critique (didn't want to write everything out, maybe I'll do that later).

"Rand says the meaning of a concept is its referents, not that a concept is its referents."

This means that we don't know (or can't be sure that we do) what the meaning of concepts are. This works because they're just observations with measurements omitted, yes?

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"What Yang seems to be doing here is defending a place for uncaused knowledge, mysticism."

Not uncaused, just not from sense perception. In other words, if someone "put an idea into your head" using a yet-uninvented machine or God/mysticism.

Ok, there are two cases here:

1. Technology putting ideas in our heads. Where did the technology come from? Aliens? Where did the aliens get it? Someone/something had to figure it out the hard way the first time, based causally upon perception.

2. God/mysticism is just the appeal to magic or acausality.

Then there is "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." That still falls under case 1.

"Our minds are not blank."

How would you interpret Rand's 'tabula rasa' statements?

That is the merely the name of the position opposed to "a priori knowledge", also known as "innate ideas". In Rand's epistemology there is no one is born possessing concepts, all are formed later. Everything else not a concept which can be considered a bodily part or function can be a priori , that is inheritable.

"You did not write what Yang argued"

Here's what is boils down to: how can children form a concept without a concept?

From percepts. The hidden premise which is probably blocking his understanding is the idea that all knowledge is in the form of words, or is propositional. The thought is like this: "Knowledge has to be justified, and the only thing that justifies is a logic, and logic requires words, therefore concepts come from concepts and 'where did the first concept come from' is a problem." But it is not the case that the only thing that justifies is logic. Perception provides a form of non-propositional justification.

"Rand says the meaning of a concept is its referents, not that a concept is its referents."

This means that we don't know (or can't be sure that we do) what the meaning of concepts are. This works because they're just observations with measurements omitted, yes?

No, in order to know the meaning of a concept with complete clarity it is only necessary to be able to distinguish referents that are included within the concept from referents which are excluded. That is the role a definition plays. The meaning of the concept "apple" is all particular apples, as distinguished from oranges or plums. It is not necessary to know the history, economics, and genetic sequences of apples in order to know what one is referring to with the concept 'apple'. This is where the file folder analogy works well. The file folder is formed by the definition, and all our knowledge about apples goes into the file folder. We do not need to know everything about apples to know one when we see one.

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There are a lot of people around who have a certain knowledge in their minds which is disconnected from the perceivable reality. For the most of them such a eventuality is very threatening experience which leads them to seek a professional help in the form of neuroleptic drugs. In any case to anyone who claims that " God told me that Ayn Rand ( or anybody else for that matter) is wrong", I'd recommend an urgent brain MRI scan.

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More like discovering the relationship between the non-propositional and the propositional, the grasping of which is also non-propositional

Simple similarity given in squares.

Simple similarity given in circles

Δ Δ Δ Simple similarity given in triangles.

We can see the simple similarity given perceptually in each of the three examples is size. We can not communicate it verbally without proposisitons.

Another similarity would be shape. By focusing on the single group of triangles, contrasted with the visual difference between one of the circles and/or one of the squares, the similarity of shape comes to the foreground.

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