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The Objectivists theory of concept-formation puzzles me. I hope someone can clarify this theory a bit.

 

Rand gives as an example the concept of “table.” Tables’ “shapes vary,” she writes, “but have one characteristic in common: a flat, level surface and supports. [One] forms the concept ‘table’ by retaining that characteristic and omitting all particular measurements, not only measurements of the shape but of all the other characteristics of tables (many of which [one] is not aware of at the time).”http://www.scholardarity.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/OCR-Clean-Version.pdf

 

So an empirical, singular en concrete table in one’s room is related to all other perceived empirical unites of tables. The essential characteristics of all perceived tables are mentally integrated to form the concept “Table”.

 

But now consider the concept of “Flammable Object”. An empirical wooden table is flammable and thus can be integrated in the concept of “Flammable Objects”. Or the concept of “Buoyant Object”. A singular wooden table has buoyancy and as such can be integrated in the concept of a “Buoyant Object”. It’s also possible to carve letters or numbers in the surface of that specific wooden table so as such the table could be part of the concept of “Medium for Information”. And so on, and so on.

 

So when one perceives a specific wooden table how should one identify that unit of reality? Or more specific: what is an objective identification of a specific wooden table? Should one identify it as an instance of the concept “Table”? Or as an instance of the concept “Flammable Object”? Or is the empirical table to be identified as a “Buoyant Object” or as a “Medium for Information”? Or would the proper objective identification state: that thing over here is identified as an instance of the concept of a “Flammable, Buoyant Table with the capacity to hold Information”?

What objective grounds are there for any particular identification and on what objective grounds does one reject other possible identifications?

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...Or would the proper objective identification state: that thing over here is identified as an instance of the concept of a “Flammable, Buoyant Table ...

Well, what is the purpose of the identification? In other words, what is the context of the observer? Are you trying to identify objects that might help you float if you throw them off the ship and cling on to them? Are you trying to identify things that need to be moved further away from the fire? etc.

In other words: what do you mean by "objective"? Do you mean "free of any context regarding why you're making this identification in the first place"?

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Tools should be defined, to the extent possible, by their function and not their observable properties. A table is a free-standing item of furniture beside which one may sit and upon which one may place objects for ease of manipulation or display. For natural objects, there is no recourse but to make definitions using observable properties. A boulder may be a table if it is so used. A table may be firewood if so used.

Edited by aleph_1
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Thanks for the replies!

 

 

Well, what is the purpose of the identification? In other words, what is the context of the observer? Are you trying to identify objects that might help you float if you throw them off the ship and cling on to them? Are you trying to identify things that need to be moved further away from the fire? etc.

In other words: what do you mean by "objective"? Do you mean "free of any context regarding why you're making this identification in the first place"?

 

I thought (and please correct me when I'm wrong, as I'm quite new to Objectivism) that Objectivism aims at an objective kind of knowledge and not at an subjective kind (I.e. dependent of an observer). I take objective to mean something like independent of an observer, his subjective viewpoints or his interests.

Additional qualifications like "purpose" or "context of the observer" seems to introduce a level of subjectivity. Does a identification of an object vary with the purpose of the observer? Does a empirical unit like a concrete table 'becomes' another concept when the circumstances or the interests of the observer chance?

 

 

 

 

A boulder may be a table if it is so used. A table may be firewood if so used.

 

Is a boulder identifiable with the concept "Table" before is it used as such? Is it objective to say when pointing at a boulder: "look at that table"?

When you use a table as firewood does it loose its association with the concept "Table"? Does it's identification change from the concept "Table" to "Firewood"? Is this chance in identification (if any) a objective fact or a chance in subjective identification caused by someone's need for warmth?

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The essential characteristics

 

It's a table. And it's also flammable and buoyant. Those characteristics are not essentials though. It's possible for there to be a table made of steel, not flammable, or a table that sinks, made of iron.

 

Wooden table is not a concept in itself. You cannot integrate non-essentials into a new concept. There is no concept for '24 year old blondes with blue eyes'. There is no valid concept for 'wooden table', nor 'steel table', nor 'tall tables with polka dots made of chicken wire'. That is the arbitrary. That is the antithesis of cognition.

Edited by Peter Morris
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A tool is defined by its use. If a boulder is never usedor intended to be used as a table, it is never a table. As a table is used for firewood, it loses the potential for use as a table. In this way, a table may cease to be a table. The potential for use as a table is determined objectively. If a "table" has a top surface made of rice paper so thin as to be incapable of supporting anything, then it is not a table even if it is a flat level surface with supports.

There need be no change in identification. A table used as firewood is a table until it loses that capacity.

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I think reading Intro to Objectivist Epistemology is a much more effective way of gaining an understanding of Rand's theory than reading a critique of the work.

I second this. To anyone reading this, before you ask a lot of questions of others, go to the source material and read it thoroughly first. You waste your own time by not doing so. You also waste other people's time. You cannot possibly hope to gain any real understanding of Rand's work from snippets or critiques. Rand's philosophy is accessible to all, but it is extremely deep and interconnected. If you fail to grasp her basic ideas, you will run into problems like the OP has. Not to mention, most men are rationalists. I was, or rather am recovering. I know it, and I still struggle with it.

Edited by Peter Morris
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What is essential depends on what is the most immediate use. Again, tools should be defined by their use. Even Webster gets this wrong. By all means, read source materials carefully. It takes a long time to reprogram your thinking. Therefore, do it right this, your second time around.

Edited by aleph_1
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I thought (and please correct me when I'm wrong, as I'm quite new to Objectivism) that Objectivism aims at an objective kind of knowledge and not at an subjective kind (I.e. dependent of an observer). I take objective to mean something like independent of an observer, his subjective viewpoints or his interests.

Not exactly. For Objectivism, your stance as an observer cannot be disregarded. Concept formation and knowledge is dependent upon you as an observer and what you can grasp about the world. In some sense this is "subjective" i.e. observer-relative, but it doesn't deny that the nature of reality is independent of your wishes and desires. What you know about tables has to do with your attitude/stance towards things that express characteristics of tables. There is no "Absolute Table" in reality, but what you refer to as a table, to be objective, should be characteristics that are measurable, even if that measure is relative to you as an observer. In the case of tables, it will be relative to the function an object serves for you, namely, a flat surface on which to place objects.

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@Castor #4

 

I thought (and please correct me when I'm wrong, as I'm quite new to Objectivism) that Objectivism aims at an objective kind of knowledge and not at an subjective kind (I.e. dependent of an observer). 

 

Knowledge cannot exist independent of a mind.  Also there is also no such thing as a collective mind -- minds exist only in individuals.  The question that needs answering is:  Does your mind shape and distort what is perceived in the "real" word and render your knowledge subjective? Or is it possible for you to obtain objective knowledge based on the evidence of your senses?  Objectivism holds that it is possible for an individual to gain objective knowledge of the world (including the self!) and Rand presents her case in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (which you should read first, and not a critique).  Pragmatism, Christianity, Skepticism, Idealism, Materialism, etc., etc. etc.  all hold, in some manner, that is it NOT possible for an individual to gain an objective understanding of "reality" from the evidence of the senses.   They develop elaborate arguments for why it is not possible - many which are so convoluted that someone new to philosophy might think that there might be some truth to their arguments, else why would they be so hard to understand?  But as you read other philosophies keep asking yourself "what is their position on the validity of the senses as the basis for knowledge?"

 

I take objective to mean something like independent of an observer, his subjective viewpoints or his interests.

 

This is one of the saddest failures of other philosophies - the position that an individual cannot possible obtain objective knowledge, and therefore he must rely either on god, habit, urges, automated behavioral reflex, mysticism and/or the consensus of society to validate what he knows.  Truth is put to a vote or determined by God.  Or he must be skeptical of everything he knows.  The individual, with his petty selfish interests, can't possibly be allowed to think for himself....

 

 

Additional qualifications like "purpose" or "context of the observer" seems to introduce a level of subjectivity. Does a identification of an object vary with the purpose of the observer? Does a empirical unit like a concrete table 'becomes' another concept when the circumstances or the interests of the observer chance?

 

Regarding essence, think of a baseball bat.  In some contexts it's a piece of sporting equipment used to hit a ball in the game baseball.  In other contexts it could be used a club for self protection, or even fire wood.  Objectivism hold that "essence" is both contextual and epistemological (epistemological means that it exists in the mind of an individual).  But as noted above, the fact that it exists in the mind of an individual does not mean that it is rendered subjective.  Other philosophies treat essence differently.  Plato believed that essence was an archetype, and that individual objects in the real world are imperfect reflections of their archetypes that exist in another realm.  Aristotle believed that essence was a property of matter (out there) and apprehended directly by the mind in much the same way that we perceive color, shape, etc.  Objectivism hold the opposite of Aristotle, but agrees that knowledge is gained through observation.  In a very loose way other philosophies tend to fall into either Platonic or Aristotelian camps in trying to understand the source of knowledge.

 

Again, to understand this in greater detail, you really should start with Rand's work and not just a critique of her work.

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I thought (and please correct me when I'm wrong, as I'm quite new to Objectivism) that Objectivism aims at an objective kind of knowledge and not at an subjective kind (I.e. dependent of an observer). I take objective to mean something like independent of an observer, his subjective viewpoints or his interests.

Additional qualifications like "purpose" or "context of the observer" seems to introduce a level of subjectivity.

 

I'm surprised no one has mentioned it yet but the concept you're missing is 'intrinsicism'. You've confused objectivity with intrinsicism. The intrinsic view holds that knowledge is out there in reality independent of the observer (as you describe objectivity). For example, Plato's world of forms or Aristotle's epistemology of metaphysical essences. Subjectivity is the idea that you just make concepts up as you go along. They do not refer to anything in reality and knowledge boils down to personal preference.

 

Objectivity in epistemology, on the other hand, is the idea that there exists an external reality and our knowledge comes from applying our human method of cognition to these objective facts. 

 

I don't think you will have a clear answer to your problem until you understand the three following concepts in relation to epistemology: Intrinsicism, Subjectivism, and Objectivism.

 

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/objectivity.html

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As for primary sources: I have listened to “Philosophy Who Needs It” & “Objectivism - The Philosophy of Ayn Rand” (Piekoff) in full audiobooks. This question occurred to me while doing so. I did some additional research on-line but found no satisfying answer. Primarily I’m interested in a ‘good’ notion of objectivity, maybe an Objectivist notion, maybe another or maybe none. Whomever thinks discussing this is a waste of time is of course free to act accordingly.

 

 

The essential characteristics

 

It's a table. And it's also flammable and buoyant. Those characteristics are not essentials though. It's possible for there to be a table made of steel, not flammable, or a table that sinks, made of iron.

 

Wooden table is not a concept in itself. You cannot integrate non-essentials into a new concept. There is no concept for '24 year old blondes with blue eyes'. There is no valid concept for 'wooden table', nor 'steel table', nor 'tall tables with polka dots made of chicken wire'. That is the arbitrary. That is the antithesis of cognition.

 

“Wooden table” is not a concept?? How is it even possible to think or talk about a “Wooden table”? Why would Objectivism not be able to integrate the concepts “wood” and “table”? As such a integration seems to be necessary to differentiate a wooden table from an iron table. The material of the table seems to be, In Objectivist terms, a irreducible primary in usages of tables where the specific material is important.

 

 

A tool is defined by its use. If a boulder is never usedor intended to be used as a table, it is never a table. As a table is used for firewood, it loses the potential for use as a table. In this way, a table may cease to be a table. The potential for use as a table is determined objectively. If a "table" has a top surface made of rice paper so thin as to be incapable of supporting anything, then it is not a table even if it is a flat level surface with supports.

There need be no change in identification. A table used as firewood is a table until it loses that capacity.

 

So a tool-object is defined by its intended use; the use for which the maker intended the tool. And this object loses this identification the moment it loses the capacity for the intended function. That seems to imply, in an Objectivist view, that a physical object actually gets identified by another concept when you alter the physical object enough. Namely: after the point the physical object lost the last bit of capability to perform the indented use, it’s no longer identified as a “Table”. So the physical object has to be conceptualized in another way.

Why doesn’t an actual, real usage supersede the original, intentional identification? Someone with the intention to burn the table is performing the same act of identifying an intended use: to be a source of warmth. That capacity is an objective fact. Furthermore: a wooden table always has the capacity to be used as firewood. As long, sometimes even longer, than the table is capable to perform its function as table, it’s also possible to burn it. The potential for that use is also determined objectively. As are the possibilities to use it for writing, as a raft, as a shelter, ect. ect. One could argue that the more accurate and fitting with reality one’s identifications are, the more they contribute to succeeding in one’s goals. So why is the indented use of something a more objective ground for the conceptualization than an actual usage or an intend one? 

 

 

Not exactly. For Objectivism, your stance as an observer cannot be disregarded. Concept formation and knowledge is dependent upon you as an observer and what you can grasp about the world. In some sense this is "subjective" i.e. observer-relative, but it doesn't deny that the nature of reality is independent of your wishes and desires. What you know about tables has to do with your attitude/stance towards things that express characteristics of tables. There is no "Absolute Table" in reality, but what you refer to as a table, to be objective, should be characteristics that are measurable, even if that measure is relative to you as an observer. In the case of tables, it will be relative to the function an object serves for you, namely, a flat surface on which to place objects.

 

Sure, but it also has to do with my attitude/stance towards things that express characteristics of buoyancy and flammability, and the possible usages of these characteristics. And note that these (and all other) physical properties are independent of our wishes and desires as well.

 

 

There is no "Absolute Table" in reality, but what you refer to as a table, to be objective, should be characteristics that are measurable, even if that measure is relative to you as an observer. In the case of tables, it will be relative to the function an object serves for you, namely, a flat surface on which to place objects.

 

Buoyancy and flammability are measurable.

But when an table is used as firewood does it get another conceptualization?

 

 

@Castor #4

 

I take objective to mean something like independent of an observer, his subjective viewpoints or his interests.

 

This is one of the saddest failures of other philosophies - the position that an individual cannot possible obtain objective knowledge, and therefore he must rely either on god, habit, urges, automated behavioral reflex, mysticism and/or the consensus of society to validate what he knows.  Truth is put to a vote or determined by God.  Or he must be skeptical of everything he knows.  The individual, with his petty selfish interests, can't possibly be allowed to think for himself....

 

 

 

I was trying to state that my definition of objective would be: a statement is objective when it accurately describes a part of reality. The content and truth of an objective statement can be perceived (and must be accepted) by all reasonable men. In my opinion this definition view is very compatible with an Objectivist account of objectivity.

 
 

 

Regarding essence, think of a baseball bat.  In some contexts it's a piece of sporting equipment used to hit a ball in the game baseball.  In other contexts it could be used a club for self protection, or even fire wood.  Objectivism hold that "essence" is both contextual and epistemological (epistemological means that it exists in the mind of an individual).  But as noted above, the fact that it exists in the mind of an individual does not mean that it is rendered subjective.  

 

My primarily questions are about the formations of concepts and how is that is objective in a Objectivist view. I would like to focus on that as I fully accept the reality as really existing independent from observers.
Do you think the “essence” changes when the context changes? Does that imply that the
conceptualization change as well?

 

 

I'm surprised no one has mentioned it yet but the concept you're missing is 'intrinsicism'. You've confused objectivity with intrinsicism. The intrinsic view holds that knowledge is out there in reality independent of the observer (as you describe objectivity). For example, Plato's world of forms or Aristotle's epistemology of metaphysical essences. Subjectivity is the idea that you just make concepts up as you go along. They do not refer to anything in reality and knowledge boils down to personal preference.

 

Objectivity in epistemology, on the other hand, is the idea that there exists an external reality and our knowledge comes from applying our human method of cognition to these objective facts. 

 

I don't think you will have a clear answer to your problem until you understand the three following concepts in relation to epistemology: Intrinsicism, Subjectivism, and Objectivism.

 

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/objectivity.html

 

Maybe my original statement can be interpreted as expressing a form of intrinsicism, but that was certainly not what I meant. I fully accept the empirical reality of my table, it’s a fully real physical object with some very real and measurable properties. Any statement about my table is only objective when it concerns true facts that can be verified empirically by all reasonable and competed men.
My questions here concern the way people conceptualize and to what extend that can be regarded as objective. Every concept that is objective must refer to a measurable aspect of reality. As indicated there are a lot of possible conceptualizations of any one physical object, ever so empirical, verifiable, practical and ever so objective.

What is it that makes an Objectivist to accept any one conceptualization and reject other, empirical, verifiable and objective concepts? When I point at my wooden table and state: “this is a Flammable Object”, is a Objectivist forced to deny this statement? And if so, on which objective grounds? Is he/she forced to deny the concept of flammability or the concept of object or the integration of those identifications? What empirical fact makes a concept of a “flammable object” a non-concept for a physical object when it is in fact flammable?

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Buoyancy and flammability are measurable.

But when an table is used as firewood does it get another conceptualization?

"Wooden table" is two concepts: wooden and table. There is nothing wrong with multiple concepts applying to one entity. Perhaps you can make it into one, but then it's still a type of table. That is its genus is "table" and the concept table also applies to it. If it is used as firewood, then you'd probably say "this table is primarily treated as firewood". It always was firewood to the extent it meets the essential character

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My primarily questions are about the formations of concepts and how is that is objective in a Objectivist view. I would like to focus on that as I fully accept the reality as really existing independent from observers.

If you point to a wooden table and say "this is a piece of furniture" or says "this is a flammable object" or say "this is a piece of junk" or say 'this is my property", etc. a reasonable outside observer could agree with all those statements (assuming the underlying facts are that this wooden piece of junk is a table you own). presumably these are all objectively true. 

 

The stereotypical example is how the Inuit have 50 different words for different types of snow; Southern Canadians probably have 5 or 10; and Nicaraguans really don't have any, though they'd recognize some from books and movies. Slightly apocryphal, but this much is true: one person might group things as a single concept while another person may break them down further and group them into two or more concepts. If they've both done it right, they can both see and validate that the other has created a meaningful category, even though they each might find their own categorization useful to their own purposes.

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Castor, its important to point out here that there are two different senses of objectivity for Oism.

1. The ontological distinction of objective which is referring to external realism. That is, mind independent facts. This is the factual basis of the primacy of existence over consciousness. Consciousness exists bit it is ontologically dependent on metaphysical primaries.

2. The epistemological distinction that refers to the volitional method of identifying and integrating those ontological facts in order to correspond to them in thought and action.

The primary question you seem to be asking is concerning the epistemological requirements of objective correspondence. Objectivity in this context is a relation between the subject and object of cognition. The identity the things being identified as against their background context both externally and internally constrains the process of identification in such a way that arbitrary whim and bad methods can produce failure to correspond to the facts. This process is neither automatic nor unconstrained. It is a volitional process that requires one to discover the conditions that are not up to the observers/subjects caprice.

The Oist principle of Rand's Razor (concepts ought not be multiplied beyond necessity) is an epistemological guide to remind one of the cognitive requirements of economy that is the reason for concepts in the first place.

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@Castor #13

 

"Any statement about my table is only objective when it concerns true facts that can be verified empirically by all reasonable and competed men."

 

What if you are stranded on a desert island?  Is objective knowledge impossible because there are no other reasonable and competent men around to verify what you believe to be true?  Is learning to survive impossible then?

 

You need to appreciate how radially individualistic Objectivism is.  While it is nice to exchange information and learn from others, it is not absolutely necessary in order to obtain objective knowledge.  We are all epistemic islands.  We are all individuals. Information received through communication with others is no different, metaphysically, than information gained from your senses when you plant a seed and watch it grow or learn to drive a car.  Words spoken or typed by others are just sensory input to you.  YOU must determine if what they say is true or not.  What they believe to be true has no bearing on whether it is true -- and their belief should never serve as a substitution for your own judgment.

 

This fact that it is existentially impossible for one person to think for another is the basis for Objectivist Ethics.  No one can force you to believe something to be true and you cannot force someone else to believe something to be true.  We each must think for ourselves and draw our own conclusions.  Will we be wrong on occasion?  Absolutely.  We're probably wrong more often then we are right.  But we can learn from our actions including communicating with others.

Edited by New Buddha
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"Wooden table" is two concepts: wooden and table. There is nothing wrong with multiple concepts applying to one entity. Perhaps you can make it into one, but then it's still a type of table. That is its genus is "table" and the concept table also applies to it. If it is used as firewood, then you'd probably say "this table is primarily treated as firewood". It always was firewood to the extent it meets the essential character

 

How is a proposition "this table is primarily treated as firewood" to be formalized in Objectivists’ terms? Is it something like: “the concrete object x as conceptualized as an integrated identity A is employed in reality to the extent that its expressing his integrated identity B and thus negating the A-identity”?

At this point I think a more realistic account is this one:

 

 1] The needs and wants of people are met when an object x is created with the capacity to perform a desired function F.

(e.g. to place stuff on, preferable foods or decorative materials).

2] The capacity of a concrete object x to perform function F is equivalent to having an identity A1.

(e.g. all table-like objects have the capacity to perform table-functions.)

3] In order for objects to exist they must be made of matter. The chosen materials for object x have identity M.

(e.g. this table is made of wood.)

4] A concrete object x can be utilized for any desired function F2, F3, F4,….Fn, as long as it doesn’t contradict the physical properties of x, i.e. the only constrain is its identity M.

(e.g. this table can be used as a raft, firewood, shelter,,, .)

5] Reiterating 2]: having the capacity to perform functions F2, F3, F4,….Fn is equivalent to having identities A2, A3,A4,,,,, An.

6] Thus object x can be identified as: (A1,A2,A3,,,,,,, and/or An) and M.

7] As 1] and 4] are predicated on the needs and wants of people, the identification is subjective in functional terms and only objective in reference to in its physical properties.

(Although this specific object is meant as a table, commonly used as table, his material M fully enabling the usage as a table, we have to conclude that x is not uniquely a table to all people at all times).

8] Conclusion: identification cannot be a purely objective act.

 

At this moment I personally think this last ‘deconstruction’ of identity is plausible and it seems to have some parallels with the accounts some Objectivists has given thus far. At the same time this conception of identification seems to differ substantial from what Ms Rand wants her readers to accept.

 

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/objectivity.html

Objectivity is both a metaphysical and an epistemological concept. It pertains to the relationship of consciousness to existence. Metaphysically, it is the recognition of the fact that reality exists independent of any perceiver’s consciousness. Epistemologically, it is the recognition of the fact that a perceiver’s (man’s) consciousness must acquire knowledge of reality by certain means (reason) in accordance with certain rules (logic). This means that although reality is immutable and, in any given context, only one answer is true, the truth is not automatically available to a human consciousness and can be obtained only by a certain mental process which is required of every man who seeks knowledge—that there is no substitute for this process, no escape from the responsibility for it, no shortcuts, no special revelations to privileged observers—and that there can be no such thing as a final “authority” in matters pertaining to human knowledge. Metaphysically, the only authority is reality; epistemologically—one’s own mind. The first is the ultimate arbiter of the second.

 

Objectivity begins with the realization that man (including his every attribute and faculty, including his consciousness) is an entity of a specific nature who must act accordingly; that there is no escape from the law of identity, neither in the universe with which he deals nor in the working of his own consciousness, and if he is to acquire knowledge of the first, he must discover the proper method of using the second; that there is no room for the arbitrary in any activity of man, least of all in his method of cognition—and just as he has learned to be guided by objective criteria in making his physical tools, so he must be guided by objective criteria in forming his tools of cognition: his concepts.

 

(my marking) 

 

Man has not just only learned to use objective criteria in tool-making, he also has learned he has needs and desires and that those can be satisfied by tool-use. This is in part a subjective act, a valuation.

A consciousness man is always creator and authority of identity. This is in part a subjective act, a valuation. A proposition containing this identity is only true when an objective part of the identity is indeed found in reality.

e.g. The identity of Santa Claus is not: has wings, steals stuff from children and is dressed like Darth Vader.

The ‘proper’ identity of Santa Claus is: dressed in red, quite chubby and old, gives stuff to children, ect.

The ‘proper’ identity of Santa Claus has no factual reference in reality => Santa Clause does not exist.

Even non-existing things have identities.

 

 

These things considered I think Ms Rand suggests more rigorousness, more objectivity and more consistency than she actually delivers The ‘world’ of concepts seems to be much more muddy, more subject to agency and much less clear-cut as Rand portraits it to be. If something basic like the construction of concepts is partial but essential predicated on subjectivity it’s a misrepresentation to state:

 

The senses, concepts, logic: these are the elements of man’s rational faculty—its start, its form, its method. In essence, “follow reason” means: base knowledge on observation; form concepts according to the actual (measurable) relationships among concretes; use concepts according to the rules of logic (ultimately, the Law of Identity). Since each of these elements is based on the facts of reality, the conclusions reached by a process of reason are objective.

 

 

The stereotypical example is how the Inuit have 50 different words for different types of snow; Southern Canadians probably have 5 or 10; and Nicaraguans really don't have any, though they'd recognize some from books and movies. Slightly apocryphal, but this much is true: one person might group things as a single concept while another person may break them down further and group them into two or more concepts. If they've both done it right, they can both see and validate that the other has created a meaningful category, even though they each might find their own categorization useful to their own purposes.

I think I can agree to your example but I question if Rand would with the bold part.

 

 

Castor, its important to point out here that there are two different senses of objectivity for Oism.

1. The ontological distinction of objective which is referring to external realism. That is, mind independent facts. This is the factual basis of the primacy of existence over consciousness. Consciousness exists bit it is ontologically dependent on metaphysical primaries.

 

Yes, AKA the metaphysical concept of objectivity. That definition struck me as a bit peculiar since a regular definition of realism entails: “Philosophers who profess realism state that truth consists in the mind's correspondence to reality.” By that account reality is not seen as being objective; only a belief or statement concerning reality can be objective (to some extent) if it accurately describes reality. In this more general view reality cannot be objective, only propositions can be.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophical_realism

 

 

2. The epistemological distinction that refers to the volitional method of identifying and integrating those ontological facts in order to correspond to them in thought and action.

The primary question you seem to be asking is concerning the epistemological requirements of objective correspondence. Objectivity in this context is a relation between the subject and object of cognition. The identity the things being identified as against their background context both externally and internally constrains the process of identification in such a way that arbitrary whim and bad methods can produce failure to correspond to the facts. This process is neither automatic nor unconstrained. It is a volitional process that requires one to discover the conditions that are not up to the observers/subjects caprice.

The Oist principle of Rand's Razor (concepts ought not be multiplied beyond necessity) is an epistemological guide to remind one of the cognitive requirements of economy that is the reason for concepts in the first place.

 

 

Rands Razor in the explanation here:

 

The requirements of cognition forbid the arbitrary grouping of existents, both in regard to isolation and to integration. They forbid the random coining of special concepts to designate any and every group of existents with any possible combination of characteristics. For example, there is no concept to designate “Beautiful blondes with blue eyes, 5’5” tall and 24 years old.” Such entities or groupings are identified descriptively. If such a special concept existed, it would lead to senseless duplication of cognitive effort (and to conceptual chaos): everything of significance discovered about that group would apply to all other young women as well. There would be no cognitive justification for such a concept—unless some essential characteristic were discovered, distinguishing such blondes from all other women and requiring special study, in which case a special concept would become necessary. . . .

 

In what regard is “description” different from “concept” one might ask, especially as Rand defines the concept of table in a descriptive manner.

Also: this idea of “concept” doesn’t seem to promote well-being. Isn’t hair colour correlated to risk of sun induced skin cancer? I’ve discovered I find blonde x beautiful but, sadly, that does not apply to all other young woman. I’ve discovered she is 24 years old, in contrast to another woman who is 84. I might consider Blonde x as a candidate for marriage, reproduction or recreation while the 84-old woman is not in that conceptual domain. It’s seems essential for me to make this meaningful distinction/categorization.

“Hi! I’m Mary”

“No you are not, you are a woman.”

“O Castor, you romantic fool….”

 

@Castor #13

 

"Any statement about my table is only objective when it concerns true facts that can be verified empirically by all reasonable and competed men."

 

What if you are stranded on a desert island?  Is objective knowledge impossible because there are no other reasonable and competent men around to verify what you believe to be true?  Is learning to survive impossible then?

 

A statement can be true on a desert island. As truth depends on the coherence with reality. When a second person would arrive he could verify the statement. The verifiably of a statement is a precondition for it to be objective, the actual verification is the explicit claim of a second person that this statement indeed is true. Without an actual verification a statement can be true and (maybe) objective but an observer stranded on an island has no absolute mean to be sure of that.

 

 

You need to appreciate how radially individualistic Objectivism is.  While it is nice to exchange information and learn from others, it is not absolutely necessary in order to obtain objective knowledge.  We are all epistemic islands.  We are all individuals. Information received through communication with others is no different, metaphysically, than information gained from your senses when you plant a seed and watch it grow or learn to drive a car.  Words spoken or typed by others are just sensory input to you.  YOU must determine if what they say is true or not.  What they believe to be true has no bearing on whether it is true -- and their belief should never serve as a substitution for your own judgment.

 

This fact that it is existentially impossible for one person to think for another is the basis for Objectivist Ethics.  No one can force you to believe something to be true and you cannot force someone else to believe something to be true.  We each must think for ourselves and draw our own conclusions.  Will we be wrong on occasion?  Absolutely.  We're probably wrong more often then we are right.  But we can learn from our actions including communicating with others.

 

I think I could sympathize with a good portion in these lines and with the way you formulated it. But in some way is doesn’t sound like the message or method Rand seems to promote. I wouldn’t be surprised to find a very similar phrasing as yours in a recommendation of a Nietzschean philosophy or of Existentialism (Sartre, de Beauvoir) The freedom’s you emphasize are very prominent in those philosophies, where, in my understanding of, Rand’s epistemology seems to advocate a kind of absolutistic reasoning.

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... ... If they've both done it right, they can both see and validate that the other has created a meaningful category, even though they each might find their own categorizationuseful to their own purposes.

 

I think I can agree to your example but I question if Rand would with the bold part.

She most definitely would. The idea that words should serve men's purpose, rather than being some global standard like Plato or Aristotle might lead us to, underlies Rand's entire approach to the topic. To Rand, Epistemology is not about "what concepts are out there in reality" just waiting to be discovered regardless or human purpose. Human purpose -- and therefore the different purposes of different humans is not an add-on issue either. It is fundamental. Concepts should not be arbitrary, they must be guided by reality, but this is a reality where the learner (the knowledge-seeker) is a crucial part of the reality, not an outside observer. What he is, what he interacts with, his purposes, his needs,... all these are crucial elements of the reality, along with the stones and tables about which he needs to think.

 

Just as Rand broke with intrinsic Ethics, she broke with intrinsic Epistemology. 

Edited by softwareNerd
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At this moment I personally think this last ‘deconstruction’ of identity is plausible and it seems to have some parallels with the accounts some Objectivists has given thus far. At the same time this conception of identification seems to differ substantial from what Ms Rand wants her readers to accept.

Your formalization looks okay, although 1 needs to be modified - it only works for objects that are tools. If purpose means subjective, fine, but more accurately it is agent relative, which is essentially how Rand thought of epistemology. That multiple concepts can be applied to one entity is no problem. There is no metaphysically primary concept, which concept you use is a matter of what you're focusing on. Tables aren't usually synonymous with firewood since tables are made out of many different materials.

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Castor said:

Yes, AKA the metaphysical concept of objectivity. That definition struck me as a bit peculiar since a regular definition of realism entails: “Philosophers who profess realism state that truth consists in the mind's correspondence to reality.” By that account reality is not seen as being objective; only a belief or statement concerning reality can be objective (to some extent) if it accurately describes reality. In this more general view reality cannot be objective, only propositions can be.

Correspondence to what Castor? One can be a realist about anything. If you believe in gremlins you think they are real. External realist believe that there is a mind independent world really out there that must be corresponded to....

Castor said:

In what regard is “description” different from “concept” one might ask, especially as Rand defines the concept of table in a descriptive manner.

Also: this idea of “concept” doesn’t seem to promote well-being. Isn’t hair colour correlated to risk of sun induced skin cancer? I’ve discovered I find blonde x beautiful but, sadly, that does not apply to all other young woman. I’ve discovered she is 24 years old, in contrast to another woman who is 84. I might consider Blonde x as a candidate for marriage, reproduction or recreation while the 84-old woman is not in that conceptual domain. It’s seems essential for me to make this meaningful distinction/categorization.

One uses concepts to describe anything. But if one describes non-essentials in a definition the definition ceases to serve its cognitive purpose of referential economy. Without such economy one would not be able to survive as man. Edited by Plasmatic
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Euiol said:

There is no metaphysically primary concept, which concept you use is a matter of what you're focusing on. Tables aren't usually synonymous with firewood since tables are made out of many different materials.

This is unfortunately false. The Primacy of existence is an ontological priority.

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Castor said:

Man has not just only learned to use objective criteria in tool-making, he also has learned he has needs and desires and that those can be satisfied by tool-use. This is in part a subjective act, a valuation.

A consciousness man is always creator and authority of identity. This is in part a subjective act, a valuation. A proposition containing this identity is only true when an objective part of the identity is indeed found in reality.

e.g. The identity of Santa Claus is not: has wings, steals stuff from children and is dressed like Darth Vader.

The ‘proper’ identity of Santa Claus is: dressed in red, quite chubby and old, gives stuff to children, ect.

The ‘proper’ identity of Santa Claus has no factual reference in reality => Santa Clause does not exist.

Even non-existing things have identities.

Mans needs are objective facts based on metaphysically given identity. Ms Rand uses the bread vs poison example to illustrate this. Man does not create the conditions that satisfy his needs, they are objective facts. That a subject must identify those conditions means that there is one making the identification but that changes nothing about the fact that the conditions are metaphysically given- outside the ability of consciousness to change.

Santa Clause is a mental existent. As such he has he identity given to him by the ones who created this abstract object. In this context one who described Santa Clause as a muslim skateboarder would be failing to identity the facts that relate to his creation by another. I chose plasmatic as a user name and it was a choice to do so but it is a fact that that is my user name.

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I have to reiterate my first post in this thread. Why are you looking to gain an understanding of Rand's theory of concepts from an online message board and not from the actual text where she lays out her theory of concepts? ITOE is NOT a long book. Am I wrong to assume that you have not read it? If my assumption is correct, I think it's silly to look for answers from secondary sources who almost always have an incomplete understanding of the issues.

 

My questions here concern the way people conceptualize and to what extend that can be regarded as objective. Every concept that is objective must refer to a measurable aspect of reality. As indicated there are a lot of possible conceptualizations of any one physical object, ever so empirical, verifiable, practical and ever so objective.

What is it that makes an Objectivist to accept any one conceptualization and reject other, empirical, verifiable and objective concepts? When I point at my wooden table and state: “this is a Flammable Object”, is a Objectivist forced to deny this statement? And if so, on which objective grounds? Is he/she forced to deny the concept of flammability or the concept of object or the integration of those identifications? What empirical fact makes a concept of a “flammable object” a non-concept for a physical object when it is in fact flammable?

 

Why would an objectivist be forced to deny that proposition? Wood is flammable. The concepts 'table' and 'flammable' are valid concepts, I don't understand the problem? Concepts are a tool of cognition, meaning that so long as the concept is valid, your purpose defines which tool you should use.

 

 

Euiol said:


This is unfortunately false. The Primacy of existence is an ontological priority.

 

Read Eiuol's post again because I think you're misinterpreting his point.

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