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ITOE, Ch. 1; "existent" as implicit building-block

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AndrewSternberg
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The fifth paragraph of chapter one in ITOE:

The building-block of man’s knowledge is the concept of an “existent”—of something that exists, be it a thing, an attribute or an action.  Since it is a concept, man cannot grasp it explicitly until he has reached the conceptual stage.  But it is implicit in very percept (to perceive a thing is to perceive that it exists) and man grasps it implicitly on the perceptual level—i.e., he grasps the constituents of the concept “existent,” the data which are later to be integrated by that concept.  It is this implicit knowledge that permits his consciousness to develop further.

I don’t quite understand this. How can something implicit be used at all? What exactly is implicit knowledge? If explicit knowledge is “one’s consciously held ideas about existence” (my wording), then implicit knowledge would then be what, non-consciously held ideas? A non-conscious idea is a contradiction, so help me check my premises.

I suspect my problem is that I don’t really know what the implicit/explicit distinction really is.

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I suspect my problem is that I don’t really know what the implicit/explicit distinction really is.

If something is explicit it is fully identified by conceptual knowledge; you've engaged your higher brain, your conscious brain. I think a distinction needs to be made here, because "consciousness" is merely the faculty that percieves reality but it makes no distinction about whether this perception is active or passive.

Your "conscious" mind, though, is the part you are aware of when you use it. Your brain performs many subconscious functions (including many things that must be learned consciously but are then automatized) but you aren't consciously aware of them unless you choose to be.

Implicit, by contrast, means something that's processed automatically by your subconscious brain. You are "aware" of it, in a passive sense, like I'm "aware" of keeping my balance in this chair, but all the functions are being processed automatically and require no input from my conscious mind.

You make use of implicit knowledge all the time (sometimes it doesn't work so well, as in the familiar "can't walk and chew gum" statement) but one of the amazing things about the mind is that you can change your focus so quickly or even focus on a couple of things at once that you don't really notice what's going on. I do, because I'm extremely absent-minded and I'll do weird things if I don't pay close attention.

Occasionally you'll have minor malfunctions, even, such as when my mother told me to put my pants in the freezer and the ice cream in the dryer.

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There is a lengthy discussion of implicit concepts (see "Implicit Concepts") in the Appendix of ITOE. The main idea is:

"implicit" is a knowledge which is available to you but which you have not yet grasped consciously. And by "grasped consciously" I mean: brought into conceptual terms. You have not identified it conceptually. So that, if I say that "existence" is implicit in the first awareness, I mean the material from which the concept "existence" will come is present, but the child just learning concepts would not be able to form the concept "existence" until he has formed a sufficient number of concepts of particular existents.
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Thank you both.

I think I now better understand the distinction between implicit and explicit.

You can be aware, and you can be aware that you are aware. The first is implicit knowledge, the second is explicit. Right?

While this distinction clearly only applies to humans, since they are the only beings that are sconscious of consciousness, does it nevertheless make sense say that all knowledge held by non-conceptual beings (i.e. all animals) is held implicitly? And that for animals, they can never transcend this level?

So that is settled (hopefully).

I am still wondering about the way in which implicit knowledge is used (in humans) as building-blocks.

JMeganSnow, you identify ways in which implicit knowledge is used, but there is a difference in using implicit knowledge in general, versus using it specifically as a building-block for the expansion of ones knowledge. And it is the latter that I am asking about.

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JMeganSnow, you identify ways in which implicit knowledge is used, but there is a difference in using implicit knowledge in general, versus using it specifically as a building-block for the expansion of ones knowledge.  And it is the latter that I am asking about.

My understanding is that you really CAN'T use implicit knowledge as a building block if you want your tower to stand; this is why an explicitly identified philosophy is so important. If you don't have one you're trying to build on sand.

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While this distinction clearly only applies to humans, since they are the only beings that are sconscious of consciousness, does it nevertheless make sense say that all knowledge held by non-conceptual beings (i.e. all animals) is held implicitly?  And that for animals, they can never transcend this level?

This is precisely my understanding. Animals can only grasp existants implictly.

I am still wondering about the way in which implicit knowledge is used (in humans) as building-blocks.

All human knowledge has a basis in reality. Reality is "apprehended" in the form of percepts which are implicit. But the building block process doesn't begin until these implicit existants can be regarded as concepts. This is accomplished by our ability to regard entities as units.

the concept "unit" is a bridge between metaphysics and epistemology: units do not exist qua units, what exists are things, but units are things viewed by a consciousness in certain existing relationships.

Being able to recognize implicit existants (entities) as units is the first step of conceptual stage of consciousness.

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I'd like to offer another explanation for the implicit nature of the concept "existent" for discussion:

Every other concept (other than "existent") is a subdivision of the concept "existent". But while defining other concepts we do not explicity use the concept "existent" as a genus. We do not say, for example, "A cat is an existent with fur" or "An organism is a living existent". But in all these cases we imply that these things are existents. The concept "existent" is implicit in the sense that it is usually not used as an explicit genus. But one could, for example, use the concept "existent" as a genus for the concepts of entity, attribute and action.

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I'd like to offer another explanation for the implicit nature of the concept "existent" for discussion:

Every other concept (other than "existent") is a subdivision of the concept "existent". But while defining other concepts we do not explicity use the concept "existent" as a genus. We do not say, for example, "A cat is an existent with fur" or "An organism is a living existent". But in all these cases we imply that these things are existents. The concept "existent" is implicit in the sense that it is usually not used as an explicit genus. But one could, for example, use the concept "existent" as a genus for the concepts of entity, attribute and action.

While I agree with most of what you say about the concept 'existent' after the ":", I am having trouble connecting it to the idea of 'existent' being implicit in man's sense-perception.

You say: "The concept "existent" is implicit in the sense that it is usually not used as an explicit genus."

I am not sure that I agree with this. The reason it is not used as a genus in most definitions is that it is too broad of a genus to meet the rules of a proper definition. The purpose of a genus, as I understand it, is to zoom in one's mind on a particular category of existents; the purpose of a differentia is to take that category provided by the genus and indentify the particular concept one is trying to communicate.

If cat is the concept one is trying to define, "an existent with fur" does not do the job. Since the genus here, 'existent', doesn't achieve the neccesary 'zooming in', the differentia is unable to differentiate a cat from other furry existents.

What all of this has to do with the implicit nature of the concept of existent, I still don't know.

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The concept "existent" is implicit in the sense that it is usually not used as an explicit genus. But one could, for example, use the concept "existent" as a genus for the concepts of entity, attribute and action.

The concept "existent" is only implicit in the sense that it is directly perceived. You don't have be at the conceptual stage of development to grasp the concept of existent (to understand that an existent exists), its is implied that existents exist because you can perceive them.

You could create valid definitions always using "existent" as the genus, but (as Andrew stated) these definitions would be very broad. Existent is the base genus that every genus other can be reduced to. Our definitions get more specific (more "zoomed in") as our knowledge increases.

Perhaps we should reserve the discussion on definitions until we actually get to that chapter in ITOE :).

P.S.- What is the plural of genus?

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There is a lengthy discussion of implicit concepts (see "Implicit Concepts") in the Appendix of ITOE. The main idea is:

I reread that entire discussion and it helped me immensly. I recommend that everyone do the same.

And after reading it, I think my earlier formulation is not precise enough:

You can be aware, and you can be aware that you are aware. The first is implicit knowledge, the second is explicit. Right?

After the discussion mentioned by Bowser, I think it is easiest to understand what an implicit concept is by thinking of it as a POTENTIAL concept.

If I hold the concept of a 'pen' implictly, it means that I have enough percepts of pens that I am able to form the concept, but have not yet done so. The steps required to make that concept explicit, are the steps of conceptualization; isolate these percepts by differentiating them from, say erasers and paper; perceive the essential similarity among my percepts of pens through measurement ommision; and integrate these percepts into a new mental entity by associating it with a new perceptual concrete, namely "pen."

The concept is implicit untill and unless my mind focuses on the neccesary components in the neccesary context.

Thus, the concept "existent" is implicit from the very start, because one has all the requisite data needed for the explicit concept. And this would apply to "Identity" and "Consciousness" as well. In the very act of perceiving something, you are perceiving that it IS (existence) and is DISTINCT FROM OTHER THINGS (identity). In the very act of perceiving something you ARE ACTUALLY PERCEIVING something (consciousness). It is in this sense that these axiomatic concepts are implicit, i.e. potential concepts, in the first act of perception. They do not become explicit concepts untill your "mind focuses on the neccesary components in the neccesary context", and these components and concepts don't come untill much later on in the game.

I have a little more to say, but alas my lunch break is over.

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In the very act of perceiving something, you are perceiving that it IS (existence) and is DISTINCT FROM OTHER THINGS (identity).  In the very act of perceiving something you ARE ACTUALLY PERCEIVING something (consciousness).

I think you need to draw the line a little more clearly between sensation, which gives the implicit grasp of existence, and preception. In the model you provided, it appears as though "existence" and "consciousness" are given implicitly on the perceptual level, along with "identity." They are, in fact, grasped implicitly on the level of sensations, before "identity."

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