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Empiricism and Broad Abstractions

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Most Objectivists would probably assume that empiricism is inconsistent with forming broad abstractions. ("Empiricism" here is used in the sense of the psychological tendency defined by Rand which focuses too heavily on concretes.) I think that this assumption about empiricism is false, because empiricists have historically appealed to broad abstractions as a foundation for their empiricism.

 

To illustrate, here is an example from Hume:

 

If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.

 

Hume is here drawing a fairly broad abstraction known as "Hume's fork," but his overall argument is clearly empiricist. What makes his argument empiricist rather than rationalist in spite of the fact that it is based on a broad generalization is that the broad generalization tends to disintegrate rather than integrate what we know. Empiricism does not necessarily differ from rationalism in that it contains principles, but in that any principles it does adopt tend to force us to rely more on concretes, e.g., the reduction of the entities we observe to sensory impressions.

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Now a skeptic claims there is no logic nor knowledge and yet uses logic (or pseudo logic) to "support" his "conclusion" which he takes (implicitly if not explicitly) as a kind of "knowledge".

 

 

I think Objectivists in a similar manner understand that Hume's sensualism is a repudiation of concepts and abstractions, certainly so when he claims so many concepts as meaningless because they cannot be "perceived" or "imagined" "directly", while at the same time recognizing that Hume himself is using (presumably unknowingly) abstractions and concepts to make his "arguments".

 

As far as I know Hume himself would reject broad abstractions (if he not explicitly already do so... but I am not going to search for a quote) while ostensibly forming invalid concepts and "relying" on them.  

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Now a skeptic claims there is no logic nor knowledge and yet uses logic (or pseudo logic) to "support" his "conclusion" which he takes (implicitly if not explicitly) as a kind of "knowledge".

 

 

I think Objectivists in a similar manner understand that Hume's sensualism is a repudiation of concepts and abstractions, certainly so when he claims so many concepts as meaningless because they cannot be "perceived" or "imagined" "directly", while at the same time recognizing that Hume himself is using (presumably unknowingly) abstractions and concepts to make his "arguments".

 

As far as I know Hume himself would reject broad abstractions (if he not explicitly already do so... but I am not going to search for a quote) while ostensibly forming invalid concepts and "relying" on them.  

So you think it's basically a stolen concept fallacy?

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the issue is that it's not an either/or scenario as no one can practice empericism or subjectivism 100%.  

 

Empiricists might based things on concretes but if they totally abandoned abstractions they would function on the level of an animal.  If subjectivists didn't embrace facts or certainty then they couldn't even form a coherent argument or thoug

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the issue is that it's not an either/or scenario as no one can practice empericism or subjectivism 100%.  

 

Empiricists might based things on concretes but if they totally abandoned abstractions they would function on the level of an animal.  If subjectivists didn't embrace facts or certainty then they couldn't even form a coherent argument or thoug

I disagree with your claim that someone can't be 100% empiricist, because empiricism is a specific psychological trait of which there are clear examples. An empiricist uses abstractions just like everyone else - a person without abstractions isn't an empiricist, they are some sort of invalid. The difference is that the empiricist is much more reluctant than is objectively necessary to draw an abstraction.

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I disagree with your claim that someone can't be 100% empiricist, because empiricism is a specific psychological trait of which there are clear examples. An empiricist uses abstractions just like everyone else - a person without abstractions isn't an empiricist, they are some sort of invalid. The difference is that the empiricist is much more reluctant than is objectively necessary to draw an abstraction.

 

I think Spiral is speaking of a particular kind of empiricist, a sensualist like Hume who rejects concepts.

 

Aristotle was an empiricist in the sense that he believed knowledge was gained from perception, but being an empiricist does not mean on has to dispense with concepts, on the contrary, conceptualization is what is necessary to turn raw perceptual data into knowledge.

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I think Spiral is speaking of a particular kind of empiricist, a sensualist like Hume who rejects concepts.

 

Aristotle was an empiricist in the sense that he believed knowledge was gained from perception, but being an empiricist does not mean on has to dispense with concepts, on the contrary, conceptualization is what is necessary to turn raw perceptual data into knowledge.

I agree that Hume's epistemology is pretty similar to how an animal's mind functions, so that would be a good point. 

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