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I'm wondering if we can port some of the methods of one particular language learning approach into philosophic integration and keen to get other's thoughts. 

Part of the motivation here is that I'm finding as I learn philosophy there's still so much that's very vague even if it 'makes sense.' I know that it's not 100% integrated or understood since I can't just necessarily rattle off real-world examples for each concept and I stumble a lot trying to articulate what the concept is or I start to articulate my understanding and then realize that actually maybe I don't understand it so well. And if philosophy can not be used for work or relationships or anything else in my life, what's the point? I think if one could get to a point where each concept had very strong mental and emotional links to others so that you know how one small change would affect the whole network of concepts that would be a super power that I want.

There are two approaches to language learning:
(1) Start by learning words by categories, e.g., all fruit, in sequential orders and focus on writing & grammar. 
(2) Master the sounds first, then start learning the vocabulary through a frequency list (most frequently used words first) and speak. 

(2) Seems to be highly effective and used by a lot of polyglots.

After beginning to read OPAR and just making my way through the part of reduction as a form of a validation, I was thinking of taking that part of beginning vocabulary study with a word frequency list and using that same approach for philosophy. That would mean I setup a big list of the most frequently used concepts and begin to reduce each one of them with specific examples from my own life and integrate them with all the other high frequency concepts. The only difficulty for me here is that highly used concepts are not 'on the surface' necessarily, i.e., they are implied and supporting our speech, thoughts and actions throughout the day but not necessarily explicit.

For starters, I'm just going to take a lot of what's in OPAR and begin there:

existence
consciousness
identity
causality
volition/free-will
context
validation
proof
action
nature
thought - idea - knowledge
axiom
 

Just to list a few. Happy to list the full thing once I make more headway.
 

 

Edited by Jonathan Weissberg
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Personally, mastering the sounds of a language has been way more important than learning words by categories. Sometimes I practice Spanish by reading out loud complete paragraphs of books, even if I barely know at all what was said. It helps when I have a native speaker to correct me. It's also good because by reading books in Spanish, I'm exposing myself to words and getting a natural sense of which words are more common than others. On top of that, since I'm picking my interests through the books I choose, it's much easier to fold those words into memory. 

Of course, immersion around native speakers in settings where you need to communicate is the best way to learn a language. But if you want to supplement your learning, or if you can't immerse yourself, some variation of 2 would be best. Really, I'm advocating what I would call "learning in context". 

Learning words by categories doesn't provide context. It's detached from usage, detached from how language is used. Because of this, it makes it much more difficult to cue your memory of different words, not to mention that they are not being used with grammar. With a context, there are many many many more opportunities to cue your memory for words, your memory for grammar rules, plus practice communicating your thoughts. Learning about sounds first is a form of context, which you can keep reusing as you learn more about the language. Immersion is the ultimate form of learning in context, but that's not always possible. As you're saying, strong mental and emotional links are extremely valuable.

These same ideas apply to learning any subject. You don't want to just have a list of concepts by category as a study tool. You don't want just a list of definitions. They might help with which concepts to look out for, but you're still missing context. Essentially, you would be a parrot reciting what it has heard without having any conceptual understanding. You're on the right track I think by mentioning a frequency list, but that's not really necessary, because whatever primary sources you use, you get a natural sense of word frequency through simply reading them. Rather, seeing a word a lot means that the writer thinks that it is important. You could approach it that way, trying to figure out what the context is for those concepts after you've read that work at least one time. 

Part of learning in context is discussing what you have read, without worrying that you will make a mistake. Talk about how concepts are used. Try applying concepts to different contexts and seeing how they measure up. Be a devil's advocate and argue against the concept with someone equally or more knowledgeable. Listen to the writer themselves in public settings using their own ideas. At some point, you'll just "get" what the concepts mean. To be sure, it takes effort, but it's gradual.

In this post alone, I used the word "context" a lot. Think about how I use the word. Did it ever appear strange? Did you change how you thought about the word? Since I talked about "context" as related to language learning, did it make more sense? Clearly I think the word is important, but can you figure out why I think it is important? These are all great questions to essentially immerse yourself in the "language" of philosophy. 

@DavidOdden is a professor of linguistics, he probably would have more to say on the language connection you are thinking about.

Edited by Eiuol
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I dunno if this will be useful in your quest to better integrate Objectivism in your life, but I do have a perspective on language learning. I will start by saying that technique 1 doesn’t work for me, in fact it is logically impossible for any human, if taken seriously and literally. Technique 2 is somewhat defective because of the use of ‘then’, but that’s fixable.

I am betting that you can’t learn the words ተኹላ, ጠለበዱ, ወዐግ, ድቢ, ምራኽ, ዳንጋ, ገመል, ድሙ, ጫቚት, ከልቢ, ኣድጊ, ሓርማዝ, ወኻርያ, ኣጋዚን, ጢል, ኡማሬ, ፈረስ, ገንሸር, ነብሪ, ኣንበሳ, ጋውና, ህበይ, በቕሊ, ብዕራይ, ቅንፍዝ, ማንቲለ, ደዕል, ኣንጭዋ, በጊዕ which are just the names of mammals, and it will only help a little if you get the English translations (African wild dog, antilope, ape, bear, calf, calf, camel, cat, chick, dog, donkey, elephant, fox, giraffe, goat, hippo, horse, lamb, leopard, lion, male baboon, monkey, mule, ox, porcupine, rabbit, ram, rat, sheep). I am betting (but it’s impractical and complicated to try to demonstrate this here) that you can learn the sounds composing the words, wich is the basis for learning the words. There are millions of words in the language, and dozens of sounds. The Objectivist epistemology is constructed so as to lead you to follow technique 2, because humans have a relatively small ኳኽ (the name of a bird). Technique 1 ignores the perceptual level and goes straight for the conceptual and propositional levels.

I believe that there is a general tendency to not correctly grasp the two kinds of fundamentality, namely existential versus epistemological fundamentals. Quarks are existentially fundamental, dogs are epistemologically fundamental. On this point, I commend to you Binswanger’s How we know, because he has a good psychological perspective on epistemology (“good” doesn’t mean “infallible”). We do not take “animal” or “mammal” as a perceptual given and then reduce “animal” through an elaborate set of differentiations to “… and huskies, like this and that”. We don’t actually know what the acquisition process is (this is a scientific question, not a philosophical one), in fact I don’t think we even know how to find out. It might be that mice and motorized toys are initially indistinguishable to infants.

Validating a concept by reducing it to (true) axiomatic knowledge is a very adult thing to do (not what children actually do), and presupposes that you actually grasp the concept. You cannot validate the concept ተኹላ if you don’t grasp it: what do they have in common, how they different from ከልቢ? Can you correctly integrate and differentiate , , , , ? My suggestion is to start by explaining one of these concepts – defining it, by saying what it refers to, and see which words you have to use to set forth that definition. You definition should make clear that “it’s these things, excluding those things. These things are similar in ___”. Start with “existence”, then move to “action”.

My own “acquisition” experience regarding your word list is that even though I knew all of these words, I didn’t correctly grasp their role in (Objectivist) philosophy. My suggestion about “explaining” existence and action is intended to provoke a bit of widening of your list. While it is true that you are hosed if you ignore the meaning of “context” in Objectivism and just treat it as a floating abstraction, frequency of occurrence is not what make the term important. What I found most important is understanding the epistemological concept “presuppose” (probably because it is a fundamental concept in linguistic semantics). Galt’s Speech and specifically the “Existence exists” part ought to be in front of you as you take on this task.

The only thing I would add to Eiuol's suggestions about language learning are (a) it is important to have cooperative conversation partners (dial it back, dude!), and (b) it actually takes a lot more than 2 similar examples and 1 dissimilar example to acquire a linguistic concept (e.g. "a sound").

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[In response to Jonathan's original post]

I don't think one can learn philosophy in the same way that one learns a foreign language. When you learn a foreign language, you are mostly learning new words (and grammatical constructions) for concepts that you already know, such as learning that the Japanese word テレビ is "television" and so forth. You don't learn anything new about televisions by learning the word テレビ.

That's a fundamentally different process from the one you would use to learn entirely new concepts, and it's also different from the process you would use to add "depth of understanding" to concepts you already know. These are the processes in play when you learn a philosophy.

For these, it seems like the important thing is being able to give examples of a concept, and being able to identify the concept from examples of it. It might also be important to be able to identify that some things are not examples of a concept, and why they are not.

Knowing how to define the concept will help a great deal with this. (Recall, the "definition" of a concept serves to distinguish the concept from other concepts, and is usually written as "genus" and "differentia.")

I think reduction can also be helpful, but I'm not sure it's fundamental.

For learning a new concept, consider how you would explain "television" to someone who had never seen one before.

For adding "depth of understanding," consider how your understanding of "television" would change if you learned how to build one.

p.s. On further thought, I want to recommend Ayn Rand's Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology as a good book to read through.

Edited by necrovore
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My main take-away from your post:
 
Learning by categories or 'lists' without context is learning detached from actual language (or subject) use and that context means "it's much easier to fold those words [ideas] into memory."
 
My problem so far is that it's not like philosophic works are littered with real-world specific examples. There may be one or two, but the remainder is just abstract explanation. And then there's the added problem of the same words being used to refer to different concepts in different contexts (even within the same field).
 
So then the solution you're saying is engaging in vigorous discussion around the text by asking both challenging and clarifying questions to help better make distinctions between different concepts, e.g., "is this specific example considered an instance of the concept X?" 
 
I can do some of that here which is good.
 
 

 
Firstly, great stuff. I enjoyed your examples.
 
"There are millions of words in the language, and dozens of sounds."
So learn and master sounds first before proceeding because they are the fundamentals which everything presupposes, on which you build mastery of the language because of the added context (the sound, the way your tongue moves for each word, the rhythm maybe of each word you learn—as opposed to approximating the sounds but not really distinguishing properly between similar-sounding sounds which I know there's some word for but I forget now).
 

This is what I was trying to get at when saying frequency but then later talking about how it's implicit, rather than explicit, i.e., undergirds our thinking rather than being represented by the specific words or thoughts we're having.

 

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I believe that there is a general tendency to not correctly grasp the two kinds of fundamentality, namely existential versus epistemological fundamentals. Quarks are existentially fundamental, dogs are epistemologically fundamental. On this point, I commend to you Binswanger’s How we know, because he has a good psychological perspective on epistemology (“good” doesn’t mean “infallible”). We do not take “animal” or “mammal” as a perceptual given and then reduce “animal” through an elaborate set of differentiations to “… and huskies, like this and that”. We don’t actually know what the acquisition process is (this is a scientific question, not a philosophical one), in fact I don’t think we even know how to find out. It might be that mice and motorized toys are initially indistinguishable to infants.


 

I did not get the distinction of existential & epistemological fundamental. "Fundamental" itself is epistemological. (But that's ok, I'll look at it when I get to the book you recommended). And I didn't quite get the connection between that and the acquisition process. 
 
I understand what you're saying in the latter part and @necrovore touched on it. This is that the induction of the concept comes before the validation, i.e., that you validate by integrating with your context of knowledge & reducing to the perceptual, but you must first have the concept with some (scientifically unknown) amount and variation of examples and instances BEFORE validating it. It's the induction you're saying is the unknown acquisition process if I followed?
 
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My own “acquisition” experience regarding your word list is that even though I knew all of these words, I didn’t correctly grasp their role in (Objectivist) philosophy. My suggestion about “explaining” existence and action is intended to provoke a bit of widening of your list. While it is true that you are hosed if you ignore the meaning of “context” in Objectivism and just treat it as a floating abstraction, frequency of occurrence is not what make the term important. What I found most important is understanding the epistemological concept “presuppose” (probably because it is a fundamental concept in linguistic semantics). Galt’s Speech and specifically the “Existence exists” part ought to be in front of you as you take on this task.


 

 

The list was an example. It's much wider. 

Ok so similar to @Eiuol you're recommending trying to keep these things in context. 

I think we are both getting at the same thing with what you call "presuppose". I said: "The only difficulty for me here is that highly used concepts are not 'on the surface' necessarily, i.e., they are implied and supporting our speech, thoughts and actions throughout the day but not necessarily explicit."

I'm describing them as "frequent" in the sense that they are frequently used as building blocks of thought but not explicit. I need somehow to work out the deepest fundamentals, which is harder than simply running word frequency calculations across texts.

 

 

 
 
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@necrovore

Good point on "learning new words for concepts that you already know" as being a "fundamentally different process from the one you would use to learn entirely new concepts."

Actually question to both @necrovore and @DavidOdden: aren't the concepts that we "presuppose" (the building blocks/the implied fundamentals of any thought, e.g., existence) already "known" to us. If they are implicit then do we really need to go through an inductive process/"acquisition process"? There's something fundamentally different when learning about existence, identity, free will, cause & effect (as examples) than when learning about "television" when you've never seen one. In a way you already have the concepts for philosophy, just implicitly, no?

 

On 10/5/2020 at 2:04 AM, necrovore said:

That's a fundamentally different process from the one you would use to learn entirely new concepts, and it's also different from the process you would use to add "depth of understanding" to concepts you already know. These are the processes in play when you learn a philosophy.

For these, it seems like the important thing is being able to give examples of a concept, and being able to identify the concept from examples of it. It might also be important to be able to identify that some things are not examples of a concept, and why they are not.

Knowing how to define the concept will help a great deal with this. (Recall, the "definition" of a concept serves to distinguish the concept from other concepts, and is usually written as "genus" and "differentia.")

By "depth of understanding" do you mean added non-fundamental characteristics about the concept mentally retained?

I'll check out ITOE soon enough, thanks for the recommendation.

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I think reduction can also be helpful, but I'm not sure it's fundamental.

For learning a new concept, consider how you would explain "television" to someone who had never seen one before.

For adding "depth of understanding," consider how your understanding of "television" would change if you learned how to build one.

p.s. On further thought, I want to recommend Ayn Rand's Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology as a good book to read through.

 

Reduction is not fundamental to what? What I got from the OPAR chapter on 'validation' was that the fundamental of validation was both 'reduction' and 'integration' into one's wider context of knowledge, i.e., identifying other knowledge one holds that conflicts with it. Thus at least if the context is 'validation', identifying the nature of a thought's relationship to reality, it is essential. We must check for 'internal consistency' but also check for consistency against existence itself.

Thoughts?

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3 hours ago, Jonathan Weissberg said:

Learning by categories or 'lists' without context is learning detached from actual language (or subject) use and that context means "it's much easier to fold those words [ideas] into memory."

Close, but I think the way you wrote this is worded a bit funny. Context is everything connected to what you refer to when you use a concept or idea. Sometimes, as with language learning, it might include how you say the word, when you use the word, grammar rules, and so on, on top of what the word refers to. Context is also something like the boiling point of water is 100°C, but that assumes the context is sea level. Context will constrain our referents or what we are talking about in reality. As a result, when we are trying to form new concepts, it will be easier to remember and focus on the stuff in reality we are talking about. 

4 hours ago, Jonathan Weissberg said:

So then the solution you're saying is engaging in vigorous discussion around the text by asking both challenging and clarifying questions to help better make distinctions between different concepts, e.g., "is this specific example considered an instance of the concept X?" 

Definitely. As long as the discussion also includes real-life examples. 

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I think it is important to remember two contextual factors regarding concepts. First, every concept is a mental integration… which means, it’s in your head. Second, proper concepts in your head arise by applying logic to valid conclusions, given some premises, so to the extent that the facts out there are the same, we all learn the same concept “dog”. Concepts are objective, not subjective. The science of psychology is concerned with the nature of a concept in the brain, whereas philosophy is concerned with the abstract nature of concepts which anyone can grasp using reason. Epistemologically primary concepts are those that can understood through direct experience, words with ostensive definitions (“That is a dog; this is yellow”). Philosophy is usually about very high-level concepts such as “cause”, “rights”, “logic” and so on, things that you can’t just point at. Because the connection between a word and what it refers to in philosophy is much more distant, explicit definition and deeper scrutiny of logic is necessary in order to establish that there exists a valid path. Ayn Rand engaged in that enterprise and thus had a valid logical connection between axiomatic propositions and conclusions about the concept “rights”. A number of others have also studied this and now grasp that same relationship. Pretty much everybody has some concept of “rights”, but the definition and what it integrates varies wildly in the English-speaking world (insert alternative words like droit and Recht to expand the range of definitions). Objectivism presents an integrates theory of existence under which we can say what a “right” is and show why that is a valid conclusion, but the same cannot be said for the theory that “a right is that which I want to have”. Even though that analysis has already been done (can be objectively presupposed), you should do it too. You too should discover the fundamentals and how logic and experience yield conclusions about “rights”. (Within limits: I don’t advocate that everybody should validate the concept “neutron”, “electron”, unless you’re a physicist, or have lots of spare time).

Again, there is an essential difference between the abstract nature of logic and knowledge, which is the domain of philosophy, and the practical methods of gaining  knowledge, which is the domain of the science of psychology. It is not very common for a person to actually create a concept from the ground up, instead we are generally faced with the task of understanding a concept that was already created by someone else (hopefully, by induction). Infants start by first learning the label, words like “dog”, “ball” and so on, and then use contextual experience to arrive at conclusions about what “dog” refers to. The psychology of infant learning is a very difficult scientific subject, but we do know what they end up with – it’s just unclear how they got there. Infants do not induce the (adult) concept “rights”, “inference”, “elaboration”. The logic of concept formation, as set forth in ITOE, is that similarities and differences are perceived, leading to the conclusion “these things have something in common that distinguishes them from those things”, and eventually that concept is assigned a name. The overall point that I’m making here is that knowledge and concepts need to be studied from two perspectives, the logical and the psychological, that is, how do we actually learn this stuff.

Regarding the words versus sounds question, you respond “So learn and master sounds first before proceeding because they are the fundamentals which everything presupposes, on which you build mastery of the language”. Yes and no, in a way that relates to the preceding. You cannot first learn the sounds and then learn the words, but that is a fair description of the existential nature of sounds and words (the logical relation between words and sounds). From the psychological perspective – how do I learn this – you have to start with some words. Not all of the words, some of the words. That is a basis for reaching initial conclusions about the sounds of the language. You then learn some more words and validate – or correct (elaborate) – your conclusions about the sounds, and the words. This is a cyclic process, where you continuously increase your knowledge by increasing your axiomatic experiences (hearing the language) and make non-contradictory identifications. So, not only is it impossible to learn all of the words and then draw higher order conclusions about the sounds, it is impossible to first learn the existential primitives (sounds) free of the context where they appear (words), and then learn the words. As an aside, I’m currently working on a paper that explicates the nature of the cyclic, integrated system of reasoning for discovering the sounds of a language.

To summarize my points, there is a hierarchy of concepts and propositions that constitutes your knowledge. You do not learn the elements of that hierarchy by starting at the bottom and seeing how e.g. quarks lead to the concept of proton or neutron, which lead to atoms, which lead to molecules, then cells, dogs, mammals and living being. The entry point into this logical hierarchy, in Objectivism, is not the quark or the concept “living being”, it is the directly perceptible – the dog, and then dogs qua concept. Sounds are the atoms of words (and they are actually made up of smaller stuff, just as atoms are not indivisible existential primaries). Words are the epistemological primaries – the things that we directly experience.

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Aren't the concepts that we "presuppose" (the building blocks/the implied fundamentals of any thought, e.g., existence) already "known" to us. If they are implicit then do we really need to go through an inductive process/"acquisition process"? There's something fundamentally different when learning about existence, identity, free will, cause & effect (as examples) than when learning about "television" when you've never seen one. In a way you already have the concepts for philosophy, just implicitly, no?

It's part of human nature that we all learn the language around us while we are children, and then only later learn grammar, and what "nouns" and "verbs" are, and stuff like that. When we do learn grammar, we become able to make better, more sophisticated, and more precise use of the language.

Conceptualization is similar in the sense that we are already doing it before we understand what we are doing, but if we do understand it, we can do a much better job of it.

(Conceptualization is also related to language acquisition because you can't really learn language without also understanding the concepts that go with the words, and that requires some conceptualization.)

(In fact, "philosophizing" itself is something many people do without being aware that they are doing it -- and the study of philosophy as an explicit subject can definitely help people do a better job of it! ...)

So it is entirely likely that you have already picked up some philosophical concepts just from everyday life. This certainly does not mean study is a waste of time, though -- it is possible for people to have incorrect philosophical concepts (just as children can sometimes have incorrect ideas about the grammar of their own language), and even if your concepts are essentially correct, they can still possibly be clarified.

In many cases this amounts to adding the "depth of understanding" I mentioned, although you may also learn some new concepts. Depth of understanding isn't confined to stuff that is non-essential, either -- it can also include essential information. For example, if you learn a new concept, you may have to revise your mental definitions of concepts you already knew, in order to keep them distinct from the new concept.

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@DavidOdden,

Thank you again for your reply. I enjoyed reading it again, and took a way a few things—although will now mostly reply to those that confused me!

Your main points, I understand and agree with: 
(1) frequency of spoken words is not what's relevant;
(2) distinguishing between concepts that can be formed using perception, e.g., "existence", & those requiring specialized observation, e.g, "quark." This is what you were capturing with this "epistemologically" vs. "metaphysically" primary distinction. I am focusing on the epistemologically primary.

Some more minor things that were interesting but not as clear to me:
 

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Again, there is an essential difference between the abstract nature of logic and knowledge, which is the domain of philosophy, and the practical methods of gaining  knowledge, which is the domain of the science of psychology. 

Philosophy also covers the 'practical methods of gaining knowledge', e.g., in me studying this material and attempting to conceptualize and validate abstract "epistemologically primary" concepts through specific methods of reduction and contextual integration, no? Is it not the domain of philosophy to set out the fundamental practical methods for gaining knowledge?

Are you referring to the more specific case of determining how many real world examples or observations are necessary before reaching a mental integration? or specialized knowledge including "quarks?"

 

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The overall point that I’m making here is that knowledge and concepts need to be studied from two perspectives, the logical and the psychological, that is, how do we actually learn this stuff.

Understood everything else, but not really what this distinction refers to. The 'logical' and the 'psychological'. If I'm following everything else, I suspect there's some concept I'm missing or using a word differently.

Out of curiosity David, is there any meaningful difference in the way you're using "epistemologically primary" and "axiomatic" experiences? And are "axiomatic propositions" ("existence exists") simply a narrower instance of "epistemologically primary concepts" (which includes dog, bird, wolf)? 

 

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It is not very common for a person to actually create a concept from the ground up, instead we are generally faced with the task of understanding a concept that was already created by someone else (hopefully, by induction).

This is good news for me. It makes me think of Mortimer Adler in 'How to Read a Book' where he describes a lot of (bad & passive) 'learning' men do like being like having 'a packaged opinion (inserted) into his mind like a cassette into a cassette player and then plays it back when necessary'; and he describes proper (good & active) learning: 'It's a mistake to think of reading as receiving something from someone who is giving or sending. Instead, think of like being a catcher in a game of baseball: catching is as much an activity as pitching or hitting it. Both a catcher and pitcher are active, though the activities are different. ' After starting to get through OPAR, I've realized a lot of my concepts come from the former and I'm trying to go for the latter—the active baseball catcher. 

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Infants start by first learning the label, words like “dog”, “ball” and so on, and then use contextual experience to arrive at conclusions about what “dog” refers to. The psychology of infant learning is a very difficult scientific subject, but we do know what they end up with – it’s just unclear how they got there. Infants do not induce the (adult) concept “rights”, “inference”, “elaboration”.

Sounds like I'm going to go about in the right way then. It confirms @Eiuol's and your suggestion of learning within a context. With philosophy, that means maybe I can just start from the label (as long as it's an epistemologically primary one as you say), and then proceed to ask many questions trying to clearly define the boundary of the concept and ask many questions about specific real-world examples in which this concept applies which I then apply logic to. This would (partially) mimic the child's process in that I'm starting with the label and then reaching the concept with some unknown quantity of real-world examples in order to finally 'get it.'

 

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Validating a concept by reducing it to (true) axiomatic knowledge is a very adult thing to do (not what children actually do), and presupposes that you actually grasp the concept. 

This latter part is something I'm interested in getting my head around.

So I must first induce a mental integration and then validate it. But in the process of attempting to induce it, of 'grasping' it, aren't I in some way (partially) validating it? maybe not fully, but in running through many examples I'm performing some kind of 'contextual integration'—checking to see if it squares with or contradicts my knowledge of other 'epistemologically primary' concepts. 

So if a concept is invalid, I must still 'grasp' it before I can then validate it? In that context what would it mean to grasp it? e.g., 'extremism'? 
 

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As an aside, I’m currently working on a paper that explicates the nature of the cyclic, integrated system of reasoning for discovering the sounds of a language.

Sounds interesting. Would your paper be something a layman could apply to systematically mastering the sounds of any language? 

A while back I got into trying to figure out how to learn language by starting with learning sounds (IPA vowel and consonant comparisons, minimal pairs training, articulation). I got the idea from polyglots online. I think they do start with some words, but a very small, minimal amount and the emphasis is on first mastering sounds. It is very fascinating since I realized that often many sounds in a language I cannot even meaningfully distinguish and the old way I was once taught to learn language is to keep piling through words (the consequence is a year or two later, I still cannot distinguish important sounds).

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You do not learn the elements of that hierarchy by starting at the bottom and seeing how e.g. quarks lead to the concept of proton or neutron, which lead to atoms, which lead to molecules, then cells, dogs, mammals and living being. The entry point into this logical hierarchy, in Objectivism, is not the quark or the concept “living being”, it is the directly perceptible – the dog, and then dogs qua concept. Sounds are the atoms of words (and they are actually made up of smaller stuff, just as atoms are not indivisible existential primaries). Words are the epistemological primaries – the things that we directly experience.

Love this analogy.

 

 

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The point that I have been focusing on is the subtle difference between concept formation (so-named in Objectivism) and concept-acquisition (what I’m saying is not part of ITOE or OPAR, and I’m not sure about secondary writings on the topic – there is no such thing as “concept-acquisition” in Objectivism). There are two big questions: “What is the proper means of forming concepts?”, and “What are the actual methods that men use to learn existing concepts?”. In our discussion, I pointed to the difference between the abstract nature of logic and knowledge, versus the practical methods of gaining knowledge; you asked, is it not the domain of philosophy to set out the fundamental practical methods for gaining knowledge? I would say “no” to that question, given a particular view of what “philosophy” is as distinguished from “science”. Philosophy provides the foundation for science: it defines the basic terms and questions that allow specialized scientific research to be conducted rationally. It says what it means to be a concept, to be a proposition, to be knowledge, what “identity” is and so on. Philosophy identifies the nature of “concepts” and “logic”. In ITOE p. 289, Rand presents the essence of the distinction between science and philosophy:

Quote

Philosophy by its nature has to be based only on that which is available to the knowledge of any man with a normal mental equipment. Philosophy is not dependent on the discoveries of science; the reverse is true. So whenever you are in doubt about what is or is not a philosophical subject, ask yourself whether you need a specialized knowledge, beyond the knowledge available to you as a normal adult, unaided by any special knowledge or special instruments. And if the answer is possible to you on that basis alone, you are dealing with a philosophical question. If to answer it you would need training in physics, or psychology, or special equipment, etc., then you are dealing with a derivative or scientific field of knowledge, not philosophy.

Philosophy will tell you what “integration” and “logic” are, but it does not directly say how a child learns to integrate, it simply accepts the undeniable fact that children do so. Philosophy provides the conceptual foundation for science to conduct specialized research, calling on knowledge of statistics, specialized techniques for observing children, a framework for recording data, and so on – these are non-philosophical matters that depend on a philosophy. It is not a philosophical question whether a picture is worth a thousand words or the opposite, that is a practical, individual matter of what method of learning is most effective for a particular person. Philosophy is relevant to the enterprise because it focuses your attention on “asking the right questions”. It helps you understand the concept “proof”, by demanding that you ultimately be able to reduce “proof” to undeniable perceptions. If I ask my neighbor to reduce the concept “proof” to the axiomatic, I will get a blank stare, because for the neighbor, the idea of “reduction to axioms” is just a bunch of words.

I have a suggestion: please reduce the concept “proof” to the axiomatic. As a prelude, please briefly state what it means to reduce a concept to the axiomatic. As a guiding procedural rule, don’t look anything up. A secondary rule: please report back within 48 hours (that is, you should limit how extensively contemplate the answer – my own scheduling problems explain why it took me so long to spend the hour needed to write this). I believe that this will make the contextual nature of knowledge very clear, since I predict that there will be some concept that you depend on, which you don’t yet understand. This is not a failure, this is a discovery: there’s something that you need to understand better. An example is that in the course of studying Objectivism, I expanded my knowledge of “logic”, which was originally just the standard Philosophy 150 formal method of deduction. I read the part that says “Logic is the art of non-contradictory identification”, which encapsulates the nature of logic, but does not magically give you full knowledge of logic when you have learned those essential words. I thus gained a better knowledge of the nature of “logic”, and can now better identify “logic”. If at the end of this you reflect on what you learned about “reduction”, “learning”, and “proof”, you should have a basic theory of the learning process that you asked about.

I'm not too sanguine about my attempts to take a highly technical subject and make it comprehensible for the layman, when my goal is to do a highly technical logical analysis and reduction-to-experience for people whjo know the field. But perhaps...

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28 minutes ago, DavidOdden said:

“What is the proper means of forming concepts?”

One way or the other isn't it via induction? (experiencing some form of repeating "essence")

The other question that comes to mind, is there is the "valid" or "validated" concept, vs. just a concept. Or is there no difference?

28 minutes ago, DavidOdden said:

“What are the actual methods that men use to learn existing concepts?”

Even memorization is going to involve repetition, artificial repetition, not exactly inference but forced association vs. "figured out/concluded".

As far as I can remember, the fundamental question about formation of concepts (from a normative perspective) was how many times do you have to see it for it to be valid. Is that correct?

Edited by Easy Truth
Mistakenly wrote inference instead of induction.
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FYI, I've read up to Chapter 5 of OPAR and have started ITOE. 
 
On 10/18/2020 at 6:27 PM, DavidOdden said:

I have a suggestion: please reduce the concept “proof” to the axiomatic. As a prelude, please briefly state what it means to reduce a concept to the axiomatic. As a guiding procedural rule, don’t look anything up.

 
 
To reduce a concept to the axiomatic (the building blocks of thought) means to reduce it to what I observe through the senses (touch, taste, sight, sound, smell, etc.).  I'll give a few simplistic examples:
(1) If I want to reduce the concept chair to the axiomatic then I just point at a chair.
(2) If I want to reduce the concept 'work' to the axiomatic then I'd need to point to specific instances of someone producing something that is valuable, e.g., someone working at a construction site and being paid cash at the end of the week, or someone painting and then enjoying their creation for themselves (or selling it). 
 
On 10/18/2020 at 6:27 PM, DavidOdden said:

...please reduce the concept “proof” to the axiomatic.

 
(1) If I want to prove that a chair exists then then I just point at a chair. (same as reduction to axiomatic).
(2) If I want to prove that I can succeed at my work before actually succeeding (generating an income) then I would look to see if others have or are succeeding, I would look to see what their skills or talents are, and I would of course try for myself and see if I can make small incremental wins (new-found understanding which I'm using) at the work. I would take all that as a form of "proof."
 
In both these cases I'm trying to observe something in reality that confirms that what I think is true (corresponds to reality). In some cases, many separate observations are required (anything beyond the chair examples). So we can reduce 'proof' to making a series of observations that then make some conclusion logically follow from those observations.
 
 
On 10/18/2020 at 6:27 PM, DavidOdden said:

I believe that this will make the contextual nature of knowledge very clear, since I predict that there will be some concept that you depend on, which you don’t yet understand.

 
If at the end of this you reflect on what you learned about “reduction”, “learning”, and “proof”, you should have a basic theory of the learning process that you asked about.
I do see that to 'reduce' and 'prove' I must already know what it is I'm reducing, i.e., grasp it perceptually or conceptually, and that I must know what qualifies as proof. 
 
So then learning before reduction and proof?
 
 
Edited by Jonathan Weissberg
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Here are some questions I had (no need to answer these as I will get to them myself soon, but they illustrate well the lack of clarity around validation & proof and where I'm at right now, etc.):

(1) How does one know what qualifies as proof or evidence?
(2) Is the act of identifying what qualifies as proof (or evidence) itself something that needs to be proven or validated?
(3) When would you stake your life on some piece of knowledge given "contextual certainty", e.g., in chapter 5 of OPAR ("reason"), Peikoff gave an example of a compatible blood type (A-type to A-type) that was later discovered to only be compatible given the compatibility of a previously unknown factor (RH factor). The first discovery (pre RH factor) of compatibility was described as "Within the context of the circumstances so far, A bloods are compatible."

Note: edited both posts above for clarity.

Edited by Jonathan Weissberg
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Here are some various quotes from your posts:

On 10/18/2020 at 6:27 PM, DavidOdden said:

The logic of concept formation, as set forth in ITOE, is that similarities and differences are perceived, leading to the conclusion “these things have something in common that distinguishes them from those things”, and eventually that concept is assigned a name. The overall point that I’m making here is that knowledge and concepts need to be studied from two perspectives, the logical and the psychological, that is, how do we actually learn this stuff.

...

The point that I have been focusing on is the subtle difference between concept formation (so-named in Objectivism) and concept-acquisition (what I’m saying is not part of ITOE or OPAR, and I’m not sure about secondary writings on the topic – there is no such thing as “concept-acquisition” in Objectivism). There are two big questions: “What is the proper means of forming concepts?”, and “What are the actual methods that men use to learn existing concepts?”.

...
Philosophy will tell you what “integration” and “logic” are, but it does not directly say how a child learns to integrate, it simply accepts the undeniable fact that children do so.

OK, so I understand now. There's the observation of similarities and differences (which is taken as the given in philosophy). There's concept formation (how does someone form a new concept) which most of us do not do, but which philosophy provides a theoretical framework for doing. And then there's concept acquisition which is a practical question of science: how do we best teach someone to observe the similarities and differences enough to acquire this previously formed concept (which they can then use theories of concept formation to validate for themselves)?

 

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