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The Argument for Metaphysical Universals

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2 hours ago, intrinsicist said:

Curious for your response.

I'm having a hard time understanding how you agree with the epistemology but at the same time disagree that a set of particulars are not naturally united by a specific characteristic. So I introduce the idea that atoms can be united into molecules, as a way to distinguish between causally-related characteristics among particulars creating a new particular, and uniting the same particulars into a concept. 

Clearly, atoms are united into molecules regardless of you mentally uniting them. That's what you seem to be saying metaphysical essence is, that is, particulars are united in the same way. So then you basically say that Rand's epistemology still tells us how to figure out what the metaphysical essence is. But then you would have to be committed to the idea that particulars are united by a mental action. If you put 3 apples next to each other, there is nothing about them that has been united before the mental action. I mean, her whole theory is about how the mind does the uniting for concepts... 

The only way I know how to make an argument here is to figure out what precisely you disagree with in Rand's epistemology. 

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23 hours ago, Eiuol said:

If you have no issue with the epistemology, then you have no issue with what Rand says about universals. But you do have issues. You have to disagree somewhere, or you are seeing a contradiction that Rand has made within her own epistemology (in which case you are still disagreeing about something in her epistemology).

Why do you say that?

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52 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

So then you basically say that Rand's epistemology still tells us how to figure out what the metaphysical essence is.

Yes. We don't have automatic knowledge about reality. We have to acquire it through sense perception (for concretes) and through concept formation (for universals).

53 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

But then you would have to be committed to the idea that particulars are united by a mental action.

Sure, one engages in mental action (the process of concept formation) in order to unite one's perceptions under a concept

 

55 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

If you put 3 apples next to each other, there is nothing about them that has been united before the mental action.

United where? In your mind, no. You need to do the mental work to identify the unity. In reality, yes. The apples are already united as units of a kind (the universal apple).

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56 minutes ago, intrinsicist said:

The apples are already united as units of a kind (the universal apple).

So I'm asking you to tell me how they are united. In what sense are they united? What does it even mean to be united? How is it that those 3 apples exist as a united thing? I did my best to explain what I mean by unite, so now I want to know what you mean. When I say unite, I mean wrapped up into a single thing. Hence the "uni" in the word. You end up with *one* thing. And I gave you two distinctions to make it easier to talk about.

56 minutes ago, intrinsicist said:

Sure, one engages in mental action (the process of concept formation) in order to unite one's perceptions under a concept

If these things were already united to begin with, then something about the epistemology would change. But it's really beside the point anyway, so I'll leave it aside.

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1 hour ago, intrinsicist said:

They share the same essential nature.

So what does it mean to be united in this case of the 3 apples? You need to expand your post. If "sharing a characteristic" is what you mean by united, then it's not what I mean at all, because sharing doesn't mean acting as a single thing. If this is true, I don't think you're actually disagreeing with anything regarding epistemological essence. You just insist on using the word metaphysical instead (but then the problem comes in that you think Rand believed that abstractions don't exist in any way whatsoever). 

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3 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

So what does it mean to be united in this case of the 3 apples?

I've tried to describe the difference between metaphysical essence vs. no metaphysical essence in my original post (in the "epistemic universals" section, the "winged things" discussion, etc). If there are metaphysical essences, then we can say something like there is a principle of uniformity regarding instances of that kind, valid universal inferences are justifiable, etc. There is something in reality which makes things hold true about instances of that kind.

9 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

If "sharing a characteristic" is what you mean by united

I wouldn't describe a thing's nature as a "characteristic" of the thing. A characteristic is some aspect of a thing, like its size or color. Its nature is like its abstract definition (which includes characteristics).

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5 hours ago, intrinsicist said:

A characteristic is some aspect of a thing, like its size or color. Its nature is like its abstract definition (which includes characteristics).

Okay, but that doesn't really change what I said. If they just share a nature, they are not necessarily united. Shared is not a synonym of united. I still don't know what you mean by united.

 

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Yeah, that's where things get vague and why I criticized you earlier for your essay not being written well enough. I enjoyed thinking about it so I don't mind asking a lot of questions love you, but it's not clearer to me what you mean.

Universals are what unite particulars. In some way or another, a universal binds things together. Basically, universals presuppose units. If units don't exist before your mental action, then universals don't exist until your mental action either. That's why it is relevant to talk about the term united. Or at least, I think this is the only way that Rand's epistemology makes sense. Plenty of other philosophers talk about universals differently, and often this seems like a case of you preferring different terminology rather than a difference in principle.

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4 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

universals presuppose units

I would say it rather the other way around.

4 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

it's not clearer to me what you mean

I can relate, different metaphysical views are extremely difficult to communicate about the first time you encounter them, I think because really everything is defined in terms of metaphysics, and so it becomes very hard to make sense of the language when discussing between different viewpoints.

I probably should have taken an extremist approach on the difficulty of communicating about metaphysics to begin with, but that is tedious to do, and I am just writing in plain English, which should be able to be understood with some reading comprehension, at least in principle.

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I don't think I have more to say, other than 2046 gave a variety of things that you should be clearer about. Specifically about universals, I haven't read much at all, so I'm sure I could be off base about things, but I still think I can evaluate the clarity of your writing.

2 hours ago, intrinsicist said:

I am just writing in plain English, which should be able to be understood with some reading comprehension, at least in principle.

I mean, my reaction isn't really "this entire thing is stupid", I think you have some interesting points. I kind of get what you mean, and I think we've gotten closer to where the biggest part of disagreement comes from. But just as you are saying that it's extremely difficult to communicate these things, doing good philosophy requires us to go that extra mile with explanations. 

Anyway, "units presuppose universals" versus "universals presuppose units" captures the disagreement pretty well, and we're at a better place than we started. I have to think about it more.

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1 hour ago, Eiuol said:

Anyway, "units presuppose universals" versus "universals presuppose units" captures the disagreement pretty well, and we're at a better place than we started.

I mean, isn't that just a restatement of our differing positions on metaphysics? I made an argument for why my metaphysics is better, but I don't feel like it's been understood or responded to. So I don't see that we've made any progress at all yet.

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On 12/13/2020 at 8:44 PM, intrinsicist said:

If you are saying that, "if something exists in reality, then it cannot be an abstraction", well that is the standard Objectivist position, and that is what I am arguing against. Not sure if that helps clarify.

I got confused here, please say specifically what your position here is: 

1. if something exists in reality, then it cannot be an abstraction

2.if something exists in reality, then it can be an abstraction

And then what you consider Rand's vs. Standard Objectivist position to be. The way you wrote this many interpretations can be made.

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What does it mean to regard concepts as epistemological?  That means that the essence of a concept is determined contextually and may be altered with the growth of man's knowledge.

All definitions are contextual and a primitive definition does not contradict a more advanced one.  The latter merely expands the former.  When new evidence confronts him metaphysically (a black swan), he has to expand his definitions.

Realist theories take the generality that exists only in man's mind and make it a universal existing in the external world. 

As a legal preamble, every definition begins with the implicit proposition: On the basis of the available knowledge, i.e., within the context of the factors so far discovered, the following is the proper conclusion to draw.

Since man is not omniscient, a definition cannot be a changelessly absolute and a definition is worthless if it is not contextually absolute.  All definitions are contextual and a primitive definition does not contradict a more advanced one.  The latter merely expands the former.  When new evidence confronts him (black swan), he has to expand his definitions.

Knowledge at one stage is not contradicted by later discoveries.  Discoveries expand his understanding; he learns more about the conditions in which his conclusions depend.

Newton’s laws are not contradicted by Einstein’s discovery of relativity theory.  On the contrary, Newton’s discovery remains absolute within Newton’s context (just as Euclid’s discoveries remain absolute within the context of 2-dimensional planes).

Kepler correctly identified the sun as the cause of the planetary orbits.  Later, Newton discovered that mass gives rise to gravitational attraction.  These causal identifications do not contradict one another.  Kepler’s statement is correct but it says less than Newton’s.  And Newton’s statement is correct but Einstein discovered more about gravitation.  Newton’s law of gravity was never extended to super-huge masses or submicroscopic distances of separation that Einstein’s theory embraces. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by NameYourAxioms
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On 12/14/2020 at 10:53 AM, Eiuol said:

"Metaphysically speaking obviously all concretes intrinsically are units of a kind. Concept formation is just the inductive process of recognizing them as such and identifying the kind that they belong to."

Okay, I figured out how I want to respond to this part. You can skip the part before where I ask you specifically what you disagree with, because what I'm saying here has to do with what you disagree with. 

I think that Rand emphatically disagrees (as do I)  that concretes intrinsically are units of a kind. 

Phrased differently: for a set of concretes to be united (i.e. to be made into a unit), mental work must be done. Before the mental work is done, the unit does not exist in any sense. 3 particular apples are not naturally united so that they operate as a whole thing. To be sure, there is some kind of relationship, but I don't it makes sense to say that they are united in any manner before that mental work. 

3 particular apples are not united in the way that 3 oxygen atoms are united as a molecule of ozone. 

One’s mental file folders (concepts) are not for storing a concept’s units.  Concepts are folders for storing KNOWLEDGE about the units.

Intrinsicists believed that essences are metaphysical, meaning that they believed that metaphysical entities themselves have essences (they don’t).  
 

Intrinsicism concludes that all cognition is like sense perception (where everything is metaphysically given).  It means automatic illumination on conceptual issues.  It relies on intuition and revelation.

Famous intrinsicist expression: “To those who understand, no explanation is necessary.  To those who don’t, none is possible”.  In either case, they don’t explain.    All mystics are implicit intrinsicists.
 

if everything were self-evident, we wouldn’t need logic.  

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I've hypothesized that there is a certain type of person who sees a text box as a cue to execute their improv routine of choice. Not sure why, yet, I think it allows them to role play as what they think it's like to be a professor lecturing a class of captive students during a seminar.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The original post in this thread made the following point in the conclusion:

One must choose a side. Either there are universals which actually hold in reality, or else there is no such thing.

As an intrinsicist, he holds that essences are what we currently happen to consider the fundamental essential characteristics of a concrete actually exist in concretes themselves independent of the human mind.  That is Intrincism (Aristotle himself made this mistake) which was refuted by Ayn Rand, and replaced by Objectivism.

What we observe in concretes is real (metaphysical) but the characteristics that we choose to designate as essential or fundamental is a judgment call based our knowledge at any particular time.  Since man is not omniscient, our knowledge about metaphysical concretes can be wrong or lacking context.  We rely on logic to keep our mental concepts (universals) about metaphysical concretes aligned with reality as best we can.

Rand held that our mental concepts of concretes have essences but the metaphysical concretes that the concepts refer to do not.  As I stated earlier, the essence of a concept is determined contextually and may be altered with the growth of man's knowledge.  If essences existed in concretes they would be set in stone forever and unchangeable.

At one point it was observed that water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit.  Later on, it was discovered that water boils at a higher temperature at higher altitudes.  Water didn't change.  Our knowledge about water changed.  Essences are epistemological.  They pertain to our knowledge about metaphysical concretes.

Our concepts are mental file folders & definitions are the labels we put on those mental file folders.  Our concepts (universals) can change & our definitions of concepts can change while the metaphysical concretes they refer to remain changeless.

.

 

 
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