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Ten Years of Necessary Facts

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I launched my blog on 2 January 2011. The title was inspired by Gregory Browne’s Necessary Factual Truths (University Press of America, 2001).

I met Dr. Browne at Eastern Michigan University in the fall semester 2007. Waiting for a class in police operations, I was walking the halls and heard him lecturing. It was obviously a philosophy class and he sounded reasonable. I looked in and saw “Ayn Rand” on the blackboard closing an array of philosophers in historical sequence. A couple of weeks later, I heard him actually mention Ayn Rand. So, I introduced myself. And I bought the book format of his doctoral dissertation. It derives from a refutation by Leonard Peikoff of the Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy.



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Thanks, Hermes!


One of the most noted essays of the twentieth century is Quine’s 1951 “Two Dogmas of Empiricism,” which argues the distinction between analytic and synthetic truths, so dear in logical empiricism, is untenable. Necessary truths we have in logic and mathematics cannot receive their necessity of being true merely in virtue of meaning, which is to say, by being analytic truths. Furthermore, for analytic there is no noncircular and enduring rule establishing its extension. A logical truth such as A is identically A, in Quine’s view, need not get its truth only by our say-so meaning of is identically, but could as well get its truth by its capture of the way the world is (Quine 1954, 113).

In his 2016, Greg Salmieri notes that it is curious that Peikoff 1967 does not mention Quine’s “Two Dogmas.” Salmeiri points out some ways the Rand-Peikoff diagnoses of and remedies for the errors in analytic-versus-synthetic doctrines differ from Quine’s. Salmieri understands the later challenge of AvS from Kripke and Putnam to have more in common with the Objectivist challenge, though Putnam differs importantly from Rand on definitions and essences, which looms large in the Objectivist challenge (2016, 304n34, 311n87). Salmieri points to the book-review article, in JARS in 2005, by Roderick Long for thoughts on some relations between Randian theory of meaning and those of Kripke and Putnam.

Long’s 2005 review of Greg Browne’s book Necessary Factual Truth was followed a year later by a substantial reply from Browne and rejoinder by Long (JARS V7N1). From May to September of 2007, Prof. Browne engaged in a very generous exchange (his own words coming to about 19,000) in a thread at Objectivist Living defending the rejection by Peikoff of AvS and defending his own kindred rejection of AvS. Browne had in his arsenal the Kripke-Putnam developments that had been savaging AvS in the years since Peikoff 1967. Browne vigorously countered, in that thread, devotees of Logical Empiricism (and of Popper) who criticized (and poorly understood the revolution afoot, such as in) Peikoff 1967.

Late in that thread, Robert Campbell entered it only to ask Browne if he had any thoughts on why Peikoff had not addressed the famous Quine paper in his Peikoff’s dissertation, which Campbell had lately acquired. Browne had not seen the dissertation and had not much to conjecture on that peculiarity. (Peikoff 1964 is not written as a champion of Ayn Rand’s philosophic views, but, in an even-handed way, by an author acknowledging his background preference for some rehabilitated sort of logical ontologism and pointing near the end of the dissertation to some of that rehabilitation, such as fresh thinking on the nature of definitions and essence; distance between Quine’s views on logic and on AvS and Randian Peikoff views would not be the reason for no Quine in Peikoff 1964.) I should suggest that Quine, Carnap, Russell, and Wittgenstein raise such a briar patch of technicalities that it was better (and enough for deserving a Ph.D.) to stick with the more accessible and manageable Ayer, Nagel, Dewey, and Lewis to get the dissertation (already more than an armful in history assimilated) finally completed.


Browne, G. M. 2001. Necessary Factual Truth. Lanham: University Press of America.

Gotthelf, A. and G. Salmieri, editors, 2016. A Companion to Ayn Rand. Wiley Blackwell.

Long, R. T. 2005. Reference and Necessity: A Rand-Kripke Synthesis? —Review of Browne 2001. The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 7(1):209–28.

Peikoff, L. 1964. The Status of the Law of Contradiction in Classical Logical Ontologism. Ph.D. Thesis. New York University.

——. 1967. The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy. In Rand 1990.

Quine, W.V.O. 1951. Two Dogmas of Empiricism. In Quine 1980.

——. 1954. Carnap and Logical Truth. In Quine 1976.

——. 1976. The Ways of Paradox and Other Essays. Cambridge: Harvard.

——. 1980. From a Logical Point of View. Cambridge: Harvard.

Rand, A. 1990 [1966–67]. Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. Expanded 2nd edition. Meridian.

Salmieri, G. 2016. The Objectivist Epistemology. In Gotthelf and Salmieri 2016.

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  • 3 weeks later...

My objection to the extensional view of meaning is that people who speak a language know the meaning of words in the language, but they do not know the extension of a concept, or even what an extension is. They have the capacity to compute the extension (once you tell them what an extension is). But as we know, there are enough competing theories of “meaning” that you have to start with a more important question “What do you mean by ‘mean’?”. We have to exclude unrelated senses such as “arithmetic mean”, “cruel” (where, in fact, the word “meaning” is not applicable, only “mean” is). Being focused on the “meaning” sense of “mean”, it is or should be clear that “meaning” refers to a mental state, thus a tree in the forest has no “meaning” except insofar as a mind deals with that tree. Furthermore, meaning is about symbols, not e.g. raw experiences. Once you reduce experience to symbols, you can talk about meaning.

In the course of eliminating words spelled “mean”, I did not get rid of a collection of senses more related to the linguistic concept of meaning, for example “What do you mean by that?”, i.e. what are you presupposing, why are you saying that, or the even more semantic idea that some sentences can strongly suggest a conclusion without actually asserting it. Unfortunately, work in philosophy of language did not crisply weed out such “suggestive” types of meaning. Reasonable inferences about a person’s intent can often be drawn from a simple statement like “I haven’t eaten since breakfast”, but that statement literally just means that the person hasn’t eaten since breakfast, and is not necessarily a request to be fed, even though you could conclude that from the fact of saying that he hasn’t eaten. There is a connection: you draw conclusions based on something.

As for extensions, what (I ask rhetorically) is an “extension”? One theory is that it is a collection of actual things, like “all of the giraffes, past, present and future”. If that is correct and meanings are extensions, what does it “mean” (vide supra) to know the meaning of “giraffe”? We can kick the can down the road saying “Yes – if you accept my account of what it means to ‘know’.” It’s not that you have actual experience with all giraffes, it’s that you have some experience that creates a mental thing (name to be discovered), and with that mental thing and the faculty of reason, you can conclude, for all x, that x is or is not a giraffe. Then what is the mental fodder for reasoning which leads to this chain of conclusions? In one view, it is the intension: or, the definition – of a concept, whose symbol is a word. Now we can dispose of extensions and intensions. If you know the definition of a concept, you can use reason to categorize anything w.r.t. that concept. You don’t need extensions, or intensions, because you have definitions of concepts, symbols that label which concept it is, and what you can do with the faculty of reason is make identifications – say what a concept refers to. In short, a sensible theory of reference, intension and extension renders these concepts superfluous, given identity, definition and inference.

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