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Rand's Epistemology Seminar

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I post in the Comments some interesting exchanges between Leonard Peikoff and Ayn Rand, from the seminar (c. 1970), transcribed in Appendix of ITOE second edition. Others participants here might like to add other exchanges, between anyone in the seminar, of which they are fond or which they would like to discuss.

Photo is in 1974.

AR '74.jpg

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LP: “So you get quantitative information by perception; then, via the process of grasping similarities and differences, you form the simplest concept ‘unit’. You then rise to the general conceptual level, at which point you are able to form conceptually for the first time the concept of various numbers, including ‘one’.”

AR: “Right.”

LP: “Am I correct in saying that ‘one’ and 'many', as concepts, are metaphysical, while ‘unit’, as a concept, is epistemological?”

AR: “That’s right.” (199)

Edited by Boydstun
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LP: “Now to distinguish your view here from Aristotle’s. Aristotle would also say that you could arrange concepts on a hierarchical level, in effect from ‘table’ on up or ‘man’ on up. But he would say that what qualifies as a first-level concept is exclusively dictated by metaphysical considerations, and that subtypes of ‘man’ or subtypes of ‘table’ have in effect, a lesser metaphysical status.”

AR: “Correct. We do not say that.”

LP: “Whereas, would it be correct to say that, for Objectivism, once we have the logical hierarchy, the designation of concepts as first-level within the logical hierarchy is dictated by a combination of metaphysical and epistemological considerations, and are in that sense objectively first-level, if I can use that terminology, as against intrinsically, in the Aristotelian system?”

AR: “Exactly right.” (212–13)

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LP: “The term ‘existent’ more implies a particular entity or attribute or relation, and ‘fact’ a whole conglomeration.”

AR: “‘Fact’ can subsume both. It can be a particular narrow detail, or an entity, or an event, or a series of events.”

LP: “Would you say that either of those concepts is wider than the other, or that they don’t differ in their extension but simply in their perspective?”

AR: “In the perspective.”

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George Walsh: “Isn’t a proposition by its very nature complex, that is, made up of two or more concepts?”

AR: “Oh yes.”

GW: “How can you say that every concept expresses a proposition?”

AR: “Implicitly. . . .”

LP: “You can hold complex information, sufficiently complex to generate a proposition, in a perceptual form.”

GW: “If every concept is based upon a complex operation like this, then in the very process of forming a concept you must have gone through this complex experience.”

. . .

AR: “[I’ve indicated in ITOE that] a child first has to grasp the concept of entities before he can grasp actions or attributes; yet, to separate entities from each other he has to be aware of attributes. . . . [Later] he can identify the things that were only observed perceptually. . . . What is also very important here is that since reality is not a collection of discrete concretes which have nothing to do with each other, since it is actually an integrated whole, the same is true of our conceptual equipment. . . . Before [a child] can form propositions, he needs adjectives and verbs—particularly verbs—and that is a very difficult mental feat.”


Pertinent contemporary works:

How Children Learn the Meanings of Words - Paul Bloom (MIT 2000).

Action Meets Word: How Children Learn Verbs - Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, eds. (Oxford 2006).

Predicative Minds: The Social Ontogeny of Propositional Thinking - Radu J. Bogdan (MIT 2009).

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  • 1 month later...
Posted (edited)

The ITOE Seminar transcription was published in 1990. Leonard Peikoff’s OPAR was published in 1991. The following are the points at which Peikoff uses in OPAR oral remarks of Rand that had been put into writing only with the Peikoff/Binswanger addition of the Appendix to ITOE. Resort to using the Appendix in OPAR explications occurs only where those ideas of Rand had not been put down in writing by her for publication as parts of her philosophy. Relative importance of these points in Rand’s metaphysics and epistemology should be judged by thinking about what else in Rand’s metaphysics and epistemology hinges uniquely on them.

Chapter 1 – Reality

OPAR page 5, note 4 (ITOE App. 144–49)

“The concept ‘existence’ does not specify that the concept of a physical world exists.”[4]

OPAR page 8, note 9 (ITOE App. 159–62)

“‘It is this implicit knowledge’, Miss Rand holds, ‘that permits [man’s] consciousness to develop further’.”[9]

OPAR page 13, note 13 (ITOE App. 264-79)

“By extension from this primary sense {rock, person, table}, ‘entity’ may be used in various contexts to denote a vast array of existents, such as the solar system, General Motors, or the smallest subatomic particle. But all ‘entities’ like these are reducible ultimately to combinations, components, or distinguishable aspects of ‘entities’ in the primary sense.”[13]

Chapter 2 – Sense Perception and Volition

OPAR page 47, note 3 (ITOE App. 279–82)

“The source of sensory form is thus not consciousness, but existential fact independent of consciousness; i.e., the source is the metaphysical nature of reality itself. In this sense, everything we perceive, including those qualities that depend on man’s physical organs, is ‘out there’.”[3]

Chapter 3 – Concept-Formation

OPAR page 91, note 21 (ITOE App. 204–17)

“Only when the child has first conceptualized separately the various perceptually given entities is he capable of the more extensive acts of abstraction and integration that identify their common denominators. These latter are not available on the perceptual level . . . . Similarly, a child cannot identify distinctions among men—he cannot grasp types of men, such as doctor or teacher—until he has first grasped and conceptualized man.” [21]

Chapter 4 – Objectivity

OPAR page 139, note 19 (ITOE App. 250–51).

“Let me conclude the discussion of hierarchy by explaining the principle of ‘Rand’s Razor’.” [19]

Edited by Boydstun
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I notice that in the Blackwell book A Companion to Ayn Rand the authors sometimes reference portions of the workshop material that is not included in the Appendix to “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.” They reference pages of an unpublished transcription by Ben Bayer of the tape recordings. Statements by the authors in CAR citing (and one also quoting) this unpublished workshop transcription are located here:

Rheins on metaphysics 245-46(—n1)

Salmieri on epistemology 280(—n44), 284(—n57), 290(—n76)

Lennox on history of philosophy 336(—n44)

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  • 2 weeks later...

LP: “There’s an enormous confusion throughout the Rationalist tradition between two things: a concept which has introspective referents as against an innate idea. And these philosophers constantly go from one to the other.”

AR: “As interchangeable.”

LP: “As interchangeable. As though if all you have to do is introspect to discover the referents of a concept, it follows that the idea of those referents is innate. Which is a complete non sequitur.”

AR: “[T]hat’s exactly what I mean by dropping the context [if you’re thinking of consciousness (and self) as possible without some content about the external world, the primary].”

LP: “Descartes can say that we are aware of the self by the sheer act of being conscious and being implicitly aware of our consciousness; he calls that an innate idea, and proceeds to say that in the same way we have an innate idea of God. Because he switches from defining an ‘innate’ idea as a conceptualized recognition of something in advance of experience to calling an ‘innate’ idea any concept which is formed by a process of thought based on introspective data.”

AR: “Exactly.” (ITOE App. 254)

This exchange arose from an antecedent exchange between John Nelson (Prof. D) and Rand wherein Nelson proposed Rand’s concept of ‘self’ as innate, as in Descartes.

More from Leonard Peikoff on error of Descartes is here.

I’ve a scholarly paper on frameworks of Descartes and Rand here.

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