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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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