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How are concepts of measurement formed?

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RSalar
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Maybe the "line" is curved but I don't think the "inch" is curved....

I think it's quite correct to say that the inches are curved when the length being measured is curved. This would apply to a curved railroad track, a waistline, or a piece of string on the floor.

All of these instances of inches are referents included in (subsumed by) the concept "inch". These referents are just as valid as the inches we see marked on a straight ruler.

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Therefore, what is it that you retain? The relationship. What do you omit? All the measurements of whichever units you are denoting or counting by means of the concept of any given number.

I think someone early on said that the cocnept "inch" is a measurement of length and "length" applys to something that exists and it is the "something" that is is omitted. It appears that is what Ms. Rand meant by measurement omission. Thank you. I wouldn't have believed it ... but you have proved the point.

An inch can refer to any number of things that are an inch in length -- it is the specific thing that is omitted. It is difficult for me to think of "things" as "measurements." That is why I was confused. I will sleep on this and see if it still makes sense in the morning. -- Good night all.

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An inch isn't a rigid object, ... Tailors use measuring tools that are not rigid, to measure things like waistlines - in inches.

You are right. I did not omit enough attributes and thus excluded some concretes which should be included: tape measures, strings, wires, chains, etc.. Provided that they have two marks on them which are one inch apart (when stretched taut) and do not change their length with normal use, then they can be used to measure distances in inches.

An inch has no mass, and the tool one uses to reference the length of an inch is meaningless. There are concepts for things that don't exist as entities. In this thread, the entities that we use to reference length are being confused for the actual lengths.

Which tool one uses may be unimportant (provided that it works); but the fact that there is a tool which measures in inches IS important. Otherwise, how could a person know whether a certain interval is an inch or how many inches it contains? If one cannot know that, then you do not have a concept.

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Which tool one uses may be unimportant (provided that it works); but the fact that there is a tool which measures in inches IS important. Otherwise, how could a person know whether a certain interval is an inch or how many inches it contains? If one cannot know that, then you do not have a concept.

I do not think the thing used to measure (object, tool, device) is important to the concept inch. Here is why: This measuring device is man-made--there is no "ruler" with inch marks to be found in nature. At some point in time a man had to have made the first ruler. He made this device for the purpose of measuring length. The concept had to have been formed in his mind prior to him making the ruler--he didn't make the ruler then say, "Eureka! I have discovered a new device that can be used to measure things!" He had the idea first (formed the concept) then made the ruler to conform to his idea. (This brings up another problem: Can a concept exist without a name?)

The other interesting thing is that an inch is a completely arbitrary unit of measure. We say it is 1/12 of a foot. When asked how long a foot is we say 12 inches. Someone (with big feet) broke off a stick the same length as one of his feet and carved 11 equal-distant marks on it. If you were stranded on a deserted island in need of a measuring device with nothing to use to figure out how long an inch is, you would have no way to make a ruler with inch marks (you could make a ruler with marks but those marks, if they ended up an inch apart, would be so out of luck). There is nothing in nature that is always an inch long. There is no common “standard” to be found in nature.

It doesn't matter how long an inch is so long as everyone agrees to it. We arbitrarily chose a length and call it something, then we make a permanent standard reference thing that everyone can use to make his or her own rulers from. We store that standard reference thing away in a safe place so if something happens and we need to go back and check we can verify that our rulers still have marks exactly an inch apart.

If I make a ruler (using the standard reference thing), then travel to a distant land and show you my ruler you will have to use my ruler to make your ruler. You may be a tiny bit off when you make yours from mine. Then you travel to a new part of the world and show someone else your ruler. Another ruler is made based on your slightly off ruler and they also make a small error. This can happen repeatedly around the world until a thousand years later on some remote island a society of people are using rulers that have inch marks that are really an inch and half long. They have no way to know how off their rulers are from the standard, but it doesn’t effect them in any way until they try to trade with people from the outside world.

Unless we go back and check our ruler against the standard reference thing we have no way to know whose ruler is accurate. The only time that we all need to all have the same length inch is when we trade with each other. If I order a shoe from you using my ruler to measure my foot and you make the shoe based on your ruler. Our rulers better be the same or the shoes you make will not fit me.

Question: If the entire universe doubled in size so that everything in the universe also doubled in size—every atom, every tree, every planet, every measuring device, everything—would we be able to detect the change?

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There is nothing in nature that is always an inch long. There is no common "standard" to be found in nature.

An inch is about the width of an adult man's thumb. I heard a story that the standard foot was the result of averaging the length of several person's feet who were leaving church one day (presumably they did not stand precisely toe to heel, which is why the foot is too long).

Now days, the standard unit of length (the meter) is the distance light travels in a vacuum in some period of time. The standard unit of time (the second) is a specified integer multiple of the period of light emitted by a certain kind of laser. See NIST for the details.

An inch is 0.0254 meter.

Question: If the entire universe doubled in size so that everything in the universe also doubled in size—every atom, every tree, every planet, every measuring device, everything—would we be able to detect the change?

This could not happen. The size of an atom (in its lowest energy state) is determined by a balance between the electrical attraction between the nucleus and the electrons and the need of the electrons to move to satisfy the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

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This brings up another problem: Can a concept exist without a name?

The short answer is no. A name is simply a "memory tag" we use to file all of the information necessary for a concept into a manageable form. It doesn't need to be verbal, but does need to be a sensory-percept of some kind. Humans most commonly use sounds and sights, but any sense can be used if it is accurate enough for the animal. I have never met a human with a nose sharp enough for olfactory language.

There are concepts that we have that we do not use single words for, but the phrase or sentence we use to denote the concept serves as the sensory-percept.

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The short answer is no. A name is simply a "memory tag" we use to file all of the information necessary for a concept into a manageable form. It doesn't need to be verbal, but does need to be a sensory-percept of some kind. Humans most commonly use sounds and sights, but any sense can be used if it is accurate enough for the animal. I have never met a human with a nose sharp enough for olfactory language.

There are concepts that we have that we do not use single words for, but the phrase or sentence we use to denote the concept serves as the sensory-percept.

What if I come up with a new invention in my labratory. I figured it out, designed it, constructed it, and tested it. And low and behold it works. I know what it is, how it works, and what function it performs. I know as much about it as I would if and when I give it a name. I show it to me wife and she asks me what it is. I tell her I havn't named it yet. She tries it out and loves it. She suggests several names for it but I do not like any of them. Every time she wants to use it she asks me to go get the "thingamagig." I know that she means the tool I invented and I get it for her but I also remind her that it is not a thingamagig. I don't like it when she calls it that and I tell her explicitly that I do not authorize that name. I tell her that if she ever calls my beloved invention a thingamagig again I will not let her use it. Now she politely asks me to get her the ... "you know" ... and I am happy to get it for her.

My wife and I have both formed a concept of this invention yet it has no name. What do you make of that FeatherFall?

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My wife and I have both formed a concept of this invention yet it has no name. What do you make of that FeatherFall?

Technically you haven't yet formed a concept until, indeed, you have a word for it. Note the practical issues that you encounter without such a word, and the substitution of *another* "catch-all" word, "thingamajig", to denote the invention. And that's a simple example, a physical device. Imagine trying to abstract from abstractions, which is where human cognition really gets going, without having words for the lower level abstractions that you are abstracting from.

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RSalar,

If you don't formally name it, you will still refer to it in your mind in some way. There is no getting around this.

You will think of it as "my new machine" or "that thing." Alternately, you might simply use a visual memory you have of your machine, like the image of the first time you saw it. Or you could refer to it through the memory of a burn you got on your arm while inventing it. But when you think about it, you will use some sort of sensory-percept to call it to mind.

So will your wife. She will most likely continue to refer to it as a "thingamajig." Or maybe she will use "that damn thing that drove my husband crazy."

Even if, when you call it to memory, you site every aspec of it, you are using a sensory percept and naming it. However, if you do this, you have chosen a poor name by rejecting the economy possible by your mind.

Thinking of something is impossible without a sensory-percept referent. If you don't believe me, try it.

Edited by FeatherFall
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Alternately, you might simply use a visual memory you have of your machine, like the image of the first time you saw it.

You are right that when I think of this thing I do picture it. But ... I don't think we should call a mental picture a "name." If a mental picture equals a name then when you meet someone and they want to know your name the conversation would go something like:

"Hi, my name is Julie. What's yours?"

You say, "Just use a mental picture of me--that's my name."

Shocked, Julie asks, "What? .... Don't you have a name?"

You say, "Yes, I told you, my name is the mental picture you form when you think of me."

Julie smiles and says, "Really! Cool! You are the first person with that name!"

You puff up your chest and say, "I know it and it's a lot easier than using a word name."

Julie flips her hair back and asks, "Would you like to have coffee sometime?"

"That would be great. I'll give you a call sometime."

Julie thinks about this for a minute and asks, "When you call, how will I know it's you?"

"When you hear my voice a mental picture of me will pop into your mind."

"What if I don't recognize your voice?"

Thinking fast you suggest, "Why don't you take a picture of me with your cell phone and store it with my number, so when I call my picture will come up?"

"Perfect -- Ok I got to go ... Bye ..." Julie closes her eyes and tilts her head backwards picturing you.

"Bye Julie."

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A "Name" is typically verbal/visual. Verbal when it is pronounced and visual when it is written. The reason we choose names that we can speak and spell is simple: convenience. Your last post illustrates this. But not everybody does this; Helen Keller didn't. Even Prince tried eliminating a verbal component to his name.

A name can be any sensory-percept. To use a mental picture is counter productive, but it is possible. If human beings had better noses and more control over our pheromones, we could smell each other's names. But the fact remains, humans are best suited to auditory and visual communication.

Furthermore, humans are capable of translating languages of one sense into languages of another. So even if I chose to simply say that you should take a mental snapshot of my face, this can be translated into verbiage by describing my features. Or, in Prince's case, we called him "The artist formerly known as Prince." Again, this method of naming is inconvenient, but possible.

Edited by FeatherFall
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My wife and I have both formed a concept of this invention yet it has no name. What do you make of that FeatherFall?

Actually, it does have a name - "thigamajig" or "that-thing-you-just-invented". Not very elegant perhaps, but you both know very specifically what you are referring to.

What you *don't* have yet is a concept, which is suggested by the fact that you can't come up with a good name for it yet. And even with a name, unless it represents some new category of invention which deserves it, it still wouldn't necessarily be a concept. It would just be a certain object which you've given a name. As another example, when you name your baby, you're just naming it, not creating a new concept.

Have you yet read ITOE?

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And even with a name, unless it represents some new category of invention which deserves it, it still wouldn't necessarily be a concept. It would just be a certain object which you've given a name. As another example, when you name your baby, you're just naming it, not creating a new concept.

Have you yet read ITOE?

Yes I have read ITOE. I think it is stretching the meaning of the concept "name" to sya it can mean any type of tag that references a particular concept. The word/concept "name" by definition is: "A word or words by which an entity is designated and distinguished from others: some of the most famous names of the 20th century."(1)

Let's be real here. A mental picture is not a name. A name is a name. A is A. Human's use words to represent concepts and concepts are mental constructs representing something that is (or is thought to be) real. The words we use to denote concepts can be thought of as the concept's name.

When the first human came up with the idea that men have certain unalienable rights, that idea was in his head and he had yet to tell anyone about it. He certainly came up with the idea before the idea had a name. And he was able to hold on to that idea in his mind despite the fact that the concept did not yet have a name. So you can hold concepts in your mind that do not have a name. You can even communicate that idea to another human being without ever calling the idea by it's yet to be determined name.

I’ll bet Ayn Rand had the concept now known as Objectivism well formed before she named it.

1) - Excerpted from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition Copyright © 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Electronic version licensed from Lernout & Hauspie Speech Products N.V., further reproduction and distribution restricted in accordance with the Copyright Law of the United States. All rights reserved

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If you are using the above definition for "name", then a sensory-percept referent is something more fundamental. In other words, a name is a specific and more limited type of sensory-percept referent. However, I think the above definition is flawed.

Using the above definition for "name" necessitates at least two new words for concepts that are essentially the same.

A word is spoken or written. So, by the above definition, a person using sign language to give the sensory-percept referent for them self would not be giving their "name." Why is it essential to draw a distinction between the spoken/written and the signed? Another way this definition is flawed is that it only applies to an entity, not a non-entity. Why draw this distinction? The philosophy of Ayn Rand is not an entity, but it does have a name.

Because a word is a verbal/written referent, I don't think it is appropriate to define "name" in this way. A name should be defined in a way that recognizes the possibility of its use in somatic language. In fact, why even limit it to specific senses? The only purpose this will serve is to necessitate yet another word for an essentially similar concept if we ever developed a language using a new sense. I submit the following definition of the word.

Name: A sensory-percept referent for a concept or entity that conforms to an existing language.

By the new definition, you are still allowed to call any concept to mind using any means. However, the sensory-percept referent you use cannot properly be called a "name" until it conforms to an accepted language and can thus be communicated to another human being.

I like my definition. However, by my own new definition and yours, I did make mistakes by equating "sensory-percept referent" to "name" in previous posts. Thanks for helping me notice my mistake and improve. How fun was that!?

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I think it is stretching the meaning of the concept "name" to sya it can mean any type of tag that references a particular concept...

I’ll bet Ayn Rand had the concept now known as Objectivism well formed before she named it.

We'd better be clear here otherwise we're going to talk past each other. I'm using "name" in the sense of "proper name". In this sense it is a word that designates a specific and singular object, i.e. it is a kind of word. For example "Mars" is a name, not a concept, whereas "planet" is the word for the concept of which it is an example.

So, Objectivism is not a concept. It is a proper name, designating Ayn Rand's philosophy.

As for whether you can have an idea without a word for it. Sure, but you likely won't have it for long and until you do. That's the purpose of words.

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We'd better be clear here otherwise we're going to talk past each other. I'm using "name" in the sense of "proper name". In this sense it is a word that designates a specific and singular object, i.e. it is a kind of word. For example "Mars" is a name, not a concept, whereas "planet" is the word for the concept of which it is an example.

So, Objectivism is not a concept. It is a proper name, designating Ayn Rand's philosophy.

As for whether you can have an idea without a word for it. Sure, but you likely won't have it for long and until you do. That's the purpose of words.

If Objectivism is not a concept, because it represents a single named school of thought, then neither is, Subjectivism, Platonism, Intrinsicism, etc., because they also are names for single units of philosophical schools of thought. If these individually specified and named schools of philosophical thought are not concepts then what are they? Names? What are names? Tag words that represent individual units?

I was thinking that a concept was simply something formed in the mind--a thought, notion or mental construct. But you are saying that some mental constructs, specifically names, are not concepts. Is that the official Objectivist position?

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If you are using the above definition for "name", then a sensory-percept referent is something more fundamental. In other words, a name is a specific and more limited type of sensory-percept referent. However, I think the above definition is flawed.

Using the above definition for "name" necessitates at least two new words for concepts that are essentially the same.

A word is spoken or written. So, by the above definition, a person using sign language to give the sensory-percept referent for them self would not be giving their "name." Why is it essential to draw a distinction between the spoken/written and the signed? Another way this definition is flawed is that it only applies to an entity, not a non-entity. Why draw this distinction? The philosophy of Ayn Rand is not an entity, but it does have a name.

Because a word is a verbal/written referent, I don't think it is appropriate to define "name" in this way. A name should be defined in a way that recognizes the possibility of its use in somatic language. In fact, why even limit it to specific senses? The only purpose this will serve is to necessitate yet another word for an essentially similar concept if we ever developed a language using a new sense. I submit the following definition of the word.

Name: A sensory-percept referent for a concept or entity that conforms to an existing language.

By the new definition, you are still allowed to call any concept to mind using any means. However, the sensory-percept referent you use cannot properly be called a "name" until it conforms to an accepted language and can thus be communicated to another human being.

I like my definition. However, by my own new definition and yours, I did make mistakes by equating "sensory-percept referent" to "name" in previous posts. Thanks for helping me notice my mistake and improve. How fun was that!?

It is fun to learn. I suppose that is why we participate here. I would like to respond to your notion that sign language, because it is visual language, is somehow the same as a mental picture. A visual representation that all people with good vision can see can be a word and it can represent a name for a specific concept. But a mental picture can only be seen by the person imagining it. There is no way to transmit a specific mental picture in the way you see it, to another person. You may be able to get them to see a similar picture through your description, but their mind creates one image and your mind creates another. Without “words” there would be no way to get the other person to “see” your mental picture.

Also we should be clear that there is a difference between a word and a name--as pointed out by Fred Weiss. It is true that every "word" is a specific concept's name, but it generally includes a group or category of "things." When a name is used to designate a single thing then it, according to Fred, is no longer a concept. I would like to pursue this a little more though, because I am still not convinced that the term, "Objectivism" does not name a "concept." I think a "concept" is an "idea" that can be specifically identified as a unit by the mind--it needs to be distinct and definable—but I see no reason why I can not form a concept that refers to s single existent.

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I think it's quite correct to say that the inches are curved when the length being measured is curved. This would apply to a curved railroad track, a waistline, or a piece of string on the floor.

All of these instances of inches are referents included in (subsumed by) the concept "inch". These referents are just as valid as the inches we see marked on a straight ruler.

The inch is not curved, the physical thing being measured is curved. Inch is a unit of measure -- it does not exist as a physical thing. A currved line is actually a bunch of very short straight lines or points.

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To quote Introduction To Objectivist Epistemology, page 11:

Language is a code of visual-auditory symbols that serves the psycho-epistemological function of converting concepts into the mental equivalent of concretes. Every word we use (with the exception of proper names) is a symbol that denotes a concept, i.e., that stands for an unlimited number of concretes of a certain kind.
To further clarify, a sensory-percept referent is the means by which humans recall pre-identified concepts and entities to their consciousness.

In my previous post, I implied that a language was a set of sensory-percepts accepted by multiple people. This seems to be at odds with Ayn Rand's definition. From now on, when I refer to the more specific type of language, I will call it "communicable language."

I also explicitly stated that it does not have to be visual or auditory. And I stand by this.*

I would like to respond to your notion that sign language, because it is visual language, is somehow the same as a mental picture. A visual representation that all people with good vision can see can be a word and it can represent a name for a specific concept. But a mental picture can only be seen by the person imagining it. There is no way to transmit a specific mental picture in the way you see it, to another person.

It is also impossible to relay the word exactly as you hear it or the text exactly as you visualize it. But whether we hear "hello" in an Irish drawl (from the front of the mouth) or in a Scottish drawl (from the back of the throat), we understand it. If we used visual pictures to identify concepts, we could draw them. We wouldn't have to draw them exactly as we picture them. Obviously this is an extremely difficult means of communication, unless it is stripped down to mental pictures of text, which is how one writes. Alternately, we could use mental pictures of hand movements, which is how the deaf sign.

It is best to assign accepted words, texts or signs as sensory percept referents to concepts. This is because your ideas can then be communicated to anyone familiar with the language you use. If you speak multiple languages, you can assign multiple referents and communicate to more people.

But this cannot always be done. For instance, a baby does not begin concept formation by using words that are part of a communicable language. It isn't until they realize that others are communicating with words that they can begin to assign those words to their own concepts. Before that time, they may have been more likely to use a sense-referent associated with the concept they are identifying; Sight for color, taste for foods, touch for tactile concepts.

It is true that every "word" is a specific concept's name, but it generally includes a group or category of "things." When a name is used to designate a single thing then it, according to Fred, is no longer a concept. I would like to pursue this a little more though, because I am still not convinced that the term, "Objectivism" does not name a "concept." I think a "concept" is an "idea" that can be specifically identified as a unit by the mind--it needs to be distinct and definable—but I see no reason why I can not form a concept that refers to s single existent.

"Objectivism," "Mars" and "planet" are sensory percept referents, or "names" for specific concepts.

"Objectivism" names the concept: "the philosophy of Ayn Rand."

"Mars" names an entity: "The fourth planet from Sol."

"Planet" names a concept, which is approximately: "A specific type of celestial body."

Before writing this post, I would have said, "A proper name does not have to name a specific entity, but it does have to apply to the most precise form of a specific concept - something that is not itself composed of more specific concepts. Both 'Mars' and 'Objectivism' satisfy this qualification, while 'planet' can not, because it is composed of entities."

However, while writing this post, I continued to read the page of ITOE I quoted earlier:

Proper names are used in order to identify and include particular entities in a conceptual method of cognition.
Therefore, Ayn Rand did not believe that "Objectivism" is a proper name. I still think it is a proper name, for the reasons I gave above.*

The inch is not curved, the physical thing being measured is curved. Inch is a unit of measure -- it does not exist as a physical thing. A currved line is actually a bunch of very short straight lines or points.

The inch is a unit of measure that is irrelevant when it is not used to measure something. Therefore, when pointing to a specific inch (any stretch of reality is a 1/12th foot distance) that measures along a curved path, that inch is curved. While inches do not exist as entities, they do exist in reality.

*Does this mean I am not an Objectivist? Or are these non-philosophical disagreements?

Edited by FeatherFall
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Also we should be clear that there is a difference between a word and a name--as pointed out by Fred Weiss. It is true that every "word" is a specific concept's name, but it generally includes a group or category of "things." When a name is used to designate a single thing then it, according to Fred, is no longer a concept. I would like to pursue this a little more though, because I am still not convinced that the term, "Objectivism" does not name a "concept." I think a "concept" is an "idea" that can be specifically identified as a unit by the mind--it needs to be distinct and definable—but I see no reason why I can not form a concept that refers to s single existent.

Fred is right on this. A "concept" integrates multiple existents into a single "mental concrete" (roughly, an "idea") by means of retaining certain characteristics of those existents, but omitting their specific measurement. Without multiple existents, you don't have a concept, you have a proper noun. Thus "RSalar" is not a concept--it is a name for you. "New York City" is also not a concept, but a single particular city.

Similarly, Objectivism (that is, the philosophy developed by Ayn Rand) is a proper noun. On the other hand, "objectivism" is not, and names a school of thought (as do "subjectivism," "skepticism", etc.) "Platonism" (like "Aristotelian") is an odd case: as I understand it, it can be used to either name Plato's philosophy or simply something in the tradition of Plato (which it is then depends on context).

By the way, you say you have read ITOE, but a quick scan of the index yielded this:

Every word we use (with the exception of proper names) is a symbol that denotes a concept. i.e., that stands for an unlimited number of concretes of a certain kind.

If you mean to disagree with AR on this, that's fine, but you should state your disagreement as such. It is assumed on this forum that you understand AR's viewpoint on the problem you're discussing, and come here to either "chew" it further or show why it is wrong. This is why the answer here is so often, "have you read [book X]?" The point is not that reading the book will instantly make everything clear, but that her works supply a necessary context for these discussions.

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If you mean to disagree with AR on this, that's fine, but you should state your disagreement as such. It is assumed on this forum that you understand AR's viewpoint on the problem you're discussing, and come here to either "chew" it further or show why it is wrong. This is why the answer here is so often, "have you read [book X]?" The point is not that reading the book will instantly make everything clear, but that her works supply a necessary context for these discussions.

I have read just about every published work of Ayn Rand. That does not mean that I understand it all, nor does it mean that even if I was to read a particular one ten more times I would understand it. Based on the posts here I would venture to say that most people here may think they understand her but do not fully. Her work on concept formation via measurement omission is not exactly an easily grasped concept. I am here to ask questions and hopefully glean a little insight. I do not take any of these posts as the definitive authorized Ayn Rand position. And I do not claim to be stating the official Ayn Rand position.

The posts about the concept "inch" illustrate how many intelligent, thoughtful and intellectually honest people there are who do not yet grasp the notion that there is a difference between a concept and the physical reality of which that concept pertains. “Inch” as a concept—as a mental construct—has no physical properties, so it cannot be curved. Mental constructs are just that—ideas in our heads. Ideas do not have physical properties! The idea that proper names are not concepts confuses me. That does not mean I am here to disagree with Rand's position. I may challenge it to see if there is someone here who us able to clarify her position so that it makes sense to me. Even if you or the other posters are unable to show me why she was right I will continue to believe that she was probably correct (because on everything else she was right) but will not hesitate to challenge her position to see if it will stand up to tough analytical scrutiny.

A proper name refers to a specific individual entity. When I think about that specific individual entity I may picture it, I may recall things that I know about it, and I may even get emotional about it. Why, when I think about this entity and form a mental construct of what it is, this mental construct is not a concept is beyond me. What is different about that mental process than the process of forming a concept that involves more than one existent? To me the mental process of recalling the person and what he stood for, when I say Richard Nixon, is no different that the mental process of recalling the attributes of the concept “table.” The name triggers my memory to recall specific attributes of each. The concept table has variables but the concept Richard Nixon does not, that is the only difference that I can identify. Maybe I am not using the term “concept” correctly. Maybe a concept must have variables. If so then what do we call the mental construct that we form as we acquire knowledge about a unique individual entity? I come back to a new invention. The first one is a unique individual entity—it has specific attributes that can be identified. If I name it the “thingamajig,” is “thingamajig” a concept or a proper name? If it is a proper name because it names a unique individual entity and it is not a concept, what changes when I make the second “thingamajig?” How is it possible that suddenly “thingamajig” transforms from a proper name into a concept by the simple act of me making a second item? If “thingamajig” does not change then it was a concept that described an individual entity all along.

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I have read just about every published work of Ayn Rand. That does not mean that I understand it all, nor does it mean that even if I was to read a particular one ten more times I would understand it. Based on the posts here I would venture to say that most people here may think they understand her but do not fully. Her work on concept formation via measurement omission is not exactly an easily grasped concept. I am here to ask questions and hopefully glean a little insight. I do not take any of these posts as the definitive authorized Ayn Rand position. And I do not claim to be stating the official Ayn Rand position.

The idea that proper names are not concepts confuses me. That does not mean I am here to disagree with Rand's position. I may challenge it to see if there is someone here who us able to clarify her position so that it makes sense to me. Even if you or the other posters are unable to show me why she was right I will continue to believe that she was probably correct (because on everything else she was right) but will not hesitate to challenge her position to see if it will stand up to tough analytical scrutiny.

You have misunderstood my point. I was most emphatically not stating that you should blindly agree with her, nor that disagreement is frowned on (in fact, disagreement--at least temporarily--is the whole point of this forum). Furthermore, I was not stating that you should read AR "ten more times" until you understand it (that would be intrincism--that the words themselves can implant themselves as truth in your mind). My point was that you present yourself as familiar with her works, and yet appear to be unaware of a very basic position she takes (namely, that concepts are integrations of more than one existent).

Let me demonstrate:

I was thinking that a concept was simply something formed in the mind--a thought, notion or mental construct. But you are saying that some mental constructs, specifically names, are not concepts. Is that the official Objectivist position?

(First, let me point out that this was not Fred's position--his position was that proper nouns are not concepts. But your later writing indicates you understand this distinction.)

It's impossible to debate anything with someone who declines any suggestions to (re)read AR's standard work on a topic, then asks if some notion (which, it turns out, she states on page 10 of ITOE--six pages into the work) is the "official Objectivist position." How can we judge when you are unaware of her position or disagreeing with her? How do we know if the answer is "read this book" or an attempt to demonstrate the truth of the issue? For that matter, even if we assume you are disagreeing with her and proceed to answer your question, how do we know which part you disagree with?

Lest you think this is just an issue with proper nouns, the same problem crops up when you ask whether you can have a concept without giving it a name. In the second edition of ITOE, the appendix gives 10 pages of discussion on this exact question. If you do not know about that section, the best answer I could give is "read the chapter 'The Role of Words,' pp 163-174," because there's little I could say as a general answer that would be any better than that discussion. On the other hand, if you have read it and then disagree with some point, I would expect you would say something along the lines of, "AR says on page X that Y is true" and follow up with either, "I don't understand this. Why?" or "This is wrong, because Z." Either lets us know you have already read the relevant section, so that we know your context of questioning.

On a personal note: you strike me as a very honest, active-minded person. Your questions and understanding are much more advanced than those of most people that we tend to get here. (In fact, you correctly pointed out a flaw in my argument in my first post to this thread.) By far the most profitable use of your time would be to study ITOE first when you have some question on these issues, and then come here for follow-up debate or critique. Again, I am not suggesting you cannot disagree. It's just that the question that opened the thread (what measurements are omitted in 'inch'?) was a much better question for debate on this forum because AR did not give a definitive well-explained answer on it, and I for one have had problems seeing the answer.

I hope this made it clear that I welcome those who "challenge her position" or "understand her but not fully."

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I hope this made it clear that I welcome those who "challenge her position" or "understand her but not fully."

I see your point and will attempt to follow your suggestion. Please understand however that it is not a case of me being too lazy to re-read her works or to spend more time thinking about them. I find it very helpful to pose questions and make arguments from what I believe is the Objectivist position and it is also helpful for me to make arguments in opposition to what I believe the Objectivist position is. I do this to clarify two things, 1) the real Objectivist position, and 2) my position. Most of the time when I do this my position evolves or is clarified to where it ends up being the Objectivist position. I have never and will never adopt the Objectivist position without being completely satisfied that it is mine. I can see where my approach would confuse you and will try to state which side I am arguing from in the future.

Thank you for your help. I will take some time to reconsider the difference between proper nouns and concepts and, if I am unable to differentiate the unique properties of each, I will return with a clearer presentation of how my position differs from what I believe the Objectivist position is, so that you and other willing participants can help me resolve the matter.

My point was that you present yourself as familiar with her works, and yet appear to be unaware of a very basic position she takes (namely, that concepts are integrations of more than one existent).

I guess you are right -- I do not know how I missed that. It must be that it is so foriegn to my understanding of what a concept is that I just assumed that she was saying something else.

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One last point regarding the quote you used:

QUOTE(OPAR, p10) "Every word we use (with the exception of proper names) is a symbol that denotes a concept. i.e., that stands "for an unlimited number of concretes of a certain kind."

Just because every word denotes a concept, does not mean that every concept is denoted by a word. I think that we need to make certain that we understand what AR was saying before we agree or disagree with her (we need to know her position before we can state whether we agree or disagree and ... we may still be in the clarification stage even though most Objectivists think that her position is clear and obvious). Sometimes the fact that we think something is obvious makes it that much more obscure. But you are right if clarification is being sought that should be stated.

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Just because every word denotes a concept, does not mean that every concept is denoted by a word.

Yes, it does. In order for your mind to retain a concept, i.e. for that concept to serve a cognitive purpose, you have to create a sensory-perceptual "label" for it: this is the purpose served by language. Ayn Rand remarks that the purpose of language is not primarily communication: even if you lived alone on a desert island you would STILL need language in order to use your conceptual faculty.

A concept is an abstraction, but abstractions don't actually exist in reality, only concretes do. In order to make use of an abstraction, it has to be translated into a form that can be used in reality, i.e. a representative concrete.

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