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Friday, December 9, 2005 - 11:11amSanction this postReply
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Merlin,

The real essence of silicon is having 14 protons bound in a nucleus with 14 neutrons and having electrons in the electronic orbitals made possible by such a nucleus. The essence of silicon is physical. It is not a metaphysical essence; that much is true. But silicon has a real essence, and it is physical.

The essence of silicon is not merely epistemological. It is physically real. It is physically causal, and it is epistemologically explanatory.

Do you think that real essences that are physical rather than metaphysical, and that explain other distinctive properties (say, valence and heat capacity), are in accord with Ayn Rand's conception of essences for her theory of concepts and definitions?




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Friday, December 9, 2005 - 11:36amSanction this postReply
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Interesting article, Merlin.  Stephen said:
The real essence of silicon is having 14 protons bound in a nucleus with 14 neutrons and having electrons in the electronic orbitals made possible by such a nucleus.

One minor quibble.  Since silicon has at least three isotopes (A = 28, 29, and 30), having 14 neutrons can't be part of the essence of silicon.
Stephen went on to say:
The essence of silicon is physical. It is not a metaphysical essence; that much is true. But silicon has a real essence, and it is physical.
Can you comment further on the way "physical" and "metaphysical" are being used here?

Thanks,
Glenn

(Edited by Glenn Fletcher on 12/09, 11:38am)




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Post 2

Friday, December 9, 2005 - 12:38pmSanction this postReply
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Stephen,

You used "real essence" in a different way than what Locke and Rand criticized. Your usage is much more like real attribute or real characteristic.

Like Glenn seems to be, I am confused by the phrase "physical rather than metaphysical" in your question about Rand. But I will still answer your question 'yes.' Essence for Rand meant the fundamental characteristics of the referents of a concept on which the greatest number of other characteristics depend, and which distinguish these referents from other existents within one's awareness or knowledge. The characteristics are real, but essence is epistemological in the sense that the selection of the fundamental characteristics is a device of man's method of cognition. For a longer explanation of Rand's view, I refer you to page 52 of ITOE (2nd edition).

(Edited by Merlin Jetton on 12/09, 12:51pm)




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Post 3

Saturday, December 10, 2005 - 12:06pmSanction this postReply
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Merlin and Glenn,

Aristotle wrote that "a definition is a phrase signifying a thing's essence" (Top. 101b37). Rand concurred. For Aristotle the essence of a thing might be made plain to the senses or it might be established as a hypothesis (Metaph. 1025b11). Rand did not dispute that.

Fundamentally, "the essence of each thing is what it is said to be in virtue of itself. For being you is not being musical; for you are not musical in virtue of yourself. What, then, you are in virtue of yourself is your essence" (1029b14-16). For Aristotle the essential predicates of a thing say what it is, what it is to be it. To say that man is musical does not say what man is. It says something truly of man, but it does not say what is man. Moreover, for Aristotle the essence of a thing is its characteristic on which its other characteristics depend (in some sense).

Thus far, Rand concurs: "A definition must identify the nature of the units [subsumed under the concept being defined], i.e., the essential characteristics without which the units would not be the kind of existents they are" (IOE 42). Moreover, the essential characteristic of a kind under a concept is "the fundamental characteristic without which the others would not be possible. . . . Metaphysically, a fundamental characteristic is that distinctive characteristic which makes the greatest number of others possible; epistemologically, it is the one that explains the greatest number of others" (IOE 45).

Aristotle held that all natural bodies are a composite of matter and form. [Rand rejects this component of his metaphysics (IOEapdx. 286).] Typically, he took form, rather than matter, to be what makes a thing the kind of thing it is. Essence is a form.

"Aristotle held that definitions refer to metaphysical essences, which exist in concretes as a special element or formative power. . . . Aristotle regarded 'essence' as metaphysical; Objectivism regards it as epistemological" (IOE 52). For Aristotle what makes gold gold or an animal cell an animal cell is a metaphysical essence, a metaphysical form. This, Glenn, is the sort of metaphysical essence I was contrasting to physical essence.

The essence of the chemical element gold, that in virtue of which it is gold, is: having such-and-such numbers of protons and neutrons bound in a nucleus and the electrons about it. That is what makes its further distinctive properties possible. The essence of a living animal cell is that it offsets the potentially catastrophic drive of water inward through its wall by pumping sodium ions out through its wall. That is what makes possible its further distinctive properties (distinctive, say, from a living plant cell). These essences are physical. The essence of a human being---rational animality---is physical and mental. These are all essences in Rand's sense. They are physical or mental, but not metaphysical in the form-sense of Aristotle's essences.

For Rand "an essential characteristic is factual, in the sense that it does exist, does determine other characteristics, and does distinguish a group of existents from all others; it is epistemological in the sense that the classification of 'essential characteristic' is a device of man's method of cognition" (IOE 52).

Proper definition, in Rand's view, is always based on real essential characteristics. She is not so restrictive as Aristotle as to what counts as an essential characteristic. So unlike Aristotle and Locke, she does not conclude that we sometimes need to settle for a "nominal" essence, rather than a real one. Locke's nominal essence is not what Rand means in saying that essence is epistemological (rather than Aristotle-style metaphysical).




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Sunday, December 11, 2005 - 10:10amSanction this postReply
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Stephen,

There is far more to Aristotle's idea of essence than its role in definitions. It is strongly bound up with substance (Meta. I, 3; VII, 4-6), and hence has a metaphysical aspect. Both Locke and Rand criticized the metaphysical aspect. In any case, the main topic of my article was what Locke said about essence and comparing it to Rand.

Proper definition, in Rand's view, is always based on real essential characteristics. She is not so restrictive as Aristotle as to what counts as an essential characteristic. So unlike  Aristotle and Locke, she does not conclude that we sometimes need to settle for a "nominal" essence, rather than a real one. Locke's nominal essence is not what Rand means in saying that essence is epistemological (rather than Aristotle-style metaphysical).
I agree with the first two sentences but not the last two. Of course, Rand didn't use "nominal". However, "nominal essence" was a term Locke used to distinguish it from other meanings of essence. The important thing is what it refers to (ECHU, II, vi). He likely used "nominal" due to its connection with naming (of general terms). It is essential meaning based on real attributes, as is Rand's idea of essence. Locke said nominal essence does not belong to particulars, but to sorts or common names. Aristotle would likely deny that, whereas Rand would agree. Particulars have qualities or attributes, but not essences. Like my article says about nominal essence: "a criterion by reference to which we mark off the members of a species, sort, or category. The boundary owes its existence to our marking it, based on the resemblances that reality supplies." The first part shows it is epistemological. The last part shows it is grounded in reality. Add the criticisms of essence per Plato and Aristotle, and the result is Locke's ideas on essence being similar to Rand's.





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Monday, December 19, 2005 - 1:05pmSanction this postReply
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An open letter to our son Jason Locke Latimer:

I hope that you will remember my friend Merlin, who authored this insightful article, accessible via an included URL [an URL whose essence John Locke could not have known]. I am very grateful to Merlin for sharing the product of his considerable efforts. You might also enjoy visiting the website to which his article has been posted.

My 'gift' to you (on this occasion) is my understanding of the essences mentioned herein. (more on that, after you've had a chance to read this two-page curiosity:

On Dec 9, 2005, at 7:28 am, merjet wrote:

Hi all,

This is to let you know that my short article "Locke on Essence"
is now on the Rebirth of Reason (was SOLO) website here:
http://rebirthofreason.com/Articles/Jetton/Locke_on_Essence.shtml
Comments are welcome there or here on NIF.

Merlin


Now for some of my musing on my concept of "essences". After considerable reflection, I offer the following as a definition-in-progress: Essence is "that which one uses as the basis for subsuming entities into categories, while forming one's concepts". [This may at first appear intended as 'humor', or as being 'circular', but such an interpretation would not be in accordance with my intentions.] Thus, the purpose of my definition-in-progress is to identify the essence of what is called "essence" by myself and by others, e. g., by Locke, Jetton, etc.

As always, feedback on any of this message will be appreciated.

====
Love Always, Richard



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