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Post 20

Thursday, August 31, 2006 - 6:36amSanction this postReply
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I agree with Bill Dwyer. Schwartz's "vital principle" is badly mistaken. Suppose the following. John says, "Ben went to the hospital", and this is a fact. John believes Ben went there because Ben's sister was in an automobile accident, but the fact is Ben went there because his brother was in an automobile accident. According to Schwartz, John's statement is false because John has the wrong reason. Obviously, "Ben went to the hospital" is true, independent of John's reason for believing it. Obviously, there are more difficult cases than this one. However, this simple one shows that Schwartz's "vital principle" should be considered badly maimed, if not dead.

Another point. Syllogisms are tools for formal logical analysis. Whether the premises are true or false is not the main concern. The main concern is whether or not the conclusion formally follows from the premises. Some logic texts even distinguish between a valid argument and a sound one. The premises must be true for the latter. Schwartz's fallacy in analyzing the "love is good" syllogism is an inconsistent meaning of "love." He believes the argument is invalid due to false premises. However, per the above distinction, it is formally valid but unsound.




Post 21

Saturday, September 2, 2006 - 9:38amSanction this postReply
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Merlin,

Thanks for your comments. Glad to see you weighing in on this. Just a small quibble. I think Schwartz would say that what he means by "reason" is the reason that John believes the proposition that "Ben went to the hospital," (e.g., because God told him so), not the reason that John believes that Ben had for going to the hospital (i.e., because his sister was in an automobile accident rather than his brother).

The difference is in the meaning of "reason" as it is used in this context. When you say that John believes that Ben went to the hospital "for the wrong reason," you are referring to the reason that Ben went to the hospital, (viz., to see his sister rather than than his brother), whereas when Schwartz says that John believes that Ben went to the hospital "for the wrong reason," he is referring to the reason that John believes that Ben went to the hospital (e.g., because God told him so). By "reason" you are referring to Ben's purpose for going to the hospital, whereas Schwartz is referring to the basis for John's belief that Ben went to the hospital.

- Bill



Post 22

Saturday, September 2, 2006 - 4:25pmSanction this postReply
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Bill,

Do you see Branden's 1963 article as disagreeing with Peikoff's exposition in OPAR, about anything that matters in the present discussion?
Not really. I think they're both saying basically the same thing.

I wrote, "...if a statement lacks cognitive content, then it is neither true nor false, which means that Branden, as well as Peikoff, would subscribe to the notion that an arbitrary statement is neither true nor false." Bob Campbell replied,
Branden didn't *say* that arbitrary statements are neither true nor false; Peikoff did. But if you take "it is as if nothing had been said" literally, how would you avoid Peikoff's conclusion?
Right, I don't think you can.

I wrote, "But an arbitrary statement is a statement nonetheless. It is not bereft of cognitive content; if it were, it wouldn't be a statement, but a meaningless utterance. Moreover, just where is the evidence for the assertion that an arbitrary statement lacks cognitive content? Does the arbitrary statement, "There is life on Venus," lack cognitive content? Of course not."
Although Peikoff never actually uses the word "meaningless" in his treatment, I have also taken "has no cognitive content" or "cannot be cognitively processed" to imply "meaningless."
Right, I think you have to take it that way; otherwise, you can't say that the statement is neither true nor false. If it's meaningful -- if makes a statement about reality -- then it's either true or false.
The ARI contingent at SOLOP was not pleased with my interpretation, however. (For the highest signal-to-noise ratio on the issue, I would direct you to Thomas Lee's comments.)
If I get a chance, I'll check it out.
By the way, are you familiar with Peikoff's early-1970s approach to such statements as "The present king of France is bald"? I kept expecting him to mention it during his discussion of "the arbitrary," but he never did.
Yes, I am familiar with it. He argues that Russell's purported solution to the so-called problem of definite descriptions simply pushes the problem back one step, but doesn't solve it. The problem is that the proposition, "The present king of France is bald" doesn't describe a definite existent or have an existential referent, because there is no present king of France. So Russell attempts to solve this problem by translating the proposition into three other propositions which collectively have the same meaning as the original. Viz.:

At most, one person is the present king of France.
At least, one person is the present king of France.
Whoever is the present king of France is bald.

Peikoff notes that Russell's translation leaves him with the same problem, because when you say, "one person" you are saying that there is a person who is the present king of France, when there is no such person. So, it's the same problem all over again. Ditto for the pronoun "Whoever," since "Whoever" also refers to a person who is the present king of France, and again there is no such person. So Russell's solution fails, and we're left with the original problem, assuming of course that it is a problem, which Peikoff says it isn't. The alleged problem is that this proposition is supposed to be meaningful, but in order to be meaningful, argues Russell, the definite description "The present king of France" must have an existential referent. If it doesn't refer to anything, then it's not meaningful. One philosopher, Alexius Meinong, attempted to solve this problem by arguing that since the proposition is meaningful, there must somehow be a present king of France, and since he doesn't exist in this world, he must exist in a metaphysical underworld, inhabited by all of the other non-existent things we refer to like unicorns and centaurs.

But Peikoff maintains that the proposition "The present king of France is bald" is nevertheless meaningful despite its subject having no existential referent, because human beings have the power to abstract from reality and combine their abstractions in ways that form meaningful propositions whose referents do not actually exist in the real world. Nevertheless, he says, we must get our abstractions ultimately from an observation of reality, so these abstractions must ultimately refer back to reality. He gives the example of a centaur -- a mythical creature that is half man and half horse. Although centaurs don't exist in reality, men and horses do. So "centaur" is meaningful, because its constituent concepts are themselves meaningful.

Now, I think that what you had in mind, Bob, is the contradiction between this view and the one in which Peikoff says that arbitrary statements are meaningless. Suppose I say, quite arbitrarily, "Centaurs inhabit the local zoo." According to his discussion in OPAR, Peikoff would say that that statement is without cognitive content, because it has no evidential support. But, according to his critique of Russell, Peikoff would say that it does have cognitive content, because its constituent concepts refer to reality.

Of course, the proposition "Centaurs inhabit the local zoo" is false on its face, even though it is arbitrary. But what about the proposition, "The present king of France is bald"? If that proposition is meaningful as Peikoff says it is, then it must be either true or false. Of course, it's not true, because there is no present king of France, which means that it must be false. And if it's false, doesn't that mean that the present king of France is not bald? But how could he not be bald? He doesn't exist? It would appear, then, that the proposition "The present king of France is bald" is neither true nor false. And if it's neither true nor false, then it's meaningless, but obviously, it's meaningful; therefore, it must be one or the other. We are thus left on the horns of a dilemma.

I would solve this dilemma as follows: To say that the proposition is false is not to say that "The present king of France is not bald." Rather, it is to say that "It is not the case that the present king of France is bald," which is true, since the present king of France doesn't exist, and no non-existent entity can be bald. In other words, we falsify the proposition by negating the entire statement, not simply by negating the baldness of the present king of France. So, every meaningful statement is either true or false, because either it corresponds to reality or it doesn't. Stated symbolically, either P is Q or it's not the case P is Q. There is no third alternative.

- Bill

(Edited by William Dwyer
on 9/02, 4:31pm)




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Post 23

Sunday, September 3, 2006 - 11:25amSanction this postReply
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Joe, you wrote,
First, let me make my point very clear about these Rand quotes. You're using statements made in the context of politics to insist that she had thought through and carefully decided that one can arrive at true conclusions by false premises. I find this little better than reading the bible and trying to find what you want. You take statement that could just be worded poorly, or even if they are accurate, don't prove that she had a consistent theory worked out.
What they demonstrate is that she didn't agree with Schwartz.
I think if she didn't discuss the theory of truth directly, or if it doesn't follow immediately from her former arguments, it's just reading into her statements. You may think she would support your position, but I think they're poor examples and don't clearly show anything. Not to mention that even if she believed it, she hasn't proven it.
Joe, I think it's reasonable to conclude that she believed what she wrote, regardless of whether or not she could prove or defend it with a well-worked out theory. And, as I think I've demonstrated, Schwartz certainly hasn't proven his theory; quite the contrary.
To tie this to my post on the other thread, if context matters for a statement to be valid, then an arbitrary statement could easily lack sufficient context to make it meaningful.
A "statement" qua proposition is necessarily meaningful; if it's not meaningful, then it's a meaningless string of sounds or letters, and not a proposition at all. Since a proposition states that such and such is the case, it is either true or false. Of course, if you don't know what it states, then you don't know what the proposition is, and therefore can't judge it as true or false. But insofar as it does make a statement, that statement is either true or false.
If no reasons are given for the statement, we wouldn't be able to figure out exactly what was meant by it.
Joe, by that logic, you couldn't know the meaning of the statements forming the reasons either, if no reasons were given for them, nor of the statements forming the reasons for the reasons, etc. If you can take the words forming the reasons for a conclusion at their face value, then you can do the same with the words forming the conclusion itself.
And if it truly is arbitrary, there may not really be a solid meaning behind it. If someone just says "Islam is evil" without supporting evidence or argument, we could infer our own context to the statement, but we wouldn't be judging that person's understanding of the idea. We'd be judging our own.
But you're always relying on your own understanding of an idea in judging what someone else is saying. That's true of any statement that another person makes; it's true of the statements that you're making to me and that I'm making to you. And it's also true of the reasons we're giving to support our statements. It's not just true of arbitrary statements.
I think this is one reason why arbitrary statements can be viewed as being "without cognitive content".
If arbitrary statements can viewed as being without cognitive content, because we might not understand the meaning that the speaker attaches to them, then for the very same reason, all statements can be viewed as being without cognitive content. Since I don't know your entire context of knowledge, nor you, mine, you could argue that we may not be interpreting each other's statements accurately. Does that mean that our respective statements are without cognitive content? I don't think so!
It's not that there's absolutely no content at all, but that the statement as a whole lacks sufficient clarity to really have a meaning. For instance, we may know what they mean by Islam, and have a rough idea of what they mean by "Evil", but without reasons for the statement, how do we know enough of the context to evaluate it?
Suppose that they gave you their reasons. You could make the same argument here as well, viz., that we may not know enough of the context to evaluate their reasons, since the reasons obviously have a context as well as the conclusion.
I don't mean to argue the point about context and vital principle here. I'm merely showing how arbitrary statements fit into that view. The fact that a statement is arbitrary leaves us unable to know what the context is (at least in some cases)...
Well, that's true of non-arbitrary statements too. At least in some cases, we may not have the full context.
...and therefore the statement can't simply be judged by whether it corresponds to reality in the context. We can only judge whether it corresponds to reality in some context.
Look, in order for an utterance to be judged as a proposition or a statement, it has to have a meaning; otherwise, it's not a proposition, and doesn't state anything. So, if it is recognized as a proposition -- if it makes a statement -- then it's already recognized as having a specific meaning. You can't even have a discussion, unless you assume that the words that are being used have a meaning.

According to Peikoff, "An arbitrary claim is one for which there is no evidence either perceptual or conceptual. It is a brazen assertion, based neither on direct observation nor on any attempted logical inference therefrom. For example, a man tells you that the soul survives the death of the body; or that your fate will be determined by your birth on the cusp of Capricorn and Aquarius...." (OPAR, p. 164)

It is absurd to argue that the words forming the arbitrary statements in Peikoff's examples have no clear meaning. Their meaning is obvious to anyone familiar with our culture and with the English language. The point that Peikoff is making is that there is no evidence for them. He can say that there is no evidence for them precisely because he knows what they mean. If they didn't have a clear, unambiguous meaning, he wouldn't know what the claims were to begin with, and therefore couldn't say that they lacked evidence. So, if an arbitrary claim lacks meaning or cognitive content, then you can't say that it lacks evidence, because before you can say that a claim lacks evidence, you have to know what's being claimed. Only after you know what the claim is can you say whether or not it lacks evidence. So either an arbitrary statement is one that lacks evidence, in which case, it doesn't lack cognitive content; or it lacks cognitive content, in which case, you can't say that it lacks evidence.

- Bill
(Edited by William Dwyer
on 9/03, 12:23pm)




Post 24

Sunday, September 3, 2006 - 11:53amSanction this postReply
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Bill,

Here's my recollection of what Peikoff said about

The present king of France is bald

back in the early 1970s.

He considered statements of this type, which falsely presuppose the existence of a referent such as the present king of France, to be "metaphysically meaningless."

He contrasted metaphysically meaningless statements, which he claimed are neither true nor false, with "epistemologically meaningless" statements, which you can't understand at all.

Did Peikoff abandon this way of approaching "The present king of France is bald"?

Because if he still subscribed to it in the late 1980s, I'd expect to see it mentioned in OPAR--and it isn't.

Robert Campbell
(Edited by Robert Campbell
on 9/03, 3:08pm)




Post 25

Sunday, September 3, 2006 - 1:38pmSanction this postReply
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Robert Campbell wrote,
Here's my recollection of what Peikoff said about

The present king of France is bald

back in the early 1970s.

He considered statements of this type, which falsely presuppose the existence of a referent such as the present king of France, to be "metaphysically meaningless."

He contrasted metaphysically meaningless statements, which he claimed are neither true nor false, with "epistemologically meaningless" statements, which you can't understand at all.
Hmm. You may be misremembering, Bob. I have his History of Modern Philosophy: Kant to the Present, which was recorded in 1970, and I listened to his entire discussion of Russell which includes the discussion of "The present king of France is bald" and related propositions like "The author of Waverly is Scotch," and neither "metaphysically meaningless" nor "epistemologically meaningless" appears anywhere in the discussion, which was the source of my synopsis, nor is there any mention of these propositions as being neither true nor false. He does state that such terms as "the present king of France" have no "existential reference," so I suppose you could infer from that that he would say they are "metaphysically meaningless," but he definitely did not use that terminology. And since he did acknowledge that they are meaningful, because they contain abstractions whose constituent concepts have existential referents, I'm sure he would say they are not "epistemologically meaningless," given how you defined that term.

Still, I have difficulty believing that he would have said that statements whose referents are non-existential are neither true nor false. In the portion of his lecture pertaining to definite descriptions (definite descriptions are terms containing the definite article "the"), he gives the following example of a statement containing a term that does not have an existential referent: "The unicorn is a mythical creature." Clearly, this statement is true, and I'm sure he would agree that it's true, despite the fact that the term "unicorn" is metaphysically meaningless, as there is no such creature in existence.
Did Peikoff abandon this way of approaching "The present king of France is bald"?
Well, I don't see how he would have said that a statement that is metaphysically meaningless (but epistemologically meaningful) must therefore lack cognitive content, since he stressed that such a statement is meaningful insofar as their constituent concepts must refer back to reality (e.g., a centaur, which is half horse, half man, is meaningful, because the concepts "men" and "horse" are themselves meaningful). Yet he is now saying that arbitrary statements, whose meaning is clearly understood, nevertheless lack cognitive content. So that does look like a change of view. At least it appears to contradict the views expressed in his 1970 lecture series.

- Bill




Post 26

Sunday, September 3, 2006 - 3:07pmSanction this postReply
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Bill,

Are you familiar with Leonard Peikoff's Logic course from the early 1970s?

Robert Campbell



Post 27

Sunday, September 3, 2006 - 4:00pmSanction this postReply
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Bill,

The statements don't prove she didn't agree with Schwartz.  They don't prove anything.  They can be interpreted as that, but just as easily not.  And I for one don't want to get into the habit of treating her words as divinely inspired.  If she wanted to make a point, she would have.  And even if you really believe that her statement disagree with Schwartz, that's not an argument.
A "statement" qua proposition is necessarily meaningful; if it's not meaningful, then it's a meaningless string of sounds or letters, and not a proposition at all.
I don't know who you're arguing against.  I said that if the arbitrary statement lacks sufficient context, it's not meaningful.  You want to argue that it's not really a proposition then.  Go for it.
Joe, by that logic, you couldn't know the meaning of the statements forming the reasons either, if no reasons were given for them, nor of the statements forming the reasons for the reasons, etc. If you can take the words forming the reasons for a conclusion at their face value, then you can do the same with the words forming the conclusion itself.
Are you suggesting here that we either can't know anything about their statements, or we have to assume it means what we want it to even if it has multiple possible meanings?  That's bizarre.

Here's my take.  When someone makes a vague statement, we can't just assume it means what we want it to.  If they offer reasons, we not only have additional context to judge the conclusion, but because the reasons are offered to form the conclusion, we have context to understand that reasons as well.  It's not an infinite regress.  Each step added provides us knowledge of the conclusion and the reasons themselves.  We're building a context and integrating the pieces.

Also, the reasons may be less vague than the conclusion.  If there are still multiple meanings, we ask for additional clarity.

In terms of an arbitrary statement, there are no reasons offered.  There is no way to narrow in on the context and isolate the one meaning from multiple meanings.  If we took your advice and assumed whichever meaning we want from it, then are we are judging our own ideas, not the arbitrary assertion.

If arbitrary statements can viewed as being without cognitive content, because we might not understand the meaning that the speaker attaches to them, then for the very same reason, all statements can be viewed as being without cognitive content. Since I don't know your entire context of knowledge, nor you, mine, you could argue that we may not be interpreting each other's statements accurately.
Again, what a bizarre notion!  You're treating each individual ideas as mysterious and unconnected to everything else we know about what they think.  Are you really suggesting we can't know what they mean?

My point was that if we don't know what they mean, and in fact there are multiple possible meanings (which is why we don't know what they mean!!!!), then we're not judging whether they are right or wrong, or whether their identification of reality is true or false.  Instead, we'd be judging whether the words they use may have a correct meaning.

Suppose that they gave you their reasons. You could make the same argument here as well, viz., that we may not know enough of the context to evaluate their reasons, since the reasons obviously have a context as well as the conclusion.
Bill, are you just playing devil's advocate here?  Or do you really buy this stuff?

We have to identify the specific meaning of a statement in order to judge it true or false.  If we're judging whether someone else is right or wrong, we have to understand their precise meaning.  This should be obvious and I can't understand why you would argue against it.

Well, that's true of non-arbitrary statements too. At least in some cases, we may not have the full context.
Sure.  But in arbitrary cases, there may not be a sufficient context.  We aren't talking about rigorous reasoning here.  In non-arbitrary statements, there is a context, and we just haven't identified it yet. 

Look, in order for an utterance to be judged as a proposition or a statement, it has to have a meaning; otherwise, it's not a proposition, and doesn't state anything. So, if it is recognized as a proposition -- if it makes a statement -- then it's already recognized as having a specific meaning. You can't even have a discussion, unless you assume that the words that are being used have a meaning.
Aren't you just wording things different here?  You say if it is "judged as a proposition or a statement".  But the whole discussion of the arbitrary is that in some cases, they don't have sufficient meaning.  If you want to say those assertions are not really propositions or statements, you're welcome to.  The point is the same either way.  If they lack sufficient meaning, they aren't true or false.  If you want to argue against my use of the term "statement" to refer to an utterance with a vague meaning (it's not completely devoid of meaning...just lacks clarity), suggest another.  But this seem tangential to the actual discussion.

Only after you know what the claim is can you say whether or not it lacks evidence.
What?  Why is that he case?
So either an arbitrary statement is one that lacks evidence, in which case, it doesn't lack cognitive content; or it lacks cognitive content, in which case, you can't say that it lacks evidence.
Since you are nitpicking words, how can an "arbitrary statement" lack cognitive content if as you said above, it must have a meaning? 

But also, why would any of this be the case?  The point of an arbitrary assertion is that there is not reasoning or evidence behind it.  If the assertion also ends up having insufficient context to judge it's meaning, don't you have both?  Isn't that often the case with the arbitrary?  And even if this were the case, what's the point?

As for Peikoff's example and it having only one possible meaning, I don't see the problem.  I've said that when arbitrary assertions lack enough context, the assertion itself is insufficiently meaningful.  You're trying to put me in the camp of saying all arbitrary statements are meaningless, which I specifically avoided and said as much.




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Post 28

Sunday, September 3, 2006 - 7:42pmSanction this postReply
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Joe, I have to say that I agree with Bill here. I don't think AR's statement in question requires more context to be clear or meaningful. You're correct that it doesn't constitute a formal proof or a complete theory, but it does objectively show that she believed it's possible for a person to be a genunine advocate of political freedom despite holding a false basic philosophy. I don't think she would have published such a statement, given her habit of revising her work repeatedly for precision, if she wasn't convinced that was the case.

I'd like to add that this position is in keeping with a letter, published in Letters of Ayn Rand, she wrote to Sen. Barry Goldwater in 1960. True to form, she criticized him for using a religious base to justify his essential stance in favor of capitalism in his book The Conscience of a Conservative, which he had autographed and sent to her. However, she never claimed nor implied in that letter that he wasn't *really* a defender of capitalism because he was ultimately basing his case for freedom on faith; she said that this case was disastrous because it's not true and wouldn't work. But she still regarded him as "the only hope of the anticollectivist side on today's political scene."



Post 29

Sunday, September 3, 2006 - 9:24pmSanction this postReply
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Bill,

Are you familiar with Leonard Peikoff's Logic course from the early 1970s?
Yes, I took it, Bob. But don't ask me to give you the details. That was over 30 years ago, and I've forgotten most of it by now. It seemed like a pretty good course, but nothing especially novel or unique, just a standard course in basic Aristotelian logic, as I recall.

- Bill




Post 30

Sunday, September 3, 2006 - 10:46pmSanction this postReply
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Joe, now that you clarified what you mean, I agree with you. I wasn't playing devil's advocate; I took you to be saying something different. At any rate, I'm glad we're on the same page as far as vagueness and the need for clarification is concerned. But I no longer see the point of your arguments. How does what you're saying conflict with what I was saying? Yes, if a statement is vague, then you need to clarify it in order to be able to assess its truth or falsity. I agree. So what? How is this relevant to anything that Schwartz has said or that I have said in response to him?

I wrote, "Only after you know what the claim is can you say whether or not it lacks evidence." You replied,
What? Why is that the case?
Well, suppose I claim that "Scott committed a murder." In order to know whether my claim lacks evidence, wouldn't you have to know who "Scott" refers to. If "Scott" refers to either of the two convicted murderers, Scott Dyleski and Scott Peterson, then it does not lack evidence, but if "Scott" refers to Scott Adams, the Dilbert cartoonist, then it does. So you can't say whether or not my claim that "Scott committed a murder" lacks evidence until you know what claim I'm actually making -- i.e., until you know which Scott my statement refers to.

I wrote, "So either an arbitrary statement is one that lacks evidence, in which case, it doesn't lack cognitive content; or it lacks cognitive content, in which case, you can't say that it lacks evidence." You replied,
Since you are nitpicking words, how can an "arbitrary statement" lack cognitive content if as you said above, it must have a meaning?
I'm not saying that an arbitrary statement must lack cognitive content. I'm saying that if you claim that it lacks cognitive content (as Peikoff does), then you can't say that it lacks evidence.
But also, why would any of this be the case? The point of an arbitrary assertion is that there is not reasoning or evidence behind it. If the assertion also ends up having insufficient context to judge it's meaning, don't you have both?
No. If it lacks cognitive content, then no claim is being made for which there could possibly be a lack of evidence. Suppose I say, "Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gire and gimble in the wabe, All mimsey were the borogroves. And the mome rathes outgrabe." Is there evidence for that statement or a lack of evidence for it? The answer is, neither, because the statement doesn't make any sense. Evidence or lack of evidence only applies to meaningful assertions.
As for Peikoff's example and it having only one possible meaning, I don't see the problem. I've said that when arbitrary assertions lack enough context, the assertion itself is insufficiently meaningful. You're trying to put me in the camp of saying all arbitrary statements are meaningless, which I specifically avoided and said as much.
Okay, fair enough. I guess I was putting you in Peikoff's camp, in which arbitrary statements lack cognitive content.

- Bill

(Edited by William Dwyer
on 9/03, 10:52pm)




Post 31

Monday, September 4, 2006 - 12:31amSanction this postReply
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Jon, when I see someone saying that murder is wrong, and they're religious, I will usually conclude that they are using their religion to rationalize their already accepted view that it's wrong, instead of believing for that reason.  The religious people I know don't have a deep enough understanding of the reasons they think something is true, or even that there can be other reasons for believing it, and so refer to the Bible out of an inability to introspect.  I guess when I read these quotes, I'd have to assume that Rand believed that Goldwater and others were promoters of Capitalism because of their religion, and that is the actual reason they believe it.  Since my experience tells me that religious people interpret their religion to conform to their already existing views of right and wrong, as simply a means to justify to others what they already believe, I'd have to think she was grossly mistaken.  The other possibility is that she recognized the fact that they aren't actually coming to the conclusion via their religion, and was arguing against their attempts to justify it via religion.  If this is at all possible, then it further weakens the use of these arguments to try to contrast her views with Schwartz's.  Personally, I'd hate to have people read so much into the way I phrase a sentence.

But I certainly won't try to stop others from reading so much into her statements.  I'm merely saying that I disagree with the interpretation, and more importantly, using the interpretation as a kind of argument to show that she would have disagreed with Schwartz.  She certainly may have, but that whole approach cannot lead anywhere good.  I can just see holy wars being fought over vague statements and interpretations.




Post 32

Monday, September 4, 2006 - 12:34amSanction this postReply
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Bill, you ask, "How does what you're saying conflict with what I was saying?"  I actually wasn't trying to contradict your statements in this thread.  My point was to connect this thread to our discussion in the other thread.  I had made the point in the other thread that a statement that requires specific context can mean something very different if approached from false premises.  The connection I thought I made clear here was that the same kinds of "assertions", if you will, can be judged as content free if the assertion is arbitrary.  In the other thread, the context is defined by the false arguments.  In this thread, the context is left undefined.  What I'm trying to show is that there is a parallel to the argument in the other thread.  The assertions that have very specific meanings, because they don't need any additional context, can be made arbitrarily and still have sufficient meaning to be judged as true or false.  The examples that fail are those that require additional context that is not provided because it was made arbitrarily.  In other words, this discussion of the arbitrary fits in nicely with Schwartz's insight.
I'm not saying that an arbitrary statement must lack cognitive content. I'm saying that if you claim that it lacks cognitive content (as Peikoff does), then you can't say that it lacks evidence.
You must mean something else than how I read this.  If I make an assertion without any evidence or reason behind it, you can know that it lacks evidence.  I just told you.  It doesn't even have to be meaningful, or at least it can have multiple or vague meanings.  The fact that I don't or can't support it is enough.

Are you saying that arbitrary statements are statements that there cannot be evidence for?  I take arbitrary to mean that the speaker doesn't have evidence for or against.

As for Peikoff's camp, I see things as more of a matter of degrees.  The more context necessary to make an assertion have a clear and specific meaning, the more meaningless it is when it's arrived at arbitrarily.  That's similar to the other thread where I say the degree makes it more unlikely to arrive at it through false premises, and to increase the chance that the false premises pervert the meaning.  I tend to accept at this point that some statements are so clear and specific that they don't require additional context to judge.  If Peikoff or someone else made an argument that the contextual nature of knowledge meant even those cases needed additional context in ways I'm overlooking, I'd be happy to listen.  They certainly seem to be making the assertion, but I haven't seen a good argument for it.

The important point in this thread is why certain arbitrary assertions lack sufficient meaning, and why others have it.  I think what I've suggested (the need for context to more properly define the meaning) is the key.  And if that's the case, it fits in pretty well with the rest of Schwartz's statements.




Post 33

Monday, September 4, 2006 - 7:52amSanction this postReply
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Bill,

I asked about the Logic course because that is where Leonard Peikoff once made the distinction between "metaphysically meaningless" and "epistemologically meaningless" statements.

I.e., in the early 1970s he discussed "The present king of France is bald" in more than one course.

Robert Campbell



Post 34

Monday, September 4, 2006 - 4:52pmSanction this postReply
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I wrote, "I'm not saying that an arbitrary statement must lack cognitive content. I'm saying that if you claim that it lacks cognitive content (as Peikoff does), then you can't say that it lacks evidence."

Joe replied,
You must mean something else than how I read this. If I make an assertion without any evidence or reason behind it, you can know that it lacks evidence. I just told you. It doesn't even have to be meaningful, or at least it can have multiple or vague meanings.
As I argued in my "Scott committed a murder" example, your assertion has to have a very clear and specific meaning; otherwise, I can't say that the assertion lacks evidence, because I wouldn't know what it is that is being asserted and therefore what it is that lacks evidence. Meaningless or vague utterances cannot be said to lack evidence, because the concept of evidence presupposes an answer to the question: "Evidence for what -- i.e., for what alleged fact of reality? If nothing about reality is being clearly and unequivocally asserted, then what is it that lacks evidence? Clearly nothing. What does or doesn't have evidence is not a string of sounds or marks on a page, but the alleged fact of reality to which those sounds or marks refer. It is a clear and unambiguous proposition, not simply the letters or the words that express it, that does or does not have evidence.
Are you saying that arbitrary statements are statements that there cannot be evidence for?
No, I'm saying that meaningless statements (or, more precisely, meaningless utterances) are ones that there cannot be evidence for. I don't regard arbitrary statements as necessarily meaningless.
I take arbitrary to mean that the speaker doesn't have evidence for or against.
I agree. What I'm saying is that an arbitrary statement cannot be both lacking in evidence and lacking in cognitive content, because if it lacks evidence, then it can't lack cognitive content, and if it lacks cognitive content, then nothing is being clearly asserted that one could identify as lacking evidence.

- Bill
(Edited by William Dwyer
on 9/04, 4:55pm)




Post 35

Tuesday, September 5, 2006 - 2:43amSanction this postReply
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Deleted by author, format error
(Edited by Ted Keer
on 9/05, 2:50am)




Post 36

Tuesday, September 5, 2006 - 2:47amSanction this postReply
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Bill, Joe, Robert,

If I might interrupt and redirect the focus of this thread to the prototypical "arbitrary statement" as per Peikoff, which I will name "proposition (a)":

(a) This sentence is false.

Might we not better describe it as an "~equivocal~ statement" that lacks "congnitive ~import~" rather than an "arbitrary statement" [which it may or may not be] that lacks "cognitive content" [which Bill (and I would) deny]?

The supposed paradox arises from the simple fact that the word "This" in proposition (a) is equivocal - i.e., we do not yet know which sentence ("which Scott," as Bill was saying) is being indicated? We might then arbitrarily make an assumption as to which sentence is "this" sentence, but this further assumption would be arbitrary. There would then be no paradox, just an error on our part for having smuggled in an arbitrary (and by - those who think this paradox is "deep" - unstated) premise.

Ted Keer, 09/04/06 NYC



Post 37

Tuesday, September 5, 2006 - 10:45amSanction this postReply
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Ted,

Hey, I remember you - from back on OWL, was it? Since I suspect that you've aged considerably in the interim, you might consider updating your picture! ;-) At any rate, you write,
If I might interrupt and redirect the focus of this thread to the prototypical "arbitrary statement" as per Peikoff, which I will name "proposition (a)":

(a) This sentence is false.

Might we not better describe it as an "~equivocal~ statement" that lacks "cognitive ~import~" rather than an "arbitrary statement" [which it may or may not be] that lacks "cognitive content" [which Bill (and I would) deny]?

The supposed paradox arises from the simple fact that the word "This" in proposition (a) is equivocal - i.e., we do not yet know which sentence ("which Scott," as Bill was saying) is being indicated? We might then arbitrarily make an assumption as to which sentence is "this" sentence, but this further assumption would be arbitrary. There would then be no paradox, just an error on our part for having smuggled in an arbitrary (and by - those who think this paradox is "deep" - unstated) premise.
Of course, as you know, the intended referent of that sentence is the sentence itself, which allegedly gives rise to the paradox that if the sentence is true, then it's false, and if it's false, then it's true.

As Harry Binswanger pointed out in his journal, The Objectivist Forum (February, 1984), the answer to this paradox is that the sentence, "This sentence is false," cannot refer to itself (any more than a ruler can measure itself or a scale can weigh itself). Since the truth or falsity of the sentence, "This sentence is false," depends on the truth or falsity of the sentence to which it refers, if the sentence being referred to is, "This sentence is false," then its truth or falsity, in turn, depends on the truth or falsity of the sentence to which it refers, and so on.

Therefore, to determine whether the initial sentence is true or false, there must be an ultimate sentence whose truth or falsity is ascertained independently of any reference to the truth or falsity of another sentence. But if, according to the conditions of the paradox, the final sentence just is "This sentence is false," then that condition can never be fulfilled, in which case, the truth or falsity of the initial sentence can never be ascertained, because it has no ultimate referent. And since it has no ultimate referent, the sentence itself is meaningless. In short, the answer to the paradox is that the sentence "This sentence is false," if construed to refer only to itself, is neither true nor false.

- Bill
(Edited by William Dwyer
on 9/05, 10:49am)




Post 38

Tuesday, September 5, 2006 - 12:25pmSanction this postReply
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Bill Dwyer wrote:

As Harry Binswanger pointed out in his journal, The Objectivist Forum (February, 1984), the answer to this paradox is that the sentence, "This sentence is false," cannot refer to itself (any more than a ruler can measure itself or a scale can weigh itself).
Not quite. Binswanger was giving Bertrand Russell's solution -- his theory of types -- to such a paradoxical statement -- a statement cannot refer to itself. Indeed, Binswanger gave examples of legitimate self-referring statement, e.g. "All sentences have a subject and a verb." A bit later he addresses the slightly different sentence "The statement I am now making is true." He says it is neither true or false because nothing is asserted.
And since it has no ultimate referent, the sentence itself is meaningless. In short, the answer to the paradox is that the sentence "This sentence is false," if construed to refer only to itself, is neither true nor false.
 Binswanger and I agree with you that it's neither true or false. I agree that it's meaningless, as is "the rock smiled at the up."




Post 39

Tuesday, September 5, 2006 - 3:02pmSanction this postReply
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I wrote, "As Harry Binswanger pointed out in his journal, The Objectivist Forum (February, 1984), the answer to this paradox is that the sentence, "This sentence is false," cannot refer to itself (any more than a ruler can measure itself or a scale can weigh itself)." Merlin replied,
Not quite. Binswanger was giving Bertrand Russell's solution -- his theory of types -- to such a paradoxical statement -- a statement cannot refer to itself.
Yes, he criticized Russell's theory that a statement cannot refer to itself, which I would agree is false. I wasn't saying that a statement cannot refer to itself; only that the statement "This sentence is false" cannot refer to itself (and still be meaningful). And Binswanger did make the point that although there can be legitimately self-referential statements, a statement cannot refer only to itself.
Indeed, Binswanger gave examples of legitimate self-referring statement, e.g. "All sentences have a subject and a verb."
Right, and I would certainly agree with him that there can be legitimate self-referring statements, like the ones he mentioned. All I was saying is that the specific statement, "This sentence is false." cannot be self-referential.
A bit later he addresses the slightly different sentence "The statement I am now making is true." He says it is neither true or false because nothing is asserted.
Exactly, but, as you acknowledge, his analysis also applies to the statement, "The statement I am now making is false," or "This statement is false," which is why I cited him as the source of my explanation. I wanted to give credit where credit is due.

- Bill

(Edited by William Dwyer
on 9/05, 3:24pm)

(Edited by William Dwyer
on 9/05, 3:27pm)

(Edited by William Dwyer
on 9/05, 3:29pm)




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