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Friday, August 25, 2006 - 8:29amSanction this postReply
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Joe, I liked this article but must correct the opening sentence:

Ayn Rand wrote a series of articles called Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, and eventually became a book.

Ayn Rand herself did not become a book!  The series of articles became a book!  Please correct to read:

Ayn Rand wrote a series of articles called Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology which eventually became a book.


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Friday, August 25, 2006 - 9:36amSanction this postReply
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 Very nice introduction, Joe!

I'd like to continue your topic with a placement of Rand's theory of concepts among  the contemporary schools. This rendition is concordant with your article.

            These questions remain lively in philosophy today: What, in reality, corresponds to a particular concept in the mind? What is the relation of universals to concrete particulars? What is the ontological status of concepts, of universals?

Rand summarizes and critiques four traditional answers to those epistemological and metaphysical questions: extreme realism, moderate realism, nominalism, and conceptualism. The two realist schools regard concepts and universals as intrinsic, “as special existents unrelated to man’s consciousness—to be perceived by man directly,” though not by sensory means (53). The nominalist and conceptualist schools regard concepts and universals as subjective, “as products of man’s consciousness, unrelated to the facts of reality” (53).
            In Rand’s theory, concepts are regarded as objective, “as produced by man’s consciousness in accordance with the facts of reality, as mental integrations of factual data computed by man—as products of a cognitive method of classification whose processes must by performed by man, but whose content is dictated by reality” (54).[i]
            David Armstrong’s celebrated treatise on universals appeared in 1978. This watershed work classified all the traditional and contemporary schools (save Rand’s) under a great divide: realism and nominalism. Realism is divided into extreme and moderate realism, where these now include modern varieties, not only ancient and medieval varieties. The realist holds that in mind-independent reality, there are not only particulars, but universals. Nominalism is divided into predicate, concept, class, and resemblance nominalism. The nominalist holds that there is nothing in mind-independent reality besides particulars and that each particular is a single undifferentiated whole.[ii]
           Under Armstrong’s characterization of realism and nominalism, we should say that Rand’s theory is neither. Rand holds that everything in mind-independent reality is a concrete particular. That includes recurring properties and relations. It includes the similarity relation (1, 10, 13–15). Unlike epistemologists in the moderate realist tradition, which includes Armstrong himself, Rand does not take for universals the multiple identical or similar entities, attributes, and actions that exist in mind-independent reality. The constitution of a universal requires also the membership relation and measurement relations in Rand’s view. These are not in mind-independent reality, though their bases are in mind-independent reality.[iii]
           Rand’s theory is not realist, neither is it nominalist. In her view, the properties and relations on which universals and concepts are based—properties and relations such as identity, similarity, and having measurable dimensions—are concrete circumstances that occur independently of whether we grasp them and compose our concepts with them.
           Armstrong’s division of the schools and his arguments concerning their virtues and failings is the main currency with which subsequent academically successful work on universals has been transacted. What Rand had called nominalism would now be called predicate nominalism. What she had called conceptualism would now be called concept nominalism.[iv]
            Predicate nominalism proposes that a particular object is a stone just in case “is a stone” applies to it. To say that the object is an instance of a stone is only to contend that the word stone correctly means such objects as this one. There is nothing more to the universal stone than the meaningful word stone. The universal is merely the shadow of the word.
            One objection to predicate nominalism is that stones are the kind stones before the predicate “is a stone” comes about. How could correctly saying of something that it is a stone be logically prior to the existence of the kind stones? It could not. Authentic predication is identification of identities (Boydstun 1991, 44–45). If identifying any and all concretes were logically prior to the existence of those concretes, then identifications of any and all concretes could be made before any such concretes existed. Like some monotheists, we might imagine such identifications prior to all concrete existence as residing in the divine understanding. This is not logically possible under Rand’s conception of logic. A wholly nonconcrete identifier has no identity and cannot exist (Rand 1957, 1016, 1035–37; 1966–67, 39, 79–82; 1974, 24–31). The existence and identity of some concretes is logically presupposed for authentic identifications. Most stones are among those preexisting concretes. Moreover, identification of stones designed by humans are not logically prior to the identities of these possible concretes. Identification in predication is not logically prior to identity.
           Being specifically a stone is more than having “is a stone” said of it. Predicate nominalism ignores the metaphysical objectivity of universals. The universal said in the general term stone is an aspect of particular existents held in a certain way by conceptual consciousness. 
           Concept nominalism proposes that a particular object is a stone just in case it falls under the concept stone in the mind. But, surely, many particulars were stones before one obtained the concept stone subsuming those particulars. The argument just given against predicate nominalism goes through against concept nominalism.[v]
            Predicate nominalism and concept nominalism do not countenance the circumstance that predicates and concepts are actions of consciousness holding as their object those aspects of existence that are under their correlate universals. They do not countenance universals. That is, they do not countenance the circumstance that the objects of predicates and concepts are aspects of existence held in a certain way by consciousness. These theories neglect universals and so neglect the sound anchorage of predicates and concepts to the world.
            Extreme realism about universals, as Rand remarked, proposes that universals are mind-independent existents that are the archetypes in terms of which concretes may be characterized. The archetypes are to be “perceived by man directly, like any other kind of concrete existents, but perceived by some nonsensory or extrasensory means” (53). A nice modern example of this sort of view is Kurt Gödel’s favored view of the epistemology and ontology of sets, in the theoretical sense of the term sets.

            Any collection of seventeen items is an instance of a certain single self-same finite set, which we may call S17. Gödel thought that just as we perceive by the senses some collection of concrete items that are seventeen in number, so the mind perceives purely intellectually the universal S17 of which that particular concrete collection is a member.

            In Rand’s view, all consciousness is a specific sort of action on a content, and this action is made possible by a specific means. That would be so for a direct intellectual perception no less than for a direct sensory perception (78–82). It is so for direct sensory perception. A sensory perception is an action of consciousness having a content that is some aspect of concrete particular existents.

            Gödel agreed that direct intellectual perception would require some definite means. He conjectured that there was some such means, so far unknown to us, but that it was independent of our sensory means of comprehending existence. To this day, the means of purely intellectual perception that Gödel envisioned remains undetected, not located, and unnecessary to suppose. We have available far less extravagant accounts of the objectivity of sets and our knowledge of them. These accounts invoke means that are at root sensory, and Rand’s is such an account.

            Rand would have us analyze the concept length as an attribute of many kinds of objects (and of the spaces between them). The attribute and its objects are given in perception. We can mentally isolate the attribute and consider it apart from the particular objects in which it has been perceived. Our concept of seventeen inches is a particular magnitude of length applicable to innumerable different objects and regions of space (6–8, 10–11). The concept number and the concept set are demonstrably implicit in the concept seventeen inches, seventeen pears, or seventeen anything. Abstract entities like numbers and sets are traceable to sensory perception. They are ontologically and cognitively objective. There is no need to take them to be intrinsic, no need to take them to be mind-independent archetypes accessed by mysterious means. We can account for them more realistically than is done by extreme realism.
 
[I'll hold off on discussing the relation of Rand's theory to modern moderate realism. There is plenty of thought to absorb from this tablet thus far.]

 


[i] Rand’s definition of concepts as amended by Boydstun is that they are “mental integrations of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted or with the particular measurable forms of their common distinguishing characteristic(s) omitted” (Boydstun 2004, 285). (The italicized portion of this definition is Rand’s fundamental definition.) Boydstun observes two senses of universals and defines them as follows: “Universals as (abstractions that are) concepts are concept classes with their linear measure values omitted. . . . Universals as collections of potential concept-class members are recurrences on a linear order with their measurement values in place” (ibid., 286). Notice that in taking universals to be concept classes with or without their measurement values, universals are natural classes in the logicomathematical sense. These are not intrinsic in the ISO trichotomy; they are objective.

[ii] Armstrong 1978, 11–16, 48. Since the appearance of Armstrong’s book, a third major class of theories has grown up, and these are called trope theories. These hold that mind-independent reality includes no universals, but that in addition to concrete particulars such as tables, mind-independent reality includes tropes (abstract particulars) such as the temperature of a particular table. A trope in one concrete particular may resemble, but is never perfectly the same as, a trope in another concrete particular (Rodriguez-Pereyra 2002, 22–23). Rand’s is not a trope theory.

[iii] See further, Boydstun 2004.

[iv] See Armstrong 1978, 13–15.

 
v] Rand’s theory of universals is not class nominalism because in her view the classes that are designated by concepts are not arbitrary collections (1966–67, 13). Her theory of universals is not resemblance nominalism since her theory does not take resemblance, or similarity, as an unreduced primitive. Rand analyzes similarity in terms of identical measurable attributes possessed in various degrees by the things perceived as similar (13). Identity, differences, and differences of degree are the eminent primitives in Rand’s theory, and they are taken to be in the world independently of our cognitions concerning them. See also Register 2000, 211–12; Den Uyl and Rasmussen 1984, 15–18; Jetton 1998, 64–65; and Saint-André 2002.

~~~~~~~

 

Armstrong, David 1978. Nominalism and Realism. Volume 1 of Universals and Scientific Realism. Cambridge: University Press.

Boydstun, Stephen 1991. Induction on Identity. Part 2. Objectivity 1(3):1-56. 

---------. 2004. Universals and Measurement. Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 5(2):271-305. 

Den Uyl, Douglas, and Douglas Rasmussen 1984. Ayn Rand's Realism. In The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
 
Jetton, Merlin 1998. Pursuing Similarity. Objectivity 2(6):41-130.
 
Rand, Ayn 1966-67. Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. Expanded 2nd ed. Harry Binswanger and Leonard Peikoff, editors. New York: NAL Books.
 
Register, Bryan 2000. The Universality and Employment of Concepts. Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 1(2):211-44.
 
Rodriguez-Pereyra, Gonzalo 2004. Resemblance Nominalism. Oxford: University Press.
 
Saint-Andre, Peter 2002. Conceptualism in Rand and Abelard. Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 4(1):123-40.


(Edited by Stephen Boydstun on 8/26, 6:12am)


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Monday, August 28, 2006 - 6:33amSanction this postReply
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It seems that under objectivism concepts come in two varieties; true and not-true (false). A true concept would be one which describes some aspect of reality while a false concept describes an illusion. Since the aspects of reality exists physically their existence can be sensed by a mind thereby resulting in a concept which is a true identifier of it. Since illusion is not found in reality (they are not physically potent) then any concept resulting from their existence is a false indication of reality.

Reality is presented to a mind perceptually. And mental-percepts result from sensory stimulation by the physical aspects of reality. Therefore when a mind creates a concept from its mental-percepts it is describing aspects of physical existence. This being the case then the resulting concept is a true epistemic representative of a physical existence as opposed to a purely mental (or illusionary) existence.

Concepts describe everything of a particular kind. When one says the word horse what they mean is everything which the definition of the word horse describes. Since horses come in a variety of colors the definition held by the concept of horse does not include color; or height, weight, smell, sound, etc.  Concepts include only the significant distinguishing characteristics in their definitions. Therefore when one says horse they mean all horses that have ever existed; all horses that now exist and all horses the will ever exist.

The same holds true of angle. Since the meaning of the concept of horse can be verified by sensual experience then it is considered a true epistemic representative of that which is responsible for the sensual experience. The definition held by the concept of angel does not describe physical existence. What angel means cannot be validated. It can not be proved to be an actual physical existent. What angle means is illusionary; that is it is-not a true representation of fact.


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Tuesday, August 29, 2006 - 1:35amSanction this postReply
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James,

It seems that under objectivism concepts come in two varieties; true and not-true (false). A true concept would be one which describes some aspect of reality while a false concept describes an illusion.
It is more productive to think of concepts as consolidations of that which is. In this respect, concepts are that which allow humans to think about categories of real things -- ie. to rationally differentiate among the actual existents in reality. When you bring up the concept of angels -- and then call it a false concept -- what you really ought to say is that the concept of angels is an anti-concept.

While there is falsity involved in the concept of angels, the fundamental error of holding a concept of angels (ie. a concept with no real referents), is the impossibility of integration of the "knowledge" of angels with the knowledge of everything else. In this respect, the concept of angels leads one down an epistemological dead-end or dark alley. It affords no relevant understanding for those seeking to live well on earth. It only offers confusion.

It is this inability to afford any promise for the task of living well on earth, that makes the concept of angels a necessary quagmire.

To recap, "anti-concept" is a better term than "false concept" is -- as anti-concept connotes the dis-integration of the human mind that accepts either the arbitrary or a contradiction. In a sense, there is no such thing as a false concept. Concepts are determined contextually and relationally. In the case of angels, there is no relation to be had (ie. there is no perceptual base for the concept of angels). Concepts are epistemological things -- not metaphysical things. They are the way humans understand the world.

It's important for folks not to contradict themselves -- or to postulate arbitrary imperceptibles -- when said folks are trying to live well on earth.

Ed


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Tuesday, August 29, 2006 - 2:45amSanction this postReply
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Ed -

You should repeat your statement over in the Narnia thread, where there is the disagreement regarding fantasy for kids or not, as this strikes to the heart of it - and emphasizes the difference between fantasizing and imaginating...... and the harm of the 'fun' of fantasy.....

(Edited by robert malcom on 8/29, 2:46am)


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Tuesday, August 29, 2006 - 9:50amSanction this postReply
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Thanks Rev, I took your advice.

Also, it should be distinguished that when there are imaginative things, like the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus, then those things are perceptually dealt with as proper nouns, and merely remembered -- not conceptually dealt with as concepts (ie. they're not integrations of any real things).

Ed


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Tuesday, August 29, 2006 - 11:57amSanction this postReply
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I do not consider the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus as imaginative, but as fantasy - imaginating is extrapolating from aspects of reality into possibles - is, for instance, what fiction is [the 'could and ought to be'], not the impossibles of fantasy, the winged angels or golums or fire-spouting dragons, or tooth fairies and clauses.....

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006 - 1:27pmSanction this postReply
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Interesting subtlety, Rev' -- one that deserves more thought on my part.

Perhaps more on this, later.

Ed


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Wednesday, August 30, 2006 - 10:25pmSanction this postReply
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Luke said "Ayn Rand herself did not become a book!".  Clearly, that's what they'd like you to believe!

Stephen, thanks for the compliment.  And thanks for the addition.  I tend not to try to do comparisons of other schools of thought.  Mostly because debates end up about what exactly some people are saying or thinking, and not about the ideas.  I think it can be useful to highlight different aspects of an idea, as your post did.  You should run that sort of thing as an article!


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Monday, September 4, 2006 - 8:21pmSanction this postReply
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Rev'

After some thought, I failed to arrive at a similar conclusion as yours (ie. that imagination is always imagination of what it is that is "possible" -- while fantasy is always a fantasy of what it is that is "impossible").

Can you elaborate on this point?

Ed

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Monday, September 4, 2006 - 8:33pmSanction this postReply
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See the Narnia thread.......

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - 9:39amSanction this postReply
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Yes, Joe, I should have sent post #1 to be an article, rather than only a supplement to your article.

I would like to correct a mistake in that post #1. It is a common mistake concerning Gödel's realist view on the ontology of sets. Gödel did not maintain that the means of purely intellectual perception (mathematical intuition) in mathematics and set theory is distinct from the conceptual faculty that operates on sensory perceptions. He writes in 1963: "Evidently the 'given' underlying mathematics is closely related to the abstract elements contained in our empirical ideas."

Gödel was not proposing a second conceptual faculty. He was proposing that the relationship between the abstract elements in our concepts and reality differs in kind from the relationship of our sensory data to reality. So the argument I made against Gödel's platonist view in post #1 is irrelevant.

For this correction, I am indebted to a note in "Truth and Proof: The Platonism of Mathematics," by William Tait.  This essay is contained in his book The Provenance of Pure Reason (OUP 2005).

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Sunday, August 23, 2009 - 6:20pmSanction this postReply
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Aristotle’s Conception of Universality

Aisthesis, Empeiria, and the Advent of Universals in Posterior Analytics II.19

Gregory Salmieri



(Edited by Stephen Boydstun on 8/23, 6:51pm)


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Friday, February 12, 2010 - 9:30amSanction this postReply
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Gregory Salmieri will be giving a course on “Aristotle’s Theory of Knowledge”
at the Objectivist Summer Conference to be held July 2–July 10.


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Friday, November 26, 2010 - 8:41amSanction this postReply
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Allan Gotthelf has a paper on Rand’s theory of concepts (2007):

Ayn Rand on Concepts – Another Approach to Abstraction and Essences


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Sunday, November 28, 2010 - 10:13amSanction this postReply
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Thanks, Stephen. This is nice to see.

Do you remember Peikoff's 10-lecture course on Objectivist Epistemology given back in the '60's? In a way, I'm surprised that that (or a revised version of it) is no longer being offered.


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Monday, November 29, 2010 - 5:54amSanction this postReply
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Thanks, Stephen.
The talk was at a conference in England as part of a research program entitled "The Metaphysics of Science".  Gregory Salmieri also presented a paper there.  Unfortunately, Gotthelf's paper didn't make it into the published proceedings.  Did you notice that Gotthelf referenced three of David Kelley's publications?
Thanks,
Glenn


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Wednesday, December 1, 2010 - 11:31amSanction this postReply
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Bill, I remember hearing of that course, but I did not get to take it. I took only two of the tape courses, both in the 70’s. One was the modern-philosophy part of Peikoff’s History of Philosophy, the other was his The Philosophy of Objectivism. Both were superb.

Glenn, yes, and that was very appropriate. It was also uniform with Gotthelf’s treatment of good-faith scholars, academic or independent, who attend sessions of the Ayn Rand Society, of which Gotthelf is principal organizer. In the discussion portions of the sessions (often chaired by Gotthelf) the floor is given evenly to a variety of lights, including Douglas Rasmussen, Tibor Machan, Neera Badhwar, Roderick Long, and David Kelley.


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Wednesday, December 1, 2010 - 9:07pmSanction this postReply
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Bill, I remember hearing of that course, but I did not get to take it. I took only two of the tape courses, both in the 70’s. One was the modern-philosophy part of Peikoff’s History of Philosophy, the other was his The Philosophy of Objectivism. Both were superb.
Yes, they were, and I can't recommend them highly enough. People, if you have the money, they're worth every penny. You can get the CDs from the Ayn Rand Institute. They may not be around forever, so buy them while you can. (And no, this is not a paid advertisement! :-))


Post 19

Wednesday, December 21, 2011 - 8:33amSanction this postReply
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Historical Note

Ayn Rand in ITOE construes Platonic, extreme realism in theory of universal concepts as an attempt to give an objective cast to a metaphysics in which consciousness is primary, existence derivative. She construes contemporary (mid-twentieth-century) extreme nominalism as maintaining the primacy of consciousness outright, “converting concepts into conglomerates of fantasy . . . [ultimately] referring to nothing in an unknowable reality” (ITOE 53). (Cf. predicate nominalism in #1 above.)

In his 1871 review of A. C. Fraser’s The Works of George Berkeley, C. S. Peirce observes, concerning nominalism in the Middle Ages:
    Historically there have been prominent examples of an alliance between nominalism and Platonism. Abelard and John of Salisbury, the only two defenders of nominalism at the time of the great controversy whose works remain to us, are both Platonists; and Roscellin, the famous author of the sententia de flatu vocis, the first man in the Middle Ages who carried attention to nominalism, is said and believed (all his writings are lost ) to have been a follower of Scotus Erigena, the great Platonist of the ninth century. The reason of this odd conjunction of doctrines may perhaps be guessed at. The nominalist, by isolating his reality so entirely from mental influence as he has done, has made it something which the mind cannot conceive; he has created the so often talked of “improportion beween the mind and the thing in itself.” And it is to overcome the various difficulties to which this gives rise, that he supposes this noumenon, which, being totally unknown the imagination can play about as it pleases, to be the emanation of archetypal ideas. The reality thus receives an intelligible nature again, and the peculiar inconveniences of nominalism are to some degree avoided. (134–35, in Peirce on Signs, J. Hoopes, editor)
Purportedly reality-given Platonic Ideas are a cloak to cover a primacy-of-consciousness metaphysics held by extreme realists, according to Rand. That same cloak and what it covers are attributed by Peirce to those thinkers in the Middle Ages whom he classes as nominalists.


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