"Fun with words" prelude (caution: emphasis added and selections omitted)
Daniel (Post 42):
Definitions are highly useful: I do *not* say that we do not need them. What I *am* saying is that the attempt to make them perfectly precise, as Ayn Rand and Aristotle recommend, has the exact *opposite* effect on actual arguments!
Ed (Post 52):
As for the measurement problem, its solved. Requirements for precision are not infinite, they are dictated by context (see my Rational Discussion article for an example of the achievable precision dictated for effective "house building").
We only need enough precision to differentiate things from other known things (we don't require the ontological exactitude of the Idealist - at least not for living in reality).
Daniel, I think you've misconceived Rand's handling of the measurement problem. Here's a quote from p. 196 of IOE:
"AR: Yes, in a very general way. But more than that, isn't there a very simple solution to the problem of accuracy? Which is this: let us say that you cannot go into infinity, but in the finite you can always be absolutely precise simply by saying, for instance: "Its length is no less than one millimeter and no more than two millimeters."
Prof. E: And that's perfectly exact.
AR: It's exact ..."
Daniel (Post 54):
Thanks Ed. I often think of this exact quote as an excellent example of the empty *verbalism* I was talking about - the bad philosophic habit of merely "playing with words" rather than actually solving problems.
For, she is saying in effect:
"I can *absolutely precisely* say its length is is no less than one millimeter and no more than two millimeters"
However, anyone else would simply say:
"I can *roughly* say its length is no less than one millimeter, and no more than two millimeters".
So there you have it. How anyone could seriously think there is some profound philosophical difference between these two statements, or that the former represents any kind of advance over the latter, is quite beyond me. It is not a solution, but merely sophistry.
Ed (Post 56):
Putting this quote in context allows for a clear and adequate understanding. The issue was the continuity of reality vs. the discrete-ness of mathematical measurement. The main issue boils down to Kant's concept "reality in itself" ("thing in itself" - ding an sich?) and Bergson utilizing Kant's concept to invalidate any and every human means of measuring reality (because, with each measurement, we can't be sure we've got it nailed).
One enlightening point you appear to be missing is that:
-If we know we've missed perfection (as Bergson claims), then our concept is right and corresponds to reality. We can get closer and closer to perfection in measurement (correctly identifying previous vagueness) only because we know the standard we are shooting for - only because we know what reality is.
Another point is that "ding an sich" is such "dung and other such" that it's an invalid human concept (although Kant's "existence apart from consciousness" concept here would be valid for an entity that lacked consciousness, it's just hard to teach them - rocks and such - all about it).
In short, it's invalid to speak of an absolute (consciousness-, and method-free) standard of exactitude. If we come to find that a given measurement was a millimeter off - we "found" this out using OUR consciousness and OUR methods, 2 things which can be dealt with objectively.
The context and instance of measuring are necessary in order for us to understand what we mean by the words exact or precise (e.g. Precise for a "ruler"? For an electron microscope?).
Daniel (Post 57):
I am familiar with the piece, and as far as I can see, the additional context changes nothing - and you offered it in the context of the current discussion anyway, so I am assuming you thought it directly relevant.
Are you really saying this substitution of "absolutely precisely" with "roughly" makes an important difference to this statement?
End of prelude, beginning of something wonderful:
Daniel, the "additional context" changes things and the so does the substitution of "absolutely precisely" with "roughly." Let's take the latter first …
Substituting "roughly" for "absolutely precisely" (the end of categorical propositions)
Substitution of "absolutely precisely" with "roughly" example - using inch, foot, and yard. I can say, indeed I should say (if queried) that a foot is - absolutely, precisely, exactly, no-reasonable-doubt-in-my-mindly - longer than an inch, and a that a yard is longer than a foot. It is not merely "roughly" longer (in-the-vicinity-of-being longer), it is longer and this is beyond any shadow of a doubt. Saying otherwise is absurd.
The "additional context"
"ding an sich" is such "dung and other such" that it's an invalid human concept
In short, it's invalid to speak of an absolute (consciousness-, and method-free) standard of exactitude.
The context and instance of measuring are necessary in order for us to understand what we mean by the words exact or precise
as far as I can see, the additional context changes nothing
Daniel, in your response above, you seem to be saying that - although "absolute precision" has been invalidated by Rand (available from words used in the context) - "absolute precision" is advocated by Rand. This appears contradictory.
Maybe you could show me how a contextual validation of both the precision and the definition of key terms (exact, precise) "changes nothing" from your original claim (that chasing precision is counter-productive, and not merely unproductive, or slightly productive).