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Post 0

Thursday, May 9, 2002 - 11:13pmSanction this postReply
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One thing I always found interesting about Objectivism is its contextualist stance on knowledge.

According to most Western philosophers before Gettier, P knows that R iff:
1. R is true.
2. P believes R.
3. P is justified in believing R.

Objectivism has a very organic, logical structure to its scheme of justification. Objectivism views knowledge as a sorting tool for phenomena in a theory similar to that of W.V.A. Quine. In the Objectivist view, it is impossible to separate the truth from the justification, since the only way we have of determining that R is that R is justified. Retrospectively, we can argue that R was once justified but is no longer given current evidence, but Objectivism claims that if one is contextually certain that R, then R is true. However, this introduces an immediate question. Does this mean that I can claim R is true today, but without contradiction claim R is false if sufficient evidence appears later?

Objectivism's traditional answer is yes. Given the context, R was true; given the new context, we know R is false. P knows R iff:
1. P believes R.
2. P is justified in believing R.

According to OPAR, one is justified in believing R iff
1. R coheres inside a system of concepts without contradiction
2. R identifies a fact of reality.
3. The constituent concepts of R can be reduced to the perceptual level.

Requirement 2, which is Objectivism's version of the correspondance theory of truth, is problematic, for it is possible for one to be contextually certain of R and not have R identify a fact of reality. Piekoff used the example of the claim that one's professor is an imposter. I can imagine without contradiction that a professor has been replaced with a highly skilled imposter, one so skilled as to make him nearly undetectable. After sitting with him for 45 minutes, I continue to believe that he is my actual professor, for no facts of reality compel to think otherwise. Claiming that he is an imposter would be arbitrary--I am completely unjustified in thinking so--though he in fact is. Since Piekoff endorses this view, it appears he should replace 2 with 2'.

2'. R appears to identify a fact of reality.

But 2' is superfluous given 1 and 3. R might not have to actually correspond to or identify a fact for it to be justified. As George Smith in his Why Atheism pointed out, a boy might be contextually certain and justified in believing that Santa Claus actually exists yet be concurrently wrong. Thus the traditional claim that knowledge is belief that is both true and justified.

So perhaps objectivism must remove any ties to the correspondance theory of truth. Changing to the use of "indentifies" doesn't appear to do this.

Regardless, Objectivism's answer to the apparent changes of truth is to include a sort of preamble to every knowledge claim. The preamble is given somewhere in OPAR, but as my copy is 800 miles away from me, I will improvise my own from memory.

The preamble is something like this:

"Given the evidence available to me at this time, it appears indubitably that".

This way, according to OPAR, future knowledge will never contradict past knowledge. If one was justified in believing R in the past, one could have then claimed that R was true. Now that one has more perceptual data, one knows R is false. However, can one say that R was true for one back then? This seems rather odd. If R identifies a fact of reality or if R corresponds to a fact, doesn't it do so regardless of the preamble? Sure, we'll never know if R is true or false outside of our current justification, but regardless, R simply is true or false, isn't it? If I say that I am writing on a computer, the fact of my writing on the computer is metaphysical, but the justification of the claim is epistemological. The fact that is identified is a metaphysical fact, one that does not require a particular web of concepts with a hierchical structure.

Let us ignore that issue momentarily and focus on the underlying serious problem with contextualism. What is the logical form of this preamble? What possible logical particle would allow one to claim R now and not-R later without contradiction? Well, a conditional would do. Actually, a conditional damn well better do, for that's what the preamble is. Basically, Objectivism's justification scheme for the assertion of truth is something like

If (evidence) then (assertion).

On some levels, this is sufficient. After all, empirical data isn't true or false, it merely is. The problem is when we get to higher levels in which the evidence is also contextually certain statements. Then we have

If (premises are true) then (assertion).

Under this formulation, which obviously parallels deductive validity or inductive cogency, we can get away with the relativism inherent in contextualist theories. Since my data set justifies my belief that R, R is true. Since your data set justifies your belief that not-R, R is not true. This appears to be a contradiction, but given our preamble, there's none. For when an Objectivist asserts R, he really asserts something more like Q->R. If he later claims not R, it's because something is added to the evidence, so his new claim is (Q & T)->~R. This is a contradiction, it would seem, but that's only because our original antecedent was incomplete. Basically, the Objectivist was claiming R on the basis of both Q and the absence of T. He explicitly asserts this in his preamble. An Objectivist will change his belief if new data manifests, be it perceptual or the addition of new true statements. So, rather than beginning with Q->R, he actually was asserting (Q & ~T)-> R, but given T, it is now true that ~R, since he learns (separately, nota bene) that (Q & T)->~R.

These statements, (Q & T)->~R and (Q & ~T)->R, are consistent. So the Objectivist can claim both and not contradict himself. His previous truth can stay true back then, given his nice preamble, but he can also that the assertion is actually false, since his new evidence changes the evidence referred to in his preamble now. He's not claiming that both R and ~R were true at the same time and in the same respect, for they're true only in the respect that they're justified.

I suspect that one could pounce upon that with considerable ease, but I'll resist.

Now, here's the point. Most knowledge is inductive and made up of such conditional statements (given preamble then assertion). But on this, one cannot deductively conclude any non conditional statement. If all I have for premises is string of conditionals, I cannot conclude any statement that is not itself a conditional or a permutation of a conditional (such as an 'or' statement).

Sure, we can get first level statements, since the evidence in the preamble simply is and is neither true nor false. On that level, we don't say that if something is true then something else is true, we simply abstract away. But don't we abstract on the basis of perceived similarities and differences? And aren't these all based on whatever data we happen to have observed? And isn't that conditional? We might have developed slightly different concepts with different data. An eskimo has 400 concepts for solid water to the English speaker's 3 or 4.

Is all knowledge ultimately conditional? I don't mean conditional as in it requires evidence to make it true (if the universe then...), but all knowledge claims are based on a preamble, the truth of which must be established by another preamble, the basis of which is some data which only conditionally supports first tier concepts and statements?

I unconditionally hope not.


......................
Jason Brennan



Post 1

Sunday, May 12, 2002 - 4:31pmSanction this postReply
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Jason, you wrote: "Objectivism claims that if one is contextually certain that R, then R is true." Does it? I think you can be contextually certain of something which would later prove to be false, as per your example above. Being contextually certain of something simply means that all the information you have leads you to that conclusion, and nothing you know contradicts it. It doesn't mean it is necessarily true. It means that you have reason to believe it unless later evidence suggests the necessity of a review of the belief. But to interpret that to mean that our knowledge is up in the air would be totally arbitrary. You only review for a reason; you don't doubt without a reason to doubt. So this isn't problematic.

You later wrote: "Objectivism's traditional answer is yes. Given the context, R was true; given the new context, we know R is false."

Not quite. Given the context, we were contextually certain that R was true. (i.e., that R corresponded to reality.) Given the new information, we are contextually certain that R is false. That's also not a problem.

Take, for example, Dagny's belief that Francisco was a worthless playboy. He had given her ample reason to be contextually certain of it. But at that time it still wasn't TRUE that he was a worthless playboy -- her thinking he was didn't make it so. Later, she found out that he was faking it, and revised her view accordingly.

At the end, you wrote: "Is all knowledge ultimately conditional? I don't mean conditional as in it requires evidence to make it true (if the universe then...), but all knowledge claims are based on a preamble, the truth of which must be established by another preamble, the basis of which is some data which only conditionally supports first tier concepts and statements? I unconditionally hope not."

Again, I think you've described things correctly -- and unless I'm misreading you, you're just rephrasing the idea that all knowledge is contextual. It depends on the context of the evidence and prior knowledge that it is based on. It is CONDITIONAL upon them. No big deal.

But there's a good possibility I'm misreading something in your message. Just what exactly is dissatisfying about this for you?



Post 2

Monday, May 13, 2002 - 9:10amSanction this postReply
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If Objectivism maintains some sort of traditional attitude that knowledge is justified true belief, I'd be very happy. An Objectivist might think so even while maintaining that ultimately, the determining factor for calling a belief true or false is its justification. However, assuming Peikoff knows what he's talking about, then Objectivism doesn't hold this view of knowledge. In Objectivism, knowledge is justified belief. Peikoff maintains that truth is superfluous here, since being right in claiming R is true is dependent upon context. My issue is that claiming that R is true is a matter of justification, but R is still true or false.

On pg. 165 of OPAR, Peikoff says, "Logical processing of an idea within a specific context of knowledge is necessary and *sufficient* to establish the idea's truth." (emphasis mine) For Peikoff, statement R is true if it contains no internal contradictions, coheres within a system of concepts without contradiction, and is reducible to sense data. This is contextualism, pure and simple.

Now, one thing appealing about this is that, to be more precise, metaphysical facts simply are, and only declarative sentences are true or false. So perhaps one could argue successfully for contextualism under the pretense that language is meaningful only in a coherent system. Yet this still could mean that under Peikoff's formulation, a statement could be considered true (it coheres and is reducible), but not identify a metaphysical fact.

In the attempt to get away from skepticism, Peikoff has made Objectivism's idea of truth relative to the person, as long as the person follows an objective method.

Dagny was wrong about Francisco. She was justified in thinking he was a worthless playboy, but he actually wasn't. However, according to Peikoff's assertion that justification is sufficient to establish an idea's truth, it was true for her that Francisco was a worthless playboy. She could reduce the assertion to sense data, it cohered within her system of concepts, and contained no internal contradictions. In Peikoff's formulation supra, it is not enough to say that Dagny was correct to claim Francisco was a playboy, Dagny was actually correct. But she wasn't correct. And this is why contextualism has to go.

It's a great theory of justification, but it shouldn't replace the correspondance theory of truth.



Post 3

Tuesday, May 14, 2002 - 8:47pmSanction this postReply
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Jason,

I think it might help for you to have the actual preamble that Peikoff suggests. He writes:

"In any situation where there is reason to suspect that a variety of factors is relevant to the truth, only some of which are presently known, [a person] is obliged to acknowledge this fact. The implicit or explicit preamble to his conclusion must be: 'On the basis of the available evidence, i.e., within the context of the factors so far discovered, the following is the proper conclusion to draw.'"

But the preamble is only necessary in a case where you know that you don't have all of the relevant data. In a case such what you originally mentioned, the imposter professor, you don't KNOW that you don't have all the relevant data. Given your context, you'd be RIGHT to be sure that he was your professor -- that's the proper conclusion to draw given all the data, and you don't have any reason to think that the conclusion is suspect, so you don't need a preamble.

Look. Let's make this a little more concrete. Why don't you provide an example of a problematic application of the contextualist view of knowledge, and we'll deal with that, then abstract from there. I can't conduct a discussion like this up in the clouds :-)



Post 4

Thursday, May 16, 2002 - 9:28amSanction this postReply
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The preamble is correct, given certain situations one is justified in claiming R is true. One must assert R from the evidence. However, R might still be false.

Peikoff uses the example that before the RH factor was discovered in blood, doctors believed that all A-type blood was compatible. They had a wealth of evidence for this, for the factor was rare. They were contextually certain. They were justified in asserting that it is that case that all A-type blood is compatible. However, the sentence "all A-type blood is compatible" did not identify a fact of reality. It only identified what appeared to be a fact given the previous evidence. When we induct, though, we make our statements not mere reports about the past (it always worked before), but about the present and future (i.e it is the general case that things work in such and such a way). But the statement that all a-type blood is compatible was false. m It isn't compatible. Future evidence did contradict past justified belief, thus allowing medical practicioners to revise (not simply narrow) their assertions and replace them with new contextually certain beliefs.

Objectivism confutes justification and belief. Peikoff thinks that stating one is contextually certain that R is the case is identical to R being the case. Peikoff thinks that being correct in claiming R is true is identical to R being true. The quote from p 165 shows this. But Peikoff is wrong. Justification in claiming something is true and contextual certainty are a matter of epistemology and method. Truth is a matter of meaning and metaphysics--metaphysics because there is a fact independent of meaning that an assertion must identify. Truth touches a deeper level than justification.

Objectivism tries to get around this with the preamble, but as I've pointed out, that preamble removes statements like P, Q, R from one's knowledge and replaces them with J->P, J->Q, if J->R, and one actually asserts nothing but conditionals. Conditional statements are only false, as you know, when the antecedent (the preamble) is true and the consequent (the assertion) is false.

Additionally, there is an internal inconsistency. In order for the preamble to work, it must hold unconditionally over all inductive claims, all of which are conditional. But the preamble is an inductive claim and must therefore hold conditionally. This is just like Ayer's verification theory which rules itself out as unverifiable.

I've become convinced that Objectivism has a great theory of justification mixed with a confused (not confusing) theory of truth.

Knowledge is justified true belief. Truth and justification are separate concepts dependent upon separate ideas. Objectivism's contextualist stance on knowledge makes truth relative to the beholder, but the metaphysical basis underneath the truth is not relative.

Objectivism needs to be more objective.



Post 5

Thursday, May 16, 2002 - 11:26amSanction this postReply
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Jason,

Let me address the example of the professor. It took me a while to figure out what was wrong here... I spent a lot of time thinking about it because I couldn't see a flaw in your logic, but I could see that your conclusion would lead to a breach between epistemology and metaphysics which would require us to step outside our own knowledge in order to *verify* our knowledge. For example, how would we know something is true? Our belief that it is true would be a justified belief, but how would we know that was true? Etc, etc, unless we found a way to circumvent our own processes of justification.

Ok, so on to the professor example, which I think was a good one. Here's the thing. What do we mean when we originally referred to the professor? We meant all of his distinguishing characteristics. Let's say when we say "The Professor", we mean that entity that walks a particular way, looks a particular way, talks about particular things in a particular way... Now, one day we come into class and find that there is a person teaching the class that fits all of those characteristics. We're justified in calling him The Professor; I don't think that is controversial. But in fact, this is NOT the same person who usually teaches the class. It is a clever imitator. There is one difference which is not immediately obvious -- say, he has a different blood type. But because he walks like The Professor, looks like The Professor, etc (the whole set of characteristics by which we distinguish The Professor from other entities), we call him The Professor.

Later we find out about this imitator. What does this mean? In order to distinguish the two, we have to refine our knowledge of what differentiates The Professor from other entities. The initial set of characteristics is no longer sufficient. Now we have to say that he not only walks a particular way, looks a particular way, and talks about particular things in a particular way, but also that he has a particular blood type. With this differentiation added, we are now capable of distinguishing The Professor from the imitator.

Here's the upshot. Given the knowledge we had at the beginning (i.e., the CONTEXT), we *were* right in calling the imitator The Professor. AND -- given what we meant at the time by The Professor, he WAS The Professor. Later, we can refine what we mean by The Professor, and look back and see that given our new knowledge of what distinguishes The Professor from all other entities, that we would no longer refer to that entity which was in the classroom that day as The Professor -- we'd call him the imitator. But this isn't a contradiction; it's a new context with provides us with more knowledge which we can reapply to a past situation. We have found out that what we called The Professor is actually the imitator without contradicting our original claim, because we are not making the SAME claim in the new context.

As a final aside -- what I'm getting at here, basically, is that when we refer to a proper noun, we're referring to something distinguished by a particular set of characteristics which we expect to apply uniquely as a set to only one entity. If we later find that the set of characteristics applies to more than one entity, we must revise the set in order for it to retain its power of differentiation. This doesn't mean we have contradicted ourselves; it means we have expanded our knowledge in such a way as to be able to apply it retrospectively and learn more about a past situation than we could have learned at that time.



Post 6

Thursday, May 16, 2002 - 10:59pmSanction this postReply
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I somewhat expected this sort of response, so let me be real clear what I'm trying to say.


I.

I agree with you that every step of the way that we cannot step outside our knowledge to check if a claim is true. We always call things true or false based upon justification. That's fine. Look more closely at the example of the blood type. That's not the point.

We need to separate the ideas Objectivism confutes.

1. If an idea is worthy of assent, it is justified. A contextually certain idea, for example, is one that is so highly justified that no empirical evidence lessens the support of the idea, though it could conceivably be incomplete or wrong if new evidence is found. An absolutely certain idea is one in which no evidence could conceivably contradict it (logical rules, for example, despite some Objectivists' belief that logical rules are inductive by nature). Etc.

2. A true statement is any meaningful declarative sentence in which a fact is identified accurately. For example, if a boy says "Some scorpions in the world are deadly poisonous" and understands it, it is meaningful. It is also true independent of whether or not he has any evidence for the claim. The claim identifies a particular metaphysical fact which he could check out. He could verify his theory, but hasn't. Our boy is not justified in making this claim (it's arbitrary for him to say so), but it is true. It's truth by accident, but meaningful truth nonetheless.

3. In order to tell if a claim is true, unless it is a logical truth, one must rely upon induction. So one will only be able to tell if something is true by using one's knowledge. Thus, the set of statements I believe are true and I am justified in claim are true is a function of the context I have been immersed in. The set of statements which I can meaningfully understand that are actually true is a function of meaning (the inductive part) and metaphysical fact, regardless of my justification, provided the statements are meaningful to me.

Otherwise, we get statements that are true for you and false for me, but the statements have the same meaning for both of us and purport to identify the same fact.


II.
I disagree that by "the professor" we mean a man that has properties a, b, c. This is the Russell-Frege theory of reference. I think it's wrong.

Russell and Frege thought that names were concepts with definitions. Kripke exposed this as erroneous.

In order to tell which man is the professor, you will go out and look for a person with certain attributes. But that is not the definition of the professor. Here's Kripke's example from naming and necessity. By Aristotle we supposedly mean the philosopher who taught Alexander the Great and was taught by Plato. If we were to pick Aristotle out of a crowd, we would use those properties to distinguish him. But, 'Aristotle' refers to that entity, whatever his properties (except his necessary properties, if any). Aristotle might not have gone into pedagogy and might not have been taught by Plato. Would you then say that Aristotle didn't exist, or that's not really Aristotle? I don't think so. It's Aristotle in another possible world. It's the Aristotle that could have been if Aristotle had made different choices. 'Matt Ballin' will refer to you, for example, regardless of whether or not you become a famous painter or famous writer. But the people of the future in which you are a writer would mean by 'Matt Ballin' a writer according to the Russell-Frege theory, and thus they could claim that Matt Ballin never existed in a world in which he wasn't a writer.

Names do not work like other words. They have a fixed reference, not a definition. See Kripke's immortal (already) Naming and Necessity, Harvard University Press 1980, for a description of why Russell and Frege were wrong.

This is just like the justification problem. How we pick out a person (by attributes) is an epistemological problem. What a name refers to (which entity) is a linguistic and metaphysical problem.

III.

Objectivism, per Peikoff, does think justification is a sufficient condition for truth. (see quote) But I've given counterexamples. Objectivism also thinks justification is a necessary condition of truth. I've given counterexamples there as well.



Post 7

Sunday, May 26, 2002 - 9:08pmSanction this postReply
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Some quick thoughts on this topic.

First, there are two ideas of context here. One is contextual certainty. This is the justification idea, where your context leads you to believe an idea.

But there's also a context of knowledge. Ideas don't exist in a vacuum. They are statements about reality, but they're not exhaustive statements. An example is I'm sitting on a chair. That's true. But you could also say I'm sitting on a bunch of molecules. That's also true. The statement don't contradict one another because they're statements made in different contexts.

I think it's this second kind of context that is the tricky one. This is the kind of knowledge that, when you gain additional information, it doesn't invalidate your previous knowledge. This is crucial to a proper theory of knowledge, because the alternative is every new piece of information invalidates everything you knew before. This leads to the skeptic argument that if you don't know everything, you can't know anything. That's clearly unacceptable.



Post 8

Wednesday, September 18, 2002 - 9:00amSanction this postReply
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Talk about posting a little late on the subject!
Time to clear things up with as little grandstanding and posturing as possible. You guys have all missed the point. The technicals of this scenario should not be in dispute. The real question is in application. Let's start at the beginning, and bring all of our abstractions into concretes. This is not a logic issue (Other things are, of course) This is a classic morality/practicality issue.

1. The Metaphysics - A is A (We all seem to agree on this, so... no problems here.)

2. How man's nature demands that his mind corresponds with the facts of reality to survive.

3. A man's life has value.

(Now bear with me here through the rudimentary stuff while I get to the nitty gritty.)

My assertion is that you folks should more clearly define your terms. There is a world of difference between "Incorrect" (i.e. An assertion that comes from the observed and proven facts of reality, but due to errors of knowledge, does not match EVERY fact of reality.)and "Wrong" (In the moral sense, a self deception, when there are acknowledged facts of reality that must be dismissed or purposfully ignored to justify a claim.)

So, in the moral sense, you CAN be both "Right" (In the sense that you have done all of your homework, and have exhausted your mental resources, before drawing your conclussion.) and yet be "Incorrect" (In the metaphysical sense, lacking all of the information available not knowing. "You don't know, and you don't know you don't know." ;-) )

So you can be morally right in your assertion, and at the same time metaphysically incorrect in the volume of your knowledge, without a contradiction. And I did it all without a lick of math. Tell me what you think.



Post 9

Saturday, September 21, 2002 - 3:40amSanction this postReply
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John,

I can't argue with what you wrote, but I don't think it applies here. This problem doesn't have to do with morality, in the sense you brought up. It's true that you can say that you did your homework, and that's all you can do (meaning you've made the correct moral decision), but that's not the problem here.

The problem here is a question of correct vs. incorrect. It is a logic question, and one that has implications for your life.

For instance, if it were true that our knowledge that we have is possibly all wrong (incorrect!) and we might find out at any time, then this would lead to philosophical skepticism. The validity of everything we claim to know is dependent on stuff we don't know. You could never be sure about anything, because new knowledge would constantly destroy your old knowledge.

But in fact, this isn't the case. When, in physics class, you learn that everything is made up of atoms, it doesn't change the nature of the table you sit at for dinner. It still acts the same, still has the same characteristics (it burns when you chop it up and put it in a fire), etc. Your old knowledge is modified, but wasn't incorrect.

If it was incorrect, then every new fact would lead to a reshaping of your world view. When you learned about the atoms, you'd have to toss out everything you thought you knew about tables, and try to relearn it. You used to think wood burns...now you can't be sure until you learn enough chemistry to verify that a particular chemical reaction involving carbon and oxygen produces heat and byproducts.

See what I mean? So in one sense, this problem is important because if we can show that your knowledge was NOT incorrect, just incomplete, then we have a defense against skepticism, and a reason to believe our knowledge.

But there's more to it then protecting vs. bad ideas. By understanding HOW we understand the world, and how new information affects old ideas, we can do a number of pratical things.

We can improve our ability to learn. We can improve our ability to teach. We can have a clearer grasp of ideas and concepts, which allows more complex abstractions to be built on top of them.

And without an understanding of this, you won't know the limits of your knowledge. You may make generalization that are not true because you haven't identified what the generalizations are based on.

I hope you can see that these are all based on the epistemological issues in this problem, and not the moral ones. Even by working hard to learn things and to carefully check your premises, without a more specific understanding of how concepts work, you'd still be limited in your scope.

Anyway, hope that helps show you what all the debate is about. Your points about morality and the practice of gaining knowledge are good ones, but they're a different issue.



Post 10

Saturday, September 21, 2002 - 12:28pmSanction this postReply
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Joe Said:

"The problem here is a question of correct vs. incorrect. It is a logic question, and one that has implications for your life."


I agree, but, by consequence, said "Implications" are a moral issue. Everything you pointed out was correct, excepting the fact that I was abstracting a little further. Maybe I missed a few links in the chain. I started with the simplist aspect of the "Prof." Equation. I.e. If I couldn't tell the true nature of X, and it had no net effect on me, why should it matter? Of course, it does matter, which I tried to explain in my previous post. I wasn't suggesting that because we can't always be positive of every fact of reality, that we can't judge value.
I think I understand what you are saying though. We should differentiate between "An Incorrect Assertion" and "An Incomplete Context". Yes?



Post 11

Wednesday, September 25, 2002 - 10:50pmSanction this postReply
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Maybe. It depends on what you mean by "an incomplete context".

I think the differentiation should be between "an incorrect assertion" and "a limited context". It's not that knowledge is incorrect. It is, but only in some contexts.



Post 12

Saturday, October 25, 2003 - 1:20pmSanction this postReply
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OK, so I've read through Metaphysics and Epistemology and I have some problems with Epistemology:Emotions (other than spelling Epistemology):

"Only understanding can trigger an emotion."

Not true. Consider an object moving quickly toward you. Or a loud noise. You don't need to "understand" these to trigger an emotion. Babies respond quite well to these stimuli. That these responses are hard-wired is a fact of evolutionary biology. See: http://members.aol.com/doder1/startle1.htm :

"Sudden movements, looming objects, or bright lights trigger midbrain optic centers which automatically turn our faces and eyes toward what could be dangerous--before the forebrain knows, on a conscious level, danger even exists."


I like this part: "But emotions should never be taken at face value. They need to be validated with reason to insure that they are proper."

I can't stand it when someone talks about "trusting your gut". What if your gut is wrong? The need to validate with reason is doubly important when you consider our mammalian biology. It is very easy for someone bigger and more powerful than you to use threatening non-verbal cues to "convince" you at an emotional level.


So, if someone can clarify the Understanding->Emotion link, I'd appreciate it.

Thanks.



Post 13

Sunday, December 7, 2003 - 7:59amSanction this postReply
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Jo:
Would those responses qualify as "emotion?" Peikoff gives a good example of the difference:
Jab a man with a hot poker (for example), and he will experience many of the same SENSATIONS (and bodily reactions): heat, pressure, reaction by screaming, probably....
But the point is: there's NO psychological or cognitive aspect to it. "Emotions" are physiological responses, yes, but they DO have cognitive aspects.

Let me clarrify:
Would you classify that nerve-jump thing that happens in your knee, when the doctor hits it with the rubber mallet an "emotion?" No. Why? Because there's no cognitive content whatsoever. Also, imputing too much into what human nature owes to 'evolutionary biology" puts you perilously close to the Eugenics and "social darwinism" that we all detest. I don't think we want to go there, and it's pretty eas to avoid it, by simply realizeing that humans (while we do have many "automatic" responses), DO have far more direct, consious cognitive control over those "automatic' responses than we are trained to believe.
Some examples: the ability to "hold one's breath"
Bio-feedback enabling people to control their heart rates and "stress reactions".
Hypnosis: extraordinary alterations of "innate" reactions, due to hypnotic suggestion (namely, no reaction to (or perception of) "pain" stimulus during surgery, etc.)

There's just too much evidence that higher-level brain functions TRUMP the 'animal' reactions, or can be made to.

Part of the problem is that there are two common meanings of "feeling". One is "to emote" (such as "I felt very sad".) and another is "to percieve" such as "I felt somebody slap me in the back of the head." The FIRST one is a cognitively-driven response predicated by one's cognitive functioning and value system (That's why people cry at movies.)

Another example: distinct difference between laughter produced by somebody tickling you, and laughter in response to a funny joke. (the first is an 'innate' response which CAN BE CONTROLLED and supressed if need be. The second is a RESPONSE pattern predicated on what you contextually find funny.)

I hope that cleared that up for you.



Post 14

Monday, December 8, 2003 - 3:08amSanction this postReply
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"Peikoff gives a good example of the difference:
Jab a man with a hot poker (for example), and he will experience many of the same SENSATIONS (and bodily reactions): heat, pressure, reaction by screaming, probably....
But the point is: there's NO psychological or cognitive aspect to it. "Emotions" are physiological responses, yes, but they DO have cognitive aspects."

"cognitive aspects" ? "understanding" ? Hell, doesn't even acknowledging the connection between emotions and cognition refute the Randist belief in tabula rasa ? You'd think they would have figured it out by now...



Post 15

Monday, December 8, 2003 - 8:45amSanction this postReply
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"Tabula Rasa" as far as I understand it, refers to the fact that there is no INFORMATIONAL content present in the human mind, prior to the aquisition of experience.
Sorry, Francois, but reflexes and other such responses do NOT count as "innate knowledge". If you're trying to defend "a priori" knowledge of this sort, then where the hell does THAT stop?
Don't you open yourself up for the notion of "racial memory" (for example?) IF we are not INITIALLY tabula rasa (and thus dependent on experience for the aqisition of knowledge), then it's pretty much deuces wild.
I can then validly claim that I have "ancestral knowledge" of how to tie boy-scout knots, or anything else.
Either draw a clear line between THINKING and REFLEXES, or go join the "A priori knowledge" crowd.
Can't have it both ways.

Far from "refuting the Randist belief in Tabula Rasa", the difference between emotions and "reflexes" AFFIRMS the fact that the human mind has no 'innate knowledge'. Moreover, Francois, thank you SO MUCH for denouncing me as "a Randian". What's next? Calling me a "randroid" (Vis a vie all those 'critics' of Objectivism?)
What I was trying to illustrate to our friend Jo, was that there is a qualitative difference between emotional response and (for example), scratching an itch: the former (emotion) requires cognition, while the later does not. What qualifies as "itching" is NOT dependend on a persons internal value-system. What constitutes "saddening" IS.

Give up on this "innate knowlede" gambit, Francois. it's Pure Platonist drivel.

I don't mean to be hostile, but when somebody completely misinterprets what I said, AND declares me to be a "Randian", it's not a good way to start things off.

Read back over my point AGAIN, and then try to clarify how "reflexive" responses such as flinching away from pain constitute "innate knowledge".



Post 16

Monday, December 8, 2003 - 12:32pmSanction this postReply
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""Tabula Rasa" as far as I understand it, refers to the fact that there is no INFORMATIONAL content present in the human mind, prior to the aquisition of experience."

I know that. And it's obvious nonsense, unless one is going to state that all the mental algorithms in the mind about sense perception, reaction to predators, understanding language, humour, sexual selection, and so on, do not exist.


"Sorry, Francois, but reflexes and other such responses do NOT count as "innate knowledge"."

And why not ?


"Don't you open yourself up for the notion of "racial memory" (for example?)"

Please give me some examples, as I know of no such functional brain differences between races.


"Either draw a clear line between THINKING and REFLEXES, or go join the "A priori knowledge" crowd."

I'm not following. I do draw a clear line between thinking and reflexes. But I'm talking about all brain algorithms, not just reflexes.


"Moreover, Francois, thank you SO MUCH for denouncing me as "a Randian"."

How was I to know you believed in tabula rasa ? I was posting without malice. Let's not start this on the wrong foot.


"What's next? Calling me a "randroid" (Vis a vie all those 'critics' of Objectivism?)"

Well, you wouldn't very well be on SOLO HQ if you were, now would you.


"What I was trying to illustrate to our friend Jo, was that there is a qualitative difference between emotional response and (for example), scratching an itch: the former (emotion) requires cognition, while the later does not."

I don't see how an emotion requires cognition. You'll have to explain that one. I understand the interaction between the two, but I really don't understand what you mean by "emotion requires cognition".

Are you saying any other animal cannot have any emotions ? This seems absurd, at a first glance.


"Give up on this "innate knowlede" gambit, Francois. it's Pure Platonist drivel."

Don't go all hostile on me. I am certainly not an Idealist by any stretch of the imagination. This has solely to do with the brain and evolution, not fairy tales.



Post 17

Tuesday, December 9, 2003 - 5:28amSanction this postReply
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Okay, Francois, let's both step back from the brink. As you said, we don't want to start this off on the wrong foot, so I'll give you the benefit of the doubt.

1. "brain algorithms about humor, sexuality, sense perceptions, etc.": do those qualify as "knowledge?" In other words, are they LEARNED? No.
The most that you can say about these "brain algorithms" is that they represent POTENTIAL CAPACITY. In other words, "because of the brain structures humans possess, it is POTENTIALLY POSSIBLE for us to LEARN language.". That's the most you can say about "Brain algorithms".

Now, does this mean, because humans have the "potential capacity" to understand language -- IF THEY LEARN IT, that they somehow (because of these "brain algorithms" --- ALREADY "KNOW" language?
No. "Language", like sexuality, humor, etc, is LEARNED. Another example: fully-integrated sense-perception FORMS after birth. Newborns (as the research amply shows), do not have anything remotely similar. It's LEARNED.
There are important qualitative differences between the shrieking of newborn infants, and language, or between the spasmodic movements of those same infants, and the (at least somewhat) co-ordinated) movements of adults.

The "Idealist" possition holds (just like you just did), that humans possess some innate "knowledge" -- some A priori understanding that is NOT dependent on experience -- is not learned.
When I said about "racial memory", I was NOT refering to any "structural differences between the races". I probably should have said "ancestral memory". The idea that you can 'inherit' memory -- ideas -- CONCEPTUAL KNOWLEDGE -- genetically.

Now, on to as to whether other animals can have emotions: that would depend on how much the other animals are capable of LEARNING.

Beat your dog. Eventually (having LEARNED what to expect), he will no allow you to pet him, and will probably cower away from you.

Now beat a jellyfish. BIG difference in reaction. Y'know why? It's not because Jellyfish, dogs, or humans possess "innate knowledge' about anything. It's because humans (and dogs, to some degree), have the POTENTIAL CAPACITY for learning. Jellyfish do not.

Equating what are basically REFLEXES (the tendency to "startle" at loud noises, etc.), with emotions (or even 'knowledge') is pretty bad, Francois, and DOES come very close to an Idealist position.

The mere fact that an infant gets startled in response to a lound noise does NOT in any way imply that the infant KNOWS anything about loud noises, or predators, or whatever.
Sorry, Francois, but "ancestral memory" is a bunch of hogwash.

Do you, or do you not, acknowledge that there is a qualitative difference between anger (let's say), and scratching at an itch on your skin?



Post 18

Tuesday, December 9, 2003 - 5:40amSanction this postReply
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Clarification: Is language LEARNED, or not?
If language is "learned", then there is NO INNATE "understanding" of language. We have the POTENTIAL CAPACITY to understand language, but whether we do or not, is COMPLETELY DEPENDENT on LEARNING -- on EXPERIENCE.
"Brain algorithims" do NOT count as "innate knowledge" unless you accept the notion of "A priori knowledge".

You have stated that the innate structural features of the brain give rise to "knowledge" (IE, brain algorithms about humor and sexuality and such.) Having said that, you still claim not to be "an Idealist, by any means." This is one of the classic features of the Idealist posotion: that "A priori knowledge" exists.

So does it, or not?



Post 19

Tuesday, December 9, 2003 - 7:23amSanction this postReply
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"1. "brain algorithms about humor, sexuality, sense perceptions, etc.": do those qualify as "knowledge?" In other words, are they LEARNED?"

Are they learned by the person ? No. But I never contended they were, and I don't think that has anything to do with them being innate knowledge.


"There are important qualitative differences between the shrieking of newborn infants, and language, or between the spasmodic movements of those same infants, and the (at least somewhat) co-ordinated) movements of adults."

Yes, of course. I never claimed that brain algorithms permitted to do what human adults can do. You are jumping from one to the other here, and I don't really see what the relation is.


"When I said about "racial memory", I was NOT refering to any "structural differences between the races". I probably should have said "ancestral memory". The idea that you can 'inherit' memory -- ideas -- CONCEPTUAL KNOWLEDGE -- genetically."

Well, you can't inherit memory. I mean, I don't think you understand evolution very well, if I understand correctly that you think this is a plausible opinion if one upholds my position. Memory itself cannot be inherited through genes, but memory capacities certainly can.


"Now, on to as to whether other animals can have emotions: that would depend on how much the other animals are capable of LEARNING."

An emotion by definition is the association between an automatic reaction and stimuli. You may learn what stimuli apply to what object (as in your example, associate "dog-beater" to "objects that bring pain"), but the emotion itself changes very slowly. Only a long process of memetic realignment (such as happens when one becomes an Objectivist) can modify one's basic associations.


"Now beat a jellyfish. BIG difference in reaction. Y'know why? It's not because Jellyfish, dogs, or humans possess "innate knowledge' about anything. It's because humans (and dogs, to some degree), have the POTENTIAL CAPACITY for learning. Jellyfish do not."

No, it's because jellyfish don't have as many emotions as humans or dogs do. As I said, learning only affects the implementation of that emotion. We humans can feel love, sadness, anger, at much more complex things, issues, concepts than dogs ever could. But the basic emotion is the same.


"Do you, or do you not, acknowledge that there is a qualitative difference between anger (let's say), and scratching at an itch on your skin?"

No.


"This is one of the classic features of the Idealist posotion: that "A priori knowledge" exists. "

I didn't know that. Nevertheless, I must insist that you stop associating our debate with such fairy tales. I don't take any such unwarranted insults in stride.



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