Okay, I see what you're saying. You're saying that some Objectivists treat Rand's words as revealed truth, which by virtue of the fact that they come from her means they can't be wrong. Gotcha! Of course, they would never acknowledge such an attitude, because it is held subconsciously. You also write,
If percepts are error-free, what's going on when a duck mistakes a decoy for another duck? How did the duck perform its misidentification? According to Objectivist epistemology, the only cognitive resources available for identifying things must be either perceptual or conceptual--yet, according to Rand, the duck can't form any concepts. You say that, "according to Objectivist epistemology, the only cognitive resources available for identifying things must be either perceptual or conceptual." But remember that, for Rand, a percept, by itself, is not an identification; it is simply the awareness of something that exists. As such, it cannot be mistaken. Identification refers to the process of grasping a thing's identity -- of grasping what it is -- which does involve the possibility of error -- the possibility of mis-identifying it. But is identification necessarily conceptual? Not according to Rand, for she writes:
Right here, I would argue, is sufficient reason to reject part of Rand's epistemology. There is no need to wait for future discoveries in psychology or neuroscience.
So, according to Rand, the lower animals are able to reach the second stage, representing the implicit concept "identity", in which they are aware of particular things that they can recognize and distinguish from the rest of their perceptual field. It is this process of (preconceptual) "identification" that is capable of error.
The (implicit) concept "existent" undergoes three stages of development in man's mind. The first stage is a child's awareness of objects, of things -- which represents the (implicit) concept "entity." The second and closely allied stage is the awareness of specific, particular things which he can recognize and distinguish from the rest of his perceptual field -- which represents the (implicit) concept "identity."
The third stage consists of grasping relationships among entities by grasping the similarities and differences of their identities. This requires the transformation of the (implicit) concept "entity" into the (implicit) concept "unit."
When a child observes that two objects (which he will later learn to designate as "tables") resemble each other, but are different from four other objects ("chairs"), his mind is focusing on a particular attribute of the objects (their shape), then isolating them according to their differences, and integrating them as units into separate groups according to their similarities.
This is the key, the entrance to the conceptual level of man's consciousness. The ability to regard entities as units is man's distinctive method of cognition, which other living species are unable to follow. (Intro. to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 6)
Kelley refers to this process as follows:
But the first stage of awareness, to which Rand refers, the one representing the implicit concept "entity", is incapable of error, because it is one in which the observer is simply aware of objects without having identified them. Since they have not been identified, they cannot be mis-identified.
Children learn to recognize an object, when it reappears after being hidden, long before they begin to acquire language. More important, there is preconceptual awareness of qualitative recurrence, in adults as well as children. H.H. Price illustrated the point with the shape of a blackberry bush. One can recognize the shape immediately, even though he has no concept for that particular shape, could not begin to describe it in words, and cannot think of it determinately in its absence." (The Evidence of the Senses, p. 219)
Thus, for Objectivism, there is more to cognition than simply percepts and concepts. A percept, according to Rand, is simply "a group of sensations automatically retained and integrated by the brain of a living organism." (ITOE, p. 5) It cannot be in error and does not involve identification, although identification requires perception. Similarly, identification does not require conceptual awareness, although conceptual awareness requires identification. Therefore, a child who has yet to reach the level of conceptual awareness -- the stage of regarding entities as units -- is still, according to Rand, operating on the "perceptual level," even though he or she is capable of preconceptual recognition or identification. A child at that stage of development, as well as a lower animal, can make mistakes in identification. Conceptualization is not required.