Rebirth of Reason

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Post 20

Saturday, August 30, 2008 - 10:09amSanction this postReply

One of Quine’s aims in “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” (TD) is to argue that no sharp distinction can be drawn between analytic statements and synthetic statements. Analytic statements are ones alleged to be “true by virtue of meaning and independently of fact” (TD 21). Truths grounded in fact are known as synthetic truths; statements of such truths are called synthetic statements.


Quine reminds the reader that meaning “is not to be identified with naming” (TD 21). My height and my stature (under one of its definitions) name the same thing and mean the same thing. Likewise for three and drei. In general, however, concepts with different meanings can name the same thing, as my right hand and my writing hand.


Quine writes of terms, but these are terms working in a certain way, terms employed in statements admitting of truth or falsity. Quine’s “terms in statements” would seem not far from “concepts in propositions” which is the technical vocabulary adopted by Rand.


Turning to general terms like right hand, Quine observes that we must distinguish between the meaning of the term and the extension (the referents) of the term. Think of the essence of right hands. Instead of thinking of the essence in the Aristotelian way—as inhering in those hands (actual and possible)—let it inhere in the term. That thought is the meaning of a general term, and, like Aristotelian essence, it is not one and the same as the thing signified (TD 21–22).


I better hit the gavel for Rand at this point. We speak of the meanings of words, but words are only markers for concepts, “and the meaning of a concept consists of its units.” We define concepts “by specifying their referents.” Concepts and definitions are certain ways of specifying referents (ITOE 44).


I look up the word derelict in my dictionary and find one of its meanings: abandoned property; especially, a ship abandoned at sea. Knowing how to apply the latter term (grammatically, a phrase), I might now use this sense of the word derelict. The word being defined and its definition have the same meaning. They are cognitively synonymous.


Quine thought that the useful conceptions of meanings come down to (i) giving synonyms or (ii) making significant utterances (“On What There Is” 11). Rand held that when we make significant utterances that engage concepts, or general terms, those concepts have definitions specifying their referents. (Prior to being able to state propositions in which concepts figure, a concept like ball is [marked by a word and] nested in image and action schemata [ITOE 13, 20, 43; further UM, G]. Presumably, this rudimentary mentation, alternative to explicit propositions and definitions, informs them.)


Quine notices that there are definitions of a sort that are not simply the giving of synonyms, and he calls these sorts of definitions explications.

In explication the purpose is not merely to paraphrase the definiendum [the term being defined] into an outright synonym, but actually to improve upon the definiendum by refining or supplementing its meaning. But even explication, though not merely reporting a preexisting synonymy between definiendum and definiens [the definition], does rest nevertheless on other preexisting synonymies. . . . Any word worth explicating has some contexts which, as wholes, are clear and precise enough to be useful; and the purpose of explication is to preserve the usage of these favored contexts while sharpening the usage of other contexts. In order that a given definition be suitable for purposes of explication, therefore, what is required is not that the definiendum in its antecedent usage be synonymous with the definiens, but just that each of these favored contexts of the definiendum, taken as a whole in its antecedent usage, be synonymous with the corresponding context of the definiens.


Two alternative definientia may be equally appropriate for the purposes of a given task of explication and yet not be synonymous with each other; for they may serve interchangeably within the favored contexts but diverge elsewhere. By cleaving to one of these definientia rather than the other, a definition of explicative kind generates, by fiat, a relation of synonymy between definiendum and definiens which did not hold before. But such a definition still owes its explicative function, as seen, to preexisting synonymies. (TD 25)


When philosophers lay out theories of good definition, they are theories of an explicative kind of definition (see David Kelley’s Art of Reasoning, chapter 3). Consider Rand’s definition of reason as the faculty that identifies and integrates the evidence of the senses. In my dictionary, I find reason defined as the capacity for rational thought, rational inference, or rational discrimination. The terms rational and thought go to already familiar synonymies with reason. The differentia within the rational, in this dictionary definition, are the discriminatory and the inferential.


Rand’s definition stays close to the common usage reflected by the dictionary, but it replaces discrimination and inference by their kin identification and integration, it eliminates the non-explicative rational, and it adds a base for the activities of reason, specifically, deliverances of the senses. Rand’s definition is explanatory of the common usage found in the dictionary, and it is tailored to tie neatly to a particular wider philosophical view.


Quine could say this is a fine explicative type of definition. Rand has given the term reason a new synonymy. The various contexts in which reason under the dictionary definition is properly used remain contexts in which reason under the new, explicative definition is properly used. The new definition covers the processes of drawing distinctions and making inferences. The new definition also applies to the wider processes of identification and integration of sensory evidence, processes in which the narrower processes are embedded. Quine would stress that, nonetheless, “such a definition still owes its explicative function . . . to preexisting synonymies” (TD 25). Quine is being too short here.


Quine’s argument against the idea that there are clearly statements true purely by virtue of meanings, and true independently of fact, hangs on his conception of meaning. We have joined Quine in saying that meaning is distinct from reference. We have not allowed that meaning can be independent of reference. The meanings of my right hand and my writing hand differ, but both meanings are specifications of a referent. Similarly, the meanings of right hand and writing hand differ, but both are specifications of the extensions (the referents) under those concepts.


Quine’s conception of meaning is shriveled into “synonymy of linguistic forms” (TD 22). He allows that a logical truth such as “Every tall man is a man” has a guarantee of truth that rests on more than one’s experiences of facts about men. He realizes that logical truths are sometimes called analytic, but his target is other statements taken for analytic: statements reducible to logical truths by synonymies, statements reducible to logical truths by meaning.


Quine shares with defenders of analyticities the conviction that logical truths are true, and true regardless of particular facts to which they are applied. If there are statements reducible to logical truths by virtue of meaning and independently of fact, then their truth would be guaranteed by virtue of meaning and independently of fact. A candidate analytic statement from Kant would be “Bodies have location.” (A contrasting synthetic statement would be “Orbiting bodies are weightless.”) One who has the concept body knows that having location is part of the meaning of the concept. Substituting “Things having location (and . . .)” for body yields the logical truth “Things having location (and . . .) have location.”


Now, we know “Necessarily, things having location (and . . .) have location.” Does only that sense of necessity attach when we claim “Necessarily, bodies have location”? Quine disputes the idea that purported analyticity of a statement can be adequately explained by cognitive synonymies and logical truth (TD 29–31). Analyticity cannot be explained by a sensible conception of meaning joined with logical truth. An adequate way of distinguishing analytic from synthetic statements has not been produced.


Quine uncovered a narrow, but serious, problem for the synthetic-analytic distinction. It would seem that there are wider problems for the distinction that he passes over because of his cramped conceptions of meaning, definition, and essential characteristics.



(Page numbers for Quine are from the 1980 edition of his collection From a Logical Point of View.)

Post 21

Monday, September 1, 2008 - 9:52amSanction this postReply
Nice analysis (synthesis?), Stephen.


Post 22

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 - 7:41amSanction this postReply

In “Conceptual Truth” Timothy Williamson composes arguments against the existence of analytic truths, or conceptual truths, where these truths are taken to be such that one cannot understand them without assenting to them. An example would be the logical truth Every A is A. It is here argued that it is possible to understand this proposition without assenting to it.

Williamson takes understanding logical truths and other purportedly analytic truths to consist in effective participation in a linguistic practice. He is considering a notion of understanding that is partitioned from the truth-conditional semantic properties of language.

I would say that in another sense of understanding—a sense acknowledging the circumstance that a shared language and shared concepts require a shared world—one cannot understand a logical truth or any other truth without assenting to its truth conditions. Conditions required for discerning truths of the formal disciplines such as logic, set theory, and mathematics, are systematically distinct from conditions required for discerning truths of disciplines at least partly existential, such as metaphysics, epistemology, physics, and psychology. For some formal truths, such as the truth that every A is A, the conditions for discerning their truth can be readily entered. (Note.) But then, the conditions for discerning some existential truths, such as the existence of this script, are also readily entered.

So with the preferable sense of understanding, too, it won’t do to say that what distinguishes formal truths from existential truths is that the former are analytic, where analytic is taken to mean they cannot be understood without assenting to their truth.

Post 23

Wednesday, December 7, 2011 - 7:02amSanction this postReply

Truth in Virtue of Meaning
A Defence of the Analytic/Synthetic Distinction
Gillian Russell (Oxford 2008)

From the publisher:
    The analytic/synthetic distinction looks simple. It is a distinction between two different kinds of sentence. Synthetic sentences are true in part because of the way the world is, and in part because of what they mean. Analytic sentences - like all bachelors are unmarried and triangles have three sides - are different. They are true in virtue of meaning, so no matter what the world is like, as long as the sentence means what it does, it will be true.

    This distinction seems powerful because analytic sentences seem to be knowable in a special way. One can know that all bachelors are unmarried, for example, just by thinking about what it means. But many twentieth-century philosophers, with Quine in the lead, argued that there were no analytic sentences, that the idea of analyticity didn't even make sense, and that the analytic/synthetic distinction was therefore an illusion. Others couldn't see how there could fail to be a distinction, however ingenious the arguments of Quine and his supporters.

    But since the heyday of the debate, things have changed in the philosophy of language. Tools have been refined, confusions cleared up, and most significantly, many philosophers now accept a view of language - semantic externalism* - on which it is possible to see how the distinction could fail. One might be tempted to think that ultimately the distinction has fallen for reasons other than those proposed in the original debate.

    In Truth in Virtue of Meaning, Gillian Russell argues that it hasn't. Using the tools of contemporary philosophy of language, she outlines a view of analytic sentences which is compatible with semantic externalism and defends that view against the old Quinean arguments. She then goes on to draw out the surprising epistemological consequences of her approach.

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Post 24

Thursday, September 3 - 10:23amSanction this postReply


Near the close of “Two Dogmas of Empiricism,” after saying once more that he rejects the distinction between the analytic and the synthetic, Quine enters a footnote directing the reader to a paper by Morton White “for an effective expression of further misgivings over this distinction” (1953, 46). That paper is “The Analytic and the Synthetic: An Untenable Dualism” (UD).[1] It appeared originally in Hook 1950, then again, in Linsky 1952. My page references are from the latter.


Morton White noted two kinds of statements that had lately been regarded as analytic. The first are purely formal logical truths such as “A is A” and “A or not-A.” The second are cases of “what is traditionally known as essential predication” (UD 318). He ponders especially the example “All men are rational animals.” That statement is logically the same as “Any man is a rational animal” or “A man is a rational animal.” This last expression of the proposition is one of Leonard Peikoff’s examples of a purportedly analytic statement in “The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy” ([A-S] 1967, 90). 


White did not pursue in this paper whether it is correct to characterize logical truths as analytic (UD 318–19). It will be recalled that Peikoff held forth Rand’s conception of logical truth against that of A. J. Ayer, who had maintained: “The principles of logic and mathematics are true universally simply because we never allow them to be anything else. . . . In other words, the truths of logic and mathematics are analytic propositions or tautologies” (1946, 77; Branden 1963, 7; A-S 94, 101, 111–18).


As with Quine’s “Two Dogmas,” White undermined the distinction between the analytic and the synthetic by finding fault with various explications of what analyticity amount to. They concluded there is no durable articulate way of classifying propositions and truths as analytic in sharp contrast to synthetic. 


One way of conceiving an analytic statement is as expressing a proposition deducible from a logical truth by substitution of a synonym of one of its terms. (i) Every A is A. Therefore, (ii) Every man is a man. With rational animal as synonym for man, we obtain (iii) Every man is a rational animal (UD 319).


Thence analyticity is explicated in terms of logical truth and synonymy. White rejects the view that whether man and rational animal are synonymous is a matter of arbitrarily selected convention. Similarly, that man and featherless biped are not synonymous is not a matter of arbitrarily selected convention. Natural language is not like an artificial logical language in which meanings of terms are set entirely by stipulation (UD 321–24).


White allows we certainly have some sort of working distinction between propositions such as, on the one hand, “Man is an animal” and “Man is a rational animal” and, on the other hand, “Man is a featherless biped” and “Man has two eyes” (Peikoff’s example, A-S 90). White concludes that distinction between those two classes of statement is not that statements in the first class are analytic, the latter not, where the analytic is defined as consequence of a logical truth under substitution of a synonym and we are given no objective criterion for synonymy (UD 318–24).


Could analytic statements be defined instead as those whose denials are self-contradictory? White queries how it is that “Man is not a rational animal” leads to “Man is not man,” yet “Man is a quadruped” does not lead to “Man is not man.” He again notes that appealing to synonymies in the language is not illuminating in the absence of objective criteria for synonymy (UD 324). If it is said that one’s sense of wrongness in “Man is not a rational animal” differs from one’s sense of wrongness in “Man is a quadruped,” White replies that that is surely only a matter of degree, not a sharp difference in kind. Between one’s response to contradiction of “Man is a rational animal” and contradiction of “Man is a biped,” there is not a sharp difference in kind. If self-contradiction upon denial of a proposition is the criterion for analyticity of the proposition, then there is no sharp divide between the analytic and the synthetic (UD 325–26).


Suppose we adopt the following criterion for analyticity. Were we to come across an animal we determine to be not a rational animal, we would dismiss it instantly as being a man. By contrast, were we to come across an animal we see is not a featherless biped (it is, say, a quadruped), but whose rationality is not yet confirmed or disconfirmed, we hesitate over whether this animal is a man. We know that we might give up the proposition “All men are featherless bipeds” if we learn this animal is rational (UD 326–28). White responds: “Now I suspect that this criterion will be workable but it will not allow us to distinguish what we think in advance are the analytic equivalences. It will result in our finding that many firmly believed ‘synthetic’ equivalences are analytic on this criterion” (UD 328).


White gives no example, but I think his point is illustrated by an analytic-synthetic pair of judgments, favorites with Kant: “All bodies are extended” (analytic) and “All bodies have weight” (synthetic). By the latter, given his knowledge of Newtonian physics, I think Kant rightly understands “All bodies not in gravitational orbit have weight.” Be that as it may, Kant and his contemporaneous intellectuals would dismiss as body just as quickly an entity lacking weight (in the appropriate setting) as they would dismiss as body an entity lacking extension.[2] The criterion of speed of dismissal upon counterfactual encounter fails to always sort what is taken for analytic from what is taken for synthetic.


White observes that the obscurity of proposed criteria for distinguishing analytic from synthetic statements, propositions, and judgments, is not fixed by incorporating the sound Millian point that what is synonymous with man, for example, varies with discursive context. In a biological discourse, “mammiferous animal having two hands” (Mill’s example) might be synonym for man. It remains that analyticity is not illuminated by proposing logical truth and synonymy as its base, not illuminated so as to yield a sharp divide, rather than a gradual divide, between the analytic and the synthetic. The arguments run against such an explication of the analyticity of “Man is a rational animal” will rerun for “Man is a mammiferous animal with two hands” (UD 329–30).


White saw the myth of a sharp divide between the analytic and the synthetic as affiliate of an older mythically sharp division: the Aristotelian division between essential and accidental predication (UD 319, 325, 330). This kinship was also recognized in Peikoff 1967 (A-S 95).




1. Nelson Goodman writes in a 1953 footnote: “Perhaps I should explain for the sake of some unusually sheltered reader that the notion of a necessary connection of ideas, or of an absolutely analytic statement, is no longer sacrosanct. Some, like Quine and White, have forthrightly attacked the notion; others, like myself, have simply discarded it; and still others have begun to feel acutely uncomfortable about it” (60).


2. Notice also that in modern physics of elementary particles, we take electrons and the other leptons to be bodies (matter) because they have weight (because of nonzero rest mass), yet they have no extension. The feature Kant took for analytic, we eventually took as dispensable, whereas the feature he took for synthetic, we have retained.




Ayer, A. J. 1946. Language, Truth and Logic. Dover.


Branden, N. 1963. Review of Brand Blanshard’s Reason and Analysis. The Objectivist Newsletter 2(2):7–8.


Goodman, N. 1953. The New Riddle of Induction. In Fact, Fiction, and Forecast. 4th edition. 1983. Harvard.


Hook, S., editor, 1950. John Dewey: Philosopher of Science and Freedom. Dial.


Linsky, L., editor, 1952. Semantics and the Philosophy of Language. Illinois.


Peikoff, L. 1967. The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy. In Rand 1990.


Quine, W. V. O. 1951. Two Dogmas of Empiricism. In From a Logical Point of View. 1953. Harvard.


Rand, A. 1990 [1966–67]. Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. Expanded 2nd edition. Meridian.


White, M. G. 1952 [1950]. The Analytic and the Synthetic: An Untenable Dualism. In  Linsky 1952.

Post 25

Thursday, September 3 - 10:53amSanction this postReply


One of the most noted essays of the twentieth century is Quine’s 1951 “Two Dogmas of Empiricism,” which argues the distinction between analytic and synthetic truths, so dear in logical empiricism, is untenable. Necessary truths we have in logic and mathematics cannot receive their necessity of being true merely in virtue of meaning, which is to say, by being analytic truths. Furthermore, for analytic there is no noncircular and enduring rule establishing its extension. A logical truth such as A is identically A, in Quine’s view, need not get its truth only by our say-so meaning of is identically, but could as well get its truth by its capture of the way the world is (Quine 1954, 113). 


In a 1963 lecture “Necessary Truth” which Quine delivered on Voice of America (the lecture was published by that organization the following year as a pamphlet), he concluded: “In principle . . . I see no higher or more austere necessity than natural necessity; and in natural necessity, or our attributions of it, I see only Hume’s regularities, culminating here and there in what passes for an explanatory trait or the promise of it” (76). With that last clause, Quine rather takes back the ribbon he had just given Hume. Moreover, earlier in the lecture, Quine had augmented bare regularity with generality-within-a-domain (71, 74).


When I say “Necessarily, were Little Bo Peep’s sheep to come home of their own accord, they will be wagging their tails behind them,” I speak in the essential form of natural necessity, according to Quine 1963. My necessity-sentence is a subjunctive resting on the nature of sheep. Quine’s view that logical and mathematical necessity are only wide-domain natural necessities acknowledged in subjunctive statements seems right to me. “Necessarily, were not both p and q true, and p were true, then q would be false.” The Randian 1957 necessities concerning leaf/stone, freeze/burn, and red/green can be put into that p/q form with ease. Where q is simply not-p (very wide domain), we have the bare PNC.


In 1967, four years after Quine’s “Necessary Truth,” Leonard Peikoff’s “The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy” appeared in The Objectivist. Roderick Long once remarked, relying on Quine 1951: “Rather than defending the existence of necessary factual truth, Quine had in effect denied that any truths were necessary, even the laws of logic” (2005, 226n3). No, not really. To say “necessarily, not both p and not-p” under a blank condition that its wide domain of application might in the future be shown to be not the widest domain, is not to in effect deny there are necessary truths, only to deny knowing that the presently known widest domain is not but part of a wider domain in which those necessary truths do not everywhere apply. I disagree with Quine—we do know the application of PNC is to the widest possible domain—but that does not alter the value of Quine’s insight that formal necessities (however broad, broad their purview) are natural necessities.


Peikoff 1967 attacks contemporary conventionalism concerning necessary truths, though not along the Quinean lines of attack. Rather, Peikoff attacks by attacking the old distinction, from Plato-Aristotle to the early moderns, that there is a distinction, a knowable distinction, between contingent facts and necessary truths. He takes contemporary conventionalism to merely replace metaphysical bases for necessary truths with “subjective choices.” “Their ‘contribution’ is merely to interpret [the traditional position] in an avowedly subjectivist manner” (1967, 108). (For my own part, I stress that a conventionalism concerning logical truth that is not wholly arbitrary in its conventions and their combinations is not wholly effective in freeing logical truth from facts of the world and of our logical facility with those facts.)


Peikoff 1967 rightly attacks the traditional distinction, with its supernatural prop. He then takes on the embrace of the concept contingent facts by (many among) contemporary analytic philosophers. He would have it, rather, that all natural facts are necessary, and only man-made facts are contingent (106–11). Various divisions of all that is have arisen across the centuries under the same words necessary/contingent. Quine does not conceive of natural necessity, thence logical necessity as applying to everything not man-made. Quine’s necessity does not apply, save elliptically, to particular events or states; it applies properly only to whole conditional connections—“Necessarily, if p then q.”


“We must not suppose that a man is entitled to apply ‘necessarily’ to an assertion so long merely as he thinks there is some general truth that subsumes it” (Quine 1963, 70). Suppose the raccoon Rocky is climbing the tree to reach the bird feeder. Then we can say of every raccoon x without exception that if x is Rocky, then x is climbing the tree to reach the bird feeder. Quine restricts necessity in his intended sense to disallow that because we got Rocky’s deed into that form, in a true report of what is afoot, we may straightly say in Quine’s sense “Necessarily, Rocky being indeed Rocky, he’s climbing the tree to reach the bird feeder.” “This line would allow us to attribute necessity to anything, however casual, that we are prepared to affirm at all” (1963, 71). The relation of Quine’s sense of necessity and the one in play in Peikoff 1967 remains work not yet done by anyone, I gather. 




Peikoff, L. 1967. The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy. In Rand 1966–67, 88–121.


Quine, W. V. O. 1951. Two Dogmas of Empiricism. In Quine 1953.

——. 1953. From a Logical Point of View. Harvard.

——. 1954. Carnap and Logical Truth. In Quine 1976.

——. 1963. Necessary Truth. In Quine 1976.

——. 1976. The Ways of Paradox and Other Essays. 2nd edition. Harvard.


Rand, A. 1990 [1966–67]. Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. Expanded 2nd edition. Meridian.


(Edited by Stephen Boydstun on 9/03, 11:09am)

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Post 26

Thursday, September 3 - 11:06amSanction this postReply


In his 2016, Greg Salmieri notes that it is curious that Peikoff 1967 does not mention Quine’s “Two Dogmas.” Salmeiri points out some ways the Rand-Peikoff diagnoses of and remedies for the errors in analytic-versus-synthetic doctrines differ from Quine’s. Salmieri understands the later challenge of AvS from Kripke and Putnam to have more in common with the Objectivist challenge, though Putnam differs importantly from Rand on definitions and essences, which looms large in the Objectivist challenge (2016, 304n34, 311n87). Salmieri points to the book-review article, in JARS in 2005, by Roderick Long for thoughts on some relations between Randian theory of meaning and those of Kripke and Putnam.


Long’s 2005 review of Greg Browne’s book Necessary Factual Truth was followed a year later by a substantial reply from Browne and rejoinder by Long (JARS V7N1). From May to September of 2007, Prof. Browne engaged in a very generous exchange (his own words coming to about 19,000) in a thread at Objectivist Living defending the rejection by Peikoff of AvS and defending his own kindred rejection of AvS. Browne had in his arsenal the Kripke-Putnam developments that had been savaging AvS in the years since Peikoff 1967. Browne vigorously countered, in that thread, devotees of Logical Empiricism (and of Popper) who criticized (and poorly understood the revolution afoot, such as in) Peikoff 1967.


Late in that thread, Robert Campbell entered it only to ask Browne if he had any thoughts on why Peikoff had not addressed the famous Quine paper in his Peikoff’s dissertation, which Campbell had lately acquired. Browne had not seen the dissertation and had not much to conjecture on that peculiarity. (Peikoff 1964, his dissertation, was of course not written as a champion of Ayn Rand’s philosophic views, but, in an even-handed way, by an author acknowledging his background preference for some rehabilitated sort of logical ontologism and pointing near the end of the dissertation to some of that rehabilitation, such as fresh thinking on the nature of definitions and essence; distance between Quine’s views on logic and on AvS and Randian Peikoff views would not be the reason for no Quine in Peikoff 1964.) I should suggest that Quine, Carnap, Russell, and Wittgenstein raise such a briar patch of technicalities that it was better (and enough for deserving a Ph.D.) to stick with the more accessible and manageable Ayer, Nagel, Dewey, and Lewis to get the dissertation (already more than an armful in history assimilated) finally completed.




Browne, G. M. 2001. Necessary Factual Truth. Lanham: University Press of America.


Carnap, R. 1937. The Logical Syntax of Language. London: Kegan Paul.


Long, R. T. 2005. Reference and Necessity: A Rand-Kripke Synthesis? – Review of Brown 2001. The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 7(1):209–28.


Peikoff, L. 1964. The Status of the Law of Contradiction in Classical Ontologism. Ph.D. dissertation, New York University.

——. 1967. The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy. In Rand 1966–67, 88–121.


Rand, A. 1966–67. Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. Expanded 2nd edition. 1990. New York: Meridian.

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Post 27

Thursday, September 3 - 11:19amSanction this postReply


“I have never asserted that it is inconceivable that water isn’t H2O, but only that it is impossible that it isn’t H2O.” —H. Putnam


In the nineteenth century, Weber & Kohlbrausch, Maxwell, and Hertz established that light is electromagnetic radiation (within a certain range of frequencies). This was established by measurements and by mathematical representation of relationships between various physical, electromagnetic properties in media and in the vacuum. They established as well that radiant heat was electromagnetic radiation. Heat and light from the sun, for example, are electromagnetic radiation. Electromagnetic radiation (of some range of frequencies) is the light allowing the wheat to grow. For short, light = EM rad, where ‘=‘ is here ‘identically the same as’.


At least one, probably more, of the characteristics of the single thing that is light/EM rad is an essential characteristic of it. But light and EM radiation being the same thing is nothing essential about that thing. Rather, this being-the-same is total identity of the object investigated in optics and an object investigated in EM science. A is not a characteristic of A, though A is A.


In her 2017 paper on Kripkean necessity of identity, García-Encinas argues the identity discovered (my example) by Weber & Kohlbrausch, Maxwell, and Hertz subtly exhibits “how identity belongs to the inner and to the most profound structure of cognition and language” (52). That much having been argued, she suggests: “Despite the general tendency to the contrary, it could be the case that even logical truths, or truths that are usually believed to be necessary but devoid of metaphysical content, like x = x are finally grounded in metaphysics (and aesthetics). x = x could be a logical form of our intuition of Identity” (68). The indefinite article of “a logical form” would be the right choice of article in Rand’s lights, since “x is identically x” as the identity added to first-order predicate calculus with quantification (see Quine 1982, chapter 43) is only a proper part of the full A is A of logic employed in the discovery of the light/EM rad identity.


The single self-same thing light/EM rad exhibits wave-particle duality; has a wavelength inversely proportional to its momentum; has a definite role not only in electrodynamics, but in general kinematics of modern mechanics; has no rest-mass of its particle, the photon; has polarization character; and shows universal characteristic atomic and molecular spectra from matter throughout the observed universe. Whether any one or more of these characteristics is essential to light/EM rad being what it is, Objectivist metaphysics and epistemology takes them all as being necessary to what it is. They have a necessity transcending the necessity of an essential characteristic. This transcending necessity is a necessity merely denying cognitive validity of imagination-criteria for whether something is “contingent.” That I can imagine, without manifest contradiction, that the atoms and molecules naturally present here in the solar system are nonexistent elsewhere in the galaxy or that light and electromagnetic radiation are not (in any range of frequencies) the same thing is no insight into metaphysical or physical character. Such imaginings, since Descartes and until this day, so beloved by many philosophers (e.g. Sidelle 2002), are valuable only for entertainment, and they exhibit only what playfulness I can have over past ignorance and inquiry (cf. Peikoff 1967, 114–16).


Necessities in a posteriori truths as well as all logical necessities whatever are not the offspring of linguistic convention in stipulative definitions. That much, many contemporary philosophers have concluded. Those necessities are the offspring of existence in its identities, an assertion that needs to be fleshed out (see Long 2005, 213, on that need). 


I should like to add (my own original connection) that the insusceptibility to trisection of angles in complete generality by straight-edge and compass constructions alone is not shown to be an absolutely necessary insusceptibility by stipulative definitions joined with their contradiction upon supposition of such trisection. The absolute necessity of that insusceptibility was shown by creative discovery of whole new areas of mathematics and their connection to Euclidean geometry (within which workers had failed repeatedly to produce general angle trisection using only straight-edge construction together with compass construction, and within which could not prove its absolute impossibility).




García-Encinas, M. J. 2017. The Discovery that Phosphorus is Hesperus: A Follow-Up to Kripke on the Necessity of Identity. Analysis and Metaphysics 16:52–69.


Gendler, T. S., and J. Hawthorne, editors, 2002. Conceivability and Possibility. Oxford.


Peikoff, L. 1967. The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy. In Rand 1990.


Long, R. T. 2005. Reference and Necessity: A Rand-Kripke Synthesis? —Review of Brown 2001. The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 7(1):209–28.


Quine, W. V. O. 1982. Methods of Logic. 4th ed. Harvard.


Rand, A. 1990 [1966–67]. Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. Expanded 2nd edition. Meridian.


Sidelle, A. 2002. On the Metaphysical Contingency of Laws of Nature. In Gendler and Hawthorne 2002.

Post 28

Sunday, September 6 - 2:38amSanction this postReply

I gave the most recent posts Check marks because they were interesting to read and consider. Beyond that, I just do not understand the relevance. Richard Feynman had a story about talking to a mathematician. The maths guy said to consider a sphere. "Like an orange?" Feynman asked. Sure. Now, take an infinitesimal slice. "You can't do that," Feynman replied, "because at some level, pretty soon, the slice is no longer an orange." 


In the discussion elsewhere here about Objectivism versus Mises, Manfred mentioned reading Human Action in Spanish. While that might be a helpful guide, I believe that the work needs to be understood in the language in which it was written. I think that it is revelatory and consequential that when Popper, Wittgenstein, and Russell argued what words mean, they all used English. It just seems to me that if you want to find out what words mean, you need to get past the language you know here and now and examine as many languages as you can for relevance of the assertions that you are trying to express. Language is contextual. Language changes. Perhaps my favorite example is that "silly" meant "soully" i.e. religious. Today, calling the Pope a silly man would lead to serious misunderstandings.


Relative these discussions, having had many classes in German from the 7th grade through my third year of college, and having worked for three German companies, I have no problem with "Das Ding an sich." People writing in English go to lengths and extremes arguing the thing in itself, the thing of itself, the thing in relation to itself, ... To me, the phrase is mostly meaningless in German because things do not exist in any relationship to themselves. Sentient beings do have relationships with themselves. Inanimate objects do not. 


In the context of Stephen's last three posts, I have to ask (because he centered his examples on EM-rad): How does any of that help me to build a radio?

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Post 29

Sunday, September 6 - 5:56amSanction this postReply


Michael, thank you for registration of your notice of these posts, and thank you for your comment.


Relevance is always to an arena. There will be different things highly relevant to digging weeds from the lawn than from high-altitude philosophical pursuits concerning kinds and characters of definitions, perceptions and their relations to concepts, distinction of math from logic, and whether anything empirically true follows from logical truths. Digging weeds and philosophic reflections are different arenas, and even though I pursue them at the same time, what is relevant to the two pursuits are different to a considerable degree.


Kant’s thing-in-itself fills some roles in his theoretical philosophy, and the idea was immediately attacked by German philosophers, and by philosophers ever since. (Similarly, his “subjectivism” [subject-generated forms of sensory organization and of fundamental concepts] and his deep divide between sensory experience and the understanding have been continually criticized—and defended—since his death.) The scholars have various conflicting interpretations of that idea of Kant’s and the functions to which he tries to put it in theory of knowledge and critique of traditional metaphysics.


Kant’s philosophical ideas had some influence on conceptions and practice of science in the nineteenth century.* But I think the sayings of scientists putting their science under Kant’s philosophy of science are over-statements concerning their actual methods in winning scientific advance (say, Hertz) or technical prizes (say, the radio). Ditto for sayings by scientists concerning the influence of philosophers of science after Kant. Ditto for earlier: such as Theodoric of Freiburg in his advance of understanding the rainbow, draping the theory in the raiments of Aristotle’s theoretical philosophy.


Philosophy of science is an arena possessing its own allure even though, if it is best quality, it is drafted upon episodes in actual science. Science and technologies themselves are other arenas—others to philosophy of science or philosophy of logic or to basic metaphysics or general theory of knowledge—and an employment interviewer in those arenas is more likely to want to see if you can explain what is a Wheatstone Bridge than, say, explain Kant’s distinction of constitutive principles and regulative principles.


Among arenas of sustained delight for me is theoretical philosophy. I’m now doing further work on comparing Quine’s reasons against the analytic-synthetic distinction and the contrasting reasons given (or could be given) in concord with Objectivist metaphysics and theory of knowledge.



(Edited by Stephen Boydstun on 9/06, 6:39am)

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Post 30

Thursday, September 17 - 5:35pmSanction this postReply

I posted a notice about The Good Place on Galt's Gulch Online and it got no replies. A friend of mine at work who majored in philosophy recommended it to us. He is a programmer and for him, the formal logic required for philosophy was his introduction to Java and a career. 


We enjoyed The Good Place. We watched it on disc and look forward to the release of Season 4. The show’s chatty dialogs on moral philosophy were pleasant and satisfying. The characters were engaging. We cared about what happened to them. It would be nice if The Good Place brought philosophy into the cultural mainstream something like what Star Trek’s original series did for science fiction. Like ST:OS, The Good Place had its flaws.


Ethics and morality are about human action. It is pretty easy to test your theories - at least with thought experiments - in consequential ways. Metaphysics is a little harder than that, especially as we get hung up on language and struggle for existents and referents. 


Your mention of the rainbow was cogent. I mean, so what if we knew? It is easy to argue that the knowledge has no purpose, no use. It would be a stretch of light years to explain to Theodoric of Freiburg that learning what makes a rainbow will enable us to send true copies of sounds and sights around the world and to store them on "rainbow scrolls." (Look! Tilt it in the light and you can see a rainbow.) So, I understand and appreciate your interest, amusement, and edification in studying abstract philosophy. You never know where knowledge will lead and, always, if you are satisfied, then that is all the requirement.


Personally, my focus is not so abstract.  The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance by Henry Petroski (Alfred A. Knopf, 1990) is a paean to engineering with the pencil as its metonym. We are told too easily that scientific theories become applied as engineered structures or machines. In truth, it is the other way around: theories explain what engineers develop by intuition, insight, trial and error, craft, and trade secret. When those are formalized into mathematics, then engineering science can improve the product or the process by analysis, seeking and eliminating limitations, flaws, defects, and oversights.

“The stories of the Munroes and the Thoreaus and their pencils illustrate in microcosm the often conflicting objectives of real-world engineering and business: making pencils as fine as possible as an end in itself; making pencils better in quality or price than other pencil makers; making pencils secretly in order to have an advantage over the competition; making pencils overtly to conceal a more profitable business; making pencils for the social and cultural good of artists, engineers, and writers of all kinds. There is no such thing as pure engineering, whether in the artifact or in the abstract—for that would be nothing but irresponsibility or a mere hobby. Engineering, far from being applied science, is scientific business.” – page 276-277.


A Good Place with Inadequate Philosophy on my blog.


Thanks for the suggestion on The Kantian Legacy in Nineteenth-Century Science by Michael Friedman (Editor), Alfred Nordmann (Editor). It looks like a slog, but I can appreciate a challenge. I have a direct interest in the history of science. Right now, I am reading The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel.



Michael E. Marotta, BS, MA.

Assistant Editor

History of Astronomy Division of the

American Astronomical Society




(Edited by Michael Marotta on 9/17, 5:53pm)

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