|I finally got around to reading Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. I am about half way through the discussion section, so if my question is covered later in the book please say so. I plan to ask a series of questions, this is probably the only provocative one.|
In Chapter 7, pages 72-74, Rand gives three examples of "Borderline Cases". These examples are a supposed threat to objective concepts. The examples are:
1. A biological organism that is sorta like a plant and sorta like an animal, sufficient so to give us pause in our classification.
2. Black swans that defy our knowledge that swans are white.
3. A Martian who looks like a spider but is rational.
1. "In the case of existents whose characteristics are equally balanced between the referents of two different concepts-- such as primitive organisms, or the transitional shades of a color continuum-- there is no cognitive necessity to classify them under either (or any) concept. The choice is optional: one may designate them as a sub-category of either concept, or (in the case of a continuum) one may draw approximate dividing lines (on the principle of 'no more than x and no less than y'), or one may identify them descriptively..."
2. "In the case of black swans, it is objectively mandatory to classify them as 'swans,' because virtually all their characteristics are similar to the characteristics of the white swans, and the difference in color is of no cognitive significance. (Concepts are not to be multiplied beyond necessity.)"
3. "In the case of the rational spider from Mars..., the differences between him and man would be so great that the study of one would scarcely apply to the other and, therefore, the formation of a new concept to designate the Martians would be objectively mandatory. (Concepts are not to be integrated in disregard of necessity.)" Also, a revision of the definition would be necessary. Perhaps we would use rational mammal (as apposed to rational arachnid or Martian).
And so the modern philosophers complaints are put to rest in mere paragraphs... or is there more?
She avoids (intentionally?) a Borderline Case that is epistemologically tougher and more relevant to her work: Humans who have no rational capacity, such as the mentally challenged. (also children, comatose patients, etc.)
The black swan example approaches this, except that we are probably not dealing with essential characteristics, and even if we had defined swan as "white bird" it bears little consequence. The 2nd example is more about quantities of characteristics rather than essential ones. The rational spider has the same differentia, but a radically different genus.
There is a relevant quote by Rand concerning the mentally handicapped, children and how rights apply to them. If memory serves, she says we give them rights by virtue of them belonging to our species. (if anyone has the actual quote, please offer it. I couldn't find it).
To be epistemologically consistent you cannot say that man has rights because he is volitional and rational creature, then argue that certain humans without such a capacity have them too. You must resort to a definition by non-essentials to make sense of her statement.
As I understand it, Objectivism holds that a young child and those with great mental limitations, are firmly in the grab bag of exploitation if our best interests demand. And even if not in our interests, no law can forbid a person from certain behaviors. Needless to say, I have an emotional hesitation to accept the direction her theory leads me too. So I've all sorts of icky feelings about this question.
This is not the error of confusing definitions for concepts. O'ist ethical and political premise is contingent on what happens to be the differentia of man. If rationality was a common characteristic of animals, and man's differentia were instead "bald spots", the problem remains.
Another Rand quote I cannot find expresses her disgust towards disfigured people. Specifically toward the idea that normal children should ever know of their existence. Although I shrug off this sentiment as one of those annoying (and disturbing) things about Rand, it seems in a way consistent philosophically.
Please let me know if and how I've misapplied her theory.
(please note: I wrote this on Google Chrome, and the italic and bold buttons are not available, though I'd like to have used them. I hope this doesn't hamper my message.)