Daniel Barnes

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Everything posted by Daniel Barnes

  1. There is only a small ambiguity in the passage ("...these latter..") and this is almost certainly resolved by Peikoff's unequivocal following line: "...there are no such things as 'organisms' to be seen - there are only men, dogs, roses." (OPAR p91) Not to mention that this is naturally entailed by the whole process of abstracting from abstractions itself, with its ever-greater distance from the perceptual level. (see also OPAR p91-2). So I am not quite sure it is all that unclear, or all that much of a guess. But at any rate, I've just parked a longer digression on the above in favour of honing in on the following: I wrote: You replied: The point is not what you or I would say, but what we think Rand, as the author of Objectivism, would say. Now, this is not as speculative as it would appear, as it really boils down to two options. The first is basically the Critical Rationalist approach, treating the word merely as a convenient label we can attach to this or that problem under discussion. Ellen is attempting to argue, I think, that the first is Rand's position; so if she's correct then Rand, like Popper recommended, would happily accept that the word "selfishness" was a convenient label for either situation (the "definition" merely being the description of the situation we want to discuss, which can be either verbal or ostensive). The second option is to instead take the subject of the definition of the word very seriously; in fact, as a vital preliminary that unless successfully completed, and the "valid" or "true" version of the two different definitions of "selfishness" is fundamentally established, will mean further discussion is pointless, as it must supposed proceed from a solid base, rather than simply an agreed one.. I would argue that this second is far more likely to be Rand's position. It seems to me this is consistent with both her logic, such as it is, (ie her Aristotelian method) and her rhetoric. Such a preliminary is, in Rand's view, certainly not merely a case of the analysis of terms for mutual benefit and enlightenment, or any such sugar-coated academic politesse either. It's to find any bad-apple identifications that might be rotting your whole conceptual barrel. Would you agree? If so, then how does the discussion then proceed in the second option? This is where it gets problematic.
  2. If you keep insisting that Objectivism and Critical Rationalism are in such close agreement I really am going to have practise my harmonies on "Kumbaya"!
  3. This is obviously wrong. The referents of a higher level concept are the referents of the lower level concepts that are combined into the higher one. One of the higher level concepts Rand discussed in ITOE is furniture. The referents of "furniture" are the referents of tables, chairs, beds, etc." Pointing to the concrete instances works fine. Well you may have a point there. I was thinking of higher higher-level concepts than "furniture", which I admit rarely attracts heated debate, even in Objectivism...;-) According to Peikoff (OPAR p91), talking about the higher level concept "organism": "...the more extensive acts of abstraction and integration...are not available on the perceptual level...there are no such things as 'organisms' to be seen...*" That's the kind of level I was referring to. That which can't be seen obviously can't be pointed to. Such silliness. Well, I'm just trying to see how this plays out. Let's try a little thought experiment. Say Rand and I, as a gauche new entrant to The Collective, are discussing the concept "selfishness". To define the (purely mental) concept that I choose to label "selfishness", I point to a man who buys shoes for himself instead of food for his child and say "that's what I mean by 'selfishness'". Rand, on the other hand, points to a man looking adoringly at his wife and says "that's what I mean by 'selfishness'" Now, would Rand accept that my purely-mental-concept-that-I-choose-to-label-"selfishness" is just as "true" or "valid" or "proper" as hers given that, via the magical power of pointing, I have now grounded it resoundingly in reality by a method fully approved by herself? Would she agree that she is merely in possession of a different, yet equally grounded, purely-mental-concept-that-she-chooses-to-label "selfishness"? (whew!) And, that being the case, if we were to discuss the morality of a father who buys shoes rather than feed his child (and not the morality of being an uxorious husband), would she be just as happy to use the word "selfishness" to refer to such a concept as I have in mind, given that the concept is grounded in reality and the word is just a label after all? (and naturally I vice versa, with the caveat that her use of the term is more likely to be somewhat confusing to other people, given that my version is closer to the typical sense of the term). Or would she in fact fix me with a basilisk-glare and inform me sternly that words have meanings... This point, I think, is really what the issue turns on. *This passage is slightly unclear; he may be referring to CCDs in part of it. But the latter part is clear enough.
  4. Well I suppose that is better than your example above, which is simply inane. For what you would have demonstrated with your proposed test of Rand's theory is that Rand's epochal philosophical insight has been anticipated by only by the designers of almost every school math curriculum, not to mention almost every other school curriculum, in history. I have no idea how, other than as superficially as your example above suggests, compatible Ayn Rand is with Piaget. Robert Campbell would have a better idea than I, he's written a fair bit on both. I do know, however, that Piaget had no problem with constructing experiments for his theories. Unfortunately for him, he clearly didn't have you to wise him up on the proper historical comparative method, the difficulties of controlling all those pesky variables, and of course the shocking ethical consequences of such tests. Otherwise he could have just done it the way you approve of: a few minutes introspecting, then whack out a 90 page ramble and job's done. Why not just say Rand's theory isn't really testable, and leave it at that? PS: Your argument seems to be of the following form: "I claim a popular novelist with no psychological training and no peer recognition whatsoever in the field is nonetheless every bit the equal of the most famous developmental psychologists of all time. It's up to you to prove that she isn't." Do you know why I might have trouble taking this seriously?
  5. Oh, right, so "one doesn't do" such experiments...but then on the other hand one might by recruiting a few dozen five year olds... So could we design some experiments that might empirically test Rand's theory or not? If so, what might they look like? I agree that it is very hard to dismiss an unfalsifiable theory.
  6. If you're going to make comparisons with testable physical theories, such as the laws regarding gases, then perhaps you might suggest some ways we could test the truth of Rand's theory of concept-formation? What might some experiments look like? \
  7. Inadvertent. Thanks for picking that up. I will correct. I don't see how he could really say otherwise? ?? What is so mysterious about prosaic, broad phrases like "matters of the intellect" that could lead an intelligent person such as yourself to say that you "don't know what he means by" them?! Hey, I really don't think Rand meant to be a "scientific skeptic" either. But (at the very least) she is. Likewise, wittingly or no, she shares the verbalist approach of those she despises. You may disagree of course. (Edit after I misread:) Concepts are closer to ideas in Objectivism, yes. But the final step in the formation of a concept is the application of a word. So that's where the rubber hits the road in Objectivism, and where the emphasis falls in discussing concepts, leading down the left hand side of the chart. There's all sorts of problems with this line of argument. First, the referents of higher level concepts are always other concepts - they are "abstracted from abstractions", purportedly over manifold levels. How's ostensiveness going to work here, short of Vulcan mind-melding? Second, as I've said many times before: if, below all these layers of abstraction, you're going to make ostensiveness - ie simply pointing - as the ultimate source of your appeal to the "truth" of your definition this seems to lead not to a problem of "truth" but to a problem of falsity. Effectively an ostensive definition seems to be no different from a mere assertion, and an untestable one at that.
  8. No, and that's not what this chart suggests. BTW I've added a long supplementary passage since posting.
  9. As opposed to any number of things: a perfect circle, the set of all integers, or John Galt, for example. Generally these are called abstractions. They exist, just not physically.
  10. Karl Popper, from "Unended Quest" p 19-30.
  11. OMG, that is hilarious! It's astounding that someone can actually believe this. Yes. The cargo cult of The Word, with The Philosopher as its incarnate high priesthood, has quite a following apparently...;-) Now I'm back for a bit I'll post Popper's little chart on another thread, if no-one else has already.
  12. Sorry for the brevity folks, though perhaps you will thank me for it...! Unfortunately I won't be able to make regular posts until about a week from now. I would like to start a new thread and quit torturing this one. I have the chart Ellen mentioned scanned to jpg, and can quickly upload it to a new thread but not sure how. MSK, how to? Then should anyone feel like target practice you can all fill it with bullet holes in my absence...;-)
  13. In order, very quickly: Yes. But I'm not sure why you think that debate can be permanently settled in fields other than science? What, one day there will be no more debate in ethics? In politics? In a funny way this reminds me a little of David Stove's putdown of Popper, where he made out that it was a kind of a fault in Popper's philosophy of science that debate is never over. Debate, not having things settled...what a terrible state of affairs! No. I recommend you do.
  14. It seems that Daniel's news that Popper was a "skeptic" has not reached every corner of Popperdom. Ghs Clearly this calls for urgent debate on the meaning of the word "skeptic"!...;-)
  15. At this late stage, I suggest you simply look at the chart you've already posted, and re-read the chapter in question in UQ. Somehow I seem to have portrayed Popper's approach as something so incredibly bizarre that Very Serious People could never possibly take it seriously. This is despite the fact that Popper did, all his life. But he was probably just in La-la land.
  16. What Karl said. Of course, the reason Objectivism has produced so little and progressed hardly at all in last century since Atlas Shrugged is all due to a few tactical errors and Nathaniel Branden. Oh, Leonard Peikoff too. Other than that, it all works just fine.
  17. I have no idea how you have managed to conclude, after all this time, that I am endorsing exactly what I condemn, but you have. Perhaps I should blame myself for my presentation of Popper. But then apparently you've read at least Chapter 7 in UQ, so I find it difficult to imagine even then how you could think this is what Popper's criticism entails. I am slightly dumbstruck. Which makes a change...;-)
  18. ...if Rand had considered that her earliest and most enduring insight, which she alluded to regularly in most of she wrote, which she expanded upon in several places in her most important works, with titles like "Once More Against A Woman President", and which towards the end of her life she claimed was the single view which differentiated her most from all other philosophers. In other words, it isn't. Or maybe Popper was just a La-la land looney tune that Really Serious Philosophers need not trouble with.
  19. I repeat: if you regard Popper's viewpoint as so incredibly, insanely ridiculous, please say. I have better things to do, and clearly so do you. Given that this totally La-La Land idea is, by his own admission, probably the man's single longest and most firmly held view, starting from his mid teens and defended to the end of his life, he must have been quite a looney tune. Also given that you have read most of Popper, and appreciated it, I must say I am surprised that you don't seem to have come across it.
  20. Well, we definitely agree on the ends, but obviously not so much on the means. I apologise that for the next week or so my posting will be sporadic as I have a bit more to say on the issue, which may include repeating some of the things I've said to Locke fans before (not that there is anything wrong with being Locke fan; quite the reverse). I also have a thought experiment in mind, perhaps expanding a little more on our hypothetical debaters and their two types of freedom. I do offer briefly though that in my experience that preliminary step is often as far as it really ever goes - it gets bogged down. Further, I have seen plenty of debates grind to an eventual halt along the lines of "you simply haven't grasped the proper concept of freedom/democracy/selfishness/altruism - this is evident by your choice of definition" -type breakdowns (not just in Objectivism, obviously). Thus arguing becomes presumed a waste of time. I have been told many times that the gap between my "conceptual" scheme and that of my interlocutor is too vast to be crossed, making debate impossible. As I recall, I even had one lifelong Objectivist, who I didn't regard as an Randroid, tell me that he thought this was probably due to an accidental conceptual misintegration of some description that I had committed somewhere deep in my childhood. All this I regard as a terminally unhelpful attitude: not just to me, but to the movement's own chances of success (I see this despairing withdrawal from a yawning, presumed impassable gap in key members of the official Objectivist elite, though there does appear to be a slight thaw on at the moment.) Anyway I will discuss further in a few days.
  21. I follow your argument, which is well put. In reply, let's say you do point out to me that I have defined "justify" in just such a technical way. My answer would be to say simply that that particular technical definition is appropriate to the problem I had at hand, which in this case was illustrating a well-known logical situation. I would certainly not see the need to "mix it up" over this, as the aforegoing seems no more a deep problem than using the right type of spanner on a particular nut. In fact that same logical mechanism, if I am to learn from it by analogy, teaches me that such a punchup is very likely to end in stalemate anyway. If you had some other problem in mind that didn't require a standard technical usage of "justify", I would probably simply agree to your version - for if I was to dogmatically cling to my technical version regardless of the problem at hand, then it would be the equivalent of shutting my eyes to what you are trying to say. And if on the other hand I was to doggedly only accept the non-technical version, I risk shutting my eyes to what the workings of the logical mechanism might teach me. So arguing over the meanings of words still seems not only unimportant, but about as useful as insisting that one should properly use only screwdrivers on nuts, not spanners. I agree that definitions might alert us to fundamental differences in our opponents worldview. However, to my mind a good debate is ideally a mutual effort primarily to get closer to the truth, despite opposing worldviews. (Bad debates can be kinda fun sometimes too...) Your example of the two fellows from opposite ends of the political spectrum is useful in that regard, in that here we have a particularly difficult problem of trying to understand each - one already filled with potential frustrations (such as contrary facts perversely reinforcing pre-existing views etc). AFAICS the emphasis of the importance of definitions does nothing to make overcoming these frustrations any easier, and is likely to make it worse, with both fellows, having doggedly denied the other's meanings and asserted their own, simply wandering off muttering about the other's faulty "conceptual schemes" or suchlike. There is no doubt that debates can be long and complicated. However, if this approach of Popper's might lessen at least some of those complications, then it should be seriously considered. Amen to that.
  22. Well, now I confess I am confused. Popper uses this as a direct analogy with his argument. He says trying to establish the meaning of all terms leads to the same result as proving the truth of all statements: an infinite regress. Perhaps I will scan and post the chart he makes of this analogy. That would depend if you were satisfied with my first definitions...!
  23. This was not all that clear from that passage. First, it seemed to contain the type of condemnation of metaphysical cant that one might find in Erasmus or Kant, and that Popper quotes approvingly from various sources. So it didn't exactly read like a resounding condemnation of Popper's approach. Secondly the point seemed to be about Locke's shift in emphasis from metaphysics to epistemology. That's how it seemed to me. PS if you don't want to continue this discussion, just say so. This could be because I'm too stupid for you to bother with, too ignorant, too fixated, or whatever. But I'm noticing you're now struggling to keep a civil tone. If it's all so silly and contemptable then perhaps we should just not bother. I'm sure we both have better things to do.