Kallikanzarid

Trying to elucidate Rand's attributes

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A fair warning is due:

  1. I'm an ex-Objectivist. Back when I liked Rand's ideas, I didn't have enough money to read her seminal non-fiction works, so I'm going by bits and pieces here. Also, I've only recently have overcome the shame I used to feel for having been a randroid (in the worst way possible), so if you look up my messages on other resources, you will see a lot of inflammatory comments. I'm sorry I've made them, I made a promise to be more considerate in the future.
  2. The following is patched together from my Reddit posts. The discussion there didn't take off, and eventually I was redirected here.
  3. My goal is to "scientifically" break down Objectivism to see what it's made of and how the pieces fit together; I'm doing it to get some closure for myself.

I'm starting this thread to ask for some clarification and hopefully to start an interesting discussion. Here is my parsing of the description of Objectivist Metaphysics on Wikipedia:

  1. Existence (the sum of everything existing) is non-trivial, which is self-evident.
  2. To be conscious is to be conscious of existence
  3. Existence is composed of entities, which are completely defined by their attributes.
  4. There are no contradictions in reality.
The first two statements are the familiar cogito ergo sum, told backwards. That is, where Descartes used deduction to arrive from (2) to (1), Rand simply posited both separately as self-evident. While (1) and (2) are easily understandable, (3) and (4) give me trouble.
On the subject of (3).
What are attributes? Suppose we have an entity X, and an attribute P. How does P work? Is it akin to a logical predicate that we can evaluate at X to get some truth value P(X)?
  1. If so, can we apply it to another entity, some Y, to get P(Y)? From Rand's description it seems that we shouldn't be able to. Firstly, P is something X has, but this description suggests that P exists independently of X; for example, should X cease to exist, P may still exist if it is applicable to some Y. Secondly, if P is applicable to more than just X, then the sum of all entities to which P is applicable - what is it? Is it a concept? But we haven't described epistemology yet. Is it a Platonic ideal? Rand doesn't describe such a thing. Is it yet another entity? And is P then an entity in and of itself? Does it, in turn, have attributes?
  2. Suppose, on the other hand, P is not something that can be applied to other entities (we'll denote it X.P then). Then what is it? Consider two attributes of X: X.P and X.Q. What distinguishes them?
On the subject of (4).
What exactly is a contradiction? I'm serious. Contradiction is usually defined as a part of some logical system (like natural deduction). But Rand doesn't specify how any logical system is connected to reality. We could try and save contradictions by using (4) as a definition, but there is something in the way: while it makes sense to say that contradiction is something that cannot exist in reality, it is clearly not enough to say that contradiction is something that doesn't exist in reality. To be able to say the former, we have to introduce the notion of possible reality (something that could exist, but doesn't). And if in the discussion of (3) we decided that an attribute is not something that can be applied to multiple entities then such a notion is impossible, because if we replace one entity X with another entity Y, how do we compare their attributes if not by applying them to both X and Y?

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Hello, Alexei, and welcome to Objectivist Living.

I have some questions on the personal side in this post. You described yourself as an ex-Objectivist, and you wrote of liking Rand's ideas in the past. If I understand you correctly, you do not like them now, meaning that you do not agree with them now. But all of them? You still seem to be interested in Rand's ideas and in assimilating them into your broader knowledge of logic and metaphysics. Do you think at this time that some of Rand's ideas are correct or perhaps some incorrect but worthwhile to correct? Do you think some of Rand's ideas, with proper adjustment, could be set true and yield a solid novel contribution? You mentioned you were looking for closure. I wonder if, as part of that, you are still sorting out which things in Rand are right and which wrong. Glad to see your interest in philosophy and your serious thinking and effort at integration of knowledge.

Are you studying philosophy in school? Are there any thinkers who have influenced you in philosophy so far besides Rand? Are there philosophers you have found pretty neat so far or ones you have found pretty bad?

Stephen

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Welcome to OL, Alexei.

I just took a peek backstage.

Cool.

I had never heard of Kemerovo.

For the reader, it is here:

Kemerovo.png

Before we dig in, let's get acquainted, shall we?

Stephen has already done a good introduction for that.

But I have another question.

What is it like to be an Objectivist inside of Russia?

I would imagine Ayn Rand is polemical there.

Michael

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Hello, Alexei, and welcome to Objectivist Living.

Thanks :smile:

I have some questions on the personal side in this post. You described yourself as an ex-Objectivist, and you wrote of liking Rand's ideas in the past. If I understand you correctly, you do not like them now, meaning that you do not agree with them now. But all of them?

I think it's fairly obvious that she worked backwards trying to make a political point. I also agree with a criticism that despite praising induction she was mostly making purely deductive arguments, often twisting definitions to make her look right at expense of trivializing the matter at hand.

You still seem to be interested in Rand's ideas and in assimilating them into your broader knowledge of logic and metaphysics. Do you think at this time that some of Rand's ideas are correct or perhaps some incorrect but worthwhile to correct? Do you think some of Rand's ideas, with proper adjustment, could be set true and yield a solid novel contribution?

I'm skeptical here, I doubt she said anything worthwhile that analytical philosophers didn't say better (although I'm not well read, so I can't say with certainty). Yet I still see personal value in separating things that can be solidified from garbage, because they still are subtly influencing my thought.

You mentioned you were looking for closure. I wonder if, as part of that, you are still sorting out which things in Rand are right and which wrong.

Yes.

Are you studying philosophy in school?

I'm 23, formal education is behind me (for now).

Are there any thinkers who have influenced you in philosophy so far besides Rand?

I'm currently reading Ayer. I like the bits of Hume, Descartes, and Popper that I've absorbed indirectly.

Are there philosophers you have found pretty neat so far or ones you have found pretty bad?

I don't know much philosophy, so I'm afraid I can't say.

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What is it like to be an Objectivist inside of Russia?

Rand's fiction is being sold in book shops. Nonfiction is virtually impossible to find except through web stores, although I did find a single small compilation book in a library. The philosophy itself is virtually unknown here.

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I'm not sure that item 3 is true or that Rand believed it. The difference between the coat-hanger theory of predication (entities exist, and they have attributes; take away the attributes and eventually you get down to the bare entity) and the onion theory (take away the attributes and eventually nothing is left) is an ancient controversy, but I'm not aware that Rand endorsed the latter position. If she didn't, then problems with it are not problems with her theory. What are the sources for this in Rand?

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I'm not sure that item 3 is true or that Rand believed it. The difference between the coat-hanger theory of predication (entities exist, and they have attributes; take away the attributes and eventually you get down to the bare entity) and the onion theory (take away the attributes and eventually nothing is left) is an ancient controversy, but I'm not aware that Rand endorsed the latter position. If she didn't, then problems with it are not problems with her theory. What are the sources for this in Rand?

It's not really about that. Before we can ask the question of whether or not attributes define the entity completely, we need to agree on what the attributes are.

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Alexei, I gather that by attribute Rand did not mean something so broad as any predicate.* She distinguished in her metaphysics, not only between attribute and entity, but between attribute and action. This I take from Galt’s Speech, in her examples of leaf/stone, red/green, and freeze/burn (entity, attribute, action). It is unclear from her text 1957 or latter whether non-monadic relations are attributes, sometimes attributes and sometimes actions, or a fourth fundamental category in her ontology. It is clear, as you know, that she took entities to be the primary form of existence (ITOE [1966]) and that she took all concrete existents (entity, attribute, action, relationship) to have, indeed to be, identities (specific and particular).

Every entity will have some attributes or actions and will stand in relations to other entities (ITOE; the universe will stand in relations to its parts – 1957.) Predications other than “it is real” can be made and truly so of every real entity. I imagine you and Rand both take every entity to be able to stand in relations presently unknown to us. I do. One might say that “Existence is Identity” entails not only that if there is no identity there is no existent, but that the entirety of an existent is the entirety of its identity. If so, that would be true not only for entities, but for attributes and actions and relationships. Any of them can be subjects of predication and have the identities predicated. But in no case could we predicate all the identity of an existent. Then no existent, so, no entity, could be reduced to its true predicates by a finite intelligence.

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Stephen, thank you for the link. I'm afraid it's over my head for now :smile:

While your clarification helped somewhat, you didn't touch my main two questions.

If Rand didn't identify an attribute with a predicate, then what is the difference between the two? Predicates are usually part of some logic and thus there are many logical operations and axioms defined which affect them and allow us to study them. Did Rand assume something like that?

I'm insisting on clearing this up because there are mathematical implications: are paradoxes of naive set theory relevant? Can the Yoneda lemma be applied? And so on... Also, like I mentioned above, our ability to reason about metaphysical counterfactuals depends on predicates' independent existence.

And before that, the status of logic(s) needs some clearing up. Is there a logical system that Rand thought is engraved in the fabric of reality? Or there a systematic way by which any logic or some class of logics (e.g. consistent ones) can be applied to Rand's metaphysics?

I imagine you and Rand both take every entity to be able to stand in relations presently unknown to us. I do. One might say that “Existence is Identity” entails not only that if there is no identity there is no existent, but that the entirety of an existent is the entirety of its identity. If so, that would be true not only for entities, but for attributes and actions and relationships. Any of them can be subjects of predication and have the identities predicated. But in no case could we predicate all the identity of an existent. Then no existent, so, no entity, could be reduced to its true predicates by a finite intelligence.

I didn't understand this part at all.

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Stephen, thank you for the link. I'm afraid it's over my head for now :smile:

While your clarification helped somewhat, you didn't touch my main two questions.

If Rand didn't identify an attribute with a predicate, then what is the difference between the two? Predicates are usually part of some logic and thus there are many logical operations and axioms defined which affect them and allow us to study them. Did Rand assume something like that?

I'm insisting on clearing this up because there are mathematical implications: are paradoxes of naive set theory relevant? Can the Yoneda lemma be applied? And so on... Also, like I mentioned above, our ability to reason about metaphysical counterfactuals depends on predicates' independent existence.

And before that, the status of logic(s) needs some clearing up. Is there a logical system that Rand thought is engraved in the fabric of reality? Or there a systematic way by which any logic or some class of logics (e.g. consistent ones) can be applied to Rand's metaphysics?

I imagine you and Rand both take every entity to be able to stand in relations presently unknown to us. I do. One might say that “Existence is Identity” entails not only that if there is no identity there is no existent, but that the entirety of an existent is the entirety of its identity. If so, that would be true not only for entities, but for attributes and actions and relationships. Any of them can be subjects of predication and have the identities predicated. But in no case could we predicate all the identity of an existent. Then no existent, so, no entity, could be reduced to its true predicates by a finite intelligence.

I didn't understand this part at all.

Don't fret; I don't either. Stephen goes way over my head on a lot of things.

--Brant

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Brent, it has more to do with lack of clarity on what "existence" and "identity" exactly mean in this context.

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From Objectivist point of view view one cannot actually separate entity from its attributes. Nothing can exist as nothing in particular.

" A thing is—what it is; its characteristics constitute its identity. An existent apart from its characteristics, would be an existent apart from its identity, which means: a nothing, a non-existent."

ITOE 142

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Would it help to say that attributes are epistemologic and not metaphysic

That's a surprise 0_o Can you back it up with a quotation?

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Would it help to say that attributes are epistemologic and not metaphysic

That's a surprise 0_o Can you back it up with a quotation?

Illustrating it with an example plus elaboration would be even better.

Heretical question: is the squishy term "metaphysical" needed anymore in present-day philosophical discussions?

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Would it help to say that attributes are epistemologic and not metaphysic

That's a surprise 0_o Can you back it up with a quotation?

Illustrating it with an example plus elaboration would be even better.

Heretical question: is the squishy term "metaphysical" needed anymore in present-day philosophical discussions?

The best you'll get from me are nonacademic explanations and or ramblings, so fair warning.

Take length as an example of an attribute. Imagine a twig and a piece of string of approximately the same length. The fact that each object has physical extension is obtained through perception. The concept of length is an abstraction made by focusing on the attribute of physical extension apart from any specific entity. The concept length can then be used to describe and compare the physical extension of the twig and the string. We can measure the length of each , devise a standard unit ,say an inch, and determine the twig is nine inches in length while the string is 10 inches in length. Saying the twig is nine inches long , does not mean the twig has a quality of length 'in it' that is a quantity of nine inches that exists apart from the entity itself. There is no inchness or lengthness that the twig has 'some of' . The concept of length is a consciously isolated attribute of the twig, its physical extension, that can be applied to any other entity that has physical extension. So length is part of knowledge that is derived from the identity of entities, but as an attribute it does not exist (metaphysically) apart from any entity.

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Xray

As to use of the term metaphysical , would existential be less squishy, or does it connote different schools of philosophy?

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So length is part of knowledge that is derived from the identity of entities, but as an attribute it does not exist (metaphysically) apart from any entity.

Unless you take at least some attributes as really existing, your version of Objectivist metaphysics is trivial: you basically say "things exist" and that's it. Not that I mind (I'm skeptical to the idea that any metaphysics is more than idle guesswork), but Rand certainly would object here :smile:

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So length is part of knowledge that is derived from the identity of entities, but as an attribute it does not exist (metaphysically) apart from any entity.

Unless you take at least some attributes as really existing, your version of Objectivist metaphysics is trivial: you basically say "things exist" and that's it. Not that I mind (I'm skeptical to the idea that any metaphysics is more than idle guesswork), but Rand certainly would object here :smile:

As to my version of o'ist metaphysics see disclaimer.

All attributes do really exist, or at least they do in my version. I believe in the existence of mental constructs , mine and others'.

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.

Heretical question: is the squishy term "metaphysical" needed anymore in present-day philosophical discussions?

You are way too late. Peikoff writing in 1967, on "neo-Kantianism":

"Metaphysics has been all but obliterated: its most influential opponents have

declared that metaphysical statements are neither analytic nor synthetic,

and therefore are meaningless."

Xray, by "present-day" you imply that philosophy and so, mankind, has advanced past the necessity of studying the nature of existence and man...?

Now, more than ever is it needed.

I'm hearing from you the fatal assumption that the clamped-down societies we all experience to some degree, represent the height of ideology and 'civilisation.'

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tmj, so before the first mind existed, existents were featureless blobs? That's a bold statement.

If that is what you got from what I said, it's probably my fault for too bland an elucidation. Prior to the first mind entities existed fully intact with all the properties (identity) they had, just didn't nobody notice or use the word inch.

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.

Heretical question: is the squishy term "metaphysical" needed anymore in present-day philosophical discussions?

You are way too late. Peikoff writing in 1967, on "neo-Kantianism":

"Metaphysics has been all but obliterated: its most influential opponents have

declared that metaphysical statements are neither analytic nor synthetic,

and therefore are meaningless."

Xray, by "present-day" you imply that philosophy and so, mankind, has advanced past the necessity of studying the nature of existence and man...?

Now, more than ever is it needed.

I'm hearing from you the fatal assumption that the clamped-down societies we all experience to some degree, represent the height of ideology and 'civilisation.'

I'm all for studying the nature of man and existence. My question was why the term 'metaphysical' is still needed for doing so?

In other words: what speaks against weeding out the 'terminological (phiosophical) closet' a bit? Are such terms here to stay for all time?

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