What is the Relationship and Difference of: Fundamentality, Essence, Principles


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in terms of thinking, what is the relationship between the concepts Fundamentality, Essence, Principles and how do they differ from each other?

For instance, you can say: One must think in principles; one must think in fundamentals; one must think in essences. What is meant in each case, and how is each case different to the other?

Lastly, where is each case best used/applied?





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Real flesh and blood people come to have principles, essences and all manner of abstract things ONLY after they wrestle with the particular and the concrete. No one ever got a principle for free.  They had to work with the nitty gritty of the Umwelt first. 

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I haven't looked at Baal's reply, and don't much care what he said. "Essential and defining" is sort of Randian, although I'm opposed on grounds of epistemological hygiene, since "essence" is a tragic Aristotelean blunder. He used it in comparison with "accidental." Therein lies the tale of Thomist absorption of Aristotle's linguistic trainwreck, deployed to explain a priest saying magic words over bread and wine, imploring God the Magician to leave the accidental appearance unchanged, but transubstatiate the essence of breadness into the flesh of Jesus and the essence of wineness into His blood. You'd think it would make people sick, eating flesh and blood, but that's what they think they're doing. In reality, of course, nothing was changed, it's still bread and wine. Aristotle believed that the abstract essence of a thing (like bread) was existent in each particular example (pumpernickel, whole wheat, rye, sliced, moldly) which differed only in their accidental shape and color. We could do without that word "accident" too, because it severs causation from untoward outcomes, as in "automobile accident." Capiche? Let's note in passing that Ayn Rand was fully appraised and frustrated by Aristotle's use of the term "essential." She endeavored to redefine it -- but like all things Randian, it's a nonstandard definition that the world ignored, so I'd just as soon can it, consign it to the bizarre mental gymnastics of theology.

There's a difference of kind, I think, between fundamentals and principles. Fundamentals cannot be taken apart or deconstructed. They are axoimatic, or in a particular context, basic to any discussion. For instance, the notion of life (and a good definition thereof) is fundamental to biology. Principles address an integration that's arguable, subsuming a lot of information obtained from rigorous reasoning, consideration of alternative theories, and often empirical evidence in support of that principle. There is a pitfall with principles, however "well formed" in modern philosophical parlance, because it tends to shut down debate and creative thinking, akin to mental fascism, a closed system that Peikoff prefers because he memorized it.

I've related the anecdote of Tibor Machan's mental fascism more than once, but it pops up whenever someone proclaims a sound principle. Machan was sitting on my patio, red-faced, boiling mad because I said he was full of crap. "I've written 22 books!" he huffed1 as if that proved something. I laughed out loud, so Machan shouted: "It's important to be right!"

I shook my head: "It's more important to be original."

When you encounter a principle, please ask yourself what's wrong with this picture? Received wisdom is usually wrong.2


1. When he died Machan left us a total of 40 books, most of them compulsory purchases at eye-popping prices by his Claremont students. He didn't tolerate creative thinking in class. If pressed, I'll explain how his behavior with my housekeeper soured my regard for Prof. Machan's ethical genius.

2. I still adhere to certain principles developed by Ayn Rand, because I had enough trouble pushing forward in the philosophy of law, which she gave short shrift and very little attention. I think her ideas about government were "second hand" and defective.

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