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BaalChatzaf

Do We Own Ourselves?

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Steve:

> If man has the right to life, then he has the right to all take all actions his life requires that are proper to man qua man. That becomes the moral backbone for all rights and their anchor. It establishes objectivity, the tie to human nature and it breaks the false dichotomy of Is-Ought.

Hi Steve

This belief that Rand somehow resolved the "is/ought" dualism (also known as the dualism between facts and decisions) came under heavy criticism on this thread.

The criticisms are strong ones. We can summarise them as

1. She merely asserts that she has solved it, and provides no demonstration of her logic.

2. Where her reasoning can be made out, it seems to be clearly erroneous. Here is one attempt to lay it out, you may judge for yourself.

3. As well as being illogically laid out, her argument, such as it is, rests on a clear equivocation between "survival" (as in simply continuing to live) and "survival as man qua man" (continuing to live in a way proper to man, ie: being an Objectivist)

The first position is untenable for Rand, as it opens up "prudent predator" objections, makes suicide, or caring for loved ones at a cost to oneself unethical etc. Hence she equivocates, and introduces survival as "man qua man" later in the essay. But unfortunately this is an obvious petitio fallacy; as by "man qua man" she means "holding Objectivist ethics" her argument becomes roughly "one should hold Objectivist ethics to properly survive, because the only proper way to survive is by holding Objectivist ethics."

The responses to these criticisms took four main forms:

1) The attempt to lay out Rand's argument we've seen above, which was none too impressive.

2) Logically circular arguments are ok, because Rand makes them, and we should just accept them.

3) Rand's arguments may be invalid using classical deductive logic, but Rand used another form of logic that we don't know the name of, and can't actually demonstrate, that nonetheless did somehow make her claim valid.

4) Rand didn't solve the problem of the logical relation between facts and decisions, but she did show that they are somehow related.

That's pretty much it. Do you know of any better defenses? If not, I suggest that, on this basis, this commonly held belief (in Objectivist circles) is, like so many other commonly held beliefs, a myth.

Daniel,

Actually that is not pretty much it. I can look up my older posts, but they are not accurately presented here. Also, it is pretty lame to use that particular poster as a representative of Rand's thinking. If doing that kind of thing brings you some kind of intellectual satisfaction, knock yourself out.

Our difference lies in terminology, not concept. By eliminating that, you fudge. For example, I don't remember in Hume's quote a specification of classic deductive logic as the form of derivation. Did he do so elsewhere? Also, whoever claimed that you can't name things like induction, demonstrate it, etc.? That's a very strange assertion.

Michael

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Brant:

>Okay, but first, from what are decisions derived?

Well, we can speculate certainly, but we can say with confidence not from purely from facts and logic. That's all that's in discussion at this point.

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Mike:

>Actually that is not pretty much it. I can look up my older posts, but they are not accurately presented here.

Ok, how would you put it?

>Also, it is pretty lame to use that particular poster as a representative of Rand's thinking. If doing that kind of thing brings you some kind of intellectual satisfaction, knock yourself out.

I too was reluctant to cite our plagiarising pal, but no-one else offered a precis of what Rand's argument might have been. And even Ellen - and she has no time for Victor - thought it would be pretty much what Rand would have said, so I went with it as a fair summary. If you want to lay it out better, please do (I didn't recall you doing so on that thread, so apologies if you have). So I think you're overreacting.

>Our difference lies in terminology, not concept. By eliminating that, you fudge. For example, I don't remember in Hume's quote a specification of classic deductive logic as the form of derivation. Did he do so elsewhere?

Hume is talking about classical logic throughout. They hadn't invented anything else then.

>Also, whoever claimed that you can't name things like induction, demonstrate it, etc.? That's a very strange assertion.

Actually, I think you'll find I'm bang on here. Recall that I wrote:

"3) Rand's arguments may be invalid using classical deductive logic, but Rand used another form of logic that we don't know the name of, and can't actually demonstrate, that nonetheless did somehow make her claim valid."

Well, Darrel Hougen wrote here:

Darrell:"I believe that it is possible to use logical means to ascertain ethical principles from facts, but those logical means must include reasoning methods other than deduction."(emphasis DB)

Darrell then wrote that he didn't know the name of this reasoning method here

Darrell:"I don't know if there is a name for this kind of reasoning, but, for example, the kind of argument that Rand uses to justify the statement that existence exists."(emphasis DB)

He then attempted to demonstrate this "other" reasoning method:

Darrell: "The fact that existence exists is implicit in all knowledge. One cannot argue against existence without invoking existence. So, by process of elimination, existence must exist."

The only problem is that Rand's argument that existence must exist is...wait for it...a deductive argument, using the standard deductive tool known as the Law of Non Contradiction! Further, a "process of elimination" that Darrell refers to is also a deductive argument! (Y'know, like Sherlock Holmes...) Thus Darrell was entirely unable to demonstrate this "other" kind of reasoning, merely using standard deduction without apparently being aware of it!

(There is also the lighter moment where, having just made a deductive argument for existence without realising it, Darrell concludes "However, there is no possible deductive argument for existence."...;-))

So I think my summary is pretty damn accurate, actually. If you feel I've misrepresented your main point feel free to correct me.

Edited by Daniel Barnes

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Daniel,

I will look into my past posts on this later. But, of course, induction existed back in Hume's time. They also had faith as a method of reasoning. :)

You were referring to Darrell's post about another unidentified kind of reasoning and I thought you might have meant something I wrote. After all this effort I have been doing with understanding the alignment of Popper's terminology with Objectivist terminology, I thought that was an unfair characterization and now I see you were not talking about me at all. (I don't know why my views were not included in your list, but I will get to that when I examine my past posts.)

I am starting to believe that induction is the identification of an entity (or other existent) as a member of a group. I think I mentioned this before, but the more I ponder on this, the more I see that inductive reasoning is this process (identifying an existent as a unit). And I am beginning to see some holes in normal arguments against induction.

By going from observing a sample to projecting a truth about a group, one does not make a statement about contradicting a proposition, other than a proposition about the existence of the group itself. A person only makes a statement about creating a mental category of existents that, in fact, actually exist with such differences and similarities as observed.

In the classic example: "I have observed several white swans, therefore all swans are white," is a misuse of induction. The correct use is: "I have observed several white swans, therefore white swans exist as a category of reality." This implies that other white swans exist and rests on an axiom (one I have not seen anywhere in my reading, yet) that if two or more existents are observed and identified as a group, other unobserved members of that group exist. Science actually rests on this axiom in addition to deduction.

Obviously induction can be used to speculate, so the classic swan problem qua speculation is not a misuse of induction. But I am using induction here to mean a form of reasoning (or logic) for identification, i.e., for gaining knowledge. As a form of using induction for gaining knowledge qua knowledge, the classic problem as stated is a misuse of induction.

Finding a black swan does not disprove the knowledge of white swans gained by induction, because finding a black swan does not contradict the validity of the category. It only contradicts a proposition of closing the category off to new knowledge of the type of entity (closing swans off to any other color than white). In fact, a black swan causes the category of swan to be divided into two subcategories: white swans and black swans (more precisely, at that point, the categories are white swans and at least one black swan, and this will only become "white swans and black swans" when more than one black swan is observed).

When this kind of reasoning is applied to the is/ought problem (along with deduction), it becomes very easy to derive ought from is. One does not close the categories involved. One merely makes a statement about the categories that have already been identified.

In fact, there can be no deduction without categories. Induction is nothing more than volitional concept formation.

I know all this sounds vague right now. I will flesh it all out later. But I have no doubt that this is the proper direction.

You are correct when you claim that Objectivism does not deal with induction in depth. I have seen you mention more than once that Rand claimed that she had not worked it all out.

Michael

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Without contradicting MSK, I think it's important to consider metaphysics -- i.e., basic questions which remain 'after physics', that is: after observation and integration of ostensible, measurable facts. Empirical measurement put Neil Amstrong on the moon in 1969. Metaphysical deduction disqualified magic ritual as a partner in space exploration.

Assessing right and wrong or an ethical dilemma constrained to 'lesser evils', it is often difficult to rethink fundamental premises about the universe and human potential. The crush of exigency, the need to act with dispatch, and well-grooved social convention too often colors our moral judgment.

Miss Rand's exceptional achievement was to rethink right and wrong from the widest possible perspective, that is: from first principles of metaphysics. She excluded social convention. She excluded religion. She did not fall for Hume's skepticism or Kant's categorical smoke and mirrors.

'Evil requires the sanction of the victim' was the result. Yes, it's verifiable with empirical case-studies. Yes, it can be presented with great power in fiction. But Rand obtained this ethical principle from a metaphysical deduction: that reality is real, that man is free, that evil is the refusal to think.

W.

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Daniel,

I will look into my past posts on this later. But, of course, induction existed back in Hume's time. They also had faith as a method of reasoning. :)

.........

know all this sounds vague right now. I will flesh it all out later. But I have no doubt that this is the proper direction.

You are correct when you claim that Objectivism does not deal with induction in depth. I have seen you mention more than once that Rand claimed that she had not worked it all out.

Michael

May I recommend that you look into the matter of hypothetical abduction (has nothing to do with kidnapping!). it is a method of reasoning that leads one to hypothesize the most likely (or plausible) causes for observed effects. It differs from enumerative induction which is inferring a general principle from a number of instances.

Google <abduction "C.S. Peirce">..

Charles Peirce is one of the greatest American philosophers, but strangely, he is under appreciated. William James got a lot more press.

Bob Kolker

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Wolf,

The weirdest part I have been discovering about some very good thinkers like Popper and Dennett, to name a couple who are popular with some of the posters, is that they (or their followers) delight in making slights against the human mind, either by rhetoric of trying to prove that the mind is incapable of knowing what it knows. Up to here, OK. We have the epistemological good guys and bad guys. The bad guys claim that knowledge is not possible.

But when I look at the actual works of these people, I see that they talk like bad guys, but build on the same foundation as the good guys. Their underlying metaphysical premises are identical to Rand's: that there is an absolute reality independent of human knowledge and that it is the function of human consciousness to identify it. Below are a couple of examples.

You have already perceived that Daniel Barnes has a quirk: he likes to bait Objectivists (the more unthinking the better) and twist any argument that sounds like dogma into logical knots that they are unable to untie. To each his own, I guess. I prefer to watch movies for entertainment.

However, I find Daniel to be a great test of the soundness of Objectivist thinking, precisely because he is knowledgeable of Objectivist literature and he is very well read. Dragonfly is another. Before I continue, I also have to comment that both get testy at times, but I find this usually to be a result to an enormous amount abuse they have suffered on other forums for expressing opinions contrary to the respective party lines.

Let's start with Popper. Daniel has a blog (see here) devoted to a book by Nyquist critical of Objectivism. On it, on May 2, he posted an entry he mischievously titled: Aristotle's "Secret Revolt" Against Reason. This was pure bait to provoke a kneejerk reaction from some less attentive Objectivist or other and it worked.

Objectivists normally adopt high regard for Aristotle based on Rand's enthusiastic endorsement of him as the greatest philosopher who ever lived. Unfortunately, not all that many actually read Aristotle. They just read what Rand thought of Aristotle and think that Rand did their thinking for them, so they don't have to bother.

Well, the actual article by Popper that was posted under this entry had a much different title and was not a wholesale rejection of Aristotle or even a portrayal of him engaged in any revolt at all. Once I looked and actually read Popper's article, I saw parallels with Objectivism all over the place, but the language was different—really different. Here are parts of a post I wrote in response to a person who tried to defend the reputation of Aristotle (as if that were needed), but basing his arguments solely on a very superficial scan of Popper's article. Frankly, he demonstrated clearly that he did not understand the material correctly. I omitted some non-essential remarks and generalized by replacing some text in brackets ([]).

[What is being discussed is specifically] "Two Kinds of Definition" by Karl Popper, introduced on Daniel's blog by his contentious type of Rand criticism (which is a bit problematic with precision from what I read, but that is another issue). This is given in his earlier post:
. . .

The problem for Objectivism is not in admiring Aristotle - there is indeed much to admire - but that his methodology is fundamentally unworkable. This is a major, if somewhat hidden, problem because Rand adopted so much of his methodology wholesale. As a result his problems inexorably become hers. As it happens I've just put a lengthy post up on this very issue, "Aristotle's 'Secret Revolt' Against Reason." which may be of interest.

. . .

Actually, I just read that essay, and getting around all the hot button terms, it is in agreement with Rand's views on many points. Two premises jump out at me: facts exist independently of knowledge, and the purpose of knowledge is to correspond to facts. Popper's criticism is not against that. It is basically against "essentialism," which Rand called "moderate realism" for some reason. But don't take my word for it. Look at what Rand wrote in discussing the four schools of thought on concepts (ITOE, 2nd Expanded Edition, p. 1):

2. The "moderate realists," whose ancestor (unfortunately) is Aristotle, who hold that abstractions exist in reality, but they exist only in concretes, in the form of metaphysical essences, and that our concepts refer to these essences.

[According to kneejerk criteria,] that must mean that Rand is doing her damnedest to discredit Aristotle by striking "a serious blow" against him and as an Objectivist, she should be ashamed of herself. The fact that metaphysical essences happens to be the part of Aristotle's thinking that Popper was criticizing doesn't seem to phase [this kind of argument].

Now I can't believe [people who argue thus miss] the fact that Popper also bases objective knowledge on sense experience and not intuitive "essences." Popper wrote [in the article]:

Plato taught that we can grasp the Ideas with the help of some kind of unerring intellectual intuition; that is to say, we visualise or look at them with our 'mental eye', a process which he conceived as analogous to seeing, but dependent purely upon our intellect, and excluding any element that depends upon our senses. Aristotle's view is less radical and less inspired than Plato's, but in the end it amounts to the same. For although he teaches that we arrive at the definition only after we have made many observations, he admits that sense experience does not in itself grasp the universal essence, and that it cannot, therefore, fully determine a definition.

Look at what Rand wrote on the same page above:

For the purposes of this series, the validity of the senses must be taken for granted...

That happens to be Popper's premise if [one] reads him correctly. Where [one] might get confused is that Popper mentioned "nominalist" and so did Rand:

3. The "nominalists," who hold that all our ideas are only images of concretes, and that abstractions are merely "names" which we give to arbitrary groupings of concretes on the basis of vague resemblances.

Now if [one wants] to make some kind of argument based on that, there might be something to it. But the more I read, the more I believe this also is more semantics than meat. Still, I suggest [rereading] Chapter 5 of ITOE, then [rereading] Popper's essay. ... his idea of scientific definition is very similar, although his rhetoric is just as bombastic as Rand's, but arguing against defining terms in a forced bit of logical twisting for shock value. (Apparently, he makes the same mistake she does at times and tries to force his argument into the wrong meanings of the terms he uses. He did here at least. I have a paper in the future coming later on down the road about where Rand does this for rhetorical effect.)

Popper does not use the genus/differentia formula, but he definitely uses the idea that definitions are to be derived from reality, not reality derived from definitions, and that a definition (which is basically a concept as meant by him) is a label and mental unit for a vast number of concretes. He certainly uses different language and his own jargon:

Accordingly, the definition may at one time answer two very closely related questions. The one is 'What is it?', for example 'What is a puppy?'; it asks what the essence is which is denoted by the defined term. The other is 'What does it mean?', for example, 'What does "puppy" mean?'; it asks for the meaning of a term (namely, of the term that denotes the essence). In the present context, it is not necessary to distinguish between these two questions; rather, it is important to see what they have in common; and I wish, especially, to draw attention to the fact that both questions are raised by the term that stands, in the definition, on the left side and answered by the defining formula which stands on the right side. This fact characterizes the essentialist view, from which the scientific method of definition radically differs.

While we may say that the essentialist interpretation reads a definition 'normally', that is to say, from the left to the right, we can say that a definition, as it is normally used in modern science, must be read back to front, or from the right to the left; for it starts with the defining formula, and asks for a short label for it.

Notice that he is arguing against metaphysical essences that we grasp intuitively and arguing for making mental units for observations (boiling down to the senses), which he calls "defining formula."

Getting back to "truth," Popper does not explicitly claim that omniscience is part of his meaning, but since his idea of knowledge is based on the senses, when [one looks] at his usage, [one] cannot conclude otherwise. Just like when [one looks] at his arguments against "definition," [one has] to see that he is talking about the essentialist version and not Rand's version (which did not even exist at that time). [One] might also notice that in the title, he even mentions two types of definition, so he was also groping for a way to make sure that knowledge was tied to reality, not impose ideas on reality. I believe that just that attempt alone is the reason his falsifiability method has been so successful in practice.

This was my take on Popper (admittedly I am in the beginning stage of familiarity with his work). I believe he liked to shock people just as much as Rand did. I have read (I can't remember where) that he had a reputation in life as being cantankerous and combative. But Rand opted for a more direct insulting kind of rhetoric with oversimplified opinions of philosophers, whereas Popper, although more polite, wrote things like he wanted to throw out defining terms in using logic. I see this as nothing more than showmanship and, when I look at what he really means, it isn't the same thing that an Objectivist would mean. Why there is this particular itch to scratch is beyond me.

This brings me to Dennett. I have not read anything by him yet, but I did watch an excellent free online TED lecture:

Can we know our own minds? by Dan Dennett

Now here is the really weird part. Dennett gave a presentation that, to me at least, showed how wonderful our consciousness is and how well suited our sense organs+brain are to identifying entities. He highlighted how the eye never stops, how selectivity plays a huge part in identifying an image and misses lesser details at first, and some things like that. Yet Dennett said over and over that he wanted to convince the the audience that (and this is a direct quote) "Your consciousness is not quite as marvelous as you may have thought it is." He kept saying this while showing how marvelous our consciousness actually is.

I think there is some kind of itch to be the bad boy of science or something like that involved. The more I study these thinkers (including Rand), the more aware I am becoming of the need to filter out what is entertainment and what are the actual ideas.

I keep seeing a bunch of hambones getting in the way of the thinking. I'm serious.

Michael

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You're doing good work, Michael. I don't have the patience for epistemology or the philosophy of science. It seems to me that each of us, individually, has an unique native talent, and that knowing one's strengths and limitations is 'someday learning the truth about ourselves.' I tell friends that I'm good at the obvious.

I don't fault anyone for criticism or opposition. Thanks for acknowledging my post.

Returning to the thread topic 'Do We Own Ourselves', I think there are three answers:

1. Metaphysically, yes.

2. Epistemologically, no.

3. Legally, limited to the defense of innocent liberty.

How this helps anybody navigate life, I think is a conundrum. No one volunteers to be born, so self ownership is thrust upon us. There is a jungle of learning and much trial and error, oodles of failure and missed opportunities. Despite my esrtwhile endeavor to establish justice, we live in primitive tyranny. 'It's earlier than we think,' Rand rightly observed.

I like this forum for many reasons, but best of all because young people feel free to participate. The crucial question in life is self-ownership. Right and wrong seem less important to me than freedom and autonomy. 'Every loneliness is a pinnacle' to explore life honestly and unborrowed.

W.

Edited by Wolf DeVoon

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Something Michael said that's worth repeating....

"In the classic example: "I have observed several white swans, therefore all swans are white," is a misuse of induction. The correct use is: "I have observed several white swans, therefore white swans exist as a category of reality."

Edited by primemover

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Something Michael said that's worth repeating....

"In the classic example: "I have observed several white swans, therefore all swans are white," is a misuse of induction. The correct use is: "I have observed several white swans, therefore white swans exist as a category of reality."

One white swan would be sufficient for that.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Mike:

>On it, on May 2, (Daniel) posted an entry he mischievously titled: Aristotle's "Secret Revolt" Against Reason. This was pure bait to provoke a kneejerk reaction from some less attentive Objectivist or other and it worked.

I can't believe you think this. I actually consider this chapter to be one of the most original and important philosophical critcisms of the 20th century, despite the fact that it is not widely known. WTF would be the point of wasting my time with "pure bait"? I am trying to explain something here - something that I think is fundamentally wrong with philosophy in general and Rand's philosophy in particular, and that, if I am correct, explains a lot of the internal conflicts and the eternally bemoaned lack of progress of Objectivism. Now, I could be right or wrong. But it's not freaking "entertainment." It's not "trying to be a bad boy." I am trying to do you a favour here - and likewise if you can show why Popper is wrong, well then you'd be doing me a favour.

But don't think for a moment this is aimed at the "less attentive" Objectivist. If you think that. then you're the one not paying attention.

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Mike:

>On it, on May 2, (Daniel) posted an entry he mischievously titled: Aristotle's "Secret Revolt" Against Reason. This was pure bait to provoke a kneejerk reaction from some less attentive Objectivist or other and it worked.

I can't believe you think this. I actually consider this chapter to be one of the most original and important philosophical critcisms of the 20th century, despite the fact that it is not widely known. WTF would be the point of wasting my time with "pure bait"? I am trying to explain something here - something that I think is fundamentally wrong with philosophy in general and Rand's philosophy in particular, and that, if I am correct, explains a lot of the internal conflicts and the eternally bemoaned lack of progress of Objectivism. Now, I could be right or wrong. But it's not freaking "entertainment." It's not "trying to be a bad boy." I am trying to do you a favour here - and likewise if you can show why Popper is wrong, well then you'd be doing me a favour.

But don't think for a moment this is aimed at the "less attentive" Objectivist. If you think that. then you're the one not paying attention.

The problem with Objectivism is right in the heart of the philosophy, the Ethics, which is for man as Rand thought he ought to be considering x, y and z. But man is a to z.

Her oughts were not subsumed by enough ises.

Ought from is is not a mechanical process you can program into a computer. You can get lots of oughts from lots of ises including ought nots. Choices. Being human is all about choices. Chose one and lose out on others. Generally speaking, the freer and more prosperous a society the more choices will be available.

There is no absolute ought from an is, because the human mind can simply turn away from the situation. It cannot be compelled the way hydraulics can compel a ram or brakes.

Morality and philosophy is about making the best choices, for those'd be the most moral.

Etc., etc.

The big problem with most philosophies, including most emphatically, Objectivism, is that the philosophers get too much out compared to what they put in and imagine there are fewer oughts than can actually be found. When they defend their philosophies they are defending their oughts from other oughts not realizing that they are positing a philosophy for themselves and their imitators only.

Most philosophy is overblown and overwrought--sometimes dangerous--inscrutable junk. Objectivism is way better than that, which is why we can't stop talking about it.

--Brant

(edit): I missed the May 2nd article. I'm reading it now.

Edited by Brant Gaede

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the human mind can simply turn away from the situation

Miss Rand taught that blank-out, the refusal to think, is evil.

The use of this kind of moralistic, controlling jargon, so typical of Objectivism, is designed to accomplish what it complains about in this instance. In fact, you have described only one possibility. I can thus say "is evil" is evil, but I don't share this premise with you (I don't think you tried to make an evil statement nor do I think it really is). The brutal fact about Ayn Rand is that she was essentially a control freak, hence she found herself in a smaller and smaller world, and not just because of her declining health, but because the controlled were blown out and/or left. As for real evil, I don't care to discuss it here.

--Brant

Edited by Brant Gaede

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Brant:

>(edit): I missed the May 2nd article. I'm reading it now.

FYI Brant, here's a key graf from an Objectivist point of view:

Popper: "Since Aristotle, it has become widely known that one cannot prove all statements, and that an attempt to do so would break down because it would lead only to an infinite regression of proofs. But neither he nor, apparently, a great many modern writers seems to realize that the analogous attempt to define the meaning of all our terms must, in the same way, lead to an infinite regression of definitions. The following passage from Crossman's Plato To-day is characteristic of a view which by implication is held by many contemporary philosophers of repute, for example, by Wittgenstein: '. . . if we do not know precisely the meaning of the words we use, we cannot discuss anything profitably. Most of the futile arguments on which we all waste time are largely due to the fact that we each have our own vague meaning for the words we use and assume that our opponents are using them in the same sense. If we defined our terms to start with, we could have far more profitable discussions. Again, we have only to read the daily papers to observe that propaganda (the modern counterpart of rhetoric) depends largely for its success on confusing the meaning of the terms. If politicians were compelled by law to define any term they wished to use, they would lose most of their popular appeal, their speeches would be shorter, and many of their disagreements would be found to be purely verbal.' This passage is very characteristic of one of the prejudices which we owe to Aristotle, of the prejudice that language can be made more precise by the use of definitions. Let us consider whether this can really be done...."(emphases DB)

Bottom line: It cannot. Hence we cannot, in fact, "check our premises!"

Think about it.

Edited by Daniel Barnes

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Brant:

>(edit): I missed the May 2nd article. I'm reading it now.

FYI Brant, here's a key graf from an Objectivist point of view:

Popper: "Since Aristotle, it has become widely known that one cannot prove all statements, and that an attempt to do so would break down because it would lead only to an infinite regression of proofs. But neither he nor, apparently, a great many modern writers seems to realize that the analogous attempt to define the meaning of all our terms must, in the same way, lead to an infinite regression of definitions. The following passage from Crossman's Plato To-day is characteristic of a view which by implication is held by many contemporary philosophers of repute, for example, by Wittgenstein: '. . . if we do not know precisely the meaning of the words we use, we cannot discuss anything profitably. Most of the futile arguments on which we all waste time are largely due to the fact that we each have our own vague meaning for the words we use and assume that our opponents are using them in the same sense. If we defined our terms to start with, we could have far more profitable discussions. Again, we have only to read the daily papers to observe that propaganda (the modern counterpart of rhetoric) depends largely for its success on confusing the meaning of the terms. If politicians were compelled by law to define any term they wished to use, they would lose most of their popular appeal, their speeches would be shorter, and many of their disagreements would be found to be purely verbal.' This passage is very characteristic of one of the prejudices which we owe to Aristotle, of the prejudice that language can be made more precise by the use of definitions. Let us consider whether this can really be done...."(emphases DB)

Bottom line: It cannot. Hence we cannot, in fact, "check our premises!"

Think about it.

You're not asking me to check my premises, are you?

--Brant

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Mike:

>On it, on May 2, (Daniel) posted an entry he mischievously titled: Aristotle's "Secret Revolt" Against Reason. This was pure bait to provoke a kneejerk reaction from some less attentive Objectivist or other and it worked.

I can't believe you think this. I actually consider this chapter to be one of the most original and important philosophical critcisms of the 20th century, despite the fact that it is not widely known. WTF would be the point of wasting my time with "pure bait"? I am trying to explain something here - something that I think is fundamentally wrong with philosophy in general and Rand's philosophy in particular, and that, if I am correct, explains a lot of the internal conflicts and the eternally bemoaned lack of progress of Objectivism. Now, I could be right or wrong. But it's not freaking "entertainment." It's not "trying to be a bad boy." I am trying to do you a favour here - and likewise if you can show why Popper is wrong, well then you'd be doing me a favour.

But don't think for a moment this is aimed at the "less attentive" Objectivist. If you think that. then you're the one not paying attention.

Daniel,

I was talking about the bait in your title, not about Popper's essay. I have never read you mention that you thought Aristotle set out to undermine the human mind before. Maybe now you really do think that? Anyway, it is inconceivable to me to imagine that you did not know that this was exactly how it would be interpreted by kneejerk Objectivists.

Also, I see no problem with mixing entertainment with serious matters. I never claimed you were only out for amusement. But I have seen you amuse yourself with less attentive Objectivists on numerous occasions (and greatly).

Incidentally, at the base I don't care if Popper or Rand is right or wrong. Facts are facts. I do care a great deal about understanding this issue. It's a selfish thing.

Something Michael said that's worth repeating....

"In the classic example: "I have observed several white swans, therefore all swans are white," is a misuse of induction. The correct use is: "I have observed several white swans, therefore white swans exist as a category of reality."

One white swan would be sufficient for that.

Bob,

One white swan would be sufficient to name an entity and for the sake of convenience we could call that a "category." However, knowledge gained from induction (creating a category) means that you will extend information gained from an observed sample to hold true for unobserved members of the group. Here is what I wrote about that:

By going from observing a sample to projecting a truth about a group, one does not make a statement about contradicting a proposition, other than a proposition about the existence of the group itself. A person only makes a statement about creating a mental category of existents that, in fact, actually exist with such differences and similarities as observed.

Using your observation, if we want to maintain the use of the word category, we would need to establish two types of category:

1. Category of a single existent. This would suggest the possibility that there might be more than one identical existent, but that only one had been observed so far, so there was no information yet that others existed. (Of course, I mean "identical" to apply only to specified differences and similarities, not to any other characteristics. Obviously there can be no differences and similarities with a single existent, so to establish a category, some features would have to be specified using arbitrary criteria, or the existent would have to be designated as a subcategory of a group whose members are somewhat similar.) I would only use the word category here in a colloquial manner because of the possibility of later becoming a category designating a group.

2. Category of more than one existent. This is where the axiom I mentioned enters (if two or more existents are observed and identified as a group, other unobserved members of that group exist).

But, in fact, I did mention a category of single existent in my earlier post:

Obviously induction can be used to speculate, so the classic swan problem qua speculation is not a misuse of induction. But I am using induction here to mean a form of reasoning (or logic) for identification, i.e., for gaining knowledge. As a form of using induction for gaining knowledge qua knowledge, the classic problem as stated is a misuse of induction.

Finding a black swan does not disprove the knowledge of white swans gained by induction, because finding a black swan does not contradict the validity of the category. It only contradicts a proposition of closing the category off to new knowledge of the type of entity (closing swans off to any other color than white). In fact, a black swan causes the category of swan to be divided into two subcategories: white swans and black swans (more precisely, at that point, the categories are white swans and at least one black swan, and this will only become "white swans and black swans" when more than one black swan is observed).

See the last part in parentheses for category of single existent (it was called a subcategory and held the possibility of being transformed into a category of more than one existent).

Michael

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Daniel, how might you explain this stuff to an intelligent, but ignorant but interested taxicab driver?

--Brant

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Brant:

>Daniel, how might you explain this stuff to an intelligent, but ignorant but interested taxicab driver?

OK, skip my previous comment, I will explain.

Firstly, let's recall that Rand put a great deal of emphasis on "checking your fundamental premisses." Without indubitably true premisses right from the start, she believed, you would almost certainly end in error, no matter how sound your logical inferences.

But what does she mean by "fundamental premisses?" Well, the most fundamental premiss is the meaning or definition of a word. Words therefore have to be defined absolutely precisely, and securely fastened to reality, before you can begin to construct a sound argument. You might say she saw words like the foundation blocks of a tall building; that with the soft clay of mere historical convention and careless social whim scraped from them, once secured and precisely cut, she could then, with the Rearden metal of Aristotle's logic as her structure, raise her towering, invincible arguments over the mud huts and crooked timber of the thinkers who surrounded her.

This is indeed an inspiring, and even beautiful vision. However, like so many beautiful ideas, the more it comes into focus, the more the view begins to be blocked - though you can choose to determinedly avert your gaze if you like - by a single, stark, ugly fact: words do not work like this. It turns out there is no way of doing what Rand wants to do with them. As we try to define them precisely, as we try to scrape away the clay, we find no firm, sharp rock underneath; only softer and softer mud. (For of course, as Popper points out, all definitions themselves also consist of words; which in turn must then be also be defined. This leads logically to an infinite regress - and generally you'll find the new defining terms, far from adding precision, become vaguer and vaguer as you go). Thus so many debates end before they've even begun; in obfuscating debates over the meanings of words, that are as interminable in practice as they are in theory. (the problem is identical to the infinite regress of statements)

In additon to the problem of infinite regress, disputes over the "true" meanings of words are also logically irresolvable, even when those meanings are ostensive (ie: pointing to a specific object). Let's take the example from Popper's essay, of a puppy. Now, you may define a "puppy" as a small dog. I, on the other hand, insist that a "puppy" is an arrogant young man. Now, there is no way to logically decide who is right here, which meaning is "true" or even "truer" than the other. And of course such terminological disputes are usually over far vaguer terms than this deliberately clear example; for example, "freedom" or "democracy" or "selfishness" or "altruism" etc. The only way to get any debate started then, is for the parties to agree to use certain terms in a mutually agreed way i.e. a convention. Thus words are, and can only be, conventions if they are to be any use (other than, perhaps, some kind of private language)

Thus, between these two problems, you can try to "check your premises" all the live long day and despite your most earnest efforts, never get any further than you were in that morning. Thus, from a distance, the tower she did build seems impressive; until you come right up to it and suddenly realise it's not a skyscraper at all, but a merely a billboard, with a beautiful picture and exciting sales descriptions of a tower that will be built on this site at some time in the distant, unspecified future. And you notice how old and yellowed this billboard is, and how little progress has been made on the site in nearly fifty years. And then a young Austrian engineer walks past, name of Popper, who smiles, and explains the simple technical reason why it can never be built...

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But what does she mean by "fundamental premisses?" Well, the most fundamental premiss is the meaning or definition of a word.

Daniel,

The argument you built on this statement is pleasantly romantic, but if ever a premise needed to be checked, this is one. Your statement is not correct according to Objectivism. If you are going to criticize Objectivism, you need to be accurate on something basic like this.

The most fundamental premise in Objectivism is an axiomatic concept, not a word. In Objectivism, there is an enormous difference between words and concepts. Concepts are abstractions (mental isolations of features, differences and similarities that do not exist in isolation) and words are merely tags put on them. Words give the abstraction a concrete form, but it only stands for the concept. In fact, this is why you can have different languages that use the same concepts. Chair and cadeira (in Portuguese) are different tags (words) for the same concept.

Peikoff wrote in OPAR that a concept is incomplete without receiving a word, but I don't remember Rand writing that. I will have to look this up, I am sure this is not correct. Complete concepts do exist without words. I even remember the phrase preverbal implicit concept being one type.

The purpose of a definition is to designate the concept being referred to by the word. This means that for brevity, it only need refer to the essential distinguishing feature out of a group of distinguishing features. Rand called this the CCD (conceptual common denominator). This is how she arrived at the genus and differentia form of definition. Notice that these distinguishing features are abstractions (mental isolations of things that are not isolated in reality), not just words.

In making such mental isolations of features, differences and similarities that do not exist in isolation, i.e., abstractions, you discover that knowledge is hierarchical. You can make abstractions from abstractions and add new tags on them. The hierarchical nature of knowledge is why you don't need to have infinite regress in definitions. Earlier mental isolations needed to occur before the later ones are possible.

Let's look at what Rand really means by "check your premises." (Here is a preview: she meant it as a form of exercising logic.) That phrase first appears in her published writing in Atlas Shrugged, p. 188. Francisco is talking to Dagny.

Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.

This does not mean define the word. This means look to the lower level abstractions and find the error. Something was isolated incorrectly if you encounter a contradiction. (Popper even calls this "falsifiability" :) )

There is only one place where "check your premises" would mean something like "define your terms" and that would be in communication. The basic premise, of course, would be to make sure everybody is talking about the same thing (the same concepts).

Michael

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Mike:

>The most fundamental premise in Objectivism is an axiomatic concept, not a word...

Yes, in one sense. But also she believed that words were not conventions, thus (somehow...) had fundamentally true meanings (ie correctly defined concepts) that served as the basic premisses of an argument.

C'mon now...dig a little deeper here. You'll see I'm quite right. Are you really going to say that Rand didn't argue the above?

>Peikoff wrote in OPAR that a concept is incomplete without receiving a word, but I don't remember Rand writing that.

She does, it's in the ITOE. You can look it up.

>I will have to look this up, I am sure this is not correct. Complete concepts do exist without words. I even remember the phrase preverbal implicit concept being one type.

Her theory is not very clear, yes, but this is not my fault.

>Let's look at what Rand really means by "check your premises." (Here is a preview: she meant it as a form of exercising logic.) That phrase first appears in her published writing in Atlas Shrugged, p. 188. Francisco is talking to Dagny.

Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.

>This does not mean define the word.

I disagree. She doesn't say "check your inferences" ie: you have made a logical error. She says check the truth of your premises.

This, as far as I can see, ends up with the truth of statements, and then the true definitions of words as fundamental to that. I recall somewhere she argues that this must be the case because statements are made up of words! (Now I will have to look that up...;-))

Edited by Daniel Barnes

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Daniel,

I did look up what Rand wrote. Here is her meaning of definition (ITOE, 2nd Explanded Edition, Chapter 5, p. 40):

A definition is a statement that identifies the nature of the units subsumed under a concept.

It is often said that definitions state the meaning of words. This is true, but it is not exact. A word is merely a visual-auditory symbol used to represent a concept; a word has no meaning other than that of the concept it symbolizes, and the meaning of a concept consists of its units. It is not words, but concepts that man defines—by specifying their referents.

The purpose of a definition is to distinguish a concept from all other concepts and thus to keep its units differentiated from all other existents.

This also includes what she called "ostensive definitions," which meant signaling all around her.

As to receiving a word, not all concepts need to, but the higher ones do. I imagine this is because they are abstracted from lower concepts already tied to words. Even then, she said "verbal definition" as essential and not "word."

Above the level of conceptualized sensations and metaphysical axioms, every concept requires a verbal definition.

Incidentally, this is an area I think needs work. There are things I would call "visual concepts" or "image concepts." The entire art of music is based on "musical concepts." These hold the pertinent units in some mentally isolated form and they are integrated and represented by symbols other than words. But this is another topic.

Michael

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>This does not mean define the word.

I disagree. She doesn't say "check your inferences" ie: you have made a logical error. She says check the truth of your premises.

This, as far as I can see, ends up with the truth of statements, and then the true definitions of words as fundamental to that. I recall somewhere she argues that this must be the case because statements are made up of words! (Now I will have to look that up...;-))

Daniel,

I have no idea of what you mean here.

If looking for the reasons behind a contradiction is not an exercise in logic, then I am baffled. This would imply that we mean vastly different things by logic and I don't think we do.

We always seem to stumble when we get to concept formation (mental integration) and entities.

Michael

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