Problem Of Universals; Empirical vs. Abstract Properties


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Im here to discuss an issue with the problem of universals that I am having a problem with.

Rand's solution is manifestly correct when we talk about "abstract properties," i.e. those properties of things that we cannot see. By this, I mean a DVD has, as its abstract property, "DVD-ness." These abstract properties (i.e. the concept that the 'total particular,' as opposed to an aspect of the particular, falls under) cannot exist mind-independently but they obviously have a basis in reality.

I am having a problem with what I refer to as "empirical properties," i.e. those properties of things of which we have direct sensory grasp. If there was such a thing as DVD-ness, it would have to exist independently of all a DVD's empirical properties, such as the fact its a flat round disc that has a movie label printed onto it, etc, as well as its other abstract properties, such as its function to any particular agent (such as a medium of storage and retrieval of media). However, empirical properties certainly appear much more likely to have a 'real' existence.

Now, lets take the easy example of colors. Two apples, both possess redness as a property. We can see both apples are red. Hence it is an empirical property, whereas "appleness" is the apple's abstract property.

Basically, Im asking are empirical properties covered by the problem of universals solution proposed by Rand? I guess that color is a complex issue, since it is produced by how our senses comprehend different wavelengths of light (i.e. color is multicausative; related to both external reality (the type of light, the object) and the senses' specific nature), but hence it implies there is some underlying shared property (something to anchor the perceptions).

Am I confusing the conceptual level with the perceptual one? Any help?

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Im here to discuss an issue with the problem of universals that I am having a problem with.

Rand's solution is manifestly correct when we talk about "abstract properties," i.e. those properties of things that we cannot see. By this, I mean a DVD has, as its abstract property, "DVD-ness." These abstract properties (i.e. the concept that the 'total particular,' as opposed to an aspect of the particular, falls under) cannot exist mind-independently but they obviously have a basis in reality.

I am having a problem with what I refer to as "empirical properties," i.e. those properties of things of which we have direct sensory grasp. If there was such a thing as DVD-ness, it would have to exist independently of all a DVD's empirical properties, such as the fact its a flat round disc that has a movie label printed onto it, etc, as well as its other abstract properties, such as its function to any particular agent (such as a medium of storage and retrieval of media). However, empirical properties certainly appear much more likely to have a 'real' existence.

Now, lets take the easy example of colors. Two apples, both possess redness as a property. We can see both apples are red. Hence it is an empirical property, whereas "appleness" is the apple's abstract property.

Basically, Im asking are empirical properties covered by the problem of universals solution proposed by Rand? I guess that color is a complex issue, since it is produced by how our senses comprehend different wavelengths of light (i.e. color is multicausative; related to both external reality (the type of light, the object) and the senses' specific nature), but hence it implies there is some underlying shared property (something to anchor the perceptions).

Am I confusing the conceptual level with the perceptual one? Any help?

Yes. Distinguish between properties possessed by some entity as opposed to properties observed either directly or indirectly. We don't get the Real Reality. We only get what we can perceive directly or infer from our instruments. Most of the Real Reality (like Dark Matter and Dark Energy) is currently out of our reach. Our best theories and observations are fifteen (count them) orders of magnitude removed from Planck Length.

By the way, the DVD-ness of a DVD consists of the microscopic pits burned into the glass substrate. Any approach that puts "ness" after an adjective is suspect. Given a choice between science which is (at the root) empirical and philosophy that floats like a fog, choose science.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Bob

You said

Given a choice between science which is (at the root) empirical and philosophy that floats like a fog, choose science.

Why choose? There are no contradictions in reality. If your philosophy and science contradict each other, check your premises.

steve

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Andrew,

The way you use the term "universal" is too restrictive. A universal can apply to direct perception as well as to a high-level abstraction. You are using it for direct perception only.

Don't be confused by the big sounding words that traditionally accompany this term. All it means is how awareness of what is "out there" is organized "in here" by human beings. The short version Objectivism-wise is that man is not a freak of nature. He is a part of it and reflects/incorporates the way it exists. There is an "out there" that can be categorized and there is an "in here" that is suitable for doing it.

You will come across all kinds of arguments for an "out there" that we cannot know or an "in here" that is disconnected with "out there," but the truth is that without both "in here" AND "out there," there are no universals.

According to Rand (see ITOE, mainly, but also several other essays), the way "out there" reaches "in here" directly is through the sense organs. However, "out there" is not just sense data to be inputted. "Out there" is a bunch of entities that give off or reflect sense data. If you want to know how Objectivism views "out there" without an "in here", it is given in the following statement by Rand (ITOE, 2nd Ed., Chapter 2 - "Concept-Formation," p. 14):

The first concepts man forms are concepts of entities—since entities are the only primary existents.

Notice that she did not say that "the only primary existents" are tiny things like subparticles, light waves, etc., or background like space/time. Primary existents are individual things with an individual identity each one.

Our primary task as proud owners of a mind is to identify entities. (Identifying attributes, relationships, actions, etc., are all with respect to entities, not divorced from them.) We do that by noting similarities and differences and making mental categories out of them. Rand calls these categories "concepts" and by tacking a word onto one, we turn it into a "mental entity." See below (ITOE, 2nd Ed., Chapter 2 - "Concept-Formation," p. 14):

(p. 9)

The uniting involved is not a mere sum, but an integration, i.e., a blending of the units into a single, new mental entity which is used thereafter as a single unit of thought (but which can be broken into its component units whenever required).

. . .

(p. 10)

Words transform concepts into (mental) entities...

Note here how our cognitive process reflects reality. It essentially creates a private "in here" universe of entities. So what is the nature of an entity?

An entity can be similar to an unlimited number of other ones in reality and set apart from an unlimited number of other ones. You can break an entity down into components (existents that are parts of it) and you and group it with other entities and/or existents based on some kind of similarity or difference. You can do this because the entity exists that way. This in Objectivism is usually called "the given."

This is exactly what concepts do. We can only perceive that which exists. (Our minds can malfunction, but that is another issue. And with "mental entities" comes the possibility of creating ones that do not correspond to reality—ones that are only "in here"—both as a malfunction and on purpose, like creating a fantasy. Don't be confused by those who equate a malfunction or fantasy with normal operation. Epistemology abounds with such speculations, but they are nonsense at root in understanding universals.)

Later, on a conceptual level, after the primary entity level, you do identify attributes, actions, relationships, etc. And, with the emergence of "mental entities" to denote all this, you can combine those mental entities or break them down in all kinds of ways.

There is a mental step between sensory input and concept that Rand uses. She calls it a percept. This is a mental existent (an existent "in here") that automatically hones in on an entity and identifies something emanated or reflected from it as an existent "out there." From what I have been able to deduce, a percept is the starting point of being aware of the law of identity. This is the point when the mind registers "that exists as an individual thing (or existent)." This is where memory of entities and existents starts. Rand calls percepts "the base of all of man's knowledge." (ITOE, 2nd Ed., Chapter 1 - "Cognition and Measurement," p. 5).

A percept is a group of sensations automatically retained and integrated by the brain of a living organism.

This is the starting point for man's knowledge because it is the primary integration—the first-level formation of a mental existent (which later can be integrated with other percepts into a "mental entity") and stored in memory and retrievable from it ("retained").

This is a bare-bones explanation and far too limited. ITOE gives the answer to many other facets of universals, but that book needs to be read many times to absorb it properly (at least this is how it works with me).

I do want to mention your idea of the DVD's "empirical properties." When you hold a DVD in your hand, you are holding, empirically, much more than a piece of plastic. You are also holding observations (yours and those communicated to you) about a huge number of existents "out there," each with its own concept (i.e., mental entity). This means in terms of universals (as stated before) both "out there" AND "in here" are parts of this. Remove one part and you no longer have a universal. This is why DVD-ness does not exist as a separate something "out there."

The idea of a DVD as merely a piece of plastic with holes in it and a mirror divorces it from all those accumulated observations. Does one need to prove that movies exist? No. That has been empirically noted and is part of the concept of what a DVD is. Does one need to prove that sound exists? No. That has been empirically noted and is part of the concept of what a DVD is. Does one need to prove that human manufacturing processes exist? No. That has been empirically noted and is part of the concept of what a DVD is (after all, DVD's are man-made). One can go on and on. I won't even go into measurements.

Are those integrated empirical components no longer "empirical properties" because one cannot see them or feel them when one holds a DVD? Be careful because they should not be blanked out. They exist. They are merely not directly perceivable properties on an immediate primary sense level. But they are properties, they are empirical and they are essential to what a DVD is. They are abstracted and integrated properties. That is why a DVD can play back a movie on a DVD player and a lump of plastic cannot.

The universal is in how all this has been mentally grouped, not in "DVD-ness." The implication is that there is a hierarchy in the grouping of all this empirical information. And hierarchy is part of it. That also cuts both ways as hierarchies allow man to create entities that do not exist without human input. But even on a raw nature level, without hierarchies, there are no universals. This entails another discussion, so I will leave off here.

I hope that helps some.

Michael

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Andrew,

The way you use the term "universal" is too restrictive. A universal can apply to direct perception as well as to a high-level abstraction. You are using it for direct perception only.

Direct (unaided) perception can only give us particular objects. The notion of "all" is a brainial abstraction. It is an artifact of the intellect.

The "all" flows from repetitive "ands". X and Y and Z .... Conjoining particulars is a brainial operation. In reality there are only particulars. It takes the brain of a sentient to conjoint particulars with "and" to eventual get "all".

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Bob,

Gotcha. Entities only exist in the minds of people. So, for example, a terrorist is not really an entity (an "all"), just something in our mind. Maybe if we think a bit differently, he will go away and leave us alone. That way we don't have to do anything.

:)

Michael

You don't gotme. Only particulars exist outside our brains. Universals exist inside our brains.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Universals exist as a combination of inside and outside our minds. There is no such thing as a universal inside our brain only.

Michael,

No one is denying that concepts have referents, even though you seem to be trying by running them together. An idea is not a thing.

--Brant

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Universals exist as a combination of inside and outside our minds. There is no such thing as a universal inside our brain only.

Michael,

No one is denying that concepts have referents, even though you seem to be trying by running them together. An idea is not a thing.

--Brant

Ideas are brain-processes. They are not objects you can carry around in a bag like stones or marbles.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Bob,

Gotcha. Entities only exist in the minds of people. So, for example, a terrorist is not really an entity (an "all"), just something in our mind. Maybe if we think a bit differently, he will go away and leave us alone. That way we don't have to do anything.

Not so, Michael. You are saying ideas aren't calls to action. A "terrorist," BTW, leaves unanswered the question of "A terrorist for what?" Freedom? Totalitarianism? How does that work? The same problem with KASS. KASS for what? These are essentially almost empty concepts. Begin was a terrorist, after all. And I'm not saying he shouldn't be contemned for that. But non-terrorist military activity is a reflection of wealth and strength, and probably resulting in even greater death and destruction than you will find in the ruble of the King David hotel. These soldiers, after all, are only doing what they can with what they have.

--Brant

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So, for example, a terrorist is not really an entity (an "all"), just something in our mind.

You’re confusing ‘a terrorist’, a particular that is ‘out there’, with ‘terrorist’, the universal that is ‘in here’.

I couldn't figure out who you are by reading your profile, so I read some of your posts. It is obvious that you are "Epistemological Man!"

--Brant

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Bob,

Gotcha. Entities only exist in the minds of people. So, for example, a terrorist is not really an entity (an "all"), just something in our mind. Maybe if we think a bit differently, he will go away and leave us alone. That way we don't have to do anything.

:)

Michael

Entities are particular or singular things in the world. "All" is a quantifier that applies a predicate to a class of entities. Classes are generated inside of people's brains. Let me put it this way: trees are Out There. Forests are In Here.

Examples: A universally quantified statement (aka a general statement): (x)Red(x) for all x, x is Red. Obviously false since there are non-Red things.

{x:Red(x)} -- the set of x, such that x is Red. The set of red things. This is a branial construct. In the world there is this red thing and that red thing. In your brain there is the class of red things, cooked up as a pattern of neurological events (neural discharged).

In the external world (outside of your body) there are only concrete entities. Abstractions live inside your brain as processes (described above). One very serious mistake is reifying abstractions. That is tantamount to confusing a map with the territory it describes. Reification of abstractions has been know to cause confusion and brain rot. The word IS NOT the thing it names. The map IS NOT the territory it describes. The class IS NOT a member it cointains (such nonsense leads to the Russel paradox).

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Andrew,

If you are reading this, some of the preceding posts are typical of some of the arguments you will encounter. (Believe it or not, this does not even come close to exhausting the list.)

If you keep in mind that the mind organizes concepts the way reality exists and not according to some arbitrary mental construct, that there is a relationship between the mind and reality that is not severed with knowledge, that man is a part of reality and obeys the same natural laws as everything else, you can spot the contradictions easily.

The categories we have in our mind represent real differences and similarities that exist "out there," although these are not "essences" that exist independently of the entities or existents that are observed (or observable). The differences and similarities are fundamental parts of their nature and inseparable from them. Rand would call this applying the law of identity.

For example, it is impossible to be an individual human being and not be a member of the human species. Absolutely impossible. That's a simple example. There is no individual "human species entity" per se, but there is the property of species "out there" that exists in all individual human beings and it can be identified by the mind. We identify it by comparing similarities and differences of the different features of individual members against those of other entities.

Michael

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Michael,

I understand your point. I agree with you, but I think you are kind of misunderstanding me. What I am asking is whether Rand's solution to the problem of universals, which I can see working easily for abstract properties (i.e. the "DVD-ness" in a DVD, the "Apple-ness" in an apple), but I find it doesnt account for empirical properties. However Ba'al was right that I was mixing up the conceptual level with the perceptual level. All fixed now.

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I understand your point. I agree with you, but I think you are kind of misunderstanding me. What I am asking is whether Rand's solution to the problem of universals, which I can see working easily for abstract properties (i.e. the "DVD-ness" in a DVD, the "Apple-ness" in an apple), but I find it doesnt account for empirical properties. However Ba'al was right that I was mixing up the conceptual level with the perceptual level. All fixed now.

Andrew,

"Conceptual level with the perceptual level" is not the kind of language I have seen Bob use. From what I see, he doesn't really have any room for "percept" in his thinking (at least in the comments I have read). He goes from sensory input directly to a different kind of mental processing, structuring the input mentally in a manner that bears no relation to it in reality (or the entity it was reflected or emanated from), but kinda does.

This has nothing to do with what "conceptual level" and "perceptual level" mean in Objectivism.

Michael

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I understand your point. I agree with you, but I think you are kind of misunderstanding me. What I am asking is whether Rand's solution to the problem of universals, which I can see working easily for abstract properties (i.e. the "DVD-ness" in a DVD, the "Apple-ness" in an apple), but I find it doesnt account for empirical properties. However Ba'al was right that I was mixing up the conceptual level with the perceptual level. All fixed now.

Andrew,

"Conceptual level with the perceptual level" is not the kind of language I have seen Bob use. From what I see, he doesn't really have any room for "percept" in his thinking (at least in the comments I have read). He goes from sensory input directly to a different kind of mental processing, structuring the input mentally in a manner that bears no relation to it in reality (or the entity it was reflected or emanated from), but kinda does.

This has nothing to do with what "conceptual level" and "perceptual level" mean in Objectivism.

Michael

Not so. Everything in my "mind" starts in my senses. Perception is the ground of all thought and knowledge. Do not draw the incorrect conclusion from the fact I do not use Rand-Speak in my discourse. I have been ahead of Rand in matters of thought and logic from the git-go. I am a trained logician and have even received pay for doing it. Rand was a mathematical ignoramus along with her lap dog L.P. Neither of them have any real comprehension of logic, mathematics or physics. I prefer to use common technical terminology in my discourse so I can be understood by more people. If I use Randisms, I will tack on a "$" so you will know I am using Rand-Speak.

Had I not become a grad-school dropout I would have done my PhD thesis in logic. I spent over forty years of my life doing applied mathematics and logic and getting paid (rather well) for it.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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For example, it is impossible to be an individual human being and not be a member of the human species. Absolutely impossible. That's a simple example. There is no individual "human species entity" per se, but there is the property of species "out there" that exists in all individual human beings and it can be identified by the mind. We identify it by comparing similarities and differences of the different features of individual members against those of other entities.

Michael

Individual biota Out There, Species In Here. Species is a branial construct. By definition a particular human being is a member of the species homo sapien sapien. Homo-sapien-sapian = {x : x is a earth human}. That is a definition of the term homo-sapien-sapien. You can tell if x is an earth human by inspecting its genome and comparing it to Craig Venter's genome map.

Nature (i.e. physical reality) does not give one good god damn about our classifications. But we do, which is why we classify stuff.

If there were no one about to perceive there would be no similarities. Similarities are something we do with the data collected by our senses. Some classifications we do promote our survival. Others do not, and in fact even confuse us. Think of a potato sorter, a set of sieves and grids for gathering potatoes according to their size. The holes -define- the size. Our abstraction machinery acts on our perceptions in an analogous way to the manner that a potato sorter bundles potatoes. There is something Out There. We gather data from that something through our senses and our brains process that data. Existence starts with stuff Out There. Understanding is achieved by what is going on In Here. The test of how well we understand Out There is whether we survive long enough to die of old age.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Andrew,

If you are reading this, some of the preceding posts are typical of some of the arguments you will encounter. (Believe it or not, this does not even come close to exhausting the list.)

If you keep in mind that the mind organizes concepts the way reality exists and not according to some arbitrary mental construct, that there is a relationship between the mind and reality that is not severed with knowledge, that man is a part of reality and obeys the same natural laws as everything else, you can spot the contradictions easily.

The categories we have in our mind represent real differences and similarities that exist "out there," although these are not "essences" that exist independently of the entities or existents that are observed (or observable). The differences and similarities are fundamental parts of their nature and inseparable from them. Rand would call this applying the law of identity.

For example, it is impossible to be an individual human being and not be a member of the human species. Absolutely impossible. That's a simple example. There is no individual "human species entity" per se, but there is the property of species "out there" that exists in all individual human beings and it can be identified by the mind. We identify it by comparing similarities and differences of the different features of individual members against those of other entities.

Michael

Mike. You might want to take a look at this:

http://home.sprynet.com/~owl1/rand.htm

Mike Huemer has some intelligent disagreements with Rand.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Everything in my "mind" starts in my senses.

Bob,

Universals don't for you. You said so yourself. You said universals are in the brain only. Are you now saying something else?

Michael

Look at it this way: nature supplies the dots, we connect them

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Bob,

Human beings are not dots (or worse, human beings are much different kinds of dots than, say, fish) and that was not much of an answer.

If you are comfortable with the contradiction, that's OK by me. I find my words to be true so far: "He goes from sensory input directly to a different kind of mental processing, structuring the input mentally in a manner that bears no relation to it in reality (or the entity it was reflected or emanated from), but kinda does."

Kinda like connecting dots, I guess...

Michael

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Bob,

Human beings are not dots (or worse, human beings are much different kinds of dots than, say, fish) and that was not much of an answer.

If you are comfortable with the contradiction, that's OK by me. I find my words to be true so far: "He goes from sensory input directly to a different kind of mental processing, structuring the input mentally in a manner that bears no relation to it in reality (or the entity it was reflected or emanated from), but kinda does."

Kinda like connecting dots, I guess...

Michael

It has kept me alive 71 years. It works. I never argue with success.

ba'al Chatzaf

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Everything in my "mind" starts in my senses.

Bob,

Universals don't for you. You said so yourself. You said universals are in the brain only. Are you now saying something else?

Michael,

Your senses are part of your brain.

--Brant

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