# Universals and Measurement

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But Popper demonstrates that for a variety of reasons such disagreements are not in fact logically decidable.

What exactly do you mean by not in fact logically decidable? What exactly do you mean by in fact logically decided? Examples would probably help. What are said reasons?

At college a guy who lived in the same house as me was on the college rugby team. He was about 5'6", 215 lbs, v-shaped, with hardly any fat. He and his teammates would often party at our house. They were a rowdy bunch. I bet you've seen one of these.

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But Popper demonstrates that for a variety of reasons such disagreements are not in fact logically decidable.

What exactly do you mean by not in fact logically decidable? What exactly do you mean by in fact logically decided? Examples would probably help. What are said reasons?

Google <incompleteness theorem> Google <first order logic decidable> Google <eintscheidungs problem>

Google <decision problem>

Ba'al Chatzaf

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I bet you've seen one of these.

No, but I love it! Perfect gift for a mate of mine, many thanks.

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Why do you keep bringing this up as if Rand never dealt with it?

Because Rand did not deal with it. Why do you continue claiming she did? This quote you supply is a perfect example of her not dealing with it. I can't see how you think it does. Let's review it:

Rand:"Who decides, in case of disagreements? As in all issues pertaining to objectivity, there is no ultimate authority, except reality and the mind of every individual who judges the evidence by the objective method of judgment: logic."

All Rand does is, not untypically, make a handwaving assertion, with nothing to back it up. On examination, this superficially plausible assertion turns out to be a fallacy.

What do you think she meant by "logic"? A reasonable hypothesis is "non-contradictory identification". Identification of what? Of reality. Thus "non-contradictory identification of reality."

But Popper demonstrates that for a variety of reasons such disagreements are not in fact logically decidable.

Popper's recommendation is clearly outlined in his "TKD" essay: that one should not argue over the meanings of words, but focus on things that are in principle decideable as to truth or falsity eg theories.

In other words, his solution is to dissolve or dismiss it. I await your response to my questions in post #76. Then we can get to the question of whether or not the emperor (Popper) and empress (Rand) wear any clothes. Let's hope from different empires! Meanwhile, I continue my fishy story.

Once again, this is one of the outcomes Popper predicts in his essay - discussion stops before it can even starts. The solution is simply to agree on a mutual convention - "what shall we call a marine mammal?". So long as we both agree what we mean by that there is no problem. Fish, whale...you can call it what you like! It is a mere label. For that very reason, we should try to stick to common usages, and avoid private and arcane meaniings.

If lost in a Popperian infinite regress you missed my point, it was this. Conventionally, a whale is not a kind of fish. Warm-blooded vs cold-blooded. Live birth vs lay eggs. Breathe air vs gills. Yet an unconventional person insists that a whale is a kind of fish, due to its shape, it lives in water and swims, has fins and tail, and whatever else. Pointing out the differences fails. How does "mutual convention" solve it?

Edited by Merlin Jetton

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If lost in a Popperian infinite regress you missed my point, it was this. Conventionally, a whale is not a kind of fish. Warm-blooded vs cold-blooded. Live birth vs lay eggs. Breathe air vs gills. Yet an unconventional person insists that a whale is a kind of fish, due to its shape, it lives in water and swims, has fins and tail, and whatever else. Pointing out the differences fails. How does "mutual convention" solve it?

(Quickly pausing in my capitalistic endeavours... ) You appear to answer your own question, in that the determinedly unconventional person refuses any mutual convention in the first place, and clings determinedly to their own private meaning, come what may. Popper nowhere claims to be able to make people do things they are detemined not to! But your example is excellent, because we can look at it and ask what sort of attitude does such an insistence reflect? I would argue it is no different to the man who insists he is Jesus Christ, in spite of our efforts to point out the differences - that is, it is a fundamentally irrational attitude. Hence, in my view, this clinging to one's own specific meanings of words, and accepting no other, is equally irrationalist.

Max Eastman, in his essay "The Cult of Unintelligibility" puts the situation nicely. Criticising Gertrude Stein, he says she is "emptying words of the social element" and that in her hands, their values become "private - as private as the emotional life of the insane...Words are vessels of communion; she is treating them as empty vessels, polishing them and setting them in a row."

While nowhere near as extreme as Stein, what Rand is doing is effectively emptying key words of "the social element" (a practice which conforms to some of her comments about language, incidentally) and filling them with her private or arcane meanings. Words no longer become "vessels of communion", but rather an increasingly dense thicket of private meaning that stifles open criticism. Hence discussion soon breaks down, or else is diverted backwards into scholastic debates over so-called "fundamentals" (which usually amounts to merely what Rand might have meant by a commonplace term vs what it generally means*). I have altered the order of your questions to show how this process unwittingly operates:

What do you think she meant by "logic"? A reasonable hypothesis is "non-contradictory identification". Identification of what? Of reality. Thus "non-contradictory identification of reality."

Do you see the problem?

In other words, his solution is to dissolve or dismiss it.

Yes. He dismisses it as trivial - just as one might dismiss as trivial the equivalent idea that proper intellectual argument is reducible to a debate over spelling!

I await your response to my questions in post #76. Then we can get to the question of whether or not the emperor (Popper) and empress (Rand) wear any clothes.

That's my kind of question.

*The point of Popper's essay is, again, that these "fundamentals" cannot in fact be established by appeals to the authority of "logic" or "reality", (or some speculative equivalence of both). The upshot of this is the ultimate fallback to arbitrary assertion of personal authority i.e. because Rand or Peikoff says so. If people who are inspired by the overall Objectivist vision - yet have observed this depressing tendency in the movement with clockwork regularity - are looking for some kind of deeper explanation or underlying mechanism for it, they could do well to consider this line of criticism.

Edited by Daniel Barnes

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While I was busily typing this post, Daniel was busily posting. I don't know what you said in your reply above, Daniel. I'm going to post this before finding out. It pertains to Merlin's "fishy story." I'm behind with reading posts and might have missed features of the context, but on searching I only found three posts in which the issue of the whale came up. I'll quote from those sequentially, and then explain why I think both Daniel and Merlin are missing a relevant difference here from the "democracy" example and thus talking at...(I have to do it; Bill Dwyer committed this groaner so often, it invariably comes to mind) cross porpoises.

The upshot of this logical result [that you can't decide the correct meaning of a word by logic] is that in order to be useful, we must therefore decide the meanings of words by mutual agreement i.e. convention - the very thing that Rand vehemently denies.

Why do you keep bringing this up as if Rand never dealt with it? And did Popper solve it? No, to the best of my knowledge, but you're the Popper fan. At best he dissolved it like he did induction, by dismissing it. Yet you insist the essentialist (or Randian) method of definition solve it to prove its worth. Rand dealt with it regarding 'objective definition' on p. 46 of ITOE:

"Who decides, in case of disagreements? As in all issues pertaining to objectivity, there is no ultimate authority, except reality and the mind of every individual who judges the evidence by the objective method of judgment: logic."

If somebody insists on calling a whale a literal "fish", despite all the evidence of differences against that, then there is nothing one can do short of preventing him from talking or ignoring him.

Your conclusion that convention is needed is bogus. Fine, it might solve the one you raise [the correct meaning of "democracy"], but convention as a general method fails. It doesn't recognize reality -- except what people say or happen to point to -- as the ultimate authority.

Popper's recommendation is clearly outlined in his "TKD" essay: that one should not argue over the meanings of words, but focus on things that are in principle decideable as to truth or falsity eg theories. (The counter argument that theories are composed of words can be replied to by pointing out that words are composed of letters - does that mean we should first argue over spelling?)

If somebody insists on calling a whale a literal "fish", despite all the evidence of differences against that, then there is nothing one can do short of preventing him from talking or ignoring him.

Once again, this is one of the outcomes Popper predicts in his essay - discussion stops before it can even starts. The solution is simply to agree on a mutual convention - "what shall we call a marine mammal?". So long as we both agree what we mean by that there is no problem. Fish, whale...you can call it what you like! It is a mere label. For that very reason, we should try to stick to common usages, and avoid private and arcane meaniings.

If lost in a Popperian infinite regress you missed my point, it was this. Conventionally, a whale is not a kind of fish. Warm-blooded vs cold-blooded. Live birth vs lay eggs. Breathe air vs gills. Yet an unconventional person insists that a whale is a kind of fish, due to its shape, it lives in water and swims, has fins and tail, and whatever else. Pointing out the differences fails. How does "mutual convention" solve it?

I think both of you are mixing together two different issues here: (1) the issue of definitions of words; and (2 ) in the whale example, that of categorizations, in this case biological categorizations, of the referents of words. The group of species which are conventionally called "whales" are marine species which are, factually, characterized by the characteristics according to which biologists classify creatures as being "mammals," in the biologist's meaning. At one time there was a dispute as to which classification whales belonged in -- i.e., whether they were factually true-fish (Pices) vertebrates (there are several classes of "fish") or mammals. This issue was what Popper describes as being a difference of two different theories. It was definitively settled, upon closer examination of the facts, by ascertaining that whales have the features of being warm-blooded, having mammary glands, bearing live young developed in the female's uterus, suckling the young, breathing with lungs not gills.

Thus, were someone today to argue that whales are fish, in the biologist's meaning, the person would be arguing an incorrect theory rather than using unconventional terminology.

If instead the person were using "fish" to mean the species which in conventional language are called "whales," and using some other term to refer to what conventionally are called "fish," then this person would just be using language differently and there would be no logical way to argue that one of the usages was "true." One could argue that using reverse terminology would be counter-productive, would lead to misunderstanding. I.e., one could argue on pragmatic grounds that such at-odd--with-convention usage was dumb. But there's no way of deciding by pointing to facts that one way of defining the words is correct.

Ellen

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But your example is excellent, because we can look at it and ask what sort of attitude does such an insistence reflect? I would argue it is no different to the man who insists he is Jesus Christ, in spite of our efforts to point out the differences - that is, it is a fundamentally irrational attitude. Hence, in my view, this clinging to one's own specific meanings of words, and accepting no other, is equally irrationalist.

Daniel,

How can rational be a standard of meaning and not be a standard of meaning at the same time? Or, in your understanding, are rational and irrational merely attitudes? If the latter, how does the attitude impact meaning?

Michael

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[How can rational be a standard of meaning and not be a standard of meaning at the same time?

I have no idea. I never proposed such a standard.

Or, in your understanding, are rational and irrational merely attitudes?

This is obviously the sense I am using it in here. Being "rational" in this sense means being open to persuasion by argument and experience.

If the latter, how does the attitude impact meaning?

I have no idea.

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I think both of you are mixing together two different issues here: (1) the issue of definitions of words; and (2 ) in the whale example, that of categorizations...Thus, were someone today to argue that whales are fish, in the biologist's meaning, the person would be arguing an incorrect theory rather than using unconventional terminology.

Yes thank you Ellen for this excellent clarification, this is something I didn't address very clearly at all, and tried to deal with in the lump by analogy. For example, the man who thinks he is Jesus Christ has a theory that he won't let go of, hence our chances of productive discussion are limited. I make the analogy between this attitude and the irrationalist insistence on particular meanings of terms. Additionally, like our delusional Saviour, who we inevitably find has other equally impervious theories supporting his main one, we always find there is another special definition behind the first one, and one after that, and so on.

If instead the person were using "fish" to mean the species which in conventional language are called "whales," and using some other term to refer to what conventionally are called "fish," then this person would just be using language differently and there would be no logical way to argue that one of the usages was "true." One could argue that using reverse terminology would be counter-productive, would lead to misunderstanding. I.e., one could argue on pragmatic grounds that such at-odd--with-convention usage was dumb. But there's no way of deciding by pointing to facts that one way of defining the words is correct.

Much better put than mine.

Edited by Daniel Barnes

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The mutual convention part is agreeing on undefined terms. These undefined terms are of a very basic kind, like 'point', 'thing', 'moving', etc. You wouldn't leave 'fish' undefined but you might leave 'organism' undefined and build from there.

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This is obviously the sense I am using it in here. Being "rational" in this sense means being open to persuasion by argument and experience.

Daniel,

Thus, your standard of argument will be based on precise falsifiable theories constructed with words having vague meanings? This is what I have understood so far from my limited reading of Popper and Popper fans.

For example, the man who thinks he is Jesus Christ has a theory that he won't let go of, hence our chances of productive discussion are limited. I make the analogy between this attitude and the irrationalist insistence on particular meanings of terms. Additionally, like our delusional Saviour, who we inevitably find has other equally impervious theories supporting his main one, we always find there is another special definition behind the first one, and one after that, and so on.

So, by extension, one could say that the man who thinks he is a human being has a theory about it?

Michael

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Thus, your standard of argument will be based on precise falsifiable theories constructed with words having vague meanings? This is what I have understood so far from my limited reading of Popper and Popper fans.

Roughly, yes.

So, by extension, one could say that the man who thinks he is a human being has a theory about it?

Yes. A well tested theory , but a theory nonetheless. Do you know the plot of "Blade Runner"?

Edited by Daniel Barnes

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Do you know the plot of "Blade Runner"?

Daniel,

Yup. The Matrix, too. And some other sci-fi goodies. I even posted a charming little thing here on OL, They're Made Out of Meat by Terry Bisson.

Michael

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So, by extension, one could say that the man who thinks he is a human being has a theory about it?

Yes. A well tested theory , but a theory nonetheless.

Daniel,

Cool.

Apropos, how does one test that? And how does one test it enough to make it well-tested?

Michael

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Apropos, how does one test that? And how does one test it enough to make it well-tested?

Dunno. Design some experiments, I suppose. Cut yourself, see if you bleed. Stand in the rain to see if you short circuit. Why - are you worried?

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Dunno. Design some experiments, I suppose. Cut yourself, see if you bleed. Stand in the rain to see if you short circuit. Why - are you worried?

Daniel,

You wouldn't believe what goes through my head. No sense in adding an existential identity crisis. That could get dangerous...

Will cutting myself or short circuiting in the rain falsify or confirm the theory that I am a human being? I find that criteria beside the point.

How can a theory be well-tested when coming up with even one test is so difficult?

Michael

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How can a theory be well-tested when coming up with even one test is so difficult?

As well as we can manage! Truth is hard to come by. It's why they build these.

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Daniel,

Are you saying that I need a superconducting super collider in order to falsify or confirm the theory that I am a human being? Please enlighten me. I need something to test the theory with! There has to be some way! After all, the theory is well tested. You said so yourself.

You really don't want to see me have an existential identity crisis. It can get very ugly... Total meltdown... Then they have to take me away for a bit...

Michael

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Merlin,

Something I'd like to be sure of about your views:

You used the terminology in your post #67 (here)*:

"essentialist (or Randian)"

And you nowhere that I noticed objected to Daniel's repeating this terminology. May I safely conclude that you're of the opinion that Rand's approach to the principles of definition indeed is "essentialist," despite her divergence from Aristotle on the method of ascertaining essential characteristic(s)?

Ellen

* "Yet you insist the essentialist (or Randian) method of definition solve it to prove its worth."

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And you nowhere that I noticed objected to Daniel's repeating this terminology. May I safely conclude that you're of the opinion that Rand's approach to the principles of definition indeed is "essentialist," despite her divergence from Aristotle on the method of ascertaining essential characteristic(s)?

Let's make sure that this "divergence" is over intuition as the method.

Michael

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And you nowhere that I noticed objected to Daniel's repeating this terminology. May I safely conclude that you're of the opinion that Rand's approach to the principles of definition indeed is "essentialist," despite her divergence from Aristotle on the method of ascertaining essential characteristic(s)?

Let's make sure that this "divergence" is over intuition as the method.

Michael

Yes, although you grossly simplify what Aristotle was saying; you make him sound like some halfbrain "I just kinda sorta feel it" ancient flowerchild. And, when you come down to it, a serious question re Rand's view of how one discerns the "essential"/differentiating/fundamental characteristic is HOW one DOES ascertain that characteristic on which metaphysically the most others depend and which epistemologically explains the most others (paraphrasing, not looking up the exact quote; it's been quoted more than a couple times). One basically, I think, would have to have a theory of everything -- or one would have to intuit. E.g., how does she arrive at "rationality" as fulfilling her requirements re "man"? I'm not asking for the quotes; I've read them. How would one justify the claim she makes? (I'd say one wouldn't with a modern theory of biology, instead of her Aristotelean biology; thus when it comes to the brass tacks of her method one would be reduced de facto to intuiting. Nevertheless, she did draw a distinction between her method and Aristotle's -- though she'd have credited Aristotle with a lot more intelligence than your descriptions have credited him with.)

Ellen

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I want to make sure my previous post is absolutely clear. I have never claimed that Rand was not using the word "essential." I always claimed that her idea of essential did not involve intuition to grasp the essence. Ellen claimed that Popper saw no difference between the two, whereas I know of no place where Popper even mentioned Rand's kind of understanding of essence. He specifically mentioned intuition as one of his main objections to using this term.

Ellen has claimed, or at least strongly insinuated, the contrary since at least September.

Rand is an example of the "essentialist" definition-type to which Popper objected.

Furthermore, no, she doesn't differ much from the ancients in the respect Popper was talking about.

Once again, here are quotes from Popper's essay, Two Kinds of Definition (my bold):

Aristotle followed Plato in distinguishing between knowledge and opinion. Knowledge, or science, according to Aristotle, may be of two kinds - either demonstrative or intuitive. Demonstrative knowledge is also a knowledge of 'causes'. It consists of statements that can be demonstrated - the conclusions - together with their syllogistic demonstrations (which exhibit the 'causes' in their 'middle terms'). Intuitive knowledge consists in grasping the 'indivisible form' or essence or essential nature of a thing (if it is 'immediate', i.e. if its 'cause' is identical with its essential nature); it is the originative source of all science since it grasps the original basic premisses of all demonstrations.

. . .

But how to obtain these basic premisses? Like Plato, Aristotle believed that we obtain all knowledge ultimately by an intuitive grasp of the essences of things. 'We can know a thing only by knowing its essence', Aristotle writes, and 'to know a thing is to know its essence'. A 'basic premiss' is, according to him, nothing but a statement describing the essence of a thing. But such a statement is just what he calls a definition. Thus all 'basic premisses of proofs' are definitions.

. . .

But the most difficult question is how we can get hold of definitions or basic premisses, and make sure that they are correct - that we have not erred, not grasped the wrong essence. Although Aristotle is not very clear on this point, there can be little doubt that, in the main, he again follows Plato. 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. Eventually he simply postulates that we possess an intellectual intuition, a mental or intellectual faculty which enables us unerringly to grasp the essences of things, and to know them. And he further assumes that if we know an essence intuitively, we must be capable of describing it and therefore of defining it.

. . .

Aristotle held with Plato that we possess a faculty, intellectual intuition by which we can visualize essences and find out which definition is the correct one, and many modern essentialists have repeated this doctrine.

Popper also makes it clear that intuition is not based on facts, but is irrational or whim-based at root, albeit somehow "important" and "strong":

My opinion is that we can readily admit that we possess something which may be described as 'intellectual intuition'; or more precisely, that certain of our intellectual experiences may be thus described Everybody who 'understands' an idea, or a point of view, or an arithmetical method, for instance, multiplication, in the sense that he has 'got the feel of it', might be said to understand that thing intuitively; and there are countless intellectual experiences of that kind. But I would insist, on the other hand, that these experiences, important as they may be for our scientific endeavours, can never serve to establish the truth of any idea or theory, however strongly somebody may feel, intuitively, that it must be true, or that it is 'self-evident'." Such intuitions cannot even serve as an argument, although they may encourage us to look for arguments. For somebody else may have just as strong an intuition that the same theory is false.

Back to intuition:

All this applies, of course, to Aristotle's doctrine of intellectual intuition of so-called essences, which was propagated by Hegel and in our own time by E. Husserl and his numerous pupils; and it indicates that the 'intellectual intuition of essences' or 'pure phenomenology', as Husserl calls it, is a method of neither science nor philosophy.

Popper does not understand the term "essence" without it being grasped by intuition. That is the respect Popper talks about with essentialism: intuition as the epistemological method for gaining knowledge. This, I have repeated a great deal, is not what Rand was getting at.

It is a mistake to claim that Popper was lumping her kind of definition with this kind by Aristotle, or worse, that Rand's method doesn't differ much. There are some formal similarities (the genus-differentia formula), but that is about all. The fundamental part is completely different. For Rand, ALL knowledge was sense-based. Claiming that the methods "do not differ much" is sort of like saying that a boat and a bird are almost identical because both are blue.

Michael

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Yes, although you grossly simplify what Aristotle was saying; you make him sound like some halfbrain "I just kinda sorta feel it" ancient flowerchild.

Ellen,

Our posts crossed. If you read the Popper excerpts, and this time I put some parts in bold for easier comprehension, you will see that I am not the one making Aristotle sound like "some halfbrain 'I just kinda sorta feel it' ancient flowerchild." Popper is.

As for the rest of your questions, I have dealt with them in previous posts.

EDIT: And for the record, I still believe Popper and Rand were talking roughly about the same thing (with some differences, of course) using vastly different terminology.

Michael

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Daniel and Merlin are missing a relevant difference here from the "democracy" example and thus talking at...(I have to do it; Bill Dwyer committed this groaner so often, it invariably comes to mind) cross porpoises.

Porpoises. Ha-ha.

I think both of you are mixing together two different issues here: (1) the issue of definitions of words; and (2 ) in the whale example, that of categorizations, in this case biological categorizations, of the referents of words.

We have not been distinguishing between them. But I don't think it has led to confusion or us astray. Both are part of meaning, which has been the topic. Words have referents and words have definitions. If the definition, more exactly the definiens, does not capture the essential characteristics of the intended referents of the definiendum, then that's a huge disconnect. Correct thinking and good communication require they be linked. Or saying it another way, the intension and extension should correspond. (See "definition" in Wikipedia.)

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We have not been distinguishing between them. But I don't think it has led to confusion or us astray. Both are part of meaning, which has been the topic. Words have referents and words have definitions. If the definition, more exactly the definiens, does not capture the essential characteristics of the intended referents of the definiendum, then that's a huge disconnect. Correct thinking and good communication require they be linked. Or saying it another way, the intension and extension should correspond. (See "definition" in Wikipedia.)

Sense and reference are quite distinct. Consider "the morning star", "the evening star". The senses differ, literally, as night does from day. Yet they both -refer- to the planet Venus, which is not a star at all. Here is a case where intension and extension are disjoint. Sinn and bedeutung are simply different. Conventional definitions are needed to keep them somewhat glued to each other.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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