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Universals and Measurement

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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?

Michael

No, this is not a theory, it is merely a classification. Theories require some inference and to falsify an inference you only need one counter-example.

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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*).
*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.
Hence, in my view, this clinging to one's own specific meanings of words, and accepting no other, is equally irrationalist.

I reordered the quotes - the last is first in your post - and take the last as an allusion to Ayn Rand, given what you say in the other two.

I don't regard someone using an unconventional meaning for a given word as irrational per se. There may be an excellent reason for doing so. It can be a good way to make one's point, to better communicate one's ideas. This wasn't done just by Ayn Rand (or Stein, for whom I'll take your word), but a number of times in history. Darwin redefined "species" from a creationist one (and similarity) to one based on ancestry (and similarity). In the history of chemistry the meaning of "acid" was changed more than once. (It's detailed in Paul Thagard's Conceptual Revolutions, p. 37-39). There are more. You can say these differ much from Rand's case or Stein's, but they were still cases of new and unconventional meanings.

By the way I much recommend Conceptual Revolutions. Its analysis is epistemological rather than the sociological kind of Thomas Kuhn's famous book.

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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."

___

Yes. In regard to definitions "essential" doesn't carry the metaphysical connotations (despite Popper).

Edited by Merlin Jetton

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(Merlin Jetton @ Oct 27 2007, 05:26 AM)

I don't regard someone using an unconventional meaning for a given word as irrational per se. There may be an excellent reason for doing so. It can be a good way to make one's point, to better communicate one's ideas. This wasn't done just by Ayn Rand (or Stein, for whom I'll take your word), but a number of times in history. Darwin redefined "species" from a creationist one (and similarity) to one based on ancestry (and similarity). In the history of chemistry the meaning of "acid" was changed more than once. (It's detailed in Paul Thagard's Conceptual Revolutions, p. 37-39). There are more. You can say these differ much from Rand's case or Stein's, but they were still cases of new and unconventional meanings.

Briefly: I have no problem with using unconventional meanings to better communicate, or the flexible use of them that you describe. This is not my point. The criticism relates to when they are used to obfuscate a problem, and where this obfuscation rigidly is insisted upon.

Example:

Objectivist: "Induction is logically valid - but of course by "induction", "logic" and "validity" I mean something quite different from what is normally meant by these terms, which incidentally are the only usages I will accept."

Clearly this approach neither helps communicate nor solves the actual problem in question. Unless something quite different is also meant by "communicate" and "solves"... :)

By the way I much recommend Conceptual Revolutions. Its analysis is epistemological rather than the sociological kind of Thomas Kuhn's famous book.

Thanks, I will remember to have a look. I did not think much of Kuhn's book.

Edited by Daniel Barnes

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Another example re: the above to perhaps make my point clearer.

Imagine a carpenter is quoting on building you a house. He submits his quotation, along with guarantees that it will be finished on time, on budget, and to a high standard. Then you notice in the fine print on the back that the terms "on time" "on budget" and "high standard" have a special meaning to him, and which is quite different from what is normally meant by them... :D .

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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.

Just to cut to the chase in this series of Ask-Me-Another, I have suggested a couple of tests already of appropriate seriousness :) If you stand in the rain and don't short circuit, this is empirical evidence that you are not an android equipped with remarkably poor insulation. If you cut yourself, and you bleed, this falsifies the possibility that you are in fact a Terminator sent from the future. And so on.

It all depends on how fixedly you want to cling to your hypothesis that you are not human. The situation is like those paranoid delusionals who believe the CIA has implanted a microchip in their heads somewhere. Now, no amount of X-rays or exploratory surgery will persuade them if they are suitably determined to cling to their theory; after all the chip may be designed by the CIA to be invisible to X-ray, and the brain surgeon may also be secretly on the CIA payroll. But of course we would regard such fixation in the teeth of all contrary evidence as irrational. Similarly, with your example. If you really want to believe it, there is no test that can be designed that will persuade you. If, however, you hold the theory lightly, as we Popperians recommend, the tests I suggest should be sufficient. :)

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It all depends on how fixedly you want to cling to your hypothesis that you are not human.

Daniel,

Nice try but no cigar. I prefer to stick to the original theory I mentioned (not hypothesis) and not change it to something ridiculous because no test is forthcoming. The theory I mentioned is that I am a human being. Not that I am not a human being.

Not only did you agree that my observation that I am a human being is a theory, you even claimed that it has been a well tested theory. But darned if it isn't like pulling a chicken's tooth to find out how.

Michael

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It all depends on how fixedly you want to cling to your hypothesis that you are not human.

Daniel,

Nice try but no cigar. I prefer to stick to the original theory I mentioned (not hypothesis) and not change it to something ridiculous because no test is forthcoming. The theory I mentioned is that I am a human being. Not that I am not a human being.

But there is no way of confirming such a theory/hypothesis. This is the whole point. We test it for falsifications: for example, when cut humans generally bleed. Cut yourself and you bleed, your theory's passed that test. Humans do not short circuit in the rain. Stand in the rain:if you do not short circuit, it's passed that test to. (If you do short circuit, your theory is pretty much falsified) And so forth. How many tests you want to design in pursuit of this goal is up to you, just as the decision as to why you want to undertake such a research program in the first place is also up to you.

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So you are now saying that it is not a well tested theory?

Well, Michael, humans can breathe eat sleep talk think have 5 fingers drive cars run businesses have friends debate on the internet cook write etc etc etc. If you've been doing these things you've been testing the theory that you're human for as long as you can remember. Seems to have stood up so far, tho who knows: you may turn out to just be a computer simulation from the future.

What's with these repeated feeble attempts at a "gotcha" anyway? If you have an actual point please make it.

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Daniel,

"Repeated feeble attempts at a 'gotcha'"?

You can't be getting irritated because of that! Have you read the bulk of your own posts? That's all you do with Rand.

:)

My point? Well, it is not "gotcha." I am merely trying to ascertain how this Popperian approach stands up to the obvious. So far it hasn't done so well. I can't even be sure I am a human being. I can only have a theory about it and even then, there is no real test to find out.

Not good.

Michael

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My point? Well, it is not "gotcha." I am merely trying to ascertain how this Popperian approach stands up to the obvious. So far it hasn't done so well. I can't even be sure I am a human being.

I can only have a theory about it and even then, there is no real test to find out. Not good.

Well, if you believe you've discovered this amazing criticism of Popper's Critical Rationalism, why don't you just rock on over and inform the friendly Popperian folks - and some of their critics - over at the Critical Cafe?

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Critical_Cafe

Just like I'm doing here, and elsewhere for some years now: fronting up and explaining to Objectivists what I think is wrong with Rand's theories. Do that and I might take your claims a bit more seriously. Or perhaps you don't really think you've got a point either.

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Brief check-in; all I have time for.

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.

Michael, considering that Popper's essay was published in 1945 and Rand's ITOE wasn't published until 1966-67, it would have been mighty difficult for him to have discussed Rand's particular views. (And I don't know if even as of his death in 1994, he'd ever read or even heard of Rand.) Nevertheless, speaking of "essential" features, I indeed do claim, not insinuate, that the difference between Aristotle and Rand on the method of identifying the "essence" is insignificant compared to the similarity in their views on the nature of definitions.

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.

Ellen

___

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I decided to look up "essentialism" in Objective Knowledge. To my surprise Popper described his own position as "essentialist", but called it "modified essentialism" (pp. 194-7).

More word games. :) More taking common words and using them in arcane way. :)

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I decided to look up "essentialism" in Objective Knowledge. To my surprise Popper described his own position as "essentialist", but called it "modified essentialism" (pp. 194-7).

More word games. :) More taking common words and using them in arcane way. :)

Been there done that argument. Already replied in detail recently somewhere in the tangled threads. Suprised you didn't see it.

Again: Popper makes the distinction between the Aristotelian essentialist method and essentialist metaphysics. It is the former we are critiquing in Rand, not the latter. He advocates nominalist means to modified essentialist ends, if you like. He makes this distinction quite clearly in a footnote in that very essay, just to avoid the very confusion you suggest. Read it for yourself!

And, um, in case you didn't notice, his advocacy of nominalist methodology is only the whole point of the essay you reckon you've critiqued... :)

Further: since when is "essentialism" a common word, like "logic", "valid", "selfish", "absolute", "sacrifice" etc? You got to be kidding, right? :D

Further still: Popper seems to have very much popularised this arcane word in the first place. He even gets a name check, and his distinction recognised in the wiki. Seems to protect him from such accusations, I reckon. Care to try to make the same argument for Rand and "logic"?

Thought not. :)

Edited by Daniel Barnes

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More word games. :) More taking common words and using them in arcane way. :)

PS: Merlin, if you really want to have a shot at Popper for "word games", I'll even supply you a whole bunch of ammo. Such an accusation was in fact made by the late David Stove in his "Popper and After: Four Modern Irrationalists" under the rubric of "neutralising success words."

http://www.geocities.com/ResearchTriangle/...per/popper.html

Enjoy.

Edited by Daniel Barnes

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Nevertheless, speaking of "essential" features, I indeed do claim, not insinuate, that the difference between Aristotle and Rand on the method of identifying the "essence" is insignificant compared to the similarity in their views on the nature of definitions.
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.

Ellen,

I understand this to mean that you consider Rand's theory of concepts to be based on intuition.

Michael

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Further: since when is "essentialism" a common word, like "logic", "valid", "selfish", "absolute", "sacrifice" etc? You got to be kidding, right? :D

:o Daniel, please forgive me for lack of clarity. By common words I meant "essence" and "essential". Or was Popper not writing about them? :)

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Again: Popper makes the distinction between the Aristotelian essentialist method and essentialist metaphysics. It is the former we are critiquing in Rand, not the latter.

Daniel,

If you can show me where Rand used the "Aristotelian essentialist method" of gaining knowledge through intuition, I would be grateful for a quote.

Michael

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If you can show me where Rand used the "Aristotelian essentialist method" of gaining knowledge through intuition, I would be grateful for a quote.

Nowhere. I am suprised you think this is my (and Popper's ) argument after all this time. No-one has said anything of the sort. Clearly I will have to think of some way I can better explain it. Does anyone else think that this is what myself and Ellen are arguing?

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I am suprised you think this is my (and Popper's ) argument after all this time.

Daniel,

After making a gazillion posts complaining about precisely this, I am surprised you are surprised.

No-one has said anything of the sort. Clearly I will have to think of some way I can better explain it.

Please do. And please explain why you are ignoring the fact that Popper states clearly that his objection is to using intuition as a scientific method. Here are his quotes once again from my post above. Notice my phrase below: "Popper does not understand the term 'essence' without it being grasped by intuition." At least he doesn't in that essay.

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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The problem with these threads and posts is that they aren't centered on the scientific method, but Popper this and Rand that and so and so that. I will state unequivocally that Rand made not one ounce of contribution to the scientific method and she cannot be reversed engineered to that. AR made a moral defense of science and science used morally. Popper is another matter entirely, but again there's no point if you refer to Popper to refute any philosopher including Popper if you've a mind unless it's in the context of the scientific method. If there is something wrong with that method and the premise of the tentativeness of scientific knowledge then that's what needs to be discussed. What also needs to be discussed is philosophical absolutism and the psychological and political and other human needs it serves.

--Brant

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