Wednesday, November 29, 2006

More Great Moments In Randian Argument

In the recent ARCHN Quote of the Week we discover Ayn Rand's amazing insight that the standard proper for determining the requirements of man's life is...man's life!

We realise the profundity of this insight is pretty tough to beat. But fortunately, the greatest philosopher of the past 2000 years is up to the challenge. From her "Introduction To Objectivist Epistemology" Chapter 2, Concept Formation:
"I shall identify as ‘length’ that attribute of any existent possessing it which can be quantitatively related to a unit of length, without specifying the quantity."
Yes folks, according Ayn Rand 'length' is that 'attribute' which can be 'quantitively related' a 'unit of'....wait for it...'length!'

Phew! It's just as well for Western Civilization that Rand was around to straighten out such challenging philosophical issues.

27 comments:

ObjectiBlog said...

Not to change subjects, but has anyone been listening to Peikoff's DIM lectures? I'm on the last one (I skipped only the lecture on education.)

It's what you would expect. The standard Objectivist bad guys (Kant, Hume, Augustine, the medievals, etc.) and the few good guys (Aristotle, the Founders) all categorized by Peikoff in a rather unexciting manner.

The course was recorded during the 2004 election and Peikoff was railing against Bush for creating a "Puritan theocracy." Given that 25 years ago Peikoff was fretting about a Nazi style dictatorship, you have to wonder about the explanatory power of the epoch making DIM hypothesis.

Normally the ARI doesn't make stuff available for free on their site (the DIM course goes for $315) so I wonder if it was put up to justify Peikoff's statements concerning the 200 election or try to keep Peikoff prominent in the Objectivist world as Rand's "intellectual heir."

-Neil Parille

Anonymous said...

you people really need to get a life. its obvious you don't get the implications of her ideas.

Daniel Barnes said...

Anon:
>you people really need to get a life. its obvious you don't get the implications of her ideas.

Anon, could you then please explain the important epistemological implications of her idea that "length...is...length"? Would you consider it a profound insight if another philosopher said it? Or if, say, Greg Nyquist employed this line as an argument against Rand?

Daniel Barnes said...

OB:
>Not to change subjects, but has anyone been listening to Peikoff's DIM lectures?

I...sorry, I meant the ARCHN team of trained analysts...started out with good intentions but have otherwise been waylaid. Sheesh, it's like 20-30 hours of listening - and to Leonard at that. Hardly the most inviting prospect. I think I'll wait for the book.

>I wonder if it was put up to justify Peikoff's statements concerning the 200 election or try to keep Peikoff prominent in the Objectivist world as Rand's "intellectual heir."

I think you are probably on the money.

Daniel Barnes said...

Using my amazing psychic powers, I will try to predict a likely criticism of my citing this line of Rand's.

I will be accused of 'dropping context' citing this line.

I will then ask what, exactly, said 'context' adds to this insight. As far as I can see - and I know the surrounding passages well - the context changes nothing.

The reply will be nothing specific, merely that merely the surrounding passages are not enough context, and properly we should place it in the context of the whole ITOE; or perhaps all of 'Atlas Shrugged' too; or perhaps even the whole of Rand's corpus; because her thought is so complexly interconnected on so many levels one cannot properly examine one element without regard to the whole. Anything less and, why, you obviously don't 'understand' the philosophy.

In other words, invoking the word 'context' on an ever-retreating, increasingly holistic scale, really means never having to actually explain yourself.

Anonymous said...

***"I shall identify as ‘length’ that attribute of any existent possessing it which can be quantitatively related to a unit of length, without specifying the quantity."***

Something is the standard for all units of measurement right? It's believed that a mans foot was used at to what we now know as twelve inches.

I'm not sure what the original standard was used in the metric system though. But surely it was of some entity.

When forming concepts, one must be able to differentiate between two or more of the like entities while retaining what it is they share that makes them that entity and omit the differences, or as Rand said, the measurements.

(eg) A hamsandwich is a food that has two or more slices of bread or the like with ham in between. If one sandwich has mustard and pickles and the other has mayo and no pickles, they are both still considered ham sandwiches even though their measurements(the condiments used) differ. It's because of the likeness they share (ham in between two or more pices of bread or the like) that they are what they are.

Anonymous said...

Hey Daniel,

Pretend I know nothing about length or measurement (for I am just a young grasshopper) and explain to me what it is so I can understand.

Daniel Barnes said...

>Pretend I know nothing about length or measurement (for I am just a young grasshopper) and explain to me what it is so I can understand.

Well it's an interesting issue: how do our abstract standards (imperial/metric etc) relate to the physical (ie: non-abstract, or concrete) world. It's quite a broad issue too once you really drill down into it, reaching over into how our sense organs perceive physical and temporal qualities etc. There's a lot of controversies therein, to be sure.

But one thing we can say is that the insight that "length...is...length" adds nothing to the debate!

Anonymous said...

***But one thing we can say is that the insight that "length...is...length" adds nothing to the debate! ***

That's not what she is saying.

I propose that you cannot explain to me the concept of length without doing what you are condemning Rand for.

Daniel Barnes said...

PM:
>I propose that you cannot explain to me the concept of length without doing what you are condemning Rand for.

Exactly. That's why analysing 'concepts' ultimately leads to pointless, scholastic waffle such as the above! I hold, good Popperian that I am, that it's a fundamentally flawed approach, not just in Objectivism, but in philosophy across the board. This is just a particularly glaring example.

Anonymous said...

***Exactly. That's why analysing 'concepts' ultimately leads to pointless, scholastic waffle such as the above! I hold, good Popperian that I am, that it's a fundamentally flawed approach, not just in Objectivism, but in philosophy across the board. This is just a particularly glaring example. ***


I'm not talking about "analyzing" concepts. I'm talking about forming them. A word is just a mental signifier for a concept and look at you presupposing concepts all over the place with every post you make! Well hell you don't have a problem with violating the fallacy of the stolen concept so why not use them and pretend they don't exist!

Daniel Barnes said...

PM:
>I'm not talking about "analyzing" concepts. I'm talking about forming them.

What Rand is doing is (allegedly) analysing (or trying to explain) how they are formed. This unfortunately leads to scholastic arguments over the meaning of words. I believe arguments of this kind are an intellectual error, albeit a widespread one.

>A word is just a mental signifier for a concept and look at you presupposing concepts all over the place with every post you make!

Yes, 'concepts' exist. But it is a mistake - albeit a widespread one, as I say - to try to analyse them too deeply. This leads to the pedantry we see all to often in modern philosophy, Objectivism in particular. Instead one should focus on discussing things like statements, proposals, problems, plans and avoid arguments over the meaning of words.

Anonymous said...

But when discussing such statements, proposals, problems, and plans words are used and certainly the meanings will be an issue. In fact go read any law book and you will see how each word is carefully chosen as to mean clearly what they want it to mean.

But let's not stray here. She did not say length is length.

She was saying length can only be understood in contrast to some other entity which posses length. Notice the key word she used there, "related'. In others words a comparison is taking place between two or more entities.

I think you realized you were fighting a losing battle when you saw my rebuttal so you red herringed your way out of it. Why do I think that? Because you did not frame your original post as a problem with philosophy in general (as you are now saying) or even make mention of philosophy in general but specifically a problem exclusively with Rand. It made for a convenient "out' for you huh?

Daniel Barnes said...

PM:
>But let's not stray here. She did not say length is length.

Yes she did!

>She was saying length can only be understood in contrast to some other entity which posses length.

No shit Sherlock! I suppose there are two types of people in the world. People who think the above is philosophically profound, like you, and people like me who don't!

>I think you realized you were fighting a losing battle when you saw my rebuttal so you red herringed your way out of it. Why do I think that? Because you did not frame your original post as a problem with philosophy in general...

Actually, you might notice the the WHOLE FREAKING SITE is not about philosophy in general, but Ayn Rand's philosophy. IF she shares some of the defects of modern philosophy - and she does, particularly her Aristotelian epistemology - I will mention this. Big deal.

Anonymous said...

***No shit Sherlock! I suppose there are two types of people in the world. People who think the above is philosophically profound, like you, and people like me who don't!***

Ohh looks like I struck a never there! The truth has a way of doing that to ya.

But anyways saying A is A is tautological. Saying something has to be contrasted with something else similar is NOT tantological because concepts are derrived from it.

Daniel Barnes said...

Clearly you think this is a Great Moment in Randian Argument. As such we here at ARCHN are happy to have supplied you with it. You may be assured of more Randian intellectual excellence in future, so stay tuned...;-)

Anonymous said...

***Clearly you think this is a Great Moment in Randian Argument. As such we here at ARCHN are happy to have supplied you with it. You may be assured of more Randian intellectual excellence in future, so stay tuned...;-)
***


I'm sorry but nothing in your statement there supports your assertion that what Rand was saying is "length is length".

Daniel Barnes said...

PM:
>I'm sorry but nothing in your statement there supports your assertion that what Rand was saying is "length is length".

Read-the-post. I break it down there. If you somehow still don't believe this is what it boils down to...well, you're welcome to hold that opinion.

Dragonfly said...

Daniel: "I...sorry, I meant the ARCHN team of trained analysts...started out with good intentions but have otherwise been waylaid. Sheesh, it's like 20-30 hours of listening - and to Leonard at that."

Right... I should continue to listen to those lectures one of these days, but I don't know how to do that without falling asleep. After a few lectures it all becomes sooo predictable and boring... and then that voice... So far I found only nr 6 interesting, just while it's too absurd. It would be a hoot if he ever puts that into a book.

Dragonfly said...

What Rand said here is indeed a circular definition: identify as length the attribute..that can be related to a unit of length. What she should have done if she wanted to analyze how the concept "length" is formed, is to look for possible mechanisms.

For example, the child may note that you can cover the match with the pencil but not the other way around, the same for the pencil and the stick, etc. Or that you can touch something with the stick in your hand, but not with the pencil in your hand, etc.

By ordering such experiences the child might arrive at the notion of the "length" of an object. Now I'm just thinking aloud, and I don't claim this is the right explanation. But at least she should have tried something along these lines, she could have looked for research that has been done about this subject. But now she has in fact told us nothing about how the child arrives at the concept "length", as her "explanation" assumes that the child already knows the concept length.

ObjectiBlog said...

I've heard Objectivists say as follows with respect to concept formation: (a) it's a theory based on evidence (studies in psychology); or (b) we know based on introspection that this is how it must work so you don't need any studies; or (c) it isn't a psychological/empirical theory -- it simply explains what a concept is (measurements omitted, etc.)

There is actually some support for each of these explanations in ITO.

Anonymous said...

So can I post on this thread now?? why have not my last two messages been approved that I sent last night???

Daniel Barnes said...

Hi Prime Mover

I've published every message I've seen come in. I dunno what's happened if you lost some. I've noticed Blogger's been down a bit on and off over the last day or so. Resend and i'll put them thru.

Anonymous said...

***For example, the child may note that you can cover the match with the pencil but not the other way around, the same for the pencil and the stick, etc. Or that you can touch something with the stick in your hand, but not with the pencil in your hand, etc.***

Dragonfly this is along the lines of what Rand says. I dunno how familiar with the book you are, but in forming a concept you notice the likeness of the objects being observed and omit the differences, or as Rand called,the measurements.

Concepts are important because they allow us to retain knowledge above that of the perceptual level.

Go back above and read my ham sandwich example. I know this leaves a lot of questions open but I'd be glad to answer whatever you have.

Cavewight said...

Anonymous said...
Something is the standard for all units of measurement right? It's believed that a mans foot was used at to what we now know as twelve inches.

Then which body part was used to represent one inch? Let's see...

Anonymous said...

Barnes is confused or pretending to be confused about the difference between length and measured length. Consider a board, such as a (nominal) 2 by 4 piece of lumber. It has a length whether or not it has ever been measured. Use a foot ruler to measure the board. The ruler has a length, too, like the board. Suppose the length of the board is 12 feet. That is its measured length.

Daniel Barnes said...

Oh MJ, stop trolling...;-)