Saturday, February 24, 2007

Understanding Objectivist Jargon Pt 8: "Concepts"

"Concepts"= condensations of human knowledge, which also simultaneously transcend all human knowledge. They can never be overthrown - they are valid for all time. They exist only inside individual minds, but are also universal. (Yes, folks, it's a veritable all-you-can-eat-and-have-too cakefest!). Additionally, Rand hints that the true meaning of concepts can be properly determined only by superior men. In other words, Objectivism's version of Plato's Forms.

8 comments:

Michael Prescott said...

I recently came across a theory of concepts promulgated by George John Romanes in the late 19th century. Romanes argued for something called "recepts," which occupy a middle position between percepts and concepts. Essentially, a recept is a composite picture of many percepts - for instance, if we have observed a number of trees, we may form a composite image of a tree, which does not match any one particular tree.

What, then, is the difference between a recept and a concept? Only this - a concept is a recept that has been tagged or labeled with a name. Thus, concept-formation and the acquisition of language go hand in hand.

Although merely naming a recept may seem like a small change, it actually frees up the mind to handle these composite images much more efficiently, in much the same way that algebra is more efficient than arithmetic at performing certain types of computations.

I'm not sure how (or if) the notion of recepts applies to more abstract ideas like justice or virtue. Still, the theory has the advantage of simplicity, and seems to mirror the way (some) concept-formation actually takes place.

Romanes develops his idea in an 1889 volume called Mental Evolution in Man.

Jay said...

Do you dislike Ayn Rand so much that you're going to seriously try denying the existence of concepts?

Daniel Barnes said...

Who denies concepts exist?

The issue is:
1) Is Rand's theory true?
2) Is it important?

I believe it is neither. Briefly, 1) because if empirically tested, it would fail and 2) analysis of concepts is not important, because it is impossible to a. logically establish their truth or falsity (Rand did not appear to realise this) or b. improve their precision by precise definition (Rand did not realise this either). Concepts are merely general ideas. What's important is debate about problems, proposals, statements, theories etc. Unlike the meanings of words, these can be tested and decided true or false. And to anticipate the predictable objection, that concepts (and the words that represent them) are used in statements or theories does not make them important obvjects of analysis, any more than the letters that compose the words do.

Anon57 said...

Jay asked: "Do you dislike Ayn Rand so much that you're going to seriously try denying the existence of concepts?"

No, Barnes dislikes Ayn Rand so much he is willing to concoct the most ridiculous straw man he can and then cram it in Ayn Rand's mouth. This one is pretty damn ridiculous, but no doubt Barnes can top it.

Daniel Barnes said...

Anon57:
>No, Barnes dislikes Ayn Rand so much he is willing to concoct the most ridiculous straw man he can and then cram it in Ayn Rand's mouth.

Hi Anon57

Firstly, thanks for using a handle. It makes life so much easier.

Secondly, your comment is rather short on specifics. What exactly is "ridiculous" about about my description of Rand's theory?

anon57 said...

Barnes asked: "What exactly is 'ridiculous' about about my description of Rand's theory?"

Everything after the first comma.

Daniel Barnes said...

Well, that narrows it down...;-)

Bart Lawless said...

"Everything after the first comma."

That would mean that both Daniel's belief that Rand's theory is false, and his belief that Rand's theory is unimportant are not ridiculous. (^-^)