To negate man's mind, it is the conceptual level of his consciousness that has to be invalidated. Most philosophers did not intend to invalidate conceptual knowledge, but its defenders did more to destroy it than did its enemies. They were unable to offer a solution to the ‘problem of universals,’ that is: to define the nature and source of abstractions, to determine the relationship of concepts to perceptual data—and to prove the validity of scientific induction.... The philosophers were unable to refute the witch-doctors claim that their concepts were as arbitrary as his whims and that their scientific knowledge had no greater metaphysical validity than his revelations. [FTNI, 30]
What evidence does Rand provide for this view? No relevant evidence. Only an obscure quote from an obscure historian of pragmatism:
All knowledge is in terms of concepts. If these concepts correspond to something that is to be found in reality they are real and man's knowledge has a foundation in fact; if they do not correspond to anything in reality they are not real and man's knowledge is of mere figments of his own imagination. [Edward C. Moore, quoted by Rand, IOTE, 1-2]
Note that Moore says nothing about the problem of universals and its relation to concepts. That connection Rand made on her own. I'm not aware of any major modern philosopher who has ever suggested that the failure to solve the problem of universals invalidates conceptual knowledge. Most modern philosophers ignore the whole issue. If they discuss the issue of universals at all, it is only in passing.
More to the point, I'm not aware of any major philosopher who would endorse the view that conceptual knowledge is invalid for any reason whatsoever. Hume and Kant were considered great sceptics in their day; but neither philosopher ever claimed that all conceptual knowledge was erroneous or untrue. Indeed, both regarded the charge of being great sceptics as unfair. Hume added a pragmatic refutation of extreme scepticism in his Enquiry on Human Understanding, and Kant added a proof of realism to the second addition of the Critique. Idealist philosophers like Berkeley and Hegel, far from denying the validity of conceptual knowledge, regarded knowledge of concepts as the only true knowledge. Rand's assertion, therefore, that conceptual knowledge has been invalidated by the failure of modern philosophers to solve the problem of universals is blatantly false. Who doubts the truth of all conceptual knowledge because of the problem of universals? Can Rand (or any of her disciples) provide a single example? Most people have never even heard of the problem of universals. Nor do most people regard their conceptual knowledge as "invalid."
For the reasons outlined above, IOTE attempts to solve what, from a practical point of view, is a trivial or non-existent problem. This is the first great defect of Rand's tract. A second defect is that she does a poor job of explaining how her solution actually solves the so-called problem. Rand's solution (to be discussed in more detail in future posts) consists largely of her theory of concept formation. By showing how concepts are formed, Rand believed that she had solved the problem of universals. Unfortunately, she does not do a very good job of connecting the dots: she fails to provide an adequate explanation of how her theory of concept formation, by "solving" the problem of universals, manages to "validate" conceptual knowledge. The closest she comes to providing an explanation is in the following passage:
Now we can answer the question: To what precisely do we refer when we designate three persons as “men?” We refer to the fact that they are living beings who possess the same characteristic distinguishing them from all other living species: a rational faculty—though the specific measurements of their distinguishing characteristic qua men, as well as all their other characteristics qua living beings, are different. (As living beings of a certain kind, they possess innumerable characteristics in common: the same shape, the same range of size, the same facial features, the same vital organs, the same fingerprints, etc., and all these characteristics differ only in their measurements). [IOTE, 17]
The claim here is that Rand's measurement omission principle of concept formation (to be discussed in a future post) solves the problem of universals. But does it? What if we ran across a "man" who, because he was insane or mentally retarded, did not have a rational faculty? Would he still be recognizable as a man? Here we run into an issue that is at the very heart of the "problem of universals" but which Rand does not broach at all: the issue of "natural kinds." To this problem we will turn in my next post.