Monday, February 25, 2013

Ayn Rand & Epistemology 30

Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy 3: Definitional Arguments. One of the principle philosophical vices of Objectivism is a mania for rationalizing on the basis of tautologies. Closely associated with this is a concomitant mania for rationalizing on the basis of definitions. This in large measure explains Rand's doctrine of immaculate definitions (i.e., her belief that definitions can be true or false). The problem with definitional reasoning is that it begs the question. Instead of basing arguments on facts, it bases it on definitions; and definitions, which only define word usage, are "arbitrary."

In the opening of his essay on the analytic-synthetic dichotomy, Peikoff provides the following anecdote about a discussion he had with a professor which illustrates how Objectivists use definitions and logic to evade facts while assuming the very point at issue:

Some years ago, I was defending capitalism in a discussion with a prominent professor of philosophy. In answer to his charge that capitalism leads to coercive monopolies, I explained that such monopolies are caused by government intervention in the economy and logically impossible under capitalism.... The professor was singularly unmoved by my argument, replying:

"Logically impossible? Of course -- granted your definitions. You're merely saying that, no matter what proportion of the market it controls, you won't call a business a 'coercive monopoly' if it occurs in a system you call 'capitalism.' Your view is true by arbitrary fiat, it's a matter of semantics, it's logically true but not factually true. Leave logic aside now; be serious and consider the actual empirical facts on this matter."


Doubts arise, of course, as to whether Peikoff has accurately related the professor's argument. But even if this professor said what Peikoff claims he said, the professor nonetheless has a point. Objectivists do in fact tend to resort to definitional arguments. Such arguments suffer from the fallacy of begging the question. Grant someone's definitions, and the rest follows, logically. But since definitions merely establish what one means by the words one uses, this is not enough.

If Peikoff's professor had really said, "Leave logic aside now," he was making a poor argument for his case. He would have been better served by saying, "Leave definitions aside now; let's start with the actual facts of the matter."

While Peikoff is entirely free to define capitalism any way he pleases, he's not free to assume that his definition accords to anything we find in reality. That's empirical question dependent on the actual facts relevant to the case at hand. Peikoff's proof that "coercive" monopolies cannot arise under capitalism is entirely circular. It's contained in his definitions of capitalism and coercive monopoly. Arguing from definitions is not how one ascertains truth. If you're serious about acquiring true knowledge of reality, you have to go beyond your definitions of words and actually test your actual beliefs (as opposed to the meanings of your terms) against reality. And that's what Peikoff does not want to do, because it's much more difficult to establish his views on the basis of empirical testing rather than on speculation based on arbitrary definitions. To begin with, capitalism as he defines it has never existed, nor is it plausible that such a system ever will exist. If we seek out systems that approximate Peikoff's definition, we find that his assertions about "coercive" monopoly a tad bit exaggerated. What we find when we look at the "lightly" regulated capitalism of the nineteenth century is a very strong desire on the part of many firms to discover and attain monopolistic advantages, which sometimes led to monopolies which even Peikoff would admit are "coercive." It is often through such monopoly advantages that profits are secured against the uncertainties of market competition; and profits are the lifeblood of every business.

It matters little if Peikoff responds by insisting that his (and Rand's) definitions are "true." Definitions define the meaning of words. How one goes about defining one's terms is, at least initially, entirely "arbitrary." Once one's terms are defined, one needs to stick to the initial definitions, or risk equivocation. But the meaning chosen is neither true or false. As I have repeatedly elucidated when discussing the Objectivist view of definitions, words by themselves don't tell us anything about reality. It's only when something about reality is asserted using these terms that the issue of truth is broached.

The issue of monopolies under "capitalism" is very complex. Any sophisticated understanding of political systems strongly suggests that the sort of "laissez-faire" or "unregulated" capitalism imagined by Rand is a fantasy. Human beings tend to respond to incentives; and built-in to any social system featuring widespread division of labor are incentives, spread across various factions, against the vague, poorly defined "unregulated" capitalism advocated by Objectivists. Politicians don't want laissez-faire; lawyers don't want it; speculators and investors don't want it; most businessman don't want; the rich don't want it; the poor don't want it. It turns out that, when the matter is examined closely, almost everyone wants at least something from the government: security for their investments, security for their employment, security for the old age, security against natural disaster, security against the vicissitudes of competitive life. Real life (as opposed to the type of existence imagined by Rand) remains threatened from all sides by uncertainties. Individuals seek hedges against this uncertainty; and the government, as the most powerful institution in society, remains for many the most attractive hedge of all. Given the constitution of human nature, it's extremely unlikely that very many individuals can be persuaded by a mere ideology not to regard government as an attractive hedge against uncertainty.

So when we come to investigating the monopolistic side of "capitalism," it simply will not do to dream up how things would work in an imaginary, political unfeasible version of the system. Empiricism requires that we stick to plausible versions of that system, not merely imaginary ones. Once we do so, we are confronted by a far more ambiguous set of facts, none of which yield the simple, easy answers propagated by political ideologies.

353 comments:

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ungtss said...

"How one goes about defining one's terms is, at least initially, entirely "arbitrary." Once one's terms are defined, one needs to stick to the initial definitions, or risk equivocation. But the meaning chosen is neither true or false."

definitions cannot be "true or false" but it can be "self-consistent" or "self-contradictory." for instance, describing the system we have today as a "free market" is self-contradictory, because the system we have today is not free. it's mixed.

you can fairly argue that a free market is impossible, because people don't want it. and you might be right. but it doesn't change what the free market _is_. it just draws into question whether the free market is _possible._

at that point, we're free to point out that a thing is not impossible just because the majority of people do not want it at any given time. there was a time when the majority of the population in large portions of the world actively preferred autocracy to democracy and liberalism. but things change. people learn. and perhaps, over time, enough people will learn how destructive government involvement in the market is to make change possible. just like they learned some time that sacrificing their children to molech would not bring a good harvest, even though their rulers insisted it would.

in this broader context, the definitions become critical to understanding the lay of the land. describing our present system as "free market" is _wrong_. saying that the free market has never existed is _true_. saying that the free market is impossible is _speculative_.

Anonymous said...

"for instance, describing the system we have today as a "free market" is self-contradictory, because the system we have today is not free. it's mixed."
"describing our present system as "free market" is _wrong_."

This would be an example of the very thing described in the Peikoff quote.

From a truly pragmatic viewpoint, most folks know that the "free market" - as a commonly-used compound term, and not simply the two individual words - refers to a market which has much freedom but still some restrictions. Even if they don't keep those restrictions in mind at all times when using the term, reminding them of this fact is usually enough for them to concede that the "free market" is not completely free. This fact of existence is not particularly astonishing or surprising to the average person, who must deal each day with the free market as it currently stands.

Even if one considers this term to be "self-contradictory", ultimately such a distinction is meaningless. If people know what is commonly meant by "free market", then there is no need to further clarify its meaning, or insist that the "free market" isn't actually "free" or that use of the term is "wrong".

The only way this could possibly be "important" is if some party takes umbrage at using the word "free" in a compound term where some restrictions are implied. In other words, just as Peikoff had his own special definition for "capitalism", "free market" as an Objectivist might prefer to use it is a distinction useful only as a semantic tool.

"saying that the free market is impossible is _speculative_."

Just as saying it IS possible, or beneficial, or any of the other claims Objectivists make for a "completely free market", is speculative.

As a further distinction, "possible" is not the same as "plausible". It is theoretically possible that attitudes may change in the future so as to allow unregulated capitalism come into being. But looking at the larger picture of humankind's history in these matters, one can't help but infer that such a change is not particularly likely.

ungtss said...

"From a truly pragmatic viewpoint, most folks know that the "free market" - as a commonly-used compound term, and not simply the two individual words - refers to a market which has much freedom but still some restrictions."

that's precisely the sort of self-contradictory definition that allows thought to remain confused. the idea is that "free market" should mean "somewhat free market, somewhat not free." "A" should mean "sort of A, sort of Z." "milk" should mean "sort of milk, sort of orange juice."

the effect of rendering a clear word vague in this way is that there is no _word_ for a truly free market. consequently, the debate is between two concepts, a "totally unfree market" and a "partially unfree market," with a totally free market not even granted the status of having a word to describe it.

it's a naked word-game. deny your opponent a word to describe himself. deny him a word to describe his goals. see if he's stupid enough to fall for it.

leftists play a similar game with the terms "extreme right" and "extreme left." the paradigmatic "extreme rightist" is the nazi party of germany. which was explicitly socialist. by turning "right" into the german form of socialism, and "left" into the russian form of socialism, no alternative to socialism remains on the political spectrum. The alternative to one type of socialism is ... another type of socialism.

these are word games calculated to exclude the truly free market from the cognitive landscape. it's too sophisticated to be accidental.

"Just as saying it IS possible, or beneficial, or any of the other claims Objectivists make for a "completely free market", is speculative."

Perhaps. But that's a different issue from whether the "completely free market" should have a phrase in common parlance to describe itself.

ungtss said...

one does not play these sorts of word games with regular words which do not carry political or religious implications.

one does not call a glass of water "complete water." one just calls it water. You might call it "pure water" if you want to emphasize its purity, but when you say "water," everybody knows you mean "water." they don't think you mean "water mixed with substantially something else."

In the same way, one does not call a glass of 3/4 water, 1/4 HCl "water." One just calls it "HCl solution"

Anonymous said...

" the idea is that "free market" should mean "somewhat free market, somewhat not free.""

Not that it SHOULD necessarily, but that it DOES.

As in, when people use this particular phrase, that is what they mean. It is only the Objectivist that has to clarify by saying, "no, but when **I** say 'free market', I mean completely unfettered in any way whatsoever!"

That this may not satisfy the Objectivist standard for "self-consistency" in definitions is fairly irrelevant in the face of the common accepted usage of the phrase.

In fact, it's quibbling over words in this manner - as has been pointed out often in this very blog - that makes many if not most Objectivist-related debates to be fairly unproductive, any constructive conversation derailed by the insistence of Objectivists for participants to conform to THEIR definitions.

You don't need the words "free market" to convey what you want. Nyquist himself used "laissez-faire" and "unregulated capitalism", and it would seem reasonable - if clear communication of such an idea was truly one's goal - to avoid a commonly-used term like "free market" if its accepted definition is unsatisfactory and use one like Nyquist has where there is no such "self-contradicting" definition in common parlance in the first place - rather than spending time implying that IT'S ALL SOME SORT OF DELIBERATE COGNITIVE PLOT OH GOLLY.

Certainly that would seem more efficient. But I suspect that Objectivists will still battle over their preferred definitions if for no other reason than aesthetic pique.

ungtss said...

i disagree both that your use of the phrase is "common use," and that whether it is "common use" is relevant.

consider google's definition:

"An economic system in which prices are determined by unrestricted competition between privately owned businesses."

That's "unrestricted." Not "partially restricted." _un_restricted.

merriam-webster:

"an economic market operating by free competition"

Free. Not partially free. Not mostly free. "Free."

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/free+market

About.com:

"A free market economy is an economy in which the allocation for resources is determined only by their supply and the demand for them. This is mainly a theoretical concept as every country, even capitalist ones, places some restrictions on the ownership and exchange of commodities."

That's "only" by supply and demand, and "mainly a theoretical concept in every country."

wikipedia:

"A free market is a market structure in which the distribution and costs of goods and services, wage rates, interest rates — along with the structure and hierarchy between capital and consumer goods — are coordinated by supply and demand unhindered by external regulation or control by government or monopolies"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_market

That's "unhindered" by external regulation.

It's quite clear that common usage supports the objectivist definition of "free market." in fact, it's only the _critics_ of the free market who insist on an idiosyncratic definition in which free is not actually free.

this brings us back to the much-maligned rallying cry of objectivism -- "A=A." Free is free. People advocating a position that "free does not mean free" are opposed to the axiom. That's why it's so significant. Not because it's philosophically profound, but because so many people refuse to accept it.

The refusal of leftists to accept that "free means free" is consistent with their refusal to accept the axiom of identity in many other areas as well.

But of course no one can convince a person that A=A. You either accept it or you don't. As here, where the left would call their idiosyncratic definition "common usage" despite the cold, hard reality staring them in the fact that the majority of people are willing to recognize that free means free.

Anonymous said...

"It's quite clear that common usage supports the objectivist definition of "free market.""

No.

Your examples show us that it's quite clear that ACADEMIC usage supports the Objectivist definition. You're proposing that commonly, people speak in absolutist, encyclopedic terms. They don't. If you think they do, provide non-academic examples.

When a politician comes on TV and says, "our country owes a lot to our free market economy", it seems quite obvious he's not referring to a completely unfettered system of capitalism (even if that's what he desires). And Objectivists aside, people who refer to the market we currently have don't say "free market" with the presumption of it being free in a complete, absolutist sense. Do you deny that our current market is commonly called a "free market"? Or do you insist that people are completely ignorant about the restrictions such a "free market" actually possesses? You have to, to insist that COMMON usage means entirely free. And if it were so, then Objectivists wouldn't have to insist on correcting people, would they?

Free = free, but "free market" does not mean "free market" the way you want it to mean.

It is not a question of accepting or not accepting A=A. It is that when someone says "A", you want to TELL them they're saying "B". And when they reiterate, "no, what I mean is these things that constitute A", you persist and cry out "B! You are self-contradicting!" when all that is happening is that they don't accept that you were ever talking about their A in the first place.

ungtss said...

"When a politician comes on TV and says, "our country owes a lot to our free market economy", it seems quite obvious he's not referring to a completely unfettered system of capitalism (even if that's what he desires). And Objectivists aside, people who refer to the market we currently have don't say "free market" with the presumption of it being free in a complete, absolutist sense."

Your evidence here is what a politician says, and what you say "people say." The first is questionable off the bat, because politicians are known for double-speak. The second has no evidence to back it up. You say "people" use it that way. Who? The only people I know who use it that way are the more extreme leftists. Most leftists I know call a free market a free market, but then say they're opposed to it, because they think it's unsafe, needs regulation, etc. etc. etc.

So since our "personal experiences" are completely different and unsubstantiated, they're both useless. let's knock them out of the equation. That leaves multiple dictionaries and encyclopedias on my side, and politicians on your side.

but i'm using the idiosyncratic definition?

Anonymous said...

"but i'm using the idiosyncratic definition?"

Again, if it weren't, you wouldn't have to be correcting people.

Obviously you won't accept my word for it, so if you're honestly interested in the answer, you'll have to conduct your own empirical research.

I would submit that "your experience" is composed of a majority of people who either agree with you (fellow Objectivists) or those you choose to do verbal battle with ("extreme leftists", if your description can be believed), so you might have to allow that your experience is not necessarily an accurate reflection of common, average everyday usage.

ungtss said...

"Again, if it weren't, you wouldn't have to be correcting people."

Haha that's hilarious:). If my view weren't idiosyncratic, I'd never have to correct anybody:). Therefore if I have to correct anybody, my view is idiosyncratic.

Therefore if 1 out of 300M Americans uses the term the way you do, and the rest use it the way I do, and I correct that 1/300M person, then my view is idiosyncratic.

That's hilarious:).

In reality, the standard for an idiosyncratic definition is not whether one has to correct people, but whether someone has to correct _the vast majority of people_.

i don't need to do that. i have dictionaries and encyclopedias to do that for me. you have politicians. i'll win:).

Anonymous said...

"In reality, the standard for an idiosyncratic definition is not whether one has to correct people, but whether someone has to correct _the vast majority of people_."

Or whether the vast majority of people must correct YOU, but yes.

"i don't need to do that. i have dictionaries and encyclopedias to do that for me. you have politicians. i'll win:)."

Except for two things: I never said politicians were my only experience with the term - it was merely a convenient example. In MY experience, most people (who do not engage in long-winded academic discussions) use "free market" as I have already described. Whether I am right, and mine is the more mainstream viewpoint, comes down to which of us has more experience and interaction with that same average, everyday mass of humanity to perceive how they use the phrase. Possibly you have more such experience, but just by what you have said, I remain skeptical.

The other error is assuming that a dictionary definition is automatically some sort of lock on how words are used. As an example, the word "fly". Merriam-Webster, one of your sources, refers to either the act of flying, or the insect, or a few more obscure sources. But, particularly in the 80s and 90s, "fly" was also a slang term meaning "cool or appealing". Why the omission? It was at one time a common definition. This shows us that dictionaries aren't always complete or infallible. Plus there's a certain brevity at work that discourages entries like "a commonly-used term to describe a mostly-free but still in some ways restricted market".

And as I already stated, encyclopedias are not generally a good example of how common people talk, particularly on dense subjects like economic theory. (What's more, Wikipedia is subject to warring revisions and often carries notices of articles which need improvement, so one always has to keep that in mind when using it as a source.)

In the end, the question comes down to: if you walk up to the average random stranger on the street and ask them, "does the USA (or even the Western world) have a free market?", would that person say "why, yes!" - or would they say "no, we actually have a mixed economy"...?

If the former, then what a dictionary says must give way to (or be edited to reflect) how a word or phrase is actually used in practice.

ungtss said...

"Merriam-Webster, one of your sources, refers to either the act of flying, or the insect, or a few more obscure sources. But, particularly in the 80s and 90s, "fly" was also a slang term meaning "cool or appealing"."

"Fly" in that sense is the idiosyncratic use of the word. It's a dated slang term, used in a vastly different context than the verb "fly." -- in the context you're describing, it's an adjective. A completely different part of speech.

Which brings us to a second issue. you're involved in a bit of a burden-shift here. i'm not out to prove the objectivist definition is the dominant one. i'm out to prove it isn't idiosyncratic. i'm out to prove that it's not so marginalized as to be idiosyncratic and weird.

Thus I'm not using the dictionaries and encyclopedias as "proof" of my definition. I'm using it to poke holes in your claim that the objectivist definition of "free market" is somehow circular and idiosyncratic. I knew that my personal experience would not cut it, just as your personal experience does not cut it.

So instead, I defaulted to sources whose _goal and purpose_ is to document how words are used. And they all agree with me:).

If you want to argue that a use is idiosyncratic, and the dictionaries and encyclopedias all use the word in exactly the sense you're trying to describe as idiosyncratic, you have a problem i'm afraid:).

Ultimately, of course, the logical coherence of the definition matters much more than "what everybody does." and using the term "free market" to describe something other than a "free market" is plain ridiculous.

but it bears noting that there's no evidence that "everybody uses the word your way" except your claim to that effect. which ain't gonna get you there i'm afraid:).

Anonymous said...

George Orwell would agree with ungtss on this: "Free market" has been used by politicians as propaganda so often that is has come to mean something else, for the general populace, without that something else being clearly enunciated and while retaining the old fashioned liberal patina of "free".

However, I suspect that Objectivists also want the patina that adheres to "free", to elide acknowledgement of the servitude that comes to most people when they must exchange their labour on "the free market", and to indulge Objectivists' borrowed and centuries-old ideological stance that "Free market" is necessarily productive of free people--anyone who isn't free in a "free market" society is being justly constrained.

ungtss said...

"However, I suspect that Objectivists also want the patina that adheres to "free", to elide acknowledgement of the servitude that comes to most people when they must exchange their labour on "the free market","

Yes, because they know that the servitude that comes to _all_ people under the free market is the obligation to deal with other human beings _voluntarily_, rather than by force, such that both sides _agree_ to the transaction because they deem it better than any alternative available to them.

Opponents of the free market view this as servitude because they do not _want_ to submit themselves to the obligation of dealing with others voluntarily. they want to be free to use _force_ to demand of others what they like.

They consider the constraints imposed upon them by the moral obligation not to force others to do what they like to be ... undesirable.

They prefer to construct a set of constraints that render ... malleable ... the right of others not to be forced to do their bidding.

You've hit it on the head.

gregnyquist said...

saying that the free market is impossible is _speculative

I didn't say it was impossible, I said it was implausible. And that statement is no more speculative than the law of supply and demand or the iron law of oligarchy. If you understand the political science, the social psychology, the sociology and the economics behind it, you would not find it "speculative" in the same way much of Objectivism is speculative.

but things change. people learn. and perhaps, over time, enough people will learn how destructive government involvement in the market is to make change possible

There are markets, such as "black" markets, that are essentially free of government intervention. In places where governments are weak, they may actually flourish after a fashion. But they don't produce the same levels of wealth that the heavily regulated economies of America, Japan, Europe etc. produce. Undoubtly there are many regulations that are harmful, even "destructive." But how harmful and destructive is it to prohibit the selling of spoiled meat, for example, or to impose safety standards on airlines? And is a market really unfree and tyrannical because an airline company is prohibited, ex ante, from cutting corners on airline safety?

the effect of rendering a clear word vague in this way is that there is no _word_ for a truly free market.

All words are vague. It's only propositions that begin to milk precision out of them. If you wish to distinguish between how the phrase "free market" is used in common parlance and what you mean by it, you're going to have to explain yourself in any case. Moreover, it's not clear that when Rand talks about "unregulated" capitalism that she is doing a very good job of describing what she means. After all, she's not for anarchy. She believes in some laws (against fraud, for instance). What she really is opposed to is any form of ex ante regulation. The state shouldn't try to prevent fraud or other rights violations; instead, individuals should seek redress in the courts after the infraction has occurred. Phrased in that way, Rand's position seems more trivial and pedantic than otherwise. It's about different strategies for dealing with social problems, rather than some great issue over "freedom."

ungtss said...

"I didn't say it was impossible, I said it was implausible."

Fair enough, but beside the point. This post is about definitions. The question of whether a particular concept is _plausible_ or not should not play into whether the particular concept may be _defined_ in a conceptually clear manner.

the question of whether a free market is impossible or implausible or plausible or likely or whatever is not relevant to the propriety of using a meaningful term to describe it.

"There are markets, such as "black" markets, that are essentially free of government intervention."

Black markets _are black markets_ because government intervention in the market _makes them black_. Their distinct characteristic is that all parties behave in particular ways _precisely because they cannot afford to be discovered_.

"She believes in some laws (against fraud, for instance). What she really is opposed to is any form of ex ante regulation."

She supported a particular _type_ of law -- laws that protect the individual's right to deal voluntarily with others, rather than by force. the timing and forum is not the relevant consideration, but rather tha _purpose_ of the law -- to preserve the individual from force, so that the individual is free to act based on choice and voluntary arrnagements with others.

ungtss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ungtss said...

"All words are vague. It's only propositions that begin to milk precision out of them."

This is so striking to me. It's fascinating to meet someone who actually thinks this way. You really think that clarity can come out of propositions composed of vague words.

The problem with your view is this: Proposition are made out of words. Therefore a proposition cannot have any precision not contained in its words, any more than a computer program can have precision not contained in its subroutines.

But you see it differently. And that's extraordinary to me.

Anonymous said...

""All words are vague. It's only propositions that begin to milk precision out of them."

This is so striking to me. It's fascinating to meet someone who actually thinks this way. You really think that clarity can come out of propositions composed of vague words."

Well, if his opening statement is true - ALL words are vague - then any clarity that arises must naturally come out of those vague words, eh? Otherwise, you're arguing that clarity doesn't exist. Or, you're disputing the "all words are vague" claim entirely.

ungtss said...

"Well, if his opening statement is true - ALL words are vague - then any clarity that arises must naturally come out of those vague words, eh? Otherwise, you're arguing that clarity doesn't exist. Or, you're disputing the "all words are vague" claim entirely."

Yes, all words are vague to some extent, unless comprehensively defined (which in practice, nobody has the time to do or listen to), and any clarity in a proposition must come out of the vague words.

*BUT* the only way to _add_ clarity to a proposition is to _add_ definition to the words. You may not get to 100% precision, but you can improve it by improving your definition. What you _cannot_ do is improve your clarity just by adding more undefined, vague words.

This is a question of relative merit. Definition and clarity are questions of relative quality. If you want to improve clarity, you must improve definition. You cannot just add more maldefined words.

Anonymous said...

"*BUT* the only way to _add_ clarity to a proposition is to _add_ definition to the words."

So you've said, but what is the proof for this?

ungtss said...

"*BUT* the only way to _add_ clarity to a proposition is to _add_ definition to the words."

So you've said, but what is the proof for this?

The proof stems from the nature and relationship of all the concepts involved here:).

Definition is what allows a listener to infer meaning from an individual word. Thus an undefined word carries no meaning, an ambiguously defined word carries ambiguous meaning. and a clearly defined word carries clear meaning.

A word's meaning is limited by the clarity of its definition.

Propositions, in turn, are composed solely of words. The listener is able to interpret meaning from the words above and beyond the meaning of the words themselves by applying rules of grammar. e.g. if you put a noun before a verb, the listener will infer additional meaning from your grammar -- that you are saying the noun performed the verb.

A listener may be able to infer definition of an ambiguous word from grammar, if the rules of grammar clarify which of the meanings was intended. for instance, if you say "i am flying," the listener infers you are using it as a verb, but if you say "that shit was fly," the listener infers you are using it as an adjective.

however, when grammar cannot clarify words that carry ambiguous, unclear meaning (as it can't where a word is used in the same context, but is loaded with different presuppositions and assumptions regarding the nature of what is being described), then there is no other tool in language to clarify the ambiguity in the proposition except clarifying the ambiguous, unclear meaning in the constituent words. there's no other vehicle for introducing the additional meaning.

you do this with additional words, of course. however, to the extent those additional words _add clarity_ to the original proposition, it's because they specify what was originally meant. they add definition.

so the proof here is that there are only two ways to convey clear meaning in a proposition -- definition and grammar. grammar can clarify some words, some of the time. but if grammar can't do it, then definition is the only remaining option.

Anonymous said...

"What you _cannot_ do is improve your clarity just by adding more undefined, vague words."

"Thus an undefined word carries no meaning, an ambiguously defined word carries ambiguous meaning. and a clearly defined word carries clear meaning."

Already you're painting yourself into some kind of corner here. An "undefined" word, then, has no meaning. But surely a vague word - an ambiguous word - has SOME meaning, which makes the first statement above false, as words could not then be both undefined and vague.

There is some question, too about your assumptions on the relative vagueness of any theoretical word being used. To hear you tell it, any word that is "vague" is so near as to "undefined" as to be useless - but in a practical sense this is rarely the case - some words and usages are more vague than others, and can provide varying degrees of information.

"you do this with additional words, of course. however, to the extent those additional words _add clarity_ to the original proposition, it's because they specify what was originally meant. they add definition."

But the faulty and baseless assumption is that additional words that are themselves vague cannot add clarity, which can easily be shown to be incorrect.

You ask someone in what city they live. They reply:

"I live in a large city."
"I live on the East Coast."

Neither of those statements are themselves particularly precise as relates to the information you desire, but together they are more information and a narrower focus than either are alone. Similarly vague statements could narrow things down further until one had a pretty good idea of which city was the one in question.

You would like to present it as someone saying, "I live in lkhdiluhsdh on the askljdhfk, and to explain, I mean uuhbhkudj" but that's never been what anyone claimed.

Daniel Barnes said...

ungtss unfortunately has a completely erroneous theory of language that he picked up via the Middle Ages. But I know from past experience nothing will dissuade Objectivists from it, so think little progress will be made in this debate.

All words are ambiguous and vague to a greater or lesser extent. They cannot be defined precisely for strictly logical reasons (e.g. that definition would require further words, which would then need to be defined precisely which would then require further definitions, and so on into infinity until an arbitrary decision is made to stop). Further they are *conventions*, thus the result of human decisions to use this or that word for this or that reference, and are thus are artifices (though of course not totally arbitrary, as they usually hew to some historical precedent).

Further the argument that the meaning of words is vitally important because they are components of sentences is a similar fallacy; words are in turn composed of letters, is therefore spelling of the utmost importance? As Bertrand Russell remarked, the only things that require precise words are magic spells!

Chasing the "precise" meanings of words is as fruitless as the search for "true" meanings of words. There is no such thing. Words are vague and supple; as Popper remarks, we must try to stay within the penumbra of their meaning.

ungtss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ungtss said...

""I live in a large city."
"I live on the East Coast."

Neither of those statements are themselves particularly precise as relates to the information you desire, but together they are more information and a narrower focus than either are alone. Similarly vague statements could narrow things down further until one had a pretty good idea of which city was the one in question."

the vague term we are defining is "where i live." both of your sentences add definition. in the first sentence, we learn that it is a city, and a big city. in the second sentence, we learn that it is on the east coast. so now our definition contains three facts. big city east coast.

to add more definition, add "in new york state." "on a great lake." etc. etc. each new fact is a new addition to your definition.

without realizing it, you are defining your term. you are specifying your concept. you are proving my point:).

Daniel, I've learned something else these last few days. Most -- perhaps all? -- criticisms of objectivism amount to a defense of mediocrity. yours, right now, is "all words of vague." no exceptions. nothing better. nothing exceptional. nothing to strive for.

perhaps that's the lens through which you see life. i do not. i see life through the lens of endless opportunity for growth and improvement. i find no solace in a philosophy that makes everything dull, grey, vague, and mediocre.

ungtss said...

of course, you need not be that vague in the city example. you need not add one fact at a time. you could just name the city. in other words, you could be precise. say it in 1-3 words and get on with your life, or play 20 questions being vague.

Anonymous said...

"of course, you need not be that vague in the city example. you need not add one fact at a time. you could just name the city. in other words, you could be precise. say it in 1-3 words and get on with your life, or play 20 questions being vague."

Since we're all aware of that, and this is irrelevant to the discussion of whether vagueness in words can be added up to clarity, which has kind of been instigated by your own wish to deny it and debate the issue, this is kind of a douchey thing to say.

Anonymous said...

"without realizing it, you are defining your term. you are specifying your concept. you are proving my point:)."

No, actually, you are conceding my point, since all of the information given is individually vague, which is adding up to clarity, which is the very thing you say can't happen.

Lloyd Flack said...

the vague term we are defining is "where i live." both of your sentences add definition. in the first sentence, we learn that it is a city, and a big city. in the second sentence, we learn that it is on the east coast. so now our definition contains three facts. big city east coast.

to add more definition, add "in new york state." "on a great lake." etc. etc. each new fact is a new addition to your definition."

No, definitions are not being refined. What is happening is that more words that are individually not precise are being used to convey a more precise idea. That is one of the things that you can do but putting words together into sentences. You are trying to change the definition of the word "definition" in order to dismiss a counterexample to your claim that precision cannot be gained through the use of additional words. You seem to be ignoring the role of syntax in communication and trying to win an argument by equivocation.

ungtss said...

Anon:

"No, actually, you are conceding my point, since all of the information given is individually vague, which is adding up to clarity, which is the very thing you say can't happen."

you're ignoring what that information _is_ -- that information is a _definition_. all the new information further defines and describes a vague, undefined term -- "where i live." you are slowly giving the reader more and more _definition_ of a term.

were the information _not_ definition, it would go like this:

"i live in a big city on the east coast."
"i went to a shop on a street a few miles from my house."
"i bought something at the store."

These additional sentences _add additional information_, but the additional information does not _define_ anything in the original sentence.

Contrast to your example, in which all the new information _defines the original term_.

Lloyd: "No, definitions are not being refined. What is happening is that more words that are individually not precise are being used to convey a more precise idea. "

The "more precise idea" being conveyed is a definition of "where i live." Once that term has been defined, then you can use it in further communications without playing 20 questions.

This is not some bizarre definition of "definition." it's what definition is. it's like in computing or math, you "define a variable." here, you're "defining a term" for purposes of your communication.

and despite the evident douchiness of pointing this out, one can be efficient and precise in this definition by simply giving an address. That communicates all the information necessary to define the term quickly, efficiently, and precisely, without the need for slowly adding vague information.

Which is the _second_ issue we've been discussing -- whether vagueness is inevitable. If I can give a precise address, then vagueness in the term "where i live" is not inevitable. rather it can be precisely defined.

Anonymous said...

"were the information _not_ definition, it would go like this:"

Here's the problem with your whole argument: you have imposed your own terms on things, terms which are not consistent, or at the very least not recognized in the same way as everyone else here.

You are doing what you've accused non-Objectivists of doing: moving the goal posts. You say that vague words can't provide clarity. Has someone given an example of adding vague information to provide clarity? Well, just call it something different! Now it's "defining terms". Never mind that what you say couldn't be done has actually been demonstrated, just claim that what they said wasn't actually "vague" enough by your standards.

Since you're down to the level of this kind of rationalization just to avoid conceding a point, I think we can consider the matter ended. At least I can.

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

@Llyod Flack: You are trying to change the definition of the word "definition" in order to dismiss a counterexample to your claim that precision cannot be gained through the use of additional words. You seem to be ignoring the role of syntax in communication and trying to win an argument by equivocation.

What? An Objectivist, trying to win an argument by equivocation?! Will wonders never cease ....

Seriously, though, ungtss is not sticking to the Objectivist position on definitions. Per Rand, a definition is not an aggregation of random bits of information. It specifies the essential characteristic shared by the units of a concept that differentiates them from all other existents.

By Rand's standard, Anon isn't defining anything.
Leaving aside the fact that "where I live" is not what Objectivists would call a concept (it presumably doesn't have multiple units), Anon is just throwing out a bunch of random facts about the place There's nothing essential, so no definition.

And yet it seems that even ungtss can't deny that these random, vague facts are somehow narrowing the field. How can this be?

Hypothesis: It's because "where I live" isn't a concept, at least not on Rand's theory.

Test: Try the same game with something Objectivists would call a concept:

- They're gray.
- They have big ears.
- They're really huge.
- You can see them in Africa.
- Also in zoos. They're very popular in zoos.
- They look sort of like Mr. Snuffleupagus on Sesame Street, only he's brown and shaggy and maybe not as big.
- Some say that if there's one in the room, you should name it.

I suspect by this point everyone knows what I mean. Now, do you know it because I named the essential of this concept, or because I managed to pile up enough vague words? Did your idea of what I was talking about gain in clarity as you read more vague words?

For bonus points, reconcile that with ungtss: "Definition and clarity are questions of relative quality. If you want to improve clarity, you must improve definition. You cannot just add more maldefined words."

ungtss said...

"Here's the problem with your whole argument: you have imposed your own terms on things, terms which are not consistent, or at the very least not recognized in the same way as everyone else here."

i've noticed this argument keeps cropping up as well. "your problem is you're not using words the way 'everyone else here' (meaning those who disagree with you) do."

my question is, why's it not a problem for you that you are not recognizing words in the same way i am? perhaps because you'd like to think that you and those who agree with you are granted some authority on how words are used? you'd prefer not to learn to understand what other people, but rather simply devalue it because they're using words differently than you? and you'd justify this with claims without evidence that "everybody else does it differently," when "everybody else" is merely you and Lloyd?

the reality is, i've defined what i mean by definition. you haven't. i've said it's loading particular meaning into a term -- whether that be in math, computer science, or language. you haven't defined what you mean by definition. you've just assumed an undefined definition, and then told me that mine is wrong because it disagrees with yours. that ain't gonna get you where you want to get.

ungtss said...

Echo, you're conflating "definition" with "good definition." these examples are poor definitions, but still definitions. as i pointed out with the "where i live" example, the most efficient definition is simply the street address. however, there's nothing to stop you from defining something poorly and vaguely, through a process of 20 questions.

you've done the same thing in your example. you've defined poorly. and now you want to pretend that because your definition is poor, it's not a definition. but it is a definition. it's just a bad one.

Anonymous said...

"my question is, why's it not a problem for you that you are not recognizing words in the same way i am?"

Because when I talk to anyone else who isn't an Objectivist, this kind of thing nearly never happens. So either I have had the good fortune to have talked to only the rare enclaves of people who use the language wrong in the same way I do, or Objectivists are the ones trying to steer definitions to please themselves.

Since the group of Objectivists is relatively small, I feel confident the problem is not with me.

"perhaps because you'd like to think that you and those who agree with you are granted some authority on how words are used?"

Everyone can use words how they want, but if I point at what everyone else calls a "cat" and say it is a "dog", I can't really complain when most folks tell me I'm wrong or silly.

"you'd prefer not to learn to understand what other people, but rather simply devalue it because they're using words differently than you?"

One could ask the same of you.

I mean, that's what most of your posts have been about.

Lloyd Flack said...

"The problem with your view is this: Proposition are made out of words. Therefore a proposition cannot have any precision not contained in its words"

That is what you were claiming and that is what others here have demonstrated to be false. And that is what you are quibbling to avoid admitting.

ungtss said...

"Because when I talk to anyone else who isn't an Objectivist, this kind of thing nearly never happens."

Well I saw it happening long before I'd ever heard of Ayn Rand. I remember learning at age 17 in the college dorms that the resolution to most philosophical debates was almost ways ti identify how the disputants were using their language differently. whether i was one of the disputants or not. once the difference in language use was clarified, the disputants could get past it and move onto substance. unless they were too rigid to understand that laying claim to a definition is not as important as identifying the underlying meaning.

"Everyone can use words how they want, but if I point at what everyone else calls a "cat" and say it is a "dog", I can't really complain when most folks tell me I'm wrong or silly."

Yes, that's true. but defining definition as "specifying a term" is hardly "cat/dog wrong." in fact it appears your understanding of definition doesn't include the definition of terms _for purposes of discussion_, and only includes the definition of dictionary words, while mine includes definition of terms more broadly. this is a valuable difference in our word-use, worth-understanding, if you're able to grasp it.

"That is what you were claiming and that is what others here have demonstrated to be false. And that is what you are quibbling to avoid admitting."

Actually no demonstration is being made. All that's happening is that people are claiming their word use is the "right" word use, rather than identifying the difference in word use so as to get to the substance beneath it. these are the sorts of debaters in college who couldn't get off the ground. they dug their heels into the sand, refusing to understand what anybody else was saying.

hardly an "objectivist/non-objectivist" issue. more of an issue of an unwillingness to accept that different people speak differently, and that mutual understanding requires understanding of each other's word use.

gregnyquist said...

The problem with your view is this: Proposition are made out of words. Therefore a proposition cannot have any precision not contained in its words

This is just the simplistic kind of rationalism that Peikoff is defending in his attack on the ASD and which I object to. It seems to have a sort plausibility (particularly if it used to defend a pet theory), but it immediately falls apart as soon as it is empirically tested. Take a paragraph from an encyclopedia. Assuming it's a well done encylopedia, that paragraph will contain a certain amount of more or less accurate information. That paragraph will contain more precise information than a sentence and less than a book on the same topic. Now take the words from that same paragraph and make random list out of them. What conveys more precise information about the real world, the paragraph from the encyclopedia, or the random list of words extracted from that paragraph? Putting words in sentences increases the precision of the meaning conveyed by them. Indeed, words by themselves don't really say anything at all. It's only when we begin asserting stuff about words (i.e., making sentences) that the adventure of knowledge begins.

ungtss said...

i also think perhaps there's an experiential aspect to this issue. AR, for instance, spent the bulk of her life speaking and writing in a language that was not her native language. I find myself in the same situation, as English is my second language, and I spent a good 20 years after I learned English functioning in other languages, including Spanish, Arabic, and Turkish.

Perhaps when one is forced to consciously and cognitively define words as an adult in order to function, one is much less likely to sympathize with the notion of "common use." Because you're keenly aware that your everyday use of language is not "common," but rather consciously deliberate.

i don't know if english is the second language of any of you, so i can't say whether this distinction applies in this case. however, i've had no indication that english is anything but a first language to any of you.

and i have noticed, historically, that my view of language is quite different from that of native speakers. i hypothesize this is because i'm keenly aware of definition in language, because i was required to define all my words consciously as an adult, whereas native speakers had the luxury of adopting definition implicitly, without conscious thought.

ungtss said...

"Now take the words from that same paragraph and make random list out of them. What conveys more precise information about the real world, the paragraph from the encyclopedia, or the random list of words extracted from that paragraph? Putting words in sentences increases the precision of the meaning conveyed by them. Indeed, words by themselves don't really say anything at all. It's only when we begin asserting stuff about words (i.e., making sentences) that the adventure of knowledge begins."

I agree. And as I explained above, the "additional information" in a sentence stems from the grammatical relationships one imposes on words. In English, one says a noun _did_ a verb by putting the noun before the verb. This is more information than the noun and verb by themselves, but the additional information is added by _grammar_.

gregnyquist said...

"She supported a particular _type_ of law -- laws that protect the individual's right to deal voluntarily with others, rather than by force."

Why is it that individuals who make so much about definitions and the precisions of words nevertheless end up speaking writing with less precision? Basically, this proposition here basically restates what I said (i.e., that Rand was opposed to ex ante regulation) in more doltish and ideological fashion. Yes, Rand rationalized her support of "free" markets in terms of preventing the initiation of force. But in practical terms (i.e., in what counts in terms of reality), her ideology leads her to oppose government inspectors checking up on airlines to make sure no corners are cut (i.e., ex ante regulation). Instead, Rand prefers to rely on rational self-interest and ex post legal remedies, although if you die in a plane crash caused by corner cutting and other forms of negligence, neither self-interest nor after-the-fact legal remedies are going to be of much help to you. Now to claim that only the market where airlines are free to cut corners and imperil the lives of their customers is "free," while a market that has inspectors is somehow not free seems to be just the sort of imbecility only an ideologue is capable of committing. For practical reasons, freedom cannot mean absence of all restraints. We don't live in an unfree country because we're not allowed to drive drunk or stockpile WMDs or cry "fire" in a crowded theater. It is generally acknowledged, at least by men of practical sense, that some restrictions on "freedom" are necessary to maintain what level of freedom is practically attainable in a specific social order. Just as there can be no perfectly "just" society, there can be no perfectly "free" society. A political order is always an arrangement, sometimes better, sometimes worse, but never perfect.

ungtss said...

"Why is it that individuals who make so much about definitions and the precisions of words nevertheless end up speaking writing with less precision?"

Why is it that a person who claims that precision is "not all that important" then turns around and complains about imprecision in his opponents, and uses it as a basis for insults such as "doltish?" Why is it that precision is unimportant sometimes and important other times?

Could it be that you define words to mean whatever you want it to be at the moment? that precision is not important when ayn rand says it is, but is important when you can criticize someone for imprecision?

Could it be that your standards are not objective, but rather subjective, altered arbitrarily to serve your immediate purpose?

"Yes, Rand rationalized her support of "free" markets in terms of preventing the initiation of force. But in practical terms (i.e., in what counts in terms of reality), her ideology leads her to oppose government inspectors checking up on airlines to make sure no corners are cut (i.e., ex ante regulation)."

Her opposition was not to ex ante regulation _as such_ but to ex ante regulation _that violated individual rights_.

The proof of this is that there are many ex-ante regulations that do not violate individual rights, and to which an objectivist would not be opposed. For instance, traffic regulations. The government owns the roads, so it gets to tell you how to drive on the roads. Right lane, left lane, red light, green light. And while an objectivist might oppose government ownership of the roads, he certainly wouldn't impose regulation of driving on the roads. Even though it's ex ante. Because people do not have a right to drive however they like on public roads.

So the reason it's important to clarify that the issue is the effect of the laws, and _not_ whether they're ex ante, is that she wasn't opposed to ex ante regulation that didn't violate individual rights.

ungtss said...

i can't stop laughing about your criticism of my imprecision:). that really made my day:).

criticism of imprecision in comments regarding an article you wrote about how precision is not all that important:). how much more could i ask for:)?

Anonymous said...

Apparently Objectivism suffers from a severe lack of any ironic sense, if this is any indication.

ungtss said...

Haha, this is great:). According to Anon,

a) it's not ironic that an author who claims precision isn't important then claims imprecision is doltish.

b) it is ironic that a person could _know_ that precision is important, and yet not always be satisfactorily precise.

i mean how ironic that a person shouldn't always live up to their own standards? much less ironic that a person should use particular standards after arguing that the standards are not significant:).

And now for the metairony:

"Apparently Objectivism suffers from a severe lack of any ironic sense, if this is any indication."

Yes, because one lacks an ironic sense when one notes the absurdity of using standards after attacking them, but sees no irony in a person not always living up to his own standards to somebody else's satisfaction:).

Lulz:).

Anonymous said...

Yeah, no, that wasn't it.

ungtss said...

another AR villain theme -- given the choice between a) saying what you mean, or b) shutting up, the AR villain always chooses c) casting vague aspersions.

that's it, i'm convinced. there aren't many AR villains in the world, and it's difficult to conceive of them actually existing. but if you want to find an AR villain, find a group of her critics, and you're bound to find a few.

Daniel Barnes said...

ungtss:
>"*BUT* the only way to _add_ clarity to a proposition is to _add_ definition to the words."

ungtss' argument has been sliced to ribbons by commenters here. But because he really wants to believe it - Ayn Rand told him it was true! - he will continue to.

The example given by Echo Chamber Escapee is excellent:
- They're gray.
- They have big ears.
- They're really huge.
- You can see them in Africa.
- Also in zoos. They're very popular in zoos.
- They look sort of like Mr. Snuffleupagus on Sesame Street, only he's brown and shaggy and maybe not as big.
- Some say that if there's one in the room, you should name it.

*Every term* used in this is weakly defined: "gray" for example. There are an *infinite* number of shades it could be defined by, yet we do not mention them. "Big" - there are an infinite number of possible sizes this could refer to! "Huge" likewise."Africa" - a massive and diverse country."Sort of like" a character in Sesame St! All extremely vague and imprecise.

Yet add these vague, kinda-sorta terms together and the concept "elephant" inexorably rises up before us, *the exact opposite of the result ungtss' theory predicts*. Precision increases *without further defining terms*, but by combining them. ungtss has fallen for an historic fallacy.

Unfortunately ungtss is now conforming to the well-known human psychological phenomenon where strong disconfirming evidence paradoxically only increases their belief in their own theory...;-)

Daniel Barnes said...

Which will ungtss now believe? Ayn Rand, or his own lying eyes?

ungtss said...

Daniel, as you may or may not have noticed, I responded to that example. Rather than address my response, however, you've simply repeated the argument and announced that I am defeated. This is not persuasive in the real world, although it may be emotionally satisfying in some way I cannot grasp. The proper term for your behavior in ignoring what I say and repeating your own point of view is "evasion." Feel free to address what I said. Or evade. I'm here to learn how your head works, so I'm good either way:).

Lloyd Flack said...

ungtss, you responded by trying to claim that what was use of imprecisely defind words in sentences to convey a more precise meaning was actually creatinf=g a more precise definition for a word. To us this looks like a an extenxion of the meaning of definition so that you would not have to admit that you were wrong. Meanwhile you have avoided admitting that your claim that a proposition cannot have any precision not found in its words has been demonstrated to be false.

ungtss said...

"ungtss, you responded by trying to claim that what was use of imprecisely defind words in sentences to convey a more precise meaning was actually creatinf=g a more precise definition for a word. To us this looks like a an extenxion of the meaning of definition so that you would not have to admit that you were wrong."

An "extension" from what? What is the proper meaning of "Definition" that does not include defining the term "where i live?"

if you look at merriam-webster, the word "define" includes exactly the sort of definition i'm talking about:

"to determine or identify the essential qualities or meaning of "

"2a: to fix or mark the limits of : demarcate

b: to make distinct, clear, or detailed especially in outline "

Examples of DEFINE:

a term that is difficult to define
The government study seeks to define urban poverty.
Her book aims to define acceptable social behavior.
She believes that success should be defined in terms of health and happiness.
That fence defines the far edge of the property.

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/define

As before, i'm not saying the dictionary is an absolute authority. what I am saying is that my use of the word is acceptable under the dictionary, and therefore the burden's on you to show it's not okay. i don't think you can satisfy that burden.

"Meanwhile you have avoided admitting that your claim that a proposition cannot have any precision not found in its words has been demonstrated to be false."

I specifically said that meaning in sentences comes from the definition of words and grammar, therefore whatever meaning doesn't come from grammar needs to come from definition of words. Nobody responded to that. Why should I admit defeat when nobody's responded to my argument?

Daniel Barnes said...

Of course I noticed your response.

Your problem is that you initially said this:
ungtss 2/26/2013 04:57:00 PM:
>This is so striking to me. It's fascinating to meet someone who actually thinks this way. You really think that clarity can come out of propositions composed of vague words.

Then ECE showed exactly what you claimed couldn't happen: *ever-increasing clarity without defining the vague terms involved.*

How did you respond? Well you didn't, really, other than with a word salad (2/27/2013 03:15:00 AM). You just said that ECE's definitions were "poor" - exactly his point! - and refused to directly acknowledge the process of increasing clarity that step-by-step unfolded in front of you in ECE's example. It is there, however, for everyone else to see.

Of course your basic logic is also fundamentally fallacious, a point you also can't seem to coherently address. To repeat, if the precision of a statement's meaning is maximally dependent on increased precision of the words, as you claim, then *by the same argument the words are therefore maximally dependent on the letters*. Thus by your own logic, spelling, or even typography(!) are the most important components in clear communication. Now, we know through experience that this is simply not true; they are of only minimal or trivial importance. Likewise, therefore, your argument about words.

So yours and Rand's claims are destroyed six ways to Sunday. Your theory is wrong, no matter how much you want to believe in it!..;-)

ungtss said...

"You just said that ECE's definitions were "poor" - exactly his point!"

Oh boy, you missed his point. His point was not that his definition was poor, but that it wasn't a definition at all. I was pointing out that it was a definition, just a bad one. So you missed both his point and mine.

"To repeat, if the precision of a statement's meaning is maximally dependent on increased precision of the words, as you claim, then *by the same argument the words are therefore maximally dependent on the letters*."

As I have repeatedly said (4 times now), the additional meaning in sentences that does not come from the definition of words come from grammar. I have used the same example repeatedly. if you put a noun before a verb, grammar adds the meaning: "the noun performed the verb."

These are the points you're evading. Consider the possibility that what you think of as "word salad" is just an idea you don't understand.

Daniel Barnes said...

ungtss:
>if you look at merriam-webster, the word "define" includes exactly the sort of definition i'm talking about:

And, inevitably, now we reach the desperate last stand of the collapsing Objectivist argument :* Define "definition"*!!

ungtss said...

"And, inevitably, now we reach the desperate last stand of the collapsing Objectivist argument :* Define "definition"*!!"

In response to a claim that I am unacceptably "extending" the definition of definition. Do you read what's being written on these posts?

He said i was "extending the definition." i pointed out that my definition is firmly within the dictionary definition.

I didn't bring this up. I'm defending myself against a claim that my use of the word "definition" is inappropriate ... but nobody's told me what the right one is.

Daniel Barnes said...

ungtss:
>As I have repeatedly said (4 times now), the additional meaning in sentences that does not come from the definition of words come from grammar.

So now you are arguing that you *can* increase clarity of meaning without precisely defining terms, but by simply *combining terms grammatically*? We would of course agree, but unfortunately this directly contradicts your previous statement:

ungtss:
>"*BUT* the only way to _add_ clarity to a proposition is to _add_ definition to the words."

Note the word "only".

ungtss said...

">"*BUT* the only way to _add_ clarity to a proposition is to _add_ definition to the words."

Note the word "only"."

You're talking about two different issues here, bro. 1) Adding information when you go from words to sentences, and 2) adding information to a proposition. A proposition is already a sentence. It already contains all the grammatical information it can. So the only way to add information to the proposition is to add definition to the words.

This is _different_ from how you add more information as you move from words to a sentence. Because an individual word has no grammar.

You're confusing "putting words into a sentence" with "adding clarity to a proposition -- in other words -- a pre-existing sentence."

Because your proposition already contains all the grammatical form it can! Sheesh man.

Kelly Cady said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel Barnes said...

ungtss 2/26/2013 04:57:00 PM:
>This is so striking to me. It's fascinating to meet someone who actually thinks this way. You really think that clarity can come out of propositions composed of vague words.

Look, to repeat so we don't end up at cross purposes, the above seems to be the fundamental point you disagree with.

But we're arguing that clarity of meaning can come out of propositions composed of vague words. This has been demonstrated to you by *simply combining propositions*.

Do you accept this or deny it?

ungtss said...

"But we're arguing that clarity of meaning can come out of propositions composed of vague words. This has been demonstrated to you by *simply combining propositions*.

Do you accept this or deny it?"

there are two ways to read what you wrote:

a) words with some degree of clarity and some degree of vagueness can add clarity to a proposition to the degree the words are clear.

b) it doesn't matter how clear the additional words are -- adding enough words of any degree of clarity will add clarity to the proposition.

Greg's initial argument was b. He used a "junk" analogy. communication is "junk," he'd have us believe. throw enough of it out there and you'll be able to make a bike.

that's ludicrous. but it's what he argued.

the correct answer is a. clarity is _limited_ to the degree of clarity of the propositions you add. you can add clarity with words that are partially clear and partially vague, but you can't add clarity that isn't in the words you're adding (or grammar).

in the elephant definition, you call the words in the additional definition "vague." but they're not completely without clarity. there's some clarity. for instance, you know the animal is "grey," which excludes a number of other possibilities. Some varieties of "grey" still persist, but drilling "grey" down to any greater degree of specificity is not useful, and might even exclude some elephants (because elephants come in a variety of greys).

in any event, it's the _clarity_ in your additional definition that adds clarity to the proposition. Not the vagueness. And the degree of clarity in your proposition is ultimately limited _by the degree of definition in your words_.

that's why definition in words is so critical. because aside from the limited clarity you can glean from grammar, definition is your _only source of clarity_.

Daniel Barnes said...

ungtss:
>in the elephant definition, you call the words in the additional definition "vague." but they're not completely without clarity.

But "vague" doesn't mean "completely without clarity". A vague description is not the same as no description. No one has argued this.

>Some varieties of "grey" still persist, but drilling "grey" down to any greater degree of specificity is not useful, and might even exclude some elephants (because elephants come in a variety of greys).

Now you're starting to get the idea! *You don't need any greater precision than the problem requires* and can be even counterproductive for a variety of reasons.

At any rate, we take it that you do agree with us that additional clarity of meaning can in fact be achieved by combining propositions of vaguely defined words. If we can't persuade that your own quest for precision definition is a fallacy, well at least we half agree...;-)

ungtss said...

"At any rate, we take it that you do agree with us that additional clarity of meaning can in fact be achieved by combining propositions of vaguely defined words"

Not insofar as they're vague! The clarity of meaning only comes from whatever clarity you put into the words.

I think perhaps our misunderstanding is you are defining "vague" relative to some sort of hypothetical, impossible, absolute clarity, such that _all words are vague_ relative to that standard.

But i'm defining vague relative to the meaning that needs to be conveyed to accomplish a set goal. Thus if you need to convey "all shades of grey but no shades of any other color," then the word "grey" is precise. It's precise because it serves the _purpose_ of the communication.

I'd agree that all words are vague relative to that absolute, hypothetical, impossible, useless standard of absolute clarity ... but that is not a useful or meaningful standard. it's basically like saying "nobody's perfect," relative to some standard of perfection that nobody could possibly achieve. it serves no purpose except to lump everything together as "substandard," without reference to whether things serve the _goals_ for which they are intended.

the meaningful standard for vagueness and clarity is _purpose_. if i'm clear enough to accomplish my _purpose_, then i'm clear.

Daniel Barnes said...

ungtss:
>I think perhaps our misunderstanding is you are defining "vague" relative to some sort of hypothetical, impossible, absolute clarity, such that _all words are vague_ relative to that standard.

There is no need to appeal to any such "impossible" standard. We can simply compare the precision of words to the precision of numbers. Numbers are precise - there are no shades of "2" - but they are almost entirely empty of content. Words on the other hand are far richer in content, but the trade off is a loss of precision.

So your argument is quite incorrect.

>the meaningful standard for vagueness and clarity is _purpose_. if i'm clear enough to accomplish my _purpose_, then i'm clear.

Well it is good to see we all actually agree on this point, even if we can't persuade you that your theory of greater precision through definition is a logical fallacy.

Further I do not see that you have replied to my counter argument about words being a component of sentences, in that letters are in turn components of words, yet no one considers spelling or typography the primary virtue of communication! But perhaps I have missed it.

ungtss said...

"There is no need to appeal to any such "impossible" standard. We can simply compare the precision of words to the precision of numbers. Numbers are precise - there are no shades of "2" - but they are almost entirely empty of content. Words on the other hand are far richer in content, but the trade off is a loss of precision."

a better comparison would be to the measurements taken in scientific experiment and observation, because both measurement and words try to refer to complex things in the real world.

scientists don't ever claim measurements are perfectly precise. they know measurement can't be. nor do they need to be. scientists deliberately select a level of precision that serves their purpose, be up-front about it, and use it for what you need to use it for.

in any event, you've selected only one small subset of perfectly precise numbers -- integers. there are many numbers are are not precise. such as irrational numbers. like pi.

ungtss said...

another problem with your comparison between words and numbers: numbers can be represented in words. the word "two" is exactly as precise as the number 2.

Anonymous said...

"another AR villain theme -- given the choice between a) saying what you mean, or b) shutting up, the AR villain always chooses c) casting vague aspersions."

I assume that was directed at my earlier "irony" comments, so let me fill in a few bits of data, as if anyone *really* cares.

1) I had to go to work and did not have time to write much.

2) It was becoming increasingly apparent that even if I managed to detail the bit of irony I was referring to, it would simply be rationalized away or otherwise brushed aside, like anything else in the discussion. Futility was becoming apparent.

3) Even now that I have a bit more time, I see no real use in going over it, like telling a joke and trying to explain a punchline repeatedly to the guy that *just doesn't quite get it*. Even if it finally gets through, it's just never going to be as amusing as if it had been understood at the initial delivery. The moment is passed, and besides, refer to 2) again.

4) Still, I thought it was worth mentioning that what was *assumed* I meant by irony wasn't actually the example I had in mind. If that sounds like a "vague aspersion", I guess it is. If that qualifies me as a *villain*, then the smugness of Objectivists could qualify them as utter monsters. Leave it to Objectivists to take a minor offense and elevate it to criminal status.

5) Also, everyone in a Rand book that doesn't already believe in or convert to Objectivist ideals is pretty much a villain of some stripe, anyway, so whatever. You may as well say you're looking for an average citizen and it would mean the same as "AR villain".

"To a gas chamber - go!"

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

I see I don't have enough spare time to keep up with ungtss's dizzying intellect.

I will say that in regard to the elephant example, the only thing Daniel missed was the gender of ECE. Surprise, Daniel, he's a she. :-) But you did not miss my point, and that's what matters.

As for ungtss -- I'll admit to being confused. In response to the elephant example, you seem to have taken the position that any words that add a scintilla of clarity/precision to a previous word qualify as a definition (though not necessarily a good one). This does seem to be a shift from your earlier statements, but that's not what confuses me.

What confuses me is that I was under the impression you were here to test Objectivism by debating with some of its critics ... but now you seem to be embracing a decidedly un-Objectivist view of what a definition is. If you think your view is consistent with what Rand wrote in Chapter 5 of ITOE, I would be curious to know how you reconcile them.

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

@ungtss: in any event, you've selected only one small subset of perfectly precise numbers -- integers. there are many numbers are are not precise. such as irrational numbers. like pi.

Actually, pi is precise. It is the number that is the ratio of the circumference of a Euclidean-geometric circle to its diameter. Now, calculating the exact value of this ratio is, as a practical matter, not doable, but that doesn't mean the number pi is itself imprecise.

@ungtss again, next comment: another problem with your comparison between words and numbers: numbers can be represented in words. the word "two" is exactly as precise as the number 2.

Since you mentioned English is your second language, allow me to introduce you to the word "numeral." The only difference between "2" and "two" is that one is a numeral and the other is a word. They both refer to the same thing -- the number that is the next integer after 1 (or one).

Did you really not know this, or are you just trolling?

ungtss said...

Echo,

With regard to numbers/numerals, my point was in response to this statement by Daniel:

"Numbers are precise - there are no shades of "2" - but they are almost entirely empty of content. Words on the other hand are far richer in content, but the trade off is a loss of precision."

He is clearly placing numbers in contradistinction to words. I pointed out that this contradistinction doesn't work, because "numbers can be expressed as words." which is true. and you agree with it. your only quibble was with my description of "2" as a number instead of a numeral. (is this where i'm supposed to scream "Common usage?!" oh wait. common usage only applies to critics of AR, not her fans, right?)

but notwithstanding my imprecise use of the word number, my point is correct and you know it -- it's absurd to contrast "words" and "numbers," because there are words for numbers.

what's interesting, though, is that rather than identify the issue, you simply criticized my irrelevant imprecision regarding the word "numeral" and left Daniel's blatant error -- that "numbers" can be placed in contradistinction to words -- unidentified. I wonder about this. perhaps it's a function of not wanting to break ranks?

with regard to definition, you are also conflating rand's concept of "definition" with her concept of "good definition." which seems to be a common theme among her critics. rand was primarily concerned with identifying _good_ ways to do things -- with greatness -- with heroism. she placed everything else in a negative light relative to her ideal. itoe is a prime example of that -- she's focused on describing the _right_ way to do things.

but it's a mistake to claim that because she analyzed something as a "bad example" of a concept, that it would not fall within the concept at all. it's a mistake to claim that because something is a _bad_ definition, that it's not a definition at all. and that seems to be one of the many assumptions underlying this thread.

in the elephant example, we are dealing with a profoundly awkward definition. one we'd never use. however, in using it to show the relationship between clarity and vagueness, it serves a purpose, so i went with it.

ungtss said...

as to the precision of pi, it is precise when expressed in words, as you have. but it is not precise when expressed in numerals. which again disproves Daniel's point. but you seem blind to errors made by your friends, and seem to zoom in on irrelevant imprecision on my part. i find that double standard fascinating. and consistent with AR's view of the world.

Daniel Barnes said...

ungtss writes:
>another problem with your comparison between words and numbers: numbers can be represented in words. the word "two" is exactly as precise as the number 2.

I am puzzled as to why you would think my comparison between the relative precision of words and numbers is a "problem" - which i see you've now upgraded to a "blatant error" - just because numbers can be expressed in words.

For the distinction to be an "error", let alone a blatant one, your argument really has to be the opposite: that words have the same characteristics as numbers - not merely that numbers can also be expressed in words.

In other words: Numbers can be expressed as words, therefore numbers are no different to words.

Are you really, truly going to stand by that argument ungtss???...;-)


Dragonfly said...

Pi is just as "precise" a number as 2. That you for a decimal expansion of π need an infinite number of digits is not relevant. Pi is exactly represented by the numeral π, there is nothing imprecise about the number π.

Daniel Barnes said...

ungtss:
>scientists don't ever claim measurements are perfectly precise. they know measurement can't be. nor do they need to be. scientists deliberately select a level of precision that serves their purpose, be up-front about it, and use it for what you need to use it for.

Now here ungtss appears to be making some progress. Unlike scholastic philosophy, science does not require arguments over terminology in order to proceed. When studying the effect of air currents on a sand dune, to use Popper's example, scientists do not have to debate the true nature of "air" or the essence of "sand" or the precise meaning of the term "dune", or the fundamental difference between the concept "wind" and the concept "breeze. If more precision is required they simply add some criteria: say, air (or wind or a breeze or whatever you like) moving at 5 kmph on a dune 20m high. Thus science proceeds on a nominalist basis, with terms as mere labels of little importance.

This of course stands in the strongest contrast to the Randian position where the truth or falsity of all our knowledge rests on the precise definitions of terms! But as ECE has pointed out, ungtss does not seem to follow Objectivist epistemological doctrine very consistently anyway.

ungtss said...

“For the distinction to be an "error", let alone a blatant one, your argument really has to be the opposite: that words have the same characteristics as numbers - not merely that numbers can also be expressed in words”

All numbers are also words. 2 is two. Because all numbers are words, then all numbers _must_ have the same characteristics as words. Because they _are_ words.

To change this into saying “numbers are not words, but can be ‘expressed’ as words” is nonsense. All words are expressions of things. That’s what a word is. Therefore to say a number is a word and to say a number can be expressed as a word is to say the same thing.

Dragonfly:
“Pi is just as "precise" a number as 2. That you for a decimal expansion of π need an infinite number of digits is not relevant. Pi is exactly represented by the numeral π, there is nothing imprecise about the number π.”

Pi is only that precise if it’s defined in a precise way. If you define it in words – e.g. “ratio of circumference to diameter of a perfect circle” – it’s precise. If you define it in numerical (i.e. decimal, or even fractional) terms, it’s not precise. Words are more precise than numerals in that case.

Daniel:
“If more precision is required they simply add some criteria: say, air (or wind or a breeze or whatever you like) moving at 5 kmph on a dune 20m high. Thus science proceeds on a nominalist basis, with terms as mere labels of little importance.

This of course stands in the strongest contrast to the Randian position where the truth or falsity of all our knowledge rests on the precise definitions of terms!”
You’re omitting the fact that different definitions are of different degrees of importance in different contexts, and treating _all_ labels as being of little importance. In fact the importance of definition varies by context. For example, the difference in definition between “wind” and “breeze” is of little importance. It’s largely arbitrary. However, the difference between “oxygen” and “chlorine” is of critical importance.

In the same way, the difference between “tall” and “short” is of little importance. But the difference between “moral” and “immoral” is of critical importance.

Daniel Barnes said...

ungtss:
>All numbers are also words. 2 is two. Because all numbers are words, then all numbers _must_ have the same characteristics as words. Because they _are_ words.

ungtss, if this is the case, can you tell me the answer to this equation:

Chair x Tuesday - problem\short =?

How many is weekend?

How about the square root of elephant?

So you've obviously made a mistake here. Do you know what it is?

ungtss said...

""ungtss, if this is the case, can you tell me the answer to this equation:

Chair x Tuesday - problem\short =?

How many is weekend?

How about the square root of elephant?

So you've obviously made a mistake here. Do you know what it is?"

_your_ mistake is that you are using words in the wrong context, such that they are semantically meaningless. the concept of semantic meaning was developed by chomsky (not rand), and illustrated by the phrase "colorless green ideas sleep furiously." although the phrase is grammatically correct, and composed entirely of words, it is _semantically_ meaningless, because the context of the words does not provide any meaning.

thus you ask for the square root of elephant. but elephants don't have square roots any more than "ideas" can be "green."

not my mistake, yours. just because you're dealing with words doesn't mean words carry meaning in every context you can come up with. read chomsky.

gregnyquist said...

criticism of imprecision in comments regarding an article you wrote about how precision is not all that important:). how much more could i ask for:)?

My article was not about how precision is not all that important, it's about how the mania for defining words (a mania, incidentally, that's largely histrionic) is, more often than not, merely an excuse for definitional reasoning, which is an invalid way of ascertaining facts. How much precision is actually needed in a given situation depends on one's practical goals in relation to how much precision is actually achievable. Sometimes we don't have to be all that precise (partly because of what Rand called "unit-economy"); sometimes it's just not possible. But whatever the case, precision is rarely if ever attained by presenting "true" or "clear" or "precise" definitions. A definition is merely one of the meanings of a word (and most words have multiple meanings) expressed in a phrase or a sentence. The definition and the term express the same thing. The definition adds nothing to our understanding of the word: it only let's us know the word used to express a particular meaning. Consider the following word and definition:

(1) Elephant

(2) a very large herbivorous mammals having thick, almost hairless skin, a long, flexible, prehensile trunk, upper incisors forming long curved tusks of ivory, and, in the African species, large fan-shaped ears.

The hallmark of good writing is to express as much as you can with the fewest words. Let us suppose, in the interest of so-called "precision," you replaced all the words of a sentence with their definitions. Would you really have more "precision"? Or would you merely create a sentence that was unnecessarily long-winded and profuse, which would only overload the conscious mind with useless terms?

In short, definitions do not add precision or clarity to language: that is achieved only by good writing. Terms like clarity and precision don't apply to words; they apply only to writing in general.

If you don't know the meaning of a word, a definition can be useful. But that's only if you already grasp the meaning expressed by the word (and you can grasp a meaning without having a word to express it). Words are "arbitrary" and interchangable in the sense that many different words can be used to express the same meaning. Bread for example is defined as "a food made of flour, water, and yeast or another leavening agent, mixed together and baked." People learn what bread is (i.e., the meaning of bread), not from definitions, but from experience (from seeing it, smelling it, and eating it). Bread is called pain in french and Brot in German; but these are all terms that express the exact same meaning as the definition. Knowing that bread is called by different terms in different languages may increase our knowledge of these languages, but it doesn't increase our knowledge of bread. Even Rand understand that knowledge does not come from definitions; but she failed to draw the obvious consequences from this fact.

To repeat what I have elsewhere said: definitions define word usuage (i.e., attach meanings to specific words). But how a word is used does not tell us anything about reality (other than how words are used in reality)!

Daniel Barnes said...

ungtss, I doubt you would know Chomsky from a hole in the ground...;-)

You see, your claim is that words *are* numbers - they have the same characteristics.

So I've placed words in a mathematical context where, according to your claim, they should make sense. They do not. Ergo your claim is false.

You see, your mistake is this: just because a word refers to something does not mean it is that something. Just because the word "elephant" refers to an elephant, does not mean it has the same characteristics of an elephant. Light starting to go on now? See where I'm going with this? Just because the word "two" refers to the number 2 (which is of course just a symbol itself for an abstract property) does not mean the word is the same thing as the number. This is the source of your fundamental confusion.

If words were the same thing as numbers, as you claim, dictionaries would contain definitions of terms like 1.237, not to mention being infinitely long...Obviously this is not the case.

So now hopefully we've cleared that up for you...;-)

ungtss said...

“My article was not about how precision is not all that important, it's about how the mania for defining words (a mania, incidentally, that's largely histrionic) is, more often than not, merely an excuse for definitional reasoning, which is an invalid way of ascertaining facts.”

Perhaps I read this article in the context of your other article, in which you said it is a “Myth” that definition and precision are important. Myth number 1, in fact.

“The hallmark of good writing is to express as much as you can with the fewest words. Let us suppose, in the interest of so-called "precision," you replaced all the words of a sentence with their definitions. Would you really have more "precision"? Or would you merely create a sentence that was unnecessarily long-winded and profuse, which would only overload the conscious mind with useless terms?”

It depends what definition your audience has of the word. If your audience understands “elephant” to mean specifically the Asian type, but you wish to speak of both the Asian and the African type (perhaps because he is an Asian villager with no knowledge of African elephants), then you need to explain yourself in greater detail and verbiage to get your point across and prevent misunderstanding. But if your audience understands elephant in the same way you do – as including both Asian and African types – then the word “Elephant” is more precise, because it is shorter, and refers to not only the information you conveyed in your longer definition, but also the _other_ information your audience already associated with elephants.

That is why definition is important when speaking with those who think and speak differently than you, and not important when you speak with those who think and speak the same.

Which is why, when one thinks in a radically different way than those with whom one is speaking, one must be careful to define one’s words.

After all, if you’ve been to Africa, and know that elephants come in that subtype, and you are speaking with an Asian familiarity who knows nothing about that subtype, you have to tell him that when you speak of elephants, you’re speaking of both.

If he’s rigid in his thinking (which villagers can tend to be), he will argue with you, telling you that african elephants are not elephants, and that what you are describing is something quite different and impossible from his understanding of an elephant. He will screech “Common Use!” and plug his ears to your mad ranting.

But you will remain patient. Because you have context and knowledge he doesn’t have. And it’s natural for small-minded, rigid people to have fits of anxiety when somebody takes their mind out of its comfort zone.

ungtss said...

“Bread is called pain in french and Brot in German; but these are all terms that express the exact same meaning as the definition. Knowing that bread is called by different terms in different languages may increase our knowledge of these languages, but it doesn't increase our knowledge of bread.”

This is true, but beside the point. As we discussed before, one does not fight over the meaning of non-controversial words like “bread.” However, it is quite common to play cognitive word games with controversial words, in which the nature of the concept itself is of crucial importance. Thus people argue over whether American Indians should be called “Native Americans” or “First Nations” or “Indians” or by their tribal moniker, and get very upset when you call them by the wrong thing. Each of those labels carries certain additional ideological concepts along with the word. They do not simply describe the people. They describe the people within a particular political context. “Native Americans,” for instance, describes them in tribalist terms, such that the fact that their ancestors arrived here before the ancestors of immigrants, they are “natives,” despite the fact that they arrived here _as individuals_ when born here, same as any second generation immigrant from anywhere.

The label is more than just a label in such controversial areas. It carries ideological, emotional content. Unlike simple words like “Bread.”

That is why while labels are not particularly important in the context of “bread,” they become critically important when dealing with ideas of great significance, where the term itself has been used to smuggle ideas into discourse without explicitly stating them.

Of course, a foodie may well argue over the definition of bread. He may say that white wonderbread is not really bread, because “real bread” is not bleached, contains whole grains, isn’t GMO, or whatever they think is important. When I talk to such people (and I have some of them in my family), I don’t argue with them. I just infer from their language use that they value a particular type of bread so highly that they render all other types of bread into non-bread. Their word-use tells me about their values. And I wouldn’t sit there and argue with them for 20 minutes that it’s “technically bread because it is bla bla bla …” I seek to understand them. I even adopt their mode of language by referring to white wonderbread as “bread substitute” in their presence, so they might get a laugh and know I understand and sympathize with their values.

Our previous discussion regarding the “free market” is a perfect example of this. People who do not want a truly free market have great incentive to confuse the meaning of the words, such that “free” does not really mean free. People who want a truly free market have great incentive to fight for a definition of “free” that really means “free.”

Because word use influences our thought processes, and people know it. That’s why they fight over labels all the time. Indian or Native American? Black or African American? Socialism or Totalitarianism? Does love mean selfishly valuing the object, or selflessly sacrificing yourself for it? Does freedom mean the freedom to do whatever you like, the freedom to do whatever you like so long as you don’t violate the freedom of others, or the freedom to do what God says you should do? These are critical, controversial words. They carry great cognitive influence. They affect how we think. That’s why they matter.

And they matter to you too. Because you argue for a definition of “free market” that includes ex ante regulation with the same fervor as an advocate of the free market argues for a definition of “free market” that excludes it. Because words affect thought. And you know that as well as I do.

ungtss said...

Daniel, you're confusing the characteristics of words with the characteristics of the referents of the words. Words are particular things, they're used in a particular way, they have particular characteristics. Referents of words are out there in the real world. Thus the word "elephant" has characteristics, and the things we call elephants have characteristics.

and those characteristcs are not the same. you study the characteristics of words in linguistics. you study the characteristics of elephants in biology.

as a side note, your condescending snide remarks really take away from any credibility in your comments, and do not serve any function of intimidating me or making me feel small. just an fyi. perhaps you prefer to continue using them, if they make you feel like a big man. if so, by all means continue. but in any event, it might be worth asking yourself why you feel compelled to be a condescending ass.

Dragonfly said...

You don't need words to give an exact definition of π:

π = 4 * Σ((-1)^n /(2n + 1))

Pi is not defined by a decimal expansion with a finite number of digits, only approximated. Pi itself is an exact number, just like 2.

ungtss said...

"π = 4 * Σ((-1)^n /(2n + 1))"

I'm not familiar with that definition, and I can't find any sources online to substantiate it, but I'll take your word for it.

I'll then point out that it contains summation notation. I'm presuming the summation takes n to infinity? if so, this is a definition of pi that cannot actually be calculated to turn it into a number. ever.

Dragonfly said...

It is in fact 4 times the power series for arctan (1). You can also express it as an integral over x from 0 to 1 of (1 + x^2)^-1.

Giving a decimal expansion is not the same as "turning it into a number". Pi is a number, just not a rational number, just as i is a number, which doesn't even have a decimal expansion.

ungtss said...

"Giving a decimal expansion is not the same as "turning it into a number". Pi is a number, just not a rational number, just as i is a number, which doesn't even have a decimal expansion."

Indeed, it's a irrational number, which means it doesn't have a decimal expansion. but the original definition you gave is a formula _for decimal expansion_ -- it's just a formula for decimal expansion that can be partially performed, but never fully performed.

That's different than a definition that tells you _what something is_, as in the case of saying "pi is the ratio of etc. etc. etc.", which comprehensively and accurately defines pi, without giving you instructions you can't perform.

Daniel Barnes said...

ungtss writes:
>as a side note, your condescending snide remarks really take away from any credibility in your comments, and do not serve any function of intimidating me or making me feel small. just an fyi. perhaps you prefer to continue using them, if they make you feel like a big man. if so, by all means continue. but in any event, it might be worth asking yourself why you feel compelled to be a condescending ass.

ungtss, earlier:
>Daniel, I've learned something else these last few days. Most -- perhaps all? -- criticisms of objectivism amount to a defense of mediocrity. yours, right now, is "all words of vague." no exceptions. nothing better. nothing exceptional. nothing to strive for. perhaps that's the lens through which you see life. i do not. i see life through the lens of endless opportunity for growth and improvement. i find no solace in a philosophy that makes everything dull, grey, vague, and mediocre.

ungtss, if you want to call your opponents mediocrities under the spell of a dull, gray, vague philosophy, then back that up with as arguments hapless as you are currently supplying, then don't be surprised if we're rather condescending in return.

Dargonfly said...

This power series for π may be used for calculating the decimal expansion(although this one is extremely inefficient), but it also an analytic definition of π, just as Σ 1/n! is a definition of e. That we cannot write such irrational numbers as a finite or repeating decimal expansion doesn't imply that those definitions are not exact - they are.

ungtss said...

"ungtss, if you want to call your opponents mediocrities under the spell of a dull, gray, vague philosophy, then back that up with as arguments hapless as you are currently supplying, then don't be surprised if we're rather condescending in return"

if you read what i wrote, i did not call anybody a mediocrity, i called your argument a defense of mediocrity. i know nothing about you. i just know that your argument was a defense of the ordinary. you might be a highly successful person. but you're defending mediocrity.

compare to "you wouldn't know chomsky from a hole in the ground." come on, dude. you know nothing about what i'm read or who i am or what i do for a living. all you know is the ideas as i express them here and now.

ungtss said...

"That we cannot write such irrational numbers as a finite or repeating decimal expansion doesn't imply that those definitions are not exact - they are."

Fair enough, that's a broader definition of "exact" than i'm used to, but within the context of math, it makes sense. i guess what sets me off is that it makes reference to infinity -- a non-entity -- whereas the conceptual definition of pie refers to real-world things -- circles and diameters. but that's just my bias for the concrete.

thanks for educating me.

Daniel Barnes said...

ungtss:
>Daniel, you're confusing the characteristics of words with the characteristics of the referents of the words. Words are particular things, they're used in a particular way, they have particular characteristics. Referents of words are out there in the real world. Thus the word "elephant" has characteristics, and the things we call elephants have characteristics.

OK, I don't even have to argue against this. All you have to do is follow your same argument and you'll see where you're going wrong, to wit:

Words are particular things, with particular characteristics, elephants are particular things with particular characteristics, and...numbers are also particular things with particular characteristics.

These particular characteristics are what make them different from words, in the same way that elephants are different from words too - but words can refer to both numbers and elephants, obviously without having to be the same as either. This is where you're basically going wrong.

ungtss:
>and those characteristcs are not the same. you study the characteristics of words in linguistics. you study the characteristics of elephants in biology.

...yes, and you study the characteristics of numbers in mathematics! This is because they have, obviously, different characteristics from words. Your earlier position, in contrast, entails that mathematics would be just another name for linguistics. I politely suggest you recant it.

Here is your earlier position, for reference:
ungtss:
>All numbers are also words. 2 is two. Because all numbers are words, then all numbers _must_ have the same characteristics as words. Because they _are_ words.

ungtss said...

"Words are particular things, with particular characteristics, elephants are particular things with particular characteristics, and...numbers are also particular things with particular characteristics.

These particular characteristics are what make them different from words, in the same way that elephants are different from words too - but words can refer to both numbers and elephants, obviously without having to be the same as either. This is where you're basically going wrong."

negative. a number does not refer to anything in the real world, like an elephant does. numbers are concepts we invented, and which allow us to label particular relationships between objects.

if you have two apples on the table, there's no "two" there. "two" is a word you use to describe a collection of oranges of a particular size.

"two" is what we say it is, and nothing else. that doesn't mean it's arbitrary -- it's not -- but it doesn't refer to anything in the real world. it refers to a particular mode of "grouping" performed by us.

Compare that to the word "orange," which actually refers to something in the real world. several things, actually, depending on context. but that's the point. you can hold an "orange" in your hand. you can't hold "two" in your hand.

"...yes, and you study the characteristics of numbers in mathematics! This is because they have, obviously, different characteristics from words. Your earlier position, in contrast, entails that mathematics would be just another name for linguistics. I politely suggest you recant it."

numbers have different characteristics from _other types of words_, but they can't have different characteristics from _all_ words, because they _are_ words.

some characteristics of numbers that they don't share with other words: mathematical operations can be performed on them. they can be used to describe groupings of objects, and measurements of objects.

other words of course have different characteristics. for instance an adjective modifies a noun. nouns can't modify nouns. neither can verbs. only adjectives can.

but they're still words. they're just words with particular characteristics.

Daniel Barnes said...

ungtss:
>but [numbers are] still words. they're just words with particular characteristics.

Objectivist epistemology: at bottom, it's really just one woman's war on all useful distinctions!

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

@ungtss, regarding Dragonfly's definition of pi using a power series: i guess what sets me off is that it makes reference to infinity -- a non-entity -- whereas the conceptual definition of pie refers to real-world things -- circles and diameters. but that's just my bias for the concrete.

I assume you take the conceptual definition of pi to be C/d (ratio of circumference to diameter). In that case, I have bad news for you: it's no more concrete than Dragonfly's infinite sum.

As Dragonfly explained:

It is in fact 4 times the power series for arctan (1).

Let's see ... arctan(1) is defined as an angle whose tangent is 1 ... which means an angle of a right triangle in which the sides of the triangle opposite and adjacent the angle are the same length ... draw a picture ... oh, that's just a 45-degree angle! Oh, but of course: half the circumference of a circle is pi*radius, and if I put my 45-degree angle in that circle, it subtends 1/4 of that ... and, wow, it really is talking about the same thing. (One of those not-so-obvious mathematical tautologies, which I think Dragonfly mentioned in another thread.)

The difference is that by defining pi using the sum, I have a formula for computing the ratio (to whatever precision I want), while the C/d version doesn't really help on the computation front since that's going to be limited by my ability to obtain a Euclidean plane, draw a perfect circle on it, and measure C and d accurately.

So, remind me, which one is more concrete again? If you said C/d was easier to understand, or more intuitive, I'd agree; the power series version requires that you understand what the arctan function is and how to express it as a power series, which takes more work than understanding circumference and diameter. But in reality, they're both talking about exactly the same thing.

ungtss said...

"So, remind me, which one is more concrete again? If you said C/d was easier to understand, or more intuitive, I'd agree; the power series version requires that you understand what the arctan function is and how to express it as a power series, which takes more work than understanding circumference and diameter. But in reality, they're both talking about exactly the same thing."

As we've been discussing, the degree and type of precision that's useful and appropriate depends on the context and purpose:). that formula is quite useful in the context of telling a computer how to pull out pi millions and millions of decimal places, but it's largely useless for understanding _what pi is_ at a big-picture level.

My mistake was being focused on a particular type of precision, based on a particular purpose i was assuming without identifying.

that's why these conversations are useful. because they allow one to identify one's assumption by contrasting them to someone else's different assumptions.

ungtss said...

one might, for instance, introduce a formula like that in an _inappropriate_ context for the purpose of displaying one's superior mathematical knowledge, and lord it over others, to stroke one's own narcissism. in such a case, the purpose would be to obfuscate and intimidate, rather than to clarify.

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

@ungtss: [quoting Daniel Barnes] "words can refer to both numbers and elephants, obviously without having to be the same as either. This is where you're basically going wrong"

negative. a number does not refer to anything in the real world, like an elephant does. numbers are concepts we invented, and which allow us to label particular relationships between objects.


It seems you are saying that the relationships we label using number-words ("two," "pi," etc.) don't exist in reality. If the relationships are real, then how can it be that "a number does not refer to anything in the real world"?

And does the same thing apply to relationships we identify using other types of words? Prepositions, for instance ("over," "beside," "behind," etc.), or comparative words ("larger," "heavier," "duller," etc.). Do these words refer to anything in the real world? If so, how are number-words different?

ungtss said...

"It seems you are saying that the relationships we label using number-words ("two," "pi," etc.) don't exist in reality. If the relationships are real, then how can it be that "a number does not refer to anything in the real world"?

And does the same thing apply to relationships we identify using other types of words? Prepositions, for instance ("over," "beside," "behind," etc.), or comparative words ("larger," "heavier," "duller," etc.). Do these words refer to anything in the real world? If so, how are number-words different?"

the relationships are mental constructions we impose on reality to make pattern and sense out of reality, and not part of reality itself.

as mental constructions, they're indispensable, because they allow us to comprehend reality. but we make a huge mistake to confuse those constructions with the reality itself.

a good example is a measurement of a stick. the stick is what it is. it's not "12" or "30" or anything else. but in seeking to make sense of the stick, we might decide we want to know how big it is. to do that, we impose a human-made system of measurement on the stick.

upon measuring it, the number you arrive at is not an aspect of the stick -- it's a function of your application of a particular system of measurement to the stick in accordance to particular rules invented by people. it's good and useful, but it's manmade.

do you measure in inches? then the length is 12 in. do you measure in cm? then the length is 30.5 cm.

the relationships and rules we impose on reality to make sense of it are critical to our survival. but they come from us, not from reality.

reason/logic operate in the same way. they are our measuring system for reality. our way of making sense of it. they're not part of reality. they're our tool for grasping it.

so it is with numbers. numbers are a system we have invented to make sense of the universe. they're not part of the universe. they're a way we're able to describe it and make sense of it.

Same with "over, beside, behind," etc. and "north" and "south." humanity imposes these conceptual frameworks _onto reality_ in order to make reality comprehensible to us.

Anonymous said...

"one might, for instance, introduce a formula like that in an _inappropriate_ context for the purpose of displaying one's superior mathematical knowledge, and lord it over others, to stroke one's own narcissism. in such a case, the purpose would be to obfuscate and intimidate, rather than to clarify."

Yeah, but then they'd be an Objectivist.

...

Are you straight-manning on purpose? Because it was like you gave that one a big old softball lob.

Daniel Barnes said...

If untgss wants to call numbers "words", or even "elephants", well all we can really do is wish her good luck with that. Playing with terminology hardly constitutes an interesting argument.

Other than fudging useful distinctions a la Rand, can anyone summarise, or even identify, the argument she's trying to make? ungtss?

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

@ungtss, on words that identify relationship: the relationships are mental constructions we impose on reality to make pattern and sense out of reality, and not part of reality itself.

Alrighty, then ... I see an elephant. Part of reality. I see a mouse. Part of reality. I see that the mouse is on the elephant. Nope, not part of reality, just something I imposed on reality. The mouse isn't really on the elephant. Maybe the elephant is really on the mouse. Nope, that would just be something else I imposed on reality. So I see these things, but I have no idea where they are? After all, even "right in front of my face" would be a relationship, and relationships are not part of reality.

Sorry, ungtss. You are no Objectivist. Rand at her worst was more coherent than this. By several orders of magnitude.

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

@Daniel Barnes: If untgss wants to call numbers "words", or even "elephants", well all we can really do is wish her good luck with that. Playing with terminology hardly constitutes an interesting argument.

Wait ... do we know if ungtss is a he or she? (I'm the one who outed myself in this thread, don't think ungtss has.)

Actually, I'm beginning to think it's neither. My new theory is that ungtss is a computer program -- the philosopher's answer to ELIZA. Had us going for a while, though.

ungtss said...

" The mouse isn't really on the elephant. Maybe the elephant is really on the mouse. Nope, that would just be something else I imposed on reality. So I see these things, but I have no idea where they are? After all, even "right in front of my face" would be a relationship, and relationships are not part of reality."

Your complete failure to understand this aspect of her epistemology actually explains why the remainder seems incoherent to you.

"On" in this context is a concept we invent to describe two objects that are physically touching, with the object we describe as "on" being further from the center of the earth than the one that object is "on." all that exists are two objects touching. we impose the concept "on" to conceptualize how they are oriented relative to the earth.

but take away our concepts of "up" and "down relative to the earth, and there's nothing to say whether the mouse is on the elephant or the elephant is on the mouse. if you define "on" as being _closer_ to the center of the earth, then the elephant _is_ on the mouse.

that doesn't mean "on" is arbitrary or subjective. it isn't. it's an objective concept which can be consistently applied, and which allows us to make sense of the world from age 2 onward.

but it's not part of reality. it's a concept we use to describe reality.

this is very helpful, because it's helping me see the cognitive roots of subjectivism -- the failure to separate our cognitive framework from the reality it describes. a person's failure to do that would indeed explain how ridiculously immature you all behave. because you're confusing _your cognitive framework_ on this issues with _reality_, such that you think just because i have a different cognitive framework than you do, i've lost contact with reality.

fascinating.

Anonymous said...

""On" in this context is a concept we invent to describe two objects that are physically touching, with the object we describe as "on" being further from the center of the earth than the one that object is "on.""

Except a bug can be on a wall, or gum can be on the underside of a table, or other examples where Earth and its gravity have nothing to do with it. If the mouse and elephant were in outer space, and the mouse was still in contact, how else would we describe it but "on" the elephant?

Daniel Barnes said...

Sorry Ms ECE, misunderstood you, got it now...:-)

Ungtss has, amusingly, just invented a Kantian version of Objectivism.

ungtss said...

"Except a bug can be on a wall, or gum can be on the underside of a table, or other examples where Earth and its gravity have nothing to do with it. If the mouse and elephant were in outer space, and the mouse was still in contact, how else would we describe it but "on" the elephant?"

That's why I specified that this definition of "on" applies "in the context" of mice and elephants. "on" can also refer to an electrical applicance receiving current and operating. or a boss that continually nags you. but in those _contexts_, on means something very different. in the electrical context, "on" is just a word to describe the fact that elecriticity is now running through the applicance. in the nagging boss context, it's just a metaphor to describe a perception of an interpersonal relationship.

same with gun under tables and bugs on walls. it's all contextual.

i'm not sure i'd use "on" in space. you might. but i think i might say "attached to," because on wouldn't seem to fit. in any case, i'd certainly understand what you meant if you said "on."

Daniel:

this is not kantian at all, because these definitions are not arbitrary -- they are invented _for a purpose_, and can be proper or improper ways of conceptualizing reality.

that's what her epistemology was _all about_. our conceptualization of reality is distinct from the reality itself, but can be _proper or improper_, according to the objective rules of _human thought_.

Daniel Barnes said...

I was referring to this:

ungtss:
>the relationships are mental constructions we impose on reality to make pattern and sense out of reality, and not part of reality itself.

I know Rand is pretty incoherent, but man, you are making a hash of her philosophy.

ungtss said...

daniel, you've help me understand the effects of not understanding the difference between our thought and reality. because you're not distinguishing between your thought and reality.

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

@Daniel: Sorry Ms ECE, misunderstood you, got it now...:-)


No worries. It's not self-evident, nad far from expected. (Women Objectivists are rare, women Ex-Objectivists ... even rarer.)

Ungtss has, amusingly, just invented a Kantian version of Objectivism.

My thought exactly!

ungtss said...

"Ungtss has, amusingly, just invented a Kantian version of Objectivism.

My thought exactly!"

Or else you misunderstood objectivism to begin with, mistakenly thinking she thought reason derives directly from reality, rather than being "man's distinct mode of cognition."

Daniel Barnes said...

ECE, just a thought: if you ever wanted to write a little about your experience - anonymously of course -we'd be very interested in posting it.

Direlda said...

Ungtss, you said:
"_your_ mistake is that you are using words in the wrong context, such that they are semantically meaningless. the concept of semantic meaning was developed by chomsky (not rand), and illustrated by the phrase "colorless green ideas sleep furiously." although the phrase is grammatically correct, and composed entirely of words, it is _semantically_ meaningless, because the context of the words does not provide any meaning.

thus you ask for the square root of elephant. but elephants don't have square roots any more than "ideas" can be "green."

not my mistake, yours. just because you're dealing with words doesn't mean words carry meaning in every context you can come up with. read chomsky. "

As someone with linguistic training at a university level, I'm sorry to point out that you are actually mistaken. Chomsky's sentence actually can carry meaning.

(please note that I use the OED for definitions, so these uses are attested through quotes)

Colourless can mean "without colour" but it can also mean "bland." Green can mean "a colour between blue and yellow in the spectrum," but it can also mean "new/untested/naive" or "environmental." Sleep can mean "to take repose by the natural suspension of consciousness," but it can also mean "to be inert/inactive," "to postpone a decision," and of business, etc "to cease to go forward/to remain in the same state." And furiously can mean "with fury, in a mad or frantic manner, to an irrational degree, madly" and "With impetuous or boisterous motion or agitation; swiftly, violently, vehemently."

From these definitions we can see that the sentence "Colourless green ideas sleep furiously" can mean more than one thing. It could be saying that bland, new ideas have been put off being decided on, yet their proponents are agitating for them. Or it could be saying that bland environmental ideas that have been inert for a while are starting to gain frenzied support. And I'm sure the people here could come up with more meanings.

In other words, there is meaning that is able to be derived from such a sentence. Consider Lewis Carrol's poem, "Jabberwocky." While there are a lot of nonsensical words that Carrol made up, we are able to assign some meaning to them by recognizing which syntactic category a particular word belongs to and using the contextual clues of the words we do know.

I also find it strange that you threw out the point that "bread" is known by different names in different languages. This point, actually, is very important. For it illustrates the arbitrariness of language. Were there something in the physical representation of our words (meaning the letters or sounds, henceforth referred to as signifier, following Saussure), such as "elephant" or "bread," that necessitated that word going with that real world object (henceforth referred to as signified, again following Saussure), then shouldn't all languages use the same signifier for the same signified? And if there were something in the signifier that necessitated it belonging to a particular signified, then why are there instances of a signifier that mapping to more than one signified, such as "fly" referring to the act of propulsion through the air, the insect, and being considered 'cool'?

Also note that the first entry in the OED definition of On, prep. does not make any reference to gravity or closeness to the center of the earth. Rather it gives multiple senses that can be generalized to: that an object is outside of, but in contact with or close to a surface.

ungtss said...

the point there was not whether or not noam chomsky's sentence could be imbued with meaning by adopting tortured word-use, but the fact that the sentence illustrates the importance of context in providing sentences with meaning. with a long, tortured explanation, you're able to give the reader some context that would allow them to interpret the words in some way that's at least marginally meaningful. but in so doing, you prove the point.

as to whether the sentence is actually meaningless or not, there have been whole conferences in which people get together trying to force some meaning into it:). and they do so. but the fact that they have to put effort into forcing some meaning into the sentence says a lot. it says that without deliberate effort to reinterpret the words, the sentence is meaningless.

"I also find it strange that you threw out the point that "bread" is known by different names in different languages. This point, actually, is very important. For it illustrates the arbitrariness of language."

The signifiers are indeed arbitrary, but definitions are not. defining terms according to proper rules of human thought is essential to human cognition. the labels we put atop those definitions are arbitrary. but we're not talking about signifiers, we're talking about definitions.

my point with "on" was not the specific definition one might choose, but the fact that "on" signifies a relationship we conceptualize and impose on our understanding of reality in order to make sense of it.

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

@Daniel Barnes: ECE, just a thought: if you ever wanted to write a little about your experience - anonymously of course -we'd be very interested in posting it.

Thanks for the interest ... and I may well take you up on it, but not immediately. Too much going on in the real world right now.

Direlda said...

(I wrote so much that it must be broken up into parts... O.o Ten thousand thundering typhoons!)

Ungtss said:
"the point there was not whether or not noam chomsky's sentence could be imbued with meaning by adopting tortured word-use, but the fact that the sentence illustrates the importance of context in providing sentences with meaning. with a long, tortured explanation, you're able to give the reader some context that would allow them to interpret the words in some way that's at least marginally meaningful. but in so doing, you prove the point.

as to whether the sentence is actually meaningless or not, there have been whole conferences in which people get together trying to force some meaning into it:). and they do so. but the fact that they have to put effort into forcing some meaning into the sentence says a lot. it says that without deliberate effort to reinterpret the words, the sentence is meaningless."

Chomsky's sentence was originally intended to show that you cannot use semantics to define a sentence's grammaticality. It was paired with the ungrammatical sentence: "Furiously sleep ideas green colorless." Yet a speaker of English is able to recognize that "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously" is grammatical while "Furiously sleep ideas green colorless" is ungrammatical without having either seen the sentences before or necessarily making sense of the sentences. Chomsky's main point was actually that the grammatical sentence would be ruled out as a valid English sentence under a statistical model of grammaticalness as too remote, just as the ungrammatical one would. Thus, Chomsky argues that there is a need for a better model of determining the grammaticalness of utterances. So whether or not "Colourless green ideas sleep furiously" actually has meaning or not is not fundamental to the point Chomsky was making. In fact, Chomsky says, "We cannot, of course, appeal to the fact that sentences such as (1) 'might' be uttered in some sufficiently far-fetched context, while (2) would never be, since the basis for this differentiation between (1) and (2) is precisely what we are interested in determining" (Syntactic Structures 16), which shows that not only did Chomsky admit that it might be possible for his nonsensical sentence to be given meaning, but that the possibility of it having meaning did not impact his argument.

Just because you have to think a little to get meaning out of a sentence does not mean you forced meaning onto it or that the word-use is tortured. All the definitions I provided are oft-used, so it's not like I pulled them out of my posterior. Now, if I had tried to get meaning out of the grammatically incorrect sentence, then I would agree if you were to say my word-use was tortured. And are ambiguous sentences, such as: "The man killed the king with the knife," meaningless because without further context you don't know which meaning is meant?

Direlda said...

I'm glad you know that there is nothing in the signifier that necessitates it being with a particular signified. I was a little worried that you didn't because you said, "it's absurd to contrast 'words' and 'numbers,' because there are words for numbers" and "All numbers are also words. 2 is two. Because all numbers are words, then all numbers _must_ have the same characteristics as words. Because they _are_ words. To change this into saying “numbers are not words, but can be ‘expressed’ as words” is nonsense. All words are expressions of things. That’s what a word is. Therefore to say a number is a word and to say a number can be expressed as a word is to say the same thing." From this it seemed like you were saying that there is no difference between saying something is expressed as a word and something is a word, which then means that because this something is a word, it has the same characteristics as words. To me that sounded like you thought that there was something in a signifier that necessitated a signified. But I guess I was mistaken. Mea culpa.

In any case, I find it fascinating that you view numbers and relationships between things in general as not being a part of reality. It makes some sense, so I shall think about this. However, these relationships cannot be objective if they are part of our cognitive framework for interpreting reality. For you said, "that doesn't mean 'on' is arbitrary or subjective. it isn't. it's an objective concept which can be consistently applied, and which allows us to make sense of the world from age 2 onward. but it's not part of reality. it's a concept we use to describe reality" and also, "the relationships and rules we impose on reality to make sense of it are critical to our survival. but they come from us, not from reality." The OED's definition of 'objective' adj. in the philosophical sense says, "That is or belongs to what is presented to consciousness, as opposed to the consciousness itself; that is the object of perception or thought, as distinct from the subject; (hence) (more widely) external to or independent of the mind." Now our conceptual framework, not being a part of reality, must stem from our mind, which would mean that any part of said framework would also have to stem from our mind. So while I grant that you may be on to something with your claim that relations between objects may not be part of reality and are rather part of our framework for understanding reality, I must point out that anything that is part of that framework must stem from our mind and thus be subjective rather than objective.

It would seem that concepts such as 'freedom' would also be part of this conceptual framework for describing/understanding reality. Because freedom describes the relationship that exists between a person and their surroundings when there is nothing and no one hindering them. You can't hold freedom in your hand like you can an orange. So is freedom something we've imposed upon reality or does it actually have a basis in reality?

My original point in mentioning the definition of 'on' was to help you in your future usage of the word, so that you would understand people when they used 'on' in contexts where understanding it as referring to a relationship in reference to distance from the center of the earth would cause confusion. However, it is now taking on an additional point in light of some of the thoughts I just had--that it may also illustrate that if the relationships described by words such as 'on' are indeed part of our conceptual framework for describing/understanding the world, then such relationships are subjective. Of course, it may also just be illustrating that even for words we use often and think we understand, we still may not define them the same way as each other and the dictionaries.

ungtss said...

Direlda,

I greatly appreciate the intelligent, well-thought-out, sympathetic response:). Thank you:).

I agree that noam chomsky’s _purpose_ in giving that sentence was to show that you cannot use semantics to define a sentence's grammaticality. but still, he made that point specifically by composing a sentence he understood to be semantically meaningless but grammatically correct, and then another sentence using the same words that was ungrammatical. Since he used it as an example of a semantically meaningless sentence, I think it’s fair to use it as a sentence that is at least arguably meaningless, when trying to demonstrate the importance of context for meaning:).

The question of whether the sentence holds meaning is an interesting one I’d never really thought of before because it seems to transparently meaningless on first glance. I guess I’d respond that although alternate definitions for the same words are commonly used, they are commonly used _in a totally different context_. If one wants to talk about bland untested ideas, “colorless” and “green” are very idiosyncratic and odd adjectives to use in that context. One could use them, I suppose. But I bet in a room of 100 people who’ve never read or heard of Chomsky on that point, and even the vast majority of those who have, 99 people would call that a “nonsense sentence.” Chomsky would have, anyway:). He did:).

“Just because you have to think a little to get meaning out of a sentence does not mean you forced meaning onto it or that the word-use is tortured.”

Is that really what happens? Or do people set out to disprove Chomsky’s claim that it’s meaningless by searching the OED for alternative definitions that could make some sense out of it? Does one find meaning by “thinking” about it, or by affirmatively finding some way to put meaning into it to win a contest or prove a point?

“And are ambiguous sentences, such as: "The man killed the king with the knife," meaningless because without further context you don't know which meaning is meant?”

Not in my view. In my view “ambiguous meaning” and “meaningless” are different phenomena. Ambiguous meaning is when a sentence can be interpreted in more than one way as to some matter of significance within the sentence. “meaningless.”

ungtss said...

“The OED's definition of 'objective' adj. in the philosophical sense says, "That is or belongs to what is presented to consciousness, as opposed to the consciousness itself; that is the object of perception or thought, as distinct from the subject; (hence) (more widely) external to or independent of the mind."”

Indeed it does, but in this case, we get into word use that is of critical importance, at least in the context of objectivism. Conventional philosophy defines the subjective as “consciousness” and the objective as “the thing in itself.” Thus there is a gap between the two – hence the Kantian idea that one cannot know “the thing in itself.”

But objectivism uses a radically different definition of “objectivity” because ayn rand really really hated this idea of kant’s:).

Ayn rand’s idea of objectivity was the human act of applying particular _means_ of thought to our thinking about reality – the means proper to humans.

Here’s how she described it:

“Objectivity is both a metaphysical and an epistemological concept. It pertains to the relationship of consciousness to existence. Metaphysically, it is the recognition of the fact that reality exists independent of any perceiver’s consciousness. Epistemologically, it is the recognition of the fact that a perceiver’s (man’s) consciousness must acquire knowledge of reality by certain means (reason) in accordance with certain rules (logic). This means that although reality is immutable and, in any given context, only one answer is true, the truth is not automatically available to a human consciousness and can be obtained only by a certain mental process which is required of every man who seeks knowledge—that there is no substitute for this process, no escape from the responsibility for it, no shortcuts, no special revelations to privileged observers—and that there can be no such thing as a final “authority” in matters pertaining to human knowledge. Metaphysically, the only authority is reality; epistemologically—one’s own mind. The first is the ultimate arbiter of the second.”

Thus whereas the OED and Kant would describe anything that comes from the human mind as “subjective,” rand would call things that come from our mind as “objective” if they _comply with the proper rules of human thought_. Objectivity within rand’s philosophy is an achievement – something human beings can aspire to. Something we can _earn_.

And since one’s compliance with rules is always relative and open to improvement, one is always capable of ever-greater degrees of objectivity – by _better applying the rules of thought_.

My interest in becoming _more_ objective is what drives me into discussions with people who think radically different from myself. Because through these conversations, I identify errors, vaguaries, and contradictions in my own conceptualization of reality. I’ve discovered no less than 50 in just three threads on this blog. I engage in this process because objectivity is a goal to which I aspire.

I understand that some objectivists claim to have obtained some absolute degree of objectivity. Having no experience with any other objectivists personally, I think that to the degree they make this mistake, it’s a darn shame. And I think one of the most extraordinary things about rand’s books is how they illustrate the relativity of objectivity – how her protagonists were all constantly engaged in a process of refinement of their objectivity. It strikes me as the main theme of the book. To the extent this is not put into practice by people calling themselves objectivists, I think it’s a shame. But then again, that’s part of the relativity of objectivity as well. Maybe they’ll figure it out someday:).

ungtss said...

on the question of whether "freedom" is another concept we impose on reality, absolutely it is:). in fact, we can't agree on what it is! we argue about it constantly, and typically maintain a very vague concept of it.

Personally, I have found rand's definition of freedom to be the most clear and effective definition out there.

one can have "good" measuring systems and "bad" measuring systems, based on their compliance with the rules of human cognition (for instance, units of measurement must be uniform. if your 3rd inch is longer than your second inch, your measurement system is not useful).

in the same way, one can have "good" and "bad" definitions of freedom, based on their compliance with the rules of human cognition. and many definitions of freedom of BS. like the definition of freedom that defines it as "the freedom to comply with divine dictates." it's transparently self-contradictory. but people still use it. and they pay the consequences for using a bad definition of freedom, just as they'd pay the consequences of building a house using a ruler that didn't do what a ruler needs to do.

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

@ungtss: I understand that some objectivists claim to have obtained some absolute degree of objectivity. Having no experience with any other objectivists personally, I think that to the degree they make this mistake, it’s a darn shame. And I think one of the most extraordinary things about rand’s books is how they illustrate the relativity of objectivity – how her protagonists were all constantly engaged in a process of refinement of their objectivity. It strikes me as the main theme of the book. To the extent this is not put into practice by people calling themselves objectivists, I think it’s a shame. But then again, that’s part of the relativity of objectivity as well. Maybe they’ll figure it out someday:).

That's an interesting take on what Rand was getting at. Unfortunately, she would not have agreed with you, and none of the (many) Objectivists I know would either.

Take Atlas Shrugged, for instance. Rand intended (per her journals) to portray Hank and Dagny as fully objective all along -- that is, they were firmly committed to identifying and understanding reality using reason, and they were quite good at it (hence their business success). But they were making an important error -- specifically in assuming their fellow human beings all wanted to live. Much of the story turns on them discovering this error, by using the method of reason to "check their premises."

As an aside, I recall you said in another post (maybe on another thread) that Hank and Dagny were the bad guys. Not in Rand's view: she said many times that the main conflict in Atlas is between good guys with right premises (strikers) and good guys with wrong premises (Hank and Dagny). The bad guys are the anti-reason, anti-life crowd (Jim, Ferris, et al.), who are incompetent and therefore impotent except to the extent that good guys like Hank and Dagny are willing to treat them like humans.

Back to my main point: If Rand had stopped at: learn how to think as clearly as possible in order to understand reality as thoroughly as possible, I'd have no problem with that.

The problem is that she didn't stop there. She firmly believed that she had "obtained some absolute degree of objectivity," as you put it. She firmly believed that she knew the "proper rules of human thought" and had applied those rules correctly to reach the right conclusions about morality, political systems, etc. ... and that anyone else who thought about it enough, using the right methods, would eventually come to agree with her conclusions. (She notoriously said that she was not looking for "intelligent disagreement" but for "intelligent agreement.")

Objectivists buy into this notion of "absolute objectivity." They think that Rand was an epochal supergenius who blazed the trail to it, showed it was achievable, and now that she has done that, all they have to do is learn what she knew, follow her reasoning ... and get to the same basic conclusions.

From what you have written, ungtss, it sounds like you are not, after all, an Objectivist -- and I don't mean that as an insult.

ungtss said...

having no personal experience with the "objectivist club," or rand herself, i'll have to take your word for it. i will say from what i've heard of peikoff in speeches, he seems like he has some major emotional issues.

also having not read her journals, i can't speak to what she said there. but i can speak to what she puts in the book.

in particular, the passage when rearden realizes he's "the most evil man in the room."

and he makes a lot more mistakes than not understanding the nature of his opposition. for instance, he does not understand the nature of sex. he thinks it's evil. he punishes himself, and dagny, relentless, for it. at first you think she's advocating that view of sex. but then you see him learn that it's wrong. and you realize she wasn't advocating it.

i often wonder about what happened when AR got older and started her non-fiction. all indications are that she became quite rigid, more prone to think in black and white, less able to see and learn from other perspectives, etc. i've been studying the unconscious and subconscious effects of anxiety a lot this year, and it strikes me that a lot of what she exhibited was characteristic of chronic anxiety. there are numerous studies that show that anxiety makes us think in black and white, increases our perception of the significance of group identity, and increases our desire to exert control. i've also experienced this myself during the times in my life when i've suffered from enormous anxiety. nicotine product use is also strongly associated with anxiety, and with rand.

all of these symptoms match descriptions of AR's personality flaws in later life.

and there's no denying being a national celebrity can cause significant anxiety. it's quite common for artists to do their best work before they are national celebrities, and for celebrity status to cause a great deal of anxiety for them. many cope with drugs, alcohol, compulsive behaviors, and impulsive behaviors. it's not that far fetched. just like at what happened to eminem.

her anxiety is particularly striking when you see her in interviews on video. she was literally shaking. clearly scared shitless.

anxiety does funny things to us. it literally colors our perception. i'm not above it. why should she or peikoff be?

i hypothesize that AR, and the organized "official" objectivist movement in general, suffer from unidentified anxiety that causes them to view ideas in far more of a black and white, defensive, self-righteous, group-oriented perspective than is appropriate ... or perhaps even than rand did before she became a national celebrity.

that said, i'm most definitely an objectivist. in my view, rand's own mistakes and personality flaws stem from a failure to comprehensively apply her own ideas. i disagree with her in the application of many of her ideas, but not the any of the fundamental ideas at all. in fact i think her misapplication of her own ideas was a result of some combination of a lack of information on particular topics and the subconscious effects of chronic anxiety.

Anonymous said...

"Thus whereas the OED and Kant would describe anything that comes from the human mind as “subjective,” rand would call things that come from our mind as “objective” if they _comply with the proper rules of human thought_."

If you peruse the backlog of this particular blog, you will find much evidence presented that there is no such thing as "proper rules of human thought" - there is simply *the way people think*, which tends towards certain patterns and behaviors largely determined by biology and not any of Rand's proposed factors.

Even if you grant that these are conditional rules - i.e., here are some rules to follow *IF* you want to train yourself to think in a particular way - and even if you think this is the "proper" way to think - cognitive science has been steadily building the case against Rand's view of human thought.

Gordon Burkowski said...

Note to ungtss: Rand never describes Rearden as "the most evil man in the room". Rather, she has Francisco d'Anconia describe him at Cheryl Taggart's wedding as "the guiltiest man in the room" - not because he is evil, but because he has been implicitly sanctioning the action of persons bent on destroying him and others like him.

This is of course by no means the only place where you're reading things into Rand's text that simply are not there. . .

ungtss said...

"Even if you grant that these are conditional rules - i.e., here are some rules to follow *IF* you want to train yourself to think in a particular way - and even if you think this is the "proper" way to think - cognitive science has been steadily building the case against Rand's view of human thought."

Lulz:). And cognitive science should be taken seriously because scientific thought is ... the right way to think?

Fallacy of the stolen concept much?

"Note to ungtss: Rand never describes Rearden as "the most evil man in the room". Rather, she has Francisco d'Anconia describe him at Cheryl Taggart's wedding as "the guiltiest man in the room" - not because he is evil, but because he has been implicitly sanctioning the action of persons bent on destroying him and others like him."

The distinction between an author calling someone something and having one of her heroic characters call him something is far too subtle for a simpleton such as myself. The subtlety between guilt and evil is also too subtle for me, because guilt is a result of evil.

I think if you read more carefully, you'll find that Rearden is guilty _because he permitted the evil around him to exist_. that without his sanction of it, it would not exist. that his adoption of that moral code is what made evil possible. and that that was his guilt ... the evil galt had to fight.

Bokata said...

Orwell nailed it in 1984.

From Wikepedia:

The aim of Newspeak is to remove all shades of meaning from language, leaving simple concepts (pleasure and pain, happiness and sadness, goodthink and crimethink) that reinforce the total dominance of the State. Newspeak root words serve as both nouns and verbs, further reducing the total number of words; for example, "think" is both noun and verb, so the word thought is not required and can be abolished. The party also intends that Newspeak be spoken in staccato rhythms with syllables that are easy to pronounce. This will make speech more automatic and unconscious and reduce the likelihood of thought. (See duckspeak.)

Linguistic hijacking in the service of ideology?

Bokata said...

In Orwell's own words:

"The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought--that is, a thought diverging from the principles of IngSoc--should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words."

ungtss said...

which begs the question. is newspeak what rand was advancing, or what she was opposing? in orwell's view, the government created newspeak to support the dominance of the state. therefore, if rand was doing anything, she was _opposing_ newspeak, and she was opposing word-use that advances the dominance of the State.

Anonymous said...

"Lulz:). And cognitive science should be taken seriously because scientific thought is ... the right way to think?"

I dunno, scientific thought gave us electricity and put men on the moon.

At the very least, when faced with the choice of which to trust more - an ideologically-derived theory of how the mind and thought operate, or a theory based on actual research and empirical facts - one who is truly objective ought to give the nod to actual data over wishful thinking.

I mean, really, you spend paragraphs talking about how you're not like all those other Objectivists, but then in one dismissive "lulz", you slip right into the stereotypical "science is bunk if it contradicts Rand" attitude.

Not that it's particularly surprising. Rand herself doesn't seem to have believed medical science until she wound up with lung cancer.

ungtss said...

"I mean, really, you spend paragraphs talking about how you're not like all those other Objectivists, but then in one dismissive "lulz", you slip right into the stereotypical "science is bunk if it contradicts Rand" attitude."

You missed my point completely.

Let me add some context to what you said (assuming you're the same anon who said it):

"If you peruse the backlog of this particular blog, you will find much evidence presented that there is no such thing as "proper rules of human thought" - there is simply *the way people think*, which tends towards certain patterns and behaviors largely determined by biology and not any of Rand's proposed factors."

Think about that for a second. Much "evidence" that there's no such thing as proper rules of human thought. If there are no proper rules of human thought, then why should I care for any evidence? Of course there are rules of thought. And you know it. That's why you cite "evidence." Because one of the proper rules of human thought is that ideas must be supported by _evidence_, and ideas that contradict evidence must be examined very carefully, because they're probably wrong in some respect.

you're using rules of thought to argue that there are none.

you're engaged in the fallacy of the stolen concept. using ideas in an effort to prove they're false.

ungtss said...

"evidence there's no such thing as proper rules of thought." so great:). i love you anon. you crack me up:).

Anonymous said...

"Think about that for a second. Much "evidence" that there's no such thing as proper rules of human thought. If there are no proper rules of human thought, then why should I care for any evidence? Of course there are rules of thought. And you know it. That's why you cite "evidence." Because one of the proper rules of human thought is that ideas must be supported by _evidence_, and ideas that contradict evidence must be examined very carefully, because they're probably wrong in some respect."

You're conflating "human thought" with "determining facts".

It is the idea of "proper thought" which is itself the fallacy. "Proper" by what authority? People can and have had unsupported ideas all the time, some more blatantly than others. This is not proper or improper, it merely IS, as a result of us all being biological human organisms. It is only societal constructs that make some thinking to be considered "improper", much in the way that there is no "proper" way for the wind to blow, merely ways we tend to dislike.

This "stolen concept" jazz is simply a linguistic "gotcha" used for the purpose of casually dismissing out of hand any evidence that contradicts some dearly-held belief.

But as the science progresses, it will become more and more difficult for Objectivists to ignore mounting data in favor of Rand's unsupported theories.

ungtss said...

"You're conflating "human thought" with "determining facts"."

Haha, and how does a human determine facts except by thinking according to particular rules of thought?

why is your type of "evidence" preferable to that of the witchdoctor? because you engage in thought according to particular rules.

ungtss said...

although perhaps you don't. perhaps you "determine facts" by some means other than thinking?

Anonymous said...

"Haha, and how does a human determine facts except by thinking according to particular rules of thought?"

There's a difference between "particular" for a specific goal and "proper" for humanity in general.

I mean, now you're down to what seems to be one-line "zingers" that aren't really germane to the issue. All to discount the idea that there may be scientific cause to doubt Rand's views on human thought.

Is that really how you want to go? Avoid dealing with that crux in favor of dancing about in a semantic side-step?

Bokata said...

@ ungtss

A totalitarian system of thought doesn't have to belong to a state. Read the following paragraph:

"The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought--that is, a thought diverging from the principles of IngSoc--should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words."

Now replace IngSoc with Rand.


@Anonymous

Your endeavor here is like trying to explain evolution to a fundamentalist preacher.

Michael Prescott said...

'why is your type of "evidence" preferable to that of the witchdoctor?'

I'd like to say a word for the witch doctor. His methods were not necessarily as crazy as you might think. In many cases, a witch doctor simply had a wide knowledge of native plants, and from long experience (both personal and handed down) he knew which plants were helpful in treating various ailments. The bark of the willow tree, for instance, when made into a tea, can reduce pain and inflammation. The reason is that willow bark contains aspirin, but even though the witch doctor knew nothing of aspirin or its chemical action, he knew what worked.

Even if you discount the witch doctor's claims of being in contact with the spirit world, such claims were doubtless helpful in encouraging his patients to trust his skills, and this kind of trust is essential to the placebo effect, which can have real, measurable benefits.

The larger point is that strict rationalism misses out on what William James might have called the varieties of cognitive experience. It's like insisting that a law code must be formulated according to first principles, in a logically hierarchical manner - an approach that leaves no room for common law. Yet common law is often more useful in particular cases, because it is the product of real-world, trial-and-error experience, rather than ivory-tower cerebration.

Rand herself was dismissive of common law (and witch doctors). Objectivists seem to think that logical and verbal constructs trump the messy world of everyday experience, where people typically act on partial knowledge and tangled motives.

ungtss said...

"Now replace IngSoc with Rand."

Or with Bokataspeak. or with anything else. your rhetoric assumes one way of speaking is the "right" way and the other is the "wrong" way. you're just as guilty as anybody else. which is "newspeak" and which is "oldspeak?" bokata alone decides. and thinks that his/her saying it's so is meaningful somehow:).

"Even if you discount the witch doctor's claims of being in contact with the spirit world, such claims were doubtless helpful in encouraging his patients to trust his skills, and this kind of trust is essential to the placebo effect, which can have real, measurable benefits."

to the extent the witchdoctor used rational rules of thought (like "this works" according to some rational standard) he was acting rationally. to the extent he used irrational rules of thought (like arbitrary assertion) he was acting irrationally.

the point is that there are rules of thought. and further that effectively "identifying facts" without applying those rules is a non-starter. one cannot identify facts without thinking. and the quality of one's "identified facts" depends on the quality of one's thought. and the quality of one's thought is measured by the degree to which one applies the proper rules of thinking.

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Bokata said...


Ungtss,

'Or with Bokataspeak. or with anything else. your rhetoric assumes one way of speaking is the "right" way and the other is the "wrong" way. you're just as guilty as anybody else. which is "newspeak" and which is "oldspeak?" bokata alone decides. and thinks that his/her saying it's so is meaningful somehow:).'

Language is public. Else it serves little purpose beyond making noise. Those aren't my rules. I was pointing out something that Orwell landed on way back when, namely that linguistic hijacking is an attempt to limit or circumscribe thought. Oldspeak has to do with standard English, the Webster's Dictionary and so forth. Newspeak has to do with arbitrary neologisms and word magic whereby commonly held meanings for value laden terms such as 'freedom' are altered to suit the interests of the cause and the great leader. In the Randverse, for example, true freedom entails abolishing the popular vote. Only the rich and ideologically pure (sic) are fit to have a voice in government. To be ideologically pure, in turn, entails lock step adherence to the party line. The list goes on ad tedium.

Also...

'the point is that there are rules of thought. and further that effectively "identifying facts" without applying those rules is a non-starter. one cannot identify facts without thinking. and the quality of one's "identified facts" depends on the quality of one's thought. and the quality of one's thought is measured by the degree to which one applies the proper rules of thinking.'

You can use the rules of logic and the empirical method to deduce that the moon isn't made out of cream cheese, or you can use these same protocols to develop a cure for some disease. Rules hardly dictate quality. Aside from that, The key to unlocking the secret of the benzine ring came to Kekule in a dream. Einstein, in the main, relied heavily on intuition in developing his Theory of Relativity. That is to say, they weren't following any hard and fast rules at the outset. Empirical validation came later. Also...

Rand didn't invent formal logic or the empirical methods of science. She just bastardized them. If the facts don't fit her theory, then the facts are perforce based on faulty premises -- by definition (sic). It's sort of like a card player making up the rules while the game is in progress or rigging the deck ahead of time.

ungtss said...

"Language is public. Else it serves little purpose beyond making noise."

This is the big lie:). Language is particular. Are you married or in a relationship? Do you realize how easily married people can misunderstand one another because they use words differently? Do you know there are whole counseling programs dedicated to teaching people to actually learn what their loved ones mean by the words they use? To clarify, so as to allow understanding?

Language is public? You might as well say language is god. Language is particular. It depends entirely on the communicator and the communicatee understanding what each other means.

Of course you might bypass this, if you don't want to learn to understand others. But that would be "hijacking language." To do this, you'd have to claim that _your_ use of language is somehow privileged. say ... perhaps ... that your use of language is "public." and you speak for this mystical "public" of course. like the wizard of oz.

no, you're the language hijacker here, because you've deluded yourself into thinking that you're an authority on language because your use is the "public use," or as others have claimed, the "common use." therefore anybody who doesn't use words the way you do is not using them as the "public" does. therefore whoever uses them differently than you is marginalized and wrong.

the difference between you and rand, though, is that rand gives _reasons_ for her language use. she explains the contradictions and inconsistencies in "public use." you don't. you just claim that everybody does it your way, and therefore everybody has to do it your way.

"That is to say, they weren't following any hard and fast rules at the outset. Empirical validation came later."

And what exactly constituted empirical validation? How does one differentiate an empirically validitated hypothesis from an unvalidated one?

Say it with me ... "The Rules of Thought" ...

"Rand didn't invent formal logic or the empirical methods of science. She just bastardized them."

To accuse her of bastardizing rules is to concede there are "proper rules." Otherwise there is no standard against which to compare her rules. Do you concede after all that there is a "right way to think?"

Bokata said...

Ungtss,

Develop your own language, one that only you understand. Now use it to communicate. It will serve you well.

ungtss said...

"Develop your own language, one that only you understand. Now use it to communicate. It will serve you well."

I see that you've translated "language depends on communicator and communicatee sharing a common understanding" into "develop your own language that nobody understands."

please explain how in "public use" you hold so dear, the phrase "both need to understand" secretly means "it doesn't matter if anybody else understands."

ungtss said...

of course you can't do that. because you're obviously reinterpretting what i'm saying into the opposite of what i'm saying to allow yourself to continue to exist in a little bubble where you don't have to understand other people.

what you're really doing is telling me i can't use words in a way different from your idiosyncratic, self-contradictory word use, based on the fiction that you are "the public," and i'm not. and in order to get there, you have to pretend i'm saying things i'm not.

that's subjectivism, man. through and through. don't trouble yourself understanding people, or attempting to be understood. just do whatever you want, and when questioned, claim "everybody's doing it" because you lack the moral fortitude to think.

Anonymous said...

""Rand didn't invent formal logic or the empirical methods of science. She just bastardized them."

To accuse her of bastardizing rules is to concede there are "proper rules." Otherwise there is no standard against which to compare her rules. Do you concede after all that there is a "right way to think?""

Whether Bokota does or not, I won't, because again you're conflating formal logic and general human thought. These are only rules for specific types of thinking to achieve specific aims - as long as you want to insist that formal logic is somehow THE proper method of thinking at all times and in all situations for all human beings, I will disagree, because it is absurd on the face of it.

"of course you can't do that. because you're obviously reinterpretting what i'm saying into the opposite of what i'm saying to allow yourself to continue to exist in a little bubble where you don't have to understand other people.

what you're really doing is telling me i can't use words in a way different from your idiosyncratic, self-contradictory word use, based on the fiction that you are "the public," and i'm not. and in order to get there, you have to pretend i'm saying things i'm not."

Actually, what he/she is really saying is that IF you insist on using definitions that don't track with the common usages, it isn't somehow an obligation of "the public" to understand YOU, since you are the one trying to communicate your special ideas to them, not the other way around.

Would you travel to Japan, and then snottily insist that everybody there make an effort to learn your English? They might, if they have an interest in communicating with you, but it isn't an obligation - you're in their land, you're the guest, any understanding of you they may put any effort into is a courtesy.

Similarly, to come into a place where words are not locked into Rand's definitions and then castigate people for not making an attempt to understand YOU seems pretty high-horse to me. Why SHOULD any of us make that effort? Why instead aren't YOU obliged to communicate with everyone else in a way they can more directly understand, without having to get sidetracked by endless discussion about what words mean?

Rand may have had specific notions about why her own definitions should be used, but in practical effect, they operate much as Bokata's Orwell quotes describe. The stated purpose may be for clarity, but the end result is anything but. If you point at a cat and say it is a dog, it isn't the fault of "the public" if they say you're wrong or silly.

ungtss said...

"Whether Bokota does or not, I won't, because again you're conflating formal logic and general human thought."

Formal logic is of course a subset of human thought. As is empirical science. Conflating a subset which the whole set is not only proper, but necessary. The subset is part of the whole.

That said, you're dodging the point, which is that claiming ayn rand "bastardized" logic is to claim there is a correct mode of logical thinking, and therefore at least one incorrect mode of logical thinking. and the same with "empirical science."

or how does one determine that she bastardized logic? by some other subset of human thought apart from logic? fine. whatever that subset is, must be "_correct_" for the word "bastardized" to mean anything.

which is the whole issue here. you are engaging in the fallacy of the stolen concept -- claiming someone is engaged in poor thinking while simultaneously claiming there is no such thing as "correct thinking."

"Actually, what he/she is really saying is that IF you insist on using definitions that don't track with the common usages, it isn't somehow an obligation of "the public" to understand YOU, since you are the one trying to communicate your special ideas to them, not the other way around."

Of course the public doesn't have an obligation to understand me. If they're interested, they're welcome to try. And if I want to communicate with the public, I'll do so in a way that clarifies my meaning, to the best of my ability.

Just like AR did in defining her terms with fantastic clarity and detail. Nobody's "obliged" to listen to her, or read her, or understand her, but if you want to, you can easily learn what she meant by reading what you wrote. And if you're not interested in understanding her, why in hell would you read her books or post on a blog about her?

"Why SHOULD any of us make that effort? Why instead aren't YOU obliged to communicate with everyone else in a way they can more directly understand, without having to get sidetracked by endless discussion about what words mean?"

Neither of us is obliged to communicate it any particular way at all. But if you want to understand the object of your criticism, it's in your best interest to learn what the object of your criticism is saying. And if i want to understand the minds of people who disagree with me, I should do my best to identify your assumptions, and my assumptions, to allow for common word use.

What is all this "should" and "obligation" crap, anyway? we're all here for a purpose. we need to do what we need to do to accomplish our purpose.

i'm accomplishing my goals. are you?

"Rand may have had specific notions about why her own definitions should be used, but in practical effect, they operate much as Bokata's Orwell quotes describe. The stated purpose may be for clarity, but the end result is anything but. If you point at a cat and say it is a dog, it isn't the fault of "the public" if they say you're wrong or silly"

Who's saying "the public" is at fault for anything? who gives a damn about fault in this context? you sound like one of the ayn rand villains, obsessed with "who's to blame" instead of "what is happening?"

"no one can blame me if i never got an opportunity ..."

nobody is blaming you. nobody cares.

Anonymous said...

"you are engaging in the fallacy of the stolen concept -- claiming someone is engaged in poor thinking while simultaneously claiming there is no such thing as "correct thinking.""

No, because you keep swapping from the concept of "logical thinking" to "thinking" in general. It's like pickpocketing in reverse - you're trying to plant your concept into the discussion and then shout, "look, you stole it!"

My claim that there is no "proper" way to think is based on two things, primarily - one, the growing scientific evidence that says that "proper" thinking as you wish to characterize it is not the way the vast bulk of human cognition occurs, and two, the experience of my own eyes, witnessing people that think in different ways not only survive, but in many cases thrive without use of Rand's "proper" rules for thought. Were such rules truly necessary, then it would be nearly universal that anyone not thinking by those rules must fail (and that Objectivism would dominate). And yet it is obviously not so. You can claim that everyone would perform better under Objectivism, but this is a claim that is not likely to be substantiated in any meaningful way.

With these facts in mind, what then dictates that there are any rules whatsoever for human thought? Thought occurs as a result of our human biology, and it occurs in certain ways, and to some extent we can train ourselves to think in certain patterns - but not entirely. If there are any rules, they are matters of brain chemistry and not of formalized standards.

Logical thought, on the other hand, conforms to a set of rules, which nobody has denied. It's only you blurring the distinction that causes any debate on the matter. Whether this is a deliberate attempt on your part or simply your inability to separate the two concepts is another question.

ungtss said...

"Were such rules truly necessary, then it would be nearly universal that anyone not thinking by those rules must fail (and that Objectivism would dominate)."

Now that's fascinating. And we're finally getting somewhere in understanding each other.

The first thing I notice is that you're conflating "rules of correct thought" with "objectivism," which is inappropriate at this stage. the issue is not whether AR had the right rules, but whether _anyone_ has the right rules. including you.

The second thing I notice is that, from what i understand, your test for the existence of "correct thinking" would be that it would have to be universal, because if a person were to think incorrectly, they would fail.

This seems to omit the obvious empirical fact that many people do fail. constantly. people make voodoo dolls and pray over cancers and fool themselves into thinking abusive husbands really love them and convince themselves that their subordinates can only be persuaded to work if yelled at. they start world wars that they lose and make arguments that fail and get caught robbing houses.

you don't think these are failures? and what are those failures if not failures to think correctly?

"With these facts in mind, what then dictates that there are any rules whatsoever for human thought?"

How can _anything_ dicate _anything_ unless you are applying some evidentiary standard for what type of evidence "dictates" things and what type of evidence does not? How can the word "dictate" mean anything unless you have some standards for what it takes to dictate?

whatever those standards are -- whether you've identified them are not -- those standards are your idea of the "right rules of thinking."

if there is no "right way of thinking," as you claim, then no "dictation" is possible. i can think my way, you can think your way, and there exists no standard to differentiate between the two.

and that's the trap your ideology can't get out of. you judge my ideas based on a standard of "right thinking" which you haven't identified. then you claim there's no such thing as right thinking.

ungtss said...

i'm starting to suspect that the argument we're having stems from a fundamentally different life experience. i experience my ideas as stemming from the application of rules to my experience. the link between the rules and my ideas is quite explicit and clear.

you, on the other hand, don't seem remotely aware of what rules you're applying to come to your ideas. and perhaps that's because you don't apply any rules. perhaps ideas just "come to you," without having gone through any process of thinking them through. Perhaps you come to conclusions without knowing why.

perhaps we're both right. you're describing your experience of coming to opinions without applying any rules of thought -- of "just believing," without objective criteria.

and i'm describing my experience of coming to opinions by means of the ruthless and relentless application of rules of thought -- in always "believing because," and never "just because."

Daniel Barnes said...

ungtss:
>Formal logic is of course a subset of human thought. As is empirical science. Conflating a subset which the whole set is not only proper, but necessary.

ungtss, I really don't think you should be lecturing us all on "formal logic" when you come out with elementary logical howlers like the above.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallacy_of_composition

ungtss said...

the fallacy of composition has a particular form. my argument did not take that form.

the form of the fallacy is "x is true of the part, therefore x is true of the whole."

my argument takes the form "x is true of the whole, therefore x is true of the part."

so ... try again.

Daniel Barnes said...

ungtss, if you're in a hole, my advice is to stop digging...;-)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallacy_of_division

Daniel Barnes said...

ungtss:
>and i'm describing my experience of coming to opinions by means of the ruthless and relentless application of rules of thought -- in always "believing because," and never "just because."

Directly above we now have a couple of particularly choice examples of ungtss' self-described "ruthless and relentless application of rules of thought."

Readers may draw their own conclusions.

ungtss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ungtss said...

daniel, did you even notice that your earlier post was dead wrong? or or in your world, do you just go from being right in one way to being right in exactly the opposite way?

as to your new one, the fallacy of division applies to emergent properties of a system, not subcategories of something like thought. read articles before you post them. your article cites things like brains and 747s, in which the "part" is part of a system. but we're talking about subcategories of the concept "thought." so the fallacy of division doesn't apply.

you should probably wait for a response before you celebrate your own victory. just in case it turns out you're full of it again.

Daniel Barnes said...

ungtss:
>daniel, did you even notice that your earlier post was dead wrong?

But of course my original comment was not "dead wrong".

Here's your statement:
ungtss:
>Conflating a subset which the whole set is not only proper, but necessary.

Do you know what "conflating" means ungtss? I realise you have English as a second or third language so I'll explain.

It means to merge or blur the distinction between two separate things. It's something you specialise in clearly - you conflate words with numbers, for example. So when you conflate a whole with a part it's not in fact evident from this phrasing which direction of the fallacy you were falling for.

And best of all, either way you're dead wrong.

So can you tell us all again about how Objectivism means that you only come to your opinions "by means of the ruthless and relentless application of rules of thought"? Your powers of argumentation are looking pretty rule-free right now.

ungtss said...

"But of course my original comment was not "dead wrong"."

Actually it was. You claimed I was engaged in the composition fallacy. I pointed out that I wasn't. You then claimed I was engaged in the opposite fallacy -- the fallacy of division. You accused me of A, and when I pointed out that I was not guilty of it, you instantly switched to accusing me of the opposite of A.

i've pointed out exactly why i'm not guilty of either fallacy. you haven't responded. try manning up and responding to a challenge once in a while.

"It means to merge or blur the distinction between two separate things."

to conflate means to combine. whether the combination is appropriate or inappropriate is a second question. in fact conflation can be appropriate. read a dictionary.



http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/conflate

conflation can be right or wrong depending on the context.

"So when you conflate a whole with a part it's not in fact evident from this phrasing which direction of the fallacy you were falling for."

it would be clear if you'd actually read what i originally wrote. the problem you people are stuck in is that you won't acknowledge that all human thought comes from the application of particular rules of thought, and those rules can be right or wrong. when you apply bad rules to the facts, you get bad answers. when you apply good rules to the facts, you get good answers.

in response to this obvious point, you started splitting hairs about the difference between "human thought generally" and "logic." to which i responded that in the context of "following the rules of thought," it doesn't matter whether you're talking about logic or human thought generally, because _both_ operate according to rules.

now through a lot of snarky nonsense and failure to apply a little reading comprehension, we're far afield from the point, and you've revealed a lot about your character.

Daniel Barnes said...

ungtss:
>you won't acknowledge that all human thought comes from the application of particular rules of thought, and those rules can be right or wrong. when you apply bad rules to the facts, you get bad answers. when you apply good rules to the facts, you get good answers.

The trainwreck keeps a-rollin'. Ok ungtss, please now clearly enumerate your awesome thinking rules of all human thought, that when applied to facts always produce the right answers.


ungtss said...

"Ok ungtss, please now clearly enumerate your awesome thinking rules of all human thought, that when applied to facts always produce the right answers."

You want to drag me into arguing about which rules are the right rules of thought, and you won't even admit that there are any. Do you really think I'm so stupid as to get into an argument with a person who doesn't believe there are any rules to thinking?

Daniel Barnes said...

No ungtss, *you're* the one claiming you have such rules handy - particular rules of human thought that, when applied to facts, always give the right answer, rules that logic is a mere "subset" of.

But now, when pressed to reveal these rules, you're suddenly reluctant to.

Come on now ungtss, you have our full and undivided attention...

ungtss said...

what's the point, if there are no rules of thought? how you can you tell whether my ideas are good or bad?

ungtss said...

you're that guy who wants to talk football strategy without admitting football has rules. you _can't_ talk football strategy until you admit football has rules. strategy doesn't _mean_ anything without rules.

Daniel Barnes said...

I'm perfectly happy to say that thought can have rules. A good example of such rules are those of standard deductive logic.

But of course you make far greater claims than this.

You claim that you have access to an even more important set of rules of human thought - of which formal logic is a mere subset - and that these rules always lead to the right conclusion. If you know anything about epistemology, this is what you call a Big Claim, buddy.

I of course highly doubt this, and therefore would like to see you outline these awesome rules you claim to know.

Yet strangely you will not.

In fact I will now make a prediction: *you will not ever actually produce such rules*. Not now, not ever. I predict you will continue find increasingly transparent excuses not to. Or, if you do eventually cough up, these profundities will simply turn out to be some basic logical rules, such as the rule of non-contradiction, puffed up.

In short, my theory is that you are simply a fool, bluffing, or deluded, possibly all of the above. From this theory follow my predictions.

Of course you could always prove me devastatingly wrong at a stroke by revealing these amazing rules and shattering my predictions.

What will it be?

ungtss said...

why don't you quit trying to predict my behavior like you're some sort of fortune teller, start treating me like a human being, and answer my questions?

you say you're perfectly happy to say thought can have rules. but re you perfectly happy to say that some rules of thought are better than others? that some are right and some are wrong?

Anonymous said...

ungtss,

No one said "there are no rules of thought". The point being made is that thought is more complicated than any simple attempt to describe how it operates as rules because:

1) it occurs unconsciously for the most part.
2) it is only by testing its results we can tell whether it occurred properly or not.
3) what we deem obviously important about the thought process may or may not be what makes it work.

Probably the biggest element of thought is pattern recognition since it is the basis of claiming cause and effect or any relationship/quality that is universal. However, pattern recognition is not infallible. We often claim relationships between things that may not be that strongly related, or whose relationship we cannot test. As a child, I remember thinking that worms could be baby snakes, though I later learned in school that this was wrong. But I also felt that rats and mice were very similar, which was in some ways a better idea. The way science tends to see what is true and what is false is through heavy testing and the search for causal mechanisms which can lead to more informative patterns based on larger frameworks (physics, chemistry, biology etc.).

The way I stopped arguing with Objectivists was simple - I usually stick to debating testable statements/propositions. Of course, the problem was how to agree on what the propositions meant and how to test them. However, my coming to accept that when a proposition is not testable, anyone can make ridiculous claims about its truth or falsehood was a major step for my development. So you'll see this as my first and last post to this thread.

I remembered arguing with a sibling about when a movie we wanted to see was in the theater or not and realizing how silly the argument was - why were we debating something that you can look up on the internet, something that is true or false? It was then I realized that arguments are not so much about the truth, but about people trying to show how smart they are. If people who argue really care about the truth, they will think about how to validate their ideas, and accept their limited ability to do so.

The reason why cognitive science can claim to be right is because it is involved in heavy experimentation. Even if the overarching theory may be wrong, there are patterns recognized in the tests that have real world applicability (the improved understanding of illusions feeds all kinds of fields from motion picture special effects to neuroscience).

Have fun!

Other Anonymous said...

"why don't you quit trying to predict my behavior like you're some sort of fortune teller, start treating me like a human being, and answer my questions?

you say you're perfectly happy to say thought can have rules. but re you perfectly happy to say that some rules of thought are better than others? that some are right and some are wrong?"

I don't want to speak for Barnes, but since it was I who started this by saying there are no "proper" rules for thought, you might do better to not nag him about it, and not assume that one person in these comment pages speaks for all of them.

Some rules of thought - or better phrased, some modes of thinking - perform better than others under certain conditions. The kind of thought process that might produce a successful business tycoon, for example, might not work so well for a person attempting to be a painter or musician. In such cases, you could make a case that thinking in certain ways are better than others, but only for those situations, not necessarily as universal rules for all people.

You bring up instances of people failing, and people do fail, but this is a smokescreen because it does not actually address my statement that if Objectivism actually codified the "proper" way to think (as certainly Rand claimed, and as I believe you have implied), then everyone - EVERYONE - not following Objectivism would fail. Not just your cherry-picked examples, but all non-Objectivists.

Not only that, but conversely all Objectivists would be massive successes, and shocking though it may seem, from online encounters it would appear that simply being Objectivists and thinking in Objectivist ways does not make people actually smarter or more rational than anyone else, and does not guarantee any success, material, social, or otherwise, unless you count an overweening self-satisfaction and an ability to engage in flame wars.

We know that plenty of non-Objectivists live happy, fulfilling, and often materially profitable lives without being Objectivists - or even particularly logical. How then do we take seriously the idea that there are "proper rules for thought" if there is not necessarily any price to pay for not following those rules?

And finally, for someone who keeps talking about how people here are like "Ayn Rand villains", you have a lot of gall to whine about someone else not treating you like a human being.

ungtss said...

"The reason why cognitive science can claim to be right is because it is involved in heavy experimentation."

And according to what rule of thought does increased experimentation make an idea more valid? Why do you believe that's so? There are many who disagree with you.

"Some rules of thought - or better phrased, some modes of thinking - perform better than others under certain conditions"

and how do you know what "perform better" means without reference to some standard?

" this is a smokescreen because it does not actually address my statement that if Objectivism actually codified the "proper" way to think"

it's not a smokesceen at all. it's a fool's errand to discuss which system codifies the right rules if one does not even believe that "right rules" exist. for purposes of the question of whether the right rules existing, i'm allowing the possibility that _your_ rules are the right rules. as you must too. otherwise you have no basis for claiming anybody else is wrong about anything.

the bit about "if objectivism were true then all objectivists would be mad successes and all non-objectivists would be raving failures" assumes a) a particular definition of 'success' that you haven't identified, b) that philosophy is the only variable in achieving that unidentified form of success, and c) that all people calling themselves objectivists comprehensibly apply all its ideas, and that no people not calling themselves objectivists apply any of its ideas.

the first is a chronic problem of your argument, as you keep dodging the fact that you are applying criteria to your acts of judgment without admitting you're doing so.

the second and third are so obviously false i honestly hope you can see it for yourself. but if not, i'll be happy to explain to you.

Anonymous said...

"and how do you know what "perform better" means without reference to some standard?"

Isn't the standard implied by the very idea of a "proper way of thinking"? As in, "this way provides more benefit than other ways, it is superior, hence the need to follow these rules"?

If not, then it's you who needs to more clearly define just what it is you MEAN by "a proper way of thinking". And then explain what evidence there is that this "proper" way is, in fact, proper.

"the bit about "if objectivism were true then all objectivists would be mad successes and all non-objectivists would be raving failures" assumes a) a particular definition of 'success' that you haven't identified, b) that philosophy is the only variable in achieving that unidentified form of success, and c) that all people calling themselves objectivists comprehensibly apply all its ideas, and that no people not calling themselves objectivists apply any of its ideas."

You're making my point for me.

Re: A), I do not define "success" because it is not necessary for the conversation, and also since YOU do not define success. I offer the possibility of different kinds of success, if you'll read more closely, but I do not specify one particular kind, mostly because I'm fairly certain that if I did that you would simply dismiss that kind of success as unimportant and focus on some other kind in order to avoid conceding a point. Go ahead, imagine whatever kind of success you like, and apply it to the argument - aside from contrived things like "the success of being an Objectivist", there is no form of success that is dependent on an overall "proper way to think" for humankind in general.

As for B), you might want to check with Rand about that, since she seemed sure that philosophy was the root of damn near everything in the world. But you're reinforcing my own point, since as I said, if not thinking "properly" does not guarantee failure, then what purpose do such "rules" serve in the first place? The question stands regardless of whether there are external, non-thought-related factors at work - we live in this world with those factors present at all times, and surely if one type of thinking were beneficial enough to call "proper", it would be able to compensate for these factors you cite - or again, what's the point?

Not that I am not claiming that any one type of thinking is the best way, just that IF such a thing exists - your claim, not mine - then there ought to be some kind of demonstrable benefit to thinking in one particular way across all walks and styles of human life. Rand claimed so, and you certainly imply so, but what solid proof is there?

Rand herself seemed fairly adamant about ALL her Objectivist stances being sensible and moral and required to live a productive life, and you couldn't just pick and choose them. How she got around the fact that non-Objectivists can prosper without being Objectivists was to claim that they weren't REALLY prospering in some way, or that it was the cabal of evil Kantians rigging the game, or some other excuse. Hers was also a side-step, to avoid confronting the fact that Objectivism wasn't the magic bullet of thought she liked to claim it was.

Anonymous said...



"it's not a smokesceen at all. it's a fool's errand to discuss which system codifies the right rules if one does not even believe that "right rules" exist. for purposes of the question of whether the right rules existing, i'm allowing the possibility that _your_ rules are the right rules. as you must too. otherwise you have no basis for claiming anybody else is wrong about anything."

But the question of which system is "best" or "could be right" is irrelevant to the question of whether such a system exists. (And isn't what was being argued, anyway.) It doesn't have to be Objectivism that is put to the test of whether its adherents are universally failures or successes, the same can be applied towards any system of thought. Does any form of thought produce consistently good or bad results (however you define that)? Madness, perhaps, but even those with mental disorders aren't precluded from success.

Which is the point, again: if the rules don't matter, or at least cannot be relied on, it seems fruitless to claim that the rules exist and that people should follow them, whatever they are.

ungtss said...

"Isn't the standard implied by the very idea of a "proper way of thinking"? As in, "this way provides more benefit than other ways, it is superior, hence the need to follow these rules"?"

Yes, it is. And the whole point of this discussion has been that there _is_ a right way to think. I have argued that there is. Others have argued that there isn't. Whether or not that proper way happens to be objectivism or voodooism or some mixture or objectivism with some minor modifications or something else entirely is a second question.

"there is no form of success that is dependent on an overall "proper way to think" for humankind in general."

Um, yes there is:). Success assumes as a yardstick an individual's identified goals. To the extent a person sets out to do something, and accomplishes it, one has succeeded. The specifics of the goals involved are not a relevant consideration.

if some sets out to achieve a sense of self-esteem by positioning onesself in such a way that other people will think one is worth-while ... and one finds that it doesn't work because others cannot serve as a proxy for self-esteem ... one has failed.

"Not that I am not claiming that any one type of thinking is the best way, just that IF such a thing exists - your claim, not mine -"

Then again, how can you measure whether one thing "performs better" than another, without reference to some proper measuring stick based on objective standards?

"How she got around the fact that non-Objectivists can prosper without being Objectivists was to claim that they weren't REALLY prospering in some way, or that it was the cabal of evil Kantians rigging the game, or some other excuse."

What you call side-stepping i'd call identifying the fact that a person may be successful in some areas, and unsuccessful areas in others. a person may be great at driving NASCAR and terrible at achieving the sorts of relationships he wants with women. just because you're rational in one area of life does not mean you are rational in all.

rand's understanding of this principle is quite clear from her books. her characters were successful in some areas and unsuccessful in others. the conversation between d'anconia and rearden in which d'anconia asks rearden why he does not apply the principles he uses with his mills to his dealings with men jumps to mind.

"It doesn't have to be Objectivism that is put to the test of whether its adherents are universally failures or successes, the same can be applied towards any system of thought. Does any form of thought produce consistently good or bad results (however you define that)? Madness, perhaps, but even those with mental disorders aren't precluded from success."

This returns us to the other issue you raised and i responded to -- that one cannot measure an ideology by the undifferentiated mass of those calling it the ideology's adherents.

one must measure an ideology by the success one achieves by applying the ideology's principles. specifically. context by context. because no human being is completely "objectivist" or anything else, and because a lot of people use the ideas she called "objectivist" because probably 95% of objectivism consists in common-sense concepts that somebody else discovered, but had simply not yet been integrated into the comprehensive system she developed.

your test for an ideology's "success" depends on a black and white that simply doesn't exist.

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

@ungtss: And the whole point of this discussion has been that there _is_ a right way to think. I have argued that there is. Others have argued that there isn't. Whether or not that proper way happens to be objectivism or voodooism or some mixture or objectivism with some minor modifications or something else entirely is a second question.

So, you insist that there's a "right way" to think -- but you decline to make any definite statement about what that "right way" is. You think it's somehow crucial that your critics acknowledge the existence of this as-yet undefined, unidentified, unknown (and maybe unknowable) "right way" before we can move on to defining it. You seem baffled that everyone isn't agreeing with you.

Let me put it this way: You claim to know that that there is a "right way" to think. Okay. How do you know this? Did you come to this knowledge by thinking in the "right way"? And how do you know you thought in the "right way" ... unless of course you know what the "right way" is -- in which case you should be able to tell the rest of us what it is. Until you do, you are not going to convince anyone.

ungtss said...

"You claim to know that that there is a "right way" to think. Okay. How do you know this?"

because even your question "how do you know this?" presumes that some bases for knowing it would be valid, and others invalid -- that some reasons for believing that would be legitimate, and others illegitimate.

think about it. you ask "how do you know this?" what would you do with an answer? you'd judge it, of course. determine whether it was logical and based on evidence. and in doing so, you would be applying what _you_ believe to be the correct rules of thinking.

even in asking me why i think there's a right way to think, you ask "why." and in asking "why," you presume there is a right way to think.

"Until you do, you are not going to convince anyone."

i don't need to convince anyone that there's a right way to think. you already know it, and you assume it even in asking me how i know things.

otherwise your question, "how do you know it?" makes no sense, and has no possible answers.

ungtss said...

ungtss says: "there exists a right way to think because i read about it in some old coffee grinds."

echo says: "that is not a legitimate basis for believing there is a right way to think, because the fact that a thing is written in coffee grinds does not mean it is true."

ungtss says: "aha! so you admit my argument is illogical! therefore it is _wrong_, which makes the act of thinking it is wrong right."

therefore you know, just as well as i do, that there exists a right way to think.

ungtss said...

the reason this has to be addressed before anything else is because this bullshit "there's no right way of thinking" argument stands in the way of reasoned thought. it allows you to hang on to your own ideas about what the right way to think is, and then attack everybody else's by saying they can't claim to be right. it allows you to maintain a double standard. tell other people they are wrong, and then tell them they have no basis for telling you you're wrong.

of course no honest person would go down that road. no honest person would ever tell another person they're wrong for thinking something is wrong. it's too transparently stupid an idea.

but i'm interested to see how you people try and rationalize it.

Echo Chamber Escapee said...

If ungtss had really claimed: "there exists a right way to think because i read about it in some old coffee grinds" ...

ECE would have said: "Wow, ungtss, that's amazing! I'd love to be able to discover truth by reading old coffee grinds. Can you teach me how to do it?"

Seriously. That's my attitude. I don't demand that reality be bound by my preconceptions about it. I don't need certainty, and I don't need to get everything right all the time. For example, in light of all information known to me, I don't believe people can discover what's true from coffee grounds (and I know you are not really claiming otherwise) ... but if I ever do meet someone who can do it reliably, my response is not going to be "but that's illogical." It's going to be "wow, can you teach me how to do it too?"

@ungtss again: therefore you know, just as well as i do, that there exists a right way to think.

Nope. I know no such thing. I'm more inclined to agree with the Anonymous who wrote this:

Some rules of thought - or better phrased, some modes of thinking - perform better than others under certain conditions.

This matches my experience, and what I've learned from comparing notes with others. Different modes work better for different people in different situations ... and so far nobody has come up with a convincing demonstration that there is One Right Way to think that is universally applicable to every person in every situation, which seems to be what you are asserting.

So if you have the One Right Way, please show us. If not, what is the point of insisting that it must exist?

Anonymous said...

"the reason this has to be addressed before anything else is because this bullshit "there's no right way of thinking" argument stands in the way of reasoned thought."

That's just ludicrous. Stands in the way how? In no way does the premise that there are no "rules for proper thought" preclude or prevent rational thought. And whether we choose to use logical thought in this conversation or elsewhere does not by default make logical thought the "proper" way to think, except perhaps in this particular moment to achieve a particular aim. In the next moment, non-rational thought may serve better to achieve some other goal. (Which is one of the things cognitive science appears to show.)

"Addressing this" could only be important on an emotional level, if someone is just frankly upset and irritated at the very concept of some less-than-rational form of thinking being sufficient for getting along in life or even thriving at it.

The science, however, relies on facts and evidence, not whether what the facts reveal happens to be philosophically palatable.

If you were seriously interested in challenging your notions (as opposed to merely saying so in order to self-congratulate yourself for your supposed critical rigor), you could select or search for the "cognitive science" tag on this very blog to see how actual science is showing Rand's theories of how human thought works to be doubtful at best, and how the human mind really doesn't follow any "proper rules of thought" as you would like to claim.

But it would be easier to rely on verbal jousts over "stolen concepts" than to have to deny actual facts.

ungtss said...

"ECE would have said: "Wow, ungtss, that's amazing! I'd love to be able to discover truth by reading old coffee grinds. Can you teach me how to do it?""

And what if I were unable to show you? What if i just endlessly rambled on without ever giving you a demonstration? Would you accept it as truth? Or would my inability to give you a demonstration discredit my idea?

"That's just ludicrous. Stands in the way how? In no way does the premise that there are no "rules for proper thought" preclude or prevent rational thought."

Anon, how can you call it "ludicrous" without judging it against some rule of thought? How do you know it's ludicrous? What analysis do you use in arriving there? Answer: You apply _what you believe to be the right rules of thought, and conclude that i'm not using them.

"The science, however, relies on facts and evidence, not whether what the facts reveal happens to be philosophically palatable."

For the umpteenth time, the performance of and comprehension of science, facts, and evidence depend on rules of thought. science is not some magic box out of which pops right answers. science requires that scientists -- and readers of scientific articles -- _think_ in a particular way.

an experiment, for instance, must isolate variables and test the isolated variable. if an experiment fails to do that, it's a bogus experiment.

that's a _rule of scientific thought_.

scientific journals have peer review to make sure that the rules are properly followed by the scientists seeking to publish articles. if they determine that an article violates the rules, they send the article back and don't publish it.

Dragonfly said...

Words, words, words...

Much ado about nothing.

(That fellow Shakespeare did have some good lines.)

Ok, let's now take a simple example: when you have to take some important decision and you're not sure what to do, A or B, should you then follow your gut feelings, or should you try to apply rational reasoning? Rand was unequivocal: in such a case you should always take the second option (the "correct way of thinking").

However, there is ample evidence that this is not always the best option. The point is, namely, that a "gut feeling" may be based on more information than that which can be used for a rational deliberation, as there is often subtle information that doesn't become explicit in the consciousness, but that still is processed by our brain and becomes only conscious as a "gut feeling", that may go against the decision that is reached by "rational thinking".

Expressed as a paradox, you might say that it is sometimes more rational to be not rational. To prove that this paradox is not a contradiction is left as an exercise to the reader.

Nathaniel Branden admitted once that some of his most disastrous errors were the result of following his "rational" convictions, against his intuition.

I've experienced myself more than once situations in which I decided to go against the obvious, "rational" route, but instead to follow my intuition, bad vibes, a gut feeling etc., and where it afterwards turned out that I'd taken the right decision.

Michael Prescott said...

Great post, Dragonfly. I would add that it may not even be possible to make a decision on a purely rational basis, if by "rational" we mean "untainted by emotion." There is good evidence that emotions, which Rand insisted are not tools of cognition, are in fact essential to the mental process of decision-making.

Ungtss wrote, "Or would my inability to give you a demonstration discredit my idea?"

It would discredit your claim that you know "the proper rules of thought." And it would cast doubt on your credibility in asserting that there are such rules in the first place.

It's increasingly apparent that you really cannot demonstrate or explain the alleged rules of thought that you're talking about. Probably no one has ever asked you to do it before, and you hadn't thought it through. Much of Objectivism is bluster, and this would appear to be yet another example.

If I'm wrong, you can easily prove it by explaining the rules of thought to us all.

Michael Prescott said...

Couple more points, just 'cause it's too early to do any real work.

First, if someone told me there is a way to walk on the ceiling and he knows how to do it, I'd ask him to demonstrate. If he hemmed and hawed, told me I'm not ready to see it, etc., I'd conclude that he couldn't really do it and was just shining me on. Further, I'd be inclined to doubt that it was even possible. On the other hand, if he did start walking on the ceiling, I'd have to concede his point.

Second, there clearly are rules of thought that apply in some contexts. There are rules of logical reasoning, for instance. But these are generally used in an ex post facto manner. If you hear an argument that doesn't ring true to you, you can analyze it and determine that the speaker committed some fallacy - say, equivocation.

This is very useful. But it is not the way people reason in most circumstances. It is more like a specialized skill. And even those who have mastered this skill make use of it only in certain situations. A logician will use the rules of logic when debating an opponent, but not when deciding which movie to see at the multiplex.

ungtss said...

"Ok, let's now take a simple example: when you have to take some important decision and you're not sure what to do, A or B, should you then follow your gut feelings, or should you try to apply rational reasoning? Rand was unequivocal: in such a case you should always take the second option (the "correct way of thinking").

However, there is ample evidence that this is not always the best option. The point is, namely, that a "gut feeling" may be based on more information than that which can be used for a rational deliberation, as there is often subtle information that doesn't become explicit in the consciousness, but that still is processed by our brain and becomes only conscious as a "gut feeling", that may go against the decision that is reached by "rational thinking".

this is reminiscent of gladwell's "blink."

if you read "blink," he overviews the research on this topic, and then points out that "blinking things," or "using our gut" has pros and cons. it's quick, but it's also unreliable.

the wiser approach, notes gladwell, is to identify our gut reaction and then ask ourselves what's causing it -- to question our gut reaction -- to bring our subconscious reactions into the _conscious light of day_.

that's not ayn rand. that's malcolm gladwell. but whatever.

as to whether ayn rand would agree, look at rearden's relationship with d'anconia. rearden's subconscious tells him he loves d'anconia, but his conscious mind tells him he should hate him. over and over and over she discusses this conflict between rearden's "gut reaction" and his conscious mind.

turns out the gut reaction was right, according to AR. turns our rearden knew things with his gut that he did not know with his mind.

but the answer was not to "go with his gut," but rather to take conscious ownership of his gut reactions -- to understand them -- to make them conscious.

i've also been engaged in this process myself for about two years now -- gradually identifying and drawing into consciousness my gut reactions, along with all the information stored in the subconscious along with them. it's been an awesome ride.

but all that to say, your claim that "the gut is sometimes a better guide than the conscious mind" omits the demonstrated possibility of bringing the knowledge of the "gut" into the light of the conscious mind.

as described not only by ayn rand, but also malcolm gladwell, and the many scientific papers he summarizes in his book, "blink."

michael,

"It would discredit your claim that you know "the proper rules of thought." And it would cast doubt on your credibility in asserting that there are such rules in the first place."

but in the act of determining that my actions discredited my ideas, _you_ would be applying particular rules of thought. in particular the rule that says "if you can't demonstrate it, it's questionable." and you would be _treating_ that rule as a _correct rule_.

that's why i dont need to prove there are correct rules of thought. you do it for me. everytime you argue. because you presume that certain ways of thinking are right and others are wrong every time you make an argument.

"A logician will use the rules of logic when debating an opponent, but not when deciding which movie to see at the multiplex. "

The test for success in picking the "right movie" isn't in picking some objectively "right movie," but in applying a process that is most likely to cause you to achieve your goals. therefore, for instance, if you and your friend have opposite tastes in movies, it would be a _wrong rule of thought_ to ask him what movie he'd like to see and go see it yourself. if you consistently like what critics recommend, then looking at reviews would probably be the right rule. etc. etc. etc.

ungtss said...

as to whether i'm willing to demonstrate "right rules of thought," if you read through this thread, you'll see i've listed dozens. "scientific experiment must isolate variables to achieve meaningful results. things that cannot be demonstrated are questionable. the fallacies of composition and division yield questionable results."

they're all in there. you're using them too. you just haven't identified what they are yet. you haven't admitted that they're the rules we all much follow if we wish to align our ideas with Reality.

Anonymous said...

"Anon, how can you call it "ludicrous" without judging it against some rule of thought? How do you know it's ludicrous? What analysis do you use in arriving there? Answer: You apply _what you believe to be the right rules of thought, and conclude that i'm not using them."

BUT - and here's the thing - the "rules of thought" I use to judge the sensibleness of your answer do not, somehow by default, then become the rules used at all times for all occasions and for all people. If I think of a math problem, I use mathematical rules. If I paint a painting, I may toss all logic aside in favor of more emotional responses. You keep saying that those who disagree with you somehow are contradicting themselves by the use of rules, but that is not happening. Nobody has denied the use of rules for certain tasks, just that said rules aren't by default "the proper way to think" at all times for all occasions. That you either fail or refuse to see this distinction does not speak well to your ability to handle complex subjects.

ungtss said...

"BUT - and here's the thing - the "rules of thought" I use to judge the sensibleness of your answer do not, somehow by default, then become the rules used at all times for all occasions and for all people."

That's another rule of thought -- "use of tools is contextual. a tool used in the wrong place at the wrong time is the wrong tool." it's a tool i agree with. it's also one ayn rand agreed with. she ranted a great deal about "context dropping."

so nobody's arguing that any tool can be used at any time.

and in fact, the rule "tools much be applied in the right context" is pretty damn close to universally true.

ungtss said...

this probably also relates back to that fundamental difference between selfish and social modes of logic. i think of these rules of thinking as "tools" used to accomplish goals. but i note those of a more social bent of mind seem to think of them more as "requirements with which all must comply."

Anonymous said...

" i think of these rules of thinking as "tools" used to accomplish goals."

It might be easier to believe you when you say things like this if you didn't start off with statements like "proper rules of thought", implying a universal and/or socially-demanded standard. Had you said something like "effective rules of thought" instead, we might not have had this disagreement.

One note: you have cited Rand's fiction work as examples of how people do or don't do things. I would urge you to reconsider this tactic in the future. While Atlas Shrugged has much of Rand's philosophy tied up in it, Rand's characters by and large are not good examples of how most people interact in the real world, and in fact, in some cases they are so caricatured as to be laughable. Plus there's the sheer obvious fact that everything they do in those books is choreographed by Rand to suit her story and any points she wishes to make. So to select any character from Rand's work and say, "this is how people act" has as much relevance as me saying, "John McClane from the Die Hard movies is a good example of how people do things in the real world."

Rand thought of her own rules as not only the most effective (which has yet to be proven) but also as the only moral way to behave (a fairly subjective claim, despite her efforts to prove otherwise). The actions of her characters (and the results those actions get) reflect this, but her books do not accurately reflect real life. And it is Rand's moralizing stance that puts a kind of context on "proper" in this case, putting an actual onus towards following the rules - if one should be considered moral, human, and/or good by those espousing such rules.

ungtss said...

"It might be easier to believe you when you say things like this if you didn't start off with statements like "proper rules of thought", implying a universal and/or socially-demanded standard. Had you said something like "effective rules of thought" instead, we might not have had this disagreement."

So ultimately it comes down to a previously unidentified difference in word use. to you "proper" carries different connotations than it does to me. given the connotations you draw from it, that's fair enough. i consider this conversation to be useful because i learned a connotation some people draw from the word "proper" that i would not.

"One note: you have cited Rand's fiction work as examples of how people do or don't do things. I would urge you to reconsider this tactic in the future."

My purpose in citing her has not been to prove that's how people actually operate, but to show that _she believed_ people actually operated. The issue here is what AR believed. I've been told repeatedly that my ideas do not match up in several respects in which i'm convinced they do. showing these ideas in her fiction corroborates my claim that she did in fact believe the things i'm saying she did.

"Rand thought of her own rules as not only the most effective (which has yet to be proven) but also as the only moral way to behave (a fairly subjective claim, despite her efforts to prove otherwise)."

Her belief that effective ideas were also moral is premised on her idea that "the moral is the practical." and that's an idea i agree with.

granted her premise that "the moral is the practical," is naturally follows that that which is "effective" is also necessarily "moral."

the question then is whether her premise "the moral is the practical" is in fact true.

while that's a fascinating topic, i'm not sure you want to go there. let me know if you do.

Michael Prescott said...

Okay, ungtss. I see where you're coming from. And I basically agree with you. But the thing is, it sounds like your "proper rules of thought" end up being no more than the same common-sense notions that most people take for granted - e.g., different rules apply in different situations, it's good to try to understand your gut feelings, scientific experiments follow certain protocols.

Where I would differ is if you're suggesting that one must be consciously aware of these principles in all cases. I doubt that's even possible. Most people follow these rules implicitly, but not explicitly. They learn the rules by convention, imitation, and trial and error, not by logically reasoning out every step of their thought processes.

But mainly, I'd just point out that the conversation seems to have reached a rather familiar terminus: an Objectivist says that Ayn Rand made some revolutionary contribution to human thought, and when said contribution is finally fleshed out, it turns out to be rather banal.

ungtss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ungtss said...

"But the thing is, it sounds like your "proper rules of thought" end up being no more than the same common-sense notions that most people take for granted - e.g., different rules apply in different situations, it's good to try to understand your gut feelings, scientific experiments follow certain protocols."

At some point in the past, the sorts of common-sense rules we're talking about weren't taken for granted. Somebody had to discover and articulate them. Somebody had to discover the importance of isolating variables in experiment. Somebody had to discover the notion of parsimony. Somebody had to discover the informal fallacies. Somebody had to _discover_ "Zero."

These were all _discovered_ and _articulated_ by the best minds of the time. Then over centuries, they became common sense, as lesser minds had the opportunity to absorb them implicitly.

That leaves the question, are there more rules to be discovered? Are there better ones than those commonly taken for granted by nearly everyone?

In my opinion, AR adds a whole library of thought rules that are extremely effective and powerful, and profoundly _not_ commonly used.

We're not talking about her unique thought-rules, though -- only about the existence of _any_ thought-rules.

As to her particular thought rules, i think the fallacy of the stolen concept is an extremely powerful one. i use it daily. also her identification of the mental processes by which people project out fictional entities ("God" or "The State" or "The Race") to rationalize their hidden wish to exploit others. And her development of the methodological individualism initiated by the Austrian School of economics. And her identification of "the moral" with "the practical."

A lot of what she taught was common sense. But a good chunk of it wasn't. And still isn't. And it's her _innovations_ for which i think she deserves respect.

Daniel Barnes said...

ungtss:
>In my opinion, AR adds a whole library of thought rules that are extremely effective and powerful, and profoundly _not_ commonly used.

At last! ungtss finally articulates some of the "good rules" of human thought, ones that when you apply them to the facts, you must always get "good answers."

They turn out to be:
1) the fallacy of the stolen concept
2) Rand's identification of the mental processes by which people project out fictional entities ("God" or "The State" or "The Race") to rationalize their hidden wish to exploit others.
3)her development of the methodological individualism initiated by the Austrian School of economics.
4) her identification of "the moral" with "the practical."

Well that wasn't so hard was it. But just how "profound" and "powerful" are these? Shall we unpack them out of Randian jargon and see:

1) Translation: Some people unwittingly hold self-contradictory views. This is a radical new insight?
2) Ok. So people who want to exploit others for their own benefit often use institutions like the church or the state or prejudices like racism for this purpose. This, too, is supposed to be news? Further, Rand makes some psychological speculations as to why some people might act in these ways, but these are no more than mere speculations - indeed, they often conflict with actual psychological evidence as this site regularly points out. Why then is this a "good rule" of human thought?
3) What, exactly, did Rand do to "develop" Austrian economic methodology? It appears she did little more than appropriate it wholesale, as Objectivism has made almost nil original contribution to economics. Please provide some examples.
4) This is commonly known as the is/ought problem. It is a logical issue, and of course Rand did not solve it. If you believe she did, please demonstrate your logical reasoning with labelled premises and conclusion. (Of course, you will not be able to).

ungtss said...

Daniel, I was enjoying the higher level of discourse I was having with the other participants who actually have some interest in understanding what is being written here, and in teaching me and learning themselves.

Your much lower level of thought is in striking contrast.

I am tired of showing you exactly what mistakes you're making just so you can ignore my comments and throw out more BS in which you completely fail to understand the issues, but manage to project a posture of superiority.

So I'm not going to respond any more than to say "I hope some day you realize that trying to look smarter than other people is a waste of time."

gregnyquist said...

n my opinion, AR adds a whole library of thought rules that are extremely effective and powerful, and profoundly _not_ commonly used.

What evidence exists that this might be true? In what way are AR's thought rules "extremely effective" and "powerful"? Superior knowledge should lead to superior practical success. Is there any evidence that following AR's rules lead to greater practical success? If we rounded up the most successful people in society, would any of them be followers who (per implausible) were applying Rand's thought rules? What great fact did these rules ever discover? What great scientific discovery did they ever foster?

Thought rules, in any case, can only apply to conscious thinking, which, when unchecked by the criticism of peer review, almost always degenerates into mere rationalizing and special pleading. The fallacy of the stolen concept is not so much a rule of thought as it is a tactic of rationalization sometimes used by AR and her disciples to evade unpleasant facts (e.g., the fact that people are born with troublesome innate tendencies, including a tendency to rationalize). Cogntive science has discovered that the majority of effective, practical thought is carried on by the cognitive unconscious, without the cooperation of any conscious rules. People learn how to think like they learn how to speak grammatically: unconsciously, through trial and error. They don't follow rules of grammar. Only people struggling to learn a second language try following rules of grammar; and as long as they try to follow rules, their performance as speakers of that language is self-conscious and riddled with subtle faults, easily ascertained by native speakers. To master any complex skill requires developing an intuitive judgment about the application of the skill in question. Rules can, at best, provide a rough approxtimation of that intuitive judgment. They can't serve as a replacement. No one can learn how to think by following consciously deliberated rules or an articulated technique. It's an impossibility. They would have to be able to think before they would be capable of understanding the rules; and, moreover, real thought, the sort of thought that solves the difficult practical problems people face in everyday life, requires far too much nuance and subtlety to be adequately represented in a series of rules. There is no substitute for having good intuitive judgment, and no effective rules for insuring it.

Common sense is not founded on articulated rules discovered by "somebody," any more than the rules of grammar were discovered by someone and later applied when human beings began to talk. No one discovered common sense; it emerged spontaneously through trial and error. The practice of common sense, like the practice of speaking grammatically, came first. Any rules of common sense or grammar came later, from observing people using common sense or speaking grammatically. The rules are not the source of the conduct (how could they be?), but rather, the conduct is the source of the rules.

ungtss said...

"What evidence exists that this might be true? In what way are AR's thought rules "extremely effective" and "powerful"? Superior knowledge should lead to superior practical success. Is there any evidence that following AR's rules lead to greater practical success?"

Well, what _I personally_ meant was that I have _personally_ found the tools to be extremely practically useful _in my own life_.

As to whether these ideas would be useful in the lives of everyone is an interesting question.

The first problem you'd run into is that not all tools are useful to all people, because not all people have use for all tools. Certain of her ideas prove critically useful because of my place in life. Those ideas may not prove useful to somebody in a different place in life which does not demand them. My three year old, for instance, has no use for the fallacy of the stolen concept. However, she has great use for the implicit concept of enlightened self interest my wife and i are encouraging her to discover.

The second problem with translating it to a population study is that you'd have a very difficult time controlling your variables.

You can't compare the groups as a whole, because that would not control for actual application of the ideas -- many non-objectivists agree with many of the things she had to say, and many people calling themselves objectivists don't apply everything she would have said.

Not even _she_ comprehensively applied everything she said.

So a mass group to group comparison like that wouldn't control for the critical variables, and therefore wouldn't be meaningful.

I think the best form of analysis would be a praxaeological evaluation, along the lines of those described by Von Mises in Human Action. For instance, "how would a person act with this premise, versus that premises? What would be the results?" That's not empirical of course, but it's still meaningful and useful for discussion.

but ultimately, the best empirical evidence i have for myself is my own experience. which has been dramatic.

"Thought rules, in any case, can only apply to conscious thinking, which, when unchecked by the criticism of peer review, almost always degenerates into mere rationalizing and special pleading."

What thought rule tells you that "mere rationalizing" and "special pleading" are invalid? What mode of thinking do you judge to be preferable? And why?

"No one discovered common sense; it emerged spontaneously through trial and error."

That's historically inaccurate:). Aristotle did not discover his philosophy by trial and error. He thought it through. And Europe, deprived of his ideas, suffered through millenia of misery, starvation, superstition, and constant warfare, until the European intellectual elite _gained access to his books_ and _learned how to think like him_. Now we take much of what he taught for granted. But if you want to know what life is like without Aristotle, examine the cultures without access to his thought, both historically and at present.

And there are still cultures without access to his thought today. Living in jungles, covered in lesions and mud. People for whom your concept of "common sense" is utterly foreign.

That's not to say he's the only thinker. There have been many. He's just a particularly dramatic and uncontroversial example.

And perhaps it's uncontroversial to me because I grew up in cultures without access to what you call "common sense." I grew up among people who do not know what you think everybody knows. That's why I know it's not to be taken for granted.

ungtss said...

"Cogntive science has discovered that the majority of effective, practical thought is carried on by the cognitive unconscious, without the cooperation of any conscious rules."

Was this cognitive science performed by the scientists' cognitive unconscious, without the cooperation of the conscious rules of scientific inquiry?

If so, why believe it? If not, why is the thought of the scientists exempt from their supposed findings?

Daniel Barnes said...

Greg:
>"No one discovered common sense; it emerged spontaneously through trial and error."
ungtss:
>That's historically inaccurate:). Aristotle did not discover his philosophy by trial and error.

Sigh. Now ungtss is claiming Aristotle discovered common sense. Whatever will he say next?

Of course, tediously, by "common sense" he will mean something other than what everyone else means by the term. This something-other he will be unable to clearly articulate or differentiate from other modes of thought such as formal logic, but he will insist on it anyway. His interlocutors will then have to spend interminable posts trying to guess at what he means, and while they guess he can get on with his main task here, which is to cheerfully accuse them of being epistemological nihilists and mindless slaves of social metaphysics and attribute to them arguments they don't make; in other words, to craft his experience to ultimately conform to the Randian narrative of lone rational genius vs unthinking hordes, episode 137. His occasional claims to be "learning" seem to be cosmetic; the main educational benefit he seems to receive is learning just how superior his "rules of thought", whatever they are, are to those of non-Randians. As far as I can tell, this narrative is really the only thing that's going on in his mind.

ungtss said...

Ungtss says: "That's not to say he's the only thinker. There have been many. He's just a particularly dramatic and uncontroversial example."

Daniel translates: "Sigh. Now ungtss is claiming Aristotle discovered common sense. Whatever will he say next?"

Got it. "Not A" means A.

ungtss said...

one example of a thought-rule that is articulated and used by better minds, but not applied by lesser minds, even today, is the principle of parsimony, or occam's razor.

many many people don't grasp it. but it's an extremely powerful rule of thought. it cuts a lot of useless crap out of our thought process, and allows us to identify -- and focus on -- meaningful information.

aristotle is the first documented statement of the principle, in a rudimentary, primitive form: "nature operates in the shortest way possible." of course that's an overstatement of the principle. and as such, the principle has been refined and developed over time. ptolemy, maiomedes, duns scotus, and william of occam used it.

but only now, with the dawning of the internet and its attendant discussion boards, is it really coming to be used by ordinary people. still, many people don't get it. i didn't come to understand it until my mid-20s. and when i discovered it, it allowed my mind to function at a much higher level than had previously been possible to me.

Daniel Barnes said...

ungtss:
>That's historically inaccurate:). Aristotle did not discover his philosophy by trial and error. He thought it through.

As well as criticising ungtss' previous vague and foolish claims regarding Aristotle, we should also add the fact that much of Aristotle's philosophy is highly erroneous.

Why? Because he thought it through, but then tended not to test his rationalizations against the real world. He was a rather lazy philosopher who tended to play with words rather than experiment - for example, he just assumed that heavy objects would fall faster than light objects, or that an arrow would simply drop to the ground once it reached its highest point, rather than travel in a parabola, because these flowed logically from his basic assumptions. These were all easily testable in his day, but he preferred to remain within the bounds of his rationalistic assumptions.

As a result, Aristotle unleashed a highly influential school of philosophy - probably the most influential actually - that is primarily focussed around word-games and hairsplitting about terminology, and clinging to logical conclusions from prior assumptions rather than testing theories against reality. His and Plato's influence has been most unfortunate for philosophy in this respect. Randian philosophy, as this blog repeatedly points out, and ungtss' style of argument exemplifies, has inherited Aristotle's defects in spades.

ungtss said...
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