What, then, is the meaning of the concept "man"? "Man" means a certain type of entity, a rational animal, including all the characteristics of this entity (anatomical, physiological, psychological, etc. as well as the relation of those characteristics to those of other entities) --- all the characteristics already known, and all those ever to be discovered. Whatever is true of the entity, is meant by the concept.
It follows that there are no grounds on which to distinguish "analytic" from "synthetic" propositions. Whether one states that "A man is a rational animal," or that "A man has only two eyes" --- in both cases, the predicated characteristics are true of man and are, therefore, included in the concept "man." [IOTE, 100]I have already criticized this view of meaning on the assumption that a person can only mean what he knows. It could also be criticized for assuming that people always mean what is "true of the entity." What if they mean something else? What if they intend to use words to deceive or to rationalize? But there's another criticism I would like to introduce in this post, one which I have previously broached but which needs to be explained in more detail. Peikoff speaks about the concept "man." This concept, he says, includes "all the characteristics already known, and all those ever to be discovered." Now the concepts that people actually have in their minds don't, as far as we can tell, include "all the characteristics known and to be discovered." How could they? An individual's conception of something can only include what he knows of it. Peikoff, however, writes of concepts as if they are some sort of supra-human thing, identical in all respects regardless of where they might reside.
Keep in mind, Objectivists claim that concepts are "produced by man's consciousness in accordance with the facts of reality, as mental integrations of factual data computed by man --- as the products of a cognitive method of classification whose processes must be performed by man, but whose content is dictated by reality." [IOTE, 53] If concepts are produced by man's consciousness from "mental integrations," how can they include information that was in fact never observed, perceived, remembered and integrated by any mind? The actual concepts produced by an individual's consciousness (assuming, per implausible, that consciousness does in fact, solely by its own resources, produce concepts) cannot possibly be the concepts imagined by Rand and Peikoff. An individual's concept of man cannot possibly include things he doesn't know and has never experienced. So if there is such a concept that does include "whatever is true of the entity," whether known or unknown, where does that concept reside? In whose mind or brain does it linger?
The insistence that concepts including everything about their referents has led not only this critic, but others as well, to conclude that Objectivists have unwittingly turned concepts into "quasi-Platonic entitites." The actual conceptions that people have of things, being produced, as Rand insists, by their own minds, can hardly contain information that is "unknown." Information that is unknown is information that has never been held in someone's mind; for if it had been held in someone's mind, it would have been known at least in that one instance. A concept containing unknown information must therefore exist outside of the mind. Where, then, can this non-mental concept exist, if not in some quasi-Platonic realm?
Obviously Rand did not intend to embrace a quasi-Platonic view of concepts. The fact that her theory implies such a view mostly like arises from a confusion between identity and understanding. Each person has their own conceptions of things; but these concepts, although unique to each individual, refer to common sets of objects that are given the same names. To decorate her concepts with an aura of objectivity, Rand sought to downplay the unique, personal nature of concepts. She tacitly assumed that for a concept to be "objective," it had to be the same for everyone. If the concept of man were not identical for every individual, then how could people communicate? After all, wouldn't the concept have to be identical if it were referring to the same thing?
What Rand failed to fully grasp is that a concept could be the same in so far as it referred to the same set of objects, and yet be different in in terms of its depth of understanding, the amount of information it contained, and the degree of truth and falsity which it exhibited. Everyone could know what a man is, yet have different notions of the nature of men.
At times, Rand seems to suggest that misunderstandings arise often (if not solely) from some sort of misidentification or confusion over what a thing is or what it should be called. As Rand herself puts it, the people she dislikes (and they constitute a very large group) are guilty of denying that "A is A." Oddly enough, she provides little if any specific examples of this, other than a few vague suggestions based on various misreadings of Kant, Hume, and other modern philosophers. Generally speaking, errors and falsehoods arise, not from misidentification or mislabeling, but from mistaken notions about the referents of concepts. People usually know what things are (in the sense that they can name them and distinguish them from other objects). Where they lapse into error is in the predications: in their notions of the characteristics of things. For example, a person may entertain false notions concerning human nature. Rand herself was guilty of that. Yet these false notions don't prevent them from being able to distinguish human beings from other animals. There's no evidence that Rand, despite her erroneous views about human beings, ever had trouble distinguishing a man from an ape or any other animal. Grasping that a given object belongs to a specific class of things turns out not to be very difficult or controversial. We usually know how to name and group objects into classes. It's our assertions about these classes of objects where the trouble begins. Rand somehow failed to grasp this distinction.