Monday, August 26, 2013

Ayn Rand & Epistemology 44

Measurement Omission 1. Having finished our slow, tedious slog through Peikoff's essay on the Analytic-Sythethic Dichotomy, we can return to the Rand's IOTE and finish out this series on the Objectivist Epistemology.

While much of IOTE is clearly agenda driven (the agenda being Rand's theory of history), there is a portion of Rand's epistemology which, although not entirely free of agenda-based thinking, at least is intermixed with some level of genuine truth-seeking. For example, Rand seems to have sincerely believed that her measurement-omission theory solved the "problem of universals." The question confronting the critic is to determine whether her measurement-omission theory actually delivers the goods.

Rand claimed that  “A concept is a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted.” [13, italics added] This theory has been decisively refuted by Merlin Jetton in a paper he wrote for Kelley's Objectivist Center (now known as the Atlas Society):

Monday, August 19, 2013

Ayn Rand & Epistemology 43

Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy 16: Falsifibility. Toward the end of his essay on the Anayltic-Synthetic Dichotomy, Peikoff tackles falsifiability:

Those who claim to distinguish a posteriori and a priori propositions commonly maintain that certain truths (the synthetic, factual ones) are "empirically falsifiable," whereas others (the analytic, logical ones) are not. In the former case, it is said, once can specify experiences which, if they occurred, would invalidate the proposition; in the latter, one cannot. For instance, the proposition "Cats give birth only to kittens" is empirically falsifiable" because one can invent experiences that would refute it such as the spectacle of tiny elephants emerging from a cat's womb. But the proposition "Cats are animals" is not "empirically falsifiable" because "cat" is defined as a species of animal....

Observe the inversion propounded by this argument: a proposition can qualify as a factual, empirical truth only if man is able to evade the facts of experience and arbitrarily ... invent a set of impossible circumstances that contradict these facts; but a truth whose opposite is beyond man's power of invention, is regarded as independent of and irrelevant to the nature of reality, i.e., as an arbitrary product of human "convention." [IOTE, 117-118]

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Ayn Rand & Epistemology 42

Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy 15: Concepts as Theories. In a previous post, I criticized the Objectivist view that concepts constitute the principle unit of knowledge. Although Rand argued that concepts contain an "implicit" proposition indicating that the referents of the concept exist, she is not on record as endorsing the view that there may be many implicit propositions lurking inside concepts. Yet the doctrine that concepts contain many propositions is strongly implied by what Peikoff writes in his essay on the Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy:

The epistemological basis of [the logical-factual dichotomy] is the view that a concept consists only of its definition. According to the dichotomy, it is logically impermissible to contradict the definition of a concept; what one asserts by this means is "logically" impossible. But to contradict any of the non-defining characteristics of a concept's referents, is regarded as logically permissible; what one asserts in such a case is merely "empirically" impossible.

Thus, a "married bachelor" contradicts the definition of "bachelor" and hence is regarded as "logically" impossible. But a "bachelor who can fly to the moon by means of flapping his arms" is regarded a "logically" possible, because the definition of "bachelor" ("an unmarried man") does not specify his means of locomotion. [IOTE, 115]

Implicit in this criticism is the view that concepts include all the characteristics of a concept's referent. In practical terms, that means all proposotions about a concept, including theories, would presumably be included in the concept. For Objectivism, a concept is not a symbolic meaning used to represent something outside itself; it is, rather, a container which includes everything known (or potentially knowable) about the concept's referent. As Peikoff puts it, "the concept 'man' ... includes all the characteristics of the 'man.'" [115]