Monday, March 2, 2009

Some Of My Insights -- Objectivity

[Earlier in the series -- Some Of My Insights -- Concept-Formation]

I have been stalling this post for weeks together now and am so glad I am finally posting it. I have not covered intrincism and subjectivism because are still are a little tricky, intrincism more so than subjectivism.

So here go some of my thoughts on Objectivity after the seminar:

1. Studying the roots of the concept of "Objectivity" is important because it denotes a certain kind of relationship between the whole of concept-formation and reality. If concepts are objectively formed -- our knowledge then refers to observed fact; taking into account both existence and consciousness. On the other hand, if our concepts are arbitrarily formed, then so is the whole knowledge of mankind has accumulated. This is the implication of the validation of the term Objectivity.

In the Objectivist position, concepts don't exist "out there" as apart from the human mechanism of concept-formation or "in here" as apart from reality. Attributes such as redness, maness or tablehood do not exist in reality only or in our conceptual process only but such attributes reflect both and fall into a distinct third category which takes into account both existence and consciousness -- the object itself and the human method of classifying the object. To take Greg Perkin's wonderful example, a car collision is the result of an interaction between two cars -- but not a part of just one of cars involved in the collision. Another interesting parallel is also the stand of Objectivism on sense perception. Any entity perceived is not "out there" in reality as apart from man or "in here" in our equipment as apart from reality. The entity perceived exists in a separate third category -- "entity as perceived". However, with regard to concept-formation, there is also the element of volition involved when compared to sense perception. Since forming concepts correctly is volitional and not automatic -- man needs a method in acquiring new knowledge.

2. The concept of objectivity applies to definitions too. An essence or the fundamental distinguishing characteristic of a concept. "Essences" do not exist in existence as apart from consciousness; an essence presupposes an essence to whom? "Out there", things simply are. Thus, essentials are not arbitrary choices "in here" and "out there" but concepts refer to a volitional consciousness observing existential facts. This is why essences, too, like concepts are epistemological in nature and not metaphysical.

However, it is not mandatory that all concretes should be conceptualized. There are concepts that can be handled descriptively. Since we only conceptualize stuff that is cognitively important, there are also some concepts which are optional in nature. To take Greg Perkin's example again, a concept subsuming "a light green, medium sized, cotton t-shirt" may be of relevance to a store keeper but not to a doctor because the doctor may not find it cognitively important to define such a concept.

3. Logic is the method of non-contradictory identification. It works in two ways; it reduces any claim back to first-level concepts and then sense-perception (the hierarchical nature of knowledge) and also integrates all knowledge a person acquires (the contextual nature of knowledge) -- non-contradictorily.

4. Any new knowledge is not acquired in a vaccum of nothingness. All new knowledge that is acquired is built on already or pre-existing knowledge given any subject. For instance, a kid had to get to cat and dog before he gets to the second level concept of an animal and had to get to animal before he gets to the third level concept of organism. All knowledge is hierarchical in nature. It was only after the discovery of logic, did science emerge; as any new discovery in science presupposes the primacy of existence and logic in the least.

Making such a claim explicit helps a great deal in claryfing concepts in terms of hierarchy. Reducing any claim explicitly helps in the process of reduction -- i.e. reducing any claim back to first level concepts and then to the perceptual. Such reduction keeps us tied to reality when we form ever-higher level concepts. On the other hand, if one neglects or evades such reduction of knowledge, there is the ever seductive doctrine of rationalism which one quickly succumbs to. The doctrine of rationalism agrees with the fact that knowledge is gained in a particular pattern but starts deducing away rationalistic castles in air starting from arbitrary premises which are unconnected to reality, thus, betraying objectivity.

Another interesting implication of the fact that knowledge is hierarchical is, as Ayn Rand called it, a stolen concept. This occurs when a person uses the validity of a lower-level concept to deny the validity of the higher level concept based on the lower-level concept. To take an example from the seminar, the claim that "all property is theft" steals the concept property; that any theft has to be the theft of property! Any argument which involves a stolen concept has to be self-refuting as it uses the validity of a lower level concept to betray a higher level concept.

5. All our knowledge is relational. We look at tables as apart from chairs and similar to other tables. The concept of tablehood does not exist in a giant vacuum in our consciousness. Our knowledge is gained by the constant contrasting and comparing of various entities around us. All the relationships that a particular concept has with all the other concepts is the context of the particular concept. Suppose a student at college is taught that man has a right to a wage in class. He later reads a book by an author who says that a right signifies a course of action and not to any particular object (like wages in this case). It is essential for the student to consider both the claims and resolve the contradiction. Various questions may arise in the process. A few could be what are rights in the first place? Whether a person can have the right to violate another persons right?, etc. All such questions and relationships one draws when talking about a particular concept forms the context of the concept and are essential to maintain objectivity. Context, takes into account, both the relationships of a said concept with the other concept and the distance from the perceptual level of the concept (hierarchial nature of knowledge).

[For more on context, see one of my older posts.]

All in all, if "existence is identity, and consciousness is identification", then identity serves as the bridge between existence and consciousness. To acquire any new knowledge of the identity of any concrete, our method, to be successful, must be the volitional grasp of reality by the method of logic.


Rational Jenn said...

Oh hey! I'm following you on Twitter! (Didn't make the connection until just now.)

Thanks for participating in the carnival this week. Really appreciate it.

Roderick Fitts said...

"There are concepts that can be handled descriptively."

I think you meant "[t]here are concretes..."

Interesting post, by the way. I've been clarifying the concept of objectivity (such as distinguishing it from "rationality") for a few months now on my own, and I have similar notes written in a journal somewhere.

Can't wait to read more on your thoughts.

khartoum said...

Hi Jenn,

Yeah, i too just saw your connection. I, too, am following you on twitter. It's great.

I think i owe the thanks to you for maintaining such a great carnival (every week!). I do plan to host it in a month or so. I think it would be a great exposure for the blog and also as Burgess put it -- to clean up after the party is over.

khartoum said...

Hi Roderick,

Yeah, I meant concretes in that line and not concepts.

It feels great to be discovering Objectivism and even better with some congratulatory comments. Heh!

Thanks for stopping by!

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

The stolen concept fallacy consists of using a concept while denying it's cognitive pedigree,as it were;the context of other concepts on which it genetically(hierarchically) depends.Thus in the quote by proudhon the concept that is stolen isn't "property" but "Theft". I am afraid your understanding is backwards.

shahnawaz said...

The concept "theft" has meaning only in contradistinction to the concept "Property",just like the concept "orphan" presupposes the concept "parent".
THus if i were to say, "I accept the concept "orphan but there is no such thing as a "parent"" i would be stealing the concept "orphan" which presupposes and is logically dependent upon the concept Parent".

khartoum said...

Hi shahnawaz,

I don't have any disagreement with you orpahan example but don't see how it applies here.

One cannot understand the concept of theft before one understands the concept of property in the first place. As you yourself said, "The concept "theft" has meaning only in contradistinction to the concept "Property"". When one says "all property is theft", he is counting on the hierarchical roots of the concept of theft (property) to disintegrate both the concepts of theft and property.

shahnawaz said...

It is very simple.The concept "theft" depends on the concept "property".You said that it is the concept of "property" that is stolen when in fact it is the concept "theft" that is being stolen.After all if there is no property than there can be no such thing as theft:theft being the act of taking the property without the owner's consent.
Please go to and read his article "the stolen concept".

shahnawaz said...

You said that that this fallacy is committed when you use the validity of a lower level concept to deny the validity of a higher level concept.This is the exact opposite of this fallacy which says that it is a fallacy to use a higher level concept while denying the validity of the lower level concept on which it is hierarchically dependendent.
Thus if i say,"i accept the concept "acceleration" but down with the conept of "velocity"".I'll be using acceleration as a stolen concept which by definition means "rate of change of velocity".velocity is the lower level concept on which the concept "acceleration"(higher level concept) depends.

khartoum said...

Hi shahnawaz,

Yeah, you are right. I've understood it the other way around. Stolen concepts occur when one uses a higher level concept while denying the validity of the underlying lower level concepts on which the higher level concept is dependent upon. To apply it to the property-theft example, the concept theft is stolen as it is a higher level concept and exists only in distinction with the lower level concept, property.

Thanks for correcting the mistake. Really appreciate it.

shahnawaz said...

Hi Khartoum,
I am glad to be of help.I have read a few of your posts and have always learned something new.keep up the good work.