Concepts and Their Role in Knowledge

Concepts and Their Role in Knowledge: Reflections on Objectivist Epistemology

Allan Gotthelf Editor
James G. Lennox Associate Editor
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Concepts and Their Role in Knowledge
    Book Description:

    The philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand (1905-1982) is a cultural phenomenon. Her books have sold more than twenty-eight million copies, and countless individuals speak of her writings as having significantly influenced their lives. Despite her popularity, Rand's philosophy of Objectivism has received little serious attention from academic philosophers.

    Concepts and Their Role in Knowledgeoffers scholarly analysis of key elements of Ayn Rand's radically new approach to epistemology. The four essays, by contributors intimately familiar with this area of her work, discuss Rand's theory of concepts-including its new account of abstraction and essence-and its central role in her epistemology; how that view leads to a distinctive conception of the justification of knowledge; her realist account of perceptual awareness and its role in the acquisition of knowledge; and finally, the implications of that theory for understanding the growth of scientific knowledge. The volume concludes with critical commentary on the essays by distinguished philosophers with differing philosophical viewpoints and the author's responses to those commentaries.

    This is the second book published in Ayn Rand Society Philosophical Studies, which was developed in conjunction with the Ayn Rand Society to offer a fuller scholarly understanding of this highly original and influential thinker. The Ayn Rand Society, an affiliated group of the American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division, seeks to foster scholarly study by philosophers of the philosophical thought and writings of Ayn Rand.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7856-5
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Part One: Essays
    • Ayn Rand’s Theory of Concepts: Rethinking Abstraction and Essence
      (pp. 3-40)

      One notable change in the philosophical literature of the last thirty years has been the extent of attention to the nature ofconcepts. Although philosophers have been concerned with “conceptual analysis” and related issues since the early twentieth century (and in fact since Kant), sustained attention to what concepts are, to their “possession conditions,” to their acquisition and—especially—to their epistemic role is quite recent. The problem of the nature of concepts is, of course, much more ancient, since the traditional problem of universals, today thought of as primarily a metaphysical issue, originally had as an important component the...

    • Conceptualization and Justification
      (pp. 41-84)

      Given its title, one might expect Ayn Rand’sIntroduction to Objectivist Epistemology(ITOE) to outline her positions on the issues normally covered in introductory courses and texts on epistemology. In particular, one might expect to find discussions of epistemic justification—i.e., “our right to the beliefs we have” (Dancy 2005, 263). Justification and the nature of knowledge are widely regarded as the essential subject matter of the field, and, as we will see, Rand effectively agrees with this consensus.¹ Yet her monograph says little directly on these subjects. Rather, it is devoted entirely to the presentation of a theory of...

    • Perceptual Awareness as Presentational
      (pp. 85-111)

      Let me begin by describing a brief episode of perception.

      I enter my apartment from the outside. I can feel the smooth key as I take it from my pocket and the slight resistance of the lock as I use the key to turn the bolt. I open the door and feel its handle slide away from me and watch the door as it swings open. I enter, and as I do I feel how the surface underneath my feet has changed, from a hard concrete to a more yielding carpet. Before me lies a spread of entities. In the...

    • Concepts, Context, and the Advance of Science:
      (pp. 112-134)

      One central theme running through Ayn Rand’sIntroduction to Objectivist Epistemology(ITOE) is that the objectivity of concepts is not threatened by, and in fact is a precondition for, the growth of knowledge. Crucial to her defense of that view is her argument that a proper account of definitions must reflect the fact that we learn more over time about the nature of the units—the cognized referents—a concept subsumes. At the same time, she stresses that a properly formed concept retains its identity—remains the same concept—as our information about its referents expands.

      Understanding how her views...

  5. Part Two: Discussion
    • Concepts and Kinds
      • Rand on Concepts, Definitions, and the Advance of Science: Comments on Gotthelf and Lennox
        (pp. 139-147)

        Ayn Rand’s theory of concept-formation plays an important role in her broader program of Objectivist epistemology. Some of the themes in her work correspond to core themes in what Ian Hacking calls the “tradition of natural kinds” in mainstream Anglo-American philosophy (Hacking 1991c). In particular, Rand’s theory converges on the idea that concepts are intellectual tools forged by human beings in order to allow them to recover elements of the structure of the world around them and thus to achieve pragmatically successful action.

        It is not clear to me, however, that Rand’s existing body of work addresses the major current...

      • Natural Kinds and Rand’s Theory of Concepts: Reflections on Griffiths
        (pp. 148-160)

        In his commentary on the essays in the present volume by Allan Gotthelf and by James G. Lennox, Paul Griffiths raises a number of interesting issues about (1) how to situate Rand’s theory of concepts, particularly with regard to recent debates about natural kinds, and (2) whether her theory has the resources to address some recent findings about the nature of concepts. I will address a few of the issues he raises in my brief, exploratory comments.

        Griffiths in his comments writes,

        In the mainstream tradition of thought about natural kinds, the idea has two important aspects. Natural kinds are...

    • Definitions
      • Rand on Definitions–One Size Fits All? Comments on Gotthelf
        (pp. 163-172)
        JIM BOGEN

        Rand’s normative discussion of definitions and concepts assumes that all definitions are of the same kind, do the same kinds of cognitive work, and should be evaluated against the same standards. This gives rise to troubles reminiscent of the ones Edouard Machery exposes with regard to concepts in cognitive psychology. Machery argues that the phenomena uncovered by cognitive psychologists are too various to account for without appeal to significantly different kinds of concepts (Machery 2010, 195–202). By the same token I think that, contrary to Rand, specific cognitive performances in scientific reasoning are too various to benefit from, let...

      • Taking the Measure of a Definition: Response to Bogen
        (pp. 173-182)

        Jim Bogen has provided us with a very thoughtful summary and critique of Rand’s theory of definition, attending to its basis in her theory of concepts. Though I do not think he always gets Rand’s views right, my disagreement is not primarily with his exposition but with his critique, and I will, in the body of this response, address such interpretative matters only when they bear directly on this.¹

        Bogen’s main complaint, stated in his opening sentence, is that Rand incorrectly assumes that “all definitions are of the same kind, do the same kinds of cognitive work, and should be...

    • Concepts and Theory Change
      • On Concepts that Change with the Advance of Science: Comments on Lennox
        (pp. 185-200)

        These comments represent the first round in print of an ongoing dialectic between James Lennox and me over the proper understanding of concepts and conceptual change in science, with a particular focus on the example of changing concepts of the gene. Further rounds are in the offing. I hope that our ongoing debate will clarify (and perhaps reduce) our differences, but also that it will help others to improve their accounts of the ways in which concepts change both in science and in daily life.

        I wish to acknowledge, with gratitude, the amount that I have learned from Jim Lennox,...

      • Conceptual Development versus Conceptual Change: Response to Burian
        (pp. 201-212)

        In my essay in part 1 I characterized five categories of change in the conceptual structure of a science and stressed the importance of distinguishing them from the philosophically problematic notion of change in the meaning or identity of a concept. Richard Burian speaks approvingly of that distinction in his comment. Nevertheless, his comments suggest that he thinks at least some changes of the first sort entail changes of the second. In this response I challenge that suggestion, which in my view leads to the sort of skepticism about scientific progress that both of us think is untenable. To that...

    • Perceptual Awareness
      • In Defense of the Theory of Appearing: Comments on Ghate and Salmieri
        (pp. 215-225)

        As a fellow direct realist, and as a proponent of the Theory of Appearing (TA) in particular, I am naturally sympathetic to the account of perception that Onkar Ghate and Gregory Salmieri attribute to Rand in their essays in part 1 of this volume. My primary aim in this response, however, is to defend the TA against Ghate’s central criticism of William P. Alston’s version of it.¹ In relation to this defense, I shall also critically discuss the infallibilist account of perception that Salmieri attributes to Rand and argue for a fallibilism consonant with the TA.² First, I delineate important...

      • Forms of Awareness and “Three-Factor” Theories
        (pp. 226-241)

        In my contribution to part 1 of this volume, I discussed Rand’s view of awareness as an activity the identity of which is not exhausted by its objects, and I emphasized her distinction between theformof an act of awareness and itsobject,which I illustrated with a brief discussion of its application to sense-perception. I indicated there how the distinction can be used to counter some standard objections to direct-realist views of perception like Rand’s, and Onkar Ghate treated this topic in much greater detail (and in somewhat different terminology) in his contribution to part 1.¹

        In the...

      • Direct Perception and Salmieri’s “Forms of Awareness”
        (pp. 242-246)

        I believe that what Salmieri calls “three-factor views” contain a deep and important insight about the nature of our perceptual relation with the mind-independent physical world around us. He correctly contrasts such views with representationalism, both old and new. I argue that his own understanding of the insight ultimately collapses into the bad old representationalism that we both reject. His view is effectively a version of indirect realism. I explain how the insight should instead be developed in such a way as to maintain the crucial contrast with representationalism, and to preserve the vindication that three-factor views offer of a...

      • Keeping Up Appearances: Reflections on the Debate over Perceptual Infallibilism
        (pp. 247-268)

        Several contributors to this volume (Onkar Ghate, Pierre Le Morvan, Gregory Salmieri, and Bill Brewer) share an interest in defending direct realism (sometimes also called presentationalism) about the senses. They agree that perceptual awareness is the awareness of objects or even facts in the world, not of mental intermediaries such as sense-data or some other kind of “representational” content. But they differ over the commitments of accepting the existence of this direct form of awareness.

        A central point of contention is over whether treating perception as direct commits the realist toinfallibilismabout the senses, the view that there is...

    (pp. 269-270)
    (pp. 271-282)
  8. List of Contributors
    (pp. 283-286)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 287-298)