transcript:
The Objectivist Theory of Concepts: Concepts as Objective and Conceptual Knowledge as Contextual and Hierarchical

1. Unit-economy and the crow epistemology

This is Leonard Peikoff speaking in the fall of 1990. The following lecture is part of a course originally given in 1976 with Ayn Rand's endorsement and in her presence. As f 1991 however, the course will be superseded by my book Objectivism, the Philosophy of Ayn Rand. My book recapitulates the 1976 course, but its formulations and logical structure are immeasurably superior. Despite this fact, I am making the original course available for purchase for several reasons. Students may find it profitable to compare the course to the book and discover for themselves the differences. Also, the 1976 course is the only recorded statement of the entire content of Objectivism. My new taped course on Objectivism is selective, taking for granted a knowledge of the philosophy. Finally, Ayn Rand, herself took part in most of the question periods in 1976 and I do not want her recorded comments to disappear from the Objectivist scene. To all of you now, who are about to hear this lecture, let me stress at the outset that I myself—speaking some fifteen years later—regard my new book and not this curse as the definitive statement of Objectivism. Thank you.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Last time we studied the processes by which concepts are formed and defined. Tonight we are going to continue our discussion of the Objectivist theory of concepts. I want to make explicit, some observations about concepts that were implied last time, that I didn't state as such. And I want to develop some of the implications of the theory of concepts so far as it sheds light on the nature of human knowledge, on the proper method of acquiring and validating knowledge.

Let's begin with the principle identified by Ayn Rand, which explains the essential, cognitive function of concepts. What Miss Rand calls the principle of unit economy. And this can best be grasped by reference with certain experiments with crows that is outlined in The Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. And to this day we call the principle informally, among ourselves, the crow epistemology. It seems that, to remind you, in that experiment, if one man came to a place in the woods where crows were gathered, the crows would hide and would not come out until the man left. If three men came, the crows would hide, and if two men left, the crows would not come out. They grasped the one man still remained, one man. But if five men came and four left, the crows would come out. The crows in effect figured many came, many left so it's safe to come out. In other words they could distinguish and hold only up to about three units. The crows could grasp 1,2,3, but after that they couldn't hold a further number of units in its consciousness. So the crow arithmetic in effect would be 1,2,3,many. Now the point is that some kind of limitation in principle is true of every kind of consciousness. On the perceptual level, human beings are perhaps better than crows. You can, for instance, attain an awareness at any one time of say six or so objects. Now we're speaking perceptually, without counting, without concepts, but there's a limit for you, too. After a certain figure, when it reaches for instance, dozens, to say nothing of hundreds, or thousands, you cannot distinguish or deal with such a number of units in one frame of consciousness—not perceptually. Our mental screen, so to speak, is limited in what it can hold in any one frame.

Consciousness, any consciousness is finite. It has a specific scope of material that it can deal with, and only that much in any given frame. And this of course is an expression of the fact that A is A. There are only a limited number of units which a consciousness can hold before it at any one time. Beyond a certain number the content becomes just a blur. The mind can't encompass it, can't take it in. Now this is the context in which you can understand the essential function of concepts. What concepts do is to broaden enormously the range or scope of the material that we can deal with in any given frame of consciousness. They condense a vast number of percepts into a single new whole. They reduce all those perceptual units to one new unit, a concept which stands for and subsumes all of it—that is all the percepts in a given class—yet this concept we can easily hold as a single unit. When we say table, for instance, that one concept which is a single unit in our mind, subsumes all concrete tables, past, present, future. It enables us in the same frame of awareness to encompass and come to conclusions involving the whole vast quantity. The concept we say, economizes the units we have to deal with. That is the principle of unit economy. We can hold only a handful of units at any given time, but by means of concepts we reduce an enormous information pertaining to a vast group, we reduce it to one mental unit. I quote from the book, The Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology:

"Conceptualization is a method of expanding man's consciousness by reducing the number of its content's units—a systematic means to an unlimited integration of cognitive data."

Take such a simple example as the thought that a man has ten toes—a universal statement applicable to every man. Now you have no difficulty grasping it, yet a perceptual level mentality could never reach such an ideal, because of its enormous scope. Part of the problem would be that such a mentality couldn't distinguish ten toes. Without the concept ten, he couldn't reduced the quantity to a single unit. It couldn't hold or distinguish, say, ten as against eight or twelve. It would collapse into many, like the crow. Another part of the problem would be to reach a universal conclusion by perception alone—that is, a conclusion about every member of a species. You'd have to perceive in this case every man, which is impossible since they're spread across the earth and across past, present and future. But suppose you had a space ship and you were immortal, but you are strictly perceptual level, imagine such a creature traveling across all time and across all space, and somehow performing an endless survey. It still could not know that all men have ten toes, because there are too many men for it to be able to hold in mind on the perceptual level. This hypothetical creature might perceive Tom, Dick, and Harry, and grasp in one frame of awareness their toes, but when he comes to Jill and Victor and Sally, he loses Tom, Dick, and Harry. He can't keep all six in awareness at the same time. And so, at the end of this mythical trip, even having  surveyed actually, every human being, he cannot grasp that men, all men, man as such, have ten toes. He has no means of grasping and holding such a scale of information.           Now if he could articulate his plight—which is actually a contradiction about concepts—if he could, he'd say, if only I could hold all that information in my head, if only I could put it all into one frame of consciousness. If only I could make one unit out of that vast quantity, instead of letting it dribble away from me in bits and pieces, then I could hold and deal with such a scale of information. Well, of course the translation of that plaint is, if only I had concepts.

Concepts enable us to reduce to a manageable , dealable with number of units, a quantity of concretes, which on the perceptual level are simply too vast to deal with. So you could think of concepts in this respect, as mental space savers. And you should be able to see now more fully why concept formation requires language, why it requires the choice of a verbal symbol before the process is completed, because the essence of the function here is unit reduction. And until you've selected a word to stand for the totality of the reference, you still now have an indefinite number of units, and you're back in the position of the crow. You can't hold that number of units.

Now, in her discussion in chapter seven, Miss Rand presents many further aspects of unit reduction, including how it answers the tradition question of how do we know when to form a new concept, when we must refrain from doing so, and when it is optional. I refer you to the book for the answer to this.

I want just to mention at this point that the crow epistemology issue, as I'll continue to call it, is an enormously important principle with a great many applications to human activity. Take one example here, the issue of literary style. There are styles of writing designed to wreck human consciousness by their systematic violation of the crow epistemology issue, that is styles in which the sentence structure deliberately feeds you more units at a single time than a mind can grasp or hold. You're given, for instance a pages long sentence with a combination of qualifications, parentheses, side remarks, subordinate clauses all running along at the same time, while you're still holding the subject as the main problem waiting for the verb. and all of this after the preceding sentence pages long and with the same kind of structure, and you find that your mind at a certain point closes. Shuts down, you lose it all. Now that's the crow epistemology asserting itself. You can only grasp and deal with so many units, after which you become like the crow, and can only say, in effect, many or more accurately, too much.

Now if you want an example of the master of this anti-human style of writing, I refer you to Emmanuel Kant, above all in the Critique of Pure Reason. Many people improperly take the blame for not understanding Kant's writing, but the truth is, he is a fault, not the reader. His style is perfectly suited to his content, both are anti-conceptual at root. Both aim at the destruction of man and of human reason.

2. Concepts as objective

Now there are many other ramifications of the crow epistemology. For now I want to go on, but we will be making several backward references to it later this evening.  Now I've said that concepts are a human method of reducing units, a method of man, based of course on reality, which can serve as a transition to the next issue. I want to nail down explicitly a point that we implied last time, but that I did not identify as such, regarding the status of concepts. I mean the point that concepts are neither intrinsic, nor subjective, but rather are objective.

Now this part will be clearer to you if you know as a contrast the main historical theories of the nature of concepts. So I want to take a quick review here of the three main traditional theories in the history of philosophy—Plato, Aristotle, and the skeptics one which latter is called nominalism. Plato held that concepts refer to floating other worldly abstractions or universals—so called Platonic forms—entities such as man, table, wood, which exist he said in another non-material dimension, and which would continue to exist even if we destroyed all concretes in this world, including all men and all consciousness. Now this is the classic view that concepts or universalists as the Platonists call them, are intrinsic, in other words are abstractions that exist in reality, independent of any relation to man or any conscious being, but they are things out there in metaphysical reality, features of existence completely independent of consciousness. As to how we get to know these entities, Plato answered, at a certain point, after you learn to orient yourself to this supernatural realm, the light from these universals will automatically stream in on you. You merely remain motionless and passive, and you grasp them by intuition. So Plato, as you see, makes conceptualization a mystical process, a process of other-worldly entities being grasped by indefinable intuition.

Now Aristotle's view is much more commonsensical than Plato's, but it still bears Plato's imprint. For Aristotle there is only this world, essentially. He really does not believe in a supernatural realm, but each entity in this world, said Aristotle, has two elements or ingredients making it up, a universal element, and a particular element. The universal element, he said, is what's the same in every instance of a group. That's what makes it possible, he said, for us to classify particulars together, and refer to each by the same concept. The particular element is what's absolutely unique to each individual. It's what makes each thing, he said, an individual—the absolutely unrepeatable entity. So for Aristotle, universal exists in particulars, in a literal sense. Concepts stand for one metaphysical element in faith, an element independent of human beings. The universal such as tablehood or what ever, is out there in reality. It's a special feature of existence independent of consciousness, not other worldly, like Plato, but still as in Plato's case, it's a phenomenon intrinsic in reality. And if you ask Aristotelians, how do you grasp universal, their answer ultimately although it's much less crude than in Plato's case, but their answer, never the less, ultimately reduces to an essentially passive process of looking out and grasping by intuition.

Now as against these two views, Plato's and Aristotle's there is the nominalist. The nominalist is the skeptic in regard to concepts, the type who says there's no platonic universals, there's no Aristotelian universals, therefore concepts have no basis at all. Every particular according to a nominalist is unique; there's nothing the same among the members of a given class. There is no metaphysical basis or grounds for classification. At most a nominalist will say, there are rough similarities, crude resemblances among things, so that it is convenient—that is the mark of a nominalist, convenient—it is convenient to group various things and call them by one name, but he will insist, nothing in reality requires this. We just decide arbitrarily to draw certain lines on the basis of rough approximate similarities. So a concept is simply a name—that's nomen from the Latin meaning name—a name used to designate an arbitrary human grouping of concretes.

Now this is the arch example of subjectivism in the theory of concepts. Concepts on this view are creations of human consciousness independent of facts of reality. When we group or classify on this view, we are guided by our subjective desires. There is no such thing as the right or the wrong way to perform the process according to this view. Reality has nothing to say, one way or the other. And notice the nominalist argument. He says, if reality consisted of intrinsic entities, which would force themselves on us automatically and infallibly in the fashion of Plato's viewpoint, then okay, he would grant that concepts are valid and based on reality. But since these Platonic entities are a myth, he says, since you never find any intrinsic universals we must conclude that concepts are subjective, and that anything goes.

Now you see the historical alternative. Conception as a kind of passive gazing at external universals out there independent of us, or conception as something divorced from reality, on the grounds that such external entities do not exist. Concepts as phenomena of existence entirely apart from consciousness, or a phenomena of consciousness entirely divorced from existence.

Now contrast the Objectivist position to both these approaches. The Objectivist view is that concepts are neither intrinsic nor subjective, but objective. The concepts are not phenomena of existence apart from consciousness, or of consciousness apart from existence. Concepts are a product of a relationship between a consciousness of a certain kind and existence. To repeat: there're a product of a relationship between a consciousness of a certain kind and existence. Concepts are products of man's form of cognition which operates upon the facts of reality, and which must be dictated at each step by facts of reality.

Now do you remember our discussion of objectivity in Lecture 3? We said in essence to be objective is to adhere to reality, by following certain rules of method, a method based on facts, and appropriate to man's form of cognition. Now that you see, names precisely the status of concepts. They adhere to reality, but they are man's form of grasping reality. They are based on facts at each step, but it is facts organized by a human method of cognition. So as against the intrinsicists on this question, Objectivism holds that when you conceptualize, you do not passively gaze out and let reality automatically imprint itself on you. On the contrary, conceptualization involves work, expending mental effort, inter-relating, connecting, processing the data, and the result is a human perspective on things, not a revelation of some intrinsic universal entity out there. Take away human consciousness, take away its processing and you take away concepts or universals. The concrete entities with their attributes, would of course still be there, but a perspective which regards them as units belonging together would be gone.

On the other hand, as against the nominalists, Objectivism holds that there is a metaphysical basis for concepts, that it is not an issue of a rough similarity, that there is something the same among concretes which are appropriately classified together. As we've seen they have the same characteristics, the differences are differences only of measurement, and this is a fact about the concretes is not a creation of man. We can integrate various concretes into a single unit only because in fact they do have the same characteristics. We can treat them the same in a specific respect, only if in fact they are the same in that respect.

So concepts are a human method of acquiring knowledge of reality. Since it's knowledge of reality, reality must dictate the content of concepts. But since it's a human method, you cannot project it into reality apart from consciousness, in other words, concepts are not intrinsic. They are objective. So, if somebody asks you about some concept of your, for instance, tablehood. Where is it? Is it out there, or in here, in reality, or in the eye of the beholder? The answer is, it is in reality as grasped by the beholder. It designates facts out there as identified and integrated by a human consciousness.

Now you will see the implications of this objective approach in every aspect of conceptual knowledge, so please be on the lookout for it. We've already, for instance, seen in regard to definition. You recall that we've said that definitions must be in terms of essentials, ant that what qualifies as essential can change as the context of knowledge expands. So the essential for Objectivism is not intrinsic. It names characteristics, which perform a certain role in connection with man's conceptualization. And the characteristics which perform this role at one stage of knowledge, may not do so at a later. So the state of human knowledge is vital in determining what is essential. But of course, it does no follow that essences or definitions are subjective. As we've seen, they are dictated by the facts of reality in the context of one's knowledge. Essences, to sum up, are neither intrinsic, nor subjective, but objective.

Now if you are familiar with the history of philosophy, you will see how many traditional contradictions and problems simply evaporate on the objective approach to concepts and definitions. Now I'll be happy to comment in response to any specific questions of this sort in the question period, particularly about the difference between the Aristotelian and Objectivist view of essences, and, if anyone is interested, on the Objectivist answer to the traditional problem, can concepts know the uniqueness or the individuality of things. But, I'll leave that for you to ask. I'll leave the traditional theories and let's go on.

3. Conceptual knowledge as contextual

Let's develop a crucial aspect of human knowledge, the understanding of which depends on having a proper objective approach to concepts. I mean an issue, which I've already mentioned in regards to definitions, that I want you to see know from a broader perspective. The title of this is, knowledge is contextual.  

Now let's begin here with an obvious fact that is known to just about everyone. Namely, it is a fallacy to quote someone out of context. In other words take some statement a person made, but ignore the other statements which are the background and framework of his remark, and which determine his proper interpretation. And you know that by this means you can get anyone to appear to advocate anything, simply by cutting off the surrounding framework and treating a person's sentence as though it was a separate, self-contained entity.

The fact is men do not write or speak in a vacuum, in the form of disconnected or isolated utterances, any one of which can stand independent of the rest. To communicate a point, a man must say many separate things, each related to the others, and the point depends on his listener's grasping the relationships—the total. To interpret a person's remarks, in other words, you need to know what else did he say that conditions his statement? What is the context?  

Let me give you a definition of context here. By context we mean, the sum of cognitive elements conditioning the acquisition, validity or application of any item of human knowledge—the sum of cognitive elements conditioning the acquisition, validity or application of any item of human knowledge. Now what then does it mean to say that knowledge is contextual? It means in essence, knowledge is relational. It's an organization or integration of interconnected elements, each bearing on and relevant to the other. Conceptual knowledge is arrived at on the basis of certain earlier known elements. In other words it's acquired in a certain context of already possessed knowledge. This context and any new conclusions that are relevant is essential to and determines the validity of any new knowledge and its proper application. Or to put it still another way, for every item of knowledge there is a sum of earlier possessed cognitive elements which are relevant to it which condition how it is acquired, what it means, whether it is valid, how to apply it. Knowledge depends on context.

Now that's a positive statement, and then let me put the same point negatively. Knowledge is not a mosaic of independent self-sufficient pieces, each of which stand apart from the rest. What would that consist of? Well one example would be the religious viewpoint. Knowledge is series of revelations, each a separate disconnected thunderbolt to be accepted regardless of its relations to any other revelation or to anything else you know, simply on the idea God spoke and you must accept in a vacuum. Now this is fundamentally opposite to the requirements of human knowledge. Now I hope you understand that I'm here speaking, not about the content of any particular revelation, but about the method as such, the method of separate splintered thunderbolts of knowledge. We have no way of dealing with or validating ideas, except by relating or connecting items of knowledge. In a vacuum we can do nothing.

Now the same, I might say, applies to any secular version of revelation. I mean, any attempt to seize on a sentence or a proposition out of the blue, as a arbitrary whim of the moment, and then start discussing whether it is true or false. Now those of you who know the Bertram Russell type of mentality will know what I mean. That's the type who will suddenly, as a shear whim with no context, announce that he wants to know, for instance, whether the king of France is bald. Yes or no, he insists, true or false? After all, it's a sentence and every sentence is true or false, so which is it—and this, mind you, whether there even is a king of France. Now they actually do discuss these things in philosophy. Now this is the classic horror example on a secular case of the anti-contextual approach. And you see, it is the same kind of error as the method of religious revelation. The fact is truth and falsehood are not a matter of single isolated propositions, You cannot judge a proposition one way or the other, except by seeing it as part of a cognitive whole. In other words except by relating it to the appropriate context.

Now before we proceed further, let's consider the roots of the contextual nature of knowledge—in other words the facts that it depends on and derives from. There are two such roots, one metaphysical, one epistemological. First metaphysical. Metaphysically it rests on the fact that we live in one universe. One universe means that everything is ultimately interconnected. In reality, every entity is related in some way to the rest of the universe. Nothing is simply and isolated fact without causes or effects, without relationship to the rest of what is. A is A. Everything is something. And every something in some way affects and is affected by the rest of the totality.

Knowledge, therefore, which seeks to grasp the universe, must be one total, also. Its elements, the elements of knowledge cannot be arbitrarily separated or isolated. They, too, must be integrated and interconnected in order to form a coherent whole, and thereby reflect the whole which is the universe.

Now second, the epistemological root of contextual knowledge lies in the nature of consciousness itself. All consciousness, all consciousness and therefore all cognition involves the discovery of relationships. This is true even on the perceptual level. For instance if you were never exposed to anything but an undifferentiated expanse of blue sky all of the same shade, you would not perceive it. You wouldn't perceive anything. But if a speck or an object of a different color were introduced, then you could differentiate and thus perceive.

Consciousness is relational, essential to achieving awareness, even on the perceptual level, separating and integrating, differentiating and connecting, in other words, relating data. Now this holds even more obviously on the conceptual level. Concepts are inherently a relational form of knowledge. When we form a concept, we classify, we separate one group from another, which means you can't form a concept in a vacuum, only in a specific context. You're isolating from other entities which you know. And the meaning of your concepts is determined by what concretes are you are grouping together and what are you differentiating the group from. In other words the meaning of the concept is determined by the context in which it was formed. A concept used in a vacuum without context has no meaning.

Now let me give you an example—unfortunately there are a legion of examples—but here is one of a concept used in a vacuum without its proper context. Consider a claim such as that put forth by John Rawls, presently a Harvard philosophy professor, and author of an alleged new theory of justice, a claim to the effect that it is just to sacrifice men of intelligence and productive ability, because, he says, after all no man earned his brain. The brain was a gift from nature, it is unearned. Well that condenses a mammoth set of pages and equivocations. but that's the idea. Now this construct drops the entire context of the concept earned.  

How is such a concept as the earned formed—to distinguish what from what. Well obviously to distinguish men who having been formed and born and grown, worked to achieve what they want and rely on their own efforts. They, we say, earn what they get as against those who rely on the effort and brain of others, those who mooch or loot. This is the basis of the distinction, not any alleged distinction between those who work for their brains against those who don't. For this kind of alleged distinction there is no base whatever in reality. There is no such thing as working to achieve your brain. Who is working, by what means? If this were what earning involved, it would not be a valid concept. It would refer to nothing in reality. So what does Rawls do? He takes a concept which has been defined in a specific context to distinguish certain concretes from others. He drops the context. He applies the concept out of context—in this case he actually transposes the concept to an impossible situation to another dimension, a dimension prior to birth, where the concept has no possible meaning or application at all. The result is, as he uses it, earned is a term without meaning. It's a sound divorced from reality.

Now you can see from just that single example, concepts are organizations of percepts, and as such they are contextual. You must always remember, therefore, not to drop the context when using a concept. That context is essential to the proper use and application of the concept. Now if you grasp the roots, the metaphysical and epistemological roots of the contextual nature of knowledge, we can go on and put this last point more broadly as a general rule. The first practical consequence I want to mention is the fact that knowledge is contextual. That is, never drop context.

In regard to any concept, idea, proposal, theory, idem of knowledge, never forget or ignore the context on which it depends and which it conditions its validity and use. If you do, you have committed a fundamental perversion of the cognitive process. Whenever you tear an idea from its context and treat it as though it's a self-sufficient, independent entity, you invalidate the entire thought process involved. If you omit the context, or even a crucial aspect of it, then no matter what you say, it won't stand or be valid. Out of context anyone can establish anything, just as out of context anyone can quote anybody to mean anything. For instance somebody argues, oil is too costly, price controls would lower the cost, therefore let's impose controls. Now here the person focuses on certain elements out of context, as though price controls will have no other effect or significance besides the one aspect he chose to consider, namely that the legal price of oil will be reduced.

Now in fact of course, control will have countless other effects. It will dry up the supply of oil for instance which will no longer be profitable to produce. It will cause shortages and a black market, and therefore a rise in prices. It will necessitate further controls, etcetera. If the initial goal was to make oil available for the poor, this policy will achieve the exact opposite.

And as far as wider issues are concerned, if you study the question, you'll see that price controls violate every proper principle of politics. and even wider of morality. You'll see, in other words, that economics, itself a whole subject, is part of a wider context defined by morality and politics. And that if you had taken this context under consideration these subjects, ethics and politics, would have told you that price controls are wrong and would not work. But a context dropper avoids and evades any wider context. He stares at only one element, and he thinks, I can change just this one point—the price of oil for instance—and everything else will remain the same. In fact everything is interconnected. That one element involves a whole context, and to assess the change of one element you must view what it means in the whole context.

Now we can put the same essential point—that is don't drop contexts—we can put it in a positive form. In regard to any new item of knowledge, or any new idea that you accept, you must work to integrate it into the full context of what you already know before you can regard the new claim as valid. You must establish the relationship of any new idea you accept to your previous context. You must integrate your knowledge into a total—a unified non-contradictory whole.

Now this process is essential if you are to follow the basic rule of logic, which is never endorse contradictions. How do you know if you are, or are not contradicting yourself in any given case? How do you know if some new idea that you hear, which may sound quite plausible, is, or is not consistent with what you already accept. Now since the crow epistemology principle is true, since our consciousness is limited and can hold only so much at any given time, we can't hold in the same frame of awareness all of the relevant context and the new item in question, so we must deliberately, systematically relate, integrate, connect the new item one step at a time to the previously known. We must check as a matter of policy for any possible contradiction. And if we find a conflict, we must eliminate it. If we find a conflict, then we have to ask, is the new idea true, or the old one we held? And we must decide on the basis of facts, logic, the weight of the evidence, and argue. Either in principle we will conclude that the new idea is right to which case we correct and adjust our old ideas accordingly. Or we find that the new idea is wrong, so we reject it and go back to our old knowledge and conclusions on the subject.

For instance, suppose a man accepts the ethics of altruism, and then hears about the Objectivist concept of rational selfishness, and says, that sounds like a good idea. I agree. Now in logic such a man cannot stop there, although there are many who do, but in logic he must make a far reaching decision—the new idea, or his old view, Objectivism or altruism—because the two are incompatible and contradictory to each other. He must consider what arguments, if any, did he have for the altruist view? What arguments are there for the Objectivist view? Which philosophy has the better case? And if he decides for the Objectivist view, he must conclude, I reject altruism—it was a error—and then proceed to uproot its various applications in his thinking.

Now by contrast, the opposite of the proper method would be the kind of altruist—and there is this type in existence, too—who claims to accept Objectivism, but makes no attempt at all to relate it to his previous views or to expunge contradictions, who leaves his entire altruist framework untouched and unchallenged, simultaneously claiming to accept Objectivism and selfishness. And if you ask him how he combines it all, typically he tosses it off with some casual remark to the affect that the thing he most wants to do selfishly is to sacrifice himself for others. Now this is a classic example of failing to integrate a new idea, and thereby accepting a crude contradiction.

Now the extreme form of the policy of non-integration is represented by the concrete bound mentality, the kind of man who establishes no connections of any kind. Everything to him is splintered, isolated, out of context. He may decide, for instance, on Monday that taxes are too high, on Tuesday that we need more government welfare services, on Wednesday that inflation must be stopped, and so on, without ever a thought to the effect that these points are interrelated, and that he is repeatedly contradicting himself. More government services, for instance, mean higher taxes and or inflation.  But to him, taxes is one subject, and welfare another, and inflation is another, and it is so many disintegrated, unrelated views. That's the worst on this point.

On a somewhat higher level, a man can practice the policy of integrating, but only within a certain square. An economist, for instance, might say, I'll connect the new idea within my field of economics, but as to politics and ethics that's out. That's not my concern. That's somebody else's territory. Now this type of non-integration we call compartmentalizing, or compartmentalization, by which we mean an improper form of cognitive specialization. It consists not just of specializing, but of regarding your specialty as a dissociated square or compartment without relation to the rest of human knowledge. Of course this policy is wrong for the very reason that all knowledge is interconnected. It's perfectly okay to specialize, but only so long as you do not treat your subject as though it exists in a vacuum. If you do this, you will end up holding contradictions between your subject and your views on other subjects. For instance, you'll be like those economists who simultaneously advocate free enterprise and Christianity.

Now if you ask me, well, what finally keeps the whole context of human knowledge. What is it that relates the humanities to each other and to the physical sciences, that keeps all human knowledge integrated and non-contradictory that makes sure that physics doesn't go off advocating causeless electrons, while psychology is busy preaching determinism etcetera.  That precisely is the role of philosophy. Philosophy is the science that deals with the widest abstractions, and therefore it is the ultimate integrator—the final keeper of the total context. An this, by the way is one of the crucial reasons why man needs a philosophy, precisely so that all of his knowledge will form one unified whole.

Now most people, of course, are not philosophical. And they do not systematically practice the policy of integration. The result is, that the more they advance, the more they open themselves to contradictions and incoherents. So that for them the widespread bromide becomes true. I mean the bromide—that you've undoubtedly heard—the more you learn, the less you know and the more unclear and confused you become—you've heard that.

By contrast however you will find, that if you want to integrate your knowledge in the proper fashion, you will never have to fear a new argument or a new discovery. Each new point that you hear, assimilate and connect. will mean that much more weight to your conclusions, that much more fact on your side, that much stronger and more impregnable a total case that you possess. You will find that the exact opposite of that bromide is true. You'll find that the more you learn, the greater is the clarity and conviction of your knowledge.

Now before we leave the issue of context, I want to point out a further aspect of the subject. The subject has implications in regard to asking questions. Well I want you to see if you can figure this particular application out, I'm going to give you until next time. I'll present the answer at the beginning of the question period next time, because since it pertains to questions perhaps it will help set the right terms for it.

There are still further aspects to the issue of knowledge as contextual, important points I have not yet even mentioned. So I merely want to alert you now, that next time we shall discuss some of these, including above all, the relation between contextual knowledge and absolute, between contextualism and certainty.

But what I want to do now in the time before the break is to indicate to you another aspect of the process of acquiring knowledge, an issue identified by Ayn Rand an extremely helpful in identifying man's mental processes and therefore yours. I mean what we call the spiral approach to knowledge—spiral. Now let's first take an example from where we are right now—that is the issue of contextualism. Obviously, I could have chosen any issue, but since that's where I happen to be, this one is as convenient as any other.

Now I want you to observe in pattern how I covered this issue of contextual knowledge. Last lecture, I introduced you to the subject in terms of its relation to definitions. This time we had a fuller discussion, growing out of and building on last time's material. And next time as we've said we'll come back to it again to see it in the issue of certainty and absolute. And latter in the course we'll return to it again in relation to ethics and the issue of ethical absolutes and so on.

Now you see the general pattern. Contextualism is one subject, one specific aspect of knowledge. But to present it to you, I don't present it all a one time, once and for all, ant then say, that's it, we're through with it, good bye. I couldn't present it this way . Why not? Because of. . . can you guess? Right. The crow epistemology. A teacher or lecturer has to follow the crow epistemology principle. He has to be conscious of how many units to give the students at a given time. And if he goes into too many ramifications, at a certain time the students cannot follow. You can only hold so many units at a time. The proper teacher therefore, has to take you in stages, let you absorb a certain amount, let you automatize it in your own mind, and this then frees you to absorb further material at a later time. In other words, I have to give you each time what you're prepared for—the right number of units. And then as your knowledge grows, we revisit the issue in a more complex perspective, go over the same subject again, but from new more advanced angles. We see new meanings in older points which are eliminated by our new context. In other words, if we traced our development on just this one topic, the topic of the contextual nature of knowledge, our development would not be a straight line, but the line going up to new material, coming back down to re-examine old material in relation to the new, going still higher to encompass new issues, then circling back down again to revisit older points in the new perspective. It would in short be—you see the pattern my hand is tracing—a spiral. We go over and over the same issues and topics, again and again, each time from a more complex perspective. That is what we mean by the spiral progression of knowledge.

You see it reflects in part the crow epistemology. We can take in so many aspects, so many units at a given time, and in part it reflects the contextual nature of knowledge. Each time we expand our context, we are able to see more significance in earlier knowledge, more connections. So we have to go back to the old knowledge to keep integrated with our new discoveries. Now this spiral pattern is the pattern for gaining all knowledge, not just for the proper method of teaching it, but for the acquisition of gaining new knowledge by anybody, with or without a teacher. We never simply finish with an issue once and for all, then drop it. No, we learn something about X, and then that along with other things we grasp, makes possible an advance to a higher level of knowledge, and then you come back to the earlier points and see them again in a fuller perspective with further ramifications, and so on in an ever ascending spiral.

In this regard there is an analogy between cognition and painting. You probably know that in regard to a portrait for instance, you can't finish one area, for instance the nose of a subject, all by itself without any indication of the rest of the face, or the surrounding background. In other words you can't do it out of context of the rest. You do a rough sketch of the face, say, then you go on and you come back to improve your first sketch by its relation to your later work, and you go on and you come back again, etcetera. The idea is keep your work integrated in each stage, and the mechanism is, each new stage helps you to improve your earlier work, and you keep coming back and going over the same part again. But you see, it's not useless repetition, you benefit each time from the later stages. You thereby learn things on the second go around that you could not have learned on the first.

Now if you grasp this pattern, this spiral pattern, you'll find it immensely helpful in understanding the proper development of knowledge, and in regard to your own development. The two big errors that the spiral approach rejects and combats are, one—omniscience, and two—compartmentalization. Now by omniscience here I mean the common assumption of many people, when they learn something about a given subject, now I'm finished with it. I'm omniscient about it. Now that is not true. To know everything there is to know about one subject, you would have to see it in relation to every other aspect of reality. In other words you would have to be literally omniscient about everything. So you have to abandon the idea of omniscience altogether, and instead accept the fact that you know what you know, and that each net step leads to still further ones, which in turn illuminate the earlier ones further and so on.

Now the second error rejected by the spiral method is compartmentalization. Every area of knowledge must be interconnected with every other. The essence of the spiral method is constant integration, each new discovery being systematically connected back to what one knew before. And then you go onward in a constantly ascending spiral.

Now the spiral issue may help explain to you a common experience. Then that you learn some subject or topic and think, I get it, I understand it, and then months or years later you happen to return to it again, and you suddenly think, now I really get it. And perhaps you return later, and you say, now I really see it. It's a very common experience, and the fact is you really got it the first time, but you got it in a more limited context. That later sense of now I really see it, meant only that you were incorporating the point into a wider context. And this kind of progress we all can and must make constantly. No knowledge is frozen. At each step we open up a new domain, which illuminates the earlier step and on in a spiral progression. Did you get it? Or you will in a month when you spiral down to it again.

Meanwhile this is the perfect transition to the next point. Knowledge must be acquired in a certain order, in certain steps, in other words that knowledge is hierarchical, which we will turn to after the break.

4. Conceptual knowledge as hierarchical

All right now ladies and gentlemen, lets now turn to for the remainder of this evening to the hierarchical nature of knowledge, and to some of its more important implications.

First, what is the meaning of the statement that knowledge is hierarchical? Broadly speaking it means that the acquisition of human knowledge necessarily follows a certain progression. Knowledge must be acquired in a specific order, certain steps being the basis of the next step. New knowledge at each stage is made possible only by the knowledge earlier acquired. Complex conclusions depend on and presuppose simpler beginnings. In other words, human knowledge is not a grab bag of discrete items, any one of which could have been conceived or validated randomly. Knowledge has a hierarchical structure, we say, a logically necessary order of dependents. Each level resting on the earlier ones all of the way back to the foundation of the structure, the self-evident, in other words, the perceptual level, the direct evidence of the senses.

Starting from such evidence, we move systematically further away from the self-evident. We form simple concepts based on what we perceive, like the concepts of table or chair, and then by extensive integration, extractions, discoveries, we form a complexity of higher level concepts and conclusions, each level resting on its predecessors, each made possible by the knowledge earlier acquired. Some obvious examples: a child must learn arithmetic before he can learn calculus, he must learn that there are physical objects with various properties before he can rise to grasp the atomic theory. He must learn how to combine words into sentences before he can understand how to develop a sophisticated literary style. In a word, kindergarten must precede high school, which must precede university. The simpler, in other words the closer to the self-evident, comes first, and that becomes the basis for the more complex, the less obvious, the farther removed from the directly perceptual. And this principle holds no merely for a child learning knowledge already won by adults, but for all new discoveries that men make, and all new knowledge that they acquire. An example from science: Tycho Brahe, centuries ago made certain measurements in regard to planetary motion. And that made possible Kepler's discovery of various laws of planetary motion, and that along with other knowledge made possible Newton's discovery of general laws of motion, and that opened the road for Einstein's discoveries, etcetera.

In this regard as an analogy, you can compare knowledge to a skyscraper. Each story rests on the preceding one, and ultimately on the foundation. If you consider the fortieth floor, for instance, you couldn't have erected or reached it except by building the first thirty-nine. And if you obliterate them, the fortieth won't stand, it will crash in ruins. This is as against the people who say, the fortieth story is here, what do we need the first thirty-nine for any longer. It's a type of mentality we're going to discuss shortly.

Now what are the roots of the hierarchical nature of knowledge? What are the facts that give rise to this. Partly it is again, crow epistemology, the issue of unit reduction. You can't grasp or hold everything at once. You can only take in and deal with so much at a time. So gaining knowledge has to be a progression across time, made up of discrete steps. More directly, however, the source is the fact that human knowledge begins with sense perception, and that items of knowledge vary according to their distance from the perceptual level. Some items of information re more available to human senses. They are in that respect, earlier, while in other cases the item is more distant from the sensory start. It is less immediately available to man, It requires a chain of intermediaries to bring us to the position where we can grasp it.

Observe, therefore, that the issue of hierarchy is primarily an epistemological issue, not a metaphysical one. In reality, all facts are simultaneous. The facts discovered by Einstein for instance, are not later in reality than the facts discovered by Newton. The facts involved are simultaneous. But a hierarchy and an order exist from man's perspective, because man cannot get to know all facts with the same directness and ease.

Now what is the practical significance of the fact of knowledge as hierarchical? What epistemological responsibility does it impose on us? Before you move from one level of the structure to a higher one you must be sure that the relevant earlier levels are fully clear to you first hand, that you know and keep in mind the full context of these earlier levels. Now this is particularly important when you consider that we learn so much of our knowledge from others. The point here is, even so, you must understand the steps involved yourself, first-hand.

There's a tendency on the part of many people to simply imitate others, without understanding, enough to allow oneself to jump to higher levels of the structure, when the proper base has not been laid in one's own mind, when one doesn't grasp first-hand the lower levels, definitions, knowledge. Well, to the extent that you do this, the higher level conclusions are not knowledge, but chaos. You have broken the chain to reality. You are building confusion on confusion, instead of knowledge on knowledge, and your structure is floating in air detached from facts and existence.

The test—the test of whether your knowledge is in such a state or not is this: can you reduce—can you reduce your higher level content back down to its perceptual base? Can you point out the facts in reality, which step by step gave rise to the higher level? Can you identify the essential intermediate level connecting a higher level item to back to the facts you directly perceive? Now most people cannot do it. They do not grasp the connection between their higher level content and the facts of reality, because the connection for man is through a complex hierarchical structure, and most people do not no how to travel down that structure. The result is that their alleged knowledge is severed from reality.

In order for your advanced knowledge to remain tied to reality, the crucial requirement is that your higher level concepts be tied to reality. In other words, that you be able to reduce your concepts. So I want to discuss the reduction of concepts to perceptual level. How to do it. This will help clarify the issue of the hierarchical nature of knowledge, and it will give you at least an idea of the method of keeping the higher level connected to reality, so that you never allow a break in the chain between direct observation and your most advanced knowledge. The validity of all higher level concepts, the only way they can have an unmistakable tie to reality, depends on your ability to reduce them step by step back to first level concepts, which rest themselves on direct perceptual evidence.

Now by a first level concept here, we mean one that can be formed directly from perceptual evidence, in contrast to a concept which depends on earlier concepts in order to be formed or grasped. A first level concept means the kind of concept that is within the discriminatory range of human beings without any earlier conceptual knowledge. The kind of concept directly available to human consciousness from observation, for instance table, the concept table as against the concept furniture. You could not form the concept furniture directly from perceptual observation. That concept subsumes too large, too varied, too complex a range of data. We couldn't reach or assimilate such a complexity without first observing and conceptualizing the obvious similarities and differences, the kind that's made up of bed, table and so on. This is the kind of fact, which to a human consciousness is directly accessible. The concept furniture then becomes possible as a later development and integration.

And the same, by the way, is true in the other direction.  You couldn't for instance conceptualize dining table first before you had the concept table, because this would require a more advanced knowledge, a knowledge of table and of various human actions and purposes. And that's more complex to grasp than a simple shape, which is table. You get the idea, there is a logical hierarchy. Certain abstractions are abstractions from abstractions. They depend on other concepts in a certain sequence of steps.

Reduction, as we're using that now, reduction consists of moving backwards, of starting with a complex we already have and traversing the steps in the reverse order we initially took them until we end, ultimately, in perceptual data. For instance, a very simple example, if you want to connect the concept furniture to reality, you would have to reduce it through an intermediate level. You could not simply point to furniture. To someone who does not know the concept, such pointing wouldn't make it clear. He'd say in effect, well I see table, chair or bed, etcetera, but where's the furniture? You can't point in that sense, directly, to furniture, only to table, chair and so on. Furniture is a higher integration concept and as such, it is one step further removed from perceptual reality, than any of its constituents.

How then would you make clear its tie to reality, its basis in reality? You'd have to say in pattern, furniture is a concept which stand for objects of a certain size and function,  in a human habitation, such as a bed, a table etcetera. And by bed I mean—and then you point to an individual bed, and by table I mean—and the you point to that. This is the pattern of reducing higher level concepts. You have to reduce the concept to its constituents, and there to their constituents, for as many levels as are applicable, until you finally reach first level concepts and you directly point and say, and by this I mean. . .and you point it out.  

Now I want to work out an example of a reduction on a more complex case. Let's take the concept friend. Now this is many levels higher than furniture. It depends on a whole series of earlier concepts. And I'm not now going to reduce it all the way down to the perceptual level, just enough to illustrate its dependence on a number of earlier levels.

You'll see that throughout the process, it keeps asking what depends on what? What did I have to know in order to grasp it. Can I omit this step and still get to the next one, or is this step indispensible?

Observe to begin that a baby or an animal could perceive two friends, could watch them spending time together, going places together, etcetera. And yet from that not reach the faintest idea of the concept friendship. The baby or the animal could see the people and their actions, but the friendship would entirely elude them. Why? Because to grasp such a relationship you'd need level after level of a complex conceptual structure.

Now I personally find it helpful to imagine trying to explain a concept when I'm trying to reduce it, to a pet, for instance my cat. I find it not helpful to imagine explaining it to a child, because he may already have some concepts. You're not sure what he already knows, but a cat is a pure perceptual level case. He can be alert, he can be bright, but you're sure he knows nothing conceptual. I you can explain a concept in pattern to him, you've definitely reduced it back to the perceptual level. Now I mean it to say, that this is merely a pedagogical device. I obviously can't communicate a conceptual content to a cat. This is merely a way of forcing myself to make explicit, what I might otherwise slide over or take for granted.

So, I want you to imagine that you had an alert cat, and you wanted to communicate to him the concept friend. Now how in general pattern would you do it.? Now we're going to reduce the concept friend, for a cat. You have to begin with a definition. A friend designates a certain kind of human relationship as against an acquaintance, a stranger, and enemy; a relationship involving mutual knowledge and personal affection or liking. Now right away, you can see that this presupposes many earlier concepts, including man, knowledge, relationship, etcetera. But let's focus on the central one here, affection, the concept of personal affection. What does this depend on? How would explain to the cat, the concept of personal affection or liking? Well, it designates a certain kind of emotion. So, he'd have to know that concept. But, what kind of emotion?

A positive emotional response, each to the other, a response based on common values. A response in which each perceives certain character traits in the other, certain virtues, and estimates them as a value, and thus responds positively.

Now your cat would say, if he could speak, well to grasp personal affection then, I have to know what you mean by character traits, virtue, value. And now you would have to reduce this, and now you see you're into the whole field of ethics. And you see it was necessary for you to have grasped all of this earlier in some terms, in order to grasp such a concept as personal affection, in order to grasp such a relationship such as friend.

And now let's continue to take one more step. Let's take the concept value. How would you reduce it? Value is that which one acts to gain and, or keep. What then are the roots of the concept? What earlier concepts does it presuppose? Well, among other things, you must have grasped the fact of his being capable of purposeful action—in other words, the concept purpose, and also the concept choice—in other words, the power of selection among various goals, which is, it makes possible and necessary for us to estimate various goals and actions as good or evil, in other words the concept, value.

Now I'm not going to continue with friend, although we're not yet at the perceptual level, but you see that we're getting closer and closer by the time we reach such concepts as purpose and choice.  Now look at what in essential terms we've done. We've revealed a whole logical chain, friend, a certain kind of relationship, which presupposes the concept affection, which depends on the concept value, which presupposes such concepts as purpose and choice and so on. You can envision it as a series of roots going ultimately into the soil of the directly observable. Either the sensory perceptual, and, or, as in this case it involves the concept consciousness,, it goes into the directly observable introspectively.

Now when we have traversed this case and made it clear to the cat and now you point to two men spending time together, going places together, etcetera and say friend, now your cat can grasp it, because now you've revealed the chain involved. Now he has the knowledge to understand what you mean to indicate, what aspect in reality you're trying to isolate and designate. Now when you point to friends he gets the idea. He grasped and effectively took that whole thing and condensed it into one sentence. He grasped in effect, men have to choose among various goals, by means of their values, which generate certain kinds of characteristics and mutual estimates, which leads to certain feelings and the base for a certain kind of relationship—assuming of course that he could form and retain all of these intermediate concepts—but you do, you see, assuming that you use the term friend meaningfully.

Now this is just a rough sketch to indicate the pattern, but even on this highly abbreviated example you can see the great advantage of conceptual reduction, to your own mental clarity, to your ability to understand the concept and to use it correctly, and to detect fallacies and errors in other peoples use of it, hopefully not your own, that is that you don't commit them. For example, if someone were to say to you now, the following, man is determined, we're all puppets, choice is a myth. no one can help anything he does, so we should be friendly to each other. Now assuming that the reduction was actually clear, your immediate response would be friendly? Where did you get that term, brother? (That's paraphrasing, Galt.) Friendship you would say, rests on among other roots the concept of choice. If determinism is true, and choice is an invalid concept, then there can be no moral value, no affection, no friendship. You see by knowing clearly the roots of the concept, you're able to spot an improper use immediately. Your concept is fully tied to reality. The chain between the concept and the facts, which underlie and give rise to it, is unbreached.

Or, the man tells you, I disagree with your ideas, I regard your values as improper, I disapprove of your actions, your choices, your purposes, but we're friends because I like you just the same. If a man told you that—and that's not as uncommon as you might think, for instance among relatives—you would immediately answer, affection?

Liking involves a response to a value. If you disapprove of everything about me, how can you like me? What do you like me for? What meaning does friendship have to you?

You see again an example of his using the concept friend while breaching its tie to reality, disregarding one of its central roots. And you see, by knowing the reduction of the concept, you can spot the error without difficulty.

Now errors such as these are extremely common. The reason is that most people have no idea that concepts have roots. They treat every concept as a primary, as a first level concept, as ostensive, as dependent on nothing else. Which means they tear concepts from any place in a hierarchy and they thereby detach them from reality. And thereafter the concept use is subject to nothing except whim. There is no objective guideline in such a case and the result is confusion, senselessness, meaningless, blatant contradiction. Now you see the value of being able to reduce one's concepts, at least in pattern. What this kind of reduction does, it completes the job of definition.

You recall we said last time, the purpose of a definition is to keep a concept connected to reality, to specific concretes. A definition however, is formulated in terms of other concepts, and these must themselves be clear. They must themselves be connected to reality. Otherwise you merely substitute a string of unclear concepts for the original and the definition is useless. What reduction does is to take you from the definition step by step back to reality, ensuring that the constituents of your definitions are themselves defined and clear. For this reason the final decisive check on the clarity of your concepts is your ability to reduce them back to their base in reality.

Now this does not mean that you must sit down and start reducing every complex you hold. That would be out of the question, impossible.  What I suggest is, do it when you use some fundamental, important concept, and you sense in your mind that you are not clear about it, particularly if it's a controversial philosophic concept and a great deal of your thought and action is based on it. In that kind of case, it becomes important that you are able to reduce the concept, and thereby ensure that it is fully clear in your own mind.

Now when you try this—I want to add—do it only in essential terms. I want to stress this. You cannot hope to work backwards through every subdivision of every level from a concept to its ultimate perceptual roots. That would take months and conceivably years, full time to do so, and there's nothing to be gained by going into that kind of detail. What you need is to take just the essentials, the key intermediate concepts on the pattern that we did on the regard to friend, so you get the main line of development and dependents in order. And then as and when it should ever be necessary, you can fill in lesser stages and details.

Remember, also, if you do this, that there are options in the order in which we learn certain concepts. Only the essential structure is logically necessary. For instance, you can't grasp friend without having first grasped value. But whether you grasp for instance, virtue before or after value, there's a certain latitude and option. And this is another reason to stick to essentials. If you do, you won't be tempted to confuse personal options with logical necessity. Logical hierarchy applies where there is no option, where a given stage cannot progress without a certain prerequisite.

So you don't have to be an expert to reduce your concepts. Just take the crucial ones and identify the structure, and I think you'll be surprised how clarifying it is once you get the hang of it.

5. Stolen concepts and other hierarchy violations

Now in conclusion this evening I want to name various consequences of the fact that knowledge is hierarchical. Specifically, I want to mention various fallacies and errors that come from a failure to grasp or properly apply the hierarchical structure of concepts or of knowledge. First I want to mention is a crucial fallacy identified by Miss Rand, a fallacy of stolen concept. This is the fallacy of using a higher level concept while ignoring or denying the validity of its genetic roots. In other words, ignoring or denying one or more of the earlier concepts on which it logically, hierarchically depends. Now this fallacy, the commission of this fallacy represents the mentality who wants the fortieth floor of a skyscraper while scorning the first thirty-nine. His attitude is, the fortieth is here, who cares where it came from. Now Ayn Rand calls this the stolen concept, because the person committing it has no logical right to the concept in question. Since he denies its roots that concept to him is impossible. What he is actually doing is seizing something created and made possible by others, by the fact that they observed the hierarchical structure involved. You see the parallel to seizing wealth created by others to which one has no right.

Now I have actually given you many examples in this course of this fallacy, though I haven't identified it by name. For instance the determinist we just mentioned who denies choice and yet uses the concept friend as a stolen concept, his use if friend. Now this fallacy is rampant, particularly among philosophers as they spew out their various attacks on logic, reason, and reality. In each case to unmask the error, you have to ask, how would I grasp such and such a concept. What does it presuppose? Take in pattern such a claim as, logic is arbitrary. Now how do you grasp the concept arbitrary? What is its presupposition? The concept arbitrary designates an idea accepted by whim or caprice, a baseless idea, one which is not supported by logic. Arbitrary, that concept is specifically formed as it contrasts the concept the logical. So first you have to grasp the logical and then you could grasp the idea of a departure from it, of coming to conclusions without reference to logic. In other words you could grasp the concept arbitrary. To say that logic itself is arbitrary is therefore is to deny the crucial root of arbitrary. It's to collapse the whole distinction between the logical and the arbitrary, thereby to make the concept arbitrary meaningless. In other words to turn it into a stolen concept. Now I refer you to the Objectivist literature and the later lectures of this course for many further examples of this fallacy. 

Before leaving the point, however, I want you to observe that a similar fallacy can be committed on a wider scale. You can accept a proposition, a theory, a whole science as or body of knowledge while denying or evading the knowledge on which it hierarchically depends, without of which it would not have been possible. In this kind of case you have in effect, not just a single stolen concept, but conceptual grand larceny. For instance such a claim as, the atomic theory in physics invalidates man's senses, which evades the fact that the conclusions of physics rest on the evidence of the senses. And then if the senses are invalid, all knowledge including physics is stolen and impossible. Or, the nominalists claim that concepts are baseless, and that they can give arguments to defend their viewpoint, evading the fact that if concepts are baseless, the nominalists can't use them to establish anything, including the claim that concepts are baseless. The nominalists steal the entire conceptual level. Now these cases are similar you see, to the stolen concept although they may involve more than a single concept, but the basic similarity is perverting the hierarchical structure of knowledge. Using the advanced to invalidate the simpler, the derivative to destroy the basic. In other words to destroy the roots on which the derivative depends.

Now while we're listing various conceptual errors, I want to comment briefly on a different kind of error from the stolen concept. I mean the issue of invalid concepts. A stolen concept is a concept which can be properly and validly used. In other word is you don't ignore or deny its roots, it is legitimate and meaningful. An invalid concept however, is a different thing. That's a concept, or alleged concept divorced by its nature from reality, a concept inherently based in error, contradiction, a falsehood, a concept, therefore, which denotes nothing in reality. For instance, words such as ghost, God, gremlin, telekinesis, devil, etcetera. Now any such concept—I'm quoting from Miss Rand:

"Any such concept invalidates every proposition or process of thought in which it is used as a cognitive assertion."

Notice the exactness of that formulation. It's alright to use fantasy concepts like fairies, for instance, in such activities as telling stories, so long as that is an avowed exercise of imagination and you intend no cognitive claim or assertion, thereby. Now if you ask, what is a test of an invalid concept, the answer in essence is, you can't reduce the concept to reality. You can't bring it back to the perceptual level. In other words, nothing in reality gave rise to the concept. I mention this, because you'll sometimes hear it said, there's a certain kind of mystic who specializes in this, that science and religion are the same because both refer to [quote] the unobservable. Now this mentality will say science talks about germs, atoms, x-rays. Religion talks about angels, God, Devil. Neither group is observable, so the two are in the same boat. That's the claim to fame of the Vienna Circle among other things.

Now the answer to that crude statement is that the concepts of science—assuming arrived at scientifically—are reducible to the perceptual level. You can point to the observational evidence, which gave rise to the concept of atom, x-ray, or whichever. You can outline the steps by which this evidence led to certain conclusions, which were then integrated into a new concept to designate a hither-to unknown entity. In the case of mystical concepts however, this is precisely what you cannot do. You cannot reduce God or Devil by any process to the perceptual level. In other words, you can't show any basis in reality for them. They are invalid.

Now before leaving invalid concepts, I want to mention one further type, defined by Miss Rand, and that is the modern anti-concept, such as isolationism, extremism, etcetera. Now the essence of these is not so much a specific error, as deliberate equivocation, for the purpose of obliterating some valid concept. These anti-concepts have no specific definition and are used by anyone to mean anything. And for examples for discussion, I want to refer you to a very important epistemological article of Miss Rand's, for those of you interested in the subject of the proper use of concepts. I mean the article, Extremism or the Art of Smearing, September 1964 issue of The Objectivist Newsletter. And I mention the topic here just to round out our coverage of invalid concepts, to refer you to that article. And I want to stress again, don't assume that because a word is widely used that it is a valid concept. It's not necessarily so.

Now in conclusion this evening, I want to introduce you to, what I call Rand's Razor. Now a razor in philosophy means a principle of slashes off or gets rid of something false, or useless, or harmful. For instance Ockham's Razor, you may have heard of, after a medieval philosopher and he became famous, immortal for declaring that entities are not to be multiplied beyond the seventies.

In Objectivism there are two principles actually that qualify as razors. One pertains to the formation of concepts. It states that concepts are not to be multiplied beyond necessity. This principle is discussed in The Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, and I'm not going to pursue it further here. But the other that I want to look at now, was identified by Miss Rand years ago and I've called it ever since I heard it, Rand's Razor. It's addressed primarily to anyone who enters the field of philosophy, and it states: name your four primaries. Name your starting point, and then defend the fact that what you name is in fact axiomatic—irreducible. In other words, don't plunge in to philosophize in mid stream. Don't begin with some higher level concept or issue which happens to interest you regardless of its roots or its presuppositions.  Remember that knowledge is hierarchical and that you must begin at the beginning and defend your starting point.

Now today among philosophers this point is thoroughly evaded. In fact this is true of every valid epistemological principle. It's not only evaded, it's actually completely reversed. In regard to the principle of contextual knowledge, for example, today's philosophers not only fail to integrate their knowledge into a unified whole, they actively crusade in favor of non-integration. They insist that every question is separate from every other, that philosophy is a series of what they call piecemeal analyses, and that the cardinal, horrendous sin is system building—in other words, integration. Well, similarly in regard to the principle that knowledge is hierarchical and that you must name your primary, today's philosophers are zeroes for the opposite viewpoint. There policy today is doubt the obvious and the basic while assuming as unquestionable the complex and derivative.

Now if you think I exaggerate, I quote you from a review in a philosophy journal this year of a recent book, which asks, and I quote:

"How can I be sure [now get this, this is treated seriously] how can I be sure that every time I believe something, such as that there are rocks, I am not deceived into so believing by a mad scientist, who by means of electrodes implanted in my brain, manipulates my beliefs."

Now observe the approach here. We cannot be sure that there are rocks. That's open to doubt. But what is unquestioned? What can we validly take as a starting point in order to discuss our doubt about rocks? There are scientists. There are electrodes. There are brains. Scientists can go mad. Electrodes can affect brains, etcetera, etcetera. All of that is in fact self-evident. That's a primary. How is it that we can know all of that and not know that there are rocks? No answer. The author of that book feels no need to face any such question at all. He feels free to jump in at whim, to take sophisticated knowledge as his starting point and use it to cast out on the direct evidence of our eyes. Now this is the perfect example of the kind of thing that has to be slashed off all together and that is what Rand's Razor is desperately needed for.

Now as a method of plunging in midstream, I should say, violates much more than just the hierarchical nature of knowledge. Actually this modern method denies any kind of structure or reason to knowledge. It means the establishment of the wonton, the arbitrary, of whim as the ruler of cognition, which means the destruction of cognition, which means an open assault against reality. So therefore, actually it is worse and more irrational—this modern approach—than merely an attack on the hierarchical structure of knowledge. But this later is one of the important technical elements involved, and that's why I chose to introduce you to the issue at this point.

Now you can see more fully why we cannot begin philosophy with politics, or even with ethics. We cannot plunge in, as some of today's conservatives do with property rights as the primary and proceed from there, because property rights are not a primary. You cannot start a philosophy there. If you try to, you merely make your philosophy invalid and arbitrary. Property rights in pattern—now I'm not going to the whole twelve lectures—in pattern depend on the right to life, which depends on the moral value of life, which requires a method of establishing objective moral values, which requires a method of establishing objective knowledge, which depends on the right view of the relation of man's mind to reality, in other words of consciousness to existence. Now that is where you have to start, and then when you get to property rights you see fully what the issue depends on, what its roots are, and you can validate your conclusion.

Now the policy of name your primaries—Rand's Razor—is the exact opposite of a line I once heard a follower of general semantics say to Miss Rand. He said it openly as though it were incontestable. She had asked him after some fruitless discussion—this was decades ago—where he started philosophically, and his answer was, I start where the last generation left off. Now that is what a philosopher cannot do. That is precisely the policy that perpetuates errors, from century to century, so that instead of progress, philosophy gets more confused and problem laden as it's developed. Each thinker builds on the errors of his predecessors, and we get a hierarchy of errors, each addition an attempt to patch up the unpatchable errors from the preceding generation. Here is where Hugh Acton's advice of check your premises is absolutely right. Check your premises, see what they depend on, and what that depends on, right back until you can see clearly what is the root of it all. And if your philosophy is correct, that fundamental root should be the axiom with which we started—existence exists. Thank you.

6. Question period

All right ladies and gentlemen, I want to begin the question period by answering some questions that were left from last time. Well first, in regard to the question of implicit knowledge, well this is coming in about 15 or 20 minutes.

Q.  I've been asked to elaborate on, in what sense is conceptual knowledge implicit on the perceptual level.

A. So let me clarify that for you. In the strict literal sense, an implicit concept means that you grasp the constituents of the concept, the data that are later to be integrated by the concept. You actually have the information that will later be made explicit in the concept, but you haven't identified this information explicitly. You do have it however, when we speak of an implicit concept. Now looking back from the perspective of a more advanced knowledge you can see that you know the data at the time, although in unconceptualized form. For instance take the axiomatic concept existence. Everything there is to discover about what is meant by existence is contained in the first awareness. Of course you have to go through a whole complex development before you can do anything with or identify this knowledge. You have to reach the conceptual level. But the content of the context is given you in the first awareness. There is nothing more to add as an adult beyond look. That's what you mean to exist.

Now to take it more broadly. Implicit concepts are applicable beyond merely to axiomatic concepts. The issue here is this. When you form a concept, you do not leap from utter ignorance to complete knowledge with no intervening stages. There are not simply two states in regard to a concept—zero and then the full concept in a kind of a flash from the blue. Obviously you have to go through a process. Certain data are given you by the senses, for instance you think of it in terms of the concept table. A certain kind of grasp of the similarities and differences is required, which you have to have before you reach the explicit concept in order to get to that concept. You must have a kind of awareness of the data in the act of processing it before you complete the job.

Now this intermediate stage where you grasp the requisite similarities and differences by perception, but you haven't yet drawn the concept explicitly, qualifies also, as an implicit concept, because you grasp the data at that point, but you haven't as yet identified it explicitly. So, in this regard you could say, that in forming any concept there is a certain point at which it is implicitly known as the transition from zero to the explicit.

This does not mean however, that every concept is implicit in the perceptual level. Well, for instance, take the concept friend from this evening. Now when you are on the perceptual level, just starting to form table and chairs, the concept friend is not yet even implicit. At that early stage, you don't even grasp in any form the data of the concept. You don't even know anything yet about human relationships, values, etcetera. So in that sense the concept friend is not implicit in perception. And a similar point would apply to all higher level concepts. You have to go through various levels of processing concepts before you reach the kind of knowledge these higher level concepts include. Now of course you can say that the concept friend is made possible by perception. True, all concepts are made possible by perception. But if we're to speak strictly, the potentiality of acquiring knowledge is not the same thing as implicit knowledge.

Potential knowledge means all the knowledge you can ever acquire, which would include omniscience in effect, even if you don't actually possess it. But implicit knowledge is a much more specific concept. Implicit knowledge means actual knowledge, actual awareness, not merely the potentiality of acquiring it, actual awareness, but not actually identified. So in that sense, it is misleading to say then that all conceptual knowledge is implicit in sensations, or implicit in the perceptual level. That is too broad and generalized a use of the term implicit. Now, I in fact said that several times in Lecture 3 and I want to retract that usage now. It's not an exact statement. My literal meaning—for those who raised this question in Lecture 3—my literal meaning was: sensations are the base of knowledge. They are the foundation from which we derive all later knowledge. They are the raw data of knowledge, though they are not knowledge of course in the human sense—human knowledge being conceptual.

And the other point that I was stressing in Lecture 3 in this connection was, that the sensations we experience are not arbitrary products of consciousness. They are effects of the essential nature of the entities out there in reality. And, as such sensations are leads that will enable us to discover the entity's nature when we rise to the conceptual level. I hope that this issue is clear, now.

Now I am still getting a substantial number of questions on free will, and I have a few here that I will comment on briefly from last time.   

Q. If you recognize that there are gradations of mental focus, then what happens to your argument that one can't be motivated to choose motivation to focus, because motivation requires one to be in focus. Can't one be at an intermediate level of mental focus and be motivated by one's knowledge values and increase or decrease one's level of focus?

A. Now if you didn't get that question, that's okay, because you'll get my answer. It's a very, indeed, it's a complicated question, but the point I want to make at root is that this question implies that some special motivation, some special premise or value is required

for you to go from the intermediate focus either to go to full focus on the one hand or to go completely out of focus on the other. In other words some kind of value above the value of being conscious—as this person hypothesizes—some such value above the value of being conscious will induce you to give in and become conscious.

Now this is irrational on the face of it. No value can take precedence neither chronologically nor hierarchically over the value of being conscious. If you need a special incentive to be conscious, where do you stand in order to gain that incentive—in what universe, known to you by what means? You see it comes back to the issue that consciousness is an axiom. The commitment to perceive, to know, to be in focus logically has to precede every kind of value, because without it the values you form have no connection to cognition or reality, which means they are a delusion. The choice to focus—I'll say it again—is a primary. There are consequences of the choice once you make it, consequences either way. For instance you can feel pleased if you focus and you see what you are achieving. Now those are effects. They are not causes and they are not motives. Why you do either, that basic first act to focus or not is a primary. That is the last time in this course that I will raise that issue. No matter how many times you need it, I will reassert what I said. Except that I'm not going to reassert it now, so don't ask it again, because I get that from the same couple of people over and over.

Q. {Now one other on free will from last time, which again I got in a variety of forms.} Please clarify the relationship between the primary choice to focus and the higher level choices, for instance, what to think about, what to do if you are stymied. Are the primary higher level choices separate in any sense? [That's the end of the question. The person actually asks more, but it just gets more confused, so I'm taking just that much.

A. Now the answer is the choice to focus always has a content of some kind. It has to be expressed on some specific problem or decision. It has to be in cognition or in regard to action or whatever. This however does not mean that the choice to focus on the higher level choices are the same thing. The two are separate in a very important sense.  It's the distinction between a basic faculty and the particular use of that faculty. And again, eyesight is an instructive parallel.

Your eyesight is your faculty of vision. Can you exercise your eyesight without seeing particular things in a particular fashion? Obviously, not. You have to look at A or B or whatever and you have to see it carefully, or skim or blur. It has to be some form. Does this mean that your eyesight is exhausted by the things you are seeing? Obviously, not. If someone says, is eyesight and seeing particular things, separate in any sense? Well, certainly. Eyesight as such is a faculty with no limits potentially to what you could see with it. Now the same is applicable on the choice to focus in relation to the higher level choices. The choice to focus is an attribute of potentiality of your consciousness. It can only be exercised on some kind of object, but it is not exhausted by any specific exercise of it. So in that sense, yes, that choice to focus is separate from all the derivative choices.

Q. {Now this same point that you grasp will answer the question that I got in various forms.] Is the choice to focus, your only choice, or not?

A. And the answer is, find your context. The choice to focus is the only choice psychologically in terms of the mechanics of what you do with your consciousness. As Galt said, that's your only will, your only freedom. But the choice to focus must have a content. If you remember what you're talking about. And in this sense we make countless choices, speaking now of the content issues which confront you. You choose a career or a wife or to think about a certain subject or whichever. You make all these choices by the conscious decision or not, so in that sense all these other choices are derivatives controlled by the basic choice to focus, or not. Now that's the last time I'm dealing with that issue. Because I regard that now as actually clear. In fact I think it was clear before, but now it should be doubly clear.

Now a few brief ones left from last time.

Q. What is the difference between the CCD and the genus of a concept?

A. Well you could ask equally what is the difference between the distinguishing characteristic when you form a concept and the differential. And the answer is your context. Every context, even a child in the very beginning requires that you grasp a distinguishing characteristic in some form, the CCD, which is common to the character, the thing being conceptualized that you're relating to. In that sense, you have to grasp a distinguishing characteristic. This does not mean however that you are able to conceptualize it at that stage. A child forming the concept table, in the beginning cannot say, a table is a manmade object with a flat level surface and supports. Obviously, not, if he's just learning his first word. At that stage he grasps visually in the form of a little visual image , a simplified shape of table. It grasps the distinguishing characteristics, but when would we call that a differentia, when it reaches the adult stage and has explicit concepts and it can now identify that distinguishing characteristic as part of a formal, conceptual explicit definition. Then we say the distinguishing characteristic is a differentia and the same for CCD in relation to genus.

Q. Can you distinguish between the essential characteristic and the distinguishing characteristic? [This is another question.]

A. Yes, the distinguishing characteristic is only part of the essential characteristic. The essential characteristic is what is included in the definition. As we said last time, that is the genus and the differentia.

Q. Argument over definitions, especially at the more abstract level, seems to be about what the units will subsume, rather than what are the essential or defining characteristics of the units. How are such disputes to be resolved?

A. To begin with, I actually deny the premise of this question. In years of observing and taking part in intellectual discussions, it is almost impossible for me to remember a single case where the dispute about a definition actually was a disagreement about which external reference that this thing was being used for. It sometimes for superficial people seize that, that the nature of the dispute as simply what object is the term going to stand for. For instance, I've heard people say, well, you can't argue with a communist about the meaning of the concept freedom, because he uses it to stand for different concretes. He uses free to stand for the people in Russia and we use it to stand for the people in America, and therefore it's really two different concepts standing arbitrarily for two different sets of groups and therefore it's all semantics. Now that is obviously ridiculous.

When a communist and a pro-capitalist disagree over the application of freedom they are not disputing, the way he puts it—what units the word will subsume—they are disputing an entire philosophy, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and all of that controls their concept of freedom and therefore this application. You will find, if my experience is any test, ninety-nine times out of a hundred or even more, the dispute isn't semantics, but content is philosophical. Now in the rare case, if you can find one, where actually people differ strictly over what the word stands for—for instance one guy thinks the word trunk is using it to stand for what you take to Grand Central Station, and the other guy is busy arguing with him while using it to mean what comes off an elephant's face—if you could find such a case among people who were not drunk. Then I would say there is no philosophic means to resolve it. There is no need to resolve it, you simply make, identify you see, you say to your friend, we're not talking about the same thing, and you call it whatever you want. 

Q. I don't understand what is the metaphysical status of a concept. On the one hand since it results from mental processing it would seem to be something in each individual's mind. On the other hand you talk about the concept of man etcetera, including attributes which any specific individual might not know, [Then the question to which I wrote, so?]

A. I have to guess what the question is. Obviously, he or she thinks there is a conflict between these two facts. Now there is no such conflict. Yes, The concept results are mental processing and it is something in each individual's mind. It's a mental unit and mental integration and if you obliterated all people with their minds, you'd be finished with all concepts. What has this got to do with specific attributes that specific individuals might not know? A concept is a certain kind of integration, a kind which we saw last time is a the same for everyone who has it, and is independent of their detailed knowledge of the reference.

To grasp the concept you must know enough to grasp and distinguish a certain kind of entity, but the concept once it's formed—as I said last time—then denotes the entity, and from that point on, what you have in your mind as an integration, a file folder, is exactly what everyone else has in his mind who has it at all, and the only difference is the filling of the folder. So there's no inconsistence between it being only mental, only exists in the mind, and never-the-less we can talk perfectly objectively about what the concept can include, whether any individual knows it or not.

Now that concludes the questions left over from last time. Now I want to announce something new this evening. That is that last week's conversation with Miss Rand. She very generously consented to answer an occasional question at these lectures. Now that is conditional, obviously upon her being able to be here for on any given lecture and upon a question coming in that is of any interest to her. So, this is on a very informal basis. There are no promises for future lectures, however, there is a question that was submitted earlier this evening that Miss Rand has seen and has agreed to answer. So I would like to pause for a moment while Miss Rand comes to the podium, after which if there's time I will take some further questions that were submitted this week.

AR [applause] Thank you very much, but please don't do it too much, or I will change my mind. I really don't know what to do while I'm being applauded. I'm just standing and wasting time. Now I don't want to be ungracious, I really do appreciate it, and I appreciate very profoundly, but not too much of it.

Now this question is philosophical even though is seems to be political, as you will probably see. I'll read it, And pay close attention, please.

Q. If elected, Mr. Moynihan will vote for national health insurance the federalization    of welfare, national economic planning in the Humphrey-Hawkins Bill etcetera. Mr. Buckley will vote against these things. Granted that Mr. Buckley's philosophical base is odious and destructive, I do not understand what practical real world impact that philosophy could have or has had by Senator Buckley that would justify giving practical real world support to national health insurance, the federalization of welfare and national economic planning by voting for Mr. Moynihan. Could you comment on this please?

A. Yah. I can. First of all, I don't think it's an accident. The form of this question, it is not accidental. He is obviously a supporter or follower of Mr. Buckley and to him, philosophy does not have anything to do with the real world, which is very true. Mr. Buckley's philosophy has nothing to do with the real world, nor with practical life. It’s in another dimension and more than any other mystical philosophy it's one that from the rampage today and very anxious to take over the whole world.  It's a very dangerous, non-real philosophy.

If this questioner has followed Dr. Peikoff's course so far he should understand that philosophy as such is a practical matter. It is a philosophy that affects our lives and our future and our country's existence. The kind of little currant journalistic bills that he names here will have no effect whatever, or a very marginal effect. What will determine the effect all these things have and the future of the country is the philosophy of the voters and the people they elect. Now using the questioner's own method, he has listed here the things that Mr. Buckley will vote against. Well, national health insurance, federalization of welfare, national economic planning. Those are pretty bad things. One should not be for them. But the only truly dangerous is the national economic planning. That is really bad. On the other hand, let's take a look at Mr. Buckley's record.

Mr. Buckley is against abortion, and as you probably read what I said in my last speech at the Ford Hall Forum, anyone who is, who denies the right to abortion, can not be a defender of rights—period. It's more than that. It is not only that the man who denies the right to abortion, does not want to support rights. It's worse than that. It is the gratuitous, that no particular vested interest attitude behind such a policy that should make everyone of you ask yourself, what do the anti-abortionists really have in mind? Obviously what they have in mind is to enslave every human being who is alive enough to have some kind of sexual life to enslave him to procreation like the lowest kind of farm animal. Lower than that, because when farm animals are bred, the breeders at least take care of them, they are values, but here you make young people, people in love slaves to an involuntary procreation and you don't tell them what to do about it. You tell people to procreate families of twelve, fourteen children or more. How are they going to be supported? On welfare probably, but Mr. Buckley probably wouldn't say on welfare. He will probably say what the Pope declared in his encyclical on the subject, that we must in some way reform the world so that everybody will be taken care of somehow. But who will specifically take care of those unwanted children? And what becomes of the young parents, of their lives, their ambition, their future if they have to be held down to procreation. It is so cruel, so unspeakable an issue, that on that alone one can, and should turn against Mr. Buckley.

Now if you ask me, did Mr. Ford compromise on this issue, I will regretfully have to say, yes, shamefully. Never-the-less, we have no choice, Mr. what's his name, Carter. [laughter] I'm sorry, it wasn't intentional. Mr. Carter is not better. He is so dangerous a power-luster, that one would have to forgive or hope that in some way not carry out his mixed attitudes on the subject. It's very mixed because he is in effect recognizing the rights of states to pass judgment on what is a fundamental Constitutional right in fact. Just so you don't think I would be evading it, I'm fully aware, shamefully aware that Mr. Ford compromised on this issue.

But that isn't all in regard to Mr. Buckley. He is for ecology. He is an ecology lover, or whatever you call that. That's not the same thing as pollution, you know. He just wants to preserve nature. And, what is the basic premise of the ecology lovers? Well strangely enough it has something very fundamental in common with abortion, or the issue of forbidding abortion. Again, it is the issue of, hold people down. Tie them to physical labor. Eliminate industry. Eliminate labor saving devices. If you slow down industry, well it's too bad. If the standard of living therefore, will be slowed down or will drop. Well, that's too bad. We've got to preserve rose gardens. Again, anyone who is against industry is against man, against life, against reason. Now that's just two of Mr. Buckley's concrete things which he would vote against, ah, would vote on. And they are much worse than what Mr. Moynihan would do.

But there is a deeper issue here. The religionist conservatives are out to destroy the two party system in this country. They are out to destroy the Republican Party. Now the Republican Party like any defenders of free enterprise all over the world, although the trend may be changing, but let's say up to recent times, the Republican Party is very busy trying to commit suicide, as all conservatives have been They are their own worst destroyers besides and because they are unphilosophical. Because they don't know what to do in the real world since they don't have any philosophy to guide them. Therefore, the conservatives have decided to be Trojan Horses in the way the communists were against the Democratic Party in the thirties and early forties. But observe, the communists did not take over the Democratic Party. There are some pretty bad left liberal Democrats, but they are far from communist. The conservatives, however, really want to take over the Republican as the disgraceful attempt to elect Ronald Reagan, excuse me, nominate, showed it, and there were reports and articles from conservative authorities written openly, they want to destroy the Republican Party if Reagan could not be elected. That's what they want. Let the party collapse, and then they, G. D. conservatives will take over the Republican Party. I don't believe in indulging in swear words like our candidates seem to, at least one of them and one an official. But I can see why the temptation sometimes is irresistible. The conservatives will then take over the Republican Party and we will then just have liberals and conservatives, which will mean liberals and fascists. Because that is all the religious conservative group is. They are pure fascists. They are not even for free enterprise. They are for controls, and what's worse, they are always for spiritual, moral, intellectual controls. Oh, yes, they might leave you some freedom to work for a while. It's intellectual freedoms that they want to cut. They actually, many of them, advocate censorship. All the drive against dirty movies, bad as the movies are, you better leave them free because with the help of the conservatives, you'll have real serious censorship over literature and the movies. Now that is the choice between Mr. Buckley and Mr. Moynihan.

There's another thing. Moynihan is a liberal and a Democrat. If you are pro-capitalist, the Republican Party is more hopeful, not the conservatives, but the Republicans, are more hopeful or closer to that stand than the Democrats. If Moynihan votes improperly or makes a mess of himself, his is disgracing the opposition. He is not disgracing you. If Buckley does something wrong, he is disgracing capitalism. He is disgracing the idea of a free society or a free economy. Therefore, and "ally"—in quotes—who comes close to you, but starts from opposite premises is much more dangerous to you than a mild enemy. I would vote for a liberal over Buckley any time, because at best, Moynihan has a very good stand on foreign policy. He is outspoken. He is daring. And the worst you can say about him , he is a modern liberal. Well, there's a lot of them. He is not even a leftist liberal. The leftists apparently don't like him., if you follow their activities, which is in his favor.

Buckley is the Trojan Horse, out to destroy any hope that this country ever had of a return to freedom and actual capitalism, actual free enterprise. Therefore, what one would have to vote for, what I'm going to vote for, is not particularly for Mr. Moynihan, but against Buckley. We've got to get him out of there. Now I don't think, I know I couldn't have voted for Bella Abzug In that case it's better not to vote at all. But Moynihan is a semi-decent choice, let's say, and so much better than Mr. Buckley, that it's precisely in the real world where you have to look at things long range, which means philosophically that you have to get that conservative out of Washington. He got in by a fluke. Get him out of there by every legitimate means you can, and the only means you have is the ballot and therefore, please, in the name of philosophy in a real world, not the philosophy of religion and the hereafter, vote Buckley out. That is my suggestion, my advice philosophically.

L.P. I would like to just, again, thank Miss Rand, very much, and say that I found that fascinating and I'm sure that I speak for everyone when I thank you for your statement.

Now I have a number of questions that came in regard to this evening's lecture, and we have about fifteen minutes, so let's what I can do by way of making a start on these. This is a good question:

Q. Can you make the point that interest in philosophy can begin with ethics and politics as against philosophy beginning there.

A. And that is a perfectly legitimate point. In other words, someone could say, since I said that philosophy as systematically developed and proved, must begin with metaphysics and epistemology, as for instance this course. If you don't get to ethics until Lecture 7, you might conclude that chronologically in your development of your interest, you should begin at the age of ten for instance in metaphysics and epistemology, as your interest and only reach ethics in your twenties hierarchically. That is not true. It works quite the reverse. And this is again an example of the contextual nature of knowledge.

You have to discover as you are growing up within your framework and what is available to you, what issues are important. And normally a person becomes interested in philosophy through practical questions, whether questions of politics and or the questions of ethics. That is the first interest, because the first practical concern a person would have is, what to do, how to act, and therefore he would be attracted to—I'm talking about a decent type of person—to the value question within his context. Then if he pursues what those questions depend on—if he pursues the hierarchical structure of knowledge—he will see at a certain point, but I can't answer those questions unless I know something about the world and something about man. And he'll work his way backward until at a certain point he'll see the crucial thing he must know is, existence, consciousness, concepts, etcetera, and the value questions then become easy to answer. But that's something he has to learn, though I certainly agree with this questioner that interest in philosophy normally and properly go within a certain way in the opposite direction from philosophy, that is you start with the practical branches. You learn what they depend on, then you become interested in those questions because those questions are the base of the more practical questions.

That was certainly my own development. There was a time when I thought I didn't care about metaphysics; I just wanted to know how you should live. It was only when I discovered that you could not answer how you should life until you knew the nature of reality that I became interested in—I was going to say reality—but in philosophy.

Now these are not organized in any order but:

Q. In regard to the reduction of the concept friend, personal affection seems less abstract than value. How is value closer to perception than personal affection?

A. Oh, yes it is, because any emotion has to be based on a value response as we've seen. And the actual nature of the emotion—its definition, its nature could only be grasped by the kind of values involved. And therefore, if it's personal affection you have to note this is a response to characteristics in the other person that you value. How else would you grasp what personal affection is? So, first you have to grasp value. Only then can you grasp the certain kind of response to value which is personal affection. So it's not true, the premise of this question.

Now this one I answered last time, and this is the last time I'm going to answer this:

Q. If all knowledge is dependent on previous knowledge, how could one be born tabula rasa and get to know the first thing?

A. Obviously, I am not speaking of the first sensations that one has. The first sensations have no predecessors and no context. They're the base. They're what you start from. In the first sensation, you get the first material, and you get implicitly as you've seen, the axioms and that enables you to go on, and even there as you know, you automatically integrate the sensations into perceptions. The brain does that and you don't enter the picture as deliberate conscious presence until you reach the conceptual level. In that sense when I say knowledge and so on is contextual, I hope you keep the context that I have had a whole lecture on the senses, or a good part of one, and I remember all of that and I don't suddenly throw it all out and say, no, none of that exists and every, even the first sensation—you know, like there was no first physicist—there was no first sensation. Obviously that is not correct. Beyond that, I would just say, in the strict sense you can make a very powerful case that sensations are not knowledge. That is not for a human being. Sensations are awareness, but they are in that primitive state all you get is a flash of light and you know from nothing, you truly don't know anything except that you saw the flash. But to get from that to what we would call human knowledge—the sensation isn't even retained per say. You know that they say about salmon, they say that the salmon, if he swam past a picket fence, he would never grasp the picket fence because he can't retain from moment to moment and each new picket is a brand new experience, and he's like a tabula rasa salmon starting over again. He could retain nothing. Well, that's what a sensational stage is. You hold it for the duration of the stimulus and then it's gone. Now that, strictly speaking is not knowledge. It's not ignorance. But the best way to describe it is the material of knowledge, the data of what will become knowledge. When I therefore speak about knowledge being contextual I'm speaking in a human context.

Here's a common confusion, so I want to answer:

Q. How can you form the concept table directly from perceptual evidence. You need a knowledge of human purposes and actions to grasp table. It's not just an issue of shape.

A. Now you get the error of this question. The person thinks that the concept table to be grasped at all, you have to grasp it as a form conceptually identified. An object, type of furniture in a human habitation, with flat level surface for the purpose of supporting various objects. So, then he says, how can you get it directly from the perceptual level. Well, go one better. If that's what was required, how could you get any concept from the perceptual level? Any concept whatever which involves a definition, you'd have to know the terms and the definition before you could get the concept. You'd be in an impossible circle. You'd need the definition to get the concept, and the concept to get the content of the definition. You must start somewhere, and the answer to all this type of question is, knowledge is contextual, combined with it, we start with the evidence of the senses.

Knowledge is contextual means, your concept table at the beginning, you hold simply ostensively. All you grasp is the thing out there with this kind of shape—indicating a certain type of shape—as against a type of shape which might be a couch or bed, and this type, which would be a chair. That's it. At that point, does the child know that this is an object in a human habitation with certain purposes. Obviously not. He doesn't have any such concept. Doesn't he have the concept table? Yes. in his context. He knows a certain king of object which in his rudimentary way, he can distinguish from others. Even though at that stage he can only hold it visually, ostensively, without any definition. And he goes on, and he builds up more and more concepts and at a certain point, higher level ones, and then he starts to define concepts in terms of other concepts, and organize it all. But, you have to remember, the concepts go through various stages of development, that's the issue of the file folder. All you do at the start, is start the folder. You don't right off the bat fill it with adult knowledge. It's very important that you get that, otherwise, you'll never be able to see how concepts get started. You'll think you have to be omniscient to start.

Q. How would you answer the following argument against the objectivity of concepts. "If man did not exist, metaphysical entities would still have something in common, even without a human consciousness to identify them as such. Therefore, there must some basis for a Platonic or intrinsic status for concepts. The problem of universals, is not solved by objective approach."

A. Well, this is a complete switch. The argument here is, if there is something in common among particulars, if there is an actual factual basis for concepts, therefore they're intrinsic. And that is the whole fallacy that I was struggling to fight against tonight, and that the whole history of philosophy has been corrupting. The whole point I was making is that a factual basis does not mean an intrinsic entity, Platonic or Aristotelian. Because the factual basis means an entity with identity, which when regarded from a certain perspective by human beings, becomes a unit, is held in relation to other similar ones and gives rise to what we call a concept. If there were no human beings there would be entities. They would have the attributes they have, but there would be no "intrinsic" concepts. There would be no concepts, period, if there were no human beings. There would just be the entities, however they were. What makes, specifically a concept is perspective which integrates them into one unit. And that is the human contribution. It's obviously bases on fact, but the whole it's the union of consciousness and existence—the relationship between them, not simply out there independently.

Q. What is the validation of the proof of the crow epistemology? [I answered that.]  

A. The Law of Identity. Every consciousness is finite. Everything which exists, as we discussed is finite. It is what it is and only that. It could do what it could do and only that. Everything is specific and limited, including consciousness and therefore the number of units it can hold.

I'm trying to find one of general interest here. Well, all right. Let's untangle this one.

Q. Can a concept as such be right or wrong? If not, then if a person thinks, man is a conditioned animal, does that mean he does not have a concept of man, or does it mean he has an invalid concept of man?

A. Now let's try and define our terms. The concept can be valid or invalid. Then if you mean by that, right or wrong, then obviously, yes, and I covered that. A valid concept designates an entity or an extent which exists, which is out there in reality and you designate it. An invalid concept stands for a contradiction, or for something that doesn't exist.

Now if a person thinks that man is a conditioned animal—according to this one—does it mean that he has no concepts? Of course it doesn't mean that. He obviously has a concept of man. He grasps a certain kind of entity. Does it mean he has an invalid concept of man? Not necessarily. He has a concept of a certain kind of entity. He has made an error. And the error is , he has failed to identify the nature of the entity correctly. He has failed to grasp that the entity has free will, has the power of choice.

I assume that is what is meant by condition. So he has made a mistake about one of the

attributes of the entity. Now because that's a very crucial attribute, that's going to lead him to all kinds of confusions and errors and falsehoods and contradictions in his use of the concept in the conclusions that he comes to about man. But, strictly speaking he still has a concept of man with an error in his file folder, but he still has the folder. And if he were open to reason, you could say to him, look you're talking about that entity, man. You have a grasp of that man, only that entity, but you've made a mistake. And here's the mistake. And if he was open to reason, he'd take that piece out of his file folder and put in the correct information and integrate it appropriately, uproot the implications of his old error and he'd end up okay. In other words, not every error pertains actually to an entity which exists, and you actually, grasp in some terms that entity and distinguish it from the rest, you have to that extent, a concept of the entity. That doesn't mean that every piece of information you will necessarily come to is correct about the entity.

Well, this question amounts to:

Q. Couldn't someone have a concept of friend who doesn't have an explicit understanding of the dependence of his affection on the friend's possession of certain character traits?

A. Of course. You can have a concept of friend, or of anything, without understanding everything that it depends on. You have a concept to that extent, to the exact extent that you can distinguish one kind of relationship in this case from others. But in so far as you cannot grasp, you don't grasp what it depends on, your concept is a tenuous entity, because you won't know how to apply it. You won't know what it depends on, and you are ripe for all kinds of misuse and confusion. But obviously you have to first acquire  even higher level concepts, before you have the vocabulary explicitly to identify what concepts did they depend on. You have to start somewhere and develop contextually. And therefore, you certainly can, at a certain point of development, have a concept which depends on earlier ones without you yet having reached the stage of sophistication where you can identify all the steps on which your concept depends. In some terms you have to grasp—just to clarify—in some terms you have to grasp the lower level concepts if they in fact are the prerequisites of the higher level one. But you don't have to explicitly or philosophically be able to give a speech on how you did it in order literally to have the concept. Although if you would give such a speech, you're much better off in regard to your use of the concept and the conclusions that you are going to come.

And one last one.

Q. What are the [I can't read the word.] something of rough similarity, which would have to be crossed [I guess bounds of rough similarity] which would have to be crossed by a nominalist for him to consider the entities subsumed, when he forms concepts to be incommensurable? [I think the next sentence makes it clearer.] Do nominalists have general rules so that it is not a free for all, and how do they attempt to validate those rules, that is, where do you draw the line if you are a nominalist?

A. Well, the less wild the nominalist, as the working rule, if it's convenient to put certain concretes together. Do it. It is not wrong to include roast chicken and peas with humans under the same name, but it's inconvenient. It's impractical. And therefore, normally they say don't do it. If you ask them to explain, why are certain groupings convenient and others not. Why do some groupings work and others don't. Well, that's where pragmatism comes in, and this is actually the source of pragmatism in the theory of concepts. They take, and the fact that a concept works as a primary. They say—I've had them say to me—you have to start somewhere. And we start with the fact that certain concepts seem to work. Why? We don't know. You can't go back forever.

Now this is a perfect example of the primacy of consciousness. You have to start with the fact of consciousness. A certain grouping satisfies consciousness. Why? Who knows. You have to start somewhere. Now, if you try to speak to such a person, if you could communicate the primacy of existence, you'd blast the whole structure. But of course with this mentality, you never would communicate it, because he invalidates all concepts at the outset, including his own, and any that you use to speak to him. But, to answer the question, he will say convenient pragmatism, it works without any explanation.

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