History of Philosophy – Lesson 8: Socrates and the Problem of Universals

“A dog, for instance, likes a bone; he likes a number of bones. Now the question is: Why doesn’t it occur to him to start a bone store, or to start a science of bones, boneology, and find out where do bones come from and how do you get them? And the trouble is the poor dog can’t get the idea of boneness, you see; he gets this bone, and then the next one, he forgot the first one, and then the next one, and so on. And so his problem is he’s enmeshed in particulars and he can’t rise to universals.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “History of Philosophy” course, ARI, Lesson 8.
(The “Universal Man”, by Gerald Gladstone. Socrates was probably not thinking of that when looking for a proper abstraction of man, but I guess it’s a nice mnemonic for the topic of universals. Original source: SimonP; CC BY-SA 3.0 / Desaturated from original)

It is almost impossible to exaggerate the influence of Socrates in the history of thought. He taught Plato, who taught Aristotle; only that would show his importance, but, of course, he did much more. Most of what we know about Socrates, however, is through Plato’s dialogues, so the truth is we do not know much about him. Scholars tend to agree that the first dialogues represent mainly the historical Socrates, while the middle and the final dialogues represent Plato himself. Be that as it may, as a fictional character, a true philosopher, or just a man of character, Socrates has been teaching all of mankind for millennia. “The unexamined life is not worth living.” This could be considered his motto; today it is mine.

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O.P.A.R. – Commentary: Definitions and Kant’s Analytic-Synthetic Mess

“As an aid to the conceptualizing process, men select from the total content of the concept a few characteristics; they select the ones that best condense and differentiate that content at a given stage of human development. Such a selection in no way shrinks the concept’s content; on the contrary, it presupposes the richness of the concept. It presupposes that the concept is an integration of units, including all their features.”
Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, pages 102-103.
(There is a lot that is wrong in Kant’s conclusion that “There must exist synthetic a priori judgements.”, but the “synthetic” part of it is due to a faulty theory of concepts, one that conflates a concept’s definition with its content.)

I don’t partake of Ayn Rand’s (and Leonard Peikoff’s) animosity toward Kant. Yet his theory makes no sense at all to me.

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O.P.A.R. – Chapter 3: Concept-Formation

“The experiment was an attempt to discover the ability of birds to deal with numbers. When crows were gathered in a clearing in some woods, one man entered the clearing and walked on into the woods. As soon as he appeared, the crows hid in the treetops; they would not come out until the man returned and left the area. Then three men entered; again the crows hid. This time only two of the men left, and the crows did not come out; they knew that one still remained. But when five men came and then four left, the crows came out, apparently confident that the danger was now over. These birds, it seems, could discriminate and deal with only three units; beyond that, the units blurred or merged in their consciousness. The crow arithmetic, in effect, would be: 1, 2, 3, many.”
Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, page 105.
(The “crow epistemology”, as Ayn Rand called it informally, is the principle that underlies the fundamental utility of concepts: to integrate a group of concretes into a single mental whole — a device to achieve unit-economy.)

An animal knows only a handful of perceptual concretes, and acts on them automatically. A man, by contrast, goes beyond his observations, he generalizes and identifies natural laws, he hypothesizes causal factors, and he projects alternative courses of action and long-range consequences. Man, in sum, is a conceptual being. That’s the theory, at least; in practice, we see animals all around.

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