The Nature of Knowledge


Dr. Binswanger's View of Propositions

[NOTE: There are two chapters dealing with logic, "Logic and Reason," and "Dr. Binswanger's View of Logic." Since logic proceeds entirely by means of propositions the two chapters on propositions, "Propositions," and "Dr. Binswanger's View of Propositions," somewhat overlap and are closely related conceptually to those on logic. It is suggested the four chapters be read as close together as possible.]

[NOTE: Dr. Binswanger never makes the most important point that all knowledge is in the form of propositions and all thinking is done by means of propositions. Even questions, which are not usually considered propositions, are in propositional form: "all men are rational, right?," that is, as a hypothetical. The other questions, "what, why, how, where, when, who are shortcuts for the imperative, "Identify the something, reason, method, place, time, person that this is being asserted of or is the basis for this assertion."]

"A sentence is a series of words; the proposition is the thought behind those words. A sentence is the concrete, sensuous form of a proposition in just the way that a word is the concrete, sensuous form of a concept. Just as the word "Table' denotes the same concept as 'Tisch' does in German, so 'The table is brown' is the same proposition as that expressed by 'Der Tisch is braun.' The linguistic symbols differ, the thought is the same. The proposition is the cognitive content of the sentence, as distinguished from its linguistic form." [Page 171]

There is a subtle form of mysticism here, as though a "thought" was something independent of the words by which it is thought. There is no "thought" independent of the words by which thinking the thought is done. Propositions about metaphysical facts may be expressed in any language, or in many different ways in the same language. It is not the ideas expressed, as though they were "thoughts" behind what is expressed, but the fact that it is the same metaphysical facts the proposition specifies, no matter how it is expressed. Dr. Binswanger's description of propositions being "the thought behind those words," mistakes the thought (or verbal expression) about a metaphysical fact for the metaphysical fact itself, which is the only thing "behind" a proposition. There is no mysterious "thought" or "cognitive content" behind propositions which exists distinct from the symbolic (word) expression. There are no thoughts (or meanings) without words. How would one have a thought independent of the words by which one thinks that thought?

"Underwriting the similarity is measurement-proximity—i.e., the fact that this animal's shape, size, diet, keenness of smell and hearing, etc. have measurements falling within the 'dog' range or category." [Page 173]

I've already addressed the problems with the so-called measurement omission view of concepts, but this statement illustrates the lengths to which the absurdity of it can be stretched. What in the world could be the measurements of an animal's diet, keenness of smell, and hearing, especially since what an animal can smell or hear as their consciously experienced smelling and hearing can never be known?

"Thus, measurement-relationships underlies the two basic operations of the conceptual level: concept-formation and conceptual identification. Concept-formation operates by measurement-omission (to establish a range) and conceptual identification operates by measurement-inclusion (inclusion in an established range). Concept-formation creates the file folder; a classificatory proposition applies the information in the file folder to the subject. The child, of course, is aware only of similarity and difference, not of the underlying measurement-relationships, which is a phenomenon identified by the epistemologist." [Page 174]

This is a basic problem with the whole Objectivist/Binswanger view of knowledge. The hypothesis of how one forms concepts (words one understands the meaning of) is that one recognizes attributes which are measurable in all the existents of the same kind, and identifies those existents as the same kind because they have the same measurable attributes, then, by ignoring the differences in the actual measurements of those attributes, concludes they are the same kind of entities or existents. The problem with this hypothesis is that those who form concepts by this method do not need to be aware of the "measurement-relationships" to form those concepts. How they can be aware of existents measurable attributes or ignore the difference in those measurement without being aware of the measurement-relationships is a mystery Objectivists never address.

[VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: Is it true that the "epistemologist" discovers a "scientific" (i.e. mathematical) basis for concepts? Science and mathematics do not inform philosophy; if they did, every new scientific discovery would invalidate previous philosophy. Measurement is not directly perceived, it is a very high-level concept. If concept formation depended on some scientific method, there would never have been any knowledge. A method of concept formation cannot depend on a method of mathematics that depends on the method by which concepts are formed. A great many concepts must be formed before the methods of mathematics can be discovered and described. If concept formation depends on those methods, how could the first concepts ever be formed?]

Dr. Binswanger's "descriptive propositions" include other categories of propositions I have identified as:

  1. that something has a quality or qualities (A has quality B)
  2. that something is doing (or does) something (A does B)
  3. that something has a relationship to something (A has relationship x to B)
[Page 175]

[See the chapter, "Propositions."]

"One function of classificatory propositions is to connect concepts to other concepts, which organizes one's mental file folders into a network. Having one's concepts organized logically is of inestimable value; it means that identifying something as P carries with it or implies that it is also Q, R, S, Ta—and so on, for everything to which P is logically connected. "Man" stores all the characteristics of men: that they have a certain range of size and shape, that they walk, talk, think, learn, have parents, form societies, buy and sell things, create works of art." [Page 175]

There seems to be a mixup of classificatory and descriptive concepts, as Binswanger calls them. The really bad mistake here is that repetition of a previous assertion that concepts store anything. Concepts do nothing but identify things, period. Where would a concept "store" anything, since a concept consists of a definition and a word as the perceptual part of the concept. A concept only identifies existents and means those existent as they actually exist with all their attributes and all that can be known about them, but the concept does not store any of that. If a concept "stored" anything, every new bit of information or knowledge about the concept's referents would change the concept. [See the section, "Conceptual Relationships to Knowledge," in the, "Propositions," chapter for the true relationship between concepts and knowledge about the existents they identify.]

"The Role of Grammar" [Page 178]

[This should really be included under the category of "language" which Binswanger never addresses directly. Language is what makes all human knowledge possible. The most important fact about language is that it is a, "human method," like mathematics, and has no metaphysical existence apart from the human mind. [See the chapter, "Knowledge Methods."]

There is no doubt that the human mind and human physiology seem almost as though they were programmed for the use of language. Programmed is the wrong word, but it is certain human nature makes language both possible and necessary. Human beings cannot live without language.

Since every language is just a method, and whatever particular one is addressed, it must perform certain functions if it is to be successful. Every language has some form of grammar and syntax that must be observed if the language is to be used successfully.]

Page 178 "The grammatical structure of a proposition indicates whether it classifies or describes--i.e., whether it identifies the subject as a whole or a characteristic of it. In either case, a proposition uses one's awareness of a similarity, which means that one is aware, at least implicitly, that the measurements of a characteristic(s) of the subject fall within the category of measurements covered by the predicate concept. E.g., we classify a given figure as pentagon because it has five sides, or describe a given man as tall, because his height exceeds six feet."

Counts are not measurements. "Five sides," is an absolute, something either has five sides or it doesn't. The sides may have different measurements, but if the number of sides an existent has is an attribute, it is an immeasurable one. Polygons (things with three or more sides) are figures with sides, differing by the number of sides they have. There is no measurement involved in counting. There is no commensurate units of measure, because nothing is measured.

"Logic and Propositions" [Page 239]

Begins with a worse than useless definition:

"A 'proposition' is 'a grammatically structured combination of concepts to identify a subject by a process of measurement-inclusion'"

The statement is based on the Objectivist, "measurement exclusion," theory of concepts, and since that hypothesis is wrong [see the, "Concepts," chapter] what propositions actually are is thus terribly distorted, [see the, "Propositions," chapter].

"It is possible for propositions to err, to assert that a thing has characteristics that it actually does not have. In other words, with the making of propositional judgments comes the issue of truth or falsehood. (Concepts being tools, are not properly described as true or false, but as valid or invalid.)" [Page 239 ]

Since human beings are not infallible, we can certainly be mistaken in the propositions we use to state what we believe is true. There is no great revelation in that. What is significant in Dr. Binswanger's statement here is the fact that concepts cannot "properly be described as true or false, but as valid or invalid." It is this fact that means all knowledge is held in the form of propositions. Knowledge is knowledge of what is true. Concepts are not knowledge because concepts cannot be true or false. They are only identifications and it is only by means of propositions that whether what concepts identify is true or not. [See the section, "All Knowledge Propositional," in the, "Propositions," chapter.]

"Truth, as Rand characterizes it, is 'the recognition of reality.' [AS, 1017] Although a true proposition is often described as one that 'corresponds to' the facts, truth actually pertains not to some match-up but to an awareness, a mental grasp, of the facts." [Page 252]

This is the actual quote in context: "Reality is that which exists; the unreal does not exist; the unreal is merely that negation of existence which is the content of a human consciousness when it attempts to abandon reason. Truth is the recognition of reality; reason, man's only means of knowledge, is his only standard of truth." [Atlas Shrugged, Part Three / Chapter VII, "This Is John Galt Speaking"]

It is not good to take someone's rhetorical language and use it as a philosophical statement. Truth is not merely the recognition of reality, it is the explicit description or explanation of facts of reality by means of propositions. Of course one cannot make such statements until they have recognized the facts of reality and by reason have identified them as facts.

To this Binswanger adds in the next paragraph:

"Awareness is not a series of isolated responses to isolated stimuli; awareness is a global activity of differentiating and integrating. Products of that activity, such as concepts and propositions, are organic outgrowths of the activity, not self-standing items; concepts and propositions are better analogized to the branches of a tree than to automobiles coming out of a factory. Propositions grow out of a context, and their meaning depends upon that context. No proposition exists or has a meaning out of context. The statement's background context is infused into that statement and shapes its meaning."

If this paragraph has meaning, it must be in some language other than English. In English, it is pure gibberish. This is supposed to explicate the meaning of truth. Good grief! Look at the last sentence, what "statement" is he talking about? Does he mean a proposition? Then it should have been "A statement ..." There is no specific (the) statement referred to.

And it should be "analogized as," not, "analogized to," and since "concepts" and "propositions" are discrete epistemological units, not vague analogs without distinct conceptual boundaries, they are much more like automobiles coming out of a factory than branches of a tree.

Of course everything has a context according to the third corollary of the axiom of identity, and that context must be recognized, for both concepts and propositions. But context is not the source of either entities identified by concepts or their attributes specified by means of propositions. A thing is what it is and its attributes are what they are no matter what its context is. The importance of recognizing context is not to discover what a thing is, but to ensure one does not let context distort one's awareness and understanding of things. Except for relationships, context is seldom a source of information about anything.

"A true proposition is one that is both logically valid and expresses an awareness of fact." [Page 254]

This is a very bad description of a "true" proposition. A true proposition only has to assert something about existence (or reality) that is correct; that is, what is asserted is actually the case." If someone states a true proposition, even if they are in a dream state and have no idea what they are saying, the proposition is still true. The individual saying it might not know it is true.

I think Dr. Binswanger might be attempting to avoid the very dangerous idea that something can be valid, "logically," that is, strictly follow the form of a valid syllogism, but not be true because one of more of the premises is not a fact, or the even worse idea from logical positivism, that only the logical form matters. If that is the case he should have said, "and is based on fact," not, "expresses an awareness of fact."

Dr. Binswanger's intention, I think, has been correct, but he has failed to emphasize both the true nature of propositions, and their significance as the only means of expressing knowledge and truth, or their true relationship to logic.