[NOTE: Rand and Binswanger both seem to think the main issue with concepts is how they are formed. The main philosophical issue is what a concept is. Until one knows what a concept is, one will never know how to form one. Until one understands what a well-built home is, one will never know how to design or build one.]
In most of the examples both Rand and Binswanger give of forming a concept, it is concepts formed by children, and most of the examples are wrong. Children never form their own concepts. A child's concepts are all learned from others: parents, other children, teachers, what they hear and see in various media, and what they read. So long as a child understands the correct definition of a word, that understanding and that word are a concept. (Though philosophically the meaning of a concept is the existent or existents it identifies, colloquially a word's meaning is whatever the definition says it is. The definition is not the meaning, but the definition specifies what the word/concept means.)
Dr. Binswanger's misunderstanding of the nature of concepts, and of knowledge itself begins with his assertion that all consciousness has a biological basis.
"Like perception, reason has a biological function." [Page 97]
Biology is a physical science and refers the physical and neither consciousness (perception) or reason are physical attributes. They are not produced biologically, and are not biological functions. Dr. Binswanger's insistence on describing everything in terms of biology is based on his apparent view that biological life is the basis of all purpose and values.
"Man needs knowledge that extends beyond the perceptual." [Page 97]
Perception provides no knowledge; knowledge pertains only to the human intellect. Like most words such as knowledge, reality, and perception, there are non-technical colloquial uses, but for a philosopher to call what goes on in the consciousness of animals, or even many human beings, "knowledge," is an unforgivable mistake.
He quotes Rand, "For man, the basic means of survival is reason." [The Virtue of Selfishness, pg. 22]
That is true, because for man, the only means to everything of value is his mind, but even for man, reason alone is not the means, but knowledge (which is all that man has to reason with or reason about) and volition (which requires and enables a human being to make all his choices consciously) are the total means to a human's success as a human being. One might honestly say "reason" assumes and includes knowledge and volition, but no Objectivist ever says that and it needs to be made explicit.
A human's purpose is not a biological one. Biology provides the physical aspects of an organism, but it is life that makes it an organism, and it is consciousness that determines its nature; for man it is the mind that is the reason for living, because for man, mere survival (the perpetuation of protoplasm) is not living, and because even to live a human being must choose to live, and to choose anything, a human being must have a reason—the reason for a human to live is to be the best possible human one can be.
"A mans survival, well-being, and happiness depend on his knowing what to do (and how to do it)." [Page 100]
Without explanation, Binswanger suddenly includes "well-being," and "happiness" in the purpose of knowledge. But if survival is the ultimate purpose, shouldn't "well-bing," and "happiness," be sacrificed, if necessary, to ensure it? Isn't that the basis of the view, "survival at any price?" If it is living according to a mans' moral principles that determines what will or will not make him happy (and Rand says it is), even to survive, a moral individual cannot go against those principles because it would be defying the very thing he is living for, that which truly makes him happy. For a moral individual, neither stealing, or any other form of evading reality, "to survive," is possible.
"...we must first know what concepts are. And to know that, we must understand how concepts are formed." [Page 100]
How can we know how something is formed before we know what a thing is? It is a little like those evolutionists who believe the way to understand the nature of man (what man is) is to discover how he came to be.
"Three Theories of Concept-Formation" [Page 101]
Here, Dr. Binswanger begins his criticism of three wrong theories of epistemology.
I'm not sure the right way to present a theory of epistemology is by attacking all the wrong theories. This seems to be the method most often employed. It seems to me, the best way to demolish all the wrong theories in one fell-swoop, so to speak, would be to present the truth in such clear unambiguous terms, that the fallacies in all wrong theories become obvious.
"Concepts are abstract, but the world we perceive is concrete." How do we come to have abstract ideas? What is the relationship of abstraction to perceptual concretes?" [Page 101]
The word abstraction essentially means "to leave something out." A concept is not abstract. Nothing is "left" out, because a correct concept only identifies something or a class of somethings, and it does not matter whether that something is a physical entity, event, relationship, or another concept or class of concepts or a proposition. A true concept is complete, whole, and absolute.
[Note: Dr. Binswanger is referring to universal concepts which do not directly refer to individual existents, but to categories or classes of existents. In the sense that whatever distinguishes individual referents of a universal concept from each other, (possible qualities), are not specified, that might be considered an abstraction, because they seem to be left out. It is only in Objectivist epistemology that for universal concepts anything is specifically stated to be left out, that is specific measurements. Epistemologically, however, a universal concept means the existents it identifies with all their characteristics and qualities. Nothing is left out.]
Words, which are symbols, are abstractions, or constructed of abstractions (characters of an alphabet, for example), but the concepts for which they are the perceptual symbols are not abstractions.
There is a difference between the nature of concepts and physical entities; that difference is that concepts are epistemological existents and only exist "psychologically," not physically, but they are just as real and "concrete" as physical entities. They simply have a different mode of existence.
Most concepts are not concepts of physical entities. Many of a child's earliest concepts are not concepts of physical entities, but events, states, and feelings. The concentration on describing the formation of concepts in terms of physical objects is both simplistic (ignoring the real complexities of both the physical and psychological existence) and misleading.
"The 'problem of universals' is actually the question of the basis of concepts. The issue can be stated as follows. The concretes to which a given concept refers are neither identical to each other nor possessed of any non-specific properties. What then warrants our treating them as the same, as being interchangeable units, when viewed abstractly?" [Page 105]
[NOTE: There is a new thought here I have not encountered in Objectivism, or any other philosophy I know of. The units or referents of concepts are not, "interchangeable." They cannot be treated as though they were the same. They are the same only in the sense that they are the same "kind" of existents. Every existent that is a referent of a concept is a unique existent, differentiated by their possible qualities. If this were the problem of universals, it would be no problem. If this is what Dr. Binswanger means by being, "viewed abstractly," they should never be viewed abstractly—it would be one of the worst of epistemological mistakes to do so.]
Dr. Binswanger seems to be confused about the Objectivist view of concepts here. The idea of a non-specific property is exactly what the Objectivist hypothesis of concepts is. What makes existents the same kind of existents, according to Objectivism, is an attribute they all have but in different degree or measurement, but the specific measurement is "left out" that is, "not specified." What else would that be but a non-specific property. Having length, but no particular length is pretty non-specific.
Then he uses Rand as authority:
"To exemplify the issue as it is usually presented: When we refer to three persons as 'men,' what do we designate by that term? The three persons are three individuals who differ in every particular respect and may not possess a single identical characteristic (not even finger prints). If you list all their particular characteristics, you will not find one representing 'manness.' Where is the 'manness' in men? What, in reality, corresponds to the concept 'man' in our minds." [Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, pg. 2]
This paragraph has always struck me as ambiguously odd. How could three men possibly differ in "every particular." They would have to be very odd men, but no matter how odd they are, they could not possibly differ in every particular. One might have two legs, another one, and another none, but they'd all have one head. When have you ever seen three individuals, each with a different number of eyes, ears, hands, feet? Perhaps each one's finger prints would be different, but they would all have fingers, so at least they must share the feature of having finger prints.
It is true that every individual human being is different from every other individual, and those differences will be very many and pertain to almost every aspect of a human being, both physically and psychologically. But those differences are not and cannot be the major features of human beings which must be shared if they are all human beings.
Rand, of course will define man as the, "rational animal," which for a logician is the most important definition. A taxonomist will have a quite different definition, based on genetics, and the definition will be correct because it identifies the same kind of existents, human beings. Even a child's definition, which will only be based on a generalization from his own experience, the kind of people he has known and observed, will be correct within the context of the child's knowledge because it will define the kind of being identified by the concept man, and will be sufficient for all cases in which he needs to use that concept.
As for the rational animal definition, that does not make human beings only the same in terms of their ability to think, learn, and consciously choose. They have many other similarities physically because they are animals, particularly mammals, etc.
"Manness, of course is a grammatical form or metaphor that uses a concept as though it were a quality. The grammatical form is legitimate because a concept identifies a class or category of existents which are all members of the same class or category because they have the same necessary qualities. The metaphorical form therefore means that which identifies a referent of that concept, which is all its necessary qualities. Manness is a metaphor that means all the necessary qualities that are the identity (or nature) of a man. All of an extent's qualities determine its nature.
The Objectivist Theory
[Note: Dr. Binswanger does not get the Ayn Rand's theory quite right, but I'll confine my comments to Binswanger's rendition.]
"Ayn Rand's theory of similarity grounds her Ojbectivist theory of concepts. She defines similarity as: 'the relationship between two or more existents which possess the same characteristic(s), but in different measure or degree." [Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, pg.13] [Page 110]
You might notice an oddity about this definition. It seems in conflict with earlier statements quoted. For example Rand said human beings do not share a single specific characteristic, "not even finger prints." But don't they then all share the attribute, "having finger prints," and isn't the only difference the specific shape (measurable characteristics) of those finger prints?
Secondly, measurement is a characteristic. The length of a ruler (one foot) and a yard stick (one yard) are different characteristics. They may be the same kind of characteristic (the universal concept defined as attributes of linear measure), and therefore units of the same concept, but they are not the same attribute.
"The answer to this question [how a child sees the difference between a pig and a dog?] lies in a cognitive process neglected by traditional theorists: differentiation. Similarity is inherently perceived against a background of difference. As I have stressed, consciousness is a difference detector. When a naive, (pre-conceptual) child attends to two items, it is their differences, not their similarities, that will be prominent. Although a beagle and a collie are similar, putting them side by side serves to focus attention on their differences (for the pre-conceptual child). But sensitivity to difference can be turned to advantage here. When the child observes a beagle, a collie, and pig, the differences between the pig and the dogs leap to the foreground of awareness, making the two dogs appear similar. The pig appears to be different in kind from the two dogs, while the dogs appear to differ from each other only in degree--i.e.,similar in contrast to the pig." [Page 110]
How does Dr. Binswanger know all these psychological events going on in a young child's consciousness? He might be right, but cannot possibly know it. He might be wrong, and probably is. It is doubtful that two children, much less all children, would have identical psychological experience when seeing things.
This is all very unlikely conjecture. There are certainly dogs that are more different from each other than some pigs are from some dogs. There is no way a child can just perceive that something is, "similar in kind," except in terms of their looking alike. Certainly, to a child, cats will look enough alike to be identified as cats, and dogs will look enough alike to be identified as dogs. No difference needs to be detected. That view leads to the terrible mistake in the next paragraph.
"The grasp of similarity requires a minimum of three concretes having a commensurable characteristic(s): two whose measurement differ slightly and one that differs greatly in measurement from both." [page 111]
What makes things similar is having the same necessary qualities. If they have all the same necessary qualities, they are the same kind of thing. If they have mostly the same necessary qualities they are similar things, of which things having all the necessary qualities are a subset.
For example, if entities A must have qualities w,x,y,z and entities B must have qualities w,x,z and may have quality y, y is a possible quality of entities B, but y is a necessary quality of entities A. A entities are therefore a subset of entities B, those entities B with quality y as a necessary quality. For example, mammals have all the qualities of animals, and the specific quality, "milk-producing." Dogs are mammals with specific canine characteristics. Dogs are therefore a subset of mammals as mammals are a subset of animals.
The rest of Binswanger's discussion, (pages 112 through 117), deals with the "measurement omission" theory of concept formation, which I've fully addressed in the chapter, "Concepts."
"Concepts are formed by treating existents as units. A 'unit,' in Rand's definition, is 'an existent regarded as a separate member of a group of two or more similar members.' [Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, pg. 6]" [Page 117]
[NOTE: "Units" was Ayn Rand's specific term for the existents a universal concept identified. The terms, "referents," or "particulars," mean the same thing.]
Concept Formation is Not a Survival Function
Dr. Binswanger continues to attempt to reduce everything to biology.
"The conceptual faculty, like consciousness in general, has a biological function. To understand concepts fully, we need to consider not only how they are formed and operate, but also the survival function they have." [Page 128]
Rand never considered "survival" an ultimate end or purpose. It was not merely to continue to exist that is the objective of values, but to live and enjoy one's life. Of course one must survive to do that, but for human beings, "staying alive," is only a means to the real end of living, which is to be all that one can be as a human being. Those who take survival as the ultimate source of value do not understand Rand's objectivism at all. [See the section, "Survival and Purpose," in the, "Animal Life," chapter.]
"Indeed, since existence is identity, the existents are their characteristics. By the same token, a characteristic is one aspect of a thing's total identity." [Page 134 ]
Existence is not identity. There is an axiom of existence and an axiom of identity. They are not the same axioms. The statement is a poorly expressed form of the first corollary of the axiom of identity. Why the following is added is a mystery: "By the same token, a characteristic is one aspect of a thing's total identity." That is true enough, but what is the point. A thing is all its characteristics, anything less than all of them is an incomplete identity (metaphysically). Epistemologically it is only necessary to specify enough of an existent's attributes to differentiate it from all other exitents and implies all its other attributes.
"Characteristics do not exist as such, but only as characteristics of the entities (or of an entity's attributes, actions, relationships, etc.) Characteristics can be isolated mentally but cannot be physically separate from the entities that possess them." [Page 134]
To say "characteristics do not exist as such," implies they do not really exist. Characteristics do not exist independently of the existents they are the attributes of, but they exist as surely as the existents themselves exist. It would be just as true to say, "entities do not exist as such," that is, they do not exist independently of the attributes which are the existents. There is no such thing as entities "sans attributes."
Entities are their attributes; the attributes are the entities.
"Existence is identity." [Page 134]
Existence is not identity. Everything that exists has an identity which is all its attributes, and that includes existence itself. Existence has an identity, but existence is not itself identity. (I actually do not know what Dr. Binswanger intends to mean by that statement. Perhaps it is just a mistake.)
Identity and Nature
Here is as good a place as any to clear up some confusion that permeates Objectivism. The first is the confusion between a thing's nature and a thing's identity. Metaphysically a thing's identity and a thing's nature are identical. An existent's total identity is all its attributes and a things attributes determine exactly the kind of thing an existent is, how it will behave, and what its relationships are to all other things. If one knew the total metaphysical identity of an entity one would know its entire nature.
Epistemologically, a thing's identity is whatever differentiates an existent from all others by means of the definition of the concept that identifies the existent or existents within the limits of one's knowledge about those existents. Though the epistemological identity of exitents means those existents with their total metaphysical identity, (all that can ever be learned or known about them), it is rarely the case that an existent's total metaphysical identity is known, which means, our knowledge of the nature of many physical things is frequently incomplete, even though we can correctly identify them. This in no way implies a limit to what can be known, or that whatever knowledge we have is invalidated. It only means we are not omniscient.
Dr. Binswanger is trying to make a point here which is incorrect. His language, "characteristics ... cannot be physically separate from the entities that possess them," implies more than the fact an entity's attributes do not exist independently of the entity, it implies that in some way it is the entities that are responsible for the existence of their attributes. It implies that entities are "primary," that entities are the ultimate existents that in some way precede or support the existence of their attributes. It is a kind of reverse Platonism.
Perhaps it is inadvertent, but it seems Dr. Binswanger is attempting to set the stage, metaphysically, for the Objectivist view of perception as, "perception of entities as such," sans characteristics, since he also says, "characteristics do not exist as such." The view is mistaken in any case; an entity is its characteristics, and it's characteristics are the entity, and neither perception of entities or characteristics is possible without the other, because, metaphysically, they are the same thing.
Dr. Binswanger sometimes calls an existent's qualities "characteristics," and other times, "attributes." The word, "qualities," is preferable because it is the traditional term in philosophy that subsumes "characteristics," "attributes," "properties," "aspects," and "states."
"The Objectivist theory holds that concepts are formed by grasping similarity against difference; the measurement-relationship among existents result from their having a commensurable characteristic." [Page 136]
This "definition" is unfortunate. First it excludes the possibility of concepts for single existents. Second, it excludes the majority of our concepts which are extrinsic. Finally it excludes all concepts the are not defined in terms of some measurable attribute or attributes which are the only ones that need commensurate attributes. It even excludes concepts like polygons, for example, because a polygon is any multi-sided figure with more than two sides. The difference between polygons is not a measurement because a count is not a measurement and there is no commensurate unit of measure.
It also repeats an idea that Binswanger uses for both percepts and concepts, the idea that it is similarity compared to difference that is at the heart of both. There is no reason to suppose this. It may be how some concepts are developed, but not most, and perception does not require it at all.
Ontologically, everything that exists is different from everything else that exists because everything must have some attribute or attributes that are different from attributes of everything else. If things were identical in every way possible, having identical attributes, they could not be more than one thing. In that sense, and only in that sense, perception of an existent necessarily means perceiving, "difference," but it is not difference detection, but attribute perception which will necessarily be different for every existent. The discovery that it is difference that is at the heart of existence itself must be discovered conceptually, and even if it is never discovered, perception will still work perfectly.
"Higher-level concepts are formed by the process Rand calls 'abstraction from abstractions.' It consists of turning the concept-forming process back on its own products: the input used to form the concept 'animal' is the prior concepts of say, 'dog,' 'flea,' and 'elephant.' The process is iterative: 'animal' and 'plant' will become the input for forming, years later, the still more abstract concept 'organism.'
"Abstraction from abstraction is also the process that enables the child to form concepts of the characteristics of entities—what the entities are and do—to identify not only "dog," but also 'tail,' 'wagging,' and 'bushy,' not only 'tree' but 'tall,' 'growing,' 'evergreen,' and 'deciduous.'" [Page 138]
The examples are bad. A tail is an existent, a physical one that can be identified directly from perceiving a tail. No abstraction from abstraction is required. This is true of a thing's directly perceived attributes as well, like 'bushy' and events like 'wagging.'
The expression abstraction from abstraction is also misleading. Concepts are not abstractions (which implies something vague or incomplete) but concepts about things which can be anything, relationships, attributes, similarities, differences, function, purpose, etc. What makes a higher-level concept higher level is that it requires a proposition to form the concept, not just to define it. Every higher level concept implies a proposition, which usually also serves as its definition, which isolates what the concept identifies. All truly higher level concepts are not formed by identifying what is observed in the physical world, but by identifying what exists epistemologically, that is, what is known.
Concerning the formation of higher-level concepts, he quotes Rand: "Starting from the base of conceptual development—from the concepts that identify perceptual concretes—the process of cognition moves in two interacting directions;...toward wider integration and more precise differentiation." [Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, pg. 19] [Page 139]
Integration as used by Objectivists is almost a mystical term. Though never intended, it is used to cover all cases where several different things are merged together, or form a configuration, or are organized into some kind of whole or some new thing. The differentiation, meaning to make different or to recognize difference is a perfectly good word, when used together with integration; however, they can be confused with the same terms used in the Calculus, where the meanings are the opposite.
Wider concepts are formed by leaving out (of the definition) those possible qualities that differentiate existents and including only those qualities they share as their necessary qualities. Narrower concepts are formed by including qualities of exitents that have them with the necessary qualities of wider concepts. The only difference between the correct explanation for concepts formed this way and the Objectivist theory is that Objectivism only recognizes one class of defining qualities: measurements.
Left out of the Objectivist explanation how higher concepts are formed is the whole world of complex concepts.
Some examples of complex concepts are: meaning, principle, possible, necessary, problem, mistake, success, failure, important, interest, critical, vague, ultimate, tenuous, implied, ingenuous, ennui, passion, threat, right, wrong, morality, value, virtue, integrity, honor, dignity, honest, dishonest, evil, beauty, humor, shame, correct, truth, knowledge, justice, creation, news, lost, found, hope, plan, constant, hypothesis, theory, and nostalgia.
All extrinsic concepts are epistemological, but may identify existents that are ontological, such as Londoners, chop sticks, chairs, factories, or restaurants. Complex concepts are extrinsic but identify existents that have no ontological attributes and are entirely epistemological, that is, exist entirely as concepts defined by what is known, and what is known is always in the form of propositions.
Complex concepts are formed by means of reason about what humans know, think, do and care about. All complex concepts begin with what is known. Complex concepts are entirely anthropological, and have no significance apart from human consciousness, that is, the concerns, interests, or activities of human beings.
Obviously there is no way complex concepts can be formed by either of the methods Objectivists say higher level concepts are formed. Only some higher level concepts can be formed that way.
Binswanger uses the following example of hierarchy: "'Celebrity' (a narrowing) depends on 'fame' and 'man." [Page 143]
Exactly what were the physical entities from which the concept (wider or narrower) 'fame,' is abstracted? Which entities did it start with, and what was the "iterative" process by which it arrived at 'fame,' for example? It is the failure of Objectivism to recognize relationships as fundamental to concepts (and concept formation) that there is no answer to the question of how such concepts are formed. From the chapter, "Ontology," the corollaries of the axiom of identity:
1. Everything must have qualities. A things qualities are what it is.
2. Everything must have some qualities, or combination of qualities, that are
different from the qualities, or combinations of qualities, of all other
3. Everything must have some relationship with everything else that exists.
Everything must have some quality or qualities which are the same as the
qualities of all other things.
Relationships are a fundamental aspect of reality. Any theory of knowledge must not only recognize relationships but include them as a fundamental aspect of concepts.
A child also learns complex concepts early on, with no reference to existents at all. Perhaps when playing with his Tinker Toy, he finds he cannot put certain pieces together the way he would like, and asks his mother for help. "Having a problem?" she asks. After a few similar incidents like struggling to button his shirt or open a jar, for example, the child will begin to understand what a problem is. He does not form the concept by either "integration" or "abstraction." The formation comes from identifying a particular situation (some difficulty preventing him from doing what he wants to do), and learning the word "problem" is the one adults use to identify those situations. I defy Objectivists to identify the commensurable unit of measure, or the attribute to be measured, in the word, "problem."
"Well all problems will have a different degree of difficulty or seriousness." This is the kind of answer those attempting to defend the undefensible make. Which is it? The difficulty or the seriousness, or perhaps it's the degree of annoyance one experiences when having a problem? And what would the commensurable unit of measure be for whichever is chosen as the measurable attribute?
I'm sure that through some kind of mental gymnastics they can come up with some kind of rationalization to say, "yes, it is measurement, we just don't know how to measure it yet." Then how are such concepts formed, since it is specifically stated the concepts are formed by identifying a common measurable attribute and leaving the measurement out. It's absurd.
There is an interesting inadvertent recognition of a fact on this page. It points to the fact that such concepts as chairs, tables, furniture are extrinsic concepts, but Binswanger, having on his blinders of rationalization, does not notice:
"The level on which items of furniture are in fact similar—which involves their movability plus their function—is too wide a level to be grasped directly from perception." [Emphasis mine.] [Page 144]
Notice that what makes furniture similar is "movability" and "function." A thing defined by its use and function is not an intrinsic concept. Movability might be considered an intrinsic attribute but the function (what something is used for) is not an intrinsic concept. And exactly what is measurable about that function and what would the unit of measure be?
"It is the condensation afforded by the first-level concepts that permits the formation of wider concepts, because the wider concepts would not be graspable without that condensation. Take the formation of the wider concept "furniture." Tables, beds, and dressers have no perceptual features in common. [Really? They all have some height, and a more-or-less rectangular shape, do they not?] A table does not look like a bed, and neither of them looks like a dresser. [Well actually some beds do look like tables, and some tables look exactly like beds.] Nor do these objects look similar when contrasted to such non-furniture items as a kitchen cabinet or a refrigerator. [I think some dressers and kitchen cabinets with drawers would look quite similar.] The level on which items of furniture are in fact similar—which involves their movability plus their function—is too wide a level to be grasped directly from perception." [Page 144]
None of the items of furniture in the paragraph can be properly identified without identifying their function. It is not a chair's shape that determines what it is, but what it is used for. Furniture, itself, is an extrinsic concept.
So-called second level concepts are merely concepts of concepts. A second level concept identifies all the concepts for metaphysical existents that share the same necessary qualities, with the qualities that makes them different kinds of existents included only as possible qualities. (The possible qualities of the concept for the category of existents at the second level are necessary qualities of the actual existents of their own classes.)
Concepts of Characteristics
Exactly what the following kinds of statements are supposed to reveal is a mystery:
"When we perceive a big dog barking, the dog is given as discriminated from the ground on which it is standing (and from every other entity in the scene), but we are not given any discrimination of the dog's size from the dog; nor are we given any discrimination of the dog's action of barking from the dog." [Page 152]
What the phrase "given as discriminated from" is supposed to mean is not explained, but based on earlier statements it apparently means it is perception that discriminates the dog from other things. It is not. A dog is discriminated from all other things by its own metaphysical attributes. Perception only perceives the dog as it is, already discriminated metaphysically from all other things. Perception does not do any discriminating, it is perception of what there is to perceive and nothing else.
A dog's size, and its behavior are some of its characteristics, and they are also discriminated from one another metaphysically. The dog's size is discriminated from its color which is discriminated from its size which is discriminated from its behavior. They are not discriminated from the dog because they are the dog. But it is not perception that discriminates them, but the metaphysical fact they are the dog, and to perceive the dog, it is the dog's metaphysical attributes that must be perceived. Without them, there is no dog; there is nothing else to perceive. To suggest one could perceive a dog without perceiving its attributes is pure mysticism.
Not only is a dog perceived by perceiving the dog's attributes, all of the dog's attributes are perceived. This does not "break down" the dog into its attributes, it is not analyzing the dog, it is simply perceiving what is there to be perceived. Binswanger says we see objects as, "unanalyzed wholes," which means nothing. All percepts are unanalyzed. Analyzing is a conceptual function. A dog is a certain colored object, with a specific size and shape, with a tail, four legs, a head, with prominent ears, etc. Does Binswanger mean that one can perceive a dog without perceiving its color, shape, size, tail, legs, head, and ears? What then is perceived?
This does not mean a dog's attributes are identified. Perception does not identify, it only perceives what is. It is only because all of the perceivable attributes of a dog are perceived (which is exactly how a dog is perceived) that those attributes can be identified as attributes of the dog conceptually. If they were not perceived they could never be identified, conceptually or any other way.
On page 134 he actually says, "existents are their characteristics." If one perceives an existent's characteristics, are they not perceiving the entity, since that is what the entity is? Did he forget that he said that?
"Concepts of characteristics are our means of identifying the nature of a thing, breaking down what is, perceptually, an unanalyzed whole." [Page 152]
This is very subtle. Of course a thing is whatever its attributes are and we perceive it as a configuration of its attributes, and as that configuration, it is what it is. But it is that metaphysically as well as perceptually. If our perception of it left out any of its perceptual attributes, we could not perceive it, or at least not perceive it correctly.
But what we perceive directly, are the existent's attributes. We perceive the existent exactly as it is, because its attributes are exactly what it is, but identifying it as an entity, even though that is what is perceived, is not a perceptual act, but a conceptual one. What is it these objectivists believe is perceived if it is not the actual attributes of an existent which is what it is. When one perceives a red rubber ball, that is what they perceive, by means of perceiving its color, visually; its shape both visually and by touch; its elasticity by touch and visually, and its texture by touch. That is how a red rubber ball is perceived, but that is not how it is identified. That requires the process of identification, which is conceptual, that is, epistemological.
As for how the qualities of perceived existents are identified, since they are directly perceived, it is those percepts that are identified. Since those qualities are the qualities of exitents, it is that perceived fact that is the basis of identifying an existent's qualities as the qualities of the existent that are that existent.
"The first concepts a child forms, are concepts of entities—e.g. "dog," "table," "cookie." These concepts are formed directly from perception, rather than requiring prior concepts, and perception is geared toward discriminating entities from each other." [Page 152]
I am tempted to insist that Dr. Binswanger explain exactly how he knows any of these things. His obvious inexperience with children explains why he has no idea what the first concepts a child forms are. The first words my oldest son used were "hat" and "lat" (his pronunciation of the word light). Soon after were "go," "car," "up," (the last used as a verb for to get up or be picked up), "no," "mommy," "daddy," "grammy," "grumpy," (his not so far off term for his grandfather) "Scott," (his name, pronounced "cot") "I," "drink," and "want.". His vocabulary and obvious comprehension of the words he was using exploded after that. All the words he knew were learned from adults either by observation of their use of words, or being taught, like those for his nose, mouth, eyes, ears, etc. Almost all of the descriptions of how a child forms concepts are, "made up," because concept formation (or concept learning, which is much more likely) is a conscious process which no one else can observe, and with rare exception most adults have forgotten.
He also repeats the incorrect view that, "perception is geared toward discriminating entities from each other." Perception does not have any prejudices or leanings, it simply perceives what is there to be perceived. Since the world we perceive is a world of existents, that is what it perceives, but it does nothing to make sure that is what is perceived. [If another kind of universe were possible and consisted of klonks instead of entities, since perception only perceives what is, it is klonks it would perceive and some Binswanger in that fictional universe would come along and say "perception is geared toward discriminating klonks from each other."] If perception was "geared" toward something, it would be geared toward ensuring what is perceived is exactly what is there to be perceived. (See the true explanation of what perception is in the chapter, "Perception.")
"To form a concept of an entity, we contrast two or more instances of the entity with a foil--e.g., some tables vs. a chair. Likewise, to form the concept of an attribute, we contrast this and that instance of the attribute with a foil--e.g., two or more shades of blue vs. a shade of green." [Page 153]
I have no idea why Binswanger has this idea of a "foil" being necessary to the formation of concepts. I think it is related to his belief that perception is "difference detection." [See note below.] Both ideas are baseless. We form concepts of what we perceive, and what we perceive is the attributes of things, and nothing else. We only have to see blue to identify that perception as blue. Of course if there were no color except blue, there would be nothing to identify. If that is what he means he might have said so. Every real existent exists because it is different from everything else that exists. Only in that sense is perception a difference detector, but that only means it is an existence detector. Differentiation is an essential attribute of existence metaphysically, not epistemologically. [See the second corollary of the axiom of existence in the "Ontology" chapter.]
[NOTE: Perhaps this idea of, "difference detection," comes from the fact that every existent is metaphysically differentiated from all other existents. It is an entity's attributes (qualities) that differentiate existents from each other. To perceive an existent (to detect its existence) it is its attributes that must be perceived, and since its attributes will differentiate it from all other things, when it is perceived it will necessarily be different from all other things being perceived.]
"Likewise, to form the concept of an attribute, we contrast this and that instance of the attribute with a foil--e.g., two or more shades of blue vs. a shade of green. To form the concept of an action, we contrast this and that instance of an action with a foil--e.g., two or more instances of a thing moving vs. being at rest. And, as with entity-concepts, concepts of characteristics are formed by measurement-omission, on the "some but any" principle, and are integrated into a new mental unit by means of a word." [Page 153]
Here all the Objectivist epistemological sins are committed.
All that is required to form a concept (or as is usually the case, to learn a concept) is to be conscious of that which the concept identifies. All one needs to form or learn the concept of any quality (attribute, characteristic, or property) is to be conscious of (to perceive) that quality. The fact that a quality is a quality of an existent will be apparent from the fact that it is. The quality might be identified either before or after the entity it is a quality of is identified. In fact it happens all the time. Often children are taught their colors by a parent pointing to different objects and naming the color of the object. The child is not confused about what is being named (the object or the object's color) because such exercises are contextual, it takes place in the context of naming colors. "Tell me what colors these are," Mom says pointing to different objects, objects that the child may or may not already know the identity of.
[NOTE: Much of the following is about concept formation, but drags in a lot of assumptions about perception.]
The following is Binswanger's explanation of how the concept of motion is formed. It is very unlikely that any child forms the very sophisticated concept, "motion." The first concept related to motion a child is likely to learn is, "moves." Because in a child's earliest experience, some things move and others do not, and some things move sometimes and not at others.
"In conceptualizing "motion," the child has, in one way, an easier task than in conceptualizing attributes: he can observe one and the same entity when it is moving and then when it is not, as in observing his mother walking, then standing still. He also observes the same alternative with other entities: his ball rolls then stops; he waves his hand then holds it still, a car, a bug, a bird—all move and then don't move. By omitting the measurement of what moves—whether it is big like a car or small like the bug, whether it is round like his ball or shaped like his hand—and by omitting the measurements of motion (fast, slow, toward him or away, rotating or translating), he forms the concept 'move.'" [Page 154]
Like most of the concepts that children have, they do not form them, but learn them. Some geniuses in the ancient past had to form the most common concepts which we take for granted today, but since then, most of us simply learn most of the basic concepts of whatever language we speak. Most children learn the word move from observing the fact adults use that word to describe anything that changes where it is to someplace else or is actually moving. In fact they learn the word both as a description of the phenomena and as a command. "Move your toys out of the way," he knows means to change where his toys are.
The idea that there are any measurements involved in moving is not even imagined when the concept is first learned, and the concept is still perfect. "Move" means to change position, and any action that is a change of position is movement. It is only after the concept move is formed or learned, and usually quite a long time after, it is leaned that moving has any measurable attributes, like distance, velocity, and direction. The concept move cannot be formed by the measurement omission method if the one forming the concept does not know there are any measurements to be omitted. Do not say omission is implicit. The child learning the concept does not know about implications either. Either they have the concept or they don't.
"Concepts of relationships are the most complex type of concepts of characteristics, since these concepts involve not just relating things (as all concepts do) but also isolating the relationship itself. Spatial relationships are the simplest case, since they are given in visual perception. Examples of concepts that are first-level within this category are: 'in,' 'on,' 'beneath,' 'near,' 'behind,' etc. The words for these, as well as for temporal relationships are prepositions:
"'Prepositions are concepts of relationship, predominantly of spatial or temporal relationships, among existents; they are formed by specifying the relationships and omitting the measurements of the existents and of the space or time involved--e.g., "on," "in," "beside," "after," etc.'" [Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, pg 17] [Page 154-155]
The attempt to explain the meaning of concepts for such relationships in terms of some measurement being left out is pure rationalization. What is the measurable difference between, "on the table," and, "on the stove?" If something is on something it is on it, and all things that are on something are exactly the same distance from that which they are on: zero distance. The same explanation applies to "in" as well.
Here are most of the English prepositions: aboard, about, above, across, after, against, along, amid, among, anti, around, as, at, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, besides, between, beyond, but, by, concerning, considering, despite, down, during, except, excepting, excluding, following, for, from, in, inside, into, like, minus, near, of, off, on, onto, opposite, outside, over, past, per, plus, regarding, round, save, since, than, through, to, toward, towards, under, underneath, unlike, until, up, upon, versus, via, with, within, and without.
Exactly what are the measurable attributes, and units of measure that can be left out, of any of these concepts: anti, as, at, but, by, despite, except, excepting, excluding, for, like, per, regarding, versus, and via?
Both Dr. Binswanger and Rand only consider physical relationships in their discussion of relationships, but most prepositions have metaphorical/analogous meanings, such as: "From this argument we conclude...," "In the interest of time...," "On this subject...," "This figure is very near the other...," "He is below contempt...." How does measurement work for these relationships? Of course it does not.
Relationships are extremely important to both ontology and epistemology. Neither Rand or Dr. Binswanger address the most important aspects of relationships.
Relationships are a whole class of qualities of existents differentiated from those qualities which are inherent in existents. Relative qualities are all those qualities of things which are determined by their relationship to other existents, both physical and conceptual. For example, an existent's position or geographic location is obviously a real but relative quality determined by its relationship to other entities; the thing would still be what it is if it were somewhere else. Weight (not mass) and velocity are also relative qualities, for example.
Other relative qualities are "conceptual," for example, uncle (if one's brother or sister has no children the person who would otherwise be an uncle is not, but is still the same person), and many others like, "recently discovered," "important," "lost," "found," "wanted" as well as the ordinal concepts like "first," "last," and "fifth," which can be applied to people ("the fifth girl in line"), a series of events, ("the fifth race"), or ideas, ("the fifth principle"), for example. In each case the entity or existent could be the same one if the relationship were different.
The relative qualities can all be defined without reference to the inherent or natural qualities of entities. However, it is an entity's nature, defined by its inherent or natural qualities that determines what kind relationships it must or may have to other entities. A girl can be the fifth in line, but she cannot be an uncle.
Since there are existents which are identical in terms of their inherent or natural qualities (molecules of water, for example) it is the relative qualities that differentiate them. When existents are identical in every other way, the only possible differences they can have are relative ones, for example, a positional difference. It must be noted that even when entities are well differentiated by inherent qualities, they are also differentiated by the relative qualities they would be differentiated by even if inherently identical.
"Actions of consciousness are, as mentioned earlier, the primaries in this field (products of consciousness are products of some mental action)." [Page 166]
Unfortunately Binswanger never says exactly what the actions of consciousness are. There are, in fact, no actions of consciousness. Consciousness is perception of reality and nothing else. There are many actions humans perform, "consciously," that is, they are conscious of performing them, but it is not consciousness itself that performs them..
"There are relationships among aspects of consciousness—e.g., clearer than, more pleasant than, derivative of, contradictory to—and relationships to reality—e.g. truth and reference. There capacities of consciousness—e.g. vision, intelligence, or any mental ability. There are states of conditions of consciousness—e.g., confusion, alertness, dejection, concentration." [Page 166]
None of these are aspects of consciousness, they are aspects of emotions (perceived feelings) or thinking, but not consciousness. They pertain to perception only in the sense they are what one is conscious of or consciously does which makes them psychological rather than metaphysical, but they do not describe any aspect of consciousness, that is, perception itself.
Mistaken Attributes of Concepts
Most of the following are properties Dr. Binswanger attributes to concepts which concepts do not have, and if they had them, would not be concepts. The are all derived from his wrong view of the nature of concepts themselves.
"A concept has cognitive content, not just referents. The concept stores knowledge about its referents, knowledge acquired by observation or by inference from observation." [Page 188]
Concepts do not store knowledge, or anything else. See the section, "Conceptual Relationships to Knowledge," in the, "Propositions," chapter.
Relatively speaking, very little human knowledge is acquired by means of observation or inference from observation. It was originally acquired that way, but is not today. Most knowledge is learned from what others have written or have taught us. It is only in the fields of research (especially science and technology) from which new knowledge is derived. Knowledge is not, "developed," all true knowledge is "discovered."
"Concepts Condense Percepts." [Page 365]
He quotes Rand as authority:
"...concepts represent condensation of knowledge." [Introducrion to Objectivist Epistemology, pages 64--65]
I have no idea what his point is here or how this metaphorical picture of concepts is supposed to clarify anything, or even what the metaphor, "condensation," is supposed to convey. The Rand quote does not clarify it either. Her "condensation" was of knowledge, not percepts.
I think he's trying to get at what Rand called, "unit economy," an aspect of the fundamental nature of knowledge, which is simplification. As an illustration of that, condensation fails.
"Concepts are tools for organizing and condensing perceptual data—for the purpose of dealing more effectively with perceptual reality." [Page 366]
Concepts only do one thing. They identify existents, as individual existents or as members of classes or categories of existents. They do not store knowledge, they do not organize anything (unless the fact that all the referents of a concept are "organized" as belonging to the same category or class of existents). The only thing concepts enable us to do, is to identify existents. Everything else must be done by means of propositions, utilizing concepts to identify the existents propositions are assertions about. [See the section, "Conceptual Relationships to Knowledge," in the, "Propositions," chapter.]
"It is true that after concepts have been formed and automated, they get automatically integrated with one's perceptions, as Rand notes:
"...you cannot perceive a table as an infant perceives it--as a mysterious object with four legs. You perceive it as a table, i.e., a man-made piece of furniture, serving a certain purpose belonging to a human habitation, etc.; you cannot separate these attributes from our sight of the table, you experience it as a single indivisible percept--yet all you see is a four-legged object; the rest is an automatized integration of a vast amount of conceptual knowledge which, at one time, you had to learn bit by bit." [Return of the Primitive, Pages 55-56] [Pages 367-368]
Binswanger is apparently aware of what is totally wrong with this because he adds:
"This overlay of conceptual content supplements perception rather than distorting it—or even changing it, qua perception."
This whole piece would have been better left out. The entire Rand quote is just wrong. No amount of learning ever changes perception, by supplementation, or any other way. What changes is the knowledge one has about what one perceives and that knowledge is accessed by identifying what one perceives by means of a concept, because all our knowledge is recallable from memory only by means of the concepts that identify the existents our knowledge is about. [See the section, "Conceptual Relationships to Knowledge," in the, "Propositions," chapter.]
"Concept-Formation in Science" [Page 369]
He lists what he believes are scientific concepts leading to advances in science:
"Such concepts as velocity (vs speed), inertia, gravity, energy, element, valence, supply, demand, evolution, natural selection, variable, derivative, integral, germ, and synapse, have opened the door to previously unattainable discoveries."
I am not sure how "supply and demand" made it into a list of scientific terms unless he thinks economics is a science. He again lists evolution, and the evolutionary concept, "natural selection," as science terms. [See the chapters, "Science and Philosophy," and, "Evolution."]
"The Prose Principle" [Page 376]
The idea here is that one can use observed aspects of reality as knowledge before that knowledge is explicitly identified in terms of concepts. He, unfortunately, attempts to use this fact to prove or defend induction. I have used a similar example I call the difference between technique and technology. Before men discovered the science of biology and technology of farming, men successfully farmed using fertilization, and irrigation, and other techniques that were discovered by "trial and error" to work, without understanding the principles behind why they worked. There is no doubt that those techniques worked, but it was not scientific knowledge until the scientific principles behind why they worked were discovered and explained. The knowledge of technique, methods that work, is a kind of proto-knowledge, which is all that "induction" is capable of. Until the application of deductive methods to such proto-knowledge is made, it can never become true scientific knowledge.
The reason techniques worked, when they did, was because there were scientific principles behind the techniques, though those who used the techniques were unaware of them. Though techniques were a kind of knowledge, (this has always worked in the past so we expect it will continue to work), it was not knowledge of principles, but of custom, tradition, and history. Because they were techniques and not principles, when the techniques did not work, there was no way to discover why they failed, and the failure of the technique would usually be blamed on things like the gods or some other superstitious notion. Techniques are all that so-called induction provides; scientific principles can only be discovered and established deductively.