Monday, December 7, 2009

Rand's Nominalism/Realism - or Whatever???

On the RoR forum at
Stephen Boydstun wrote:
"Rand's theory [of epistemology] is not realist, neither is it

Ignoring the bad grammar usually found on these forums ("neither"
should read "nor" (or the sentence should be re-written to exclude the
useless comma), and schools of philosophy are always capitalized (as
in Realist and Nominalist), the point made on Friday, August 25, 2006
at 9:36am is a valid one.

I recall the days, 20 years or more ago, when I would have like to
find some philosophical genre in which to firmly plant Randian
epistemology, to find out where it belongs. But the task was hopeless
(I did learn a lot more about philosophy, however). It wasn't until 20
years later that I discovered that Randian epistemology is not
epistemology, that it relies on an implicit epistemology which was
never directly discussed by Rand. And even though she discussed
Realism and Nominalism in very brief and often polemical terms, it
only served to confuse the issue since, despite the title of her
compendium of articles, Rand never wrote a book on Objectivist
epistemology (or an introduction to one, as the title suggests).

One would hope that an introduction to a topic would at least contain
elements of the topic itself.

Rand was certainly correct to state in that book's preface that all
the problems of epistemology originate in one basic problem, that of
Universals. The problem of Universals has taken many forms down
through the centuries, but she chose to focus on that form relevant to
the mid-20th-century discussion which is not exactly what one would
normally call an epistemology. Rather than discussing what makes
knowledge possible, they only discuss concepts, that is, pre-existing
knowledge that takes the form of words.

Rand took her epistemological cues from books written probably around
the 1950s to 60s, thus confusing concepts with knowledge. For example,
Lyle Bourne wrote in 1966:

"As a working definition we may say a concept exists whenever two or
more distinguishable objects have been grouped or classified together
and set apart from other objects on the basis of some common feature
or property characteristic of each." (Lyle Bourne, Human Conceptual
Behavior, p. 1.)

Lyle Bourne, on the other hand, did not make the mistake of
classifying his book as a work on epistemology or even an introduction
to one. And anyway, concept-formation and definition should not
comprise an introduction to epistemology, those topics are relevant
only after the fact of knowledge.

The question may then be asked: what is knowledge, if not concept?
The answer is simply to look to Rand's work itself in which she states
that knowledge is gained and held in conceptual form (ITOE, 1). That
says nothing about the formation of new knoweldge per se, only the
conceptual form it takes.


John Donohue said...

If concept formation is not knoweledge, what is knowledge?

rtaylortitle said...

Excellent point, John. The author is somehow trying to separate some form of "real" knowledge from a concept. That's idiotic and begs the question.

Cavewight said...

I don't hold to a distinction between knowledge and "real" knowledge.

The ITOE is mostly devoted to metaphysics and psychology, concept-formation is a theory of psychology not epistemology.