Thursday, February 2, 2017

Allan Gotthelf on Ayn Rand’s Theory of Concepts

To celebrate Ayn Rand’s birthday (2 February 1905) here’s a good quote from Allan Gotthelf on Ayn Rand’s unique achievement, her theory of concepts:
The nature and formation of a concept depends in part on reality (for instance, mind-independent commensurability and causal relationships) and in part on the requirements of a conceptual consciousness (for instance, the need to integrate via measurement-omission and the need of unit-economy). Concepts, then, are neither products of subjective conscious choices, as nominalism claims, nor intuitive grasps of intrinsic universals or essences, as realism claims. They are, on Rand’s view, essentially distinct from what both of these theories take concepts to be. And because grasping their nature is central to our understanding of human cognition and to the establishment of norms thereof, we need a new concept—and term—for the actual relationship between concepts and the world. Rand’s term for this third status is “objective.” As she writes, “None of these schools regards concepts as objective, i.e., as neither revealed nor invented, but as produced by man’s consciousness in accordance with the facts of reality, as mental integrations of factual data computed by man—as the products of a cognitive method of classification whose processes must be performed by man, but whose content is dictated by reality.” 
(Source: Concepts And Their Role in Knowledge, Edited by Allan Gotthelf and James G. Lennox; Chapter: “Ayn Rand’s Theory of Concepts”) 

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