Betsy Speicher

Do concepts change?

207 posts in this topic

There is another problem with The Logical Leap and a crucial one considering its theme. David Harriman doesn't understand or explain how a concept changes, even though he repeatedly notes instances of the phenomenon occurring.

What do you mean by a concept "changing?" Do you mean

  1. The referents change
  2. You discover that a given existent is or is not subsumed by a concept
  3. The defining characteristics change when the current definition is inadequate to distinguish the concept from similar existents
  4. You discover new characteristics shared by all units of the concept
  5. You subdivide the concept to form new concepts referring to sub-classes of the original concept
  6. Something else

As a preliminary, let me note there is a respect and set of circumstances where a concept doesn't change. Ayn Rand explained it in the following discussion on page 233 of ITOE:

Prof. H: It is easy to assume that when the definition changes, the concept changes.

AR: No, the context of your knowledge changes. When you know more, you select a different essential characteristic by which to define the object, because you now have to differentiate it more precisely. Your knowledge has expanded, but the concept doesn't change.

The similarities and differences according to which you originally formed the concept still remain. So you haven't changed your concept.

But does it follow from her remarks that a concept can't change? No. A concept isn't changed by acquiring more knowledge, but it can certainly be modified by conscious intent.

Modified how? Why?

Does Mr Harriman understand and explain that? No. His only broad remarks about whether concepts change are these on page 13:
The concept "temperature" had the same meaning for Galileo as for Einstein, i.e., both men referred to the same physical property. The difference is only that Einstein knew much more this property; he understood its relation to heat, to motion and to the fundamental nature of matter. But that expansion of knowledge was possible only because the concept itself did not change. Because concepts are stable, we can communicate and advance our knowledge.

This is correct.

You may point out he is only repeating what Miss Rand said, and you're partly right. But the next thing he is remarking on page 25:
Western civilization broadened the concept of "cause," by regarding personal efficacy as merely a subtype of it. This was a crucial precondition of the development of modern science.
So it turns out it is not always valuable if a concept is stable and, in fact, it can be extremely valuable if it changes. (To broaden a concept is to change it.)

The concept itself wasn't actually "broadened" and didn't really change. This is an example of #2 above. The existing, unchanging concept "cause" came to include new referents in addition to the referents known when the concept was originally formed.

Now you'd think Mr. Harriman would have pounced on this phenomenon like a leopard. Consider how many times the book refers to a concept being changed as a crucial element in an inductive breakthrough. Here's just one from page 47, where Harriman is talking about Galileo's discovery of the increase of speed during fall:
In addition to the concept of "friction," this discovery depended on Galileo's two key concepts of motion. Throughout the above reasoning, he was using concepts of "speed" and "acceleration" that differed profoundly from those in common use at the time.

In other words, Galileo (or someone else: Harriman's remark doesn't rule out that possibility) took existing concepts and changed them. In the June edition of TIA Monthly last year I published a paper "Transforming a Concept" that explains how and why concepts change. One of my prime examples was how Newton modified the concept of "transmission" to make his breakthrough about how a medium affects the passage of light. Harry Binswanger reviewed the article, called it "interesting and thoughtful" but dismissed it because he claimed "concepts don't change". His view is symptomatic of a widespread confusion in Objectivism that goes back many years and I am disappointed that Harriman, who knows concepts can indeed change, did not attempt an explanation, but let his fixed idea and his observations sit side by side unresolved.

It depends on what is meant by "concepts changing."

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There is another problem with The Logical Leap and a crucial one considering its theme. David Harriman doesn't understand or explain how a concept changes, even though he repeatedly notes instances of the phenomenon occurring.

What do you mean by a concept "changing?" Do you mean

  1. The referents change
  2. You discover that a given existent is or is not subsumed by a concept
  3. The defining characteristics change when the current definition is inadequate to distinguish the concept from similar existents
  4. You discover new characteristics shared by all units of the concept
  5. You subdivide the concept to form new concepts referring to sub-classes of the original concept
  6. Something else

As a preliminary, let me note there is a respect and set of circumstances where a concept doesn't change. Ayn Rand explained it in the following discussion on page 233 of ITOE:

Prof. H: It is easy to assume that when the definition changes, the concept changes.

AR: No, the context of your knowledge changes. When you know more, you select a different essential characteristic by which to define the object, because you now have to differentiate it more precisely. Your knowledge has expanded, but the concept doesn't change.

The similarities and differences according to which you originally formed the concept still remain. So you haven't changed your concept.

But does it follow from her remarks that a concept can't change? No. A concept isn't changed by acquiring more knowledge, but it can certainly be modified by conscious intent.

Modified how? Why?

Does Mr Harriman understand and explain that? No. His only broad remarks about whether concepts change are these on page 13:
The concept "temperature" had the same meaning for Galileo as for Einstein, i.e., both men referred to the same physical property. The difference is only that Einstein knew much more this property; he understood its relation to heat, to motion and to the fundamental nature of matter. But that expansion of knowledge was possible only because the concept itself did not change. Because concepts are stable, we can communicate and advance our knowledge.

This is correct.

You may point out he is only repeating what Miss Rand said, and you're partly right. But the next thing he is remarking on page 25:
Western civilization broadened the concept of "cause," by regarding personal efficacy as merely a subtype of it. This was a crucial precondition of the development of modern science.
So it turns out it is not always valuable if a concept is stable and, in fact, it can be extremely valuable if it changes. (To broaden a concept is to change it.)

The concept itself wasn't actually "broadened" and didn't really change. This is an example of #2 above. The existing, unchanging concept "cause" came to include new referents in addition to the referents known when the concept was originally formed.

Now you'd think Mr. Harriman would have pounced on this phenomenon like a leopard. Consider how many times the book refers to a concept being changed as a crucial element in an inductive breakthrough. Here's just one from page 47, where Harriman is talking about Galileo's discovery of the increase of speed during fall:
In addition to the concept of "friction," this discovery depended on Galileo's two key concepts of motion. Throughout the above reasoning, he was using concepts of "speed" and "acceleration" that differed profoundly from those in common use at the time.

In other words, Galileo (or someone else: Harriman's remark doesn't rule out that possibility) took existing concepts and changed them. In the June edition of TIA Monthly last year I published a paper "Transforming a Concept" that explains how and why concepts change. One of my prime examples was how Newton modified the concept of "transmission" to make his breakthrough about how a medium affects the passage of light. Harry Binswanger reviewed the article, called it "interesting and thoughtful" but dismissed it because he claimed "concepts don't change". His view is symptomatic of a widespread confusion in Objectivism that goes back many years and I am disappointed that Harriman, who knows concepts can indeed change, did not attempt an explanation, but let his fixed idea and his observations sit side by side unresolved.

It depends on what is meant by "concepts changing."

I am happy to answer the detail of Betsy's questions but I'll start with the broad picture. What I mean by a "concept changing" is the following: I mean that an innovator takes a hard look at the current form of a given concept and modifies it to form a new one. The result is not the disappearance of the first concept but the appearance of a second concept--a variant of the first--with the same name. I am not talking about substitution. I am talking about the development of a new concept from the starting point of the old one.

If this sounds impossible, consider an analogy. You have a plan to take a trip to New York City. It has five steps including booking the flight from LA, driving to the airport, flying to NYC, and checking in. You write it down. Then you decide to modify the plan to go via Phoenix. You write down the steps with that modification. You now have two plans. The second doesn't eliminate the first. It supplements the first and you are free to keep both and act on either.

If you study a decent size dictionary you will find that the same word often stands for many different concepts all closely related. If you study them in detail you will see that the later concepts were evolved from the earlier ones by remarkably few processes. The earlier concept was changed to produce the later one. That's what I mean.

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A concept is a mental integration of two or more units which are isolated by a process of abstraction and united by a specific definition.

A concept is a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted.

If these are the elements of a concept, then wouldn't changing one of them change the concept?

There are two applications where this might be used: concepts that are partially invalid, such as if they attempt to integrate things that are incommensurable; and concepts that are valid. I agree that the latter don't change because they refer to real entities. But take a concept that integrates some commensurate and some not commensurate due to errors in identification. Once the errors are corrected, or perhaps a new word is needed to fully integrate the units, wouldn't that be an example of a concept changing?

Didn't the concept "witch" change when it was finally realized that they are not real?

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I am happy to answer the detail of Betsy's questions but I'll start with the broad picture. What I mean by a "concept changing" is the following: I mean that an innovator takes a hard look at the current form of a given concept and modifies it to form a new one. The result is not the disappearance of the first concept but the appearance of a second concept--a variant of the first--with the same name. I am not talking about substitution. I am talking about the development of a new concept from the starting point of the old one.

So you are not really talking about the old concept changing but about the formation of a new concept from an old one. The original concept stays the same and doesn't change. It's like when Momma Jane gives birth to Baby Joey. Jane doesn't change into Joey.

If this sounds impossible, consider an analogy. You have a plan to take a trip to New York City. It has five steps including booking the flight from LA, driving to the airport, flying to NYC, and checking in. You write it down. Then you decide to modify the plan to go via Phoenix. You write down the steps with that modification. You now have two plans. The second doesn't eliminate the first. It supplements the first and you are free to keep both and act on either.

But a plan is a unique existent and not an open-ended concept that condenses and integrates an infinite number of similar units, so the analogy fails.

If you study a decent size dictionary you will find that the same word often stands for many different concepts all closely related. If you study them in detail you will see that the later concepts were evolved from the earlier ones by remarkably few processes. The earlier concept was changed to produce the later one. That's what I mean.

But they are different concepts, not "changed" concepts.

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--------

But they are different concepts, not "changed" concepts.

Then what does "changed" mean? Does an acorn change into a tree or is a different entity?

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Why has the first-level concept table not changed?

Why has the first-level concept ball not changed?

Why has the first-level concept pushing not changed?

Why has the first-level concept red not changed?

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--------

But they are different concepts, not "changed" concepts.

Then what does "changed" mean? Does an acorn change into a tree or is a different entity?

To answer this I have to distinguish between an entity and an attribute. The oak tree is the same entity as the acorn all through the process in which it changes from acorn to oak, but the characteristics of that entity change during the process. Eventually, the particular entity changes so much that it is an entirely different type of entity which can no longer be subsumed under the concept "acorn" but can now be subsumed under the concept "tree."

The entity endures and the attributes change with regard to particular entities, but not so with concepts. With concepts, it is the common characteristics that define the concept and determine it's referents, so the attributes cannot be changed. If you want different attributes, you have to form a new concept.

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Why has the first-level concept table not changed?

Why has the first-level concept ball not changed?

Why has the first-level concept pushing not changed?

Why has the first-level concept red not changed?

I cannot discuss or prove why something that is not so is not so because one cannot prove a negative.

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Tom has raised the claim that concepts change.

Do all concepts change or only some change?

If only some concepts change than I am wondering why first-level concepts like table, ball, pushing and red have not changed but concepts like optimism and transmission have changed as Tom has claimed?

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I am happy to answer the detail of Betsy's questions but I'll start with the broad picture. What I mean by a "concept changing" is the following: I mean that an innovator takes a hard look at the current form of a given concept and modifies it to form a new one. The result is not the disappearance of the first concept but the appearance of a second concept--a variant of the first--with the same name. I am not talking about substitution. I am talking about the development of a new concept from the starting point of the old one.

So you are not really talking about the old concept changing but about the formation of a new concept from an old one. The original concept stays the same and doesn't change. It's like when Momma Jane gives birth to Baby Joey. Jane doesn't change into Joey.

Correction: I am talking about changing the old concept. It is done in exactly the same way as someone changes the first version of a plan to create a second. Of course the first version of the plan--or the concept--still exists in its original form. One doesn't become the other. Betsy is equivocating on the concept "change." Does she seriously suggest a plan hasn't been changed after a second draft has been produced with new elements, just because the first version is available in its original form?

I had written:

If this sounds impossible, consider an analogy. You have a plan to take a trip to New York City. It has five steps including booking the flight from LA, driving to the airport, flying to NYC, and checking in. You write it down. Then you decide to modify the plan to go via Phoenix. You write down the steps with that modification. You now have two plans. The second doesn't eliminate the first. It supplements the first and you are free to keep both and act on either.

Betsy replied:

But a plan is a unique existent and not an open-ended concept that condenses and integrates an infinite number of similar units, so the analogy fails.

Of course the two are different. But they are both abstractions and they have the crucial similarity that counts: they can both be modified in such a way as to produce a new version while leaving the original intact.

I wrote:

If you study a decent size dictionary you will find that the same word often stands for many different concepts all closely related. If you study them in detail you will see that the later concepts were evolved from the earlier ones by remarkably few processes. The earlier concept was changed to produce the later one. That's what I mean.

Betsy responded;

But they are different concepts, not "changed" concepts.

They are variants. The later concept is an altered version of an earlier one. Take two concepts named by the word "character". The original concept subsumed only the distinctive marks made by a karax (a sharpened stake.) A later version subsumes any written symbol regardless of how it is formed. Isn't it clear the second version of the concept resulted from widening the first?

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So you are not really talking about the old concept changing but about the formation of a new concept from an old one. The original concept stays the same and doesn't change. It's like when Momma Jane gives birth to Baby Joey. Jane doesn't change into Joey.

Correction: I am talking about changing the old concept. It is done in exactly the same way as someone changes the first version of a plan to create a second. Of course the first version of the plan--or the concept--still exists in its original form. One doesn't become the other.

That is why, for clear thinking and communication, it is necessary to define one's terms and stick to that definition. How else can one focus on which concept, the old or new version, and which referents in reality one is thinking about or discussing? What a word or concept used to mean in the past is irrelevant if one is trying to use it now.

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No, concepts do not "change". There is a recurring confusion in this notion, which is not new and which does go back many years, but Harry Binswanger's rejection of "changing concepts", as reported here, is not the confusion.

No. It is a mistake to think concepts don't change. That is the real confusion. Would anyone claim plans don't change because the original versions are still in existence alongside the modified ones? Just as someone still retains an idea after he has passed it on to someone else, so changing a concept can be achieved without loss of the initial version. The evidence of change is in the later version not the first.

ewv wrote:

Ayn Rand addressed this topic over 40 years ago in IOE and at the Workshop. There is no such alleged "confusion in Objectivism", only amongst those who do not understand it.

I know ITOE and the workshops well on this point. Did Ayn Rand say a concept can't change? No. All she said is that the act of expanding one's knowledge or changing a definition doesn't change a concept and she's right. Let me emphasize that: I agree with her: expanding one's knowledge and changing a definition doesn't change a concept. Here is the quote from the workshop again:

Prof. H: It is easy to assume that when the definition changes, the concept changes.

AR: No, the context of your knowledge changes. When you know more, you select a different essential characteristic by which to define the object, because you now have to differentiate it more precisely. Your knowledge has expanded, but the concept doesn't change.

The similarities and differences according to which you originally formed the concept still remain. So you haven't changed your concept.

Now read those last two sentences carefully. How do you know expanding your knowledge or changing a definition hasn't changed the concept? Because:"The similarities and differences according to which you originally formed the concept still remain."

Right there she tells how you change a concept. You alter "the similarities and differences according to which you originally formed the concept." How do you do that? One way is to relax the standard of similarity and create a variant where the referents have more distant likenesses. As I have already pointed out, this is what was done to widen the concept "character." Its original limited range of referents--marks made by a sharpened stake—was expanded to include the written symbols of hundreds of languages made by anything from a pen to a computer's printer. The concept widened i.e., changed because the standard of similarity was altered.

Alternatively a concept can be narrowed by tightening the differentiating criteria. The original concept of "deer" subsumed any animal that wasn't a fish or a bird. The variant of the concept most people know today is much more restricted. It refers only to members of the family (Cervidae) of ruminants that have horns/antlers and spotted young.

I arrived at the same conclusion about how to change a concept as Miss Rand from first-hand research, years before I read her standard. So I'm convinced she's right. That is how you change a concept. Any variant of an existing concept is created by doing exactly what AR indicated had to be done.

ewv wrote:

A concept may change if an error is discovered, either minor or major, in which case it is found to be an invalid concept which may be corrected or abandoned entirely and a correct classification re-established. But that is not the normal progression of increases in knowledge.

This acknowledges that concepts can change. But change is not restricted to invalid concepts. With valid concepts, change is motivated by the desire to create a valuable variant.

ewv added:

A correctly formed concept retains the same units with the same similarities and differences, but may require a more expansive definition to make the distinctions required within a new context of additional knowledge. That is not a "changed concept".

Quite so. That's what Ayn Rand said and I agree fully. But what if an innovator alters the similarities and differences?

ewv said:

Neither is a concept "broadened" into a changed replacement concept with the discovery of new knowledge. A new and wider concept of commensurable units be may be formed from two or more existing concepts, or a concept may be subdivided on the basis of more specialized knowledge. The new concepts in both categories are a higher level concept. This was the subject of the IOE chapter on "Abstractions from Abstractions".

I agree with that chapter fully. And I reject the idea that if a concept is broadened it becomes a "changed replacement." If a concept is widened, the result is a new concept that exists alongside the original, not the disappearance of the original. Change cannot be equated with substitution.

ewv added:

A concept does not elastically morph into a "broader" "changed" concept; new concepts are formed widening or narrowing the original. Even if the name of a concept were to be re-used for a new, higher level concept, that would be a change in the use of the word, not a changed concept.
There are stolen concepts here. Ewv says "new concepts are formed widening or narrowing the original." If you deny an original concept can change, you have no logical right to the claim one can be "widened" or "narrowed." If change to concepts is impossible, widening and narrowing are out of the question.

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Tom: would you say that "Concepts change" is essentially the same proposition as "Concepts can evolve into new, related concepts"? In think that's the crux of it. In programming terms, a concept *is* immutable. If its referents change, then a new concept is required, even if there is overlap. (Subdivision is an example: "man" and "woman" are subdivisions of the concept "human"; although all units of "man" or of "woman" are also units of "human", they are nonetheless a distinctly different set than the more comprehensive "human" which encompasses both. But since gender is so profoundly metaphysically important, such a subdivision is necessary.)

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Tom,

I am wondering why on one hand you claim concepts change but than on the other hand deny that first-level concepts can include attributes and actions that are perceived, examples are red and rolling?

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Tom: would you say that "Concepts change" is essentially the same proposition as "Concepts can evolve into new, related concepts"? In think that's the crux of it. In programming terms, a concept *is* immutable. If its referents change, then a new concept is required, even if there is overlap. (Subdivision is an example: "man" and "woman" are subdivisions of the concept "human"; although all units of "man" or of "woman" are also units of "human", they are nonetheless a distinctly different set than the more comprehensive "human" which encompasses both. But since gender is so profoundly metaphysically important, such a subdivision is necessary.)

Good question. But I want to stress that concepts don't change by themselves. I'd alter your wording to make it the active form of those propositions. I'd say "Concepts can be changed" is essentially the same proposition as "Innovators can vary the standard of the similarities and differences that went to form a concept and thus create a new one."

In other words, I agree that the original concept is immutable in this sense: while it provides the raw material for an innovator to create a variant, it emerges unscathed from the process. If someone claims it is immutable in the sense that you can't alter its parametters to create a variant, that's wrong. How do you create a variant? You treat the original as a first draft and change that, always remembering that the product is a new concept not a substitute for the first. The "first draft" continues its existence undisturbed, but the second concept is a product of changing the internal features of that first concept.

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Tom: would you say that "Concepts change" is essentially the same proposition as "Concepts can evolve into new, related concepts"? In think that's the crux of it. In programming terms, a concept *is* immutable. If its referents change, then a new concept is required, even if there is overlap. (Subdivision is an example: "man" and "woman" are subdivisions of the concept "human"; although all units of "man" or of "woman" are also units of "human", they are nonetheless a distinctly different set than the more comprehensive "human" which encompasses both. But since gender is so profoundly metaphysically important, such a subdivision is necessary.)

Good question. But I want to stress that concepts don't change by themselves. I'd alter your wording to make it the active form of those propositions. I'd say "Concepts can be changed" is essentially the same proposition as "Innovators can vary the standard of the similarities and differences that went to form a concept and thus create a new one."

In other words, I agree that the original concept is immutable in this sense: while it provides the raw material for an innovator to create a variant, it emerges unscathed from the process. If someone claims it is immutable in the sense that you can't alter its parametters to create a variant, that's wrong. How do you create a variant? You treat the original as a first draft and change that, always remembering that the product is a new concept not a substitute for the first. The "first draft" continues its existence undisturbed, but the second concept is a product of changing the internal features of that first concept.

As an addendum I want to compliment you on observing that the new concept is related to the first. That close relationship is what justifies the use of the same symbol. The new abstraction is a different concept from the first. But is also a variant of the first ---with all the epistemological common ground that implies. Neither concept-variation nor the choice of a symbol is arbitrary.

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No, concepts do not "change". There is a recurring confusion in this notion, which is not new and which does go back many years, but Harry Binswanger's rejection of "changing concepts", as reported here, is not the confusion.

No. It is a mistake to think concepts don't change. That is the real confusion. Would anyone claim plans don't change because the original versions are still in existence alongside the modified ones? Just as someone still retains an idea after he has passed it on to someone else, so changing a concept can be achieved without loss of the initial version. The evidence of change is in the later version not the first.

There are a lot of things that Ayn Rand did "not" say in exactly some selected words. One cannot paw through her writings looking for things she didn't explicitly say in exactly some words, and then conclude from that she "could" have without regard to what else she did say and the meaning of her theory of epistemology. She described the process of forming concepts, which did not include "changing" them. She said that concepts do not change with a new definition and explained why. She described how wider and narrower concepts are formed with new concepts and accompanying new definitions. There is no "confusion" in Objectivism as you claimed. A concept is not changed unless there is an error in it, i.e., it is invalid as originally formulated, which must be corrected. You can advocate elastically morphing concepts in your own thought if you want to, and the rest of us will stay on guard for the shifting sands. But your theory is not Objectivism, is not "compatible" with Objectivism, and is not clearing up any alleged "confusion" in Objectivism. This has nothing to do with analogies about changing a "plan" for some unspecified goal changed for an unspecified purpose. Concepts are not "plans". In Objectivism, one does not "change" concepts and keep around old "versions". That someone might try to do that, along with a lot of other conceptual fallacies, is his own problem, not something missing from Objectivism.

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A concept does not elastically morph into a "broader" "changed" concept; new concepts are formed widening or narrowing the original. Even if the name of a concept were to be re-used for a new, higher level concept, that would be a change in the use of the word, not a changed concept.

There are stolen concepts here. Ewv says "new concepts are formed widening or narrowing the original." If you deny an original concept can change, you have no logical right to the claim one can be "widened" or "narrowed." If change to concepts is impossible, widening and narrowing are out of the question.

You don't seem to understand what is being said. Forming a new concept does not require "changing" old ones. Ayn Rand's discussion of abstractions from abstractions as a means to form new concepts is not based on a "stolen concept". Her description of widening and narrowing concepts refers to forming new concepts based on concepts one already holds, while fully retaining them, not denying or contradicting them. That is the opposite of a stolen concept. Her method of forming a new, wider concept based on two or more existing concepts that are commensurable has nothing to do with your resurrecting (this is not the first time I have encountered this) a theory of "changing" concepts, which disrupts the entire hierarchy of concepts and the hierarchy of knowledge. "Changing concepts" is the opposite of what is required to "have a logical right" to form higher level concepts through abstraction from abstraction.

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A concept may change if an error is discovered, either minor or major, in which case it is found to be an invalid concept which may be corrected or abandoned entirely and a correct classification re-established. But that is not the normal progression of increases in knowledge.

This acknowledges that concepts can change. But change is not restricted to invalid concepts. With valid concepts, change is motivated by the desire to create a valuable variant.

No, correcting erros is not an acknowledgment of your theory. If an error is made it must be corrected, replacing the erroneous, invalid concept. That does not justify "changing" anything else out of a "desire" for a "variant", while keeping around "old versions". The advancement of knowledge is not a progression of errors replaced by an accumulation of desired "variants". Some people do go through life that way to different degrees, to their detriment. It is not the Objectivist epistemology.

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...the concept "character." Its original limited range of referents--marks made by a sharpened stake—was expanded to include the written symbols of hundreds of languages made by anything from a pen to a computer's printer.

Purely for my own edification (at this point, anyway), I would like to see Tom's and ewv's answer to this question:

Did the concept "character," when originally formed, encompass as referents letters produced on paper by a computer printer?

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...the concept "character." Its original limited range of referents--marks made by a sharpened stake—was expanded to include the written symbols of hundreds of languages made by anything from a pen to a computer's printer.

Purely for my own edification (at this point, anyway), I would like to see Tom's and ewv's answer to this question:

Did the concept "character," when originally formed, encompass as referents letters produced on paper by a computer printer?

Of course it did. The characters produced by a printer have the same similarity of purpose and function to specify words, and the same distinction from everything else in those terms, that the original characters first known did. Now that you know about other kinds of characters you recognize that. A concept is open-ended and means all the units subsumed in the past, present and future that share the same similarities, whether or not you are aware of them. The "original limited range of referents" was limited to what was known about possible characters at the time, not a restriction on what the concept could refer to. Once typewriters were invented and computer printers were invented, these resulted in kinds of characters produced by different methods but which serve the same function -- the recognition of which is required to raise the question. These kinds of characters are logical subdivisions of the concept character in the form of new, higher level concepts, along with subdivisions for handwritten characters and very primitive forms. Earlier definitions that may have been based on ostensive definitions or on descriptions of scratching in dirt were expanded to account for the increased knowledge. That knowledge led to increased understanding of what is essential to distinguish the concept in the wider context of knowledge, which has nothing to do with "scratching in dirt". Mankind's knowledge of what characters are, and of what they can be, expanded; the concept did not because concepts are open-ended. More advanced knowledge of characters then led to the additional concepts logically based on specializing the base concept. This is the process of concept formation that retains the stability of conceptual knowledge as our knowledge expands based on it. This example is very similar to the example of number that Ayn Rand discussed.

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No, concepts do not "change". There is a recurring confusion in this notion, which is not new and which does go back many years, but Harry Binswanger's rejection of "changing concepts", as reported here, is not the confusion.

No. It is a mistake to think concepts don't change. That is the real confusion. Would anyone claim plans don't change because the original versions are still in existence alongside the modified ones? Just as someone still retains an idea after he has passed it on to someone else, so changing a concept can be achieved without loss of the initial version. The evidence of change is in the later version not the first.

There are a lot of things that Ayn Rand did "not" say in exactly some selected words. One cannot paw through her writings looking for things she didn't explicitly say in exactly some words, and then conclude from that she "could" have without regard to what else she did say and the meaning of her theory of epistemology.

What on earth makes ewv think this is my method? I work out my ideas by looking at reality and thinking for myself. If Ayn Rand may have pre-empted an idea I check carefully to acknowledge the fact. In this case all I found is that Ayn Rand was aware of how concepts are changed, but had written no more about it. My theory of concept-variation is my own work. It is original.
She described the process of forming concepts, which did not include "changing" them.
That is exactly right. My observations are new.
She said that concepts do not change with a new definition and explained why.
Correct. Who disagrees?
She described how wider and narrower concepts are formed with new concepts and accompanying new definitions.
True.
There is no "confusion" in Objectivism as you claimed.
There is no confusion in Ayn Rand's theory. There is confusion among Objectivists. There is the false belief that because changing a definition doesn't change a concept, a concept cannot be changed, period. That is false. Harry Binswanger wrote to me explicitly and told me "concepts don't change" in the way I have identified. He has spread that idea to every member of his List. He is as confused about changing a concept as he is about the existence of "relatively first-level concepts."
A concept is not changed unless there is an error in it, i.e., it is invalid as originally formulated, which must be corrected.
This is a repetition and it is wrong. The dictionary is full of examples where valid concepts have been varied with great benefit. The word "character" stands for just under twenty different concepts, all valid, all derived by varying one valid root concept.
You can advocate elastically morphing concepts in your own thought if you want to, and the rest of us will stay on guard for the shifting sands.
"Elastically morphing concepts" has nothing to do with my theory. That's a sloppy misrepresentation.
But your theory is not Objectivism, is not "compatible" with Objectivism, and is not clearing up any alleged "confusion" in Objectivism.
I am proud to say my theory is new and my own work. It is perfectly compatible with Objectivism. It will clear up the confusions of those who think concepts don't change.
This has nothing to do with analogies about changing a "plan" for some unspecified goal changed for an unspecified purpose. Concepts are not "plans".
No. But they have analogous properties. Concepts aren't "file folders" either but Ayn Rand compared them. Was she wrong?
In Objectivism, one does not "change" concepts and keep around old "versions".
Innovators have changed concepts throughout history and the original versions have been retained. That's a fact.
That someone might try to do that, along with a lot of other conceptual fallacies, is his own problem, not something missing from Objectivism.
There's nothing missing from Objectivism. There are plenty of new discoveries to make. Or does ewv disagree with Ayn Rand that we are at the very beginning of grasping the relationships that exist in the universe?

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A concept may change if an error is discovered, either minor or major, in which case it is found to be an invalid concept which may be corrected or abandoned entirely and a correct classification re-established. But that is not the normal progression of increases in knowledge.

This acknowledges that concepts can change. But change is not restricted to invalid concepts. With valid concepts, change is motivated by the desire to create a valuable variant.

No, correcting erros is not an acknowledgment of your theory. If an error is made it must be corrected, replacing the erroneous, invalid concept. That does not justify "changing" anything else out of a "desire" for a "variant", while keeping around "old versions". The advancement of knowledge is not a progression of errors replaced by an accumulation of desired "variants".

If ewv goes to a decent dictionary and looks up the word "character," he will find there was an original valid concept that subsumed instances of a distinctive mark made by a karax. It did not subsume instances of Egyptian hieroglyphs, let alone marks made by a modern printer. Since that concept's formation, innovators have created one brilliant variation of it after another, none of which replaces the original. Here is a list of the definitons of those concepts, from Webster's New World Dictionary, beginning with a definition of a much wider version than the original.

1. a distinctive mark (TM: This wider version of the concept is not the same as the original Greek one. "A distinctive mark" in a broad generic sense dates from only about 1315 AD)

2.

a. any letter, figure, or symbol used in writing and printing

b. the letters of an alphabet, collectively

3. style of printing or handwriting

4.

a. a mystic symbol or magical emblem

b. a code or cipher

5. a distinctive trait, quality, or attribute; characteristic

6. essential quality; nature; kind or sort

7. the pattern of behavior or personality found in an individual or group; moral constitution

8. moral strength; self-discipline, fortitude, etc.

9.

a. reputation

b. good reputation [left without a shred of character]

10. a statement about the behavior, qualities, etc. of a person, esp. as given by a former employer; reference

11. status; position

12. a personage [great characters in history]

13.

a. a person in a play, story, novel, etc.

b. a role as portrayed by an actor or actress

14. Informal an odd, eccentric, or noteworthy person

15. Genetics any attribute, as color, shape, etc., caused in an individual by the action of one or more genes

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A concept may change if an error is discovered, either minor or major, in which case it is found to be an invalid concept which may be corrected or abandoned entirely and a correct classification re-established. But that is not the normal progression of increases in knowledge.

This acknowledges that concepts can change. But change is not restricted to invalid concepts. With valid concepts, change is motivated by the desire to create a valuable variant.

No, correcting erros is not an acknowledgment of your theory. If an error is made it must be corrected, replacing the erroneous, invalid concept. That does not justify "changing" anything else out of a "desire" for a "variant", while keeping around "old versions". The advancement of knowledge is not a progression of errors replaced by an accumulation of desired "variants".

If ewv goes to a decent dictionary and looks up the word "character," he will find there was an original valid concept that subsumed instances of a distinctive mark made by a karax. It did not subsume instances of Egyptian hieroglyphs, let alone marks made by a modern printer. Since that concept's formation, innovators have created one brilliant variation of it after another, none of which replaces the original. Here is a list of the definitons of those concepts, from Webster's New World Dictionary, beginning with a definition of a much wider version than the original.

1. a distinctive mark (TM: This wider version of the concept is not the same as the original Greek one. "A distinctive mark" in a broad generic sense dates from only about 1315 AD)

2.

a. any letter, figure, or symbol used in writing and printing

b. the letters of an alphabet, collectively

3. style of printing or handwriting

4.

a. a mystic symbol or magical emblem

b. a code or cipher

5. a distinctive trait, quality, or attribute; characteristic

6. essential quality; nature; kind or sort

7. the pattern of behavior or personality found in an individual or group; moral constitution

8. moral strength; self-discipline, fortitude, etc.

9.

a. reputation

b. good reputation [left without a shred of character]

10. a statement about the behavior, qualities, etc. of a person, esp. as given by a former employer; reference

11. status; position

12. a personage [great characters in history]

13.

a. a person in a play, story, novel, etc.

b. a role as portrayed by an actor or actress

14. Informal an odd, eccentric, or noteworthy person

15. Genetics any attribute, as color, shape, etc., caused in an individual by the action of one or more genes

Piz raised the issue of 'character' as it pertains to character displays of printers. Most of this list has absolutely nothing to do with that. It lists homonyms. Word usage is not epistemology. I addressed Piz's post in terms of Objectivist epistemology, not linguistic analysis.

When someone conceptually distinguishes Egyptian characters from some other kind that is obviously a subdivision. That does not justify a substitute theory of concepts advocating "changing concepts" in comparison with Ayn Rand's epistemology.

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No, concepts do not "change". There is a recurring confusion in this notion, which is not new and which does go back many years, but Harry Binswanger's rejection of "changing concepts", as reported here, is not the confusion.

No. It is a mistake to think concepts don't change. That is the real confusion. Would anyone claim plans don't change because the original versions are still in existence alongside the modified ones? Just as someone still retains an idea after he has passed it on to someone else, so changing a concept can be achieved without loss of the initial version. The evidence of change is in the later version not the first.

There are a lot of things that Ayn Rand did "not" say in exactly some selected words. One cannot paw through her writings looking for things she didn't explicitly say in exactly some words, and then conclude from that she "could" have without regard to what else she did say and the meaning of her theory of epistemology.

What on earth makes ewv think this is my method? I work out my ideas by looking at reality and thinking for myself. If Ayn Rand may have pre-empted an idea I check carefully to acknowledge the fact. In this case all I found is that Ayn Rand was aware of how concepts are changed, but had written no more about it. My theory of concept-variation is my own work. It is original.
She described the process of forming concepts, which did not include "changing" them.
That is exactly right. My observations are new.
She said that concepts do not change with a new definition and explained why.
Correct. Who disagrees?
She described how wider and narrower concepts are formed with new concepts and accompanying new definitions.
True.

You have said that your theory of "changing" concepts as part of the way concepts are formed is consistent with Ayn Rand's theory, and that she should have agreed with it because you could not find it explicitly discussed or rejected, in terms of your words, in addition to what she did write. She did not say it and there are no grounds to think she could have. It contradicts her explanation of concept formation for the reasons already given. She could not have embraced a theory in opposition to her own stated views and it is arbitrary to claim that some view of your own, regardless of the method of where you first got it, should be somehow inserted into or appended to her theory, with the insinuation that she somehow missed it, along with the additional claim that anyone who does not accept it is a "confused Objectivist".

You can have all the credit for thinking up your theory of "changing concepts" that you want -- no one is contesting you for it -- but it is not new. As I have said, I have encountered it previously as a mistaken idea of Objectivist epistemology. That was decades ago. Ayn Rand rejected it at the Workshop. I have explored it previously myself and rejected it. There is no reason to revoke that rejection.

There is no "confusion" in Objectivism as you claimed.
There is no confusion in Ayn Rand's theory. There is confusion among Objectivists.

You stated that you believe there is "a widespread confusion in Objectivism that goes back many years". It is equally gratuitous and untrue to state that Objectivists are "confused" for not embracing your theory.

There is the false belief that because changing a definition doesn't change a concept, a concept cannot be changed, period. That is false. Harry Binswanger wrote to me explicitly and told me "concepts don't change" in the way I have identified. He has spread that idea to every member of his List. He is as confused about changing a concept as he is about the existence of "relatively first-level concepts."

Neither Harry Binswanger, nor Ayn Rand, nor the rest of us are confused or spreading false ideas by rejecting your theory. Ayn Rand explained how concepts remain the same in their meaning, i.e., their referents, when knowledge expands; only the definition changes. She had no reason to anticipate the details of every other formulation of the error. She did not have to explain that correct concepts don't change when knowledge expands. She explained how new concepts are formed encapsulating the wider knowledge. Other than correcting errors that may be discovered, one can expand the definition or one can form a new concept based hierarchically on previous knowledge. She did not somehow overlook changing concepts as part of the method.

A revision to an older concept may occur if one realizes that the classification is not appropriate, but then it is replaced, and that is not the normal progression of concept formation, which is not based on a series of errors. Such corrections, which are required, not optional, do not justify pragmatically changing concepts based on new "desires" deemed to be "valuable" or "innovative" while keeping old "versions" around for other uses. That contradicts Objectivist epistemology. A number of other false statements have also been made here such as the claim that forming wider concepts as abstractions from abstractions is a "stolen concept", and calls for "relaxing standards of similarity" "motivated by a desire" to create multiple "variants" claimed without regard to standards to be "valuable". Such schemes for collecting concepts are pragmatism, not Objectivism.

A concept is not changed unless there is an error in it, i.e., it is invalid as originally formulated, which must be corrected.
This is a repetition and it is wrong.

It is not a repetition and you have not addressed why it is not wrong. You changed the quote. You left out of the quote the entire context in which I addressed your claim that correcting errors in concepts is an "acknowledgment" of your theory. I wrote: "No, correcting errors is not an acknowledgment of your theory. If an error is made it must be corrected, replacing the erroneous, invalid concept. That does not justify 'changing' anything else out of a 'desire' for a 'variant', while keeping around 'old versions'. The advancement of knowledge is not a progression of errors replaced by an accumulation of desired 'variants'". Some people do go through life that way to different degrees, to their detriment. It is not the Objectivist epistemology."

The dictionary is full of examples where valid concepts have been varied with great benefit. The word "character" stands for just under twenty different concepts, all valid, all derived by varying one valid root concept.

Common word usage changes, words are used as homonyms, and people often employ invalid concepts. The dictionary is not epistemology. Your theory of "changing concepts" is not in agreement with Ayn Rand's theory of concepts for reasons already given. Appealing to dictionaries does not change that.

You can advocate elastically morphing concepts in your own thought if you want to, and the rest of us will stay on guard for the shifting sands.
"Elastically morphing concepts" has nothing to do with my theory. That's a sloppy misrepresentation.

You previously advocated elastically changing definitions, which was also rejected. We all know what your "changing concepts" theory is and I stand by what I wrote.

But your theory is not Objectivism, is not "compatible" with Objectivism, and is not clearing up any alleged "confusion" in Objectivism.

I am proud to say my theory is new and my own work. It is perfectly compatible with Objectivism. It will clear up the confusions of those who think concepts don't change.

The reasons why your theory contradicts Ayn Rand's theory of concepts have been explained several times. Again, despite the fact that it is not new and has been previously rejected, you are welcome to claim credit for thinking of it. You should not be promoting it as compatible with Objectivism and a salvation for "the confused", which as it has been stated is presumptuous.

Further, this theory is not a basis for assessing LL, which is the topic of this thread. And tying controversial new theories of concepts which are not in agreement with Objectivism to criticisms of LL only provides those who are inclined to do so with an excuse to dismiss serious analysis of the book under the mistaken belief that critics "don't understand the philosophy" or worse.

This has nothing to do with analogies about changing a "plan" for some unspecified goal changed for an unspecified purpose. Concepts are not "plans".

No. But they have analogous properties. Concepts aren't "file folders" either but Ayn Rand compared them. Was she wrong?

Ayn Rand explained the relation of her metaphor of file folders and the role it plays in illustrating what she had explained about the function of concepts. You have given no explanation of what "plans" have to do with concepts other than citing that plans change, which supposed analogy begs the question. Likening concepts to plans of action sounds like pragmatism; it is not Objectivism.

In Objectivism, one does not "change" concepts and keep around old "versions".

Innovators have changed concepts throughout history and the original versions have been retained. That's a fact.

This has nothing to do with Ayn Rand's theory of concept formation, nor can changes in concepts be justified by calling them "innovations", which reverses the process of evaluation. There has been an abundance of invalid, anti-concepts and sloppy usage of words throughout history. Correcting that has been a good thing. But neither corrections of errors nor changes in what is regarded as accepted, correct word usage justify a theory of "changing concepts" as the proper method. Word usage is not epistemology and correcting errors as a bases to routinely change existing concepts is not the normal procedure of expanding conceptual knowledge with new concepts, which are not a progression of errors, let alone keeping around "old versions".

That someone might try to do that, along with a lot of other conceptual fallacies, is his own problem, not something missing from Objectivism.
There's nothing missing from Objectivism. There are plenty of new discoveries to make. Or does ewv disagree with Ayn Rand that we are at the very beginning of grasping the relationships that exist in the universe?

"Grasping the relationships that exist in the universe" is not a justification for this elastic treatment of concepts. That begs the question. There are many areas in which more work can be done to expand on Objectivist epistemology, including more intensive exploration of certain kinds of concept formation that was only sketched out or hinted at in IOE. This does not include a theory of changing concepts as you go along while keeping around "old versions", which contradicts Objectivist epistemology. The need for further work in any field is not by itself a justification for anyone's claimed new theory, which must be judged on its own merits or lack thereof.

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