# On Ayn Rand's "fallacy of the stolen concept".

## 34 posts in this topic

The Laws of logic are not deduced from the Law of identity -- they are formulated as corrolaries -- per the above post from Stephen Speicher --from that law. Which presupposes the existence of that law qua principle in one's mind.

A "presupposition" is, in this context, an application. A "corollary" presupposes it's primary formulation. That's what distinguishes a "corollary" from what it is a corollary of.

Ayn Rand emphasized that existence was identity. To exist is to be something. She certainly didn't state that the Law of Identity excluded any other Laws. But she definitely did emphasize the fundamentality of the principle of Identity throughout her writings.

As I agreed with Stephen above, I agree with your formulation now, but not as it was originally written.

You state "It is because anything is what it is, that 'it is impossible for anything at the same time to be and not to be'."  If all you had was the Law of Identity without the Law of Contradiction, then there would be no answer to the claim that something could be A and non-A at the same time in the same respect.  The answer would be to such a claim, "that is its identity.  That is, being A and non-A is its identity."

Which, is exactly what some modern philosophers (beginning, perhaps, with Hegel) would say!

The problem, of course, is with the original subject of this thread -- the fallacy of the stolen concept.

You cannot make sense of "identity" while claiming that "something could be A and non-A at the same time in the same respect". You would be trying to steal the concept "Identity".

What something could be contradictory? What could have an identity being both what it is (A), and what it is not (non-A)?

Because the Law of Contradiction is "proof of error" (per Ayn Rand) it is a principle which detects when one has made an error in reasoning.

Yes, but see my example in Post 22. The Laws of Logic are not just meant to expose irrational interpretations, they are addressed also at correctly interpreting facts and propositions. If you only use the Law of Identity without the others, misinterpretations are also possible. Which is why all the laws address the same fact and cognitive process.

That allows for a correction of your reasoning; unless, of course, you want to practice evasion.

Because the Law of the Excluded Middle requires you choose among the only metaphysically possible alternatives -- it is A, or it is not A -- it prevents error, in the sense that if you have to choose either A or non-A,

given all the facts available: what you choose cannot be both A and non-A -- presupposing a prior acceptance of the Law of Contradiction.

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Paul's Here,Dec 22 2005, 01:05 PM]

So your conception of "error" involves only a process of reasoning?  If I am fully consistent in my logical reasoning, I am incapable of error?  Certainty only comes from logical processing of information?  Is this what you are saying or am I misinterpreting you?

You are misinterpreting me.

"Error" pertains to conscious contents which are not consistent with reality, with the facts. Perception is given; no question of error there. Conceptualization and inference (the integration of concepts into premises and conclusions) is where cognitive error begins. I would not say that "If [you are] fully consistent in [your] logical reasoning, [you are] incapable of error".

You state " 'Error', in this context, applies to how well you logically process the continuum of evidence."  And then you state "the only thing that should affect my future conclusions are the facts in evidence."

Exactly. What facts are "in evidence" have some status on the "continuum of evidence": Do they provide only a "possible" conclusion; a "probable" conclusion; or a "certain" conclusion to one's process of reasoning. When any facts become "new" evidence, they affect the whole; and require a complete revision -- a re-thinking of the issue; and perhaps a different conclusion.

So if you form a logical conclusion and subsequently become aware of facts that you weren't aware of when you formed the conclusion, that is not considered an error in your conclusion?

Of course not. Knowledge is both contextual -- and grows with the evidence available. You see that your prior conclusion is in error (e.g., "All Swans are white" -- except for the Australian swan, which is black), and you revise your reasoning accordingly.

Logical reasoning is only a guarantee of accuracy given the factual evidence; which means all the evidence -- without any contradictory evidence. The "factual evidence" determines one's logical reasoning because it is what The Law of Identity refers to!

What else can you think or act with?

If you discover evidence contradictory to your reasoning, you must integrate it with your previous knowledge. Whatever revision is required, will still require the use of the Laws of Logic. That is the gist of my post: logical reasoning per the Law of Identity and it's corrolaries, Non-Contradiction and Excluded Middle, given the factual evidence available, is the only epistemological recourse there is -- unless you want to introduce a new principle to cognition.

But before you do, understand that I mean the full range of logical

principles contained within Logic, which simply apply the essential principles to specific cognitive contexts. They deal with "specific error" both evidential and conceptual.

ELS

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Conceptualization and inference (the integration of concepts into premises and conclusions) is where cognitive error begins.

I know you did not intend this, but the wording above makes it appear that we are in error once we start to think. Better perhaps to say that a volitional consciousness on the conceptual level is capable of error in its thinking processes.

I would not say that "If [you are] fully consistent in [your] logical reasoning, [you are] incapable of error".

In one sense I would say so. Note how in OPAR (p. 171) Peikoff says "Logical processing of an idea within a specific context of knowledge is necessary and sufficient to establish the idea's truth." If we use a proper method of reasoning to arrive at a truth, then, in that context, that we are capable of error has no epistemological significance.

Exactly. What facts are "in evidence" have some status on the "continuum of evidence": Do they provide only a "possible" conclusion; a "probable" conclusion; or a "certain" conclusion to one's process of reasoning. When any facts become "new" evidence, they affect the whole; and require a complete revision -- a re-thinking of the issue; and perhaps a different conclusion.

I think these conditions ("require a complete revision," etc.) represent too strong a statement here. When it comes to certainty, new facts can change the context, but the new facts have no effect on the previous conclusions which are still true within the context from which the previous conclusions were derived.

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Stephen Speicher,Dec 24 2005, 11:47 PM]

I know you did not intend this, but the wording above makes it appear that we are in error once we start to think. Better perhaps to say that a volitional consciousness on the conceptual level is capable of error in its thinking processes.

O.K. Stephen; point taken, thanks. I'll have edit more carefully.

Although, I would have expected any Objectivist to have grasped as obvious that "error" is only a problem beginning on the conceptual level.

In one sense I would say so. Note how in OPAR (p. 171) Peikoff says "Logical processing of an idea within a specific context of knowledge is necessary and sufficient to establish the idea's truth." If we use a proper method of reasoning to arrive at a truth, then, in that context, that we are capable of error has no epistemological significance.

I may have some minor questions about Dr. Peikoff's views (he is not, after all, Ayn Rand; they are two unique beings), but I can't quibble with that. Though, I'm not sure exactly what you are specifically alluding to. My point was to include Paul's reference to the error of contradictory factual evidence discovered after an inference.

I think these conditions ("require a complete revision," etc.) represent too strong a statement here. When it comes to certainty, new facts can change the context,  but the new facts have no effect on the previous conclusions which are still true within the context from which the previous conclusions were derived.

No question. My only point, however ineptly expressed, was that you have to constantly look for any evidence which could revise your previous knowledge.

Paul's point, I think (he can correct me) was that if you discovered "revolutionary" evidence which negated your previous conclusions, you would have to re-think that evidence, and come to other conclusions. And that that would have epistemological ramifications.

It would mean your previous knowledge was NOT actual "knowledge"; i.e., you didn't have the full facts, and therefore your conclusions, and all of the processing (the integration of the premises) based on what you had was, in fact, incorrect.

Paul is correct outside of the given context: outside what you know, when you know it -- outside the facts that you are cognitively proccessing when you process them.

Of course, there is no other possibilty -- you can't know ahead of knowing what facts are to be discovered which would make a difference in your reasoning -- you have to think with and act upon what you know now, not later with increased knowledge.

I don't regard it as a problem when you consider the epistemological alternatives: logic? faith? skepticism? feelings? nothing?

What method do you choose to act in reality with?

But it constantly comes up in epistemological discussions, particularly Objectivist discussion.

ELS

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O.K. Stephen; point taken, thanks. I'll have edit more carefully.

Although, I would have expected any Objectivist to have grasped as obvious that "error" is only a problem beginning on the conceptual level.

I may have some minor questions about Dr. Peikoff's views (he is not, after all, Ayn Rand; they are two unique beings), but I can't quibble with that. Though, I'm not sure exactly what you are specifically alluding to. My point was to include Paul's reference to the error of contradictory factual evidence discovered after an inference.

No question. My only point, however ineptly expressed, was that you have to constantly look for any evidence which could revise your previous knowledge.

Paul's point, I think (he can correct me) was that if you discovered "revolutionary" evidence which negated your previous conclusions, you would have to re-think that evidence, and come to other conclusions. And that that would have epistemological ramifications.

It would mean your previous knowledge was NOT actual "knowledge"; i.e., you didn't have the full facts, and therefore your conclusions, and all of the processing (the integration of the premises) based on what you had was, in fact, incorrect.

Paul is correct outside of the given context: outside what you know, when you know it -- outside the facts that you are cognitively proccessing when you process them.

Of course, there is no other possibilty -- you can't know ahead of knowing what facts are to be discovered which would make a difference in your reasoning -- you have to think with and act upon what you know now, not later with increased knowledge.

I don't regard it as a problem when you consider the epistemological alternatives: logic? faith? skepticism? feelings? nothing?

What method do you choose to act in reality with?

But it constantly comes up in epistemological discussions, particularly Objectivist discussion.

ELS

After some rethinking on this issue, I would have to agree that if one's thinking is fully in accordance with the Laws of Logic and proper deductive and inductive principles, then one would not be in error in one's conclusion. Truth is contextual to the available evidence. If new evidence expands the context, then that new evidence will not contradict the old evidence but simply apply to the new context. The old conclusion will still be valid within the context of the evidence. A good example of this is that Newtonian physics is still being taught as valid, even though there is a context (near the speed of light) in which errors arise.

If one were to conclude that new evidence creates errors, then every new discovery would require one to conclude that one's previous knowledge was refuted and completely wrong. This would seem to lead to skepticism because you could never claim with certainty that what you know now corresponds to reality.

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Paul's Here,Dec 27 2005, 10:11 AM]

If one were to conclude that new evidence creates errors, then every new discovery would require one to conclude that one's previous knowledge was refuted and completely wrong.  This would seem to lead to skepticism because you could never claim with certainty that what you know now corresponds to reality.

Right. And I believe, if memory serves, exactly that point is made by Ayn Rand on the tape from her epistemology seminar (where they are all discussing new knowledge about blood types, RH factors, etc.).

ELS

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Right. And I believe, if memory serves, exactly that point is made by Ayn Rand on the tape from her epistemology seminar (where they are all discussing new knowledge about blood types, RH factors, etc.).

ELS

Thanks for reminding me of that point, or helping me to remember it. At my age, I guess sometimes the brain's synapses misfire.

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Paul's Here,Dec 27 2005, 11:08 PM]

Thanks for reminding me of that point, or helping me to remember it.  At my age, I guess sometimes the brain's synapses misfire.

No problem. I'm right behind you.

In fact, I may even be ahead of you!

ELS

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Those specific words are ELS' formulation. However, note that in ITOE (p. 112) Peikoff states "The principle at the base of the proper method is the fundamental principle of metaphysics: the Law of Identity." I think, as you correctly note, both identity and contradiction are statements of the same fact, but since contradiction is the negation of identity then the law of contradiction is really a kind of corollary of the law of identity.

It may be helpful to put this in the context of Ayn Rand's philosophy, relate it to its basics. Ayn Rand wrote that existence exists; that existence is identity; and that consciousness is identification. Logic, she wrote, is the art or skill of non-contradictory identification. The Law of Identity states that A is A. The Law of Non-contradiction (A cannot be non-A) is a corollary of the Law of Identity. Logic is making identifications without engaging in contradictions, without violating the Law of Identity.

Engaging in the "falacy of the stolen concept" is using a concept while ignoring or denying facts upon which it is logically based--that is, being illogical, violating the Law of Identity.

Egalitarians claim that we are not entitled to what we produce because we did not "earn our ability." This is a misuse of the concept "earn" because we earn things WITH our ability. Ayn Rand would have said (indeed, may have said) that this is an example of the falacy of the stolen concept--using the concept "earn" while simultaneously denying (by implication) that it is something we do with our ability. The concept "earn" cannot at once be something we do with our ability and not be something we do with our ability. Thus, egalitarians are engaging in a contradiction, attempting to deny that A is A.

The falacy of the stolen concept is just a particular way of engaging in a contradiction, of denying that A is A. And, of course, "A is A" is one of the foundations (an axiom) of Ayn Rand's philosophy, along with existence and consciousness.