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The Conceptual Hierarchy

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What one concept would you place at the very base of a fully-formed, comprehensive conceptual hierachy? Why?

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What one concept would you place at the very base of a fully-formed, comprehensive conceptual hierachy? Why?

Existence. Because there is no alternative.

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What one concept would you place at the very base of a fully-formed, comprehensive conceptual hierachy? Why?

Existence. It is an irreducible concept which all other concepts affirm.

Leonard Peikoff explains it well in "Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand," pgs. 4-5: "We start with the irreducible fact and concept of existence--that which is...Before one can consider any other issue, before one can ask what things are or what problems men face in learning about them, before one can discuss what one knows or how one knows it--first, there must be something, and one must grasp that there is. If not, there is nothing to consider or to know. The concept of "existence" is the widest of all concepts. It subsumes everything..."

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What one concept would you place at the very base of a fully-formed, comprehensive conceptual hierachy? Why?

There is no single concept at the base of a proper conceptual hierarchy. All concepts on the perceptual level form the "base" because they are the result of direct observation which can't be further reduced.

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There is no single concept at the base of a proper conceptual hierarchy.  All concepts on the perceptual level form the "base" because they are the result of direct observation which can't be further reduced.

So you're saying that all first-level concepts are at the base of the hierarchy?

If I recall correctly, first-level concepts are concepts of directly perceivable entities. The classic Objectivist example is Table.* However, I think the "beginning" that first-level concepts are part of is the order of formation of the hierarchy, not the hierarchy itself. For example, tables are, of course, directly perceivable, so it's relatively easy to form a concept for them. But in the hierarchy, Table has a genus, Furniture, which in turn has its own genus, perhaps ManMadeObject, which might then go to Existent and finally to Existence (if Existence is at the root of the hierarchy; also note that there may be other intermediate concepts in the chain - this example isn't meant to be exhaustive, just illustrative).

Furniture, ManMadeObject, Existent, and Existence are formed much later in cognitive development, because they are more abstract than Table and humans don't begin abstracting until after they've formed many first-level concepts. That's why I included "fully-formed, comprehensive" in the initial question: we're assuming an adult with a fully developed hierarchy, not a child who is still developing one. (I have a specific reason for pursuing this particular question, which I don't want to share yet so as not to bias any responses.)

If Table is at the base of the hierarchy, then Chair would be there, too. Where then would Furniture and the others listed above go? Perhaps you're seeing a hierarchy that looks like an inverted tree, rising from many first-level concepts through more abstract ones to a "point" where my proposed single, root concept goes. If that's the case, then the only difference between our views is that I'm picturing it upside-down from yours, with the root concept at the bottom. If you mean that there's no single, root concept at the base, then could you elaborate?

*Note that my personal convention is to capitalize concept names when referring to them as concepts. Saves putting them in quotes all the time. Anyone who's done object-oriented programming may recognize the convention. ;)

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If you mean that there's no single, root concept at the base, then could you elaborate?

That last would be better as "If you mean that there's no single, root concept at the base or 'point,' then could you elaborate?"

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But in the hierarchy, Table has a genus, Furniture, which in turn has its own genus, perhaps ManMadeObject,

You could use the word "artifact" instead of "ManMadeObject".

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What one concept would you place at the very base of a fully-formed, comprehensive conceptual hierachy? Why?

What do you mean by "base"?

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What one concept would you place at the very base of a fully-formed, comprehensive conceptual hierachy? Why?

And: what do you mean by fully-formed? Is conceptualization ever finished?

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(I have a specific reason for pursuing this particular question, which I don't want to share yet so as not to bias any responses.)

One's purpose ("reason") is an element setting the context for a question.

Bias is a form of subjectivism. It is a form of the mental state in which "I want" trumps "it is." A biased, racist judge wants the black defendent to be guilty, and so the judge ignores the weakness of the case against the defendent and finds him guilty anyway.

How would knowing the context for a question "bias" rational readers' answers?

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What do you mean by "base"?

As I mentioned in another post, I picture the conceptual hierarchy as a sort of tree structure, with, so to speak, genus branching off into differentia the futher "up" the tree you go. Going "backwards" or "downwards," then (my original question assumes) one would find a single concept where the branching begins, the ultimate genus of all other concepts. That's the base.

The question assumes there's a single concept filling that role, though I'm open to arguments that that's not true.

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And: what do you mean by fully-formed? Is conceptualization ever finished?

No, it's never finished. Certainly one can't know everything, and even given the sum of all human knowledge there's always going to be more to learn. This gets to the purpose of my question, which I still don't want to reveal yet. See below.
One's purpose ("reason") is an element setting the context for a question.

Bias is a form of subjectivism. It is a form of the mental state in which "I want" trumps "it is." A biased, racist judge wants the black defendent to be guilty, and so the judge ignores the weakness of the case against the defendent and finds him guilty anyway.

How would knowing the context for a question "bias" rational readers' answers?

That was a poor choice of expression on my part. I really meant that I don't want the discussion to get sidetracked; I don't want the discussion to turn to what I plan to do with the answer rather than determining the answer itself.

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As I mentioned in another post, I picture the conceptual hierarchy as a sort of tree structure, with, so to speak, genus branching off into differentia the futher "up" the tree you go.

A more accurate metaphor for the hierarchy of knowledge would be a pyramid with thousands of percepts integrated into much fewer first-level concepts and fewer still higher-order concepts as you ascend the hierarchy to higher levels of abstraction.

Going "backwards" or "downwards," then (my original question assumes) one would find a single concept where the branching begins, the ultimate genus of all other concepts. That's the base.

That's the way a rationalist views it. He starts with a concept and then tries to apply it to thousands of existents.

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A more accurate metaphor for the hierarchy of knowledge would be a pyramid with thousands of percepts integrated into much fewer first-level concepts and fewer still higher-order concepts as you ascend the hierarchy to higher levels of abstraction.

That's the way a rationalist views it.  He starts with a concept and then tries to apply it to thousands of existents.

Well, in my case it really is nothing more than whether the pyramid (to use your term) points up or down in one's mind. Nothing rationalistic about it - I'm definitely not saying that knowledge begins with abstractions and proceeds to percepts. The root (my tree) or the apex (your pyramid) is the highest abstraction, and the leaves (tree) or the base (pyramid) are the antecedent concretes or percepts.

Given that, for purposes of this discussion, so we're all talking about the same thing, let's use the pyramid (a base of percepts and an apex of the greatest abstraction). Therefore I'll modify the original question to this: Is there a single concept, one and only one widest possible abstraction, at the apex of the conceptual hiearchy? If so, what is it and why?

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Therefore I'll modify the original question to this: Is there a single concept, one and only one widest possible abstraction, at the apex of the conceptual hiearchy? If so, what is it and why?

No there isn't any more than, given a solid foundation, there is no limit to how high (i.e., how abstract) you can build.

Why would someone be interested in finding only one possible widest abstraction anyway? What purpose does it serve?

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No there isn't any more than, given a solid foundation, there is no limit to how high (i.e., how abstract) you can build.

Why would someone be interested in finding only one possible widest abstraction anyway?  What purpose does it serve?

One possibility would be to serve as axiomatic concepts, as with Existence/Identity and Consciousness:
The base of man's knowledge - of all other concepts, all axioms, propositions and thought - consists of axiomatic concepts.

An axiomatic concept is the identification of a primary fact of reality, which cannot be analyzed, i.e. reduced to other facts or broken into component parts. It is implicit in all facts and in all knowledge. It is the fundamentally given and directly perceived or experienced, which requires no proof or explanation, but on which all proofs and explanations rest.

The first and primary axiomatic concepts are Existence, Identity (which is a corollary of Existence) and Consciousness.[1]

This is why Existence/Identity is such a good candidate for that apex concept (Consciousness is less suited for that position[2]). It's the genus of every other genus, because ultimately the definition of every other concept, if traced back from genus to genus as far as possible, begins with something like "An element of Existence which..."

[1]I've altered the quote a hair to use my capitalization convention.

[2] This is because there could be (and perhaps has already been) existence without consciousness, but not vice-versa. Also, consciousness is (I hesitate to say "merely," but it wouldn't be entirely out of place) an attribute of certain existents, while existence, well, just exists. This is not to diminish the axiomatic status of consciousness, of course, merely to note its metaphysical "position."

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One possibility would be to serve as axiomatic concepts, as with Existence/Identity and Consciousness:This is why Existence/Identity is such a good candidate for that apex concept (Consciousness is less suited for that position[2]). It's the genus of every other genus, because ultimately the definition of every other concept, if traced back from genus to genus as far as possible, begins with something like "An element of Existence which..."

[1]I've altered the quote a hair to use my capitalization convention.

[2] This is because there could be (and perhaps has already been) existence without consciousness, but not vice-versa. Also, consciousness is (I hesitate to say "merely," but it wouldn't be entirely out of place) an attribute of certain existents, while existence, well, just exists. This is not to diminish the axiomatic status of consciousness, of course, merely to note its metaphysical "position."

First, I think you need to be clear about what you're talking about. Is it a base or an apex that you're looking for? They are on opposite sides. It is confusing what it is you are actually looking for. A pyramid cannot be built from an apex. So exactly what is it that you mean?

Second, I don't think you should change the a quote without indicating exactly where you've changed it. You can put brackets [] around the change within the quote.

You cannot have concepts at the base of knowledge, so you need to explain that part of your question better too.

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First, I think you need to be clear about what you're talking about.  Is it a base or an apex that you're looking for?  They are on opposite sides.  It is confusing what it is you are actually looking for.  A pyramid cannot be built from an apex.  So exactly what is it that you mean?

Sorry, I thought I had made that clear, but I guess not. It's the apex, the widest abstraction, that I'm looking for. Assuming, of course, that there is a single concept at the apex. Thus far "existence" has been proposed as that single concept, but I'm still open to the possibility that there's more than one.
Second, I don't think you should change the a quote without indicating exactly where you've changed it.  You can put brackets [] around the change within the quote.

You're right. In fact only punctuation and capitalization were changed in that quote, no content. (By the way, I've been asked to drop my capitalization convention, so it's gone now.)
You cannot have concepts at the base of knowledge, so you need to explain that part of your question better too.

I've removed "base" or "root" from the question (see here ), so it should be clear now (I hope). If not, let me know.

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Sorry, I thought I had made that clear, but I guess not. It's the apex, the widest abstraction, that I'm looking for. Assuming, of course, that there is a single concept at the apex. Thus far "existence" has been proposed as that single concept, but I'm still open to the possibility that there's more than one.

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I've removed "base" or "root" from the question (see here ), so it should be clear now (I hope). If not, let me know.

I think you need to drop the "apex" concept too. Earlier you asked "Is there a single concept, one and only one widest possible abstraction, at the apex of the conceptual hierarchy? If so, what is it and why?" I think I understand your question and perhaps your confusion (if that's what it is). Rand has put it this way:

Axioms are usually considered to be propositions identifying a fundamental, self-evident truth. But explicit propositions as such are not primaries: they are made of concepts. The base of man's knowledge—of all other concepts, all axioms, propositions and thought—consists of axiomatic concepts.

An axiomatic concept is the identification of a primary fact of reality, which cannot be analyzed, i.e., reduced to other facts or broken into component parts. It is implicit in all facts and in all knowledge. It is the fundamentally given and directly perceived or experienced, which requires no proof or explanation, but on which all proofs and explanations rest.

Thus, although "existence" is the widest concept, it is "the base of man's knowledge." This seems to be what your questions is focused on. The fact that "existence" is at the base of knowledge and the one widest concept, does not mean that it is at the apex or base of a pyramid. The analogy to a pyramid is not correct, in my opinion.

Existence, identity and consciousness are concepts in that they require identification in conceptual form. Their peculiarity lies in the fact that they are perceived or experienced directly, but grasped conceptually. They are implicit in every state of awareness, from the first sensation to the first percept to the sum of all concepts.
To grasp the axiomatic concepts requires extensive knowledge and experience.

I'm not sure if this helps you, so let me know if this addresses what you're focused on.

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Thus, although "existence" is the widest concept, it is "the base of man's knowledge."  This seems to be what your questions is focused on.  The fact that "existence" is at the base of knowledge and the one widest concept, does not mean that it is at the apex or base of a pyramid.  The analogy to a pyramid is not correct, in my opinion.

I do prefer the tree analogy, although it has the drawback (as Betsy pointed out) of placing the most abstract concept at the base, though only if you think rather literally of a tree. So think of it as an upside-down tree. (I don't understand the confusion over this - if this isn't a satisfactory description of the conceptual hierarchy, what's a better one?)

As to my question, maybe this will clarify things: All concepts except axiomatic concepts have a genus.* Implicit in that statement is that if one were to start at any concept and trace back through its genus, its genus's genus, and so on, eventually one would end up at an axiomatic concept:

A (starting concept) -> B (A's genus) -> C (B's genus) -> ... -> axiomatic concept

My question is: do all such paths end up at the same (axiomatic) concept? If so, what is that concept? Presently I think they do (but I may be wrong and that's what I'm trying to learn). The best candidate thus far for that one concept is "existence."

To grasp the axiomatic concepts requires extensive knowledge and experience.

But that doesn't have anything to do with where they belong in the hierarchy. The order in which concepts are formed does not determine how they're organized in the mind, as Ayn Rand explains in ITOE. I'm not concerned with the order in which concepts are formed, but in how they're organized. That's why I specified a hypothetical "fully-formed" conceptual hierarchy - to eliminate concern with the chronology (which will vary with every individual).

*Except for axiomatic concepts, all concepts are defined as genus + differentia; axiomatic concepts are defined ostensively.

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An important consideration is that there's more to knowledge than that embodied by conceptual hierarchy. Keep in mind, for all of its power, that Ayn Rand only gave the Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, focusing on the nature of concepts. Concepts are only the building blocks however, and are mapped to single words. To effectively think and communicate requires propositional structure (i.e., the sophistication of language.) There are endless inter-relationships that can be known, which makes the connections begin to resemble something more like hyperlinks on the Internet rather than a strict top-to-bottom tree hierarchy. That's an aspect of integration. The conceptual hierarchy is like a skeleton, which is vitally important, but a living being is more than just that.

Consider tables, for example. Conceptually, "table" is simple, but there are countless ways that the concept of table can inter-relate in complex ways to other knowledge. Suppose you were a modern table builder. That would require knowledge of materials, perhaps even advanced materials science knowledge if you were building some kind of specialized table that had to handle heavy weight at high temperatures. It would require knowledge of table-making tools. It would probably require knowledge of business (how do you market and sell tables?), which is a highly complex endeavor involving a great deal of knowledge itself. Etc.

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An important consideration is that there's more to knowledge than that embodied by conceptual hierarchy....

All true, but I want to focus on just the hierarchy, and just the one aspect of it that the question considers. In other contexts these other considerations might matter, but not for now.

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Implicit in that statement is that if one were to start at any concept and trace back through its genus, its genus's genus, and so on, eventually one would end up at an axiomatic concept:

A (starting concept) -> B (A's genus) -> C (B's genus) -> ... -> axiomatic concept

Could you give an example to concretize what you mean?

What you seem to be describing is the process of reduction -- of tracing a concept back to its origin -- but concepts ultimately reduce to sense perception, not concepts, axiomatic or otherwise.

Every concept, no matter how abstract, reduces to a first-level concept that is ostensively defined. If an ostensive concept were verbally defined (which it usually isn't), it would have an implicit genus of "something." It would be "Something (point to an instance of the concept) like THAT."

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Could you give an example to concretize what you mean?

What you seem to be describing is the process of reduction -- of tracing a concept back to its origin -- but concepts ultimately reduce to sense perception, not concepts, axiomatic or otherwise.

Every concept, no matter how abstract, reduces to a first-level concept that is ostensively defined.  If an ostensive concept were verbally defined (which it usually isn't), it would have an implicit genus of "something."    It would be "Something (point to an instance of the concept) like THAT."

I don't mean reduction. A concept's genus (it's "parent" concept in the hierarchy) is more abstract than the concept. So

table -> furniture -> man-made object -> entity -> existent -> existence

Again, don't get hung up on the specific example and any errors it may contain, it's meant to illustrate a different point than what the actual hierarchy for "table" might be.

So I'm not talking about reduction, which goes from abstract to concrete (e.g. from the concept "table" to "actual existing tables"). I'm talking about going the other direction in the hierarchy, and determining whether it's true that for all concepts the end of that path is the same, identical concept.

Now, in forming concepts, moving from the relatively more concrete to the more abstract would be induction. But that's not what I mean, either, because in this case we're not forming the concepts, we're examining a hierarchy that's already formed (actually a theoretically "complete" conceptual hierarchy).

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------

As to my question, maybe this will clarify things: All concepts except axiomatic concepts have a genus.* Implicit in that statement is that if one were to start at any concept and trace back through its genus, its genus's genus, and so on, eventually one would end up at an axiomatic concept:

A (starting concept) -> B (A's genus) -> C (B's genus) -> ... -> axiomatic concept

My question is: do all such paths end up at the same (axiomatic) concept? If so, what is that concept? Presently I think they do (but I may be wrong and that's what I'm trying to learn). The best candidate thus far for that one concept is "existence."

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I think your diagram goes in the wrong direction. One does not trace a concept back to the axiomatic concepts; one traces a concept back to the perceptually given - the directly perceivable. The axiomatic concept is "on the other side" - it is the most abstract of all concepts. As mentioned in ITOE, the concept existence is an abstraction "of a basic fact from all facts."

Epistemologically, the formation of axiomatic concepts is an act of abstraction, a selective focusing on and mental isolation of metaphysical fundamentals; but metaphysically, it is an act of integration—the widest integration possible to man: it unites and embraces the total of his experience.

The units of the concepts "existence" and "identity" are every entity, attribute, action, event or phenomenon (including consciousness) that exists, has ever existed or will ever exist. The units of the concept "consciousness" are every state or process of awareness that one experiences, has ever experienced or will ever experience...

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