tommyedison

ITOE Question

18 posts in this topic

I have just started on the ITOE. I have a question regarding units and concepts.

When a child observes that two objects (which he will later learn to designate as "tables") resemble each other, but are different from four other objects ("chairs"), his mind is focusing on a particular attribute of the objects (their shape), then isolating them according to their differences, and integrating them as units into separate groups according to their similarities

Chapter 1, Paragraph 4, Page 6, ITOE

From my understanding, this means that a table is a unit. Consequently a fan (that is any device generating a flow of air) too must be a unit. Here the unifying property is the generation of a flow of air. However, fan can also be used in other contexts for example "fanning the anger of the mob". Here too the unifying property can be applied as follows, "fan means the generation of flow of something" where something can refer to feelings, air, water, etc.

My question is that doesn't the fan here turn into a concept namely the integration of "generate", "flow" and the variable "something" which can stand for fluids as well as emotions.

So is the word "fan" a concept or a unit?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So is the word "fan" a concept or a unit?

Neither. A word is a symbol; see pp. 10-11 and 40. For the definition of concept, see p. 13. For the definition of unit, see pp. 6-7.

Keep in mind that a unit is a particular thing. This chair that I am sitting on is a unit (one of many units) subsumed by the concept "chair."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
From my understanding, this means that a table is a unit. Consequently a fan (that is any device generating a flow of air) too must be a unit However, fan can also be used in other contexts for example "fanning the anger of the mob".... My question is that doesn't the fan here turn into a concept namely the integration of "generate", "flow" and the variable "something" which can stand for fluids as well as emotions.

So is the word "fan" a concept or a unit?

There are several confusions in this. "Table" and "fan" are concepts, not "units". The concepts "table" and "fan" refer to particular tables and fans, which are the units. When you say a table is a unit this means a particular table is a unit, and likewise for fans, not that the concept "table" or "fan" is a unit.

Second, the unit you started with for the concept "fan" is an object; then you switched to "fan" as a verb. So you are using the word "fan" for two different concepts and then questioning which it is -- doing this in terms of the first confusion calling the concept "fan" (meaning the noun) a "unit" and the second (the verb) a "concept". The word "fan" is a homonym and can have either meaning. In this case, the two concepts are also of different kinds: IOE has a separate section on abstract concepts of verbs, adverbs, etc. and their referents, contrasting them with concepts of nouns.

Your last formulation of the question confuses, at least as stated, a word and a concept. The word is a concrete symbol for the concept, which is a mental integration of the units.

By the time you finished you had confused all three: unit, concept and word, but you also need to understand how abstract concepts for different parts of speech are formed (e.g. noun vs. verb) and what their referents are.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
There are several confusions in this. "Table" and "fan" are concepts, not "units". The concepts "table" and "fan" refer to particular tables and fans, which are the units. When you say a table is a unit this means a particular table is a unit, and likewise for fans, not that the concept "table" or "fan" is a unit.

At risk of adding confusion for tommyedison at the expense of ewv's clear attempt to dispel it, I just want to point out, as Ayn Rand does in ITOE (p. 42), that "a concept becomes a unit when integrated with others into a wider concept." Ayn Rand defines a unit as "an existent regarded as a separate member of a group of two or more similar members" (Ibid, p. 6), and an "existent" is simply something that exists, not necessarily a concrete entity like a table or fan. I just want to make clear and explicit, not that ewv implied otherwise, that concepts themselves can be units under the right epistemological circumstances.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you for the replies.

If I understand correctly now, fan (such as the ceiling fan which creates a flow of air) is a unit which is a subset of the concept fan (which means any object which creates a flow of air). This concept of fan is a unit of a more abstract concept of fan which means any object which creates a flow of fluid and so on.

Is this correct?

I have a problem with this understanding. For an object that generates a flow of air, there can be several units like a ceiling fan or a hand fan (which generates flow by periodic motion through the hand) or a paper fan. All these can be considered fans. However the rotation of Earth also generates a flow of air. But Earth cannot be called a fan.

So what is the primary characteristic that separates the concept of fan from the other objects which generate a flow of air and how should one go about identifying such a characteristic.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

[...] fan (such as the ceiling fan which creates a flow of air) is a unit which is a subset of the concept fan [...]

I am not sure what you mean by "subset."

Try this approach. I am now seeing a particular fan here in my apartment. It is the fan on my ceiling. That particular, physical fan is an entity. It is a thing. It (so far) is not inside my mind. I see it, though, as an object "out there."

Now, inside my mind I have a concept "fan." That concept refers to (subsumes) the many real fans that I have seen in my life and will continue to see in the future. That concept is a mental integration of the many units of "fan." A unit is a thing of a certain type. In other words, a unit is a thing viewed in a certain way for purposes of classification. (See Ayn Rand's definition of "unit.")

Your dog Bowser, as a thing, is a unit (instance) of the concept "dog." The dog you saw yesterday, Fifi, is another unit of the concept "dog." You have probably seen hundreds of dogs. Each is a unit of the concept dog that you hold in your mind.

The symbol I use to label that concept is the word "dog."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

However the rotation of Earth also generates a flow of air. But Earth cannot be called a fan.

So what is the primary characteristic that separates the concept of fan from the other objects which generate a flow of air and how should one go about identifying such a characteristic.

I think it must be that the generation of air isn't the essential characteristic of the earth (or many other things that happen to generate an airflow). But a fan has that characteristic (generating airflow) as an essential characterstic.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

[...] the concept fan (which means any object which creates a flow of air).

I don't have a full formal definition of fan (as a noun) to offer you. I can however offer two suggestions for improving your definition. First, a fan, in ordinary usage of that term and concept, is a man-made object of a certain kind. Second, men make it for a certain purpose: to create a flow of air.

So, a fan is a man-made object whose function and purpose is to create a flow of air through repetitive motion. (I am sure others here can offer better definitions.) I added the "repetitive motion" qualifier because a bicycle pump creates a flow of air with one downward stroke, but it isn't a fan. (This could become very technical, and I am not qualified for that.)

So what is the primary characteristic that separates the concept of fan from the other objects which generate a flow of air and how should one go about identifying such a characteristic.

I think the term you are looking for is "essential distinguishing characteristic," which you will read about soon in ITOE. What that two-fold term means is this: A characteristic which both causes the object to be what it is and sets the object apart from other, similar objects.

A landslide on a mountain causes a flow of air (among other things!). But a landslide is not a fan. Why? Because, in our casual, everyday definition above, a fan is man-made and it is made for a certain purpose. Landslides are not man-made (generally) and they aren't made to cause a flow of air. And they aren't repetitive motions either. So, they aren't fans.

Suggestion: Read straight through Ayn Rand's original essay, and then come back through it slowly. You will see, I think, that many of your questions about the early pages will be answered in the later pages.

But do keep asking questions. ITOE is both the most important philosophical essay Ayn Rand wrote and the one that requires the closest study, for many people (certainly me!).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
If I understand correctly now, fan (such as the ceiling fan which creates a flow of air) is a unit which is a subset of the concept fan (which means any object which creates a flow of air).
A unit is not and cannot be a "subset" of a concept. A concept is not a "set"; it is a mental integration of units sharing the same distinguishing characteristics to a different degree, concretized by a word used as its symbol. The concept is the result of that integration held in the form of the word as a concrete symbol. A concept is not the collection of its referents and has nothing to do with sets. The most you could say is that any group of particular fans is a subset of all of them, i.e., of all the referents of the concept, but even that is a diversion from understanding what a concept is.
This concept of fan is a unit of a more abstract concept of fan which means any object which creates a flow of fluid and so on. Is this correct?
Not without saying what that means. What concept are you talking about that is a unit of what higher level abstract concept? (There is no concept of all arbitrary objects that somehow happen to move air along with everything else by any kind of means along with everything else they do.) Even if the statement turned out to be true when its meaning is clear you cannot characterize a concept as a unit of a higher level concept; that inverts the process. You don't start with a hierarchy of abstractions and proeceed to identify concepts in terms of a hierarchy (or in terms of higher level, more abstract concepts); you start with first-level concepts of perceptual entities and develop a hierarchy of different abstract concepts based on that starting point (and in which the new, more abstract concepts may be either combinations or subdivisions of the concepts you already have). You have to know what a concept is before you can have a hierarchy of them.

You cannot understand higher level concepts (in which you regard the relevant lower level concepts as units integrated into a new concept) at all until you understand simple, first level concepts whose referents are physical objects that you can in principle perceive. A unit is an individual thing that you already know or perceive and regard in a special way when you form a concept based on it and similar units; a unit is not defined in terms of a concept that subsumes it. Units come first, then concepts.

Your original question way back at the beginning seems to have been motivated by how higher level concepts are formed, but you can't understand that without the basics of first level concepts, so forget about higher level concepts and treating some concepts as units to form them until you understand the basic process of how units you can perceive are integrated into concepts and symbolized by a word.

You can read through the whole IOE to get an idea of its scope and how different kinds of issues are dealt with before going back through it more thoroughly, but still read carefully what it is saying and drop any preconceptions about sets and hierarchies as the basis of the fundamental ideas and the nature and structure of concepts.

I have a problem with this understanding. For an object that generates a flow of air, there can be several units like a ceiling fan or a hand fan (which generates flow by periodic motion through the hand) or a paper fan. All these can be considered fans. However the rotation of Earth also generates a flow of air. But Earth cannot be called a fan.

So what is the primary characteristic that separates the concept of fan from the other objects which generate a flow of air and how should one go about identifying such a characteristic.

A fan requires a thin rigid material moved periodically so that its surface continuously moves the air for that purpose. A ceiling fan or a window fan is a man-made mechanical object that moves the air using vanes mounted on an axis about which they rotate (technically a subcategory of axial flow compressor in which the temperature and pressure of the fluid do not change much). Another kind of fan -- i.e., another subcategory of the concept -- is a triangular shaped surface that is moved back and forth by hand to move the air.

The two subtypes have differently shaped kinds of surfaces and different kinds of periodic motion, but both use a rigid surface moved regularly to move the air without compressing it. Fans differ from arbitrarily shaped objects that happen to move air through arbitrary or one-time motions.

A tire pump moves air by repetitive pumping, but uses a different kind of mechanism and pressurizes the air: Its purpose is to increase pressure, with the movement of air incidental to that purpose. If rotating blades increase pressure, the device is not a fan but a compressor -- in particular a kind of turbomachinery as opposed to a reciprocating (piston) compressor. If the blades move a liquid like water instead of air, then it is a pump. The earth moves air relative to the solar system by the gravitational attraction of the air to the earth, not by the aerodynamic properties of a surface, and the earth is not a man-made mechanical device.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have a minor question regarding the definition of the concept "unit". Ayn Rand defined the concept as follows:

A unit is an existent regarded as a separate member of a group of two or more similar members.
Why did Ayn Rand use the word “separate”? Could she have left out this word without changing the meaning of the definition? Can one distinguish between separate and non-separate members of groups?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Why did Ayn Rand use the word “separate”?

I can't speak for Ayn Rand, but here is my understanding. To correctly consider "separate," you need to back up and consider the idea of "regarded." My understanding is that she is packing in the idea that even if two things are physically welded together, so to speak, I can regard them as if they were separate and mentally treat them as units, that is, as elements which I will mentally integrate into a concept.

For additional discussion, you might read "Entities and Their Makeup," "What is an Entity?" in ITOE, pp. 264-274, especially pp. 268-272. However, this recorded discussion is advanced material. I don't mean it is hard to understand, just that it is built on ITOE itself. You might wait until you have finished your current review of ITOE.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I can't speak for Ayn Rand, but here is my understanding. To correctly consider "separate," you need to back up and consider the idea of "regarded." My understanding is that she is packing in the idea that even if two things are physically welded together, so to speak, I can regard them as if they were separate and mentally treat them as units, that is, as elements which I will mentally integrate into a concept.
This makes perfect sense. Thank you.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I can't speak for Ayn Rand, but here is my understanding. To correctly consider "separate," you need to back up and consider the idea of "regarded." My understanding is that she is packing in the idea that even if two things are physically welded together, so to speak, I can regard them as if they were separate and mentally treat them as units, that is, as elements which I will mentally integrate into a concept.

For additional discussion, you might read "Entities and Their Makeup," "What is an Entity?" in ITOE, pp. 264-274, especially pp. 268-272. However, this recorded discussion is advanced material. I don't mean it is hard to understand, just that it is built on ITOE itself. You might wait until you have finished your current review of ITOE.

Burgess, if the "two things" which are "welded together, so to speak" are so welded by their very nature, don't we really have but one thing? Could you give an example of what you mean? I, perhaps wrongly, thought that Miss Rand's use of "separately" was just for emphasis.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Burgess, if the "two things" which are "welded together, so to speak" are so welded by their very nature, don't we really have but one thing? Could you give an example of what you mean? I, perhaps wrongly, thought that Miss Rand's use of "separately" was just for emphasis.

Beams are welded together to make a bridge. But the beams are still regarded as separate beams.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Burgess, if the "two things" which are "welded together, so to speak" are so welded by their very nature, don't we really have but one thing?

Have you studied the appropriate pages in the ITOE appendix? That should be preliminary to any further discussion, at least for me.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Beams are welded together to make a bridge. But the beams are still regarded as separate beams.

Yes, but by their nature they had to be separate first.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Have you studied the appropriate pages in the ITOE appendix? That should be preliminary to any further discussion, at least for me.

I will study them. Thank you.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Beams are welded together to make a bridge. But the beams are still regarded as separate beams.

Paul, I won't waste your time in pointless discussion, since it looks like I must do some more reading first.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites