DGM

Broken units

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After being advised to read up on the concept of 'broken units' I found this:

http://www.axiomaticmagazine.com/article.p...s_index=1&art=5

This makes a lot of sense, but I see the need to be able to express such relationships in concepts explicitly in syllogistic form. I can't accept it as proper that one should make statements like "all men can see" and then still classify the blind as men, without knowing how to do this. So I've been trying to figure out how to integrate the concept of broken units with syllogistic logic. I think I've succeeded, and I'd like to see if my integration holds up under scrutiny. Here goes:

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Instead of making universal statements about a class - such as "all men can see" - we would make particular statements such as "some men can see." Then we devise a theoretical ideal, called a "normal man," about which we can make universal statements (i.e. "all normal men can see").

In fact you would have different ideals (and thus, different kinds of normalcy) in relation to different goals. For example, a medical doctor would use an ideal of the "medically normal man," which would take into account such things as the ability to see ("all medically normal men can see") but not whether a man was happy or sane. A psychologist, by contrast, would need a concept of the "psychologically normal man" (in the sense in which Dr. Akston called Galt, Francisco and Ragnar normal men) which did take sanity and emotions into account, but which would ignore eyesight.

We could then form sub-concepts as needed for the exceptions. For example, creating a sub-category of medically normal men for those who couldn't see but otherwise had all the characteristics of a medically normal man (blind men).

Universal statements about men (not just normal men) would only be made when no broken units were known to exist. For example: "all men are mortal."

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Now... Does the above accurately describe the way the broken unit concept works, or am I missing something?

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This makes a lot of sense, but I see the need to be able to express such relationships in concepts explicitly in syllogistic form.

What for?

Proceeding inductively from direct experience, I have learned everything I know about the world and the things I deal with. Then proceeding further inductively, I have noticed significant similarities among things that I am aware of. This has allowed me to organize my knowledge conceptually so that I can deal with whole classes of similar things easily as if they were individual concrete things.

This is all induction and it is what my mind is doing almost all of the time. Syllogisms, on the other hand, are tools of deduction and only enter the picture when I find an apparent contradiction and need to isolate an error and correct my thinking.

Thus, I greatly value organizing my knowledge conceptually, but I don't see the need to put it in syllogistic form.

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Syllogisms, on the other hand, are tools of deduction and only enter the picture when I find an apparent contradiction and need to isolate an error and correct my thinking.

But that's the point. To make a universal statement like "all men can see" and then point to a blind creature and call it a man is an apparent contradiction, if you take the statement literally.

Now I understand that in verbal communication we leave a lot implied rather than trying to spell everything out explicitly, and that's fine as long as you understand what's being implied. But if I can't put what's being said into syllogistic form without obtaining contradictions, then either what's being said is wrong or I don't fully understand it.

Hence, this exercise. If I understand how to use syllogisms to reflect broken units, then I've integrated and fully understand the broken units concept and will have no further problems using it. Otherwise, I'm not confident that I fully understand it.

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[...] the way the broken unit concept works [...]

Thank you for bringing this up and presenting the issue clearly. I have gained from it.

I have one suggestion: "Broken unit" is, strictly speaking, an idea, but not a concept. A single word designates a concept. "Broken unit" might be considered a "qualified instance," to use Ayn Rand's phrase (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, pp. 23, 71, and 177). "Table" is a concept. "Kitchen table" is a qualified instance of "table."

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Now I understand that in verbal communication we leave a lot implied rather than trying to spell everything out explicitly, and that's fine as long as you understand what's being implied.

What's being implied -- always -- is the context that gives rise to any generalization.

But if I can't put what's being said into syllogistic form without obtaining contradictions, then either what's being said is wrong or I don't fully understand it.

Is what you are seeking a statement that is true regardless of the context? Except for axioms, no generalization applies in all contexts.

To really understand any generalization, you need to know the context that gave rise to it and the context(s) to which it applies. "Broken units" involve entities to which a generalization doesn't apply.

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What's being implied -- always -- is the context that gives rise to any generalization.

And what a term like "medically normal men" - as opposed to just "men" - does is to specify the context, if there's any confusion.

Is what you are seeking a statement that is true regardless of the context? Except for axioms, no generalization applies in all contexts.

To really understand any generalization, you need to know the context that gave rise to it and the context(s) to which it applies. "Broken units" involve entities to which a generalization doesn't apply.

That's the point. I'm not trying to escape the issue of context, I'm trying to make sure I understand how to put such statements into context correctly and - when necessary - explicitly.

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I have one suggestion: "Broken unit" is, strictly speaking, an idea, but not a concept. A single word designates a concept. "Broken unit" might be considered a "qualified instance," to use Ayn Rand's phrase (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, pp. 23, 71, and 177).

Which is precisely why I think that the referenced article on "Broken Units," though interestingly crafted, is a "solution" to a problem that does not exist. (Note in the article itself the frequent reference to "concept" when it does not apply, just as mentioned here.) A "blind man" is just that, a man who is blind. It is a qualified instance of the concept man. Case closed. Respectfully, DGM's concerns in this thread seem like rationalistic exercises that have no connection to reality. Purely academic, in the worst sense of "academic."

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A "blind man" is just that, a man who is blind. It is a qualified instance of the concept man. Case closed.

But the concept "Man" includes the fact that Man can see i.e. Man is not blind. While I agree that a "blind man" within the proper context of knowledge is a qualified instance of the concept man, I don't think this is an obvious conclusion.

For instance a "blind man" is a man who cannot see.

Why can't I similarly call a statue of a man a "non-biological man"?

In the second case the error is glaringly obvious because I am effectively denying an essential attribute of the concept "Man" making the "qualified instance" meaningless. No one would call a statue of a man a "non-biological man".

Similarly by saying "blind man", I am saying that a particular instance of the concept "Man" does NOT have all the attributes of the concept "Man".

Why is a "blind man" a qualified instance but a "non-biological man" not a qualified instance?

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Why is a "blind man" a qualified instance but a "non-biological man" not a qualified instance?

A man is a man. A given man might happen not to be able to see. There's nothing about "Man" that requires that each consituent unit not be blind.

A statue isn't a man, it's a block of material such as stone or metal. A given statue might happen to be shaped to represent the form of a man. But whimsically or metaphorically calling it a "non-biological man" doesn't make it a man, any more than saying "Juliet is the sun" makes her the lccal really big ball of gas with a sustained thermonuclear reaction at her center. :blink:

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A man is a man. A given man might happen not to be able to see. There's nothing about "Man" that requires that each consituent unit not be blind.

Doesn't a concept refer to all the characteristics of the units subsumed by the concept? And isn't the ability to see one of those characteristics?

A statue isn't a man, it's a block of material such as stone or metal. A given statue might happen to be shaped to represent the form of a man.

In which case, the statue does have one characteristic in common with a man (a rational animal). The statue, in a philosophical context, is indeed not a man -- but that is because the statue does not have the characteristics of man that are both essential (causal, explanatory) and distinguish it from other things of its kind. A statue is not a man first of all because a statue is not an animal, to say nothing of lacking rationality.

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A man is a man. A given man might happen not to be able to see. There's nothing about "Man" that requires that each consituent unit not be blind.

Doesn't a concept refer to all the characteristics of the units subsumed by the concept? And isn't the ability to see one of those characteristics?

Yes on both counts, but I don't understand what in particular that has to do with what I said. What I said was unassailable. You can be a unit of the concept "Man" and still be blind. Ray Charles and Helen Keller come to mind.

A statue isn't a man, it's a block of material such as stone or metal. A given statue might happen to be shaped to represent the form of a man.

In which case, the statue does have one characteristic in common with a man (a rational animal). The statue, in a philosophical context, is indeed not a man -- but that is because the statue does not have the characteristics of man that are both essential (causal, explanatory) and distinguish it from other things of its kind. A statue is not a man first of all because a statue is not an animal, to say nothing of lacking rationality.

Actually, I'm not sure I'd say "first of all". I think I'd say it's not a man because a statue lacks a whole range of attributes than men do have, and has a whole range of attributes that men don't have. We might conveniently think of "animal" and "rational" first (actually just "animal"; reference to the genus is sufficient), because they are the parts of the definition we assign to "Man". But anything at all that all men have and statues don't, and vice-versa, serves to set the two of them apart. As you know, they are everything that they are, not just the definitional attributes. I'm just as convinced by a statue's consisting of (say) wood or metal whereas a man never does.

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Does a concept refer to all the characteristics? Or only the essential ones? Take a home wooden chair, and a pneumatic office chair on wheels. Neither one could be construed as a qualified version of the other, and yet we call both by the same name.

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A man is a man. A given man might happen not to be able to see. There's nothing about "Man" that requires that each consituent unit not be blind.

Doesn't a concept refer to all the characteristics of the units subsumed by the concept? And isn't the ability to see one of those characteristics?

Cognition demands some overwhelming number of characteristics exist in common among existents in order to classify them within a concept, but all the existents need not necessarily possess all the characteristics, in the same manner. Nowhere does Miss Rand claim they must.

The ability of man to see is not an a-contextual absolute. That ability itself depends upon aspects of the external world, and upon physiological and neurological components of man. Under normal circumstances there are enough photons in the external world to interact with man's physiological equipment, enabling him to see. Without enough photons, a man cannot see. Without properly functioning physiological and neurological components, a man cannot see. If some particular man is not able to see because the environment is too dark, or if he is blindfolded, or if he is blind, that fact does not remove him from the category of Man,

In ITOE, Miss Rand defines a "concept" as "a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted." (p. 16) The distinguishing characteristic of "man" is his rational faculty, the absence of which a particular man would no longer be a man. Miss Rand is careful to note that the specific measurement of the distinguishing characteristic of man, as well as the specific measurements of all the other characteristics, differ among men. But nowhere does she demand that each man that has ever lived, is living, or will ever live, must possess the exact same number of characteristics, in the same manner. While the concept "man" includes all relevant characteristics, a particular man must possess the distinguishing characteristic, but not necessarily every characteristic possible to man. A man born without a hand, remains a man.

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Does a concept refer to all the characteristics? Or only the essential ones?

All the characteristics. (ITOE, p. 27)

Take a home wooden chair, and a pneumatic office chair on wheels. Neither one could be construed as a qualified version of the other, and yet we call both by the same name.

These are subdivisions of the concept "chair," with each compound concept being used as if it were a concept. That is what is meant by Miss Rand's term "qualified instance." (ITOE, p. 177)

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All the characteristics. (ITOE, p. 27)

Also, from another passage:

"The definitions of concepts may change with the changes in the designation of essential characteristics, and conceptual reclassifications may occur with the growth of knowledge, but these changes are made possible by and do not alter the fact that a concept subsumes all the characteristics of its referents, including the yet-to-be-discovered.

(Ayn Rand, ITOE, p. 66; italics in original; bold added for emphasis.)

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Doesn't a concept refer to all the characteristics of the units subsumed by the concept? And isn't the ability to see one of those characteristics?

In addition to what Stephen said in his reply to this post, I'll suggest that not only is the ability to see one of the characteristics, but the possibility of not being able to see is also one of the characteristics. Neither, however, is what makes a particular existent a referent of the concept "man," any more than its color does.

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BACKGROUND

Perhaps I am confused. If so, I welcome it as an opportunity to re-examine the ideas I have held for a long time. If they are mistaken, I want to correct them.

This issue of what characteristics are subsumed by a concept is especially important to me as a student of history. I deal with concepts (such as "society") that refer to (subsume) units (such as U. S. society in 2006 and Roman society in 182 AD) that vary wildly in many of their multitude of characteristics. When I say "vary" here I do not refer to measurements -- which in the proper formation of a concept are omitted -- but to the presence or absence of some characteristics.

I deal also with particulars -- in this case particular characteristics of particular entities, whether or not those characteristics are shared by all other entities of that type. For example, Latin-Christian society in 1274 had universities. Arabic-Islamic society had no universities until European colonialism brought advances. Both were societies, whether that particular characteristic was present or not.

SUMMARY OF MY VIEW

As a target for correction, here is my view:

(1) A concept, such as "man," subsumes certain units. Those units, as existents (of a certain kind), have many characteristics. Some of those characteristics are essential (causal) characteristics. Some of the essential characteristics distinguish the units from other sorts of things of the same general kind (the genus). Rationality is an essential characteristic that distinguishes man from other entities that share man's animality.

(2) The units subsumed by a concept have other characteristics besides essential ones. These are inessential (nonessential) characteristics.

(3) Sometimes, for whatever cause, some of the individual units subsumed by a concept are defective in some of their characteristics. A defect might consist of:

- The absence of or diminution of a nonessential characteristic (such as the usual presence of opposable thumbs, but absent in particular men through "birth-defect").

or even ...

- The temporary absence of or diminution of an essential, distinguishing characteristic (such as rationality), leaving only a potential (such as in a man who has been unconscious a long time, as a result of an accident, but who might recover).

Regardless of these defects, the units involved -- with all of their common as well as their individually peculiar characteristics -- are still subsumed by the concept.

Corrections?

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The distinguishing characteristic of "man" is his rational faculty, the absence of which a particular man would no longer be a man.
I agree with this post, but I want to try to clarify something in my mind. Given what I've quoted, would you say that a child born with a condition that makes it impossible for his rational faculty to operate is or is not a man?

Granted, there can be degrees of impairment, though I'd say that an impaired rational faculty is still an existing one. But what about the complete inability to exercise the faculty?

For another example besides the newborn, what about Terri Schaivo, who obviously had a functioning rational faculty prior to the bulk of her brain being destroyed? Did she cease to be a referent of "man?"

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In addition to what Stephen said in his reply to this post, I'll suggest that not only is the ability to see one of the characteristics, but the possibility of not being able to see is also one of the characteristics. Neither, however, is what makes a particular existent a referent of the concept "man," any more than its color does.

I don't understand this. The fact that a particular referent possesses a particular set of characteristics is what makes him a man. Right?

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Regardless of these defects, the units involved -- with all of their common as well as their individually peculiar characteristics -- are still subsumed by the concept.

Leaving aside whether "defects" is the best characterization, I agree with the above statement.

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The distinguishing characteristic of "man" is his rational faculty, the absence of which a particular man would no longer be a man.

I agree with this post, but I want to try to clarify something in my mind. Given what I've quoted, would you say that a child born with a condition that makes it impossible for his rational faculty to operate is or is not a man?

An entity lacking a rational faculty, or, as is the case for a newborn, the potential for a rational faculty, strictly speaking, would not be man.

For another example besides the newborn, what about Terri Schaivo, who obviously had a functioning rational faculty prior to the bulk of her brain being destroyed? Did she cease to be a referent of "man?"

Yes, just as is the case with death. In the case of death, one might say "dead man," but that is just a characterization of a corpse, one that was once human.

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I don't understand this. The fact that a particular referent possesses a particular set of characteristics is what makes him a man. Right?
Yes, but I was speaking about the essentials - every concrete has a color (unless "clear" doesn't count, as with air), so color is never what distinguishes one set of referents from another. Man is the rational animal, not the varying shades of brownish animal.

I could have said it better.

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An entity lacking a rational faculty, or, as is the case for a newborn, the potential for a rational faculty, strictly speaking, would not be man.

Yes, [Terri Schaivo was no longer a referent of "man",] just as is the case with death. In the case of death, one might say "dead man," but that is just a characterization of a corpse, one that was once human.

Now, to clarify further, is that because what's missing is the essentially distinguishing characteristic (i.e differentia) as opposed to any others? If not, then why is a "fixed" cat still a referent of the concept "cat," or a human who loses a hand still a "man?"

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An entity lacking a rational faculty, or, as is the case for a newborn, the potential for a rational faculty, strictly speaking, would not be man.

Yes, [Terri Schaivo was no longer a referent of "man",] just as is the case with death. In the case of death, one might say "dead man," but that is just a characterization of a corpse, one that was once human.

Now, to clarify further, is that because what's missing is the essentially distinguishing characteristic (i.e differentia) as opposed to any others?

Yes. Recall the definition of "concept" as "a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted." (ITOE, p. 16, bold added)

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Yes. Recall the definition of "concept" as "a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted." (ITOE, p. 16, bold added)

Right, and what you wrote fits with what I thought. I have more integration to do to make it a "second nature" type of understanding, but I get it.

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