Dependency of Change and Entity

Stephen Boydstun's picture
Submitted by Stephen Boydstun on Wed, 2006-09-20 19:22

In her 1957 exposition of her philosophy, Rand maintains that in motion there is always a thing that moves. This thing that moves Rand calls an entity, and she says of it that "without the concept of entity, there can be no such concept as 'motion'." More generally, "change presupposes the concepts of what changes, from what to what, . . ." (AS 1039).

Would it be a conceptual fallacy to affirm the existence of an entity that never changes? Do we know from the proper organization of concepts based on experience that there could not be something under the concept entity that is not an entity subject to change?

Or is the conceptual dependency of change and entity asymmetrical in the following way: change presupposes entity, but entity does not also presuppose change? If this asymmetry is right, is it that the concept entity does not presuppose that there is change somewhere or other, or is it only that the concept entity does not presuppose that every entity is subject to change?

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Neutrino Notes

Stephen Boydstun's picture

Following up on Leonid’s note, on the physics side, remember that a very few of the neutrinos reaching the earth do not pass through the earth. Those not passing through are changed (absorbed). 

Also, beginning in 1968 experimental counts of neutrinos reaching the earth from the sun were found to be less than half the number expected according to our understanding of the nuclear-fusion process by which they are produced in the sun. There are three types of matter neutrinos (and three types of anti-matter neutrinos, and perhaps, a seventh neutrino, called “sterile” [which might constitute the negative-pressure sea we call “dark energy”]). These are the electron-, muon-, and tau-neutrinos. Our detectors for the solar neutrinos were for the electron-neutrinos. One possible explanation for the missing solar electron-neutrinos was that they might be spontaneously converting into muon- or tau-neutrinos to which those detectors were blind. But such conversions could only occur if the rest-masses of neutrinos were nonzero (and different between the three types), and it was thought that neutrinos were massless, like photons. During the 90’s it was established experimentally that neutrinos do convert back and forth from one type to another (and, therefore, they have some mass). In 2001 it was established experimentally that electron-neutrinos coming from the sun were being converted into muon- and tau-neutrinos in an amount correct for explaining the electron-neutrino deficit. The solar neutrino problem was solved.

Bahcall, John 1990. “The Solar-Neutrino Problem” Sci. Am. (May).
Kearns, Kajita, and Totsuki 1999. “Detecting Massive Neutrinos” Sci. Am. (Aug).
Collins, Graham 2001. “Sudbury Neutrino Observatory nus Is Good News” Sci. Am. (Sep, pp. 18-19).


One particle candidate for dark matter is the neurtralino, a conjectured supersymmetric partner of a neutrino: one, two, three.

An alternative particle candidate for dark matter is highlighted in the Science New report of this recent observation.

No entities without regularity = irregularity?

Ptgymatic's picture

If all entities are regular, there must be irregularities somewhere? I don't see the logic of this.

Also, are you taking "regularity" here to be aspectual? Mere plurality means differences, which would, I suppose, count as irregularity?

Actually, I think "regularity" is much more limited than "identity."

= Mindy 

Motion, entity, and change

Ptgymatic's picture

Rand's original statement was about motion. It definitely has that "asymmetry" (all statements do) that you mention. To conclude anything about all entities from her statement would involve the fallacy of affirming the consequent. You can't reach a conclusion to either question about what "entity" implies based on that particular statement of Rands! (It was a trick question, right, Teach?)

From Stephen's 9-21 post: ...Rand would count being the subject of consciousness (being measured) as having a consequence. That's valid. However, your question relating bearing consequences and being subject to change is a bit shaky, I find. If Rand says existing takes affecting or being affected, you can't ignore one part and argue that having consequences  (affecting something else) is necessary for existence, which you do in paragraph 7, the next to the last statement. From "A is R or S," you cannot conclude that "A is S."

Then you stand on the other foot, in the next sentence, when you say that if something isn't subject to change (being affected, this time) it can't exist. There are two criteria here, and they must be dealt with as an either-or, because that's how the original statement had them.

As to deriving changeableness from that statement, you need here to make a distinction between the two criteria. Being affected does imply change in an entity, but affecting something does not. Being measured falls into the latter category. When you go on in that paragraph to draw suppositions about change, you have no ground to stand on, because affecting/being measured does not imply change, it is being affected that does.

Now to your final paragraph. It is the detectors that you've proved must admit of change, not the entities they detect. That things do stand in measureable relations, indeed that they are being measured, does not prove they are changeable. The things being measured are (affecting)--having consequences, not being affected. Whereas it is only being affected that implies change.

In summary, then: Rand said all entities must affect or be affected by other things. (From that statement alone one may conclude that existence implies some changeable entity, for something must be receiving the effects.) She also says that all things stand in measureable relations. Stephen notes that since measurement implies changes in detectors, having measureable relations implies being able to cause change. However, causing change (being measured) doesn't imply change in the entity measured, rather, it implies change in the "detectors" doing the measurement. So, there could be an entity which satisfies Rand's criteria by being able to affect things, including being subject to measurement, without being itself affected by anything, and thus being itself changed. A changeless entity.

Alternatively, things could stand in measureable relations but there may not be any life-forms to measure them. Their having measureable relations does not, by itself, say that they in fact can affect anything else.

Rand said all entities must affect or be affected by other things. But only one of those two criteria implies that the entity is changeable, and standing in measureable relations isn't that criteria, it is the other one.

Note: I am not arguing my beliefs on the subject of entities and change.

= Mindy



Entities and change.

Leonid's picture

I don't think that the concept of change can be derived from the concept of entity. "An entity, in the primary sense, is a solid thing with a definite boundary." (Peikoff,1976).From the metaphysical point of view nothing in this definition indicates that entity has to change. It may,but it may not. However, as a matter of fact,most (but not all) known entities are changing, since each and every atom is in the process of decay.( in the most of cases decay half-time is very large-millions of years,but it is there nevertheless.)
This is physical observation which pertains to known reality,but are we sure that we know all existing reality? Only recently we discovered, that 95% of Universe is made out of dark matter and dark energy and we don't know much about their physical properties.
"Everything existing is capable of some form of action."
Capability doesn't mean necessity. It is only potential quality and Rand warned many times against confusion between actual and potential. Besides, such a premise begs a question: how do we know that all entities are capable of some form of action? Off hand I can think about at least one entity which is never changes-neutrino. This particle can travel through Earth undisturbed and unchanged.It doesn't interact with anything.
The concept of entity presuposes concept of identity, not action.

Indestructible Robot and Physics

Stephen Boydstun's picture

Fred and Chris,

The pertinent constraint from physics on an indestructible robot has been explicitly identified, then integrated into an original redesign of Rand's robot gedanken. This advance is presented in my "Vegetative Robots and Value"

Substantive refinements: #3 and #4 in that discussion thread.

Further setting: #11 and #12 (2008).

Existence and Action

Stephen Boydstun's picture

Greg Perkins,

I surely concur with your thinking that action in Rand's sense of the concept includes the phenomena of statics and strength of materials, not only the phenomena dealt with in kinematics, kinetics, and dynamics.

You have drawn our attention to a remark Rand made in an exchange with Leonard Peikoff (Prof. E) at a seminar on her epistemology around 1970. It wouldn't be fair to hold Rand to everything she might have said in all the eddies of this seminar. She did not choose to publish all of the ideas she expressed in these oral exchanges, and she may have been not entirely settled on some of these issues. I have always been pleased, to put it mildly, that Peikoff and H. Binswanger did pull together these transcriptions and have them published.

I thought you might be interested in a note of history on Rand's (informal) thesis that "everything existing is capable of some form of action" (270). Spinoza's IP36 reads: "Nothing exists from whose nature some effect does not follow."

Spinoza's demonstration for this proposition comes to this: Whatever exists exhibits the nature of existence in a certain determinate way. Existence is an act (of power). So whatever exists exhibits the nature of the (power-) act of existence in a certain determinate way.

Rand (and I) would pause over the second premise in that demonstration.

Chris: It's a Methodology Thing

Greg Perkins's picture

Hi, Chris.  The approach of the original question seemed backward to me, and I happened to remember Rand reacting to just that sort of question, so I quoted her.  True to her methodology, she said, "no, not necessarily."  I took this as: having always and only observed actions as actions of entities, as necessarily being actions of entities, she was stating the fundamental, metaphysical dependence of actions on entities.  We use concepts to organize what we find in reality. 

Now here the question comes out of the blue: "Would it be a conceptual fallacy to affirm the existence of an entity that never changes?"

Well, yes, I consider it a conceptual fallacy to affirm an entity that never changes, because it isn't due to identifying such a thing, even implicitly.  Merely playing with words to see what falls out is not how it works: reality shapes our concepts, not the other way around.

That said, the part after the underline does stand out, doesn't it?  ("Except that everything existing is capable of some form of action.")  I am guessing that this was following a little bit of extemperaneous imprecision.  I take action to be broader than motion or change (the focus of the question here) -- to act on my senses, for example, or to be related to other things in ways like "sitting on top of" or "holding up," does not require the entity to move or change per se.  Yet it is acting.  So I take Rand as trying to be careful and adding that everything is "capable of action" (while not necessarily capable of motion/change) in the broad sense of necessarily being related to and causally connected to other things in existence.



Chris Cathcart's picture

Well, the appeal to the notion of an indestructible robot, anyway, was a way of making a contrast to living things, and apparently she could make some kind of sense in talking about such a hypothetical thing. Of course, it was in a discussion of meta-ethics, but were she to place that discussion in a metaphysical context (as she should be able to do), you could say that she brought it up in order to show that the idea is actually not valid. Of course, she'd need to fill in somewhat more than what she provided in her meta-ethics discussion.

(Sorry if not all this is coming across totally clearly. I'm working on an 11% Belgian Tripel at the moment. Smiling )

[Vaughan Williams 3 playing in the background]

Indestructible Robot

Fred Weiss's picture

The "indestructible robot" idea pertained only to living things, her point being that such a creature would have no values since it would not face a fundamental choice to live or not. Her view was that values rested on the existence of that choice.


Chris Cathcart's picture

The underlined exchange between Prof. E and AR, along with the sentence from AR following that underlined, is unclear. What sense do you make of it?

The Philosopher vs. Heraclitus

Chris Cathcart's picture

This discussion reminded me of Aristotle's answer to the "problem" of change. Heraclitus's dictume is that "everything flows, nothing abides." I think Aristotle accepts that everything flows or changes, but that this presupposes identity rather than negates it. Best as I recall, A. brought in his fourfould theory of causation, saying that change presupposes an entity with actuality moving towards potentiality. To actually be something is to be something with identity, but also to have potentiality. (I presume this means that potentiality is "part of" an entity's present makeup.)


Chris Cathcart's picture

And lastly, is an indestructible entity possible? I don't mean as a matter of physics (though if physics has anything to say about that, it would certainly be relevant). Logically, is it possible?

I'm certainly not the first to bring up Rand's hypothetical immortal, indestructible robot. I suppose she brings it up as a hypothetical, some kind of thought-experiment, to explain how it really isn't possible -- in reality, and thereby not in logic, properly understood. It would basically be a contradiction in terms (to speak of an indestructible anything).

At least I think so. I'll have to think more on that one.

Touching Physics, also Peirce

Stephen Boydstun's picture


In our modern physics (general relativity), everything possessing mass-energy is affected by gravitation (i.e., is directed by features of space-time curvatures), and everything possessing mass-energy is a source of gravitation (i.e., is a contributor to features of space-time curvatures).

Not everything having mass-energy reflects light. A black hole does not reflect light. Still, a black hole is changed by the light it receives, for its mass is changed.

Does every physical entity possess mass-energy in our modern physics? I don't think space-time is necessarily conceived as having mass-energy, yet it is a physical entity in our modern physics. Still, there are features of space-time that change. So perhaps all entities of physics that are also entities in Rand's sense of the concept are susceptible to change.


Here is another argument towards the conclusion that the concept entity presupposes that there is change somewhere or other (besides the activities of consciousness required for a concept). In 1905 Charles Saunders Peirce put forth a principle that can be fairly taken to be within Rand's principle that existence is identity.

Peirce's principle was: "Mere individual existence or actuality without any regularity whatever is a nullity." If no entities are without regularity, then there must be irregularities somewhere.

Rand's Comments

Greg Perkins's picture

Rand seems to have addressed this in the workshops transcribed in the appendix of the 2nd edition of ITOE (I'll include a little context before the punch-line):

AR: … Or, if you cut a man's head off, what you have is a corpse; you have parts of a man but it is no longer a man. In that sense, you could regard parts as an attribute of a given entity—as that without which it would no longer be the same kind of entity. But, metaphysically, you must always remember that the parts can exist separately, whereas attributes and actions cannot exist apart from the entity.

Included in the very concept of attributes is the fact that they are parts which you can separate only mentally, but which cannot exist by themselves. That is the difference between "part" and "attribute."  [itoe, p.266]

AR: … But let me give you the arch-example of this type of consideration. What about a square inch of ground? Is that an entity or not? You can, from an epistemological viewpoint, regard any part of an entity as a separate entity in that context. And a square inch of ground would be just that. The entity would be the whole ground; you delimit it and examine one square inch of it. In the context of your examination, it's a specific entity, that particular inch, even though metaphysically, in reality, it's part of many, many other inches like it.

The concept of "entity" is an issue of the context in which you define your terms. So that an entity has to be a material object, but what you regard as an entity in any given statement or inquiry depends on your definitions. You can regard part of an entity as a separate entity. And in that sense all the vital organs are entities, and you have a separate science for the brain or the heart or the stomach. And in the context of that science, you study them as separate entities, never dropping the context that they are vital organs of a total entity which is a human being.

Prof. E: Is it intrinsic to the concept of "entity," in any context, that it be capable of some form of action?

AR: No, not necessarily. Except that everything existing is capable of some form of action. [itoe, p.270]


Fred Weiss's picture

Wouldn't any entity at minimum always be changing its position in relation to other entities and at minimum therefore be exerting or being effected by gravity?

Wouldn't also any entity have some relationship to light, either reflecting it or absorbing it? This one is for the physicists, which certainly leaves me out.

And lastly, is an indestructible entity possible? I don't mean as a matter of physics (though if physics has anything to say about that, it would certainly be relevant). Logically, is it possible?

Entities, Existents, Change

Stephen Boydstun's picture

Congratulations, Dan, on completing your degree.

In your first paragraph, you wrote: "Entity is an axiomatic concept which is epistemologically more fundamental than change or motion for reasons Rand identified in AS. The most fundamental statement one can make about anything is that it exists. To state that it exists is to state that it exists, it being some existent."

For Rand the concept existent is wider than the concept entity. In her 1966-67 treatise IOE, she writes that "entities are the only primary existents" (15). She goes on to name some things that cannot exist without connection to entities: attributes, motions, and relations. However, she does take all of these as genuine existents. Into the pool with attribute, motion, and relation, Rand also places event, locomotion, action, and activity of consciousness (7-8, 29-33, 39).

All of those characters are, for Rand, concrete existents; but they are not entities in the way she intends her concept entity. To qualify as an entity, an entity has to do more than be able to stand as the subject of predication (or as the argument of a propositional function). Running can be the subject of predicates, but it is an action, not an entity.

I appreciate the remarks from all of you on the origins of the concepts entity and change and the priorities of their acquisition.

I agree with Thomas Lee when he writes: "Whether or not there could be an entity that did not change is not a philosophical issue and can't be determined through philosophical means."

Does Rand agree with us on that? She writes in IOE that if something were to "bear no relationship of any kind to the rest of the universe, it would not affect nor be affected by anything else in any manner whatever, it would enact no causes and bear no consequences---in short, it would not exist" (39). It is the "nor be affected" and "bear no consequences" that approach our question. Her thought is that an entity that bore no consequences could not exist. Does that mean that if it was not subject to change, it could not exist?

From the context of the preceding quotation, I say that Rand would count an entity simply having its attributes or relationships measured as an entity bearing consequences. However, you should be wary of this little word simply that I have slipped into my interpretation of the quotation. Did Rand think that in order for something to be measureable, it had to be changeable? If not (i.e., if I am allowed to slip in that little simply), then I think Rand does agree with us that the concept entity does not presuppose that every entity is subject to change.

If that is right, then the question remaining is whether in Rand's philosophy the concept entity presupposes that there is change somewhere or other. Ahh . . , but once Rand has added to her philosophy what she has in IOE (39)---that everything which is stands in measureable relations---then we have her answer to this question. For there cannot be measurement without registrations, and there cannot be registrations without changes in the detectors.


Whether or not there could

Thomas Lee's picture

Whether or not there could be an entity that did not change is not a philosophical issue and can't be determined through philosophical means.

What is fundamental?

Merlin Jetton's picture

Stephen wrote: Would it be a conceptual fallacy to affirm the existence of an entity that never changes? Do we know from the proper organization of concepts based on experience that there could not be something under the concept entity that is not an entity subject to change?

Physics tells us that all entities are comprised of atoms and that subatomic particles always move, which is a change of position.

Responding to the last two questions in your article, 'existence is identity' suggests to me a symmetry. All entities are subject to change and that is an essential aspect of their nature.

Dan Edge: Entity is an axiomatic concept which is epistemologically more fundamental than change or motion for reasons Rand identified in AS.

I can't agree or disagree without knowing what you mean by "epistemologically more fundamental." If you mean that the concept of an entity bears more inferences, then I'm inclined to agree. I don't know if that is one of your "reasons Rand identified in AS". If you mean that entity concepts are learned before (some of) its attributes are learned, then I'm inclined to disagree.  Is an entity metaphysically more fundamental than change or motion? I believe not (based on physics).

Dan Edge: Babies learns concepts of entities before learning concepts of motion.

This is doubtful. Observing that parts of an entity move in unison plays a strong role in infants grasping the existence/identity of a particular entity and hence the concept entity. Also, I believe it remains an open question in infant cognitive development what sort of concepts are acquired first. Some researchers contend that the first concepts infants learn are of events or activities -- e.g. being fed, being held, being bathed. That makes sense to me -- it seems to require less abstraction.

Being inductive about this. . .

Chris Cathcart's picture

. . . when we conceptualized "entity," did we ever -- once ever -- observe an entity that didn't change?

I gather you're referring to the, I call it the "Bill" thread. There, you can get yet another argument from the known to what's not known. We've never known an entity that doesn't change, therefore, there must be One that doesn't. (Actually, I don't know what theologians say about this. God engaging in Creation is undergoing a change by that act, isn't He? But if He changes, is he moving from a perfect state to a less perfect state? Or can we wiggle some and say that it's just a change from one state of perfection to another? Anyway, I gathered that you could get arguments both ways from theologians on whether God undergoes change or doesn't change.)


Dan Edge's picture

Entity is an axiomatic concept which is epistemologically more fundamental than change or motion for reasons Rand identified in AS.  The most fundamental statement one can make about anything is that it exists.  To state that it exists is to state that it exists, it being some existant.    

This fundamentality is reflected in all areas of human thought and communication.  Babies learns concepts of entities before learning concepts of motion.  In grammar, subject naturally precedes predicateThere are many other examples.

--Dan Edge

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