OL Writer Explicitly Embraces Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy

Dan Edge's picture
Submitted by Dan Edge on Fri, 2006-03-31 16:02

A morbid fascination led me to the Objectivist Living site, where I discovered this little gem:


The article is a criticism of Peikoff's "Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy" paper published along with the ITOE. The author argues in an authoritative tone that Peikoff's essay is fundamentally flawed because the Analytic-Synthetic distinction is valid. He goes so far as to say:

"Mathematics does not correspond to reality, it may be applied to reality, but that is something quite different."

The article displays a complete misunderstanding of Peikoff's essay and, more significantly, a complete misunderstanding of Objectivist epistemology. Yet the response to the essay at OL was universal acceptance (with the exception of one poster whose only two posts on OL are a critical response to the paper).

Some of the issues raised in the article are highly technical, such that it would be easy for a young student of Objectivism to misinterpret. I may write a detailed rebuttal for this reason. The article is an extraordinarily poor example of scholarship. If it were my express purpose to malignantly confuse those with a non-technical understanding of epistemology, then I could have written the exact same article.

--Dan Edge

( categories: )

Subsumption of Newton's Dynamics

Stephen Boydstun's picture

Hi Greg,

See further, my essay Space, Rotation, Relativity

Part 4: Invariance, Electrodynamics, and the Special Theory,

especially §XII. Einstein – Special Relativity – Dynamics (pp. 164–72).



Leonid's picture


ASD has been refuted not only by Peikoff but by other philosophers including W.F Quine In his works "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" - in The Philosophical Review, 60 (1951): 20-43. Reprinted in W.V.O. Quine, From a Logical Point of View (Harvard University Press, 1953); he shows that ASD is based on circular argument

The Harmony between Newton and Einstein

Gregory Browne's picture

Hello Nevin.

I am glad to see that you think that Einstein did not contradict any of Newton’s Axioms of Motion, because I believe that, too.    I have thought that Einstein contradicted some of Newtonian physics, but your comments give me hope that I am wrong about this, at least to some extent.

I will add to your conclusion that Einstein did not contradict f=d(mv)/dt by saying that  he did not really contradict f=ma, either.   Indeed, my understanding is that it was because he was trying to preserve f=ma  while trying to account for the fact that it requires more and more force, a force increasing greater than ma, to accelerate a body as the body moves faster that he came to the shocking conclusion that mass increases with velocity.   However, now we have a point where Einstein appears to be contradicting something that Newton at least assumed, and would have affirmed if asked: that mass does not (or, rather, need not automatically) increase with velocity.

Yet now I must point out that Einstein changed the meaning of mass from ‘quantity of bodily matter’ to something like ‘(intrinsic) resistance to accelearation’.    So in saying that mass increases with velocity he was not saying that quantity of matter was increasing with velocity, but rather that resistance to acceleration was increasing with velocity.   So Einstein is not contracting Newton on this point.    However, it follows from this that mass is not proportional to resistance to acceleration, as it had been thought to be.  So on this point, then, it seems that Einstein contradicts Newton.

However, I think that on this point Einstein should have said that space—which he considers to be something active and physical (at a dinner for Lorentz he conceded that his own theory was a version of the ether theory)—exerts a contrary force on the body being accelerated, and so rather than saying that f  has to be more than quantity of bodily matter times accereration he should have said the force applied to accelerate the body in the given direction by amount a must be enough to equal quantity of bodily matter times acceleration plus the contrary force applied by space itself, and so the amount by which space retards the speed should be subtracted from the amount of force applied to accelerate the body in the given direction to give the true measure of (net) force—f.

So then we can preserve all of these: (1) f=ma, (2) the old meaning of m (mass) as quantity of bodily matter and  (3) quantity of bodily matter=(intrinsic) resistance of the body to acceleration.  


Now as to the curvature of space, wouldn’t have Newton said that space is flat on the ground that flatness is part of the concept of space—or, more likely, that ‘flat’ and ‘curved’ have application only against a background of space, not to space itself?

In any case, I do firmly believe that new scientific theories and discoveries do not have not contradict older theories, and also that rival Kuhnian paradigms can be both talking about the same things.

The struggle on behalf of the ASD resumes at OL

Gregory Browne's picture

Hello, everyone.  I'm new here.

Back in May I was looking for discussion of Peikoff's ASD and found Dan's post which began this thread.   So I then wented to the Objectivist Living site and read Cal's post and the ensuing discussion.   It had petered out last year but I re-started it by adding my defense of the ASD, and I have been arguing for it since.    You may be interested to go there and see it, and maybe join in the debate.

I think it is valuable to debate with people such as Cal and try to correct their erroneous views.

I have much more to say, but I must go to bed soon.   Good night.

Greg Browne

Concepts' "open-endedness" - Part Deux

Rowlf's picture


~~ Sorry: given the subject title, I should have segued my last post into, well, the Subject-title above.

~~ I don't see the prob re 'open-endedness' of concepts. Definitions of them, maybe. But...

~~ I discover 'X' and see how it looks and acts. Is it merely some object affected by some forces? a machine? An animal? A sentient alien? It's radically different in way too many 'comparative' aspects for me to relate to anything...so far. How do/should I grok it? Well, 'unique', is the best way for me to do such. A UNIQUE-X is my label/name for it. Hmmm...definition? Being 'unique', what need for such beyond the name itself (until I see a 2nd one)?

~~ From here on, I may discover more things about it. Its internal structure (at varied levels of biology/metallurgy/etc), its internal dynamics (at varied levels of...etc), its external mobility, and such's controllability, and...many other things may be discovered about it. --- But, all these questions 'imply' this post's point:> To speak of 'it' as having other (unknown) things to discover about 'it' IMPLIES that all unknown (discoverable) characteristics of 'it' are, in effect, 'implied' by the concept of UNIQUE-X.

~~ Though, to be sure, here 'implied' has not-quite-the-same-meaning as it has in the usual framework of logic. Nothing about such unknowns can be deduced...else they'd not be unknown, hmmm? NeverTheLess, here, as should be obvious, 'implied' means little more than "Anything more that is discovered (ie: is a 'new' fact) about UNIQUE-X is thence to be considered as a new characteristic of it that is subsumable as part of the concept." --- THIS is what 'open-endedness' in concepts is all about! NO inherent 'contradictions' exist there! --- Consider: I use Leggo pieces to build a bridge; I add a 'refinement' to the bridge with more pieces. It's still the same bridge (though evolutionized, if you will), until I add enough other pieces the right way to transform it (cross-a-conceptual-threshold? A 'concept' itself to consider in this context...) into a non-bridge building. But then, though it's no longer a bridge, but now a bldg, there's still no contradiction merely because there was a change. It was 'A'; now it's 'B'. A butterfly does not contradict its original caterpillar status. Sorry if I'm getting too pedantic, but...

~~ Anyhoo, I see no place for concern about contradiction-problems, certainty, context-perplexities, etc in concept-building or (see last post) theory-building when all one's talking about is ADDING knowledge (or knowledge-pieces, if you will, possibly resulting in a new...'paradigm'...of perspective on the totality.)


P.S: Dealing with definitions, of course, is a bit trickier, as the thread re Piekoff's arg against the A-S-d shows.

Concepts' "open-endedness" & contextual certainty

Rowlf's picture


~~Re your concern "...[subject title] has...everything to do with new knowledge flatly contradicting previous 'knowledge.' It pits truth as contextual against A is A...I've never seen it adequately addressed in Objectivism."


~~ I don't think it has to be addressed. All this concern about 'new' knowledge contradicting old 'knowledge' is a red herring by those who misinterpret what scientific (ergo any) knowledge, to be called knowledge, is all about. Any 'contradictions' claimed have to do with Over-Generalizing upon whatever present 'contextual' knowledge exists about fundamentals in the subject discussed. The perfect example is Newton and Einstein; Al did not 'contradict' Isaac, (unless Isaac argued somewhere that "That's all there is folks; end of the road in physics". I don't think he did) but, mis-interpreters saw it, and argued it, that way. Al refined Isaacs truths...regarding exceptions to the assumed-as-such Cosmological 'Laws' as indicating a broader (contextually) 'Law' that did NOT contradict Isaac's, but merely subsumed them. Al's apology to Isaac had to do with contradicting the ASSUMPTION Isaac made re even his own (as all others of the time) Over-Generalization about space being 'flat.' (see below).

~~ You ask "Was it then the truth that the earth was flat when folk were certain of that contextually?" --- Well put question! I'm tempted to do a Tommy Smothers answer "Ke-heh! Ya got me there," but...

~~ You referred to popular folk 'certainty'...not their 'knowledge.' --- Apart from the likes of Aristotle and Erotosthenes, most folk-certainty was clearly based on their limited perceptual experientiality in life. To a point, they were correct about 'flatness'. But, as mentioned above, they made the mistake of, though not calling such a Scientific 'Law', treated it as such, thereby Over-Generalizing.

~~ They induced, beyond what evidence could support such an induction that one accepted "No other consideration is worth considering." It is THIS belief where they were wrong; with this belief, as their old map sayings go: "Here, there be Dragons"...until above A&E came along with their sword and shields of observation-integrations and logic.

~~ Newton was 'wrong' in Over-Generalizing, if he's taken as having thought his discoveries were all that were ever worth saying on the subject of motion. Ie: that his starting assumptions would never need any 'excepting' refinements. I'm not aware this was ever his view; he merely integrated all that was knowable at the time. --- Same for 'flat-earthers' (of THEIR time...not the nowadays idiots).

~~ Knowledge-context, if rationally put together, gives justifiable certainty about what it contains...not about what one can Over-Generalize from it.


Nevin, MSK has

JennaW's picture

Nevin, MSK has replied:
Posted: Sat Apr 01, 2006 4:40 pm. "Thanks a lot for looking correctly at my thoughts, Jenna." on the forum, 13 posts down from the top on page 2.

According to the source himself, my interpretation is correct.

Jetton and Perigo

Dan Edge's picture

I think you guys have touched on an interesting topic. I have long thought the the relationship between Objectivism and the correspondence theory of truth (CTOT) was unclear. I've written on it before, but nothing really substantial.


I stand by my characterization of CTOT as implying an omniscient standard of truth. At least, this is the perspective of nearly all advocates of CTOT going back to Plato and Aristotle. Sometimes a distinction is made betweeen "soft" and "hard" positions of CTOT, but most of the "softies" are 20th century linguists like Wittgenstein, Russel, and (though he would not admit it) Quine who think that any metaphysics are necessarily rationalistic; and most of the "hardies" are either complete rationalists or consider certainty to be impossible.

Considering the varieties of CTOT, I think it is inaccuarate (or at least unclear) to say that Oism adheres to it. I don't have OPAR with me here, so I don't know how Peikoff qualifies the statement you quoted, but if he doesn't qualify the statement properly, then I think he made a mistake. If you're going to associate yourself with an idea that's been around for millenia in a million different incarnations, I think you have to specifically qualify any adherence to it.

I think I'm going to write an essay on this topic: "Objectivism and the Correspondence Theory of Truth." I'd like to understand it better.

--Dan Edge


Merlin Jetton's picture

I have not read Cal's essay that Dan Edge criticizes, but disagree with part of what Edge writes.

Dan Edge: Contrary to popular misconception, Objectivism does not accept the correspondence theory of truth. The correspondence theory states that proposition 'X' is true if it is always true, regardless of context. I call this the "omniscient standard" of truth. If one accepts this standard, then truth and certainty are impossible to attain, because man's knowledge is always contextual.

The misconceptions here are Edge's. Firstly, Peikoff in OPAR (p. 61 of pb) says about Rand's definition of truth: "In essence, this is the traditional correspondence theory of truth." Second, while someone like Karl Popper may say X is not true unless always true about general propositions, he does not subscribe to the correspondence theory. Most or all who do subscribe do not say that a proposition to be true must always be true. If such were the case, a simple particular proposition like "I am using my computer now" is not true because it is not always true.

Dan Edge: Rand's revolutionary idea is that one can define truth in absolute terms within a specified context of knowledge. Truth is the recognition of a relationship between perceptions and concepts within one's context of knowledge.

And what sort of a relationship is this if it isn't a correspondence between idea and fact(Drunk or proposition and fact(Drunk?


Lindsay Perigo's picture

That's quite a post! I had no idea you were a boffin!

Now, I've no intention of reading the article this thread is about, if indeed it argues that the ASD is valid, and given that I would have to slosh through a sewer to get to it.

However, there *is* a problem with open-endedness & contextual certainty that has nothing to do with new knowledge being superimposed on old & everything to do with new knowledge flatly contradicting previous "knowledge." It pits truth as contextual against A is A - reality is what it is, regardless of our perceptions, regardless of whether we perceive it or not. I've never seen it adequately addressed in Objectivism. The usual ploy of saying, or implying, "reality" is metaphysical & "truth" is epistemological doesn't cut it as far as I'm concerned. Was it then the truth that the earth was flat when folk were certain of that contextually?

Physics and epistemology

nevin's picture


I've never read anything on Objectivist Living, and I have no personal knowledge of Michael's 'but.' From the limited context of what has been written on this thread, I tentatively conclude that you somehow have developed a better feel for Michael's 'but' that Jenna has.

That said, I'm going to plunge into a digression.

You wrote:

For example, Newton's Law of Motion were true when he discovered them, and will always be true, given his context of knowledge. Einstein did not contradict Newton, he merely added to the body of knowledge subsumed under the same concepts.

Unfortunately, this tends to underestimate the sublety of Newton's insight into the natural world and to understate the supreme value of his achievement. The central discovery he made that underlies the entire structure of the Principia is his definition of force as the change of momentum with respect to time:


This definition has never been refuted, or even seriously contested. It served as the starting point of Einstein's work on relativity. Everything in both Newtonian and relativistic physics is consistent with this equation.

So why is it so widely reported that Einstein refuted Newton? There are two answers to this question. One is based on the influence of Kant, the other on the nature of undergraduate pedagogy.

In the first half of the twentieth century, the dominant thinkers in both philosophy and physics hailed from Central Europe. This is the part of the world where Kant's ideas were the most deeply influential. So the scientists, often influenced by the dangerous philosophical environment around them, did not have an Objectivist view of the growth of knowledge. Nor was their epistemology even necessarily consonant with Aristotelianism. So they were apt not to take Mother Nature seriously and to think that what was true one year could be false the next year.

The problem with undergraduate education is that it only has time to present a brief summary of each great system of ideas that it covers. The structure of even so brilliant and revolutionary a book as the Principia can't be presented, so physics majors today are left with only a mishmash of what Newton actually wrote.

Each part of the Principia can be classified into one of three categories: theory, application, and (rare) speculation. All of the theory is based on the use of inductive and deductive logic to interpret results that Newton obtained from his own and others' experiments and observations. Newton didn't have any way to detect the variation of mass as a function of velocity, so he wisely refrained from expressing any theoretical conclusions in an area where he had no experimental data.

When it came to application, however, Newton needed to show the power of his new theory in attacking real-world problems, like the motions of the planets, the trajectories of cannon balls, and the tides of the ocean. Therefore, he needed to take his equation F=dp/dt and solve it in each case, given the data he had for the situation at hand. The difficulty here lay in using integral calculus (which he discovered and also presented in the Principia,) to make calculations from a quantity as complex as dp/dt. He started with the (also uncontested) definition of momentum as mass times velocity,


and obtained


as the form of his central equation. But how to integrate d(mv)/dt? In his example problems (not in his theory,) he made a reasonable assumption that was consistent with all the data he had available. This was that mass was constant with respect to velocity. With this simplifying assumption, the last equation above becomes, by the rules of integral calculus,


But the change of velocity with respect to time, dv/dt, is already a concept on its own. It is called acceleration, and can be measured easily. Thus, as the simplified form of Newton's definition of force, we can write


These last two simplified equations are perfectly fine for calculating any motion of a macroscopic object that has ever been measured on Earth. But they are not part of his theory. They (and all of the specific equations derived from them) are the only parts of Newton's thought that were ever "disproven" by Einstein or any other twentieth century physicist. That Newton never included F=ma in his theoretical constructs is a subtlety that is lost in undergraduate classes. (Graduate classes probably never cover Newton's thought directly at all, instead relying on restatements of classical physics by the nineteenth century great William Rowan Hamilton or others.) Hence the confusion.



eg's picture

You can be sure that Ayn Rand edited every inch of Peikoff's ASD and that it is as Objectivist as anything she ever wrote.


I agree, but

JennaW's picture

Taking out the argument part of what MSK said, the sentence reads "I agree..., but..."

When I see "open-ended", I take this to mean "contingent upon current knowledge, with the option of expanding/changing the concept to allow for new knowledge gained".

In any case, if you're dissatisfied, dissect the argument that you are having trouble with. And, this is what *I* do, to keep myself balanced, I dissect *my* argument, too, because I've got too much pride in myself to let myself memorize and regurgitate someone else's thoughts (which is what collegiate undergrad education is like, UGH).

Okay, enough of MSK's "but". Smiling


Dan Edge's picture

If MSK is intending what you say, then I have misread him here. I thought his "but" implied an agreement with Cal's essay: "Peikoff is right that concepts are open-ended, *but* he's wrong that this implies that concepts refer to unknown characeristics." That's how I took it.

Ya know, we could sit around talking about MSK's "but" all day, and I still think I would be dissatisfied. One needs to get a good feel for the "but," get inside the "but," in order to fully understand it. With regards to grammatical depth, my but may be smaller, less robust, than MSK's. Perhaps a direct comparison is in order?


--Dan Edge

That was a pretty clear

JennaW's picture

That was a pretty clear exposition of what should be included in a concept.

To me this sentence says that MSK agrees that the essay was clear about its purpose.

I happen to agree with you that a concept can be added to, fundamentally changed or overturned once we learn what we don't yet know

Here he agrees that a concept is open-ended due to contextual knowledge.

but to say that it automatically includes information that has not yet been discovered is silly.

Yet he thinks it's silly (basically, a disagreement) to state a redundancy.

When someone says "open-ended concept" it's the "open-ended" part that describes contingent knowledge. MSK didn't agree with the whole essay. He was differentiating between how the argument is set up (clear), what the argument poses (nature of concepts), and specifically what he does or doesn't agree with.

Reading an argument can be difficult because disagreement isn't necessarily stated outright. When I look at a "but", I see disagreement. When I see "This was a clear exposition" it means to me that the responder thought the argument was clear, *not* that he agreed with the argument itself. MSK did in fact, specifically say *where* he agreed... and with the "but", where he did not agree.

I've sanctioned articles where I did not agree with the specific argument, but where I agreed with the spirit, tone, composition, wording, clarity, knowledge, or lay-out of the article.


Dan Edge's picture

I would have a problem is MSK *didn't* allow the article to be published under that particular subforum.

I'm not saying MSK should not have allowed the article to be published. I was distressed that he agreed with important elements of the article. He wrote:

That was a pretty clear exposition of what should be included in a concept. I happen to agree with you that a concept can be added to, fundamentally changed or overturned once we learn what we don't yet know, but to say that it automatically includes information that has not yet been discovered is silly.

Cal's understanding of what should or should not be included in a concept, and the question of the open-endedness of concepts, are the two elements of Cal's essay that I disagree with the most. And here, MSK positively evaluates these things. That's what I meant when I said he "sanctioned" the article.

--Dan Edge

Cal is working within his

JennaW's picture

Cal is working within his context of knowledge, as is Peikoff, as are you. Where this goes wrong is when one states that his/her context of knowledge *should* be everyone else's. I can't expect anyone outside of my field to know what I know, but *also* I'm expecting people to have a certain degree of respect when I speak from expertise, even if they disagree. If they disagree, I'd expect them to have done some intellectually honest, reality-based, background research beforehand, because otherwise you'd have the same old (analogous) creationist/evolution discussion.

Rebuttal, Also Posted on OL

Dan Edge's picture

One must keep in mind that Peikoff's Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy (A-S-D) is entirely based on ideas presented in Intro to Objectivist Epistemology (ITOE). A thourough, technical understanding of ITOE is critical in understanding Peikoff's essay. A-S-D is completely consistent with ITOE, and a critique of the former implies a critique of the latter. I consider this matter so important because Cal's essay was not just an attack on Peikoff, but an attack on Rand and the foundation of Objectivist principle.

Cal writes:

>>This [the open ended nature of concepts] is indeed a crucial part of his argument, as there otherwise would be always room for doubt, which is incompatible with an analytic deduction.

This is the most important part of Cal's essay, the source of his misinterpretation of Objectivist Epistemology. A clearer presentation of the nature of truth and doubt is in order. Contrary to popular misconception, Objectivism does not accept the correspondence theory of truth. The correspondence theory states that proposition 'X' is true if it is always true, regardless of context. I call this the "omniscient standard" of truth. If one accepts this standard, then truth and certainty are impossible to attain, because man's knowledge is always contextual.

Rand's revolutionary idea is that one can define truth in absolute terms within a specified context of knowledge. Truth is the recognition of a relationship between perceptions and concepts within one's context of knowledge. This is why the open-ended nature of concepts is so critical.

For example, Newton's Law of Motion were true when he discovered them, and will always be true, given his context of knowledge. Einstein did not contradict Newton, he merely added to the body of knowledge subsumed under the same concepts. Understanding Einsteinian Physics would be impossible without first grasping Newtonian Physics. Now, imagine if we did not preserve an open-ended method of using concepts. Einstein could not have assumed that Newton's Laws dealt with the same category of referents that he was dealing with hundreds of years later. Einstein would have had to start over from the beginning.

Concepts refer to the same category of referents no matter how much we know about the nature of those referents. This allows for an ever-expanding body of knowledge with regard to a specific set of entities.

Now, to state that concepts refer to all characteristics of an entity, including those not yet discovered, does not imply an omniscient standard of truth. Whenever we make a statement about an entity, the ever-present preamble remains: "Within the context of my knowledge, 'X' is true."

Using concepts as open-ended, we attach all sorts of ideas and knowledge to any given concept. Not all of this information will be included in the definition, because the function of definitions is not to present all the known information about a concept. A definition only states the epistemologically essential characteristics of a concept that separate it from other concepts. It is a handy organizational tool for those with a limited capacity for focal awareness. (To be clear, Peikoff never wrote nor implied, as Cal suggests, that a concept is interchangeable with its definition.)

So, we have: 1) a concept which refers to a specified set of entities (or characteristics of entities, actions of entities, etc.), 2) a definition for this concept which distinguishes it from other concepts, and 3) a body of knowledge related to that concept. None of these things should be confused or equated with the other.

Now, let us return to the "ice" example. The fact that ice floats in water is not contained in the definition of "ice," but it is factual, evidence-based information about ice related to the concept. Before I read Cal's essay, I did not know that there were forms of solid water that didn't float, and I had no evidence contradicting the statement "ice floats in water." Therefore, I would be justified in making the statement: "Within the context of my knowledge, ice floats in water." Were I to assert otherwise, I would be contradicting my current understanding of the concept "ice."

Now, since Cal has educated me further about ice, and has informed me that not all ice floats, I must integrate this information with the rest of my knowledge. The additional evidence with which Cal has provided me does not contradict my former statement "Within my context of knowledge, ice floats" because my context was narrower at that time. If I refused to integrate this new information into my understanding of ice, then I would be contradicting myself, but not before.

Also, note that I have maintained an open-ended perspective on the nature of concepts. Just because I have learned that some ice sinks does not mean that I was not subsuming sinking ice in my previous usage of the concept "ice". My use of the concept did include that form of ice, I was simply unaware of some characteristic of it. I can and will still apply everything else I know about ice to sinking ice, excluding the fact that it sinks. For instance, I can still assume that it is made up of water, H2O, it would nourish my body, etc. (Though, to some degree I would need to investigate the reason why this form of ice floats before I could confidently apply all the other things I know about ice to this new form.)

One more note about definitions: they can not be formed arbitrarily, as Cal states. Again, a definition describes the epistemologically essential characteristics of a concept that separate it from all other concepts. We would not define "man" as the "blue's playing animal," even though men are the only entities that play the blues. The fact that man plays the blues does not give us clear, concise, essential information about man that separates him from other animals. If we formed concepts this way, we could never keep our shit straight for the long term. Read the "definitions" chapter in ITOE for more information.

In fact, Cal, I *highly* recommend that you read ITOE (or re-read it) with a special focus on the nature of definitions and the open-ended nature of concepts. I think you will find that each trip through the ITOE is a fruitful one, especially if you are focused on something specific.

Thanks for reading,

--Dan Edge

The fact that the moderator

JennaW's picture

The fact that the moderator MSK sanctioned the article was very distressing to me.

I would have a problem is MSK *didn't* allow the article to be published under that particular subforum. I guess I see it as that if we are going to "chew on ideas", we're going to do just that. Because, you see, I developed my individuality before I came across Rand's philosophy, and I have visited forums where if I didn't agree with the moderator, my words were Big Brothered. I don't go for that. I think I *should* argue against something in order to test it, because if it stands up to all the tests I throw at it with my critical thinking, I'm more apt to consider it positively. I would think a philosophy contingent on individualism and thought would stand up to individual thought.

I also think that if I end up that Oist epistemology holds up for me, fine. I'm not going to be personally bothered if someone disagrees or mounts some attack on a forum after I've made that choice. What other people do is up to them; it's not for me to tell MSK how to run his forum or his thoughts, or to tell Cal to be quiet and don't think. I will never, ever do that; it goes against my values for individual thought, individual responsibility, and freedom to disagree (maturely). But I think this way because I look at philosophy as a dynamic, self-regulated, contextual guideline for my life.


Dan Edge's picture

Thanks for the props, and thanks for the mature and reasoned response.

Best Regards Back Atcha,

--Dan Edge

Dan, you are absolutely

rebissell's picture

Dan, you are absolutely right. I have been remiss, and I will fix that right now. Thank you for your patient, helpful way of making your point.

Best regards,

Roger Bissell, musician-writer


Dan Edge's picture

I can understand your reasoning for not responding to Cal's article at length. I may not respond to it for the same reasons. But I do think that, if you value OL as you say, then it's in your interest to at least state your disagreement on OL. If none of the regulars chime in on such a technical article, then it's reasonable for a visitor to assume that the content of article is at least acceptable (and at most fully sanctioned) there.

I want to say it's your *responsibility* to protect the integrity of forums you like and frequent. I can't fully justify that last statement, but I sure as hell feel that way about it. If I continue to enjoy SOLO and it becomes more of a value to me, then I would vigorously defend it. I would view Cal's article as an attack.

If the members of OL do not consider it a significant threat, that someone would explicitly endorse the analytic-synthetic distinction on their site, then this too is a problem. These issues are serious, and this issue in particular is dead serious.

I'm not saying you kick the guy off or cuss him out, but at least treat it as if it's important! It's not like the guy wrote a "drunken screed" that is obviously bullshit. Those kinds of posts do not deserve attention. But Cal has written a technical, relatively well-organized attack on Objectivist epistemology. I don't see how you can let that sort of thing stand without so much as an "i disagree."

--Dan Edge

silence does not = agreement

rebissell's picture

Michael Kelly is free to agree with and/or "sanction" any essays he pleases, but in so doing, he does not speak for the membership of Objectivist-Living. And the members of Objectivist-Living are free to comment or not comment on any given essay or post, but in remaining silent on a given topic, they are not thereby endorsing the piece about which they remain silent.

For the record, I firmly disagree with "Dragonfly"'s position on the Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy, and I completely agree with Leonard Peikoff's. I do have some questions as to his scholarship on the matter, particularly in regard to Quine's prominent earlier essay "Two Dogmas." However, the essence of Peikoff's analysis is correct, in my opinion.

The reason why I have refrained from engaging "Dragonfly" on the A-S-D thread is that I judged it to be futile, a belief that I think was well validated by the outcome of Bill Dwyer's noble efforts. I had already mixed it up with "Dragonfly" on the topic of axioms with similar results, and it was my sense that if Dragonfly was that opaque to the Objectivist view on axioms, it was of absolutely no use to try to argue with him on such a relatively more complex issue as the A-S-D.

That said, I have to put these comments in the wider context of the enormous value of belonging to a discussion list where condemnatory bashing and gross incivility are barred at the outset. Objectivist-Living really is a little bit of Atlantis, and it's quite a refreshing change from the gross hooliganism and the heavy-handed moderation and the constant bickering and rhetorical arm-wrestling on other lists. What a pleasure it is, for instance, to be able to criticize ideas that Nathaniel Branden has voiced, knowing that it's not going to be allowed to degenerate into a torrent of irrelevant, bilious character assassination of him. But O-L isn't for everyone; it's definitely an acquired taste. If you want meat-and-potatoes, traditional Objectivist interaction, this is definitely the right place. Smiling

Roger Bissell, musician-writer

A-S 'dichotomy' on OL

Rowlf's picture

~~ I've gotten into this subject with Calop @


...and Calop responded with a follow-up post that I was merely indulging in sophistry (as presumably Piekoff must've been doing), while saying that he wasn't saying that someone's statement was tautologous (though, in an earlier post, "[...if Rand's def of causality does not imply determinism...] then 'acting according to its nature' becomes an empty tautology. You can't have it both ways."

~~ I've read Calops sophistic 'refutation' of Piekoff's analysis a while ago at OL. Didn't think it was worth commenting on. Since it's become a thread-subject here, I'm tempted to do a Bill Dwyer and pick it apart *my* way...there...(hadn't read Bill's response yet; I'm sure it's worth reading); but, I ask myself 'why bother?' Especially after the responses here re all the praise Calop's received over it there.

~~ I've posted there before and I'll post there again, but...Calop's is THAT important a post? Ah, well. I'll recheck the thread.


Right on the money

sjw's picture

Dan, great comments.

Jenna, great Aristotle quote. Wink


Dan Edge's picture

I'm not Bill.  Dan is Dan.  Laughing out loud

--Dan Edge


Dan Edge's picture

I said that the article was "universally accepted" because all the responses (besides Bill's) expressed support for the article, and none of the other regulars chimed in with any disagreement.  The fact that the moderator MSK sanctioned the article was very distressing to me.  That said, I did not mean to imply that every member of OL has read and agrees with it.  I was unclear on this in my original post.

As for malignance, I did not say that I thought Cal's article was intentionally malicious; I have no way of knowing that.  I said that, if I wanted to mislead young students of Objectivism, I would have written a very similar article.  I do think that Cal erroneously presents himself as well-schooled in the field of epistemology.  The essay he criticizes, "The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy," is published at the end of the "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology," which one would assume Cal has read.

If Cal has not read the ITOE, and/or was merely investigating the subject of Peikoff's essay, then he did not make that at all clear in the article.  He presents himself as very knowledgable about the field through the subject and tone of his writing.  He was not merely stating his opinion on a matter unfamiliar to him.

Objectivist epistemology is the most important and essential part of Objectivism, in my view.  The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy is the most important and essential foundation for Objectivism's intellectual enemies.  The issue is *critically* important.  It shocks me that anyone even cursorily familiar with Objectivist epistemology would write such a critique as Cal has done.  The more I think about it, the more it baffles me, considering the degree of familiarity Cal purports to have on the subject.

When I "chew" on a topic with which I am not very familiar, I do not write with a tone of authority on that topic.  I make a point that I'm stating opinion and ask for constructive criticism.  And I do not brazenly criticize those who *are* experts in the field.  Part of the reason I approach "chewing" this way is that I don't want to spread misinformation to the uninformed.  I don't want to imply to my readers (particularly young readers) that I am an authority on the topic.  Sure, everyone must decypher articles on their own, but when dealing with such an important and complex topic, clarity is paramount.

--Dan Edge 

Entertaining thoughts

JennaW's picture

FIrst of all, the subforum that this post is under is called "Chewing on Ideas".

Cal is bringing in current outside (as in other field related) knowledge which is perfectly understandable. I'm not going to pretend to know physics or be a theoretical physicist like Cal is; but I do bring in my own education when I read anything on cognition, consciousness, perception, conceptualization, mind, emotion, art, media, and the brain. Often, my interpretation, understanding, and conclusions will be based on my education. Just because Cal disagrees using physics does not mean he's purposefully a malevolent human being, or that if someone disagrees with (their interpretation of) Peikoff that it's a bad thing. In any case, even for a math/physics nontalent like me, I did enjoy Cal's perspective and the responses as well.

Cal's essay was not universally accepted. I think this would just assume that most people simply swallow what they read. In any case, because I enjoyed the discussion does not mean I accepted the argument.

I think you should speak up in that particular thread on the issues that you disagree with. Unless your name is Bill.

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." --Aristotle

"If it were my express

John M Newnham's picture

"If it were my express purpose to malignantly confuse those with a non-technical understanding of epistemology, then I could have written the exact same article."

Well there you have it... Smiling

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