Concept formation

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A concept is just such a classification: a mental "integration" of at least two existents that share a common attribute or set of attributes (perhaps in different measures or degrees), each of which is for this purpose regarded as a unit of the concept. Once a concept is formed, it is given a specific definition and assigned a word; thereafter, it can be treated almost as a perceptual object, containing (or otherwise linking to) a wealth of implicit knowledge that need not be held explicitly in consciousness.

These concepts are formed by means of "measurement omission". Concepts are formed by isolating specific attributes of two or more similar concretes(such as tables, to use Rand's example), and omitting the particular measurements involved. The concept of table, therefore, is formed by isolating the attributes(Rand's "Conceptual Common Denominators") that constitute "table-ness"----ie, support(s) and a flat surface upon which items may be placed----and omitting the specific measurements involved; height, weight, color, number of supports, diameter of surface, etc. Once a concept is formed, it is defined by identifying its "essential" characteristic(s); that is, the characteristic or characteristics on which, within the context in which the concept is being formed, the most other characteristics depend.

The reference to "context" here is crucial. Since every concept is formed in a specific context, every definition is therefore contextual. If concepts are properly formed, then even though additional knowledge may require changes to one's definitions, one's later definitions will not contradict one's earlier ones.

What is the role of reason in this process? Reason consists in forming concepts through the use of logic, what Objectivism defines as "the art of noncontradictory identification".

Objectivism denies that the proposition is the fundamental unit of knowledge, arguing instead that concepts themselves constitute the building blocks of knowledge. So, in their way, do percepts, which consist of the knowledge that something exists. Concepts, however, consist of knowledge of what exists.

Errors of concept formation

Not all supposed concepts represent genuine knowledge. In order to constitute knowledge, concepts must be formed validly, in accordance with certain non-arbitrary rules which must be adhered to if we wish to reach valid conclusions. These rules include the laws of identity, noncontradiction, and causality, as well as various principles intended to prevent pseudoconceptual groupings of entities that are not genuinely or relevantly similar.

Apparent concepts that are not formed in accordance with these rules or principles are considered "anti-concepts" and are said to represent failures of integration. A major concern of the Objectivist epistemology is the identification and avoidance of such "anti-concepts", which are regarded as mental monstrosities that do not succeed in referring to any external reality whatsoever. Objectivism also opposes what it calls "floating abstractions", or concepts formed without proper connection to their concrete foundations. In all cases, the application of "Rand's Razor" is warranted; this razor states that all concepts must be resolved into their irreducible primaries.

It is also an error to identify a concept too fully with one of its referents, i.e., to fail to generalize properly. In the Objectivist view, one who is thus "concrete-bound" (i.e. whose thinking is fixed at the level of concrete entities) is unable to use concepts properly. To be concrete-bound is to fail to achieve a fully conceptual consciousness.

Objectivism refers to any attempt to apply a concept outside its proper scope as "context-dropping." One form of context-dropping is considered a major and dangerous fallacy: the "fallacy of the stolen concept." The stolen concept fallacy consists of invoking a concept while denying the more fundamental concepts on which it depends. Much like the classical logical fallacy of "assuming what you are supposed to prove", the stolen concept fallacy is a fallacy of "assuming what you overtly deny."

While many fallacies are mere errors worthy of no ethical attention, any deliberate commission of a rational error, or the deliberate refusal to abide by reason, is called "evasion" — evasion, that is, of reason. Evasion is considered grossly immoral by Objectivism, as it is a deliberate abdication of the capacities of the human person and a volitional desire to live at a subhuman level.

Errors of concept formation

Not all supposed concepts represent genuine knowledge. In order to constitute knowledge, concepts must be formed validly, in accordance with certain non-arbitrary rules which must be adhered to if we wish to reach valid conclusions. These rules include the laws of identity, noncontradiction, and causality, as well as various principles intended to prevent pseudoconceptual groupings of entities that are not genuinely or relevantly similar.

Apparent concepts that are not formed in accordance with these rules or principles are considered "anti-concepts" and are said to represent failures of integration. A major concern of the Objectivist epistemology is the identification and avoidance of such "anti-concepts", which are regarded as mental monstrosities that do not succeed in referring to any external reality whatsoever. Objectivism also opposes what it calls "floating abstractions", or concepts formed without proper connection to their concrete foundations. In all cases, the application of "Rand's Razor" is warranted; this razor states that all concepts must be resolved into their irreducible primaries.

It is also an error to identify a concept too fully with one of its referents, i.e., to fail to generalize properly. In the Objectivist view, one who is thus "concrete-bound" (i.e. whose thinking is fixed at the level of concrete entities) is unable to use concepts properly. To be concrete-bound is to fail to achieve a fully conceptual consciousness.

Objectivism refers to any attempt to apply a concept outside its proper scope as "context-dropping." One form of context-dropping is considered a major and dangerous fallacy: the "fallacy of the stolen concept." The stolen concept fallacy consists of invoking a concept while denying the more fundamental concepts on which it depends. Much like the classical logical fallacy of "assuming what you are supposed to prove", the stolen concept fallacy is a fallacy of "assuming what you overtly deny."

While many fallacies are mere errors worthy of no ethical attention, any deliberate commission of a rational error, or the deliberate refusal to abide by reason, is called "evasion" — evasion, that is, of reason. Evasion is considered grossly immoral by Objectivism, as it is a deliberate abdication of the capacities of the human person and a volitional desire to live at a subhuman level.