North Texas Objectivist Society (NTOS) Message Board › Floating Abstractions and Stolen Concepts

Floating Abstractions and Stolen Concepts

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Scott C.
Scott_Connery
Dallas, TX
Post #: 10
At the OPAR meeting yesterday we were having a lot of trouble defining "floating abstractions"

The discussion started with this paragraph:

" The perceptual level of consciousness is automatically related to reality; a sense perception is a direct awareness of a concrete existent. A concept, however, is an integration that rests on a process of abstraction. Such a mental state is not automatically related to concretes, as is evident from the many obvious cases of "floating abstractions." This is Ayn Rand's term for concepts detached from existents, concepts that a person takes over from other men without knowing what specific units the concepts denote." Page 96 OPAR

Sadly, the book doesn't list any of these "many obvious cases" which I think would have helped greatly.

So, I set out to find some examples to help solidify my understanding of the concept. The first I found is from Terry Goodkind (An Objectivist fantasy author)

"People use democracy as a free-floating abstraction disconnected from reality. Democracy in and of itself is not necessarily good. Gang rape, after all, is democracy in action."

I think this is obvious because many people, especially politicians, seem to use the word democracy to mean all sorts of things that are un-related to the actual concept. For instance, when George Bush says we are fighting to bring Democracy to Iraq, he is clearly using democracy as a floating abstraction.

Democracy is best defined as: "the doctrine that the numerical majority of an organized group can make decisions binding on the whole group"

Neither the US nor Iraq is a democracy. The US is a republic. This is a distinctly different form of government, which while it does include popular election of representatives, does not allow majority rule to decide whatever they want and force it on the rest.

So in this case it is clear that Bush does not understand what specific concretes the concept includes, and it is thus a floating abstraction for him.
Scott C.
Scott_Connery
Dallas, TX
Post #: 11
A "Stolen Concept" is a similar error, and I was confusing the two. I found a good summary of this fallacy here: http://wiki.cotch.net...­

Essentially, the Stolen Concept Fallacy consists of using idea 1 to discredit idea 2, when idea 1 makes absolutely no sense without idea 2. It is similar to the logical fallacy of Begging The Question (where you assume what you are attempting to prove), but in a stolen concept, you are assuming what you want to disprove. Put succinctly, stolen concept fallacies exist where argument X attempts to deny concept Y, where concept Y must be correct for argument X to be correct.

Objectivist philosopher Nathaniel Branden uses Proudhon's "Property Is Theft" as an example of this fallacy. Proudhon's statement boils down to 'to make something property consists of committing theft,' however this ignores the fact that theft is the unauthorized use of private property, meaning that without private property, there is no theft, and hence the act of claiming property is the precondition of theft rather than theft itself.

Examples of Stolen Concepts:

"There is no right or wrong"
"I do not exist"
"Reality is an illusion"
"Property is theft"
"Reason is arbitrary"


[Edit Personal comments added] So, a stolen concept is something altogether more vicious than a "floating abstraction". A floating abstraction often simply denotes a poor understanding of a definition. (Such as sycophant last night). A stolen concept is a concept that depends on contradiction to exist. [edit]
A former member
Post #: 216
[Scott said]
At the OPAR meeting yesterday we were having a lot of trouble defining "floating abstractions."

I wasn't at the NTOS OPAR meeting, so I may not have all of the context, but you actually gave several good example of floating abstractions: When you couldn't give an example of the concept "floating abstraction;" and when you referred to Nathaniel Branden as an "Objectivist philosopher," which has both "Objectivist" and "philosopher" floating.

Now, what is meant by a floating abstraction? It means that you cannot point to something in reality that corresponds to the concept -- i.e. the "concept" is in your head, but it doesn't correspond to anything in reality.

I'll grant you that Nathaniel Branden presented Objectivism -- especially under the auspices of Ayn Rand's guidance in both print and lectures -- but it takes more than writing a few essays on the principles of a philosophy and giving lectures on a philosophy (correctly or incorrectly) to be a either an Objectivist or a philosopher. A philosophy teacher is not necessarily a philosopher, and he doesn't necessarily practice what he preaches. To be an Objectivist requires living the philosophy; and if one is kicked off a forum (justly or unjustly), but one knows one is correct in one's stance, then the virtue of independence requires that you keep on presenting your ideas even if you have been rejected by those forums. Ever since Branden was rejected by Miss Rand, there hasn't been anything coming close to Objectivism that he has written or spoken.

Given all of the essays I have written over the years on a wide variety of topics in Objectivism, I'm not sure I would say that I am an Objectivist philosopher, though I am working on it.

If you want to point to an Objectivist philosopher, then I recommend Dr. Leonard Peikoff; who has not only shown that he understands the philosophy, but all other philosophies, and has written extensively on all the major (and minor) aspects of Objectivism (see OPAR, for example).


Examples of Stolen Concepts:

"There is no right or wrong"
"I do not exist"
"Reality is an illusion"
"Property is theft"
"Reason is arbitrary"

How are these stolen concepts?

"There is no right or wrong" [This statement presupposes morality in it's attempt to deny it.]

"I do not exist" [This statement presupposes that you do exist before you can make that statement.]

"Reality is an illusion" [This statement presupposes the difference between what is real and what is only appearance.]

"Property is theft" [This statement presupposes property before it can be stolen.]

"Reason is arbitrary" [This statement presupposes the difference between reason and the arbitrary.]

As you pointed out, in all of the above statements, they try to deny that which they are dependent upon -- i.e. "illusion" is dependent upon "reality;" "I" is dependent upon "exist;" etc.

[edited to correct typos]

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Scott C.
Scott_Connery
Dallas, TX
Post #: 12
I just want to make clear that my second post was a copy and paste until the very last bit. It was the website claiming Branden was an Objectivist Philosopher, not me.
Lathanar
Lathanar
Dallas, TX
Post #: 293
This is good stuff. Now, does this make 'magic' a floating abstraction? Is a unicorn (not a picture of a unicorn, but the concept of unicorn itself) or any other types of fiction/fantasy objects/entities floating abstractions?

- Travis
Old T.
OldToad
Group Organizer
Dallas, TX
Post #: 481
Tom wrote:

... but you actually gave several good example of floating abstractions: When you couldn't give an example of the concept "floating abstraction;" ...



This itself is an example of your using a "floating abstraction" to criticize a good student. A person who is working to understand an a term, such as "floating abstraction," from a treatise, such as OPAR, and asking questions regarding its definition and to ground it in reality, does not yet have an "abstraction" or a "concept" in his head at all, let alone a "floating" one. In asking about the definition, a student is not mis-using an abstraction or using a "floating abstraction," but rather is in the legitimate process of trying to make a well-grounded abstraction. There is a big difference.




... and when you referred to Nathaniel Branden as an "Objectivist philosopher," which has both "Objectivist" and "philosopher" floating.

... but it takes more than writing a few essays on the principles of a philosophy and giving lectures on a philosophy (correctly or incorrectly) to be a either an Objectivist or a philosopher. A philosophy teacher is not necessarily a philosopher, and he doesn't necessarily practice what he preaches.


This fails to define what you mean by "philosopher," either, except in the negative (what you think is not sufficient) and to point to Dr. Peikoff as the only example. That's not an abstraction of a class -- that's just one name, with all the particular characteristics and measurements of that person included by his name.




To be an Objectivist requires living the philosophy; and if one is kicked off a forum (justly or unjustly), but one knows one is correct in one's stance, then the virtue of independence requires that you keep on presenting your ideas even if you have been rejected by those forums.



What is the relevance of being kicked off a forum? But if you are kicked off more than one Objectivist forum, perhaps it suggests a contradiction. Is it theirs or yours?




Given all of the essays I have written over the years on a wide variety of topics in Objectivism, I'm not sure I would say that I am an Objectivist philosopher, though I am working on it.


You claim to have studied Objectivism for 30 years and to have written hundreds of essays (and cite to them at the bottom of every single post you make). You claim this shows your understanding of applying the philosophy.

After criticizing Scott for the use of the term, if you are not sure if you can call yourself an "Objectivist philosopher" because you do not really know what one is, that is a "floating abstraction."

If you do not have the confidence to do so without someone else's blessing or approval, you do not have "the virtue of intellectual independence."

-- Todd
Scott C.
Scott_Connery
Dallas, TX
Post #: 13
This is good stuff. Now, does this make 'magic' a floating abstraction? Is a unicorn (not a picture of a unicorn, but the concept of unicorn itself) or any other types of fiction/fantasy objects/entities floating abstractions?

- Travis


I think these would qualify as floating abstractions (Except for magic that can actually happen like Penn and Teller perform) because they do not refer to any actual concretes.

However, I think they are slightly different, because no one (I hope) thinks they refer to specific concretes.
Scott C.
Scott_Connery
Dallas, TX
Post #: 16
I would just like to add that I'm not upset by Tom's comments, and I do think it is important that Nathaniel Branded not be presented as an Objectivist of any stripe.
Sherry
SherryTX
Plano, TX
Post #: 446
When we have enough members to chip to buy the NTOS yacht, we can call it The Concrete Lady, and have a little dinghy behind it called The Floating Abstraction.
A former member
Post #: 217
[Todd said]
A person who is working to understand a term, such as "floating abstraction," from a treatise, such as OPAR, and asking questions regarding its definition and to ground it in reality, does not yet have an "abstraction" or a "concept" in his head at all, let alone a "floating" one. In asking about the definition, a student is not mis-using an abstraction or using a "floating abstraction," but rather is in the legitimate process of trying to make a well-grounded abstraction. There is a big difference.

I didn't say that Scott was evil or immoral for not being able to ground the term "floating abstraction," and yet Todd was implying that I implied that.

For legitimate concepts -- ones that do have a referent in reality -- there is a learning curve that moves from having just the word to understanding the concept fully. If one has the word and the definition, but cannot ground it in reality, then it is a floating abstraction.

I actually thought it was rather amusing, in a philosophic kind of way, for Scott to come out and say, in effect: "I can't ground this concept to reality; and the concept I can't ground is the one that means I can't ground it to reality."


After criticizing Scott for the use of the term, if you are not sure if you can call yourself an "Objectivist philosopher" because you do not really know what one is, that is a "floating abstraction."

I didn't say I didn't know what one was, especially since I affirmed and now re-affirm that Dr. Peikoff is an Objectivist philosopher. He sets a rather high bar, second only to Ayn Rand, for that distinction. Had Ayn Rand presented her philosophy and nobody to date had shown that they understood Objectivism, then she would be the only one.

I'm not sure if Harry Binswanger has ever represented himself as an Objectivist philosopher. He is most certainly an Objectivist who is a teacher of Objectivism, and a good one, but I would say he hasn't reached the bar of Dr. Peikoff or Ayn Rand. And neither have I. So, if that is the standard, then there is only one living Objectivist philosopher.

An Objectivist has to know and to practice the philosophy of Objectivism, and there is a wide range of possibilities leading to that designation. To be a philosopher is a very high bar. I mean, if one is talking about reality oriented rational philosophers who came up with their own philosophy, then there is only Aristotle, Aquinas, and Ayn Rand. To combine the philosophic ability of thinking in the widest abstractions and to remain in accordance with Objectivism is a hefty combination.

I have yet to write any treatise of length covering both a wide range of Objectivism and on a wide enough philosophic (i.e. systematic) level, though I have covered a wide range of topics from the Objectivist perspective. In other words, I haven't written anything on the scale of Atlas Shrugged (especially Galt's speech in relation to the story) nor OPAR. So, if that is the standard, then no I am not an Objectivist philosopher.

I don't know the exact length such a treatise would have to be, nor do I know the exact amount that would have to be written on aspects of Objectivism to qualify exactly what the bar level would be.

However, that doesn't mean that I have the concept "Objectivist philosopher" as a floating abstraction, because I can and do point to two such individuals: Ayn Rand and Dr. Leonard Peikoff, with at least some of what Harry Binswanger writes as close.

In other words, my standards are very high for that designation. When I do write that long treatise on Objectivism, validating a wide variety of Objectivist concepts in a systematic manner, then I will be able to say that I've done it. Until then, I will say that I am presenting my understanding of Objectivism, which is what I say on my website.

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$­$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Philosophic essays based on the philosophy of Ayn Rand

www.appliedphilosophyonline.com­

Applied Philosophy Online .com

Where Ideas Are Brought Down to Earth!

tmiovas@appliedphilosophyonline.com

All rights reserved 2006 by Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.

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