Picture of Objectivist Epistemology in Outline  (MP3 download)

Objectivist Epistemology in Outline (MP3 download)

By Gregory Salmieri


Ayn Rand held that "philosophy is primarily epistemology," the "science devoted to the discovery of the proper methods of acquiring and validating knowledge." This class surveys Rand's "new approach to epistemology" - the most original and least widely understood aspect of her thought. The course emphasizes the structure of the Objectivist epistemology and the central role played by Rand's theory of concepts. The course covers some applications and extensions of Rand's ideas (including aspects of Leonard Peikoff's theory of induction) that illustrate the power of her epistemology.

The first day of the course is devoted to the nature of consciousness in general and perception in particular. It distinguishes consciousness as a state of awareness from other states and activities of the faculty of consciousness and explains the difference between form and object and the error of conflating the two. By differentiating perception from sensation, perceptual judgment and other states, the course clarifies what information is and is not given in perception and how perception is infallible.

The second day deals with the problem of concepts and Ayn Rand's solution.  After a brief survey of traditional theories, it explains the role of measurement-omission and of the identification of essential characteristics in the formation of a concept, what it means to call a concept a "mental entity," how concepts are based on evidence, the nature of definition and how Rand's explanation of concept formation reflects her general conception of awareness as an active process.

The focus for the third day is on the process of conceptualizing as a whole.  Topics include: how the formation of a concept commits one to a policy of inducing and deducing, the difference between first-level and higher-level concepts, how different sorts of higher-level concepts depend on earlier concepts, how first-level judgments (including first-level generalizations) are justified directly on the basis of perception and how higher-level judgments are based on lower-level ones, the distinction between the hierarchies of knowledge and of generality, the role of axiomatic concepts as integrators of knowledge, and how Rand's conception of reason differs from both rationalism and empiricism.

The fourth day revisits the process discussed on the previous two days emphasizing that the process of conceptualizing is volitional, and so requires a self-conscious method. It discusses the nature of objectivity, how the need for reduction and integration stems from the nature of conceptualization, the false alternative of intrinsicism and subjectivism (both as abstract theories and as cognitive methods), the need to validate one's concepts and definitions, invalid concepts, the role of hypothetical reasoning in validating conclusions, the nature of the arbitrary, contextual absolutism and the status of proven conclusions.

This course was recorded at the 2006 Objectivist Summer Conference in Boston, MA.

(MP3 download; 6 hrs., 3 min., with Q & A, 261.05 MB)