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Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology

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Today man's mind is under attack by all the leading schools of philosophy. We are told that we cannot trust our senses, that logic is arbitrary, that concepts have no basis in reality. Ayn Rand opposes that torrent of nihilism, and she provides the alternative in this eloquent presentation of the essential nature--and power--of man's conceptual faculty. She offers a startlingly original solution to the problem that brought about the collapse of modern philosophy: the problem of universals. This brilliantly argued, superbly written work, together with an essay by philosophy professor Leonard Peikoff, is vital reading for all those who seek to discover that human beings can and should live by the guidance of reason.

320 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1979

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About the author

Ayn Rand

222 books8,873 followers
Alisa Rosenbaum was born in pre-revolutionary St. Petersburg to a prosperous Jewish family. When the Bolsheviks requisitioned the pharmacy owned by her father, Fronz, the Rosenbaums fled to the Crimea. Alisa returned to the city (renamed Leningrad) to attend the university, but in 1926 relatives who had already settled in America offered her the chance of joining them there. With money from the sale of her mother's jewelry, Alisa bought a ticket to New York. On arrival at Ellis Island, she changed into Ayn (after a name of some Finnish author, probably "Aino") Rand (which she said was an abbreviation of her Russian surname). She moved swiftly to Hollywood, where she learned English, worked in the RKO wardrobe department and as an extra, and wrote through the night on screenplays and novels. She also married a bit-part actor called Frank O'Connor because he was 'beautiful' - and because her original visitor's visa had run out.
Rand sold her first screenplay in 1932, but nobody would buy her first novel We the Living (1936) a melodrama set in Russia. Her first real success was The Fountainhead (rejected by more than ten publishers before publication in 1943).
She started a new philosophy known as Objectivism, opposed to state interference of all kinds, and her follow-up novel Atlas Shrugged (1957) describes a group who attempt to escape America's conspiracy of mediocrity. Objectivism has been an influence on various other movements such as Libertarianism, and Rand's vocal support for Laissez-faire Capitalism and the free market has earned her a distinct spot among American philosophers, and philosophers in general.


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Displaying 1 - 30 of 83 reviews
Profile Image for Haider Al-Mosawi.
56 reviews36 followers
December 1, 2010
An excellent book for any human being with a brain and would like to know how to use it.

Many philosophy books raise more questions than they answer and lead to more confusion than clarity. This is a very practical book because it establishes an essential foundation for all our thinking and how we relate to the world. Ayn Rand explains how we know the world is objective, why the senses are reliable, the importance of reason, and other issues related to epistemology (the science of knowledge).

One of the most useful ideas in this book is the idea of concept formation and Ayn Rand's take on the "problem of universals" (whether concepts exist separately of reality or not).

I can't recommend this book enough (though it's quite the philosophical read).
673 reviews52 followers
July 2, 2019
One of the most exciting things I have read in a long time. Understanding how concepts are formed is SO EXCITING!!! Every English major should read this. I can now explain why the verb "to be" is such a horrible verb--when you use sentences with that verb you are almost always going to be using so many abstractions that the sentence can be very easily misinterpreted. What she says correlates with the science I have read on kids brain development which I enjoyed. Fascinates me that philosophers knew so much about how our brains work without any modern medical knowledge. This book also helped in my understanding of brainwashing, and exactly what is wrong with Behaviorism and the way children are taught. I understand now why she favored Montessori instead of Holt though neither is really what an Objectivist parent would want for their kids. Fascinates me that NVC is Objectivism--Objectivists have no idea how much they have in common with the hippies (and vice versa).

Maps of Meaning by Jordan Peterson is a good follow
up to this one, perhaps even better.
Profile Image for Mark Milne.
Author 2 books1 follower
October 1, 2012
You can find my full review on my website, but in a nutshell, Rand was not well-schooled in philosophy and this book shows that very clearly. She has NO following among professional philosophers because of that. She has a HUGE following among readers of her novels, and when those readers find this book on OE they give it gushing reviews. And OE is probably the first book on a philosophical subject they have ever read. The main faults with OE: 1) Rand just makes claims, she does not present arguments, so she does not make a good case for herself: you have NO CASE if you just make claims that are unsupported, or are only mildly supported, 2) she is guilty of circular reasoning all over the book, as in when she defines "length". If you define "length" as "any item posessing length" you don't bring much to the table. These are errors made by first-year philosophy students.

Finally, it is not as though she has any great and original piece of thought to contribute here that is, unfortunately, burdened with some non-essential poor thinking. NONE of this work stands up to scrutiny or is original or valuable at all, again, assuming that you first know something about philosophy. The opinions of first-time philosophy readers don't count. Clearly, if Rand hadn't been famous as a novelist this lame attempt at philosophy would never have been picked up by any publisher.
Profile Image for Lisa (Harmonybites).
1,834 reviews324 followers
September 14, 2013
I know many sneer at the idea of Ayn Rand as a philosopher. (Just look at reviews below.) I believe mainly because they're so radically opposed to her views and so consider her a threat to their values. And many find it easy to be derogatory because she won fame as a writer of fiction and didn't have the academic credentials of those who usually call themselves philosophers. And sorry to say, it probably didn't help back then--may even hurt her now--that she was a woman poaching on very male territory. All I can tell you is that the much-lauded Anarchy, State and Utopia by Robert Nozick, which won a National Book Award in philosophy and religion, basically takes Ayn Rand's political arguments and presents them in academic language and is by someone with those academic credentials--and it's awarded respect.

But if any aspect of her philosophy has some grudging acknowledgement from philosophers, and is truly original, it's probably her epistemology. Epistemology is that branch of philosophy that deals with knowledge--its nature, what can we know, how do we know it. Once, when Ayn Rand was asked to define her philosophy while standing on one foot, she replied: "Metaphysics: Objective Reality; Epistemology: Reason; Ethics: Self-Interest, Politics: Capitalism." Well, I might take issue with "capitalism" as the name of a political, rather than economic concept, but otherwise that's summarizes her beliefs well. But then a lot of philosophers might define themselves similarly. What makes a philosophical system are the details and the arguments. In the case of epistemology this book actually has a pretty narrow focus--though a crucial one. The original edition was not much longer than 100 pages--a very slim mass paperback. Peikoff has added to it material from taped lectures. Basically, this focuses on the nature of concepts and especially concept formation and how that feeds into consciousness and identity.

These are difficult concepts--within any philosophy. Just try reading Locke or Kant on the subject. In this Rand's lack of an academic background and her strengths as a popularizer of philosophy is a blessing: because the arguments she presents are lucid and clear. You can find the main criticisms of the arguments on the Wiki--that it doesn't take cognitive psychology into account and that "conflates the perceptual process by which judgments are formed with the way in which they are to be justified." I haven't read the counterarguments in their entirely in a way I can judge their validity. But personally, and I know this is not in itself an argument for her epistemology--but I know how relieved I felt to find a thinker defending the validity of the senses and reason after I had been filled with philosophers in school that would deny their reality. So yes, I find this book amazing, powerful and valuable.
Profile Image for David.
108 reviews
January 20, 2022
I needed to revisit this to clear up some confusion in my recent philosophy reading (Chalmers, Fodor, Searle, et al.). I hadn’t actually finished this book decades ago, and I read it all through this time. It was particularly the analytic-synthetic dichotomy I needed to review, and Peikoff’s masterful essay on it revealed how its false-dichotomy variants (necessary vs. contingent, a priori vs. a posteriori, intension vs. extension) all spring from erroneous concept theory and have plagued modern philosophy. Reviewing Rand’s theory of concepts and her extensive Q&A with philosophy professors was elucidating and intellectually invigorating. It's lamentable that modern philosophy is so stagnant and confused, and that most philosophers are unfamiliar with, or dogmatically opposed to, Rand’s groundbreaking work in epistemology.
56 reviews
July 6, 2020
En tänkt quick read, på 200 sidor som språngbräda till Atlas Shrugged och The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, blev en marig läsupplevelse där jag tvingades att pusha mina kognitiva förmågor som aldrig förr. Bokjäveln är till för den som är filosofistudent och kan sin filosofihistoria VÄL, både på svenska som engelska. Detta är alltså inte jag, så ta allt med en liten nypa salt.

En av medförfattarna, Leonard Peikoff, erbjuder den mest intresseväckande passagen i boken om hur objektivister skiljer sig från andra inom den filosofiska världen i syn på själva filosofin och dess historia. Den moderna filosofin är kapad (enl. Obj.), och det är Immanuel Kant som ska ha tack. I en Pre-kantiansk era var svaret från Plato det dominerande inom filosofin med idévärlden som en ”högre verklighet”, där alla koncept hämtades ut ur på metafysiska grunder och utgjorde vår materiella verklighet (hänvisar Matrix-filmerna för att sätta det i en kontext).

Men det är Kant och hans separerande mellan människans sinnen och förnuft och den ”verkliga verkligheten” som gjort att filosofin nu står på sina knän, fast i en subjektivistisk, relativistisk sörja där vi inte längre inte kan besvara dem stora, svåra frågorna. Människan är fast mellan två verkligheter; den noumenella och fenomenella sfären. Med andra ord; den verkliga verkligheten och våra inre subjektiva föreställningar om den. Ur detta kommer vi in på ”The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy”, vilket objektivismen vill förkasta. Det är en dikotomi, som på felaktiga grunder har accepterats pga Kants filosofi. Det är två sorters olika fakta, två olika sorters sanningar som i det långa loppet undergräver varandra och lämnar oss tomhänta i slutet, menar Peikoff (vi kommer dit).

Analytisk fakta beskrivs som att det styrs av logikens ramar (och representerar rationalismen i den klassiska dikotomin mellan den redan nämnda och empirism, ännu ett motsatsförhållande som inte ska äga rum om inte för Kants ”onda” filosofi). Dessa fakta är oberoende av vår existens för att kunna vittna dess, alltså ”a priori” för den som har ett vokabulär, tätt packat med filosofiska begrepp. Faktan är därmed universell samt oföränderlig. 2+2=4. A=A. MEN, ju längre in i analysen man kommer så smyger sig en subjektivism in som säger att dessa fakta egentligen ingenting om den verkliga verkligheten (Kants noumena), då logiken är vad som konstaterar dem. Och vart kommer logiken ifrån? Jo, individers subjektiva sinnen (som enligt Kant bara kan begripa sig på den fenomenella sfären). Logiken kan inte tyda ”rena fakta” om das ting an sich (tinget i sig). Men logiska , analytiska fakta förblir ofalsierbara då ”No fact can ever cast doubt upon them, they are immune from reality. They are necessary - because men make them so”.

Syntetisk (?) fakta beskrivs som bundna av “the facts of the case”, alltså omständigheterna av varje enskilt fall som äger rum inom den verklighet vi befinner oss i. Dessa fakta är, i motsats till analytisk fakta, beroende av vår existens för att kunna erkänna dess egna genom observation (här kommer empirismen in VS rationalismen etc). Men, dessa fakta är villkorliga och kan förändras (dem är kontingentsa). De ”råkar” bara vara sanna just här och nu, men kan inte förklaras som universella och orubbliga. I en förlängd analys kryper relativismen in här, då inget kan vara universellt sant, då det alltid kan finnas ett motbevis rent teoretiskt till att ”alla svanar är vita”; det kan alltid finnas en svart svan, då vi inte bara har sett den ännu eller så har den ännu inte blivit till liv. ”Since its denial is not self-contradictory, the opposite of any synthetic truths are “brute” facts, which no amount of logic can make fully intelligible”. Motsatsen till vilken syntetisk fakta är tänkbar, då logiken inte kan motbevisa någonting (eftersom logikens lagar inte är anknutna till noumenella utan fenomenella fakta).

Nå, för att slå en knut på detta kör vi en crash course över vilket alternativ objektivismen erbjuder som substitut till detta motsatsförhållande, som bygger på Ayn Rands ”Concept-Formation”, dvs hur människan gradvis utvecklas kognitivt och skaffar sig kunskap om den värld hon befinner sig i- Först genom ”sensations”, vilket min bästa översättning är blotta intryck som noteras av hjärnan man kan inte besparas av av en liten bebis. När vi för en minnesförmåga vid 3-4års ålder börjar vi kunnat skapa ”perceptions” av dessa ”sensations” (ihopklumpar av allt skit vi ser) och våra kategoriseringar börjar ta fart ju äldre vi blir som barn. Genom ungdomen och ända in i vuxenlivet utvecklas det tredje stadiet, där vår förmåga till att bilda abstrakta koncept om dessa ”perceptions” vi har samlat på oss. Synapserna börjar koppla (varningsflagg för att jag har missförstått denna del). Så, med det sagt. är allt vi ser (sensations) senare grupperade som ”perceptions” som vi tolkar och skapar koncept utifrån och hämtar in kunskap om världen. Alltså, notera; ”Man’s knowledge is not acquired by logic apart from experience or (vice versa), but by the application of logic to experience All truths are the product of a logical identifikation of the facts of the experience”. Distinktionen mellan analytisk och syntetisk fakta är illegitim då vår kunskap kommer från en integrering av vår logiska fakultet i hjärnan som allt som våra sinnesorgan registrerar. Du kan inte komma fram till att A=A utan att behöva se det i praktiken eller att veta att alla svanar du har sett var vita då du måste sortera alla ”sensations” till ”perceptions” till ”conceptions” för att dra den slutsatsen utifrån den givna observationen. Poängen är kristallklar(om inte, såhär kommer ett sista försök): Kunskap hämtas aldrig in enbart via logik eller observation. Det råder ALLTID ett samband. Det är Ayn Rand och hennes intellektuella kartells tes som förblir omöjlig att erkänna, om man har Kant som utgångspunkt med att våra sinnesorgan är bristfälliga och utgör ett hinder för oss att betrakta ”den verkliga verkligheten”. Som Stephen Hicks skrev i Postmodernismens förklaring: ”Ligger det inte något perverst i att göra vårt medvetandeskapande organ till hinder för medvetande?”

Till en redan för lång utläggning, som kommer snabbt att avfärdas som ett ytterligare rantande över vanligt förekommande begrepp i mina inlägg, så vill jag citera Peikoffs sammanfattning av vad som kommer att hända (och har redan hänt) inom filosofin om vi inte avfärdar denna dikotomi:

”As I have said, knowledge cannot be acquired by experience apart from logic, nor by logic apart from experience. Without the use of logic, man has no method of drawing conclusions from his perceptual data; he is confined to range-of-the-moment observations, but any perceptual fantasy that occurs to him qualifies as a future possibility which can invalidate his ”empirical” propositions. And without reference to the facts of experience, man has no basis for his ”logical��� propositions, which become mere arbitrary products of his own invention. Divorced from logic, the arbitrary exercise of the human imagination systematically undercuts the ”empirical”; and divorced from the facts pf experience, the same imagination arbitrarily creates the ”logical”. I challenge anyone to invent a more thorough way of invalidating all of human knowledge”.

Finns inget samband mellan logik och observation i framställandet av kunskap som resulterar i fakta som sin tur dikterar vad som är sant och falskt fastnar vi i en filosofisk era, där subjektivism och relativism råder. Inga stora narrativ kan ens försöka förklara sig på den värld vi lever i. Vad kallas det nu igen? Ah! Postmodernism.
Profile Image for sologdin.
1,702 reviews605 followers
October 10, 2017
Part XI of a multi-part review series.

Sophomoric beyond belief, suffering from her normal defects, as described elsewhere in this series.

Opines in the forward that “the issue of concepts (known as the ‘the problem of universals’) is philosophy’s central issue” (1). Uh no, twice. This is of course not the ‘central’ issue in philosophy, though it is something considered in certain older ontological discussions. And the equation of ‘concepts’ with ‘universals’ is just, uh, wrong.

She is in her normal state of batshit insane when she proclaims, without reference to any texts whatsoever “Under all the tortuous complexities [i.e., too hard for her to comprehend], contradictions, equivocations, rationalizations of the post-Renaissance philosophy—the one consistent line, the fundamental that explains the rest, is: a concerted attack on man’s conceptual faculty” (3). This is stated without benefit of quotation of pre-Renaissance or Renaissance proper philosophy to establish the distinction with purported post-Renaissance philosophy’s so-called ‘attack’ on the conceptual faculty. And it should go without saying that she examines no post-Renaissance texts at all, ever.

The argument skips over two issues of ancient ontology in order to get to its philistine epistemology: “the validity of the senses must be taken for granted—and one must remember the axiom: Existence exists” (4). Thanks for those tautologies?

She deploys her normal ‘collectivist’ subject in stating such things as “The building block of man’s [sic] knowledge is the concept of an ‘existent’” (6) (never mind how silly the argument might be otherwise).

She lays out much work early with the notions of same and similar, though they aren’t rigorously presented, and everything she says is absolutely crushed by implication in Foucault’s The Order of Things.

She is of course superdumb insofar as she says: “integral calculus, used to measure the area of circles” (17)…uh, wurt? Similarly, “Adverbs are concepts of the characteristics of motion (or action): they’re formed by specifying a characteristic and omitting the measurements involved” (20)—huh?

The dogmatic, unevidenced, undefined, or even unknowable assertions are as obnoxious as ever: “The first concepts a child forms are concepts of perceptual entities; the first words he learns are words designating them” (24). She somehow thinks that concepts exist apart from language: “the learning of words is an invaluable accelerator of a child’s cognitive development, but it is not a substitute for the process of concept-formation: nothing is” (25).

Dumb definitions everywhere: “consciousness is the faculty of awareness” (37), for instance. She is comical insofar as it kinda is correct in defining epistemology as a "science devoted to the discovery of the proper methods of acquiring and validating knowledge” (47), but the problem is that this sentence does not describe this text, which re-urges some warmed-up empiricism from centuries ago—but nothing is cited, explained, or established.

She just can’t help making unwarranted generalizations: “These examples are for the benefit of those victims of modern philosophy who are taught by Linguistic Analysis that there is no way to derive conjunctions from experience” (49)—NB that she cites no example of her interlocutors here. From there, it spins into her normal mode of interaction with others—irredeemable nastiness rooted in cynical pop-psych assumptions: “The motive of the anti-measurement attitude is obvious [NB no evidence]—it is the desire to preserve the sanctuary of the indeterminate for the benefit of the irrational” (51). Whatever?

Silliness insofar as she misstates definitions for basic terms, such as “objective validity is determined by reference to the facts of reality” (60). That’s just wrong. Validity is a formal characteristic of an argument, rather than a material one, i.e., a valid argument is one wherein it is impossible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false—the actual truth of the premises is not the issue at all. (An argument is sound, however, when its premises are true and it is also valid.) This asinine error appears in her idea of an ‘invalid concept’: “i.e., words that represent attempts to integrate errors, contradictions or false propositions, such as concepts originating in mysticism—or words without specific definitions, without referents, which can mean anything to anyone, such as modern ‘anti-concepts’” (65)—that’s just a total mess, and fairly plainly she was writing this while completely drug addled, poor thing.

If it is not unrestrained dogmatism, then it is mere tautology: “truth is the product of the recognition of the facts of reality” (63). Either way, she’s not assisting anyone in understanding anything, and mostly misleads on the basics of empiricist doctrine.

Where the book abjectly fails, for which she must come in for the most impolite mockery, is the Axiomatic Concepts section, wherein it is stated that “axioms are usually considered to be propositions identifying a fundamental, self-evident truth” (73). That definition is quite incorrect, but it gets worse: “An axiomatic concept is the identification of a primary fact of reality, which cannot be analyzed” (id.)—also dogmatic and solipsistic. Worse, though: “The first and primary axiomatic concepts are ‘existence,’ ‘identity’ (which is a corollary of ‘existence’), and ‘consciousness,’” which are alleged to be “irreducible primaries,” the attempt to prove them “self-contradictory” (id.). With this series of wrong-headed assertions, Rand has very conveniently relieved herself of the main burden of epistemology, even under her own definition, supra, as a science that intends to discover the proper methods of acquiring and validating knowledge. Here, she simply adopts her own dogmatic definitions of several key terms in the debate and declares them not only self-evident, but also not subject to analysis. Okay, then! Finally, a courageous book that flatters the philistine mentality that one’s unreflective ideas as simply true because they’re in one’s head.

Recommended to those who would give new meaning to Protagoras’ old dictum, persons who undercut the cognitive function with a series of grotesque devices , and readers who think the question of how arbitrary sounds can establish a criterion of discrimination between truth and falsehood is a question not worth debating.
26 reviews5 followers
November 20, 2009
This book by novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand, (author of "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead") establishes the foundation of the philosophy of Objectivism, putting forth a clear statement of the branch of epistemology, and specifically, of concept formation. Rand connects every concept, no matter the complexity of the abstraction, to objective reality, proving that all concepts are in fact measurable and objective, including complex emotions such as love.

This is a very technical book that may take the student several reads to start to grasp, but it is essential for understanding Objectivism, and learning to fully integrate the philosophy into one’s life. Whether one is a philosopher or a student of Objectivism, this book can help one to achieve the clarity of thinking required to have a successful and happy life.

Also included in this expanded edition are a lengthy Q&A Rand hosted to answer questions about her philosophy form other philosophers, and an analysis of "The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy" by Rand's intellectual heir, Dr. Leonard Peikoff.
Profile Image for Patrick Peterson.
449 reviews181 followers
April 24, 2009
This book is very basic - but was very difficult, for me at least. I found myself not able to make every logical jump Rand thought proper. A little weird, since I agree with so much of what Rand says. I don't think I ever actually finished the book, since I could not agree with some pretty fundamental jumps she made.

I've read Atlas, Fountainhead, We the Living, Anthem, Night of Jan. 16, Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal (my favorite of hers), Virtue of Selfishness, and several other books of her essay compilations. I'm NOT an enemy of Rand, but rather a BIG supporter, with an open and always trying to be logical mind.
Profile Image for Adam.
47 reviews7 followers
August 8, 2011
The terms and arguments are completely unclear. If this is an attempt at rigorous philosophy, it falls embarrassingly short. As one who actually agrees with Ayn Rand in broad terms, I am consistently disappointed by the quality of the arguments she marshaled for her beliefs.
Profile Image for -uht!.
127 reviews10 followers
June 13, 2007
Ayn Rand is such an incredibly lucid thinker and writer. And her style has got to be the most male of any writer I know.
Profile Image for Kevin Yee.
341 reviews21 followers
December 29, 2017
I read this after a Computer Science class that emphasized the importance of concept-formation and using consciously building the structure of one's own knowledge. I found it very intellectually stimulating, especially her her perspective on language, how the cognition happens before we communicate.
Profile Image for Anna.
32 reviews
June 6, 2021
Different and significantly less bad than expected.
Profile Image for Toe.
189 reviews48 followers
November 19, 2022
Objective Summary

In eight chapters, Ayn Rand introduces one aspect of her philosophy, Objectivism. The aspect she introduces is epistemology, or how men know what they know. She argues the following.

1. Cognition and measurement. The base of all man’s knowledge is perceptual awareness, which is how he apprehends reality. Men use the concept of “existent” as the building blocks of knowledge. There are three stages of development of existents: entity, identity, unit. A unit is an existent regarded as a separate group of two or more similar members. Measurement is the identification of a quantitative relationship, by means of a standard that serves as a unit. Measurements are used to expand the range of man’s knowledge beyond the directly perceivable concretes.

2. Concept-formation. The process of concept-formation consists of mentally isolating two or more existents by means of their distinguishing characteristic. Measurements of existents can be omitted for purposes of forming a concept because measurements can exist in any quantity though they must have some quantity. A concept is a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s) with their particular measurements omitted.

3. Abstraction from abstractions. When concepts are integrated into a wider concept, they serve as units and are treated epistemologically as if they were a single, mental concrete. Metaphysically, each unit stands for an unlimited number of concretes of a certain kind. New and wider concepts include all the characteristics of their constituent units, though their distinguishing characteristics can be regarded as omitted measurements, and one of their common characteristics becomes the distinguishing characteristic of the new concept.

4. Concepts of consciousness. Consciousness has two fundamental attributes: the content or object of awareness, and the action or process of consciousness in regard to that content. A concept pertaining to consciousness is a mental integration of two or more instances of a psychological process with the same distinguishing characteristics, with particular contents and measurements omitted. Psychological processes are measured on a relative scale using ordinal numbers rather than cardinal numbers for physical measurements. A special category of concepts of consciousness pertain to products of consciousness like knowledge, and methods like logic.

5. Definitions. A definition is a statement that identifies the nature of a concept’s units. A correct definition must specify distinguishing characteristics of the units (differentia) and indicate the category of existents from which they are differentiated (the genus). The essential distinguishing characteristic(s) must be fundamental to the units. All definitions are contextual and depend on man’s knowledge. A more advanced definition expands on a more primitive one. A definition is a condensation of a vast body of observations, and its validity depends on the truth or falsity of these observations. The truth or falsity of all man’s conclusions, inferences, and knowledge depend on the truth or falsity of his definitions. Aristotelians view “essence” as metaphysical; Objectivists view it as epistemological.

6. Axiomatic concepts. An axiomatic concept is the identification of a primary fact of reality, which is implicit in all facts and in all knowledge. It is perceived directly but grasped conceptually. The first and primary axiomatic concepts are existence, identity, and consciousness. They are the foundation of objectivity.

7. The cognitive role of concepts. The range of what man can hold in the focus of his conscious awareness at any moment is limited. The essence of his cognitive power is the ability to reduce a vast amount of information to a minimal number of units, which is performed by his conceptual faculty. Concepts represent condensations of knowledge and open-ended classifications that subsume all the characteristics of their referents. Concepts permit further study and division of cognitive labor. Concepts are not to be multiplied beyond necessity, nor integrated in disregard of necessity.

8. Consciousness and identity. The assault on man’s conceptual faculty has accelerated since Kant. Man is neither fallible nor omniscient, so he has to discover a valid method of cognition. That is why he needs epistemology. Two questions apply to every conclusion or decision: What do I know? How do I know it? Epistemology provides the answer to the how question, which then allows special sciences to answer the what question. Modern philosophy tries to escape one or the other of these two questions through skepticism or mysticism. The motive of all attacks on man’s rational faculty is the desire to exempt consciousness from the law of identity. Kant’s doctrine represents the negation of any consciousness. Objectivity begins with the realization that man and his consciousness is an entity of a specific nature who must act accordingly and be guided by objective criteria in forming his tools of cognition, his concepts.

Subjective Thoughts

As one of my first “pure” philosophy books, this was a difficult read. It presumed familiarity with the works of other philosophers, including Aristotle, Plato, Locke, Berkely, Kant, and Descartes. Much of the focus is on defining terms and distinguishing meanings of words. Many pages were spent defining and refining terms such as: concept, identity, entity, concrete, consciousness, knowledge, epistemology, metaphysics, attribute, action, implicit, axiom, and measurement. Such a task may be easier in a live discussion than in writing. But some topics, especially when they are fundamental to comprehension or experience, are very difficult to discuss no matter the format. For example, how do you explain colors to a blind person or the sound of the ocean to a deaf person? There are certain irreducible and indescribable qualia to existence and experience. This book explores how people learn, think, and know. Discussing such fundamental parts of experience is not easy. A glossary would have been really helpful to define her most frequently used terms; sadly, one was omitted.

Fortunately, the organization of this book was helpful. It starts with about 80 pages of Rand introducing her view of epistemology. It follows with a 5-page summary of the same information, which I largely copied in the objective summary above. It proceeds to an application of her philosophy as a rebuttal to the so-called “analytic-synthetic” dichotomy, written by Leonard Peikoff. (Like everything in this book, the reference to this dichotomy is itself time-consuming to understand and explain. See, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/an....) Finally, it ends with lengthy transcriptions of questions from philosophers to Rand about her theory.

As best I can tell, Rand believes people perceive reality through their senses, then integrate those perceptions into concepts, then use those concepts as mental units to build on one another and gain knowledge. She wants to refute the logical positivists and Kant, who argue, I guess, that humans can never really be sure we know anything. To fully grasp Rand’s position, I would need to read Kant and the other philosophers she wishes to debunk, then reread this book several times, and finally read critiques of Rand. I’m not going to do all that. It’s just too much of a time commitment. For now, I’ll take the easy way out and just assume that Rand is right that Kant’s verbiage and obfuscations are not helpful approaches to either philosophy or life.

Revealing Quotes

Consciousness as a state of awareness, is not a passive state, but an active process that consists of two essentials: differentiation and integration. Although chronologically, man’s consciousness develops in three stages: the stage of sensations, the perceptual, the conceptual—epistemologically, the base of all man’s knowledge is the perceptual stage.

A concept is a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted.

Consciousness is the faculty of awareness—the faculty of perceiving that which exists.

The first and primary axiomatic concepts are “existence,” “identity” (which is a corollary of “existence”) and “consciousness.”

Concepts and, therefore, language are primarily a tool of cognition—not communication, as is usually assumed.

The primary purpose of concepts and language is to provide man with a system of cognitive classification and organization, which enables him to acquire knowledge on an unlimited scale; this means: to keep order in man’s mind and enable him to think.

The requirements of cognition determine the objective criteria of conceptualization. They can be summed up best in the form of an epistemological “razor”: concepts are not to be multiplied beyond necessity—the corollary of which is: nor are they to be integrated in disregard of necessity.

Above the first-level abstractions of perceptual concretes, most people hold concepts as loose approximations, without firm definitions, clear meanings or specific referents; and the greater a concept’s distance from the perceptual level, the vaguer its content.

To regain philosophy’s realm, it is necessary to challenge and reject the fundamental premises which are responsible for today’s debacle. A major step in that direction is the elimination of the death carrier known as the analytic-synthetic dichotomy.

That was my original “Rand’s Razor”: that in an ideal Atlantis, every philosopher would be asked to name his axioms before being permitted to utter a proposition. And boy would the field shrink.

The whole trick in talking about anything is to remember what it is you are talking about, and where your definitions came from, and are they correct.

Philosophy by its nature has to be based only on that which is available to the knowledge of any man with a normal mental equipment. Philosophy is not dependent on the discoveries of science; the reverse is true. So whenever you are in doubt about what is or is not a philosophical subject, ask yourself whether you need specialized knowledge, beyond the knowledge available to you as a normal adult, unaided by any special knowledge or special instruments. And if the answer is possible to you on that basis alone, you are dealing with a philosophical question. If to answer it you would need training in physics, or psychology, or special equipment, etc., then you are dealing with a derivative or scientific field of knowledge, not philosophy.

Let’s ask something wider: what is knowledge? And what is study, what is observation? It’s the discovery of properties in the nature of certain objects, existents, entities. All knowledge consists of learning more and more about the nature—the properties and characteristics—of given objects.
Profile Image for Nixon Sucuc.
115 reviews11 followers
October 26, 2020
The ideas in this book saved me, from the misticism that dominated all my thinking in my short lifetime, when I was 17. At that time, I only adopted a couple of broad convictions from the ideas in it: the conviction that my reasoning mind should be the supreme authority of my life and the promise of a descriptive and normative science to guide me in my use of my mind. The first conviction gave me the courage to take charge of my own learning and thus that of my own life as well. The second is a promise that encouraged me to undertake the exploration of my internal world and of the philosophy that would guide me in that internal exploration and growth necessary for the life I aspired to lead. And for that, I am immensely grateful to Ayn Rand and the editors.

Getting, finally, to re-read this book now was an immensely gratifying and stimulating experience. Epistemology is the most basic foundation of androgogy (the science of human learning). And now I am excited for the intellectual re-launch this book is giving me for my exploration of epistemology and theory of knowledge; to be integrated with my exploration of andragogy and of educational technologies to inform my career projects.
Profile Image for Randy Vollrath.
28 reviews2 followers
September 18, 2017
Very helpful for clarifying thinking. This book has the important discussion about concepts--how we form them (and continue to expand concepts as we learn more about them), what role they play in our thinking, and discusses how concepts are on a hierarchy (ie: Furniture is a concept, and beneath that concept would be the concept of "table" and "chair"). Many other important concepts like measurement in regards to differentiating one concept from another; measurement omission in regards to distinguishing one particular entity of a concept from another particular entity of the same concept (ex: my parents have a king sized bed, while I have a twin size bed. Both fall under the concept of bed, measurement-omitted. Beds come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, colors, weights, etc. and are still considered beds as long as they fit the definition of bed). A definition consists of two aspects: a genus and a differentia. The genus is the concept it can be found within (the genus of table is furniture) while the differentia is what makes it different from other examples of the genus (the genus and differentia of table might be "furniture you put stuff on").
Profile Image for Curtis Rhodes.
8 reviews
June 12, 2018
What an angry, bitter, sarcastic, sophomoric screed.

Fascinated by Plato's cave wall discovery of abstractions she declares that only "man" is capable of reason.

I suspect squirrels can discern 'this is a tree', 'this is not a tree'.

[stupid]sic... are those who desire to escape from the absolutism of existence, of facts, of reality, and above all identity." The essence of her argument that reality is reality. Your subjective perception is only correct if it perceives the one single correct definition of reality. The word "Justice", the example she uses, has one correct axiomatic meaning. Some I suspect my definition of justice is different from hers. My understanding of the word justice my involve fairness and equality. Her idea of justice I suspect involves mostly property rights.

Her form of logical argument is to ridicule and mock those who wander from what is obvious to her and suggest more nuanced ideas.

1 review
November 8, 2020
Make no mistake. This short but dense book is worth reading and re-reading as many times as necessary until you download and install this new operating system in your mind. Suppose you want to understand how the process of how knowledge works read this book. Your output (ideas, communication, work, projects, products, services) can improve substantially and exponentially. If you have survived public school's torture, do your mind a favor and give it the vital nutrition it needs to uninstall the aimless, foggy, noisy, zombie-like state. I am a young rational man, and I can not recommend this book enough. It will protect you against attacks on your mind from all enemies. It is not an easy read, but neither is working out and improving your health. But it is worth the struggle. I hope you get a software upgrade too! Cheers
189 reviews3 followers
March 24, 2020
This fascinating work includes a compelling answer to the "problem of universals" and is a nature-oriented breath of fresh air in a cultural miasma of woozy, deliberately confusing philosophic parlor games and false dichotomies.
Profile Image for Mark.
204 reviews9 followers
February 17, 2021
This is 'philosophy' in the general, popular sense of a collection of beliefs and opinions about issues of greater meaning and purpose--how the mind and knowledge operate, in this case. If the book piqued your interest regarding how cognition works, what knowledge and knowing are, what rationality is, and so on, that's exciting. Please branch out from OE to neuroscience, analytic philosophy, and the practices and methods of critical thinking. Rand raises some important questions but doesn't manage to adequately support her answers. For example, her assertion of the obviousness of the validity of individual perception doesn't square with a significant body of experiments and scientific observations, some of which were available during the time of writing. (The advent of and continuing improvements to brain imaging technologies and methods have greatly expanded knowledge of sensory, perceptual, affective, and cognitive functions.) Much research conclusively establishes humans are susceptible to many perceptual errors, such as illusions (see the National Geographic Channel's Brain Games show). Also, the book doesn't employ the analytic methods of formal philosophy, as many have pointed out. For more regarding how Rand's body of thought fits with respect to the formal philosophical domain, there's a helpful article in Plato, Stanford University's online philosophy encyclopedia. It's a lengthy entry. Section 1.1 is a short summary.
Profile Image for Yash Arya.
54 reviews3 followers
February 7, 2022
4.5 stars. Excellent content, but needs a lot of "chewing". (I should mention that I skipped the transcripts from Rand's Epistemology workshop included in the second edition.)

This is by no means a simple book. In order to understand Rand's Epistemology, it helps to first be aware of the dominant views in the History of Philosophy. Furthermore, while Philosophy starts with Metaphysics and Epistemology, interest in Philosophy typically starts with an inquiry into the nature of humans, Ethics, and Politics.

For these reasons, I recommend the following course as a pre-requisite.
History of Philosophy by Leonard Peikoff

I also recommend reading a couple of Rand's simpler works first: In particular, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

I read this along side the chapters on Epistemology in Leonard Peikoff's Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand.
7 reviews
October 14, 2021
The Objectivist Epistemology was definitely above my lexile level. Though interesting enough for me to get through the roughly 160 pages. It's hard to have an opinion about a book on how people form opinions and just generally think. I think the writing can seem redundant at times but with new chapters brings new concepts to keep it refreshing. There were definitely some metacognition moments that the book caused for me while I was reading the book so it's good in the sense that it makes you think. Ayn Rand is an amazing author and I think this is somewhat of a departure from her other books but still tied in and most definitely recognizable as an Ayn Rand book. I do think anyone that is a fan of Ayn Rand or any kind of book that aligns with the themes of Ayn Rand's work will enjoy these kinds of books. All in all this book was good and the pages were just enough for me to retain my interest and explain the themes the Author was trying to get across. Ayn Rand's view on the world is interesting and her views are one thing that makes her standout from other authors.
Profile Image for Mika Oksanen.
20 reviews3 followers
July 30, 2020
Despite the title, the book deals as much with metaphysics as epistemology. Its centre is Ayn Rand's attempt to provide a solution to the traditional Problem of Universals. However, the theory touted as startlingly original turns out to be just a version of traditional conceptualism. Rand tries to make out that her theory is original by mischaracterizing all other versions of conceptualism as more subjectivistic than most of them are.

Unlike Rand's ethics, her theoretical philosophy is not clearly absurd or abhorrent (though it shares all the well-known problems of conceptualism), but there is nothing original or very profound about it. It is presented vigorously but very dogmatically, not recognizing any chance of error.
Profile Image for Bharat Mehta.
1 review
October 21, 2019
This is Ayn Rand's most amazing book. People use to say the Bible or Quran is great book that guides human life, but it is not true. These are religious books, it has nothing to do with man's mind or man's life. They are mystical books. But--An Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology- is a truely philosophical book, guides the human mind as to how to guide our thought process.

Philosophy is a type of love affair between mind and matter. As how the mind knows about the world around and within. In such affair Ayn Rand's book is unique. By reading this book, the reader will understand Aristotle's work and can compare Plato's work.

Profile Image for Sosen.
125 reviews5 followers
November 9, 2022
This is where it all came crashing down for Objectivism. Instead of correcting some of the problems in her philosophy, Rand forged ahead with this highly questionable analysis of consciousness. In her rejection of her eternal soul, she constructed a "closed system", ensuring that her followers would be just as incapable of finding their souls as she was. Two years after the book's publication, she tried to make amends with The Romantic Manifesto, but it was too late. The only thing she's right about is that Kant was a bad philosopher. The two essential philosophers are Descartes and Heidegger. Everybody after that is garbage, or passable at best.
4 reviews
April 10, 2019
Probably one of the most important book to read for understanding Objectivism, but also the most technical, requiring multiple slow reads. In terms of recommendations it's a bit of a tossup; if you are new to Objectivism I can't recommend it yet. But you cannot have a full, proper understanding of the philosophy without it, so if you have read her other nonfiction I recommend you give it a shot.

Second edition is a must; it has a ton of supplementary material that really help you understand the core material.
November 30, 2022
How Do We Know?: This book answers that question

Whether you’re a professional philosopher or just a student of life and reality this is a must read. And perhaps the best part of the book isn’t within the original content (but that content is enlightening on its own) it is the appendix where Miss Rand is peppered with question after question about her revolutionary epistemology. Adding that section was pure genius!
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