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This review is from: Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology: Expanded Second Edition (Paperback)
This book is precisely what the title states. It is an "introduction" and as such is the gateway to Rand's theory of knowledge by way of her theory of concepts. Human knowledge is conceptual knowledge and Rand validates the objectivity of concepts by explaining, from the ground up, the method by which they are formed in the mind. The points she makes which seem misguided and arbitrary are cleared up in subsequent re-readings as long as the reader keeps in mind that once she defines a term, she does not deviate from its meaning. For most of us who are generally unsure about specific definitions of terms and rely on our feelings to give meaning to the words we read, discipline is required. For those who start with an axe to grind based on their disagreements with Rand's political philosophy, deliberate mis-interpretations of terms generally abound (as can be seen in most of the on-line reviews.) One such example is the damning of Rand over her claim to have solved the problem of "universals". In this context, this problem refers to the issue of the relationship between concepts and their perceptual referents; the HISTORICAL problem of universals. It is unfortunately too common to find those who are willing to drop this necessary context and argue against the Objectivist claim based on various meanings of the term universal, few of which are relevant to the issue at hand.
It is amusing to read disagreements of the Objectivist theory of concepts which are addressed and cleared up in the appendix. The appendix of the second edition of I to OE really is amazing. It is simply transcripts of round table discussions of professors who had read the original text presenting their questions and objections on finer points of epistemology. Rand was, apparently, at her intellectual pinnacle at this point, and any potentially hazy points are clarified beyond question.
The criticism that this is not presented in as scholarly a way as an epistemological monograph should be has its merits. The preface clearly states that main work is a reprint of a series of articles in which Rand presented her theory of concept formation. I certainly would have preferred a more scholastic presentation and a deeper exploration of the background of certain ideas, but this was Rand's style. She did not "write down" to her readers and her writing requires objective truth seekers to do their own research. I have, on multiple occasions, encountered the criticism that a reader was left wondering what Bertrand Russell was attempting to "perpetrate" in his theory of numbers. After encountering this passage I went to a philosophy text and read a passage describing Russell's theory of numbers as an attempt to create a purely logical language which would allow one to understand numbers without relating them to their perceptual referents. Since Rand demonstrates that concepts are valid within the context of the totality of human consciousness, and that abstractions must be derived primarily from their perceptual referents (numbers, specifically, are covered) which form their fundamental context, the dismissal of Russell stands.
For those who are familiar with Rand only from Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, this is a fascinating opportunity to understand the underlying support of a novelist's reasoning process, rarely made this explicit.