Chapter 3 
   * On the Importance of Correct Definitions  
   * How to Make a Definition  
   * Concept Reduction  
   Some approaches to defining a few interesting concepts 
    * Certainty  
    * Probability  
    * To Be  
    * References  
    * Envy  
    * Instinct  
    * Luck  
    * Standard vs Purpose - Man qua Man - to Survive or to Flourish  
    * Nonsense  
    * Compromise  

   * On the Importance of Correct Definitions 
   "Man lives in a world of ideas. Any phenomenon is so complex that he 
cannot possibly grasp the whole of it. He abstracts certain characteristics 
of a given phenomenon as an idea, then represents that idea with a symbol, 
be it a word or a mathematical sign. Human reaction is almost entirely 
reaction to symbols. When we think, we let symbols operate on other symbols 
in certain, set fashions - rules of logic, or rules of mathematics. If the 
symbols have been abstracted so that they are structurally similar to the 
phenomena they stand for, and if the symbol operations are similar in 
structure and order to the operations of phenomena in the real world, we 
think sanely. If our logic-mathematics, or our word-symbols, have been 
poorly chosen, we think not-sanely."    ......Robert Heinlein. 

   A definition is a statement designed to "identify the specific meaning of 
a concept, isolate the facts of reality to which the concept refers and of 
which the concept is a mental integration." (Jan63 - 3) It serves "to keep a 
concept distinct from all others, to keep it connected to a specific group 
of existents" (Jul67 - 9), or, as Harry Browne so aptly put it: "to draw a 
sharp line between what IS a certain thing and what isn't." "The purpose of 
defining one's terms is to afford oneself the inestimable benefit of knowing 
what one is talking about." (Jan63 - 3) 
   (References are to various issues of THE OBJECTIVIST NEWSLETTER.) 

   If one does not scrupulously afford oneself this benefit, the facts of 
reality will, sooner or later, correct one's error. 
   Obviously, there are some mistaken definitions that will be corrected 
immediately as they are acted upon. If, for example, you define a hot stove 
as a chair, your mistake will be immediately and warmly chastised. There are 
other mistakes, however, that will not be so quickly righted. If you 
improperly identify an onion seed as a carrot seed, your mistake will not be 
corrected for weeks or even months. In the meantime you will have dug your 
garden, planted your seed, fertilized it, watered it, and carefully 
cultivated it until harvest time. Only then will you uncover your error, but 
by then you will have wasted a great deal of time and energy in the pursuit 
of an improper course of action, and you will then also be stuck with the 
consequences of your mistake: eating onions instead of carrots until next 
   Some mistakes will take even longer to be rectified. The more abstract 
the concept, the less immediately will reality show you your error. 
   If you incorrectly define marriage, the tragic result may be a divorce 
court - but this "setting right" of the situation may not come about until 
after years of domestic suffering. If you mistakenly define the principles 
of business management, you will eventually find yourself in a bankruptcy 
court; but again, it may take decades of toil and effort before the facts of 
reality catch up with you. And finally, if a group of men establishing a new 
country mistakenly define the practice of freedom, two centuries later their 
grandchildren may wake up one morning to find themselves in a concentration 

   Let thy words be keen heeders of truth, for truth is no heeder of words. 

   * How to Make a Definition 
   The basic structure of a definition was first identified by Aristotle, 
and it was he who gave us the proper procedure for making a definition: 
   Place the class of entity you wish to define in a wider class called a 
genus, all members of which share common characteristics. (e.g., Man is a 
living being.) Then add a qualification to the statement of inclusion which 
differentiates the class to be defined from all the other members of the 
wider class. (Man is a rational living being.) 
   For a precise and detailed account of the cognitive process involved, see 
Kelley's THE ART OF REASONING for further explanation. 
   There are several corollary rules for carrying out this procedure: 
   Rule of Equivalence: A definition must be true of every member of the 
class being defined and only of members of that class. 
   Rule of Fundamentality: A definition must refer to the fundamental 
distinguishing characteristic of the thing being defined (else you will be 
committing the fallacy of "definition by non-essentials"). The definitive 
characteristic must be that which is a cause, not an effect: that which 
makes a thing what it is and differentiates it from all other things - that 
without which it would not be the kind of thing which it is. 
   Rule of Non-Circularity: A definition must not contain any concept which, 
to be understood, presupposes the definition. An example of circularity is: 
"Democracy is a system of government which uses democratic procedures." 
   Rule of Non-Negativity: A definition must tell what the thing IS rather 
than what it is NOT. Exceptions are those concepts which are inherently 
negative in meaning, such as orphan or bachelor. But note that a positive 
concept is always presupposed by such negative terms. 
   Rule of Context: All known distinguishing aspects must be considered. The 
definition must account for all presently held knowledge. 
   Rule of Clarity: A definition must not be obscure, metaphorical or poetic 
but must clearly state a literal and exact meaning. For example: "Truth is 
beauty" is a lovely poetic statement, but it is NOT a definition. 

   Many words are vague insofar as they apply to characteristics which may 
be possessed in varying degrees. It is impossible to draw a sharp line 
between those who are bald and those who are not. It is impossible to define 
precisely the concept of baldness. But the characteristic according to which 
people distinguish between those who are bald and those who are not IS open 
to a precise definition: it is the presence or the absence of hair on the 
head of a person. This is a clear and unambiguous characteristic which is 
established by observation and expressed by propositions about existence. 
What is vague is merely the determination of the point at which non-baldness 
turns into baldness. People may disagree with regard to the determination of 
this point, but their disagreement refers merely to the quantitative 
interpretation of the phenomenon that gives a useful meaning to the word 

   A false definition of Rational Selfishness is that everything everyone 
does every moment throughout life is selfish. All this does is define 
"selfishness" in a way that is not helpful at all, because it makes 
"selfishness" all-inclusive. A word is a tool for delimiting one area of 
thought from others. The word becomes useless if it is defined to include 
everything. The word "everything" already serves that purpose quite well; we 
don't need a synonym. 

   Ostensive definitions are those which establish directly, by an appeal to 
experience, the relationship between a word and that to which it refers. 
Ostensive definitions define primaries which cannot be placed into a genus 
and differentiated. Examples are sensory primaries like color, roughness, 
bitterness, and warmth; or metaphysical primaries such as Existence. One 
cannot place Existence into a wider class of entities. 

   One of the worst consequences of faulty definitions is that you will be 
confused every time you have to compare and relate concepts. If you haven't 
conceptualized according to fundamentals, but instead by some superficial 
characteristics, then when you need to compare your concepts, for the 
purpose of making moral or ethical judgments, you'll be in real trouble. 

   A definition must distinguish between essences and labels. The essences 
of entities are not arbitrary, as are the verbal labels by which we 
symbolize the entities. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet - 
because giving the rose another name would not make it another entity. A 
definition is not an arbitrary construct, but the identification of a 
natural phenomenon. For example: we cannot arbitrarily define "gravity". It 
is a phenomenon that we must discover. Once we understand it we can then 
define the WORD "gravity" based on the discovery. Defining a term is not a 
matter of defining it for MYself or for YOURself, but of making an 
identification that leads to a truthful UNDERSTANDING of the phenomenon that 
has been defined. 

   * Concept Reduction  (from Leonard Peikoff) 
   Knowledge has a hierarchical structure. A hierarchy of knowledge means a 
body of concepts and conclusions ranked in order of logical dependence, 
according to each item's distance from the base of the structure - the 
perceptual data with which cognition begins. The concept of "hierarchy" in 
this sense is epistemological, not metaphysical. 
   The existence of a cognitive hierarchy does not preclude the existence of 
cognitive options. For example: "organism" is a higher-level concept, which 
one can reach only after one has conceptualized in appropriate stages a wide 
variety of its instances. But there is no reason why one must reach it 
through "cat," "dog," "rosebush," rather than, say, through "horse," "bird," 
"orange tree." Similarly, a man could not discover the law of gravitation 
without extensive study and conceptualization of more elementary facts about 
motion; but nothing in epistemology requires that the culminating insight 
flow from the fall of an apple, as against many other possibilities. A 
higher-level item is dependent on the grasp of an appropriate series of 
earlier items; but that series is not necessarily unique in content. 
   The concept of "hierarchy" applies whenever a given cognitive level 
cannot be reached or understood without a certain kind of prerequisite. A 
hierarchy is a type of context in which the simpler data make the more 
complex data possible. 
   The epistemological responsibility imposed on man by the fact that 
knowledge is contextual is the need of integration. The responsibility 
imposed by the fact that knowledge is hierarchical is the need of reduction. 
   In fact, men can try to move to higher levels of cognition without 
properly understanding the intermediate material. They can do so through 
many causes, such as impatience, anti-effort, or simple error. By far the 
most important cause, however, is the fact that many men are content to use 
the concepts and conclusions of other men without understanding the steps 
that led to them. Such men attempt to deal with higher levels of a complex 
structure without having established the requisite base. As a result, their 
mental activity consists in building confusion on confusion, instead of 
knowledge on knowledge. In such a mind, the chain relating higher-level 
content to perceptual reality is broken; the individual's conceptual 
structure floats in the air, detached from facts and from cognition. 
   Context-keeping is indispensable if men are to keep their ideas connected 
to reality. This is where the process of reduction becomes necessary. 
   Reduction is the means of connecting an advanced concept to reality by 
traveling backwards through the hierarchical structure involved in its 
formation. Reduction is the process of starting with a higher-level 
cognitive item and identifying in logical sequence the intermediate steps 
that relate it to perceptual data. Since there are often options in the 
detail of a learning process, one need not necessarily retrace the 
particular steps one initially happened to take; what one must retrace is 
the essential logical structure. 
   As an example of reduction, let us take the higher-level concept 
"friend," and identify at least some of the intermediate concepts linking it 
to perceptual reality. The process of reduction consists in asking 
repeatedly: what depends on what? In other words: what does one have to know 
in order to reach and understand a given step in concept formation? 
   We must begin with a definition. A "friend" designates a person in a 
certain kind of human relationship, in contrast with an acquaintance, a 
stranger, or an enemy. In essence, the relationship involves mutual 
knowledge, esteem and affection; as a result, the individuals take pleasure 
in each other's company, communicate with a high degree of intimacy, and 
display a mutual benevolence, each sincerely wishing the other well. To be 
able to identify such a complex relationship, one must obviously have formed 
many earlier concepts, such as "man," "knowledge," "pleasure." Let us focus 
on a central one here, the concept "esteem." 
   Again we ask: what does this concept depend on? "Esteem" designates a 
certain kind of favorable opinion or appraisal; one man "esteems" another 
when he recognizes certain character traits or qualities in the other which 
he estimates as being of significant (moral) value. To grasp such a concept, 
therefore, one must first know many concepts that come still earlier, 
including, beneath all, the concept "value." 
   The same root is presupposed by the concept "affection." "Affection" is 
an emotional response that derives from esteem, i.e., from the recognition 
of one's values in the character of another. If one had not yet reached the 
concept "value" in any terms, he might very well feel something for another 
man, but he would be unable to identify the feeling as "affection." 
   Now let us take another step. How does one reduce the concept "value"? 
"Value" is that which one acts to gain and/or keep. What earlier concepts 
does this presuppose? Among other things, an individual must first learn 
that man is a being capable of acting to gain various objects, i.e., he must 
grasp the concept "purpose"; and he must also learn that man has the power 
of selection among various purposes, i.e., he must grasp the concept 
"choice." Without these concepts, a child cannot form any normative 
abstractions. such as "good" and "evil," "desirable" and "undesirable," 
"value" and "disvalue." 
   One can observe men pursuing various purposes - moving to a table in 
order to eat a meal, lying down on a bed in order to sleep, etc. - although 
one cannot conceptualize "purpose" until the various elementary entities and 
actions involved have first been conceptualized. And one can observe and 
identify the act of choice introspectively, once one has processed 
sufficient existential data to have reached the stage of forming and 
distinguishing introspective concepts. The final steps backwards, in short, 
do bring us eventually to first-level concepts, such as "table," "bed," 
"man." At this point, the reduction has been completed. It ends when we the 
level of ostensive concepts, which we define by directly pointing to the 
   To sum up, here are the elements of the logical chain we have been 
identifying, this time in ascending order: "Men have to choose among various 
purposes by means of their values. This fact generates certain kinds of 
mutual estimates and emotions, including esteem and affection, which are the 
basis for a certain kind of human relation, friendship." 
   Now what are the advantages of knowing such a chain? Part of the answer 
is: self-protection. 
   For example, if someone were to say to you now: "Man is determined, 
'choice' is a myth, no one can help anything he does, so we should all have 
compassion and be friendly to one another." Your immediate reply would be: 
"`Friendly?' How can you use that term?" The concept "friendship," rests on 
the concept "choice." If determinism is true and "choice" is a myth, then 
there can be no such higher-level abstractions as "value," or "affection," 
or "friendship." In short, now that you know the conceptual roots of 
"friendship," - the chain linking it to the facts of reality - you know the 
rules of its proper use and you can spot any egregious misuse. You can thus 
guard the clarity - the identity - of the concept in your own mind. 
   Or if a man tells you: "I disagree with your ideas, I object to your 
desires, I disapprove of your associates, your actions, your choices, but 
we're friends anyway, because I'm criticizing you for your own good and I 
like you just the same," (a claim that is not so uncommon as you might 
think, especially among relatives) you would immediately reply: "If you 
reject everything about me, how can you like me? For what attributes? What 
meaning does `friendship' have once you detach it from the concept of 
   Errors of this kind are common. The fallacy involved was identified for 
the first time by Nathaniel Branden. He called it the fallacy of the "stolen 
concept." The fallacy consists in using a higher-level concept while denying 
or ignoring its hierarchical roots. i.e.. one or more of the earlier 
concepts on which it logically depends. This is the intellectual equivalent 
of standing on the fourtieth floor of a skyscraper while dynamiting the 
first thirty-nine. The higher-level concept - "friendship," in the above 
examples - is "stolen," because the individual involved has no logical right 
to use it. He is an epistemological parasite: he seizes, without 
understanding, a term created and made possible by other men, who DO observe 
the necessary hierarchical structure. 
   The reason that stolen concepts are so prevalent is that most people 
(even most philosophers) have no idea of the "roots" of a concept. They 
treat every concept as a primary, as a first-level abstraction, which means: 
they tear the concept from any place in a hierarchy, and thereby detach it 
from reality. Thereafter, its use is subject to nothing but caprice or 
unthinking habit, with no objective guidelines for the mind to follow. The 
result is confusion, contradiction, and the conversion of language into mere 
   The antidote to this cognitive poision is the process of reduction. 
Reduction completes the job of definition by taking you from the initial 
definition through the definitions of the next lower level, and then of the 
next lower, until you reach the direct perception of reality. This is the 
only means by which the initial definition itself can be made fully clear. 
   Pseudo-concepts cannot be reduced to observational data - and this is the 
proof that such concepts are invalid. Invalid concepts are words that 
represent attempts to integrate errors, contradictions or false 
propositions, such as concepts originating in mysticism (e.g., "ghost," 
"god," "gremlin") - or words without specific definitions which can mean 
anything to anyone, such as modern anti-concepts like "extremism," 
"McCarthyism," and "isolationism". Any such concept, or alleged concept, is 
inherently detached from reality and invalidates every proposition or 
process of thought in which it is used as a cognitive assertion. 
   What is the test of an invalid concept? The fact that it cannot be 
reduced to the perceptual level. In other words: nothing in reality gives 
rise to the concept. The test is not simply that the referent is 
unobservable. Science, for instance, regularly refers to atoms, genes, x-
rays, and other such phenomena. But in these cases one can identify the 
objective evidence supporting the concepts. One can define the sequence by 
which men were led from observations step by step to a series of 
conclusions, which were ultimately integrated into new concepts to designate 
hitherto unknown entities. In regard to the key terms of religion, by 
contrast, this is precisely what cannot be done. The referents of "god," 
"angel," and "devil" are not only unobservable; the terms themselves cannot 
be connected by any process to the perceptual level. This is the proof that 
such concepts are invalid. 
   Reduction is necessary in regard to all higher-level thinking. 
   Propositions too (if non-axiomatic) must be brought step by step to the 
perceptual level. They are based on antecedent cognitions in the chain of 
evidence that led to them - going back ultimately to direct observation. 
   To a mind that does not grasp this chain, a higher-level proposition is 
arbitrary, non-contextual, non-objective, i.e., detached from reality and 
from the requirements of human cognition. This is precisely why proof of an 
idea is necessary. Proof is a form of reduction. The conclusion to be proved 
is a higher-level cognition, whose link to reality lies in its premises; 
which eventually lead back to the perceptual level. Proof, in other words, 
is a form of retracing the hierarchical steps of cognition. (As with 
conceptual reduction, so with proof: the process identifies the essential 
links in the chain, the necessary logical structure relating a given content 
to observational data.) 
   For example, it is not an axiom that "man has property rights." Property 
rights are a consequence of a man's right to life: which latter we can 
establish only if we know the nature and value of man's life; which 
presupposes, among other things, that objective value-judgments are 
possible; which presupposes that objective knowledge is possible; which 
depends on a certain relation between man's mind and reality, i.e., between 
consciousness and existence. If you do not know and conform to this kind of 
structure, you can neither defend property rights nor define the concept nor 
apply it properly. 
   Proof, therefore, is not a process of deriving a conclusion from 
arbitrary premises, nor even from arbitrarily selected true premises. Proof 
is the process of establishing a conclusion by identifying the proper 
hierarchy of its premises, and by following backward the order of logical 
dependence, terminating with the directly perceptual. 

   * Certainty 
   Certainty is a state of mind in which a person perceives a correlation 
between his mental images and Reality. It is a judgment made within the 
context of a state of knowledge. The knowledge need not be total - but must 
be sufficient to ensure that the judgment is valid. 
   Observe that this is a philosophically neutral definition: An objectivist 
achieves a state of certainty when he has modified his mental images to 
bring them into accord with reality. A subjectivist achieves certainty when 
he has modified his perceived reality to bring it into accord with his 
mental images. 
   Observe also that this definition allows for degrees of certainty - 
certainty need not be absolute: the closer the degree of correlation between 
the mental image and reality, the higher the degree of certainty 
experienced. Absolute certainty would correspond to a complete congruency 
between the image and reality. And the complete absence of certainty would 
correspond to a state wherein there was no mental image at all of the aspect 
of reality under consideration - a state of complete ignorance. 

   Certainty is not an unconditional prerequisite to life's activities. One 
can go through life without being certain of many things: You are uncertain 
every time you go hunting or fishing. You are uncertain when you plant a 
garden, when you look for a word in the dictionary (one of my grumbles is in 
not finding the word at all - or finding it accompanied by a grossly 
inadequate definition, such as the word "certainty"), when you go to town - 
with or without your umbrella (although in this last example, I am tempted 
to say that there is a kind of "negative certainty" involved!) 
   A "reasonable expectation" is sufficient to cope with a vast number of 

   Are there things about which we MUST be certain? 
   Yes, I believe there are two such things: 
   1. The Axiomatic Concepts. These are the foundation of human knowledge, 
and thus are the foundation of all subsets of human knowledge, including 
certainty. As Aristotle remarked, in considering Axiomatic Concepts: "For a 
principle which everyone must have who understands anything that is, is not 
a hypothesis.... such a principle is the most certain of all." 
   2. Rationality. This is the ability of the human mind to perceive and 
understand Reality. One of the facts of reality relevant to this context is 
the fact that human beings are neither omniscient nor infallible, and thus 
to ground the concept of certainty on either or both of these unwarranted 
notions is to demand something that does not exist in reality. 
   Although certainty is required in regard to these things, that certainty 
is NOT the product of an act of faith! Ayn Rand pointed out that they cannot 
be escaped, that they are implicit in all knowledge, and must be accepted 
and used even in any attempt to deny them. 
   In the real world, certainty is rarely a Boolean phenomenon: it is seldom 
the case that you have either absolute certainty or total doubt about 
something. Those who attempt to impose such an alternative on the idea of 
certainty are implicitly assuming that a human being must be both omniscient 
and infallible. They assert that to have ABSOLUTE certainty about something, 
one must have TOTAL knowledge of that thing, and that to have absolute 
CERTAINTY, there must be no room for the slightest error in one's judgment. 
Neither omniscience nor infallibility are attributes possessed by human 

   The statement "There is no such thing as absolute certainty" - or any 
variation of this statement - manifests the fallacy of self-exclusion: The 
statement itself is intended to be absolutely certain. 

   Kant divided the world into two domains: the domain of phenomena and the 
domain of noumena. Phenomena, he claimed, are events as perceived by the 
human mind - they are sensations. Noumena are the causes of phenomena - they 
are the so-called things-in-themselves, the objects that really exist. Kant 
concluded that human beings can never know the noumena directly: noumena are 
the sources of the signals that act on our senses, and we can perceive only 
the signals, not the sources. According to Kant, then, we cannot ever really 
know anything definite about the noumena. 
   But when he says "We cannot know anything definite about them" he is 
saying something definite about them: that their essential nature is such as 
to preclude our having definite knowledge of that nature. But Kant's 
statement itself explicitly asserts such definite knowledge, and is thus 
another example of the fallacy of self-exclusion. 

   The notion of certainty has its roots in the process of concept 
formation. As Rand has observed "A concept is a mental integration of two or 
more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their 
particular measurements omitted." To form a concept, a man does not have to 
make the particular measurements - nor even know how to make the 
measurements - "he merely has to observe the element of similarity," and 
recognize that "the relevant measurements must exist in SOME quantity, but 
may exist in ANY quantity." 
   "Similarity is grasped perceptually; in observing it, man is not and does 
not have to be aware of the fact that it involves a matter of measurement. 
It is the task of science to identify that fact." (Quotes are from 
extended account of the nature of the measurement process.) 
   Note that similarity is grasped perceptually and that the integration is 
of percepts. As David Kelley has pointed out, the percepts are DIRECT links 
between Existence and Consciousness. There can be no doubt about the reality 
of the percepts: they are indeed certain. And here, in the percepts, is the 
foundation of certainty. The integration of the percepts is the first active 
behavior that a consciousness performs (the receipt of sensations and their 
integration into percepts are essentially passive processes).  
   Here are some examples: 
   When I go hunting - my certainty lies in the knowledge that food animals 
do exist and can be obtained through my efforts. My uncertainty lies in not 
knowing the precise location of the animals and not knowing the exact 
actions needed to obtain them. 
   When I plant a garden - my certainty lies in the knowledge that food 
plants can be grown. My uncertainty lies in not knowing exactly what 
conditions are required to grow a particular plant in a particular place. 
   When I look for a word in the dictionary - my certainty lies in the 
knowledge that words exist and that they can be defined. My uncertainty lies 
in not knowing if the particular word I want is in a particular place and 
has been given a suitable definition. 
   When I go to town - I am certain that it does rain. But I am uncertain as 
to whether it will rain at a particular location at a particular time. 
   This notion applies even in the realm of Quantum Physics: I am certain 
that electrons emit photons, but I am uncertain about the emission of a 
photon by a particular electron at a particular time. (It is the Probability 
Amplitude that describes this emission.) 
   With regard to Rationality - my certainty lies in the knowledge that my 
mind can function as an accurate identifier of reality. But I may be 
uncertain about the accuracy of a particular application of my mind to a 
specific identification. My safety lies in carefully reducing the specific 
identification to the precise perceptual concretes upon which it is founded. 
The percepts are certain, and if I have correctly built my identification 
upon them then it too will be certain. 

   "Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of 
certainty - some most unsure, some nearly sure, but none ABSOLUTELY 
   Now we can see the flaw in this contention: the word "statements" 
implicitly subsumes both aspects of concept-formation. When the "statements" 
are about the particular measureable characteristics of phenomena, then they 
are open to uncertainty. But when the "statements" are integrated percepts 
of the phenomena, then they are certain. 

   "If certainty is unattainable, how can we decide how close we are to it, 
which is what a probability estimate is?" 
   In this question the word "certainty" means "infallably exact precision 
in measurement." There is no such thing - the world just isn't built this 
way. This is an improper definition of "certainty." A probability estimate 
is fundamentally not a statement about reality but a statement about my 
knowledge of reality. Reality is not probable - it is fact. 

   "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always 
so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." 
   When Bertrand Russell said this, he should have put "I think" at the end 
of it. 
   The flaw in Russell's remark lies in the implicit meaning of "certain of 
themselves." The fools and fanatics cause trouble not because of their 
certainty, but because of their social behavior. It is wrong to blame 
certainty per se for the choices and actions of people who assert certainty. 
That's rather like blaming guns for murder. Guns don't kill people - people 
kill people. 

   Certainty "creates confidence in one's course of action as an already 
established fact. It provides the basis for progress into new areas 
unencountered previously." This notion is critically important to the 
development of man's cognitive behavior; the basic certainty of the 
elemental act of conceptualizing lies at the root of all his subsequent 
conscious behavior. A great number of man's concepts are derived not 
directly from perceptual concretes, but from the integration of previously 
created concepts (the process Rand calls "abstraction from abstractions"). 
If the previously created concepts were not "already established facts" 
there would be no way to build reliably upon them, and man would be 
restricted to living a cognitive life not much higher than that of the 
lesser animals: restricted to a merely perceptual awareness of the world. 

   I believe it is possible for a person to live without certainty - but 
only without his own inner certainty. Doing so, he goes through life as an 
intellectual, moral and spiritual parasite: a parasite on other people who 
DO possess certainty. As Branden has observed, the fundamental act of a 
human being is the choice "to think - or not to think." The act of concept-
formation lies at the base of all other human behavior. The conviction of 
certainty regarding this act is a prerequisite to all thought. If you don't 
think, you can stay alive only by being a parasite on the thinking of 

   * Probability 
   There is an important distinction to be made between two uses of the term 

   1. It is used to express a judgment about the degree-of-belief or 
likelihood of a phenomenon: 
   "I'll probably go to town this afternoon."  
   "The ice-cream parlor will quite likely be out of strawberry again." 
   "The next president will surely be a varmint criminal." 
   "It is more probable that the next president will be a varmint criminal 
than that the ice-cream parlor will be out of strawberry." 
   In each case what is expressed is a surmise or conjecture - a statement 
of my judgment about a situation. Such judgments are not precisely 
quantifiable, but are combinations of my ignorance, my partial knowledge, 
and my extrapolations from previous experience. 

   2. It is used to express knowledge about the frequency of occurrence of a 
   "The probability of a coin falling heads-up is 1/2" 
   "The probability of dice showing 12 is 1/36" 
   "It is more probable that a coin will fall heads-up than that the dice 
will show 12." 
   These cases are not statements of uncertainty. They are statements 
expressing exact and certain knowledge - certain because the statements are 
based directly on perceptual observations of the facts of Reality. They are 
descriptions of reality with as much underlying certainty as the statement 
"2 plus 2 make 4."   
   This use of probability cannot be applied to a unique event; that is, an 
event that belongs to a class where there is only one member and no prior 

   * To Be 
   Webster's Ninth Collegiate Dictionary: "to have an objective existence: 
have reality or actuality." 

   Here, "to be" is defined by referring to the concept of existence. This 
is a more-or-less adequate definition of the term, but it does not convey 
the genuine fundamentality of the idea of existence. 

   Consider what the function of a definition is. A proper definition will 
describe the fundamental nature of a term - in the process using other terms 
which are fundamental to the first term. For example: "orphan" would be 
defined by using the term "parent". But "parent" could easily be defined 
without reference to the term "orphan" at all, because the idea of "parent" 
is fundamental to the idea of "orphan" - not the other way around. To define 
"parent" we must refer to terms that are fundamental to it, such as 
"sexually mature lifeform" - and so on, down the ladder of fundamentality. 
   Thus we define Z in terms of Y. Y in terms of X. X in terms of W... D in 
terms of C. C in terms of B. B in terms of A. But do we then define A in 
terms of Z? No. The attic rests on the main floor. The main floor rests on 
the basement. The basement rests on the foundation. And the foundation rests 
on bedrock. But the bedrock does not rest on the attic. Sooner or later, an 
ultimate fundamentality is reached. In building a house, that ultimate 
fundamentality is the bedrock. In physics, that ultimate fundamentality is 
the First Law of Thermodynamics. In epistemology that ultimate 
fundamentality is known as an Axiomatic Concept. An axiomatic concept can be 
described, it can be explained, but it cannot be "defined" simply because 
there are no terms which are fundamental to it. An axiomatic concept is a 
term which MUST (by virtue of its very nature) be accepted and used in the 
act of defining any and all other terms. Indeed, one of the primary 
distinguishing characteristics of an axiomatic concept is the fact that it 
must be accepted and used even in any attempt to deny it! It is inescapable. 

   The three axiomatic concepts are Existence, Identity, and Consciousness. 

   That the world exists is an idea which is inherent, implicitly or 
explicitly, in ALL other ideas. That things which exist are what they are 
(have an identity) is also such an idea. And that YOU have a consciousness, 
which recognizes (or, if you wish, denies) this existence and identity, is 
another fundamental - which you accept and use in the process of any 
cognitive endeavor. Which is to say that you accept and use your 
consciousness in any act of consciousness. 

   "To be" is a verbal expression which asserts the fact of existence. 

   * References 
   Diogenes: "That you are a man, he will know when he sees you; whether a 
good or bad one, he will know if he has any skill in discerning the good and 
the bad. But if he has none, he will never know, though I write to him a 
thousand times." 

   A reference is a method of obtaining information about another person. 
   A, being unacquainted with C, and wishing to make a judgment about him, 
has two means of doing so: by direct observation and consultation or by 
referring to another person's observations, in the form of a reference 
provided by B, an acquaintance of C. B, however, may or may not have a 
previous acquaintance with A. If A knows B then there is some justification 
in his asking B for information about C, because A will have made an 
estimate of the validity of B's powers of observation and judgment, and will 
therefore be able to make some valuation of the reference. If A does not 
know B then it is certainly not advisable for him to place much, if any, 
weight on the information provided by B. After all, C is certainly not going 
to select a reference source who would say bad things about him! If A 
accepts a reference from a person with whom he is not acquainted, he has 
gained no useful information about C, because the most undesirable people 
can usually provide the most impeccable references. 
   To ask for a reference is, at best, of very limited usefulness; at worst 
it is an intellectual cop-out. If I want to know what kind of person you are 
I will make my own observations and base upon them my own judgment, I won't 
pass the buck to someone else. 

   * Envy 
   If life on earth is, as Marx asserted, a zero-sum game, then a virulent 
envy must inevitably be the result. Anyone who works harder, gets ahead, and 
becomes better off, must be doing so at the expense of those who do not. 
   In a free market, where men earn their wealth and distinction by trading 
their skills and achievements, a man's long-range failure, like his long-
range success, is an objective reflection of his ability. It is precisely 
this inexorable rule of capitalism - "to each according to his ability" - 
that wounds the self-esteem of the marxist and engenders the widespread 
hatred for capitalism. 
   But there is an even worse aspect to envy when it is the motive of a man 
who is willing to make himself worse off in order to bring another down to 
his level. Do not fool yourself by thinking that altruists are motivated by 
compassion for the suffering: they are motivated by hatred for the 
successful. To be rational is to be successful in dealing with reality. Thus 
is explained much of the existing hatred for rationality. But altruism has 
no power over its victims except by their own consent, which means: by their 
acceptance of guilt for the crime of living and of producing values - of 
being successful. 
   The envy today's intellectuals feel is not the plausibly healthy desire 
to attain what others have attained, but an ugly pleasure in seeing others 
lose what they have attained. Envy is not the desire to emulate the 
achievements of others, nor is it primarily the desire to steal other 
people's values; it is, rather, the desire to obliterate those values. The 
envier has little interest in acquiring the other person's possessions for 
himself. He would like to see the other person robbed, dispossessed, 
stripped, humiliated or hurt. His ideas are not ideas in favor of anything, 
but are a means of expressing his hatred of knowldge, of achievement, of 
happiness, of man - his political views are an expression of his more 
fundamental spiritual nihilism. 

   * Instinct 
   70/Aug/10 The unnamed but automatized connections in the mind. 
   AS-1013 62/Oct/43 An unerring and automatic form of knowledge. 
   A largely inheritable and unalterable tendency of an organism to make a 
complex and specific response to environmental stimuli without the 
involvment of reason. 
   Scientists who use the term "instinct" never define it, and rarely even 
attempt to do so. The conclusion I derive from all their usages is that 
instinct means "behavior for which I am not able to adduce any other cause." 
   Nathaniel Branden (PSE-23): "There is no such thing. There are 3 
categories in terms of which animal behavior can be explained: 1. Actions 
which are reflexes. 2. Actions which are guided directly by an animal's 
pleasure-pain sensory apparatus and which involve the faculty of 
consciousness but not a process of learning - such as moving toward warmth. 
3. Actions which are the result of learning. Behavior that has not been 
traced to one of these categories or to some combination of them has not 
been explained." 

   Philosophers have long debated the causes of human behavior: heredity or 
environment? Are heroes and villains made or born? Objectivists know that 
nature and nurture are only part of the answer - two-thirds, to be exact. 
The remaining third is individual free will. This is to say that man is 
capable of making choices which are causal primaries. The fundamental act of 
free will is the choice: to think or not to think. If you do not choose the 
former, then you revert to heredity and environment by default. They'll call 
the tune if you don't call it for yourself. Everybody is motivated by some 
continually shifting mixture of the three factors, different for each of us, 
at each minute in our lives. In terms of human behavior, this is the basis 
for all causation. History isn't determined by some mysterious impersonal 
machinery, but by people deciding to use their minds or sloughing off that 

   Most psychologists ignore the mind's role in mediating the links between 
genes and human behavior. Hormones, while not exercising absolute control 
over behavior, can assert a substantial influence over behavior. If the 
creature's volitional consciousness then cooperates with this influence, the 
result could be the manifestation of complex behavior. Another thing to 
consider is the propensity for self-assertion: a baby grasps because that is 
the natural function-potential of its hand, just as eyes see, legs walk, and 
a mind thinks. 

   You can't pick and choose with instincts: you have to take the lot. You 
can't allow Venus into the Pantheon and bolt the door on Mars. And once you 
take on such things as "fighting", "territorial imperative" and "rank 
order", you are in a messy quagmire of terms that have little, if any, 
correspondence with reality. 
   Watching the behavior of the professional psychologists - bonding, 
bickering, preening, flirting and engaging in mututal rhetorical grooming - 
one must concur with their basic premise: they are all animals, descendants 
of a vast lineage of replicators sprung from primordial pond scum. 

   SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, April 1992, contains a fascinating essay by Ronald 
Melzack entitled PHANTOM LIMBS. This essay presents the best case I have 
ever seen for a phenomenon that might be called "instinct" although 
surprisingly, the word "instinct" does not appear in the essay. 
      ************* from Melzack ******** 
   People who have lost an arm or a leg often perceive the limb as though it 
is still there. Such a phantom can feel wet, or it can itch, which can be 
extremely distressing, although scratching the apparent site of discomfort 
can actually relieve the annoyance sometimes. Some paraplegics complain that 
their legs make continuous cycling movements, producing painful fatigue, 
even though the patient's actual legs are lying immobile on the bed. 
   The brain contains a network of neurons, that, in addition to responding 
to sensory stimulation, continuously generates a characteristic pattern of 
impulses indicating that the body is intact and unequivocally one's own. If 
such a matrix operated in the absence of sensory inputs from the periphery 
of the body, it would create the impression of having a limb even when that 
limb has been removed. 
   Phantom seeing and hearing, like phantom limbs, are also generated by the 
brain in the absence of sensory input. People whose vision has been impaired 
by cataracts or by the loss of a portion of the visual processing system in 
the brain sometimes report highly detailed visual experiences. 
   Phantom sights and sounds occur when the brain loses its normal input 
from a sensory system. In the absence of input, cells in the central nervous 
system become more active. The brain's intrinsic mechanisms transform that 
neuronal activity into meaningful experiences. 
   The parietal lobe has been shown to be essential to the sense of self - 
to the recognition of the self and to the evaluation of sensory signals. 
Patients who have suffered a lesion of the parietal lobe in one hemisphere 
have been known to push one of their own legs out of a hospital bed because 
they were convinced it belonged to a stranger. 
   When sensory signals from the periphery reach the brain, they pass 
through several systems in parallel. As the signals are analyzed, 
information about them is shared among the various systems and converted 
into an integrated output, which is sent to other parts of the brain. 
Somewhere in the brain the output is transformed into a conscious 
   As a system analyzes sensory information, it imprints its characteristic 
neurosignature on the output. The specific neurosignature of an individual 
would be determined by the pattern of connectivity among neurons in the 
system - that is, by such factors as which neurons are connected to one 
another and by the number, types and strengths of the synapses. 
   When sensory input activates two brain cells simultaneously, synapses 
between the cells form stronger connections. Eventually the process gives 
rise to whole assemblies of linked neurons, so that a signal going into one 
part of an assembly spreads through the rest, even if the assembly extends 
across broad areas of the brain. 
   The connections of this neuromatrix are primarily determined not by 
experience but by the genes. The matrix, though, could later be sculpted by 
experience, which would add or delete, strengthen or weaken, existing 
synapses. I think the matrix is largely prewired because many people who 
were born without an arm or a leg do nonetheless experience a vivid phantom. 
   Under normal circumstances, then, the myriad qualities of sensation 
people experience emerge from variations in sensory input. This input is 
both analyzed and shaped into complex experiences of sensation and self by 
the larely prewired neuromatrix. Yet even in the absence of external 
stimuli, much the same range of experiences can be generated by other 
signals passing through the neuromatrix - such as those produced by the 
spontaneous firing of neurons in the matrix itself or the spinal cord or the 
periphery. Regardless of the source of the input to the matrix, the result 
would be the same: rapid spread of the signals throughout the matrix and 
perception of a limb located within a unitary self, even when the actual 
limb is gone. 
   ******** end of Melzak ******* 

   It seems my Tabula may not be entirely Rasa. 

   * Luck 
   Luck means to prosper or succeed through chance or good fortune. 
   Lucky, fortunate, happy, providential, mean meeting with unforseen 
success. Lucky stresses the agency of chance in bringing about a favorable 
result. Fortunate suggests being rewarded beyond one's deserts. Happy 
combines the implications of lucky and fortunate with a stress on being 
blessed. Providential implies the help or intervention of a higher power. 

   "There is no such thing as luck; there is only adequate or inadequate 
preparation to cope with a statistical universe. 'Good luck' follows careful 
preparation; 'bad luck' comes from sloppiness."  ... Heinlein 
   "Every scientist hopes for the good fortune to recognize one of nature's 
suprises and the good sense to make the most out of it." ... Robert Hazen 
   Luck is merely professionalism and attention to detail, it's your 
awareness of everything that is going on around you; it's how well you know 
and understand your environment and your own limitations. Luck is the sum 
total of your abilities. You make your own luck. If you think your luck is 
running low, you'd better get busy and make some more. 
   "Luck favors the prepared mind." ... Pasteur 
   Lucky people tend to be people who give luck a chance to happen. Why were 
you at that place? Why were you doing what you were doing? If that is luck, 
then it is luck every time a batter hits a ball. 

   When Napoleon's eagle eye flashed down the list of officers proposed for 
promotion to generals, he used to scribble in the margin of a name: "Is he 

   * Standard vs Purpose - Man qua Man - to Survive or to Flourish 
   A standard is the basis upon which rests or which makes possible the 
existence of a purpose. The two things, while related, are not identical and 
should not be confused with one another. 
   Consider a house. Its standard is the foundation which it is built upon. 
Its purpose is the function of providing shelter for people. You can see 
that it could not fulfill its purpose without having its standard; but 
observe also that its standard is not the reason for its existence. 
   Now consider a man. His standard is his life - the life which is 
manifested in his biological mechanism. His purpose is also his life - but 
here "life" is used in a different sense, meaning the process of achieving 
values. I will refer to these two different aspects of life by the terms B-
life and V-life. In the Objectivist writings there is considerable emphasis 
on the idea that "man's life is the standard of values." (Here is meant B-
life.) There is also much emphasis placed on the idea that "man's life qua 
man" (V-life) is the purpose of man's existence. Unfortunately, there is too 
little attention paid to differentiating between the two quite different 
aspects of the term "life" which are being considered. The result is that 
many people think in terms of B-life when they should be using the term V-
life. An example is the man who claims that, if faced with a terrible 
situation in which he had to choose between saving his own life or saving 
his wife's (or child's) life, he would, according to the principles of 
Objectivism, have to save his own life, because, after all, Objectivism 
tells him that his own biological existence is the most important value he 
can hold, doesn't it? This is surely not what Objectivism implies, nor is it 
what Rand means to say. You will recall Galt's words to Dagny at the time 
when he is about to be captured: 
   "But if they get the slightest suspicion of what we are to each other, 
they will have you on a torture rack.... At the first mention of a threat to 
you, I will kill myself.... I do not care to see you enduring a drawn-out 
murder. There will be no values for me to seek after that - and I do not 
care to exist without values." 
   This same motivation can be observed in the final scenes of Hugo's 
TOILERS OF THE SEA. Both Galt and Gilliatt realized quite well that the 
purpose in living is the achievement of values, not merely the continuance 
of one's physical biological processes. 
   When the quest to pursue exalted human values is impaired in some 
irreparable way, then life is truly no longer worth living.  

   The extremes of living are B-life and V-life. The seeming ambiguity in 
the Objectivist morality arising from a confusion of these ideas has 
resulted in two schools of thought: the Survivalists and the Flourishers.  
But the choice to "live" implies BOTH of these aspects of life. The choice 
must include all the things that characterize a HUMAN life, the only kind of 
life we are able to choose, if we are to be human. 
   Though (contrary to the Survivalists) Rand wanted people to aspire to 
more than mere physical survival, she also saw (contrary to the Flourishers) 
that such aspirations required biocentric (survival) roots. Thus Objectivism 
is a synthesis of both Survivalist and Flourisher concerns: the 
Survivalists' concern for grounding ethics, and the Flourishers' concern for 
providing men with more-than-subsistence moral guidance. 
   The "self" at the root of the Objectivist morality is not "self qua 
physical body," but "self qua human being." And if we interpret "self- 
preservation" to mean "selfhood-preservation," or "personhood-preservation" 
then the false alternative of "survive versus flourish" simply evaporates.  

   In fact, a morality designed to show in detail how to flourish is a 
mistaken thing to ask for, since every human being is a specifically 
distinct and different entity. "Flourishing" for a particular life means 
applying the basic principles derived from "survival" morality to any of an 
infinite number of possible individual contexts. 
   If Ayn Rand were to have discovered the physics of baseball, we would be 
wrong to criticize her by exclaiming, "But she says nothing about how to be 
a good shortstop or a good catcher's mitt manufacturer or a good baseball 
card collector." There is, in fact, no way for her to do all of this. 
Individuals with such specific interests must figure out the specific 
techniques for themselves, using their power of reason. Those who want more 
than basic moral principles need to consult technical manuals, self help 
books and other sources of special information, rather than fooling 
themselves into thinking that success in life can come from a detailed 
   To demand such a detailed recipe is to demand: "Tell me what to do! Give 
me not merely principles, but all their specific applications - give me the 
recipe for success so I can avoid having to choose for myself - so I can 
avoid the effort of having to think about how to apply principles to my own 
specific situation." It amounts to an attempt to escape from the requirement 
that each individual must make his own choices and accept responsibility for 
his own life and success. 
   The philosophy of Objectivism is very much all-encompassing, but one must 
be able to conceptualize and abstract from principles rather than demand a 
plethora of specific examples for guidance. The concrete problems one 
encounters in life cannot be dealt with as isolated random events. They must 
be considered in the general context of one's life-goals, and the only way 
to do this is to think in principles. Objectivism doesn't provide a "Dear 
Abby" list of personalized answers to specific questions but it does provide 
answers, if you know how to derive them, and the best way is to start at the 
foundation, by absorbing and integrating Objectivism as a whole philosophy, 
then abstracting principles from that foundation, and then applying those 
principles to the specific situations in your own personal life. 

   You are the person that YOU choose to be, and the "purpose" of your life 
is what YOU choose for it to be. You can't get these things from any 
external source. Given the biocentric precept that volition is a first 
cause, you must CHOOSE to invest your life with purpose, else you will 
become (by default) what Rand so aptly described as the most contemptible of 
all people: the man without a purpose. 
   Just as you must choose the values that invest your SELF with purpose, so 
you must also invest your personal relationships with appropriate internal 
value. You must be explicitly aware of the value that accompanies each of 
your relationships - of the importance that lies within them. This is 
especially true of sex. Since sex is the source of the greatest physical 
pleasure available to a human being, you must be punctilious in choosing the 
value of the people you have sex with, lest you cheapen yourself 
spiritually. This explains why promiscuity is a bad practice: it associates 
very high physical pleasure with low (or non-existent) spiritual value. 

   Flourishing and investiture: Is your life a field of weeds, or a 
cultivated garden of blossoming flowers? 
   It's the difference between just trying to stay alive, and having 
something worthwhile to live for. 

   * Nonsense 
   That which is expressed in a way that I find incomprehensible. 
   In considering "what is nonsense?" I began with the notion that nonsense 
is something that manifests a denial of the Law of Identity. This would 
define it as a metaphysical concept. But then, how can I identify nonsense 
when I encounter it? Oh sure, some things I can see immediately as nonsense. 
They are a subset of the things that I can understand. But what of other 
things which I cannot understand? Like the Tensor Calculus - might that be 
nonsense? I have no way of determining. And the conundrum cannot be resolved 
by reference to higher level intellects either. For example: The IDEA of my 
little computer would have been nonsense to Archimedes (I suppose the 
computer itself would have been magic to him), thus it is clear that a 
perfectly sensible idea can be regarded as nonsense - even to someone 
endowed with the highest level of intellectual ability. Therefore, if it is 
considered as a metaphysical concept, there is no way that "nonsense" can be 
precisely identified. This leads me to believe that it can only be 
accurately considered as an epistemological concept. It then becomes 
relative to the person who is making the identification. Thus, just as one 
man's meat is another man's poison, one man's sense can be another man's 
nonsense. As the Red Queen said: "You may call it 'nonsense' if you like, 
but I've heard nonsense compared with which that would be as sensible as a 

   * Compromise 
   A compromise is an adjustment of conflicting claims by mutual 
concessions. But this means that both parties agree upon some fundamental 
principle which serves as a basis for the adjustment. It is only in regard 
to concretes or particulars implementing a mutually accepted basic principle 
that compromise can occur. A compromise is a negotiated adjustment of the 
quantity of some phenomenon, thus a compromise cannot be applied between two 
disparate phenomena. There cannot be a compromise between a phenomenon and 
its negation. For example, between theft and non-theft. If I want to steal 
$10 from you and I respond to your protest by suggesting that we 
"compromise" and I will steal only $5 - this is no compromise! It is 
relinquishment, by you, of your principle of non-theft - and acceptance, 
again by you, of my principle of theft. Once you have accepted the principle 
of theft, then we can indeed compromise - on how much theft you will be 
subjected to. 
   Compromise is possible only on terms of equality - that is, between 
ability and ability (though one man's ability may be greater than 
another's), not between ability and incompetence, nor between intelligence 
and stupidity, nor between trade and theft. Compromise must be between 
equals in kind, which might differ in degree, but it can't be between 
opposite kinds. 
   You can compromise between 5 lbs and 7 lbs, but you can't compromise 
between 5 lbs and 3 gallons. 

   On to Chapter 4
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