This is a sidebar to " Peikoff's Summa "
Concepts lower in the hierarchy are supposed to be closer to the perceptual level, and are epistemologically prior: a child must grasp them before he can have a conceptual understanding of what a friend is. But this doesn't make sense. The concepts of purpose, choice, and value are more abstract than the concept of a friend. It would be an unusual child, and a rather lonely one, who learned the former concepts first. Peikoff is assuming here that if concept A is contained in the definition of concept B (as "value" is contained in the definition of "esteem"), then A is epistemologically prior to B. This is not generally the case. For example, man is defined as that rational animal. But "animal" is a higher level generic concept that is an abstraction from, and thus presupposes, the concept "man." And "rationality" is a highly abstract concept, presupposing knowledge of cognition that a child will not master until long after he has formed his basic concept of humans as distinct from dogs and cats. In conceptual reduction, as Ayn rand described it, we identify the facts of reality that gave rise to a concept. The existence of purpose, choice, and values are among the facts that give rise to the concept "friend." So Peikoff is right about the definitions of these concepts. But we do not acquire concepts, in the normal case, by learning their definitions. In reality, a child would become directly aware, through introspection, of the similarity in what he felt toward certain people, and would classify those people as friends. Only later would he identify the feelings themselves conceptually, and later still would identify purpose, choice, and values as essential to those feelings.
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Originally Published in IOS Journal Volume 1 Number 3 • Summer 1992