Ayn Rand Talks About Concepts

The long bus journey’s to and from placement every day can drag on and passing the time can be hard. A good book can really help turn a somewhat unproductive activity into one that has become mind expanding. I’m currently reading Russian philosopher Ayn Rand’s book “The Virtue of Selfishness”, which is a collection of essays she wrote for ‘The Objectivist Newsletter’ exploring the ethics of objectivism. Whilst reading I came to a section where Rand talks about the theory of concepts and how beneficial they are to the survival of man. I thought best to share this as I feel it is an excellent description of concepts and felt it could help develop a better understanding of not only concepts, but how best to conjure them. Enjoy the extract and I hope you take as much out of it as I have.

A “concept” is a mental integration of two or more perceptual concretes, which are isolated by a process of abstraction and united by a means of specific definition. Every word of mans’ language, with the exception of proper names, denotes a concept, an abstraction that stands for an unlimited number of concretes of a specific kind. It is by organizing his perceptual material into concepts, and his concepts into wider and still wider concepts that man is able to grasp and retain, to identify and integrate an unlimited amount of knowledge, a knowledge extending beyond the immediate perceptions of any given, immediate moment. Man’s sense organs function automatically; man;s brain integrates his sense data into percepts automatically; but the process of integrating percepts into concepts – the process of abstraction and of concept-formation – is not automatic.

The process of concept-formation does not consist merely of grasping a few simple abstractions, such as “chair,” “table,” “hot,” “cold,” and of learning to speak. It consists of a method of using ones consciousness, best designated by the term “conceptualizing.” It is not a passive state of registering random impressions. It is an actively sustained process of identifying one’s impressions in conceptual terms, of integrating every event and every observation into a conceptual context, of grasping relationships, differences, similarities in one’s perceptual material and of abstracting them into new concepts, of drawing inferences, of making deductions, of reaching conclusions, of asking new questions and discovering new answers and expanding one’s knowledge into an ever-growing sum. The faculty that directs this process, the faculty that works by means of concepts, is: reason. The process is thinking.

 

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