Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology

ITOE cover How do we know what we know? Is reason a reliable source of knowledge—or is it superseded by mystical revelation or emotional intuition? Can we be certain about our knowledge—or must we always remain in doubt?

Questions such as these are the province of epistemology—the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge. And the answers depend crucially on one central issue in epistemology: that of the nature and validity of concepts. If our concepts refer to things existing in reality, then our knowledge is real and reliable. If they do not, however—if instead they are imaginary constructs adopted by authority or by social convention, then our knowledge is baseless and inherently undependable.

“Since man’s knowledge,” explains Ayn Rand, “is gained and held in conceptual form, the validity of man’s knowledge depends on the validity of concepts. But concepts are abstractions or universals, and everything that man perceives is particular, concrete. What is the relationship between abstractions and concretes? To what precisely do concepts refer in reality?”

Rand answers these questions in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, a monograph on the Objectivist theory of concepts. Published in 1967, the book presents Rand’s systematic analysis of the nature of concepts and the process by which they are formed by the human mind. It elaborates in detail Rand’s historic and highly original solution to the “problem of universals”—the question of what precisely concepts refer to in reality. This solution is the foundation of Rand’s distinctive account of objectivity and the source of the name she gave to her philosophy: Objectivism.

The book includes a brilliant companion essay by philosopher Leonard Peikoff on “The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy“—a destructive false alternative that has dominated modern philosophy and wrought havoc on the ability of today’s thinkers to understand the nature of knowledge.

Also included in the expanded second edition, published in 1990, is an extensive appendix with additional philosophical material. This previously unpublished material is based on a series of epistemology workshops which Rand conducted from 1969 to 1971, which provided an opportunity for philosophers and other academics to ask her questions about her theory of concepts. Transcribed and edited for publication after her death, these sessions show Rand in philosophic action, elaborating on the meaning and implications of her theory and addressing questions on such wide-ranging topics as induction and the scientific method, the nature of definitions, how we form concepts of numbers, and more.

Table of Contents

(Softcover; 314 pages)

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