Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Glossary of Terms

Some weeks ago I thought it would be a good idea to assemble a glossary of terms that would be helpful for thinkers who are interested in understanding Objectivism and my approach to atheology. Below I have assembled a glossary of 50+ terms which are frequently used in many of my writings. Some of the definitions offered are my own, but most come from other sources (a good bulk of them coming directly from Ayn Rand’s writings). For most items, I have provided links for further reading.


by Dawson Bethrick

Atheism: Strictly speaking and with reference to human individuals, the absence of god-belief, i.e., the condition of not believing in a god or gods. Theism is adherence to god-belief in some manner, form and degree. Lacking this adherence – i.e., atheism – is a legitimate designation given the large portions of populations in which individuals do adhere to god-belief, and properly distinguishes those individuals who lack such adherence. Atheism as such is not a philosophy or worldview; by designating oneself as an atheist, he only tells us what he does not believe, not what he does hold to be true. In this respect, atheism is synonymous with non-theism. In his Atheological Credo, Anton Thorn explains how his atheism is a consequence of his commitment to reason, not his starting point.

Axiom: An axiom is a proposition which identifies the fundamental basis of knowledge denoting a general fact which is perceptually self-evident and which pertains to all knowledge, a fact which must obtain even for one to question, ignore or deny it. (See here and here.)

Axiomatic Concept: “An axiomatic concept is the identification of a primary fact of reality, which cannot be analyzed, i.e., reduced to other facts or broken into component parts. It is implicit in all facts and in all knowledge. It is the fundamentally given and directly perceived or experienced, which requires no proof or explanation, but on which all proofs and explanations rest” (Ayn Rand, “Axiomatic Concepts,” Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 55). (See here.)

Cartoon universe: The universe according to theism, rightly understood. (See here.)

Causality: The application of the law of identity to action – i.e., just as entities have identity, so do their actions (e.g., running is distinct from swimming). (See here.)

Concept:A concept is a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted.” (Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 13, emphasis original; see here.)

Concept-formation: Concept-formation is the mental process by which the human mind forms concepts, initially by integrating perceptual inputs and subsequently by integrating concepts formed on the basis of perceptual input. The process is analyzed and described in Ayn Rand’s Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. (See here.)

Consciousness: Axiomatic concept. The concept ‘consciousness’ denotes the faculty of awareness – of sensing and perceiving objects. As such, consciousness is a bodily function belonging to biological organisms. Objectivism identifies three levels of consciousness: the sensory level, the perceptual level and the conceptual level. The sensory level is the most fundamental; the perceptual level is dependent upon the sensory level, and the conceptual level is dependent upon the perceptual level. (See here and here.)

Dawson’s Razor: The principle that “one’s epistemological methodology must be consistent with the nature of his consciousness and the relationship it has to its objects.” (See here.)

Deduction: The conceptual process drawing a conclusion about specific things from one or more general premises. Cf. Ayn Rand, “The process of subsuming new instances under a known concept is, in essence, a process of deduction” (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 28).

Definition: “A definition is a statement that identifies the nature of the units subsumed under a concept…. An objective definition, valid for all men, is one that designates the essential distinguishing characteristic(s) and genus of the existents subsumed under a given concept—according to all the relevant knowledge available at that stage of mankind’s development.” (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, pp. 40, 46; see here.)

Emotion: “An emotion is an automatic response, an automatic effect of man’s value premises. An effect, not a cause. There is no necessary clash, no dichotomy between man’s reason and his emotions—provided he observes their proper relationship.” (Playboy Interview: Ayn Rand, Playboy, March 1964; see here.)

Evil: Evil is anything that threatens, negates, opposes and/or destroys man’s values, up to and including his life. (See here.)

Existence: Axiomatic concept. The concept ‘existence’ is a collective noun denoting any and all things that exist. Cf. Leonard Peikoff, “’Existence’… is a collective noun denoting the sum of existents.”(Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 4.)

Facts: Facts are actual existents in actual contexts. “George Washington” is not a fact, but “George Washington was the first president of the United States” is a fact. (See here)

Faith: “’Faith’ designates blind acceptance of a certain ideational content, acceptance induced by feeling in the absence of evidence or proof” (Leonard Peikoff, The Ominous Parallels, p. 62; see here). Essentially, faith is hope in the imaginary (see here).

Good, the: “All that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; all that which destroys it is the evil.” (Ayn Rand, “Galt’s Speech,” For the New Intellectual, p. 122; see here and here.)

Happiness: “Happiness is a state of non-contradictory joy—a joy without penalty or guilt, a joy that does not clash with any of your values and does not work for your own destruction, not the joy of escaping from your mind, but of using your mind’s fullest power, not the joy of faking reality, but of achieving values that are real, not the joy of a drunkard, but of a producer. Happiness is possible only to a rational man, the man who desires nothing but rational goals, seeks nothing but rational values and finds his joy in nothing but rational actions.” (Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged; see here.)

Identity: Axiomatic concept. “A thing is—what it is; its characteristics constitute its identity. An existent apart from its characteristics, would be an existent apart from its identity, which means: a nothing, a non-existent” (Leonard Peikoff, “The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy,” Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 142). “The ‘identity’ of an existent means that which it is, the sum of its attributes or characteristics” (Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, p. 6; see here).

Imagination: Imagination is the mental ability to rearrange selectively those things we have perceived, observed and/or learned about through experience. The ability to imagine is only possible to a conceptual consciousness, given the ability to selectively isolate attributes and adjust measurements at will (e.g., I can imagine a 900-foot tall Jesus just as easily as I can imagine a 900-foot tall nose). The imaginary is not real, regardless of how closely one seeks to have what he imagines correspond to things that he has observed. (See here, here and here.)

Implicit knowledge: “Implicit knowledge is passively held material which, to be grasped, requires a special focus and process of consciousness—a process which an infant learns to perform eventually, but which an animal’s consciousness is unable to perform.” (Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 57)

Induction: The conceptual process of drawing a generalization (i.e., a conclusion about an entire class of existents) from one’s awareness of specific inputs. Cf. Ayn Rand, “The process of observing the facts of reality and integrating them into concepts is, in essence, a process of induction.” (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 28; see here.)

Integration: “A concept is a mental integration of two or more units which are isolated according to a specific characteristic(s) and united by a specific definition. . . . [In concept-formation], the uniting involved is not a mere sum, but an integration, i.e., a blending of the units into a single, new mental entity which is used thereafter as a single unit of thought (but which can be broken into its component units whenever required)” (Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 10; see here).

Knowledge: The identification of reality in conceptual form by means of an objective method. (See here.)

Life: “Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action” (Ayn Rand, “Galt’s Speech,” For the New Intellectual, p. 121; see here).

Logic: “The art of non-contradictory identification” (Ayn Rand, “Galt’s Speech, For the New Intellectual, p. 125). (See here, here and here.)

Measurement-Omission: The key step of the process of abstraction by which the specific measurements of the units subsumed in a concept are included in the integration of a concept but not specified, allowing for the integration of units of similar kind but with variations in their specific measurements. “The principle [of measurement-omission] is: the relevant measurements must exist in some quantity, but may exist in any quantity” (Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, p. 12; see here and here).

Metaphysical primacy, the issue of: The issue of metaphysical primacy has to do with the orientation between a conscious subject and any object(s) it is conscious of. Since consciousness by virtue of its nature necessarily involves an object, there is no such thing as consciousness of nothing. The issue of metaphysical primacy asks, then: do the objects of consciousness exist and have the nature they have independent of conscious activity, or do the objects of consciousness depend on conscious activity for their existence and/or nature? The view that the objects of consciousness exist and have their nature independent of conscious activity is known as the primacy of existence (cf.); the view that the objects of consciousness depend on conscious activity in some way is known as the primacy of consciousness (cf.). (See here and here)

Morality: “What is morality, or ethics? It is a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions—the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life. Ethics, as a science, deals with discovering and defining such a code” (Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 13; see here, here, and here).

Mysticism: “Mysticism is the acceptance of allegations without evidence or proof, either apart from or against the evidence of one’s senses and one’s reason. Mysticism is the claim to some non-sensory, non-rational, non-definable, non-identifiable means of knowledge, such as ‘instinct’, ‘intuition’, ‘revelation’, or any form of ‘just knowing’… Mysticism is the claim to the perception of some other reality—other than the one in which we live—whose definition is only that it is not natural, it is supernatural, and is to be perceived by some form of unnatural or supernatural means.” (Ayn Rand, “Faith and Force: Destroyers of the Modern World,” Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 62)

Object: Any thing, existent, quality, etc., perceived and/or considered by a conscious subject.

Objectivity: Cognition informed by the facts which we discover in the world by looking outward and aligned in uncompromising adherence to the primacy of existence in all areas of knowledge, judgment and action. (See here)

Perception: “A ‘perception’ is a group of sensations automatically retained and integrated by the brain of a living organism, which gives it the ability to be aware, not of single stimuli, but of entities, of things” (Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 19). Also, the faculty of perceiving as opposed to the sensory level and conceptual level of consciousness. (See here)

Primacy of consciousness: The view which grants metaphysical primacy to the conscious subject in the subject-object relationship, manifesting itself in the assumption that reality either originated from an act of consciousness, conforms to conscious intentions, or both. Generally speaking, there are three expressions of this view: the personal (i.e., reality conforms to one’s own conscious intentions); the social (i.e., reality conforms to the conscious intentions of a group or collective); and the cosmic (i.e., reality conforms to the conscious intentions of some alleged supernatural consciousness). The primacy of consciousness is the underlying assumption to the view that “wishing makes it so” and is affirmed in various guises throughout the world’s religions. Its epistemological counterpart is mysticism. (See here)

Primacy of Existence: The explicit recognition of the fact that the objects of consciousness exist and are what they are independent of conscious activity. Cf. wishing doesn’t make it so. The primacy of existence is an axiomatic truth; one must assume it in order to question, doubt, deny or reject it. (See here, here, here, here, and here.)

Proof: The logical process of reducing that which is not perceptually self-evident (ultimately) to that which is perceptually self-evident. (See here and here.)

Rationality: Rationality is “the recognition and acceptance of reason as one’s only source of knowledge, one’s only judge of values and one’s only guide to action” (Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 25; see here).

Reason: “Reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses” (Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 20). “Reason integrates man’s perceptions by means of forming abstractions or conceptions, thus raising man’s knowledge from the perceptual level, which he shares with animals, to the conceptual level, which he alone can reach. The method which reason employs in this process is logic—and logic is the art of non-contradictory identification” (Ayn Rand, “Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World,” Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 62; see here).

Science: Science is the systematic application of reason to some specialized area of study. (See here and here.)

Secondary Objectivity: Conscious activity as an object of one’s own conscious attention turned inward on itself. In other words, consciousness of objects which exist independent of oneself as an object of itself; one must have consciousness of objects independent of one’s own consciousness before it is possible to be consciousness of one’s own conscious activity, at which point that conscious activity is a secondary object, the objects one perceiving independent of oneself being primary objects. (See here.)

Sensation: “A sensation is produced by the automatic reaction of a sense organ to a stimulus from the outside world; it lasts for the duration of the immediate moment, as long as the stimulus lasts and no longer. Sensations are an automatic response, an automatic form of knowledge, which a consciousness can neither seek nor evade. An organism that possesses only the faculty of sensation is guided by the pleasure-pain mechanism of its body” (Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 18).

Stolen Concept, the Fallacy of the: “The ‘stolen concept’ fallacy, first identified by Ayn Rand, is the fallacy of using a concept while denying the validity of its genetic roots, i.e., of an earlier concept(s) on which it logically depends” (“Philosophical Detection,” Philosophy: Who Needs It, p. 22; see here and here).

Subject: The perceiver or knower perceiving and/or considering some object(s).

Subject-Object Relationship: The relationship between a conscious subject and any and all object(s) it perceives and/or considers, including the orientation obtaining within that relationship.

Subjectivism: In metaphysics, subjectivism is the view that existence finds its source in consciousness, that reality conforms to consciousness, or some combination of both. It is the essence of the notion that “wishing makes it so” and can manifest itself in many expressions, from outright pronouncements to denial. In epistemology, such assumptions incline a thinker to make the choice to turn his attention inward - specifically towards his own emotions, preferences, imagination, dreams, etc. – as the source of his knowledge, as the standard of his judgment, as the guide to his actions, as opposed to facts which we discover by looking outward. (See here, here, and here)

Truth: The non-contradictory, objective identification of fact. (See here and here.)

Uniformity of Nature: “The uniformity of nature, then, is essentially the applicability of the axiom of existence to all of reality and the absolute (i.e., exceptionless) concurrence of identity with existence” (Bethrick, The Uniformity of Nature.)

Universe: The sum total of everything that exists treated as a whole. (On this definition, it would be nonsensical to posit something existing “outside the universe” – i.e., apart from the sum total of everything that exists.) (See here.)

Value: “Values are those things which we need, given our nature as biological organisms, in order to live and enjoy happy, fulfilled lives” (see here; see also here).

Virtue: Virtue is the action by which values are achieved and preserved. (See here)

Volition: Volition is cognitive self-regulation. (See here)


Anonymous said...

A permanent link at the sidebar would be a most excellent idea.

Ydemoc said...


Thanks for producing this glossary!


Ydemoc said...


Just to let you know, the link "here" under your glossary entry "Universe" takes me to my blogger dashboard.


Bahnsen Burner said...

Hi Ydemoc,

Thanks (again!!!) for pointing out the faulty link. I thought I had gotten all of them, but obviously missed one. I've corrected it now.

Hi Photo,

Yes, great suggestion. In fact, what I am planning to do is to upload the glossary to my website and then link to it from my blog. It will be easier to add more items to the glossary in the future that way. Once I get time (I've been monstrously busy lately), I'll tend to that task.

In the meantime, I'm trying to get some other things underway, but my daily schedule is a nightmare right now. So please bear with me.


Unknown said...

Happy Holidays. :)

Bahnsen Burner said...

Thanks Robert,

I hope everyone stays safe this holiday season.

I got everyone a present:

Jason Petersen on Objectivism and the Laws of Logic

Okay, I have to get back to work!


praestans said...

This is useful thanks Dawson.

On induction please. Where can I find the errors of Hume detaild?

Has Leonard Peikoff ritn the book on induction, as indicatid in the blog below?

from a critic'v Objectivism

posit objectivism hasn't solvd the problem of induction. [I searcht for ' greg nyquist' in the cell but this yieldid no results.]


praestans said...


Tu complement, I shud say the following blog also came up in my seek:

Bryan Register is apparently a former Objectivist.