Oct 27, 2007

What is "implicit knowledge"?

My purpose here is to test my understanding of one element of Ayn Rand's epistemology.

AYN RAND'S IDEA OF IMPLICIT KNOWLEDGE. In her 1966-1967 treatise Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Ayn Rand defines "implicit knowledge" as "passively held material which, to be grasped, requires a special focus and process of consciousness ..." (2nd ed., p. 57).

In her 1969-1971 epistemology workshops, she elaborates: "The 'implicit' is that which is available to your consciousness but which you have not conceptualized. For instance, if you state a certain proposition, implicit in it are certain conclusions, but you may not necessarily be aware of them, because a special separate act of consciousness is required to draw these consequences and grasp conceptually what is implied in your original statement. ... An implicit concept is the stage of an integration when one is in the process of forming that integration and until it is completed. ... And that's not all done instantaneously: it is a process. It is in that process that the future concept is implicit." (ITOE, 2nd ed., pp. 159 and 162)

EXAMPLE 1. Ayn Rand describes the first steps in forming knowledge: (a) sensation; (b) perception; and (c) three stages, for a child, in the develop-ment of the implicit concept "existent" into the implicit concepts of entity, identity, and unit. (ITOE, 2nd ed., pp. 5-7) A philosophical adult can make the four concepts explicit by following the steps of concept-formation and naming the concepts. (ITOE, 2nd ed., pp. 10-15)

EXAMPLE 2. I know explicitly that all men are mortal and that Mr. Smith is a man. Thus I also have implicit knowledge that Mr. Smith is mortal. I can make that knowledge explicit by performing a particular act of consciousness (deduction) and by saying the result: "Mr. Smith is mortal."

EXAMPLE 3. Aristotle was the father of many elements of logic. E.g., he identified fallacies, described syllogisms, and developed criteria for defining things by genus and species. However, Aristotle's concept of logic itself -- as a special science encompassing the elements -- was implicit. Five hundred years later, the Aristotelian philosophical-scholar Alexander of Aphrodisias (c. AD 200-250) made the concept of logic, as a science, explicit by naming the science logikos, and by defining it as the study of the principles of valid inference.

SUMMARY. To what facts of reality does the idea of "implicit knowledge" refer? From introspection, I can see that:
- Knowledge--whether concepts, principles, or theories--consists of integrated elements.
- Cognitive integration takes time and requires an act of volition, using a certain method.
- The process is complete when I can express the new knowledge as a word naming a concept, as a sentence stating a principle, or as a treatise presenting a theory.

Implicit knowledge is information which I have in pieces; have not put together into a concept, principle, or theory; and have not named, stated, or formulated. An implicit idea is like a building. An "implicit building" is one that consists of separate girders, bricks, and boards being put into position by cranes. The building becomes "explicit," so to speak, after the builder joins the pieces and puts a sign on the front door, naming the building.

I think of implicit knowledge as knowledge under construction.

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith

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