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I'm unfamiliar with psycho-epistemological errors. How does one identify and correct common errors of this kind? What are the common errors? If this is answered in the literature somewhere, please point me to it. Thank you.

asked Jan 19 '11 at 23:06

WorkingMan's gravatar image


To my knowledge, there is nothing in the literature of Objectivism that provides a list of types of psycho-epistemological errors or a systematic method of identifying and correcting them. However, the question begins by stating: "I'm unfamiliar with psycho-epistemological errors." This formulation, and the larger set of statements following it, suggests to me that perhaps the questioner may be unfamiliar with what psycho-epistemology is. For more information on exactly what "psycho-epistemology" refers to, a good place to begin is with The Ayn Rand Lexicon, in the entry on "Psycho-Epistemology."

The earliest discussion of psycho-epistemology that I know of in Ayn Rand's writings is her essay, "For the New Intellectual," in her first nonfiction book (bearing the same title). That essay provides considerable description of brutes ("Attilas"), mystics ("Witch Doctors"), producers, and human balast, focusing especially on the historical significance of Attlias versus Witch Doctors long before the rise of producers, and the contrast provided by producers. The Lexicon entry on "Psycho-Epistemology" includes one very brief excerpt from that essay. The other excerpts provide excellent links to other works by Ayn Rand where psycho-epistemology is discussed.

Be sure to check out the cross references at the end of the "Psycho-Epistemology" entry, also, especially "Automatization" and "Subconscious." See also "Sense of LiIfe." The Romantic Manifesto contains extensive discussions of psycho-epistemology in relation to art, both for the artist and for the viewer.

An essential precondition for identifying psycho-epistemological errors is to know what psycho-epistemology is. Without that, one cannot identify whether or not something constitutes psycho-epistemology at all, let alone trying to differentiate between good (healthy) psycho-epistemology and bad (unhealthy and/or evil).

answered Jan 21 '11 at 16:06

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦


In addition to all of the above I would like to add the excellent lecture series "Psycho-Epistemology I" and "Psycho-Epistemology II" by Dr. Harry Binswanger available through www.aynrandbookstore.com

(Jan 22 '11 at 13:00) Prometheus1 ♦ Prometheus1's gravatar image

Also to add to the excellent answer above... I have found the following quotation to be very useful.

"The field of extrospection is based on two cardinal questions: 'What do I know?' and 'How do I know it?' In the field of introspection, the two guiding questions are: 'What do I feel?' and 'Why do I feel it?'"

-Ayn Rand, "Philosophical Detection"

(Jan 23 '11 at 15:58) javert ♦ javert's gravatar image

The concept of psycho-epistemology is a construction designed to make a contrast between deliberate cognitive processing, and the sequencing of mental contents which happens without the person's specific efforts and explicit goals, where there is some problem of consistency between the two.

At a minimum, the stream of consciousness consists of sense-perception and perceptual abstraction accompanied by memories and associations evoked by that experience, which themselves were formed in earlier experience. That creates a flow of primitive emotional responses and motivation.

Beyond that, or on top of it, deliberate, goal-directed cognition plays out. Thinking and reasoning, planning, choosing, acting. These things are self-directed, chosen, and deliberately sustained or abandoned. This level of cognition reflects our conscious choices and our admitted values. The automatic processes of memory and association, etc., also feed material into immediate consciousness with respect to the contents of this thinking.

Where the emotional or motivational or associational contents that come into immediate consciousness are inconsistent with the conscious purpose, the mis-matched character of those contents is called "ego-dystonic." That just means it doesn't fit with what you know of or think about yourself. If you are depressed, and you know there is reason to be depressed, you dislike the feeling, and wish it gone, but it isn't ego-dystonic. If you are anxious and not only can you not say what you are anxious about, but the feeling doesn't fit with the rest of your thinking and feeling at the time, that anxiety is ego-dystonic.

What is ego-dystonic has one of two sorts of explanations: psychiatric, or psycho-epistemological. The psychiatric--at least as I'm using it--means a physiological disease. Psycho-epistemological explanations refer back to the organization of one's body of knowledge, and to the attitudes and values that are enduring and that define your personality, INSOFAR as there are hindrances to the efficacy and validity of the cognitive aspect of your psychological functioning.

The sorts of things Freud proposed underlie our conscious accounts of our beliefs and motivations, for example, fall within the category of psycho-epistemological factors or effects.

In looking to one's own possible psycho-epistemological problems, the main thing is being honest with yourself. That will prevent your developing psycho-epistemological problems. For discovering problems that already exist, and for dealing with them, introspecting your emotions all day long is necessary.

It may seem odd that it is introspecting emotion that finds and clears away an epistemological glitch, but the reason is simple. The problems lie in the thinking you did as a child, and in passively absorbed attitudes, and in response to emotionally overwhelming situations, etc. These bits of thought have never been identified for what they are. Just as Rand emphasizes that you haven't formed your concept until you put a handle on it (a word,) these things are unavailable except through their effects. The effects of mistakes show up in problems, and all problems cause us fear or depression or anger, etc. Problems we haven't named are only located through those effects.

Introspecting emotions needs two crucial parts or it becomes the source of problems itself. The first part is admitting the feeling, and "accepting" it in the sense that it is there for a real and powerful reason. The feeling itself isn't dangerous. You don't have to repress or deny it, or strangle it out of existence. In facing it and admitting it and excusing yourself for having it, you are not petrifying it--just the opposite. Bring such things into the light of day, and the error of it bursts like a bubble, and it is gone forever. That is what it is to be a rational animal.

The second part is to concretize it. Where did this get started? Who treated you as if this was the truth about you? What specific events or experiences led to this sort of feeling, belief, attitude? It is absolutely necessary to concretize the origin of ego-dystonic contents. That is the only way to bring them into proper relation to the rest of your knowledge and experience. You have to relate them in time and space and socially to the world and your living experience. You cannot understand them in isolation, your cannot achieve a ratio-nal perspective on them as floating abstractions, as automatic ideas and feelings that simply come into your mind.

While the term, "psycho-epistemology" is directed at the cognitive aspect of psychological functioning, the interrelatedness of all action with emotional expressions is so close that there can't be an account that doesn't involve emotions. The difference between the construction, "psycho-epistemology" and the concept of psychology lies in its focus on how psychological function can become a hindrance to cognitive efficacy.

The answer goes beyond the question, and I'll gladly reduce it if that is seen to be a problem.

answered Jan 22 '11 at 15:24

Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image

Mindy Newton ♦

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Asked: Jan 19 '11 at 23:06

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Last updated: Jan 23 '11 at 15:58