The first chapter of my book presents Leonard Peikoff’s analysis of “first-level” generalizations. These are generalizations that a toddler can grasp without antecedent generalizations; for example, “pushing a ball makes it roll.” On page 19, I quote from Dr. Peikoff’s lectures:
“A ‘first-level generalization’ is one derived directly from perceptual observation, without the need of any antecedent generalizations. As such, it is composed only of first-level concepts; any form of knowledge that requires the understanding of higher-level concepts cannot be gained directly from perceptual data.”
Some readers have raised the issue of whether concepts of attributes and actions are properly regarded as “first-level” concepts. They point out that we first grasp concepts of perceived entities, and conclude that the first-level should be restricted to these concepts. According to this view, concepts such as “red,” “round,” “pushing,” and “rolling” are higher-level.
I think this view derives from a failure to grasp what is meant by “level” in Objectivist epistemology. The concept “level” pertains to the hierarchical nature of knowledge. In Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Dr. Peikoff writes:
“A hierarchy of knowledge means a body of concepts and conclusions ranked in order of logical dependence, one upon another, according to each item’s distance from the base of the structure. The base is the perceptual data with which cognition begins.”
This base obviously includes the data integrated by concepts of attributes and actions that are directly perceived. If we classify such concepts as “first-level,” then the idea serves an important function: we can talk about the reduction of higher-level knowledge to the first-level. But if we made the error of restricting the first-level to concepts of perceived entities, what function would this idea serve? The first-level would be so impoverished that nothing could be reduced to it. This restricted idea is a definition by inessentials.