• Art48
    174
    In mathematics, the word “is” seems justified. Two plus two IS four and even God himself can’t change that fact; “Two plus two is four” seems to live in its own pristine, immutable world, entirely beyond the reach of any outside power to change.

    But things seem much different in the material world. An obvious illustration: a mirage seems to show the presences of water when no water is present. But the point goes much deeper than that because everything fallible human beings believe about the exterior world is liable to be wrong. For many centuries, Newton’s physics seemed not merely a way of calculating observables but rather a fundamental FACT about the world. Force IS equal to mass times acceleration.

    The fundamental problem with “is” seems to be the person using that word seemingly speaks with a god-like authority: force doesn’t merely seem to equal mass times acceleration. Rather, force IS equal to mass times acceleration, and there’s nothing you or me or God himself can do about it. It just IS.

    So, my children ARE wonderful; democracy IS the best form of government; and, the all-purpose, “it is what it is.” Yes, it is what it is but, I maintain, it seems impossible for a mere human being to be certain of what anything is. So, “it seems what it seems (to me)” seems more fitting, seems closer to truth.

    P.S. These thoughts were inspired by E-Prime.

    E-Prime (short for English-Prime or English Prime, sometimes denoted É or E′) is a version of the English language that excludes all forms of the verb to be, including all conjugations, contractions and archaic forms. Some scholars advocate using E-Prime as a device to clarify thinking and strengthen writing. A number of other scholars have criticized E-Prime's utility.—https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-Prime

    P.S.S. I once wrote a book mostly in E-Prime. It’s available for free reading and download at
    ScienceAsNaturalTheology.org
  • Fooloso4
    3.7k
    In mathematics, the word “is” seems justified. Two plus two IS four and even God himself can’t change that fact; “Two plus two is four” seems to live in its own pristine, immutable world, entirely beyond the reach of any outside power to change.Art48

    3+1 "is" 4 but 3+1 "is not" 2+2

    Added: "is" as used here is short for "is equal to".
  • Alkis Piskas
    1.4k

    “Two plus two is four”Art48
    Even in Math, one cannot state this in a general way. Two centimeters plus two millimeters do not equal four. (Four what?) They are just equal to "two centimeters and two millimeters". You can only add homogeneous things. Even if both centimeters and millimeters are units of distance, they are heterogeneous. In Math, they are called "incommensurable" (being of different kinds, degrees or dimensions).
    (BTW, in Math it is always better to use the term "equals" than "is", since the latter has multiple meanings as I describe below.)

    One has to differentiate between the different meanings of the word "is" ("be").
    "Be" can mean exist, be present, take place, position in space, come from (some place). And of course, "equal", as described above. It can also refer to a condition or state, age, meaning/signification, attribute/characteristic, and more.

    So, which of all of the above meanings of "is" are you against? (Re: "Against 'is'")

    my children ARE wonderful; democracy IS the best form of government ...Art48
    These refer to attributes you assign to persons and things. They are your opinion; part of your reality. They are true for you. How certain you are about them does not matter.

    Outside you, things are what they are. (Re: “it is what it is.”).
    This, depending on the context in which it is stated, it may be just an "empty" statement, meaning nothing in particular, or it may mean something like "be realistic", "try to see things as they are", etc. All of which are relative, indicative or figures of speech. Because no one can actually see things "exactly as they are". One can only do that on a scale: from falsifying facts, to being biased about something, to being honest and showing selflessness in one's judgment and behavior regarding something.
    A classic example: "Please try to see me as I am".

    So, I cannot see anything "against 'is'"! :smile:
  • SophistiCat
    2k
    The fundamental problem with “is” seems to be the person using that word seemingly speaks with a god-like authorityArt48

    Not to any competent language user.
  • baker
    4.9k
    The fundamental problem with “is” seems to be the person using that word seemingly speaks with a god-like authorityArt48

    And the problem doesn't go away when using other words instead of "is".
    Because the problem isn't in the verb "to be", but primarily in the use of the indicative grammatical mood for making declarative statetments about other people and things.

    To avoid the feel of speaking with god-like authority, one would need to speak in I-messages.
  • baker
    4.9k
    The fundamental problem with “is” seems to be the person using that word seemingly speaks with a god-like authority
    — Art48

    Not to any competent language user.
    SophistiCat

    Only under the proviso that such a "competent language user" holds certain other beliefs.
    Such as, "Whatever a person says is only their own opinion and not necessarily objective truth."
  • Joshs
    4k



    The fundamental problem with “is” seems to be the person using that word seemingly speaks with a god-like authority
    — Art48

    Not to any competent language user.
    SophistiCat

    I like psychologist George Kelly’s approach:

    “If I say "the floor is hard," I employ a language system in which the subject-predicate relationship inheres in the subject itself. It is the floor which is hard, and that is its nature, regardless of who says so. The statement stands, not because the speaker said it, but because the floor
    happened to be what it is. The sentence's validity stems from the floor and not from the speaker.

    Suppose our verbs could be cast in the invitational mood. This is to say that instead of being used in the popular indicative mood of objective speech, or in one of the other moods recognized by our language – conditional, subjunctive, or imperative – a verb could be cast in a form which would suggest to the listener that a certain novel interpretation of an object might be entertained. For example, I might say, "Suppose we regard the floor as if it were hard."
    If I make such a statement I immediately find myself in an interesting position. The statement leaves both the speaker and the listener, not with a conclusion on their hands, but in a posture of expectancy suppose we do regard the floor as if it were hard, what then? A verb employed in the invitational mood, assuming our language had such a mood, would have the effect of orienting one to the future, not merely to the present or to the past.”
  • Real Gone Cat
    345
    3+1 "is" 4 but 3+1 "is not" 2+2Fooloso4

    Explain yourself. Do you have some special mathematical definition of "is"?

    Two centimeters plus two millimeters do not equal four. (Four what?) They are just equal to "two centimeters and two millimeters".Alkis Piskas

    Why introduce this non sequitur? "2 + 2" has nothing to do with "two centimeters and two millimeters". It's like saying "red and yellow make orange" must be false because "red firetruck and yellow car don't make orange anything". Category error.

    If you still want to introduce mysticism into math, then what do you do with the sentence, "two centimeters and two millimeters is four units of length measurement"? Seems OK to me. So "2 + 2 is (still) 4".

    (Next we'll have TPF worthies jumping in to claim zero is not a number, and lines are not made of points.)
  • Babbeus
    60
    The problem you are talking about seems not specifically related to the verb "to be" but to any verb and any statement that is not formulated as uncertain.
  • Alkis Piskas
    1.4k
    Why introduce this non sequitur? "2 + 2" has nothing to do with "two centimeters and two millimeters"Real Gone Cat
    I was referring to the general statement “Two plus two is four”, which is presented as if it is a law of the Universe (Re: "seems to live in its own pristine, immutable world, entirely beyond the reach of any outside power to change"). "Two and two" what? If the context of numbers were mentioned or if the statement were "2 plus 2 equals 4", then there wouldn't be a doubt. But it wasn't. Hence my example with centimeters and millimeters just to show why not any "two" can fit to this equation.
    Is it more clear now?
  • Banno
    19.2k
    E-PrimeArt48

    There's a term I haven't heard in a good while. But I mentioned Korzybski's General Semantics only a few weeks ago, somewhere here...

    "Is" in English has a few senses. Most folk can work it out from context. In logic it's parsed as "f(x)", "x=x" or "p≡p" to great clarity.

    Getting rid of it altogether is surely an overreaction.
  • Real Gone Cat
    345


    No. It's still a category error. "Two plus two is four" clearly implies numbers. "Two" and "two centimeters" are not the same. Adding units (cm, mm) changes the sentence.

    What is your definition of "is"? (asked Bill Clinton).
  • Banno
    19.2k
    "Suppose we regard the floor as if it were hard."Joshs

    NIce.
  • Fooloso4
    3.7k
    Do you have some special mathematical definition of "is"?Real Gone Cat

    Nothing special. The OP said:

    “Two plus two is four”Art48

    This is commonly understood to mean two plus two equals four and not two plus two is the same thing as four. 3+1 "is" 4 in the sense of equals 4 but not that 3+1 and 2+2 are the same thing.

    We could do without "is": 2+2=4, 3+1=4, 2+2=3+1.
  • Real Gone Cat
    345


    So you've changed the meaning of "is" within a single sentence. Clearly 3+1 does not look like 2+2, but neither does it look like 4. To say "3+1 is 4" but "3+1 is not 2+2" is incoherent.
  • Real Gone Cat
    345


    Wait. I think I've got it now. You're thinking of "4" as the name of a set whose elements include "3+1", "2+2", etc. So a better sentence would be, "3+1 is a type of 4".

    But then is there another set called "2+2"? What belongs to it?
  • Art48
    174
    3+1 "is" 4 but 3+1 "is not" 2+2Fooloso4
    The comment seems irrelevant to this thread.

    So, which of all of the above meanings of "is" are you against?Alkis Piskas
    I disapprove of statements that use "is" to purportedly make a statement about objective reality that hides the fact that the statement better qualifies as someone's experience of objective reality.

    Not to any competent language user.SophistiCat
    There is some truth to your statement. (Notice how "is" makes that sentence about objective reality. I should have said "I partially agree with your statement.) So, if I say "This ice cream tastes good" most people know I mean "This ice cream tastes good to me." But someone might mistake "The floor is hard" as a statement about objective reality. See my next comment.

    “If I say "the floor is hard, . . ."Joshs
    "The floor is hard" is a statement about objective reality. Compared to a diamond, the floor is soft. Compared to neutron stars the floor isn't much more than a wisp of smoke.

    Getting rid of it altogether is surely an overreaction.Banno
    Agree. But being aware of how "is" tends to remove the speaker from the statement so the statement appears to be objective reality seems reasonable.
  • Banno
    19.2k
    Again, an overreaction. Putting a sentence in the third person does much the same thing.
  • Fooloso4
    3.7k
    So you've changed the meaning of "is" within a single sentence.Real Gone Cat

    I haven't changed anything. "2+2 is 4" never meant anything other than 2+2=4. The point of saying that 3+1 is not 2+2 was to indicate that "is" means equal and not the same thing
  • SophistiCat
    2k
    The first and the second paragraphs in your Kelly quote seem to offer different takes on "is." But there are still more moods and nuances. We can report, insist, offer, suppose, pretend, etc.

    The problem you are talking about seems not specifically related to the verb "to be" but to any verb and any statement that is not formulated as uncertain.Babbeus

    Exactly, only we don't even need to expressly qualify statements as uncertain - we only do that occasionally for emphasis. Otherwise, language norms, context and tone do the job for us.

    (Not all languages even employ "to be" the way English does. In Russian, for example, you would say something like "Floor - hard.")
  • Fooloso4
    3.7k
    The comment seems irrelevant to this thread.Art48

    The thread is about the use of the term "is". You start with a mathematica example, but "is" as it is used here simply means equal to.

    Rather than:

    Force IS equal to mass times acceleration.Art48

    you could say: force equals mass times acceleration.

    Or are you objecting to this as well because it seems to confer godlike authority?
  • Art48
    174
    you could say: force equals mass times acceleration.
    Or are you objecting to this as well because it seems to confer godlike authority?
    Fooloso4

    Object is too strong a work. Certainly, the world will continue using "is" as it has in the past. But, yes, "force equals mass times acceleration" is a statement about objective reality when in actuality it is what we believed before Einstein.
  • Real Gone Cat
    345


    You are aware that 2+2 = 3+1 ?

    Agreed that "2+2" is not the same thing as "4" - one requires three keystrokes, and the other just one. So if "is" means equals (as you say), how can you claim "3+1 is not 2+2"?

    You want to find mysticism here. I stand by my claim : you are playing fast and loose with your definitions.
  • Joshs
    4k
    So, if I say "This ice cream tastes good" most people know I mean "This ice cream tastes good to me." But someone might mistake "The floor is hard" as a statement about objective reality. See my next comment.

    “If I say "the floor is hard, . . ."
    — Joshs
    "The floor is hard" is a statement about objective reality. Compared to a diamond, the floor is soft. Compared to neutron stars the floor isn't much more than a wisp of smoke.
    Art48

    Let me see if I understand this. You’re making a distinction between the legitimate use of the word ‘is’ to make a statement about objective reality vs the use of the word ‘is’ to state a subjective preference, and your only concern here is with confusions between the two contexts that result in a subjective use of ‘is’ appearing to be an objective use?
  • Fooloso4
    3.7k
    You are aware that 2+2 = 3+1 ?Real Gone Cat

    Of course!

    You want to find mysticism here.Real Gone Cat

    If we are given 4 donuts and I take 3 and give you one, you might complain that is not fair. Would you be satisfied if I defended this by saying that since 2+2 is 4 and 3+1 is 4 then 3+1 is 2+2? Or would you say, as I did above that:

    3+1 "is" 4 but 3+1 "is not" 2+2Fooloso4
  • Real Gone Cat
    345


    Wow. I encounter so many people on TPF who do not know basic math, it's striking.

    By your logic, if you kept all 4 donuts, that would be different from sharing them out 3 for you and 1 for me. So I guess 3+1 is NOT 4 after all!!!
  • Alkis Piskas
    1.4k
    I disapprove of statements that use "is" to purportedly make a statement about objective reality that hides the fact that the statement better qualifies as someone's experience of objective reality.Art48
    You are right about rejecting objective reality, because it doesn't exist.
  • Banno
    19.2k
    force IS equal to mass times acceleration, and there’s nothing you or me or God himself can do about it. It just IS.Art48

    @Bartricks?
  • Agent Smith
    8.2k
    Two plus two IS [equal to] fourArt48

    Force IS equal to mass times accelerationArt48

    What I would say is

    1. Not that force is mass times acceleration (metaphysics)

    2. But that force is equal to mass times acceleration (mathematics)
  • andrewk
    2.1k
    Having been strongly influenced by Korzybski and by e-prime - the work of his disciple David Bourland - I sympathise strongly with your post.
    As a mathematician I must object to your example though. Saying 'two plus two is four' rather than the more formal 'two plus two equals four' will often lead to confusion. We just don't need 'is' in that context and it causes trouble if we do use it. The word 'equals' in mathematics conveys a relationship with a precise meaning that differs from that usually attributed to the dreaded verb 'is'.
    I have worked on minimising my use of the the verb 'to be' over the past few years and find it a really helpful discipline, with profound benefits. It keeps you humble because you have to speak in terms of how things look to you, rather than making godlike pronouncements about the nature of the world.
    It also encourages the use of active voice over passive, a very popular theme in the plain english movement that I really like.
    Some uses do no harm, such as a prefix to the present participle - "I am thinking" - and even allow nuances not achievable in strict e-prime. Using it to express category membership (attributing properties) also seems harmless to me, and shorter than the e-prime alternative. Only the 'identity' and 'existence' uses cause serious trouble. I have seen and participated in several different lively debates on here over whether saying 'the cup is in the cupboard' means anything more than that if I look in the cupboard I'll probably see a cup.
    And while I use the active voice, e-prime version in most cases, sometimes it seems wiser to use the passive. Unless one especially wants to chastise Niruba, one can get a better outcome from the diplomatic "Oh dear the door was left open and a cold draft is coming in" than "Niruba why did you leave the door open?" [again! you dolt!]
    Some ontologists won't like you if you spruik e-prime, since it presents a direct threat to their favourite activity.
    I find some parallels between an e-prime way of thinking and American Pragmatism - a philosophy that I also like.
  • Real Gone Cat
    345


    As a mathematician, I have to know : why do you think that saying “two plus two is four” will lead to confusion? How might one misconstrue “is”?

    There appear to be two uses of “is” in mathematics
    • to indicate equivalence (e.g., two plus two is four).
    • to indicate that an element belongs to a set (e.g., two is odd).
    What else is there?

    I breathlessly await your reply.
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