• Tomseltje
    147
    What's the use of discussing philosophy without definitions?

    definitions that apply to words used in this question:
    use : value to participants
    discussing : exchanging ideas with the common goal to get a better understanding of each others position eventually leading to a better formulated unified position that all participants can agree upon.
    philosophy : the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct.
    definition : A statement of the exact meaning of a word.

    Being relatively new on this forum, it surprised me that many discussions start with a well formulated question, but without defining the words used in the question even when it's not clear wich definition applies. Wich could (and in many cases does) result in confusion about what is being discussed.

    (For instance in the topic "Animal Ethics - Is it wrong to eat animals?" the word animal doesn't get defined and further on in the discussion it's clear that the OP didn't intend the word animals in the general biological sense (wich would include single celled sessile animals), but was restricing the definition to a way narrower group. After 38 pages of comments it's still unclear what the OP means by the word 'animals' exactly, but it seems his definition is closer to the biological definition of vertebrates than the biological definition of animals. Wich if so, is an enterily different question in my opinion. )

    I don't think we can have a sensible discussion, so definately not a sensible philosophical discussion, without firstly clearly defining the subject. Wich requires the OP to clearly define the words used in his opening statement/question of at least all the words that have more than one commonly used definition.
    I can imagine various reasons an OP didn't define all words used, for instance the OP not knowing about other definitions of a word than the OP applies, but at least then words used should be defined by the OP when asked about what he meant with a certain word he/she used in the OP's first reaction to the comment asking for a definition.
    (something that still hasn't been done in the example given even after 38 pages of comments.
    Now please notice that by no means this is intended as a personal attack on the OP of given example, so please don't try to make it to be so. I may have my frustrations with the way he/she handles it, and others might as well, but this isn't about him/her. This is about the general importance of supplieng definitions of the words used in opening statements, and supplieng them further along in the discussion in case the OP forgot/neglected or didn't seem it to be nessesary to do so in the opening statement/question. )

    I used to think this was the common vieuw among rational people discussing philosophy, but seeing several topics in this forum that don't seem to abide by this, I'm starting to doubt it. So I think that the answer to the question I posed ought to be 'none', but perhaps I'm wrong about this. So please let me know if you agree, and if not, please provide a well formulated argument (including definitions of newly introduced terms) why.


    p.s.
    It might be slightly disingenious to pose a question I already answered. But I consider it to be way less disingenious than posing a statement or question while remaining intentionally vague about the definitions applied. Of course I can't know about the intentions of other OP's, but I noticed the tendency to do so in several cases wether or not intentional.
    This post is intended to create awareness about the importance of supplieing definitions in philosophical discussions among those who untill now seem to have acted as if it were rather irrelevant, while also providing an example on how one could provide said definitions.
    Though of course, I wouldn't object to this resulting into a propor rational philosophical discussion, I just doubt it could.
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k


    Basically, the problem is, to use your example;

    definitions that apply to words used in this question:
    use : value to participants
    discussing : exchanging ideas with the common goal to get a better understanding of each others position eventually leading to a better formulated unified position that all participants can agree upon.
    philosophy : the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct.
    definition : A statement of the exact meaning of a word.
    Tomseltje

    Define 'value', define 'ideas', define 'goal', define 'understanding', define 'better formulated', define 'rational', define 'meaning'.

    Then when you've done that, define all the words you used to define those.

    Interestingly I've only just been having a discussion about Wittgenstein's private language argument on another thread...
  • Tomseltje
    147

    Ah, to my surprise an honest attempt to actually make this into a philosophical discussion.

    I agree we have a conundrum here. One that is clearly demonstrated by children at about 5 years old who keep asking 'why?' on any answer given to the previous question 'why?'.
    But of course when considering adults, I assume the rational approach of only asking such questions if genuinly interested in the answer, rather than merely to frustrate the adult in order to find out where the limits of the patience of said adult is.

    Now to adress your example
    Define 'value', define 'ideas', define 'goal', define 'understanding', define 'better formulated', define 'rational', define 'meaning'.Pseudonym

    I simply don't believe you actually are confused about all definitions you asked for here, since you seemed to have understood my post too well for that in order to be so. In a rational discussion one only asks for definitions one genuinly may suspect that could lead to confusion.
    (Like in the example I gave about the eating animals discussion, where it's clear the OP was sloppy and could have prevented much confusion, by stating 'vertebrates' rather than 'animals'. Of wich alot could have been prevented by simply stating "oh I didn't mean animals, but i meant vertebrates" when I asked him for his definition on 'animals' rather than refraining from giving his definition for 38 pages of comments. I'm still not sure wether he means vertebrates.)

    I could have been more explicit about this in my opening statement, so thanks for pointing it out.



    Interestingly I've only just been having a discussion about Wittgenstein's private language argument on another thread...Pseudonym

    What is the title of said thread? or even better, got a link?
  • Marcus de Brun
    433


    Well put Tom!

    I have to raise my hands in the air and admit I am guilty of same and will apply more caution with vague terms.

    As Voltaire famously stated. "If you wish to converse with me, define your terms!"

    M
  • Tomseltje
    147
    I have to raise my hands in the air and admit I am guilty of same and will apply more caution with vague terms.Marcus de Brun

    As all of us have been at some point in our life, and probably will be again. We can only try to do better, and as a result we usually will do better, but I don't think any of us will ever reach perfection, since if we did, we wouldn't have anything left to strive for and then our lives would be meaningless. (I better stop here before I start hijacking my own topic)
  • unenlightened
    2.6k
    I simply don't believe you actually are confused about all definitions you asked forTomseltje

    I simply don't believe you are confused about the definition of 'animal' in relation to a vegan diet. And if you are, then your contribution to a debate on the morality of diets is going to be rather limited, unless you can infer the meaning intended from the context of - for example - 'suffering', supplemented by a quick glance at some vegan recipes online.

    In the end (and therefore why not in the beginning?), one has to assume that people know what words mean, and clear up ambiguities as they arise. Indeed, to insist on a definition is very often to close down the discussion before it begins. The abortion debate, for instance hangs on the definition of a 'person'. It is in just such boundary disputes that all the heavy lifting of philosophy takes place. Your definition of philosophy, for example, is highly contentious.
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k
    simply don't believe you actually are confused about all definitions you asked for here, since you seemed to have understood my post too well for that in order to be so.Tomseltje

    But the meaning of those terms has keep philosophers in heated debate for thousands of years. What is of value, how can value be measured, is value objective or subjective? Are ideas objects? Is what is rational anything other than a public language (like ethics and aesthetics)? The whole area of how a word can 'mean' anything objectively is, in some sense, what the whole of Wittgenstein's 'Philosophical Investigations' is about.

    Anyway, the discussion I'm referring to is on the Math and Motive thread, though you'll have to get several pages in, it's really just a side-track.
  • Tomseltje
    147
    I simply don't believe you are confused about the definition of 'animal' in relation to a vegan diet.unenlightened

    Nonsense, you could have responded in the propor thread to me asking for a definition on this, and I made a reasonable argument for asking so. You , nor the OP did any of such kind, nor express any unbelief to the validity or honest intend of the question in that thread. The thread is not closed, you can still do so.. but seeing you waited over 30 pages of comments to do so, I doubt you will, in wich case you actually proove my suspicions that you are just attempting to poison the well.

    Secondly I did provide an argument on why I disbelieved pseudonym in that specific case, and you seem to be merely parroting my words while taking them out of context, without providing a reasonable context to replace it. You are being disingenious at best.
  • Tomseltje
    147
    But the meaning of those terms has keep philosophers in heated debate for thousands of years. What is of value, how can value be measured, is value objective or subjective? Are ideas objects? Is what is rational anything other than a public language (like ethics and aesthetics)? The whole area of how a word can 'mean' anything objectively is, in some sense, what the whole of Wittgenstein's 'Philosophical Investigations' is about.

    Anyway, the discussion I'm referring to is on the Math and Motive thread, though you'll have to get several pages in, it's really just a side-track.
    Pseudonym

    In general each of those words could be a thread of it's own of course. But you seemed to have understood what I meant with them in this thread clearly enoug. I took your asking for a definition on all those words as an example to demonstrate the conundrum we can get into if we don't share enough common ground. Did I misunderstood and were you instead making an actual request for the definition on all of those words?


    (thanks for mentioning the title of the thread, I'll look into it later, too busy slapping trolls now)
  • unenlightened
    2.6k
    you could have responded in the propor threadTomseltje

    I could. But I chose to respond here, because you used it as an example, and I think it is an example that plays against you. Arguing about what a vegan diet is would be a derailment of that thread. There is a history of usage in the context, that you ignore in favour of dictionary rigidity. And now you get all huffy. Ok dude, have your well defied discussion without me.
  • Tomseltje
    147
    I could. But I chose to respond here, because you used it as an example, and I think it is an example that plays against you. Arguing about what a vegan diet is would be a derailment of that thread. There is a history of usage in the context, that you ignore in favour of dictionary rigidity. And now you get all huffy. Ok dude, have your well defied discussion without me.unenlightened

    Thanks for admitting your attempt at hijacking my topic and confirming your attempts at poisoning the well, rather than responding to me in the propor thread.
    Sure you can think whatever you want, but if you are too cowardly or not articulate enough to provide the argument on why you think that, I rather not hear from you at all.
    I'm interested in well formulated compelling arguments, not in people shouting out their thoughts without being able to substanciate them with a reasonable argument. Especially not if they do so while attempting to hijack a topic. So I'm glad to hear you will stay out of them in the future.

    (don't be surprised other people might get huffy too if you accuse them without providing any evidence for your probably false accusation, like you did here)
  • Harry Hindu
    1.3k
    Excellent OP and thread, Tom. I have said pretty much the same thing many times on this forum. One of my first posts in any thread is asking for clarification of the definitions for the terms we are using. Many philosophical terms seem to be loaded with unnecessary assumptions that just complicates matters.

    It seems that most philosophical problems are the result of posing improper questions, or no clear definitions of the terms that are being used. Many "philosophers" on this forum like to throw around terms with an ambiguous nature that makes them sound smart, but when you question their understanding of those terms, they get defensive - like unenlightened.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2k

    It's funny how often we (forum denizens) end up having the same discussion spread across several different threads ...

    What occurs to me is that in a given discussion, there's no immediate need to pursue definitions ad infinitum. You define until you reach agreement. If what you agreed on later raises issues, you define again.

    A few different ways to look at this:
    (a) there must be common ground to have a discussion at all;
    (b) to explain your position to someone, you must put it in terms they understand;
    (c) to convince someone of the <correctness, usefulness, whateverness> of your position, you must give them reasons and reasoning they'll accept.

    We all know this stuff, and it gets mentioned now & then, but (as should be clear from other posts, other threads) I'm not sure principles such as these get their due. What justifies such principles? Does their justification have philosophical import? Are they "innocent" -- transparent? inert? -- or do they actually affect the philosophy we do?

    (Quine wrote pretty regularly about issues surrounding definition. Interesting stuff.)
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k
    You define until you reach agreement. If what you agreed on later raises issues, you define again.Srap Tasmaner

    Good principle, but if agreement is to mean anything at all (namely that the idea in my mind is close in form and effect to the one in yours), then I don't see how it doesn't suffer from the same problem. How would we identify that agreement? I might say (in a moment of self-loathing) "Philosophy is useless!", you say, "No it has many uses" - we disagree. Then I say (calming down a bit) "No, by 'useless' I meant, has no measurable objective utility, of course it has subjective utility", You say " Ah, OK then we agree by that definition of 'useless'". But we only agree because neither of us has disputed the definition of 'objective/subjective', and this is not because we know we agree on it (how could we, we never even discussed it?), it's only because we have not raised the issue. You go away thinking I mean one thing by it (which you agree with, and so no further discussion is needed), but actually I meant another thing by it entirely (which, had you enquired, you may well have disagreed with vehemently)

    The key thing I'm trying to say here, is that this isn't just about 'known unknowns' vs. 'unknown unknowns', it's not that I can't ever know if there's some definition about which we disagree unless I ask, it's that I can't ever know if there's some definition about which we disagree even if I ask, because to explain it just requires further definitions about which I will not know if we agree.

    This is not a particularly a problem in the language of normal discourse (nor in the sciences), I can point to a brick and say the word 'brick' in enough different contexts for you to grasp fairly certainly that by it I mean just to label the object and no other thing. As Quine points out, "neutrino" is not translated into other languages, it means only that thing to which it refers, not something which is defined using other words. But I don't see how one can ever hope to do this with philosophy in the way it is currently studied. How could we possibly achieve such a cross-context definition of 'value', or 'utility', defined accurately in enough circumstances to form even so much as a 'Family Resemblance' type of definition?

    I read with interest, your other post on 'Losing Games'. This is what I hang around these places for. What interests me is generally not the philosophical arguments themselves (anyone who thinks they have and answer to the question of universals after 2000 years has either not read any philosophy or has massive delusions of grandeur), but the way in which the arguments are presented and play out. Your thread very much tried to explore that and was just getting interesting when it seemed no-one wanted to say anything more about it. I was tempted to respond myself but feared I would simply repeat what you'd said in different words. What I really wanted to hear was someone who opposed that general idea defend their position.

    (a) there must be common ground to have a discussion at all;Srap Tasmaner

    This rather presumes a 'truth-seeking' purpose to philosophy which I'm not sure I can subscribe to any more. In order for me to clarify my own thoughts it is sometimes helpful to have an opposing view presented, but for this to happen it is entirely unnecessary that i 'correctly' understand what the presenter of the opposing view really means by what they say. It is sufficient for the purpose that I hold a meaning that needs to be countered in order to progress by own thoughts.

    If this all seems a little self-serving and cold, then...well it is. But it does work the other way, so there's some reciprocation. If what I understand by your sentences has some utility to me, then you've done me a great favour in writing them. It doesn't matter if what I understand by them is not what you meant. The task here is not to simply transfer information faithfully from your head to mine. I only want to hear what you have to say because I think it might be interesting/useful. If you incidentally say something interesting/useful merely by my own misinterpretation, then the objective has no less been met.

    (b) to explain your position to someone, you must put it in terms they understand;Srap Tasmaner

    Yes, but, as above, this is a sisyphean task. How do we confirm that the terms we're using are understood. If the person repeats them back to us? Well that's no good because all that's doing is testing their memory of the right words in the right order. If they apply the concept as we would in a different context? Better but then we run into Wittgenstein's rule-following paradox, in that we can only know that they are following some rule which lead to the result we expected, not necessarily the rule we've tried to convey (they could be 'quusing' not plussing'). All we can ever hope for is some probability that the terms have been understood based on a number of samples that satisfies us. But then when was this about satisfying ourselves that the job has been done?

    (c) to convince someone of the <correctness, usefulness, whateverness> of your position, you must give them reasons and reasoning they'll accept.Srap Tasmaner

    Here, I think, is where philosophy is most useful, and I agree with this sentiment entirely (though maybe not for the same reasons as you have, you seem far less coldly Machiavellian than me). What matters about a proposition is the effect it has, and if you want someone to hold a belief that has the effect on the world you desire, then it's your job to provide exactly the sort of reasoning that appeals to the person your trying to convince. It's not their job to try to understand what you 'mean' by everything (which seems to be the default position in many threads here), nor to approach problems the way you do. It's your job to present your solution in a way which fits the gap in the story they're trying to fill.
  • Dalai Dahmer
    73
    A minimum of two people involved in a discussion should at least agree on the definition of certain words before heading too far into a debate.
  • S
    6k
    What's the use of discussing philosophy without definitions?Tomseltje

    Bizarrely, I understood that question without the need of you providing any definitions. What does that tell you?

    Sure, sometimes certain key words could do with being given a definition if they're likely to cause a problem. But there's no need to take it to extremes. I found it pretty funny that you provided a definition for "discussing" and "definition".

    Also, I think you unfairly dismissed unenlightened, who had a few good points.
  • Tomseltje
    147
    Bizarrely, I understood that question without the need of you providing any definitions. What does that tell you?

    Sure, sometimes certain key words could do with being given a definition if they're likely to cause a problem. But there's no need to take it to extremes. I found it pretty funny that you provided a definition for "discussing" and "definition".

    Also, I think you unfairly dismissed unenlightened, who had a few good points.
    Sapientia

    It tells me you were already familiar enough with the words to be able to understand it without me providing the definitions of the words used.

    Of course you are right that I may have overdone it abit, Though the point is, that if definitions are not given, and you get a comment to an OP's start asking to define a certain word since the commenter claims it's not clear to him/her what the OP meant by it, I consider it quite compulsory to provide the definition when asked for it.

    unenlightened might have had a few good points. The problem is he/she starts out with stating he/she doesn't believe me. If there is no basic trust, there is no point in discussing anything. Now had he/she given a reasonable motivation on why he/she didn't believe me, we could have discussed that, but it was merely an unsubstanciated accusation, wich to me just equals slander, usually used in an attempt to poison the well. A fallacy common in debates, but wich has no place in discussions.
    Secondly he/she was hijacking the topic, as I told him/her, further discussions on the subject of the eating animals thread belong there, not in this thread.
    So what do you think was unfair about me dismissing him/her? Just the fact that he/she, next to at least two disingenious tactics, might have something of value to bring into the discussion? Possibly i missed out on some valuable insights, but I consider others here who keep their arguments void of slander attempts to be more deserving of my time.
  • Tomseltje
    147
    A minimum of two people involved in a discussion should at least agree on the definition of certain words before heading too far into a debate.Dalai Dahmer

    I agree that both parties should agree on the definition of certain words, wich is the main point for starting this thread. However, I dislike discussions derailing into debates.
  • Tomseltje
    147
    What occurs to me is that in a given discussion, there's no immediate need to pursue definitions ad infinitum. You define until you reach agreement. If what you agreed on later raises issues, you define again.

    A few different ways to look at this:
    (a) there must be common ground to have a discussion at all;
    (b) to explain your position to someone, you must put it in terms they understand;
    (c) to convince someone of the <correctness, usefulness, whateverness> of your position, you must give them reasons and reasoning they'll accept.
    Srap Tasmaner

    agreed

    Excellent OP and thread, Tom.Harry Hindu

    Thanks for the compliment, though if it was really excellent, I ought to have included what Srap Tasmaner pointed out here.
  • Harry Hindu
    1.3k
    Thanks for the compliment, though if it was really excellent, I ought to have included what Srap Tasmaner pointed out here.Tomseltje

    Hmm. I thought those things were implied. For any discussion, participants need to agree on the definitions of the terms used. Philosophical discussions are different from other types of discussions in the terms that are used and how they are defined. Philosophy itself is about questioning what we take for granted, which could be the definitions we use.
  • Dalai Dahmer
    73
    I can use the same idea, while still believing it within myself to be true of my character, and alter the sentence thus: "A minimum of two people involved in a discussion should at least agree on the definition of certain words before heading too far into a conversation, of maybe a particular matter", or, "A minimum of two people involved in a discussion should at least agree on the definition of certain words before heading too far into the discussion."

    Does this change anything with regard to your response?
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k
    For any discussion, participants need to agree on the definitions of the terms used. Philosophical discussions are different from other types of discussions in the terms that are used and how they are defined. Philosophy itself is about questioning what we take for granted, which could be the definitions we use.Harry Hindu

    So what is so magical about the words we'd use to define these terms that they themselves do not need defining?
  • Harry Hindu
    1.3k
    So what is so magical about the words we'd use to define these terms that they themselves do not need defining?Pseudonym

    I'm not sure what you are getting at here. There is nothing magical about words at all. In fact, words are arbitrary symbols used to refer to states-of-affairs. It is these states-of-affairs, which are not words, or word use, but what words, and their use, refer to. We could use any symbol to refer to some state-of-affairs, just as we use symbol, "2" and "two" to refer to the same thing - a quantity of some thing. The symbols are meaningless if they don't refer to something. Words are representations and representations are things that are defined as being about other things. The fundamental nature of the world isn't words and how they are used. There is the world and it's various states, and our representations of it in order to communicate the various states to those that are not there to experience it directly for themselves. Words, because they are representations, are indirect means of experiencing the various states of the world.
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k
    I'm not sure what you are getting at here.Harry Hindu

    When abstract terms (words) need defining, then we can only use other abstract words (terms) to do that job. At no point can we simply indicate some existant thing as the referent object. So, why do these other words not need defining?
  • Harry Hindu
    1.3k
    When abstract terms (words) need defining, then we can only use other abstract words (terms) to do that job. At no point can we simply indicate some existant thing as the referent object. So, why do these other words not need defining?Pseudonym
    Nonsense. How did you learn what the word, "dog" means, if not establishing a connection between the string of symbols, "dog" and the image of a dog? I could show you the word, "dog", or a picture of a dog, and I would end up getting my message across all the same.

    Like I have said, words refer to things, which can include other symbols, but not necessarily so. It ultimately comes down to every word refers to some other visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory, etc. sensation. Words themselves are visuals and auditory sensations that we use to refer to all the other non-verbal sensations and experiences we have.
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k
    Nonsense. How did you learn what the word, "dog" means, if not establishing a connection between the string of symbols, "dog" and the image of a dog? I could show you the word, "dog", or a picture of a dog, and I would end up getting my message across all the same.Harry Hindu

    My entire comment referred to abstract terms. "dog" is not an abstract term. Can you point to 'value' or 'meaning'?
  • Moliere
    1.4k
    I suppose a direct response to your titular question is: It's not as tedious as discussing philosophy with definitions. Also, it keeps the discussion from becoming about what a word really means, as if such usage could be settled by appealing to Meriam Webster.

    Rather than argue over the meaning of "animal", we can just argue over whether animals have rights -- just to use your example you opened with. And we can clarify exactly what we mean by said terms as we go along, just as we would have to even when setting out our terms from the start.

    In a sense it doesn't matter what the definition of a word is as long as it is understood. The only point in providing or asking for meaning is to clarify usage, and once that is understood then the other possible uses a word can be put to are not relevant.

    Or, perhaps, if your style of communication is somewhat more mathematical -- as if you were providing a proof, maybe. But said proofs can be just as arbitrary as vague word usage, too, where it appears we have proven something we haven't just because of a queer way of using a word, rather than talking about the issue at hand. So, for example, we could use the word "vertebrates", as you say, and get long just as well as if we used the word "animal" as long as we understand what we're talking about. But in the end it's not the biological characteristics of certain beasties at play there, but the capacity of suffering that some beasties have. And even here "beasties", made up as it is, serves just as well because you understand what I mean by the term.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2k
    I can't ever know if there's some definition about which we disagree even if I ask, because to explain it just requires further definitions about which I will not know if we agree.Pseudonym

    Let's call this the Skeptical Argument. (See what I did there?)

    The Skeptical Argument appears to demonstrate that agreement in definitions is impossible. (It might not be; the SA might only show that such agreement cannot be achieved in this way.) Or, rather, that whether we agree cannot be known, or cannot be reliably known.

    Then if agreement in definitions is necessary for communication of the sort contemplated, we cannot reliably know that we are communicating. (Or whatever formula goes there, again with the proviso that there may be some other way of reliably knowing this, not pictured here.) Call this the Extended Skeptical Argument.

    Suppose this is true. Then there's this question:

    (1) Why would we think we're communicating when we're not?

    This question has a mate. Suppose the ESA is wrong, that we do communicate and the SA shows that agreement in definitions is not necessary to communicate.

    (2) Why would we think we need agreement in definitions to communicate?

    That's the first round of preliminaries.

    Second round is a little historical context. Folks who've run into this before:

    • Grice admits ("Meaning Revisited") that his scheme might lead to an infinite regress, and that maybe we never "quite" mean anything "in the technical sense", but we get close and "deem" that success.
    • Lewis ( Convention ) compared the communication-oriented view of language (Grice, late LW, et al.), which he tidies up with game theory, and the formal view of the structure of a possible language (Frege, Tarski, et al.), but then reaches the weird conclusion that no one ever quite speaks a language in the formal sense.

    The issue here (Grice says this in so many words) is the role of the ideal. Some versions of pragmatism find a place here, in the endlessly approached but never quite reached truth. How do we come to think there's an ideal, if it's something we never reach, never experience? How and why do we use it to regulate our non-ideal communication and reasoning? I'll throw in here Dummett eventually defining assertion as saying something that aims at the truth. It's aspirational. (Going to leave aside any reference to Davidson for now.)

    Preliminaries out of the way, there are a few things we can note.

    The "deeming" Grice mentions is not "declare victory and depart the field", but must be more like this: declare victory but remain on the field, and if there are signs we haven't actually won, make renewed efforts to win. Rinse and repeat.

    Lewis thinks we get as far as figuring out that a member of some equivalence class of possible languages is being spoken, and that this might be good enough. There's a process of narrowing down the range of possibilities.

    Now look at our contemplated method of discussion: work out a tentative agreement on terms, and if trouble arises, work out a new tentative agreement. We can deem ourselves to be in agreement, but we remember that this was "only" a matter of deeming, so there's no tragedy if it turns out we weren't. It seems to me that the process of deeming is itself governed by rules and norms, while functioning as the source of the rules and norms that govern communication.

    How this works out, I don't know, but this is how I see the issues here. There seems to be a pattern of relying on an ideal in a particular way; when an argument shows us the ideal and shows us we can't reach it, or can't reliably know we've reached it, we're prone to some variety of skepticism. But the ideal is here as an element of the systems (of communication, of reasoning, of knowledge acquisition) we use. It's something we use, and thus at once what we hold up as the external goal to aim for and a tool we made and use ourselves.
  • creativesoul
    3.1k
    All this is for what?

    Seems to me that one could just ask for a definition of a key term if one feels that the authors' usage is questionable for whatever reason be it ambiguity or otherwise.
  • Pseudonym
    1.2k
    (1) Why would we think we're communicating when we're not?Srap Tasmaner

    I'm going to take a tangent here as I think the answers to your questions have more to do with psychology than language use. The slightly misanthropic answer is - we don't. We engage in this activity because we're trying to assert power and rhetoric is a safe way of doing that, especially over the internet. We also have a powerful need to justify our actions (or more specifically the barrage of conflicting desire which motivate our actions), which can at times seem really chaotic. Knowing there are others who see the world differently is an offence to the conceit of the 'truth' of these stories we tell ourselves, and so we engage in whatever tactics make our story seem the more real one when faced with another. At no point does 'communicating' by the definition we've arrived at enter into it.

    I know this seems really harsh, but take a look at the debates going on at the moment;
    "The New Dualism" - Some guy who 'just knows' he's right because he's really thought about it rearranging term to prop up his messiah complex.
    "Shouldn't Religion be 'Left'" - people re-arranging history to try and make such a completely messy and un-focussed thing as 'Religion' actually be something singular and directed, just to placate their fears about the fact the science is progressing in ways they don't understand.
    The 'debate' I'm engaged in with MU about Wittgenstein's rule-following, despite a promising beginning has recently collapsed into "one can follow a private rule...because you can".

    I'm not trying to say that my psychological analyses of these debates is the 'true' reason, I'm just presenting possibilities. What I do claim is that the evidence both from experience and from psychology seem to weigh quite heavily in favour of a conclusion that most forms of abstract language use have absolutely nothing to do with understanding one another.

    (2) Why would we think we need agreement in definitions to communicate?Srap Tasmaner

    As above, I'm afraid my honest feeling is again that we think this out of a deluded sense that if someone disputes the story we tell ourselves to explain the world, our safest way to understand that is to presume that some error of communication has taken place. We like to feel that if only 'they' understood the meaning of the terms I'm using, 'they' would accept my propositions. But we avoid actually going down that rabbit hole because we fear what might be at the bottom - the realisation that none of it really means anything at all.

    I think there are exceptions to all this. There seem to be people who's way of getting through life is to get as close as possible to 'what is the case', people who are constantly adjusting their story to make it more and more resilient. To these people, challenges are a boon because they provide opportunities to shore up weak points in the story, but as I mentioned earlier, actually understanding the other person is not necessary for this, only that some story reveals a weakness in one's world-view. It does not matter whether it's actually their story or not.

    I think the issues the Grice et al raise about language are fascinating and I don't want to just ride roughshod over them, perhaps we can get into them another time, but the issue here with defining terms in order to debate I think is so much more psychological than linguistic that to go down that road now would be to get distracted.

    The whole issue of clearing up confusions over definitions relies on the proposition that the disputed complex abstract terms are somehow all reducible to a set of non-disputed simple terms. But if this really is the case, then the 'ideal' that you mention would be to have everything expressed in terms of these non-disputed words, but I can see this running into problems already. Take something like the question of the existence of abstract objects. An argument might get hung up on the meaning of the term 'existence' (as it actually has here). we might reduce that something that is outside of our minds (as again, has happened here), but of course that just makes matters worse ('what is a 'mind'), so we go the other way and reduce it to 'that which is the case', or the way things are' as Van Inwagen has done. But look at the words in that expression 'that', 'which', 'is', 'the', and 'case'. Could you think of five more commonly used terms in everyday language? Yet this definition, reduced to un-disputed terms has not progressed us at all in understanding what each person actually means by 'existence'

    This is what leads, I think inevitably, to Quietism. Philosophical discussions might be a fun game, they certainly can be therapeutic, if conducted properly, they can help us make stories which avoid crippling us with uncertainty over the unknowable, to paraphrase Russell, but I'm fairly confident they can't actually progress us to any kind of 'truth' at all, not even a pragmatic one, I'm afraid.
  • Tomseltje
    147
    Hmm. I thought those things were implied. For any discussion, participants need to agree on the definitions of the terms used. Philosophical discussions are different from other types of discussions in the terms that are used and how they are defined. Philosophy itself is about questioning what we take for granted, which could be the definitions we use.Harry Hindu

    They were implied as you thought, however, in order to excell I should have been more explicit about them in my opening statement, since it wasn't that obvious to everyone. Apart from that we are in agreement.
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