• Welkin Rogue
    23
    On one view of philosophical method, we are concerned with words rather than things, whether we realize it or not. Call this the language-first view of philosophy. Sometimes you see philosophers push back against language-first view, and insist that they are interested in X, rather than the meaning of ‘X’. But what do they mean?

    As an illustration, I will consider the metaphysics of personal identity. Derek Parfit seems to reject the language-first view when he is defending the use of thought experiments to reason about what selves are (Reasons and Persons, 1983). He notes that Wittgenstein and Quine would have been sceptical about such procedures, and quotes the latter, who writes: “The method of science fiction has its uses in philosophy, but. . . I wonder whether the limits of the method are properly heeded. To seek what is ‘logically required’ for sameness of person under unprecedented circumstances is to suggest that words have some logical force beyond what our past needs have invested them with.” But Parfit thinks that the fact that we have “strong beliefs” about such imagined cases neutralizes the worry. He states that, in teletransporter cases etc., these strong beliefs are “not about our words, but about ourselves”.

    I am struggling to make sense of the distinction that seems to be assumed in such remarks between matters of language and matters of fact, as it is sometimes put. So again, I ask, what does it mean to be interested in (or to investigate) X, rather than in the meaning of ‘X’? Or to be talking about X, rather than talking about the meaning of ‘X’?

    On the crudest reading, ‘being interested in X’ could amount to refusing to attempt philosophical disambiguation and precisification. As such, it appears to be an attitude at once stubborn and willfully obtuse – the attitude of the grossly caricatured scientist who lacks conceptual acuity. Some terms may be primitive, but their status as such should only be granted after thorough attempts are made at definition, precisification, disambiguation and so on. It is no good assuming from the outset that everybody knows what you mean by ‘X’, and claiming to be investigating whatever that picks out. You cannot even assume that you know what you mean by ‘X’, in some sense of ‘know’ which may be characterized as knowing that, rather than knowing how (i.e., knowing how to use ‘X’, for instance).

    A more charitable variant of the first reading is the following: the cases where we are appropriately interested in x rather than the meaning of ‘x’ are cases in which the meaning of ‘x’ is clear. If we think in terms of concepts, these will be cases where we have a felicitous (if not perfect) analysis of the relevant concept. Or, if this is too strong, for the application conditions of the concept to be relatively uncontroversial (even if we cannot articulate them in terms of necessary and jointly sufficient conditions). (If we think in terms of words, these will be cases where the meaning of the word is uncontentious. But I don’t want to make a big fuss over the distinction). When the meaning of ‘x’ is clear, we can turn our interest to the extension of ‘x’, and to the properties of the things falling within its extension (at least, when we are dealing with referring expressions). For example, we know what chairs are, so we can inquire into the properties of chairs, and where in the world we find chairs (interesting I know). But if we are interested in these questions, then there must be things to learn about chairs that we didn’t already know. After all, it seems to be a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for n being interesting is that there is further information to be learned about n. So, the properties we are looking for must not be the properties that identify chairs as chairs, otherwise we would already know they had those properties. In other words, we must be inquiring into the non-essential properties of chairs. When it comes to extension, things are easier to state: we are just finding out about the world to discover, derivatively, as it were, where there are chairs (i.e., where the conditions required for the concept <chair> to apply obtain). Both of these kinds of inquiry seem potentially interesting. But what is at issue, in many philosophical inquiries, is precisely the extension of a given concept. That is, we are not interested in the accidental properties of various instances of <c>, we are interested in what counts as a <c>. This seems to be an apriori inquiry, or at least, it can be an apriori inquiry (we can think of ways to prosecute the ‘method of cases’ through ‘real-world experiments’ rather than thought experiments which do not seem apriori). Indeed, it seems to be just the sort of apriori inquiry that philosophers very often take to be distinctive of their discipline.

    A third reading of this sort of remark is the following. There is a weighty conception of conceptual analysis according to which it is aimed at understanding the structure of reality, rather than the meaning of words. This is one way in which it is sometimes distinguished from mere definition. In giving a conceptual analysis, philosophers are, on this picture, attempting to articulate the necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for something to have some property or be of a certain sort. I fear this does no better in helping me understand the distinction.

    I will return to the issue of personal identity to see if I can get in the head of the proponents of this distinction. After all, I think this issue falls within the category of cases which come closest to vindicating the language-first view: those where the object of inquiry really matters to us. When we are thinking about personal identity and persistence, it seems sensible to insist “I don’t care what the word ‘self’ means, I care about what the self is! I don’t care about (or don’t just care about) whether the person that steps out of the teletransporter at t2 is, according to the ordinary meaning, 'myself'. I care whether about whether I will step out of the teletransporter at t1.”

    But I remain unconvinced. I think these debates can also be thought of as about what the relevant words mean, or what the concept <self> entails. We can think of what role we want to concept <self> to play. Do we want it to play a social and ethical role in tracking, for instance, who is responsible for what, who deserves what, who has which relationships and commitments to whom, and so on? Do we want it to play the role of identifying continuity in values? There is no role of ‘tracking where the self goes’, even though this might be what we want to say, since clearly the specification of this role involves the concept whose role it defines (vicious circularity; semantically empty).

    At this point, my opponent might say the following. In saying that ‘I want to have experiences at t2. I want to exist and hence have experiences at t2’, we are saying that we want to be identical to the person who has those experiences. We want to be the same self as that person. We don’t just like experience. We like to have experiences. We don’t just like there to be experiences out there, in the past, present or future. We want to be subject of those experiences. (‘Boy that’s optimistic!’ you may reply. Yes, it is. The assumption here is that we aren’t horribly depressed and also that we regard our prospects as reasonably good, at least better than death).

    But does it make sense to talk about a unique enduring subject of experience? The intuition that this is a sensible thing to say – that there is some fact of the matter about whether we will be identical to some future person – is behind, I think, resistance to the idea that this question is simply about words. There seems to be some deep fact of the matter which determines the truth of the statement: ‘I will/won’t be the subject of experience had by the person at the other end of the teletransporter at t2’. But until the meaning of the concept <self> is specified, I just can’t make sense of this idea. All I see is experience in different places at different times, which may be connected in various ways. I agree with Parfit, then, that there is no deep and mysterious fact about the self. It’s a kind of prejudice, and no doubt an evolutionarily useful one, to think that there is. But I wouldn’t go the next step and say that there is no self, or that it only exists for a moment of experience and then disappears. That is equally nonsensical, since it buys into the same ‘deep’ and mysterious notion of persisting subjecthood and numerical identity of time. I have been rejecting this notion precisely because it is without content (as far as I can tell). I choose not to use the word in this way. The mysterious version of the <self> concept doesn’t refer not because there is nothing in the world that satisfies its conditions, but because its conditions are unspecified! It doesn’t refer in the same way that gibberish like ‘lutrem’ doesn’t refer. But there are candidate concepts of self that do refer, because their conditions can be specified, or at least adumbrated. Our choice is simply to identify which better serve the roles we want the concept of <self> to serve – and perhaps, if there are different and important roles, to distinguish between different concepts of <self>.

    What this example illustrates, I think, is that we cannot tease out metaphysical (or naturalistic, for that matter) inquiries and semantic or conceptual inquiries. So I think there is a good sense in which philosophy is about language (or the concepts underlying linguistic expressions).

    But I still feel as though I'm missing something. I'm not quite grasping the alternative view of philosophical method is supposed to be.
  • Welkin Rogue
    23
    That's probably more text than I needed to ask my question. Don't feel like you have to read it all to respond. I am interested in your thoughts.
  • Jake
    775
    If I understand where you are trying to go here...

    On one view of philosophical method, we are concerned with words rather than things, whether we realize it or not.Welkin Rogue

    Yes, philosophy seems an attempt to arrange the symbols in our mind to represent reality as accurately as possible. If/when we shift the focus from arranging the symbols to reality itself, that's the end of philosophy, a prospect which may understandably be unpopular with many philosophers.

    As example, to observe an apple to the greatest degree possible we have to set aside all distractions, such as for instance, our ideas about apples. Observing an apple, and observing symbols which point to the apple, two different things.

    Am I on the subject you wish to address here?
  • Terrapin Station
    4.3k
    Sometimes folks (philosophers and others) try to basically "wave away" an issue by claiming that it's only a terminological dispute. As if they're implying that everyone really agrees on the non-linguistic stuff, but they just have disagreements about how to use language/which words to use.

    But it's not the case for a lot of disputes that they're merely terminological. People are really disagreeing about what the world is like, independent of language.

    There could be various reasons for trying to wave away disputes as if they're only terminological. Maybe the person just doesn't want to get into a dispute that they're tired of, or that they find silly, or futile, or whatever. Maybe they're insular (and/or arrogant) enough that they actually have a difficult time understanding that someone could disagree with them about what the world is like. And of course, sometimes disagreements are only terminological, but that often doesn't seem to be the case.
  • macrosoft
    381
    Sometimes you see philosophers push back against language-first view, and insist that they are interested in X, rather than the meaning of ‘X’. But what do they mean?Welkin Rogue

    That's a good question, or is at least a natural question. Before long we ask: what do we even mean by 'meaning' in the first place? What is meaning? What is language?

    This is the 'zoom in' approach. Somehow we use these words naturally/intuitively as a system all the time and yet are knocked silly when we zoom in and look for the individual meanings that we assume must be there. 'Justice' has a meaning. Meaning has a meaning. There is a 1-1 correspondence between de-contextualized 'un-worlded' nouns just sitting there and little crystals of thought-stuff that exist in some hidden dimension where meaning lives.

    Does this assumption correspond with readily available introspection? I don't think so. We don't interpret words. We interpret sentences. We don't interpret sentences. We interpret paragraphs. And on, up the chain, until we have a global interpretation of existence from which we speak and with which we listen. Of course we can and do break off pieces of this global interpretation, and we can and do improve our global interpretation mostly or relatively locally at times.

    It would be silly of me to argue for this view at the level of detail, since that misses the whole point. I think introspection makes this (just paying attention to the way meaning flows 'between' and 'around' the words in what we write and read, and its relationship to time [it's not instantaneous but like thought-music.])
  • macrosoft
    381
    Sometimes folks (philosophers and others) try to basically "wave away" an issue by claiming that it's only a terminological dispute. As if they're implying that everyone really agrees on the non-linguistic stuff, but they just have disagreements about how to use language/which words to use.Terrapin Station

    I'm kind of in this camp, but 'we' don't at all think everything is a terminological dispute. Indeed, 'our' goal is to avoid wasting time on grammar preferences so we can do the 'real' stuff. What that real stuff is varies from person to person, and the line between 'fake stuff' and 'real stuff' is no more clear than the meaning of most phrases taken out of context.

    But it's not the case for a lot of disputes that they're merely terminological. People are really disagreeing about what the world is like, independent of language.Terrapin Station

    I agree. Lots. But in lots of disputes it is IMO mostly terminological.


    Maybe the person just doesn't want to get into a dispute that they're tired of, or that they find silly, or futile, or whatever.Terrapin Station

    Indeed. Or counterproductive, moving in the wrong direction, starting off on the wrong foot, with the wrong method.

    Maybe they're insular (and/or arrogant) enough that they actually have a difficult time understanding that someone could disagree with them about what the world is like.Terrapin Station

    This happens too, but (seems to me) more among the non-philosophical types who don't take so much pride in being open-minded, rational, well-read, etc.

    And of course, sometimes disagreements are only terminological,Terrapin Station

    Nice. So we share some common ground. The issue seems to be 'how much' is a terminological dispute, but maybe that's just a terminological dispute.
  • Number2018
    156
    I am struggling to make sense of the distinction that seems to be assumed in such remarks between matters of language and matters of fact, as it is sometimes put. So again, I ask, what does it mean to be interested in (or to investigate) X, rather than in the meaning of ‘X’? Or to be talking about X, rather than talking about the meaning of ‘X’?Welkin Rogue

    The mysterious version of the <self> concept doesn’t refer not because there is nothing in the world that satisfies its conditions, but because its conditions are unspecified!Welkin Rogue
    There is a linguistic theory proposed by Louis Hjelmslev and developed further
    into the philosophy of expression by Deleuze and Guattari. Accordingly, an
    Expression/Content relation has been radically reformulated. Simplistically, both
    words and things have their own expression (form), and content (substance).
    The form of expression on the most general level is composed of words and their combinations. The substance of expression is the phonemes of speech, or the letters
    on a printed page, etc. – all possible material means of the medium. The “things” have their own form – the state of things, or all actually existing separate bodies with their use, means of production, use, dispose of, etc. So, the word chair, as well as I, have been used simultaneously in two separate registers. There are no cause and effect relation between both, neither “words,” nor “things” have an advantage or a privileged status. To make this entire scheme working Deleuze and Guattari added
    the concepts of the encounter, diagram, field of forces, actual, and virtual. So, there is nothing mysterious or controversial when somebody says I. You’ve heard (or read) somebody saying it; and you have your particular, but recognizable and similar to somebody else state of mind. So, saying I, you actually repeat the other, who had been already done it. The encounter between the I as a word and me as a definite state of mind/body has been facilitated/forced by the whole assemblage of discursive and non-discursive relations and forces, acting in this particular social field. An individual who says I can possess certain beliefs, emotions, and feelings; nevertheless, all of them are secondary. Yet, the theory proposes the continuum of variations due to the unstable conditions of the encounter between heterogenic components of the enunciation.
  • Welkin Rogue
    23
    Yes, philosophy seems an attempt to arrange the symbols in our mind to represent reality as accurately as possible. If/when we shift the focus from arranging the symbols to reality itself, that's the end of philosophy, a prospect which may understandably be unpopular with many philosophers.Jake

    I think I agree. Maybe, for many philosophical problems at least, it is the job of science and experience more generally to give us information about the world, and the job of philosophy to describe the world using that information. We want an accurate description - i.e., to accurately apply the concepts that we have, and perhaps come up with new concepts that are useful, or variants on existing concepts that are more useful.

    As example, to observe an apple to the greatest degree possible we have to set aside all distractions, such as for instance, our ideas about apples. Observing an apple, and observing symbols which point to the apple, two different things.Jake

    Not sure I under I understand this. Plausibly, "observing symbols" is different to "observing an apple". (Unless we buy into a represenationalist theory of mind in which the observation of the apple reduces to observation of a representation of the apple, and a representation may be considered a kind of symbol.) But surely that's not the sense in which the language-first view takes philosophers to be 'interested in language'. Nobody is claiming that philosophy is linguistic morphology or something like that!
  • Welkin Rogue
    23
    Sometimes folks (philosophers and others) try to basically "wave away" an issue by claiming that it's only a terminological dispute. As if they're implying that everyone really agrees on the non-linguistic stuff, but they just have disagreements about how to use language/which words to use.

    But it's not the case for a lot of disputes that they're merely terminological. People are really disagreeing about what the world is like, independent of language.

    There could be various reasons for trying to wave away disputes as if they're only terminological. Maybe the person just doesn't want to get into a dispute that they're tired of, or that they find silly, or futile, or whatever. Maybe they're insular (and/or arrogant) enough that they actually have a difficult time understanding that someone could disagree with them about what the world is like. And of course, sometimes disagreements are only terminological, but that often doesn't seem to be the case.
    Terrapin Station

    It does seem like the language-first view entails that philosophical disagreements are terminological. If we are investigating the rules of use of various words, then disagreements will be disagreements about which rules govern which words. So by modus tollens, if many philosophical disagreements aren't terminological, then philosophy as such isn't as the language-first view describes:

    (1) If Philosophy is the investigation of the rules of use of various words, then philosophical disagreements will be disagreements about which rules govern which words.
    (2) Disagreements about which rules govern which words are terminological disagreements.
    (3) Philosophical disagreements are not terminological disagreements.
    (C) Philosophy is not (wholly) the investigation of the rules of use of various words.

    I think something iffy is going on. I'll start by questioning (2).

    Consider debates over free will. It seems that we are arguing over whether to apply to word 'free' to certain actions. We might not disagree about what those actions are like apart from whether or not they are free. But this doesn't immediately show that the dispute is terminological. After all, looks perfectly good to say that whether or not an action is free is a fact about that action. I think this shows that all descriptions of a thing (e.g., an action) are dependent on our language in some sense, it's just that some are more controversial and philosophically interesting than others. Whether an action occurred at noon or not is relatively uncontroversial and uninteresting. But it still partly depends on language: given the meaning of the word 'noon', the action is either such that it is appropriately described as having occurred at noon or not. Given the meaning of the word 'free', an action is either such that it is appropriately described as being free or not. Much of the philosophical interest is in working out what counts as a free action. But just because we are arguing about the application conditions of 'free' doesn't immediately show that our dispute is terminological either. We might both in fact have the same concept <free>, and yet one of us is just mistaken in our articulation of the necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for its application. We are wrong about such things all the time, I think. Of course, there are some situations in which we do have different concepts, and really are arguing past one another, but even here there is room for interesting debate: which concept is the better concept? Perhaps we can get all the work we want the concept to do done by shaving off the incompatibilist's insistence on being on able to do otherwise, for instance.
  • Welkin Rogue
    23
    I'd have to look into this a lot more in order to follow what you are saying here.

    The “things” have their own form – the state of things, or all actually existing separate bodies with their use, means of production, use, dispose of, etc. So, the word chair, as well as I, have been used simultaneously in two separate registers.Number2018

    Is 'thing' just the ordinary sense of 'thing' here? What does it add to say ""things" have their own form"?

    What are the two registers of use for the word 'chair'?
  • Welkin Rogue
    23
    Maybe the person just doesn't want to get into a dispute that they're tired of, or that they find silly, or futile, or whatever.
    — Terrapin Station

    Indeed. Or counterproductive, moving in the wrong direction, starting off on the wrong foot, with the wrong method.
    macrosoft

    Yes I bet people do throw around the accusation that some dispute is terminological quite loosely. But that's pretty lazy. It seems to me that there are various ways of a dispute being defective, and being 'terminological' or 'merely verbal' is just one of them.
  • macrosoft
    381
    Yes I bet people do throw around the accusation that some dispute is terminological quite loosely. But that's pretty lazy. It seems to me that there are various ways of a dispute being defective, and being 'terminological' or 'merely verbal' is just one of them.Welkin Rogue

    Sure, being 'merely verbal' is only one, but I think it's a big one. I think it's related to a sense of what philosophy is all about in the first place. If someone thinks of the it as a precise science like watch-making, then of course it's all about the details. But if someone thinks of it as an attempt to get a grasp on existence as a whole, then it's better to try to work backward from the big picture of the other person --and to help them do the same by emphasizing your own sense of the big picture.
  • Number2018
    156
    The “things” have their own form – the state of things, or all actually existing separate bodies with their use, means of production, use, dispose of, etc. So, the word chair, as well as I, have been used simultaneously in two separate registers.
    — Number2018

    Is 'thing' just the ordinary sense of 'thing' here? What does it add to say ""things" have their own form"?

    What are the two registers of use for the word 'chair'?
    Welkin Rogue

    One may think that there is no difference between the word “chair” and the physical item that she sits on. So, there is a naive, routine, and automatic use of language when words have been identified with things. Yet, there are many situations where this practice becomes problematic. A poet, a writer or a marketing specialist may find it more appropriate to apply a chesterfield instead of a chair. Or, if one works in front of computer 8 – 10 hours a day, experiencing back pain, she may start looking closely at her chair, doing research and even asking for an advice, applying to ergonomics’ specialist. So, if we do not take for granted the encounter between the word and the physical item, we can realize that they have entirely different nature. The word belongs to the world of discourse, spoken or written. One could trace the etymology of the word chair, the use of it in different texts, dictionaries, situations, manufacture, marketing, and ergonomics instructions. On the contrary, the physical item “chair” does belong to the world of practical and aesthetic use, design, and production. Therefore, when one is in front of this given chair, it is not just about visual and tactile perceptions of it, one deals with a set of implicit cultural, economic, and social practices. Finally, it is possible to find out that indeed we do not deal with the encounter between one particular given word and an opposite single physical item, but there are the complicated interactions between the two heterogenic registers – chairs as words and chairs as things. “Words” have their own discursive principles of organization and existence, whereas a network of functional, informational, and material processes creates the states of things. Maybe, the case of the chair is not the best example of how Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of expression can be applied. Yet, when one looks at the multiplicity of political discourses, competing for a better compatibility with the same society; the speed with which explanatory narratives and theories appear, flourish and vanish; the enormous intellectual and material resources, applied for maintaining the realm of the words; – one may start to understand better the abyss between words and things.
  • macrosoft
    381
    One could trace the etymology of the word chair, the use of it in different texts, dictionaries, situations, manufacture, marketing, and ergonomics instructions. On the contrary, the physical item “chair” does belong to the world of practical and aesthetic use, design, and production. Therefore, when one is in front of this given chair, it is not just about visual and tactile perceptions of it, one deals with a set of implicit cultural, economic, and social practices.Number2018

    Well said. And these practices might be 'in' the 'subject' in some sense but not explicitly verbal. The division of the word into objects and thoughts is arguably pretty naive.
  • Welkin Rogue
    23
    If someone thinks of the it as a precise science like watch-making, then of course it's all about the details. But if someone thinks of it as an attempt to get a grasp on existence as a whole, then it's better to try to work backward from the big picture of the other person --and to help them do the same by emphasizing your own sense of the big picture.macrosoft

    Could I rephrase this thought in terms of Kuhnian paradigms? Philosophy as a "precise science" is philosophy as prosecuted by 'technicians' within a given paradigm; philosophy as something broader is a discussion between individuals occupying different paradigms (or, within a single individual entertaining multiple paradigms). This picture would suggest that the latter kind of philosophy is much more vulnerable to merely verbal disagreements, insofar as different 'paradigms' involve different systems of language.
  • Welkin Rogue
    23


    You seem to be making the observation that words have all sorts of functions, appear in different discourses, have various connotations depending on context, etc. Analogously, things are involved in our form of life in various ways. I wouldn't dispute either claim. But how does all this shed light on my question?

    You say two contradictory things - or at least two things which appear to be in tension. On the one hand, you seem to claim that discourses involving certain words, and things featuring in our forms of life, interact with one another. That's not surprising, since the way we talk and what we do are intimately related. How I think and talk about chairs partly determines what I do with chairs; what I do with chairs partly determined how I think and talk about chairs. But on the other hand, you claim there is an "abyss" between the two.
  • macrosoft
    381
    Could I rephrase this thought in terms of Kuhnian paradigms? Philosophy as a "precise science" is philosophy as prosecuted by 'technicians' within a given paradigm; philosophy as something broader is a discussion between individuals occupying different paradigms (or, within a single individual entertaining multiple paradigms). This picture would suggest that the latter kind of philosophy is much more vulnerable to merely verbal disagreements, insofar as different 'paradigms' involve different systems of language.Welkin Rogue

    Nice way of saying it and good point. But how about this situation: two individuals are both on the lookout for merely verbal disagreements, though otherwise quite different.
  • Welkin Rogue
    23
    Nice way of saying it and good point. But how about this situation: two individuals are both on the lookout for merely verbal disagreements, though otherwise quite different.macrosoft

    In such cases, I think parties will need to carefully translate each other's utterances, and try to see what sorts of questions their interlocuters are asking. When we come from different paradigms, or have different perspectives (on a smaller, less systematic scale), we tend to ask different sorts of questions. This needs to be kept in mind.
  • Pattern-chaser
    530
    Sometimes you see philosophers push back against language-first view, and insist that they are interested in X, rather than the meaning of ‘X’.Welkin Rogue

    I think it's a bit difficult to wholly disentangle X from the 'meaning of X', and from the language (labels, etc) we use to describe or define X. I tend to ignore such difficulties unless and until they impinge directly on my ability to consider X, and X-related things. At 63, I don't have all that much time left. :wink:
  • Number2018
    156
    You say two contradictory things - or at least two things which appear to be in tension. On the one hand, you seem to claim that discourses involving certain words, and things featuring in our forms of life, interact with one another. That's not surprising, since the way we talk and what we do are intimately related. How I think and talk about chairs partly determines what I do with chairs; what I do with chairs partly determined how I think and talk about chairs. But on the other hand, you claim there is an "abyss" between the two.Welkin Rogue

    Thank you for your point.
    Seemingly, both of us, discussing the word chair, have in our minds kind of an image
    of our own home chairs, and our habitual actions: to move the chair around, adjust it, etc. The meaning of the word accurately corresponds to the regular usage of the item. There are no problems, no abysses… The problem can appear if your company decided to allocate you with some money to order a chair for yourself. You remember that in the similar situation your colleague made a wrong choice, and, after sitting some while improperly, got severe back pain. So, to choose an appropriate chair, you start doing research, reading articles, watching YouTube – just to find out that there are entirely opposite views and options!
    Moreover, you start to doubt in your definition of the chair, the right chair, and the most appropriate chair. You do not know anymore how the chair was designed and produced, what materials were used, how long it can serve you (comparing with old furniture production). Even after careful deliberation, after you made your choice and ordered the chair, you may find that it does not fit your body completely. And, when you decide to come to a store in person you may be stunned by a tremendous variety of chairs – some of them are similar to beds, other ones to stools. In most cases, when one says the world chair, she does not realize the enormous complicity of the real functioning and interrelations of the word and the notated item in society. Yet, they are definitely present even in the most habitual and naïve usage of the word. The gaps and abysses compose the necessary conditions of any linguistic act.
  • macrosoft
    381
    In such cases, I think parties will need to carefully translate each other's utterances, and try to see what sorts of questions their interlocuters are asking. When we come from different paradigms, or have different perspectives (on a smaller, less systematic scale), we tend to ask different sorts of questions. This needs to be kept in mind.Welkin Rogue

    Exactly -- and when the intention is not dominantly combative and instead sincerely curious, this kind of paradigm leaping (or attempted leaping) seems like the natural result. One reason I like semantic holism so much is that it keeps paradigms/personalities foremost.
  • Welkin Rogue
    23
    My (provisional) answer to the OP: We can think about it either way. We can say that philosophers are interested in words, or that philosophers are interested in the things they denote. I don't think it matters which way we put it.

    When we claim that 'bachelors are unmarried men', we might be claiming either (1) all bachelors are unmarried and are men, or (2) the word 'bachelor' means unmarried man (as necessary conditions at least).

    Similarly, when we claim that 'water is H2O', we might be claiming either (a) water is constituted by H2O, or (b) the word water has a meaning such that (in the actual world at least), it picks out H2O.

    Claims about bachelors and claims about water might seem different at first. The first are more easily construed as claims about what words mean. The second are more easily construed as claims about what the world is like. This is because, as is familiar, claims about bachelors are paradigmatic analytic truths, which are supposed to be apriori, whereas claims about what constitutes water are paradigmatic aposteriori claims. But I think both sentences can be construed as claims about the world.

    In saying 'bachelors are unmarried men', I am saying, of bachelors, that they have the properties of being married and being men. It might seem that I am making a claim about the word only, because I can change the meaning of the word, and then bachelors would no longer be unmarried men. But isn't that the same with claims about 'water'? Change the meaning of water, and water is not longer constituted by H2O. No. Clearly both entailments are false. You don't change the facts about the bachelor-things or the water-things in the world by changing what words mean, any more than you can make a tail a leg by changing the meaning of 'tail'. Being unmarried and being a man are properties - whatever they are exactly - that obtain in virtue of various social and natural circumstances. They are not changed. And they are just what we ascribe (essentially) to bachelors when we say 'bachelors are unmarried men'.

    But we can say much the same things in terms of conceptual or semantic analysis. The only difference is that in some contexts it seems much more natural to think in terms of things rather than words. After all, the surface grammar of remarks like 'coins are legal tender if they are printed at the national mint' suggests that we are talking about certain coins and what they are like, rather than the meanings of words. Perhaps also the 'worldly' way of talking gets us out of problems having to do with defining analyticity (if it doesn't simply take up a Quinean picture wholesale, where all truths are 'worldly truths' in some sense; there are no simple, indisputable truths of language).
bold
italic
underline
strike
code
quote
ulist
image
url
mention
reveal
youtube
tweet
Add a Comment

Welcome to The Philosophy Forum!

Get involved in philosophical discussions about knowledge, truth, language, consciousness, science, politics, religion, logic and mathematics, art, history, and lots more. No ads, no clutter, and very little agreement — just fascinating conversations.