• S
    10.2k
    First, a bit of background:

    I have my own theory about meaning. I say that it is rule-based and objective. With English, in a nutshell, it seems to me that people invented the language, made up the rules, agreed on them, started speaking it, started using it as a tool for communication. "Let's use the symbol 'dog' to mean those furry things with four legs that bark". Once the meaning in the language has been set, then that's that. That's what it means. The rule applies, unless and until there's a reason that it stops applying. One such reason could be if the rule was changed, which I think is easier to grasp on a smaller scale: a created language of just two people, for instance. The two people could have used English for the template of their language, but then later on decided that "dog" no longer means those furry things with four legs that bark, but instead means what the word "sink" means in English: a fixed basin with a water supply and outflow pipe. In their language, it makes sense to say, "Put your dinner plate in the dog for now, and I'll wash it up shortly".

    But that's just the background. What I want to discuss, or at least try to figure out, is the related ontology of that. I only know so much in this regard, yet other people seem to think that they know more than I do.

    So, how about some more background?

    I am not an idealist, or a subjectivist here, although I acknowledge some related things like empiricism and subjectivity where they seem appropriate. But I probably won't find these positions agreeable enough to reach the same conclusions, so these positions probably won't help much.

    I am not a physicalist, although I can acknowledge much that is physical. But the mindset of assuming that there must be a physical explanation for everything seems problematic to me. I've encountered what strike me as category errors here.

    I am not a dualist, although perhaps I could become one. I've heard there's some sort of problem of interaction here, and it seems to have hung around since Descartes. Or is there a solution I'm not aware of?

    I am perhaps best described as a sceptic here.

    So, what kind of things are involved here? Are abstractions involved? If so, what things are an abstraction, and what even is an abstraction?

    Is this ontology thing even the right way to think about this, or is there a better way? Perhaps making it more about language or categories? Is this just what is called a language game, or is there something more substantial to it?

    And have we clever philosophy-types figured out what an apple is, yet? What's going on there? Is that related?
  • Judaka
    319

    I'd describe you as not sceptical enough, I'm surprised you're still talking about this.

    We don't agree on this topic but I don't think to resume our discussion in this thread would lead to anything constructive.

    So let's set that idea aside so that I can try to help.

    There's another thread I saw, "Do all Chess games exist in some form" which I thought paralleled the question here in some regard. The rules of chess make the game, they exist as a rule-set which has meaning transcendent of interpretation (as far as you're concerned) and so all the possibilities for language use within the rules of language could also be conceivable possibilities. This kind of logic, I believe it bolsters your argument. As all the inadequacy for dealing with specificity in definitions and rulesets which your previous understanding ignored or couldn't articulate is now resolved by the concept of possibilities within a ruleset.

    Meaning proving humans interpret words and rulesets differently and changing them to some degree and proving the inadequacy of rules in the meaning of language would no longer be a relevant critique. Since the rules of the language incorporate the possibilities of variations in interpretations and superficial rules or rule implementation.

    I don't think you ever admitted that this was a weakness in your argument but I did and so I thought this counterargument I created to some of my criticism might help you in some way.
  • S
    10.2k
    I don't see the alleged faults in my understanding. Can you show me them? As in, give an example. Go by whatever you think my understanding is, and try to lead it there, so that I can properly assess your criticism.

    For example, you allege an "inadequacy for dealing with specificity in definitions and rulesets" which you further allege that my understanding "ignored or couldn't articulate".
  • Terrapin Station
    9.2k
    "Let's use the symbol 'dog' to mean those furry things with four legs that bark". Once the meaning in the language has been set, then that's that. That's what it means.

    This part is the most important bit to start thinking about. Imagine that we had to write an account covering in detail exactly how this part works. It must work some way, or, well, it wouldn't work.

    So leading up to it, as a bit of a caricatured/oversimplified description, since there's no dispute about this part, we've got Joe and Betty and Pete and Jane and so on all suggesting words for the language, just what the words are going to refer to in terms of other words, in terms of pointing at things and so on (this aspect we might have to get back to and detail a bit with respect to meaning, but we'll just skim over that for the moment), and they reach agreements about all of this and so on. One of the terms they reach an agreement on is "dog."

    Then along comes Frank, say. Maybe he's Joe and Betty's kid, maybe he's an immigrant--whatever. He's new to our milieu. So Frank needs to learn the language. Let's first detail how he learns "dog"/what "dog" means. (And I'll have some questions as we detail this, but let's just start with how the process proceeds.)
  • S
    10.2k
    This part is the most important bit to start thinking about. Imagine that we had to write an account covering in detail exactly how this part works. It must work some way, or, well, it wouldn't work.

    So leading up to it, as a bit of a caricatured/oversimplified description, since there's no dispute about this part, we've got Joe and Betty and Pete and Jane and so on all suggesting words for the language, just what the words are going to refer to in terms of other words, in terms of pointing at things and so on (this aspect we might have to get back to and detail a bit with respect to meaning, but we'll just skim over that for the moment), and they reach agreements about all of this and so on. One of the terms they reach an agreement on is "dog."

    Then along comes Frank, say. Maybe he's Joe and Betty's kid, maybe he's an immigrant--whatever. He's new to our milieu. So Frank needs to learn the language. Let's first detail how he learns "dog"/what "dog" means. (And I'll have some questions as we detail this, but let's just start with how the process proceeds.)
    Terrapin Station

    He learns the rule, which he could do through witnessing how the word is used in conversation, or by looking up the definition in a dictionary of the language.
  • Terrapin Station
    9.2k
    He learns the rule, which he could do through witnessing how the word is used in conversation, or by looking up the definition in a dictionary of the language.S

    Okay, and one question here (this is kind of the easiest question, so I'll start with it), is that the way the word is used in conversation or the definition given in a dictionary isn't just the way the word is used in those particular conversations or the way it's defined in that particular dictionary (so that it's a fact that it was used that way in the conversation in question or that it was defined that way in the dictionary in question), but somehow it becomes the right/correct meaning, correct?
  • Judaka
    319

    An "apple" refers to a category of things which are different in some ways but similar in others, the word is used literally, figuratively and could be expanded and contracted to include particular differences but not others - for instance the introduction of a genetically modified orange "apple" could still called an "apple". It can be used to refer to an actual apple or an image of an apple which may allow for further departure from the actual qualities of an apple such as being different in size or proportions to what is found in the real world yet it's still called an apple.

    Languages as they do not offer rules which encompass the variety of interpretations for what an apple could be or even is in so far as the word is used. Expressions like "the apple of my eye" make no sense when using the definitions offered by dictionaries. The context of the usage of the word can change the meaning but again, you won't find rules for this.

    Your argument that language operates on rules which are not dependent upon intelligent species doesn't hold up to scrutiny in that there are no rules as you suggest. You mean it figuratively at best but there's no need for such ambiguity provided you acknowledge the parameters that hold all of these interpretations and contexts for the word that do exist or could exist in the future together. As the emergence of these interpretations and contexts did not constitute a departure from the English language but rather added to it in a way which did not change the language fundamentally.

    This idea of a "fundamental English" which serves as parameters for interpretations that don't break the rules is useful to you. You don't have to define "dog" because provided there are rules for establishing what a "dog" is and correcting unworkable deviations from those definitions then you have an English which accommodates figurative use, metaphorical use, alternative interpretations (particularly with regards to specificity) and so on.

    I think the notion that English incorporates a range of definitions but also excludes definitions based on rules is a better argument than your current one which is relying on rules which you can't actually articulate but maybe you don't see the merit.

    Doesn't matter to me because I think both arguments are wrong (as arguments for objective meaning), my version just seems less wrong in a technical sense.
  • S
    10.2k
    Okay, and one question here (this is kind of the easiest question, so I'll start with it), is that the way the word is used in conversation or the definition given in a dictionary isn't just the way the word is used in those particular conversations or the way it's defined in that particular dictionary (so that it's a fact that it was used that way in the conversation in question or that it was defined that way in the dictionary in question), but somehow it becomes the right/correct meaning, correct?Terrapin Station

    Only for that usage, yes. If you take a meaning, as per usage or dictionary definition, then it is only correct per that usage or dictionary definition, not per any other.
  • Terrapin Station
    9.2k


    So if Frank uses or defines the term differently, then the the meaning changes on those occasions?
  • S
    10.2k
    So if Frank uses or defines the term differently, then the the meaning changes on those occasions?Terrapin Station

    He can't change the language on his own, because it is not his language. It already has established rules. If he wants to create his own language, based on the original language, with his own meanings and rules, then he can do so.
  • Terrapin Station
    9.2k
    He can't change the language on his own, because it is not his language. It already has established rules. If he wants to create his own language, based on the original language, with his own meanings and rules, then he can do so.S

    So once a definition is set forth, it can't be changed, at least not by just one person. How does that work?
  • S
    10.2k
    An "apple" refers to a category of things which are different in some ways but similar in others, the word is used literally, figuratively and could be expanded and contracted to include particular differences but not others - for instance the introduction of a genetically modified orange "apple" could still called an "apple". It can be used to refer to an actual apple or an image of an apple which may allow for further departure from the actual qualities of an apple such as being different in size or proportions to what is found in the real world yet it's still called an apple.

    Languages as they do not offer rules which encompass the variety of interpretations for what an apple could be or even is in so far as the word is used. Expressions like "the apple of my eye" make no sense when using the definitions offered by dictionaries. The context of the usage of the word can change the meaning but again, you won't find rules for this.
    Judaka

    No, these are all just rules. There's a rule that this new variation is to be called an "apple", there's a rule that "apple" in this instance isn't to be taken literally. Show me something where I can't give you the rule.

    Your argument that language operates on rules which are not dependent upon intelligent species doesn't hold up to scrutiny in that there are no rules as you suggest. You mean it figuratively at best but there's no need for such ambiguity provided you acknowledge the parameters that hold all of these interpretations and contexts for the word that do exist or could exist in the future together. As the emergence of these interpretations and contexts did not constitute a departure from the English language but rather added to it in a way which did not change the language fundamentally.Judaka

    It does hold up to scrutiny. You're just implicitly switching between languages when you say that some variation or interpretation isn't covered and suggesting that that's a problem. If it isn't covered by a rule in the language, then it doesn't apply to begin with, and there's no issue to even address. And if it is covered in a different language, then that rule applies. So if you take an x and it isn't an "apple" in the language, then what's the problem? There's no meaning there in the language, no suitable rule which applies. And if you say, "Oh, but according to this language, x is an 'apple'", then yes, according to that language, x is an 'apple'. There's either no meaning to begin with, or it applies as per the language rule, and whether or not we all die a minute later remains completely irrelevant.

    This idea of a "fundamental English" which serves as parameters for interpretations that don't break the rules is useful to you. You don't have to define "dog" because provided there are rules for establishing what a "dog" is and correcting unworkable deviations from those definitions then you have an English which accommodates figurative use, metaphorical use, alternative interpretations (particularly with regards to specificity) and so on.

    I think the notion that English incorporates a range of definitions but also excludes definitions based on rules is a better argument than your current one which is relying on rules which you can't actually articulate but maybe you don't see the merit.

    Doesn't matter to me because I think both arguments are wrong (as arguments for objective meaning), my version just seems less wrong in a technical sense.
    Judaka

    I don't see the merit in contrast to my current position, because you characterise my current position as based on a falsehood, namely that I can't actually articulate rules I'm relying on, when I demonstrably can. You don't seem to understand my argument.

    And you type too much. Type less. Simplify.
  • S
    10.2k
    So once a definition is set forth, it can't be changed, at least not by just one person. How does that work?Terrapin Station

    It works as per what we said at the start. A language rule was established. They all agreed on the meaning. A new person can't just waltz right in and begin changing the rules of the language without a process of establishing these rule changes in the language. He couldn't even if he tried, he'd just end up creating a different language with different rules.
  • Terrapin Station
    9.2k


    Are we saying something different than, "The people who agree to think of x in y way will probably not change their mind just because one person does something different"?
  • S
    10.2k
    Are we saying something different than, "The people who agree to think of x in y way will probably not change their mind just because one person does something different"?Terrapin Station

    Indeed, that's not what I said. That's just a related statement. What of it?
  • Terrapin Station
    9.2k


    In other words, is that equivalent to what you're saying?
  • Judaka
    319

    You able to "create rules" but you are unable to articulate the rules that currently exist or point anyone towards where they are written. It is poor for someone to suggest there are rules which lead to objective meaning but then they are not able to articulate what rules they're talking about. I struggled to understand how someone can think that's a reasonable position, the argument is incomplete. So I gave some thought to making your argument comprehensible.

    The "rules" you have tried to create in the past don't even account for context, figurative use, metaphorical use, specific boundaries for usage, they don't generate the specificity required for objective meaning and they don't even make sense as rules for how the word is currently and correctly used.

    That's why using a ruleset which accounted for a range of possibilities in interpretation and usage is more realistic. You could argue this ruleset has formulated ranges of possibilities which when put together (much like the chess game) are independently coherent.

    I don't mind dealing with arguments which I believe are wrong but I don't think yours even makes sense. I realise we hit an impasse at this before and I don't believe I'm better equipped to overcome it now than I was back then so if you think there's no merit in how I've recommended the "rules" of a language be referred to then I'll just move on.
  • Terrapin Station
    9.2k
    You able to "create rules" but you are unable to articulate the rules that currently exist or point anyone towards where they are written.Judaka

    Isn't he just saying that he considers definitions, grammar stipulations, etc.rules ? Those are written in dictionaries, grammar texts, etc.
  • Judaka
    319

    No, he is saying that the rules of language can be understood without the use of interpretation. He argues that language can have rules which result in that language functioning using those rules to generate objective meaning (i.e meaning which doesn't have to be interpreted).
  • S
    10.2k
    In other words, is that equivalent to what you're saying?Terrapin Station

    No. It's just related to it.
  • S
    10.2k
    You're able to "create rules" but you are unable to articulate the rules that currently exist or point anyone towards where they are written. It is poor for someone to suggest there are rules which lead to objective meaning but then they are not able to articulate what rules they're talking about. I struggled to understand how someone can think that's a reasonable position, the argument is incomplete. So I gave some thought to making your argument comprehensible.Judaka

    Well, thank you. I really appreciate you going to effort of creating a new argument which fixes the problems I never had with my argument which you clearly do not understand, as evidenced by the above.
  • Judaka
    319

    I didn't think you would appreciate it but the senselessness of your argument bothered me so I did it all the same.

    I will for the sake of curiosity, humour you and ask you to tell me where I am wrong? I think I can give quotes from you to substantiate my recounting of your argumentation.
  • S
    10.2k
    Isn't he just saying that he considers definitions, grammar stipulations, etc. rules ? Those are written in dictionaries, grammar texts, etc.Terrapin Station

    That and more. They don't even have to be written. They just have to be evident from something or other, whether implicitly or otherwise, and I have no problem - contrary to what Judaka asserts - with articulating a rule upon request. Language makes no sense whatsoever without rules. Rules are fundamental.
  • S
    10.2k
    No, he is saying that the rules of language can be understood without the use of interpretation.Judaka

    No, I'm not saying that. It's unwise to try to explain to someone else my position when you don't even understand it yourself, or at least you word it wrong. Obviously understanding requires interpretation. Nothing can be understood without it.

    He argues that language can have rules which result in that language functioning using those rules to generate objective meaning (i.e meaning which doesn't have to be interpreted).Judaka

    It doesn't have to be understood at the time for there to be meaning. But obviously it has to be understood for it to be understood.

    Let's not repeat the errors on display in the other discussion here. That's not what this discussion is for. I explained that I already have my theory, and that idealist logic is unhelpful.
  • S
    10.2k
    I will for the sake of curiosity, humour you and ask you to tell me where I am wrong? I think I can give quotes from you to substantiate my recounting of your argumentation.Judaka

    That whole quote, more or less. You say that I'm unable to articulate the rules, when I am. You say that that I'm unable to point towards where they're written, when I am in some cases, although that's not even necessary anyway.

    It's coming back to me a little now. From what I recall, you just make some trivial semantic point and refuse to recognise the rules as rules when I provide them. And based on that wrongheaded starting point, you reach your irrelevant conclusions.
  • Terrapin Station
    9.2k


    Okay, so how does what the group of people do, re their agreed-upon definition, their usage, etc. become the meaning contra what Frank might do later?
  • Terrapin Station
    9.2k
    Language makes no sense whatsoever without rules. Rules are fundamental.S

    For one, you're probably using "rule" different than I'd use it. I wouldn't use "rule" for something that's not both explicit in some manner and that doesn't have specific consequences if it's broken.
  • S
    10.2k
    Okay, so how does what the group of people do, re their agreed-upon definition, their usage, etc. become the meaning contra what Frank might do later?Terrapin Station

    There are rules everywhere you look. There are rules for establishing the rules of the language. So long as he follows the rules, there isn't a problem. If he doesn't follow the rules, then he can't get what he wants - that is, if he wants to change the language.
  • Judaka
    319

    Well, I just use the word understanding in the sense that the meaning synthesises to a point where it is complete without interpretation, I understand you think people always interpret, which I agree with.

    That whole quote, more or less. You say that I'm unable to articulate the rules when I am. You say that that I'm unable to point towards where they're written when I am in some cases, although that's not even necessary anyway.S

    Let me further refresh your memory.

    Very odd question. I would advise them to learn the language in the usual ways, and use the usual resources, such as a dictionary or a language learning app. We've all learnt a language as children through to adulthood, and that entails learning language rules. A great deal of it is automatic for us, of course. We learnt the rules long ago. You understand what I'm saying without any need to learn the rules.S

    I've already addressed this. Once again, some degree of ambiguity is not sufficient to refute my argument. In these cases, the speaker presumably knows what he meant to a higher degree of accuracy. The speaker would be the rule setter. So the rule would be that this particular word in the speakers statement has this particular meaning. Once the rule is set, the speaker is no longer required. Why would it be otherwise? This is what you must account for if you intend to argue against me. I'm still waiting for a proper response to this from you. Are you going to attempt to justify your idealist premise?S

    I understand your argument as well as anyone who can understand an argument that doesn't make sense can. The rules you are talking about could very well not even be in existence yet, certainly, they are unknown to you when someone else is speaking, why would you promise you can articulate rules you don't even have access to?

    As for the first quote I provided, it doesn't appear that you can actually refer to any kind of legitimate source for rules, it's just a free for all - how can you provide rules for English? Or my usage of words? You can speak for yourself and hypothetical people at BEST and I don't think you could even do that without a lot of effort, repeated tries and you'd probably need help.

    I do not wish to reignite the same argument that I gave up on when I don't have a plan on how to handle it differently, see your position in a new light or indeed see you in a new light. I am just curious as to how it appears as though your positions have changed. Are you perhaps just making it up as you go?
  • S
    10.2k
    For one, you're probably using "rule" different than I'd use it. I wouldn't use "rule" for something that's not both explicit in some manner and that doesn't have specific consequences if it's broken.Terrapin Station

    Okay, well we simply disagree on the first point. Rules don't have to be explicit. They can, however, be made explicit.

    As for the second point, there are specific consequences if it's broken, so your point doesn't apply. If you give me an example, I can give you the specific consequences if it's broken. The obvious thing that comes to mind straight away is miscommunication, and automatic expulsion or disqualification from the language game.
  • Terrapin Station
    9.2k
    There are rules everywhere you look. There are rules for establishing the rules of the language. So long as he follows the rules, there isn't a problem. If he doesn't follow the rules, then he can't get what he wants - that is, if he wants to change the language.S

    So are we saying that "in order to get what one wants from others, one must do such and such"?
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