• Banno
    8.9k
    Look up the definition of a word in the dictionary.

    Then look up the definition of each of the words in that definition.

    Iterate.

    Given that there are a finite number of words in the dictionary, the process will eventually lead to repetition.

    If one's goal were to understand a word, one might suppose that one must first understand the words in its definition. But this process is circular.

    There must, therefore, be a way of understanding a word that is not given by providing its definition.

    Now this seems quite obvious; and yet so many begin their discussion with "let's first define our terms".
  • bert1
    522
    @apokrisis what do you think of Banno's post?
  • apokrisis
    4.8k
    How many times do we have to scratch the same itch. :smile:

    The process of “definition” is circular. For a reductionist like Banno, that is a bad thing. But for a holist, the circularity is actually hIerarchical or cybernetic. The iterations don’t lead you around in a meaningless chase. They should zero in on a functional state of meaning.

    So this is pragmatism 101. Meaning is use. Our understanding of a word (as a meaningful sign) is uncertain.

    I say to you “frepp”. Whatever could I mean?

    We would discover that by the extent to which it pragmatically constrains my behaviour.

    So we could never completely eliminate your uncertainty about all the ways frepp could be defined, all its possible connotations. But we could certainly constrain that uncertainty to a degree that is reasonable and pragmatic.

    As a start, you might ask “animal, vegetable or mineral”. You would work your way down from the most general constraints towards the sharpest distinctions.

    So “frepp” is inherently vague - capable of meaning anything as all signs are. And we can corral its meaning by the binary exercise of asking “what is frepp?” by virtue of its logical corollary - “what then is not-frepp”.

    We seek a definition in terms of the differences that make a difference. And we are satistified our interpretation is sufficiently constrained when the differences no longer make any practical difference.

    It is all bog standard semiotics. No mystery even if Banno wants to recycle it as some great metaphysical quandary for the nth time.
  • Banno
    8.9k
    For a reductionist like Banno,apokrisis

    Why the name calling? Why do you agree with me in such a belligerent fashion?
  • apokrisis
    4.8k
    First, reductionist is a technical term. Second, you are well recognised as the name caller and scoffer in chief around these parts. :hearts:
  • Banno
    8.9k
    Cheers. That went well.

    Anyone else?
  • tim wood
    5k
    Yes. WTF are you doing writing about definitions? Gloomph uggle bluerb skronk ibbledibble! Got it?!

    Or perhaps more accessibly: it's usually the case that communication works better when folks have an initial idea of what they're talking about and whether they're talking about the same thing. And this understanding can evolve. But just about every formal or official document of any kind includes near its beginning a definitions section - for just exactly that purpose. Except in the world according to Banno, which who's reasoning on this topic has been a closed box to me for a long time.
  • Banno
    8.9k
    y: it's usually the case that communication works better when folks have an initial idea of what they're talking about and whether they're talking about the same thing.tim wood

    Sure.

    Does the OP say anything that is in disagreement with this?
  • tim wood
    5k
    Does the OP say anything that is in disagreement with this?Banno

    I think the sense of your OP does; my experience is that you oppose the effort to establish at the outset any ground. If you do agree, then according to you how do folks get on the same page?
  • Banno
    8.9k
    how do folks get on the same page?tim wood

    There must be a way of understanding a word that is not given by providing its definition.Banno

    As Apo reiterated, look to the use.
  • apokrisis
    4.8k
    “What a thing means is simply what habits it involves.” CP 5.400) :up:
  • Possibility
    1.5k
    Look up the definition of a word in the dictionary.

    Then look up the definition of each of the words in that definition.

    Iterate.

    Given that there are a finite number of words in the dictionary, the process will eventually lead to repetition.

    If one's goal were to understand a word, one might suppose that one must first understand the words in its definition. But this process is circular.

    There must, therefore, be a way of understanding a word that is not given by providing its definition.

    Now this seems quite obvious; and yet so many begin their discussion with "let's first define our terms".
    Banno

    I think it helps to begin with a dictionary definition of the term as a determined judgement, claiming the concepts or rules under which particular uses of the word supposedly fall, and from there engage in a process of reflective judgement. This involves a critical analysis of the term against inter-subjective expressions (including alternative definitions) - particularly those which transcend claims made in relation to quality, quantity, purpose and necessity. The aim is not to necessarily arrive back at a statement of definition, but an agreement on the universal communicability claims of the term.

    Yes, I’ve been delving into Kant...
  • Banno
    8.9k
    Yes, I’ve been delving into Kant...Possibility

    Ooo, take care... that can lead to all sorts of other nasty habits.

    DO you think such an agreement needs to be explicit?
  • Possibility
    1.5k
    DO you think such an agreement needs to be explicit?Banno

    I don’t think it can be - not without reduction to a statement of definition, which kind of defeats the purpose. So, no.

    To be honest, I think it’s an ongoing process, and the more inter-subjective contributions, the more complex the process can get. Why do you think so many terms have multiple dictionary definitions?
  • jgill
    730
    so many begin their discussion with "let's first define our terms".Banno

    Alas, were that so . . . :roll:
  • unenlightened
    5k
    An example.

    One might want to discuss "What is a force?"

    strength or energy as an attribute of physical action or movement.
    "he was thrown backwards by the force of the explosion"
    Similar:
    strength
    power
    energy
    might
    potency
    vigour
    muscle
    stamina
    effort
    exertion
    impact
    pressure
    weight
    impetus
    punch
    Opposite:
    weakness
    2.
    coercion or compulsion, especially with the use or threat of violence.
    "they ruled by law and not by force"
    Similar:
    coercion
    compulsion
    constraint
    duress
    oppression
    enforcement
    harassment
    intimidation
    threats
    pressure
    pressurization
    influence
    violence
    force majeure
    arm-twisting
    badassery
    3.
    mental or moral strength or power.
    "the force of popular opinion"
    Similar:
    intensity
    feeling
    passion
    vigour
    vigorousness
    vehemence
    drive
    fierceness
    vividness
    impact
    pizzazz
    oomph
    zing
    zip
    zap
    punch
    Opposite:
    shallowness
    4.
    an organized body of military personnel or police.
    "a British peacekeeping force"
    Similar:
    body
    body of people
    group
    outfit
    party
    team
    corps
    detachment
    unit
    squad
    squadron
    company
    battalion
    division
    patrol
    regiment
    army
    cohort
    bunch
    verb
    verb: force; 3rd person present: forces; past tense: forced; past participle: forced; gerund or present participle: forcing
    1.
    make a way through or into by physical strength; break open by force.
    "the back door of the bank was forced"
    Similar:
    break open
    force open
    burst open
    prise open
    kick in
    knock down
    blast
    crack
    2.
    make (someone) do something against their will.
    "she was forced into early retirement"
    Similar:
    compel
    coerce
    make
    constrain
    oblige
    impel
    drive
    — google
    In physics, a force is any interaction that, when unopposed, will change the motion of an object. A force can cause an object with mass to change its velocity, i.e., to accelerate. Force can also be described intuitively as a push or a pull. A force has both magnitude and direction, making it a vector quantity. — wiki

    End of discussion?

    So looking in the dictionary there seem to be varied uses, and a question might arise as to whether his is mere linguistic accident or there is some connection between the coercion and the physical movement. @apokrisis if i remember right, has much to say in relation to fundamental physics, of the relation between freedom and constraint as limits, yet here they are both embedded in the meaning of a single term that has already been appropriated by physics and defined and delimited by Newton's second law. Force is what physics is all about, except when it is about form/information??

    To a technician, every word is a technical term, but to a philosopher, every word it a gateway to a universe.
  • Banno
    8.9k

    V5000022-Caricature_of_Newton_s_Laws_of_Gravity_.jpg

    ...as gravity might be replaced by levity.
  • apokrisis
    4.8k
    To a technician, every word is a technical term, but to a philosopher, every word it a gateway to a universe.unenlightened

    Hmm. Is this philosophy as practiced by academia or the kind of “philosophy” that believes in crystals and scented candles?

    Seriously. Show me the philosopher who treats every word as a gateway to a universe.
  • TheMadFool
    6.6k
    There are two kinds of words in any language:

    1. Syntactic e.g. "the", "a", etc. whose purpose is to give some form of structure to language

    2. Non-syntatic e.g. "sun", "he", "cold", "run", etc. which are words that don't take part in the structure of language

    Type 2 words, in my humble opinion, can all be traced back to ostensive definitions and there's no way ostensive definitions, basically naming objects, can be circular.

    Of type type 1 words, I know very little except that some circularity is bound to occur.
  • Banno
    8.9k
    ...ostensive definitions...TheMadFool

    Hmm. I recall Quine had something to say about that...
    quine.jpg?w=1280
  • Isaac
    2.8k
    There must, therefore, be a way of understanding a word that is not given by providing its definition.

    Now this seems quite obvious; and yet so many begin their discussion with "let's first define our terms".
    Banno

    Undoubtedly there are, several, but that doesn't mean that such methods would be applicable to all words. Maybe some words remain misunderstood by both parties. Philosophy is quite unique in that much of the time no action results from the adoption of one position or another in a debate - there's no behavioural instantiation of the concept being adopted. The only thing we'd have to go on to demonstrate a shared understanding of terms in these cases would be their mutually understood application to other verbal exchanges, but if all verbal exchange carried on in this way without ever resulting in some behavioural consequence then it's perfectly possible for an entire edifice of terminology to built the correct use of which could seem completely different to each user.

    The only way we'd ever know if this was the case would be if there were some subject matter in which everyone continued to disagree wildly despite thousands of years of discussion and in which terms took on ever more obscure and opaque niche uses, which yielded nothing but further disagreement about their correct application... Now, can anyone think of such a subject?
  • TheMadFool
    6.6k
    The esteemed Quine is correct but not as correct as he should be to make his point. Ostensive definitions occur in stages. If I point to a metal and plastic chair and say "chair" you can't possibly think "chair" means metal or plastic because you've already crossed that bridge at another level of ostensive definition. It could only mean chair - vaguely understandable as that thing you sit on.
  • Banno
    8.9k
    But it could mean chair leg, or chair back, or undetached chair part....

    But moreover, how will you point to democracy? To parsimony? To three hundred and forty six thousand, nine hundred and twenty one? to encoded? To unfortunately? To volume?

    If you are right then you must be able to do this for... almost every word.

    But then once done, someone will begin using the word in a new way...

    SO why not drop pointing and go straight to use.
  • unenlightened
    5k
    Seriously.apokrisis

    What is serious? Is it a property of words or things? I'd say it is more an attitude one takes to them - a relationship one enters into. And relationship forms identity. At any moment one takes the language for granted in questioning one word. And the word in question leads to a philosophy. The smaller the word, the bigger the philosophy. Eg, "Is" -> ontology. "I" -> theology. "we" -> ethics.

    You mean a philosophy consisting entirely of jokes? I heard that one before somewhere.
  • Banno
    8.9k
    I heard that one before somewhere.unenlightened

    Jokes, yes... and nonsense. Nonsense is important.
  • unenlightened
    5k
    Nonsense is important.Banno

    Whatever can be sensed can be ostensively defined.
    Abstraction is non-sense, but has import. Thus one arrives at "five" by pointing to the beans and saying "not beans". Or some such.
  • Banno
    8.9k

    That's not enough. Kids arrive at five by playing with beans, moving them around, sharing them, sorting the beans from the marbles, cooking them, embedded number in their lives.

    Pointing is a gross oversimplification. But you know that.
  • unenlightened
    5k
    Pointing is a gross oversimplification. But you know that.Banno

    Indeed. The meaning of number is moral. Not pointing but sharing is the foundation of mathematics. Oops, I seem to have entered a new universe.
  • Banno
    8.9k
    Oops, I seem to have entered a new universe.unenlightened

    :up:

    'tis a joyous thing.
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.