• Gary M Washburn
    103
    How dense can we be? Language is not in isolation. A speaker is never alone in the act of it. Language is as much listening as speaking. It is not about the freedom of the speaker, it is about the freedom the speaker needs in the listener. The biases relentlessly clung to in all these comments entail a subterranean urge to isolate language from that need, and therefore from that freedom. It is therefore vacuous to appeal to it. Nothing is spoken without the possibility of a free listener. No word is binding without that need that it not be. Otherwise we are just talking to ourselves, and ultimately in gibberish.

    Plato, in Gorgias, shows the sophist that the idea is a comparison of contraries. The doctor is unlike the cook similarly to the way the personal trainer differs from the tailor. The substance of ideas, analogy, is not a positive content. It is absence. The verb to be is either, and at best, a vague abstraction of an evaluation, or, at worst, the universal quantifier, applying to nothing real. We never see a real verb in logic, because a real valuation of the character in which a subject "is" a predicate can never serve as antecedent to a valid inference. To get that inference we need an artificial language. And then to declare it somehow more real. The elaborate preparations we have to do to natural materials to get them to behave according to theory should be a clue. And then talk about freedom?

    If A were B and B were C, it might almost, if you squint at it kind of sideways, be possible to infer that A is C. But it is far more real to formulate it A is B-ish, and B is C-ish. But this would mean, and ordinarily does, that A is C is BS-ish. Look, I am not saying that logic is completely vacuous, but only that meanings rigidly defined and guarded from normal abrasive action among speakers and listeners must ultimately become incoherent or adapt to the need of the speaker that the listener be free. Speaking is not pure act. It is neither active nor passive, it is the act of being in need of the freedom of its listener. Where it "purifies" itself of that need it is not made itself free, it is made itself vacuous. The act of being that need and the response in the listener of responsibility that the worth of the need be recognized is a dialectical circle that, recurring from voice to voice, is an evolution of terms shared more by difference than agreement, and more real than arrogated unilateral and private freedom, and more coherent than any highly refined symbolic or artificial language.

    How much difference must there be to be like grains of sand in a Rolex? How much deviation does there have to be from the continuity of the causal nexus? If reason can never really close the deal, as we know matter does not, even in the face of the most exhaustive preparation, and certainly not life, then doesn't reason desperately need emotions to bring some sort of coherence to its convictions? Of course this is not in itself truth. But it does mitigate the pure unilateral cruelty logical forms would lock us into, and the dialectical circle of act of needing each other free and response of responsibility that the worth of that need be recognized not only mitigates the rational missteps of its emotional ingredient, but completes the circle that never quite closes around reason on its own merits. For in this sense reason has no merit, no worth, alone. Where reality differs from theory or presumed law, however infinitesimally, the incoherence of that theory or law is complete, and nothing, no amount of tweaking the law, can rescue reason from its lost conviction and overwhelming incoherence.

    Perhaps you all think I am the one who is incoherent, but when the koan sinks in, as it were, nothing will be the same. And sameness will be a tremendous burden, not a light in the dark. There is no synthetic term. Reason really is reductive only, and the antecedent term thought to be its origin and continuity really is just conviction. We can forever forestall the moment of recognizing that that continuity is become incoherent simply by dogmatically believing the infinitesimal divides infinitely. But in doing so you become an impediment to the future for all of us. And, because each of us is that infinitesimal through which that future is most articulately broken through that conviction, that impedance not only cruelly denies that future to the rest of us, it denies that freedom in you the rest of us need in you if reason, as well as human life and society, is to be coherent and free.
  • RussellA
    54
    In theory, machines can be made at least as semantically intelligent as a standard dumb human.magritte

    I agree that today in theory this is so. Today the typical English speaker will have acquired a vocabulary of up to 48,000 words. Perhaps in the future will arrive a new Lieutenant Commander Data, having a positronic brain both able to achieve 60 trillion operations per second and store a larger vocabulary, enabling them to better cope with our boundlessly unpredictable real world.
  • RussellA
    54
    The reason why it is impossible to create a determinate language is that language is inherently something created by free willing beings.Metaphysician Undercover

    Premise 1 - language is created by humans
    Premise 2 - humans have free will
    Conclusion - humans cannot create a determinate language
    IE, I agree with the conclusion - but it doesn't follow from its premises as given.

    The problem though, is that many axioms are accepted on the basis of utility (pragmatism), not on the basis of being self-evident. This relates to Plato's "the good". This makes the belief itself the cause , as in teleology, but many do not believe that beliefs are causes.Metaphysician Undercover

    Perhaps this is along the lines of the different teleological approaches of Plato and Aristotle

    For Plato, an extrinsic teleology, where the materials composing a body whilst necessary may not be sufficient for the body to act in a certain way. What is needed is an external Form of the Good in order to give the body purpose and reason (ie, the self-evident)

    For Aristotle, an intrinsic teleology, rejecting an external intelligence or god, where nature itself is the principle cause of change (ie, the pragmatic)

    It is written that the Correspondence Theory of Truth can be traced back to Plato and Aristotle, though what they believed is only a muted version of it.

    The axiomatic theory of truth has the advantage over the correspondence theory in that it does not presuppose that truth can be defined. Tarski's theorem on the undefinability of the truth predicate shows that the definition of a truth predicate requires resources that go beyond those of the formal language for which truth is going to be defined, in these cases definitional approaches to truth have to fail.

    IE, it is a question of whether one believes the cause originates as described by the Absolutism of Plato or the Relativism of Aristotle.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    7.6k
    Premise 1 - language is created by humans
    Premise 2 - humans have free will
    Conclusion - humans cannot create a determinate language
    IE, I agree with the conclusion - but it doesn't follow from its premises as given.
    RussellA

    Sure, the conclusion doesn't follow from the premises, but that's because you haven't provided the appropriate premises. The problem is that you haven't provided the proper description, or definition of free will, and how it is related to language, to show why any language produced by free willing beings will be indeterminate.

    The inverted form of the argument, which shows that only determinate beings could create a determinate language, is better to show that a free willing being (which is excluded by "determinate being") cannot create a determinate language.

    Let's assume that a determinate language is one in which there is only one precise way to say anything that needs to be said, and only one precise interpretation of anything said. Doesn't this exclude the possibility of any choice in word selection, or word interpretation? If you want to say something, you have to say it this way. If you hear something, you necessarily interpret it in this way. You have no choice in these matters. Therefore a free willing being, by the nature of having free will, and the capacity to choose such things, could not have a determinate language.

    For Plato, an extrinsic teleology, where the materials composing a body whilst necessary may not be sufficient for the body to act in a certain way. What is needed is an external Form of the Good in order to give the body purpose and reason (ie, the self-evident)RussellA

    I don't think that this is an external Form. The good is what the person apprehends with one's own intellect, as what is needed, required. Therefore the good is something internal to each of us.

    For Aristotle, an intrinsic teleology, rejecting an external intelligence or god, where nature itself is the principle cause of change (ie, the pragmatic)RussellA

    So I think that Aristotle is consistent with Plato on this matter. However, I believe that Aristotle lays down the principles to distinguish an apparent good from a real good. Here, we might have an internal/external division, or what we call subjective/objective good. Morality involves establishing consistency between the apparent good (what the subject believes is good), and the real good (what is objectively good).
  • Gary M Washburn
    103
    For Plato, an extrinsic teleology, where the materials composing a body whilst necessary may not be sufficient for the body to act in a certain way. What is needed is an external Form of the Good in order to give the body purpose and reason (ie, the self-evident)RussellA

    Where in Plato does he say this? Where does he claim the telos as the source of or navigator to truth? What is purpose? Propositum. Enduring time proscribed of change. Dur-ation. This is Husserl, not Plato. The epochal.

    Aristotle emerged from Plato's lecture on the Good saying he didn't understand it. That's because, like all the contributors here, he reads the words and fails to hear the speakers, or speaks to them and fails to notice the wry looks of the listeners (readers). If words can never quite mean what both speaker and respondent suppose, then what is the good is not an abstraction or an externality, but the central issue to all we do and say and think.

    I'm reminded of an episode of Dr Who in which the Doctor visits a planet where monks perform calculations so sensitive computers would decompose if fed them. There is something that reason gets us almost all the way to, but never quite reaches, the last little bit is all too human. Yes it's incorrect, but it's where reason begins and ends. If you trace "Platonism" through Aristotle, and then into the Christian era it's hard to miss how it solidified as dogma, through Origen, Proclus and so on, and smoothly transitioned from superstition to science while preserving the same terms and basic themes of what language is. I once visited the library of my sister's (Catholic) high school and went straight to the philosophy section. Just two books, Augustine, and Aquinas. What is most telling is how the medieval ages transitioned from murky Platonic theology to an incipient science always in religious/Platonic terms. Perhaps the worst of all is Calvin, basing an individual connection to god upon the idea that the human is the conduit through which divine order is imposed upon a corrupt and evil world. The individuality derived from the Early Christian era was meant to so strip each of us of the perfect companionship we all crave. This, of course, to render us vulnerable to the claim that only a god, or perfect abstraction, can supply that deficit. Of course, it is not a deficit at all, it is a promise we tacitly make to ourselves and each other to realize freedom by articulating what worth and value is in the freedom we need in each other. The abstract perfection of language in some machine data flow or logical gobbledygook is just the latest mode of an ancient system of enslaving those subordinated to a minority of elites. But for all that it is a very human tendency, especially the part where it is ignorant of its real motive. The religion, the telos, that is, is to make people understand what you say and think in that ignorance of being even more appallingly human in the effort to dehumanize yourself.
  • RussellA
    54
    Where does he claim the telos as the source of or navigator to truthGary M Washburn

    As I understand it, for Plato, telos isn't the source of truth, "being" is the source of truth.

    Plato in Phaedo argues that while materials that compose a body are necessary for its acting in a certain way, they cannot be sufficient. Telos is the inherent purpose of a person or thing, in that the telos of warfare is victory and the telos of business is the creation of wealth. What is sufficent is found within the Form itself, in that the Forms themselves are the source of the telos.

    For Plato, truth is the way the world is. Truth depends on what "is" in the world, and is not defined in terms of any correspondence between statements and reality. Statements may be true in virtue of the world being a certain way, in that "Theaetetus is sitting is true if and only if the form sitting has being in the case of Theaetetus". These forms in the world are only shadows of the Forms, which we can recognize by using our mind and reason.

    IE, by looking at forms in the world, which are the truths in the world, by using our mind and reason we can sense the Forms themselves. It is the Forms themselves that incorporate their own purpose, their own telos.

    The abstract perfection of languageGary M Washburn

    George Orwell 1946 Politics and the English Language - "Political language... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. "
  • RussellA
    54
    to show why any language produced by free willing beings will be indeterminate.Metaphysician Undercover

    I agree that a language using analytic propositions might be semantically determinate, though I would argue that any language using synthetic propositions based on how their meaning relates to the world will inherently be semantically indeterminate.

    Argument one
    I see an object emitting a wavelength of 640nm, and say "I see a red object". I see an object emitting a wavelength of 680nm, and say "I see a red object". Whether "I" have free will or not, my statement "I see a red object" is necessarily semantically indeterminate, in that I could be referring to any wavelength between 640 and 680nm. I could invent 40 new words to describe each wavelength in changes of 1nm wavelength, such as red650 meaning red of a wavelength of 650 nm. But I would still have the problem of describing each wavelength in changes of 0.1nm.
    IE, the word "red" is inherently semantically indeterminate

    Argument two
    Any person, with or without free-will, would fail in any attempt to discover an absolute and fixed meaning of any word using the dictionary, for example , in searching for the meaning of "object" .

    Object = a material thing that can be seen and touched.
    Material = the matter from which a thing is or can be made.
    Matter = physical substance in general, as distinct from mind and spirit; (in physics) that which occupies space and possesses rest mass, especially as distinct from energy.
    Physical = relating to the body as opposed to the mind.
    IE, the links are endless

    Argument three
    There are fewer words in the dictionary than mereologically possible objects in the world.
    IE, language is inherently indeterminate.

    Argument four
    Consider a group of people with or without free-will trying to create a semantically determinate language. Suppose they create a new word "xyz". The question is how to give this new word a fixed meaning within the whole group. The word as description falls into the same problem as using a dictionary. The word as reference falls into a different problem. I could point to something and say, this is xyz, but there will always be uncertainty in the others as to what exactly I am pointing at.
    IE, any group of people with or without free-will will fail at trying to create a determinate language.
  • Gary M Washburn
    103
    Who says? I mean, which character, and where does Socrates take the discussion from there? In Phaedo, Socrates is spending his final hour doing what he thinks is most important, critiquing ideas. He is also reassuring his friends by offering reasons not to fer death, and offering them a chance to show him how much they have learned from him by refuting him. Phaedo himself isn't buying and grieves. Plato, of course, is too sickened to even show. It is absurd, of course, to be afraid of being dead. But we do fear dying because it is too real, and what we most fear is being real. That fear is why we accept as axiomatic what we fear is just not in us to critique.

    Political language is a case where we have no opportunity to respond to and to prompt a response from a speaker determined to create an impression their words imply but do not guarantee. An example, what is JFK saying in "Ask not what your country can do for you!" Who can say this is not a 'dog whistle' promise to the south that he would not move aggressively against Jim Crow?

    If reason is reductive the relation between 'axiom' or idea and individual real things, participant to it, is purgative. The question is, is it purgative of the particular from the general, or of the general from the particular? My favorite analogy is to ask 'Which one of us is us?' If "us" is some real thing of which each is an inadequate or fraudulent example, the purge is of each. If "us" is just a trope by which we know ourselves, each other, and the category itself by proving to each other it is not who we are. And if that proof is a community in contrariety, as contrary between us as together in a complementary contrariety to the category, then not only do we get to know "us" and what "us" really is in differing from it, but we really do get to know ourselves and each other in the drama of that contrariety. If the purge goes the wrong way, expelling the person and conserving the conventional term, it can only mean to enslave. If the right way, we die in a world we can recognize, but more completely know ourselves because of this. Note, complement with an 'e', not an 'i'.
  • Gary M Washburn
    103
    I'm warming to the contrast between autonomic and autonomous systems. The autonomic does not respond to real changes, and if reality is rigor interrupting the continuity of such a system, then whatever rational rigor is regulating it is inadequately rigorous. The autonomous system must then intercede, even though this temporarily abandons rigor altogether. And therein lies the only honest objection. That is, some are so convicted in the adequacy of rational rigor that the changes required to complete it are endlessly deferred. Yes, it is quite right to claim that introducing discontinuity to a rational system disrupts its rigor. And that the result, in itself, can never quite recover it. But in a contrariety as complementary between us as to those separate autonomic systems we each bring to the issue at hand, rigor gets reintroduced to the autonomic reasoning we each alone are, but alters the terms of that reinvigorated rigor in the character of those terms that complementary contrariety we each bring to the inadequate terms of reason we otherwise are isolated and alone in. Of course the interruption of autonomic reason is in some sense abandoned rigor. Emotions are never the whole story, they are always an interruption to, and not an end or concluding term in themselves. And within our mostly isolated and personal effort to secure rational terms rationally continuous to a valid conclusion, we can only suffer that recognition of the inadequacy of reason as variations in the character of our conviction in it. As Plato shows us time and time again, reason begins and ends in bewilderment. A bewilderment most often introduced to us by a recognition that the convictions we think we express are not convictions we are heard to. Such bewilderment has no possible navigation, because it is lost its conviction in the continuity of its terms. Mind flails about for a navigator. Anything, anything at all, that seems to sign a way gets glomed onto as a welcoming gesture, as if from reality itself. As we navigate by this 'welcome-sign' our conviction broadens and deepens in a kind of ritual of initiation. As that conviction motivates utterance we shift from initiation to discourse, and with a sense of being in some sense aligned with others we engage in the construction of an edifice of terms, But edification has its limits, we begin to feel the inadequacy of them as an isolating ennui or boredom, a disinclination to engage. This triggers a vague suspicion that there is some source of the inadequacy of our conviction. But the search for it fails, if we are honest and competent in it. Ultimately we drop out of the system of navigation that we thought had welcomed us. We become the stranger to our own terms. Bewilderment looms. And every step of the way is rigorous! But, regardless of the treacherous trap any rationally autonomic system is, all its terms suffer revision in the character of the complementary contrariety to it we each bring to the moment of that bewilderment. That character of the terms of reason we are is a kind community of opposition to, and yet strictly distinguished each other in. So, of course, the ends of reason is (singular, the ends of reason can only be singular, while the ends of time is difference) emotion, and, of course, emotion is in some sense abandoned reason. But it is also a drama introduced our separate and isolated autonomic systems of conviction to terms we bring to it in an equal but opposite sense. Thus the limits of reason, together and each alone, gets nibbled away at the inadequacy of terms and forms reason always is. There are, of course, a myriad of strategies (many demonstrated in these discussions) to keep this drama from having the impact upon the conduct of mind it deserves, the most effective is the zealous effort to reduce its final term of bewilderment to a negligible infinitesimal. But if that infinitesimal variation is really how reason is reborn in its capacity for rigor, then there can be no limit to its being the truer completion of reason and the engine of the terms by which our knowing and understanding ourselves and each is most real.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.6k
    I see an object emitting a wavelength of 640nm, and say "I see a red object". I see an object emitting a wavelength of 680nm, and say "I see a red object". Whether "I" have free will or not, my statement "I see a red object" is necessarily semantically indeterminate, in that I could be referring to any wavelength between 640 and 680nm. I could invent 40 new words to describe each wavelength in changes of 1nm wavelength, such as red650 meaning red of a wavelength of 650 nm. But I would still have the problem of describing each wavelength in changes of 0.1nm.
    IE, the word "red" is inherently semantically indeterminate
    RussellA

    You do not have trouble describing a wavelength of, say, 650.1 nm -- look, I just did it too. You just don't have a non-numerical word for that and only that.

    You can have words that you are certain do apply to that, easily, by defining "red650" to be objects emitting wavelengths >= 650 and < 660, and you can do that in any chosen increment, for any granularity of measurement.

    Do we need a vocabulary that can keep up even if we change the granularity of measurement, or that would be equally useful for any conceivable granularity? On the one hand, we already have that because we can resort to numbers when need be, and on the other, this is obviously an absurd requirement. But some of this is down to the word "need" up there.

    Let's say, broadly speaking, that the use of a vocabulary will be to distinguish one thing from another, either for purposes of description or of reference by description. Words come in usable groups. If we define "red" as "emitting at 650nm" then everything "not red" is emitting at any frequency unequal to 650 that's not necessarily useless if 650nm is of particular importance to us in what we're doing, important enough to be given a name and treated as the designated value, but it's not very widely usable.

    Instead we will tend deliberately to have words that are helpful for a range of cases, say 640nm to 680nm. If that means this word doesn't help you distinguish objects of 640nm from 670nm, that's hardly a complaint, as it wasn't designed to capture that distinction and it doesn't leave us helpless. If I have three screwdrivers, one blue-handled and two that have handles of different shades of red, you can perfectly well pick out the blue one by using the word "blue" but of course you can't get away with something like "the red one" or with no other explanation "give me the red one, not the red one". But there is no problem here: either you say from the start "the dark red one" or something, or you correct, "sorry, I meant the other red one".

    But what I really want to say is that you seem to think that for our words to be determinate they have to match the degree to which reality is determinate -- even though that degree is perhaps undefined, or dependent on our choice of measurement granularity -- when this is obviously not so. There is what is distinguished within the system of our vocabulary, and there is what is distinguished in reality -- assuming that means anything, doesn't matter. The degree to which a word needs to be determinate depends not on how determinate things in the world are, but in the role it plays in a system of linguistic distinctions. "Red" and "blue" work perfectly well in being distinct from each other, even if in the real world it turns out there are things purple or purplish, where we begin to feel either both words or neither apply. That doesn't make "red" and "blue" any less distinct; it just means there are cases where their distinctiveness doesn't quite match our needs for this particular case. Describing an urn of red and blue marbles, the "purple issue" won't arise at all. (When it did, I used the words "purple" and "purplish" just now.)

    And again, when standard color words are quite enough, we have a lot of special-purpose options, and we invent these over and over again -- pantone, the old X11 color names, and of course numbers.

    So it does come down to our needs and words can be perfectly determinate for one need and not good enough for another. And we can often be uncertain whether a given vocabulary is determinate enough for a given purpose and investigate and take steps. We can always manage somehow to be exactly as determinate as we need to.
  • RussellA
    54
    We can always manage somehow to be exactly as determinate as we need to.Srap Tasmaner

    What is language for ? There are two aspects to our need for language. The first aspect is about our survival within the world. The second aspect is about our understanding of the world, though the more we understand the world the better our chances will be of surviving within it.

    As regards the first aspect, we need language to communicate our needs to others, and we need to communicate the difference between one thing and another. It seems that this requires both the Pragmatic Theory of Truth, in that truth is verified and conformed by the results of putting one's concepts into practice, as well as the Coherence Theory of Truth, where truth is primarily a property of whole systems of propositions, and can be ascribed to individual propositions only according to their coherence with the whole

    As regards the second aspect, what is the truth of the world and how do we gain knowledge of the truth of the world. The main theory is the Correspondence Theory of Truth, stretching back to Plato and Aristotle, where the truth or falsity of a representation is determined entirely by how it relates to "things" and whether it accurately describes those "things".

    Aspect one of having a pragmatic and coherent language allows me to determine the difference between a wrench and a hammer sufficient for my needs, and I agree that "So it does come down to our needs and words can be perfectly determinate for one need and not good enough for another". However, I can only distinguish between a wrench and a hammer if I first have the concepts of wrenchhood and hammerhood.

    Considering aspect two of using language to understand the world through my rational reasoning of an empirical experience, I may observe a particular instance of a wrench, but I can only understand a particular instance through my understanding the concept of wrenchhood. There has to be a correspondence between language and "things" in the world, and such correspondence is ultimately semantically indeterminate.

    IE, I agree that a coherent language can be perfectly determinate for one's needs in pragmatically distinguishing between wrenches and hammers. However, the recognition of a wrench requires the knowledge of wrenchhood, which requires having established a correspondence between language and things in the world, which is ultimately semantically indeterminate

    what we mean when we say that two people have the same idea,Srap Tasmaner

    Perhaps this can be related back to the original question.

    For those who believe in a Universal Mind, Alice and Bob are two parts of the same being.
    When Alice/Bob looks at a particular wrench their idea has a single ontological spatial existence for both the particular wrench and the concept wrenchhood.

    For those who believe in Platonic Forms, both Alive and Bob when looking at the same wrench have a glimpse of the same Platonic Form of Wrenchhood. Their ideas will be ontologically spatially separate. Their ideas of the particular wrench will be the same, and their concepts of wrenchhood will be the same.

    For those who believe in Nominalism, for Alice and Bob when looking at the same wrench, their ideas will be ontologically spatially separate. Their idea of the particular wrench will be the same, but their concepts of wrenchhood will be different.
  • Gary M Washburn
    103
    Yes, it is possible convince yourself it is possible to create what you call a "determinate" language, but it is demonstrably false to suppose that is what language is. Language is sharing meaning. Idle talk is more what language is than scientifically rigorous definitions. The point is participating in the capacity of words to share in all modes possible, not just scientific and/or instrumental reason.

    seeing red
    am I blue
    green energy
    raining on my parade
    on cloud nine
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.6k
    However, I can only distinguish between a wrench and a hammer if I first have the concepts of wrenchhood and hammerhood.RussellA

    I'll take this as a synecdoche for the whole post. This is not a problem I can solve but I'll tell you roughly why I think you're wrong.

    This is the whole "two aspects of language" problem that we flogged through the Davidson thread. Your position is that the "formal" aspect, language as a sign system that can represent the world, must underlie the "practical" aspect, the use of such a sign system to communicate.

    I strongly suspect this is false, but of course I can't demonstrate that. You're in good company, of course, and I would single out David Lewis as having done about as much as anyone could do to knit together the two aspects while preserving the primacy of the formal side. (That is, showing how we could formalize the idea of a such a sign system being used for communication by a population.)

    I, on the other hand, suspect that the mechanisms that underlie language use, which may indeed be susceptible to some formal description, are much more, let's say, "operational". We were always right to sense there is something mechanical within language use -- though it isn't "just mechanical" -- I'm just not convinced that the system there looks anything at all like the sort of models you get from formal semantics.

    So I believe I have settled in the "communication first" camp, which is no rejection of system, but it is a rejection of the expectation that there is a Tarski-style or Carnap-style system that, as Davidson puts it, we acquire and then "apply to cases".

    Davidson aside
    (My objection to Davidson is that he seems to think he can sweep up and reject the operational system as well and there's just no evidence for that, so his argument is overbroad even if he's right to give up on formal semantics, if that's indeed what he's doing.)
  • Gary M Washburn
    103
    First of all, in Plato's time the engine of language was the abstract character of gods and heroes. Not that these were real entities active in the world, but that they were themes forming a context for all terms. It is impossible, therefore, to derive Platonism, as a dehumanized system of sign, from Plato.

    Does one plus one equal two? Do we even know what we mean by this? One one must be squinted at from a very strange angle to be seen as different from the other, and then, from an even stranger angle, to be seen as the same, and then we must convince ourselves that the two squinting angles belong to the same universe, and that that belonging is more what reality is than either the unique realness of either one or the belonging together as one the two we suppose they add up to. Someone spoke of angstroms, as a determinant of spectral terms. But if you shoot two photons at a target they are more likely to add up to zero photons as one, and are never two, because of the quantum states possible for the electron they hit. And how the hell does this whole discussion get around the accusation that it falsifies itself by so clearly trying to prove its assumption rather than critiquing it? That is, is the notion under discussion proscribed its falsification? If so, isn't it programmatic rather than inquiry? Dogma? And, if so, who is anyone engaged in it to say that ordinary language is somehow subordinate to techno-babble? It's one thing to convince our machines of this, after all, they otherwise would fail. But if the programmer believes this, really and sincerely, his personal life must really be crap!

    Plato had a number of critical things to say about poetry, mainly that it murders the living drama of language, but the analysts take this to such an extent that it is impossible to expect anything to come of it at all, but noise and counter noise, or like photons out of phase. Even bad poetry gets remembered, and science, unlike philosophy, has a very short memory for dead ends like positivism. Ever wonder about this? What scientists are remembered for getting nothing right? But every damn dogmatist in philosophy gets a place on the shelves, where the best thing for them is to gather dust there.
  • RussellA
    54
    "two aspects of language"Srap Tasmaner

    I believe that Kant's "synthetic a priori" judgements gives an insight into the apparent circular problem of the fact that I am only able to recognize a wrench if I already know the concept of wrenchhood, yet I can only learn the concept of wrenchhood if I am able to recognize wrenches.

    In a "synthetic a priori" judgement, some important knowledge, such as causation, is neither given through the senses empirically nor known through rational reasoning, but rather is a priori. Therefore, it is only possible to have experience of an object if the object conforms to what can already be experienced. Objects of knowledge can only ever be things as they appear, not as they are in themselves.

    Kant's insight is valid even if the terminology doesn't seem right. Synthetic is a linguistic term, yet a priori is an ontological term. Synthetic and a priori are of two different kinds, it is as if one asked "which is better, justice or cats". Perhaps it should be called an "a posteriori a priori" judgement.

    We are born with certain basic innate a priori concepts such as time, space, causation, colour, sound, etc . During our lives, through regular observation and reasoning, we can combine these basic concepts into more complex concepts such as justice, buildings, tables, horses, etc.

    Our innate a priori concepts are part of the physical structure of the brain. They have evolved over a period of 4.5 billion years in the development of complex modern organisms from ancient simple ancestors, being subject to the continual interaction between life and its surroundings.

    Any physical system can only undertake that which it is physically capable of undertaking, ie, a blind person cannot see colour, a deaf person cannot hear sounds, a cat cannot judge the morality of its actions and a toaster cannot broadcast a television program. Similarly, the range of complex concepts about the world a person will be able to develop will ultimately be limited by their given, innate a priori concepts.

    When looking at a set of shapes in the world, we are only able to recognize those parts of an object for which we already have innate a priori concepts. Through a regularity of observation and reasoning, we combine these parts to create an understanding of more complex objects, such as a wrench, and more complex concepts, such as wrenchhood.

    Language must follow the same principle, in that we are born with a basic innate a priori linguistic knowledge. .Chomsky has argued that children are born in possession of an innate ability to comprehend language structures, where language acquisition occurs as a consequence of a child's capacity to recognize the underlying structure at the root of any language, as all human languages are built upon a common structural basis.

    IE, as regards which takes priority, language as communication or language as representing the world. As the basic concepts of language as representing the world is already innate a priori within the brain (having evolved over over millions of years), this allows language as communication the ability to operate free of restrictions from the immediate external world whilst still being grounded in the enduring external world.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.6k


    See there you go. Your post is a mix of cognitive psychology (Chomsky) and evolution and Kant and empiricism. And it's a bad mix. "Kant because that's how we evolved" is vaguely reasonable, but it's not much, and it won't hold up for long. It leads you to say things like this:

    We are born with certain basic innate a priori concepts such as time, space, causation, colour, sound, etcRussellA

    Is that an empirical claim? Could we have evolved otherwise, maybe with no concept of space? (See the no-space thought experiment in Individuals.) Are you absolutely certain that sentence is even meaningful?

    I'm sympathetic. It has been getting harder and harder to tell what's left for philosophy if we turn over some of these questions to psychology, but that's no excuse. Just so stories about how we learn, how we acquire concepts and language, are not good enough when we can do actual research.

    Kant's "synthetic a priori" judgements gives an insight into the apparent circular problem of the fact that I am only able to recognize a wrench if I already know the concept of wrenchhood, yet I can only learn the concept of wrenchhood if I am able to recognize wrenches.RussellA

    Kant is no help here at all. Going into the lab is.
  • Isaac
    3.1k
    We are born with certain basic innate a priori concepts such as time, space, causation, colour, sound, etc . During our lives, through regular observation and reasoning, we can combine these basic concepts into more complex concepts such as justice, buildings, tables, horses, etc.RussellA

    When looking at a set of shapes in the world, we are only able to recognize those parts of an object for which we already have innate a priori concepts.RussellA

    I've not been following this thread, just had a quick skim to catch up so apologies if I missed them, but this is a particular area of interest of mine, so I'd really appreciate some links to the research behind this, particularly that last section (it seems to contradict some of Seth's work at Sussex on perception, which I follow quite closely, so I'm particularly interested in that one).
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    7.6k
    I see an object emitting a wavelength of 640nm, and say "I see a red object". I see an object emitting a wavelength of 680nm, and say "I see a red object". Whether "I" have free will or not, my statement "I see a red object" is necessarily semantically indeterminate, in that I could be referring to any wavelength between 640 and 680nm.RussellA

    You're missing the point. The word "red" could only come to describe both of these objects if there is freedom of choice in usage. If there was no choice, "red" could only be used to refer to one or the other. That you can define "red" as between 640 and 680 doesn't make the use of the word determinate, because we cannot determine with our eyes, precisely whether the colour falls in that range, so people could not abide by definitions, then they'd rely on free choice to decide . Besides, your definition doesn't include combinations of wavelengths, so it's just an unrealistic definition.

    Any person, with or without free-will, would fail in any attempt to discover an absolute and fixed meaning of any word using the dictionary, for example , in searching for the meaning of "object" .RussellA

    I don't see how this is relevant. If words and meaning are created and used by free willing minds, then a non-free willing being probably wouldn't even know how to relate to words. It might be something like a plant, or a rock, hearing words. How does a comparison like this make any sort of sense?

    Argument four
    Consider a group of people with or without free-will...
    RussellA

    Again, how does it make any sense to class these two together? A non-free willing being would be so much different from a free willing being, that if one of them created words, the other would not even know how to relate to a word.

    The word as description falls into the same problem as using a dictionary. The word as reference falls into a different problem.RussellA

    Don't you see that the non-free willing being would have none of these problems, being problems of choice? There couldn't even be any creating of new words because that would require choice.
  • Gary M Washburn
    103
    Free will again! Freedom is not a possession, it is a willing dispossession. The transformation of terms is not something we try to impose on each other, it is an urge to greater rigor we need from each other.

    For a hundred years or so we have known that reality, at the micro and cosmic scale, is fundamentally ambiguous. It is only in the interim that it is possible to perceive only disambiguation as real. But that disambiguation begins and ends in a moment transformed of all terms and forms throughout. Reality is chaos. A chaos that energetically engages in a moment of contrariety complementary to the failure of the contradictory to disambiguate anything. But it is only the contradictory that can be observed. That is, only the elimination of the complement to it that contrariety always is. That elimination is risked as the opportunity of that moment so reduced that elimination that nothing remains within the ends of time. Duration and purpose are expedients to the recognition of the worth of the chaos unrecognizable within that duration of disambiguation. But if this is what is real, and we have more evidence for this than for the perfection of a hermetic or machine language, then the ends of any duration is that last term of elimination proved there is nothing within at all, and so engendering moment opportune of being transformed all terms within it. That moment is the only ends of time. Free will is the drama of the need of rigor we can only get from the excluded term ambiguity is and the rigorous reduction of that process of exclusion ultimately proved nothing within it. The moment that the ends of time reality is is the least term of that reduction recognition of that absence or departure is. The worth of the departed is that moment of recognition. The more rigorous that least term the more it is truer than the rigor found it. That is, the least term of time is all the differing it is. And language is most the opportunity of that least term, and therefore most the opportunity of the articulation of its worth, and of what worth is. Person is the lest term of time, and therefore the most completed articulation of its worth. The duration of its disambiguation is the rigor of its final term, but not its truth. That truth can never be a process of elimination or disambiguation.

    For at least a hundred thousand years people have been talking. It is utter arrogance to suppose we are suddenly, by ignoring what we have learned only recently, going to perfect its mission of articulating the worth of time. If that articulation is the mission of the word, then it can never be alone or hermetic. The only possible meaning to a hermetic or 'determinant' language is either to supplant humanity with machines, or to create some sort of Ubermensch.
  • RussellA
    54
    Could we have evolved otherwise, maybe with no concept of space?Srap Tasmaner

    I am with Kant when he wrote in The Critique of Reason "Since, then, the receptivity of the subject, its capacity to be affected by objects, must necessarily precede all intuitions of these objects, it can readily be understood how the form of all appearances can be given prior to all actual perceptions, and so exist in the mind a priori"

    The problem is, if we didn't have a priori evolutionary knowledge of time, space, causation, etc, then how could we enable someone born without the ability to see the colour red to have the experience of seeing the colour red ?
  • RussellA
    54
    Seth's work at Sussex on perceptionIsaac

    My post was based on Kant's concept of transcendental idealism as described in his Critique of Pure Reason 1781. Kant wrote, "Since, then, the receptivity of the subject, its capacity to be affected by objects, must necessarily precede all intuitions of these objects, it can readily be understood how the form of all appearances can be given prior to all actual perceptions, and so exist in the mind a priori"

    That is, when I look at an object emitting a wavelength of 700nm, because of my innate a priori knowledge of red, I project back onto the world my concept of the colour red. That is, when I look at an object, I perceive the colour red, not the wavelength 700nm.

    Professor Seth in his 5 Oct 2018 Ted talk said - "So since Newton, it's been pretty clear that colours - red, yellow, green, et cetera - colours are not objective properties of objects in the world. They are attributes of reflected light. And the brain - the visual system will make inferences based on wavelengths of light about what colour something is. So something as basic as colour is not something that we just passively receive from the world. We actively attribute it to things out there in the world."

    It initially seems that Professor Seth's approach to perception is similar to Kant's, although my only knowledge of Professor Seth's work is from his Ted talks
  • RussellA
    54
    The word "red" could only come to describe both of these objects if there is freedom of choice in usage. If there was no choice, "red" could only be used to refer to one or the other.Metaphysician Undercover

    In a deterministic world where all events are completely determined by previously existing causes, when light anywhere between 640nm and 680nm is shone on a receptor of a machine, the machine can respond with the single output "red".
    IE, a machine is able to give a single response covering a range of observations.

    a non-free willing being probably wouldn't even know how to relate to words.Metaphysician Undercover

    Interactive voice response (IVR) is a technology that allows humans to interact with a computer-operated phone system through the use of voice.
    IE, a machine can relate to words.

    There couldn't even be any creating of new words because that would require choice.Metaphysician Undercover

    In a deterministic world where all events are completely determined by previously existing causes, when light is shone on a receptor of a machine, and the frequency of the light is different to what has been observed by the machine before, the machine gives it a name - such as Frequency660
    IE, a machine can create new words.

    A non-free willing being would be so much different from a free willing being, that if one of them created words, the other would not even know how to relate to a word.Metaphysician Undercover

    In a deterministic world where all events are completely determined by previously existing causes, when light is shone on a receptor of machine A, and the frequency of the light is different to what has been observed by the machine before, the machine gives it a name - such as Frequency660, where the second part of the name is the frequency of the light in nm. When this name, Frequency660, is passed to machine B, machine B emits light of the same frequency contained within the second part of the name.
    IE, if one machine creates a name, a different machine will be able to relate to that name.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.6k


    Science, if it's going to offer explanations, needs something to explain. Our everyday understanding of things is a starting point; our sophisticated philosophical understanding of things is a starting point.

    But I don't see much point in reading Kant and just substituting "because evolution" wherever he says "a priori".

    We are all Kantians now, if by that you only mean we recognize that our experience is in some sense constructed by systems that we are in some sense born with. That's fine; all it leaves out is the science.

    You can attempt to construe Kant's use of a word like "appearance" or a word like "perception" in a way that is consonant with the science, if you know what it is, but you cannot assume that it is so consonant out-of-the-box, and you certainly can't substitute it for the actual science.

    Which brings us back to the acquisition of concepts and language.

    Through a regularity of observation and reasoning, we combine these parts to create an understanding of more complex objects, such as a wrench, and more complex concepts, such as wrenchhood.RussellA

    You've stocked the infant's toolbox with a starter kit, courtesy of evolution, but you're still talking like an empiricist. Where's the evidence that this is how children acquire concepts?

    Language must follow the same principle, in that we are born with a basic innate a priori linguistic knowledge. .Chomsky has argued that children are born in possession of an innate ability to comprehend language structures, where language acquisition occurs as a consequence of a child's capacity to recognize the underlying structure at the root of any language, as all human languages are built upon a common structural basis.RussellA

    Was language on the list you got from Kant? Will Kant settle the disputes that have been raging within linguistics for the last fifty or sixty years about what exactly is innate? Then why didn't he, centuries before they started?

    As the basic concepts of language as representing the world is already innate a priori within the brain (having evolved over over millions of years)RussellA

    Where does Chomsky, who you seem to think is on your side, say this? Chomsky's views, or lack of views, on semantics are the central source of controversy in generative linguistics. And for the record he also thinks nothing worth taking seriously has been said about the origin and evolution of language. I just can't see him endorsing any part of this.

    I recognize that I'm no expert in linguistics or in any of its subfields, because I have the example of actual research to compare my thoughts to. Kant didn't. Insofar as you want to take Kant as doing conceptual analysis, or descriptive metaphysics along Strawsonian lines, you can think of it as a starting point for science, something for it to offer explanations for, and that's worthwhile if only to keep the science from trying to explain something we don't actually do. But you have to be careful, because the early moderns generally offer a psychological explanation along with the phenomenon they're calling attention to.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    7.6k
    In a deterministic world where all events are completely determined by previously existing causes, when light anywhere between 640nm and 680nm is shone on a receptor of a machine, the machine can respond with the single output "red".
    IE, a machine is able to give a single response covering a range of observations.
    RussellA

    Yeah but who decides how the machine is to be programmed? And who decides what light to shine? Your described "deterministic world" is not really a deterministic world, because it requires people making such decisions.

    In a deterministic world where all events are completely determined by previously existing causes, when light is shone on a receptor of machine A, and the frequency of the light is different to what has been observed by the machine before, the machine gives it a name - such as Frequency660, where the second part of the name is the frequency of the light in nm. When this name, Frequency660, is passed to machine B, machine B emits light of the same frequency contained within the second part of the name.
    IE, if one machine creates a name, a different machine will be able to relate to that name.
    RussellA

    What you describe here is clearly not a deterministic world.
  • RussellA
    54
    who decides how the machine is to be programmed?Metaphysician Undercover

    In a deterministic world where all events are completely determined by previously existing causes, the question is whether a simple machine can self-evolve into a complex machine without the help from any external intelligence. A machine is defined as an apparatus using mechanical power and having several parts, each with a definite function and together performing a particular task. Such machines would be deterministic, without free-will and without consciousness.

    One example of such a machine would be the bacteria, in that it can self-evolve free of any external intelligence, and without either free-will or consciousness (even accepting panpsychism).
    IE, as there is at least one example of a machine that can self-evolve (the bacteria), this shows that in principle machines can self-evolve, meaning self-program.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    7.6k
    In a deterministic world where all events are completely determined by previously existing causes, the question is whether a simple machine can self-evolve into a complex machine without the help from any external intelligence. A machine is defined as an apparatus using mechanical power and having several parts, each with a definite function and together performing a particular task. Such machines would be deterministic, without free-will and without consciousness.RussellA

    I really do not think that such a machine could "self-evolve" in a deterministic world. I think "evolve" is incompatible with determinism. Doesn't the theory of evolution require undetermined mutations?
  • Gary M Washburn
    103
    Pato's semantics appears in the Craytalus. There he compares onomatopeoia to etymology as sources of significations of terms. As usual, of course, the answer is neither/nor, not either/or. Interestingly, sociologists have found that there is no such thing as a primitive language. That is, every language in the world is capable of the rational structures required to imagine the construction of a machine or "determinative" language. The implication is that language is always born full-grown. Compare this to a restoration of sight in one eye in a person that always had sight in the other. They do not acquire 3D vision immediately, It might take months. Clearly, the autonomous mind must first construct the autonomic apparatus to support the new faculty. Reports from those who experience this are that the faculty does not emerge gradually, but pops into being suddenly and complete.

    What if the apparatus reported the color of the photon then receives another photon exactly 180 degrees out of phase with the first? What then? Does the first report vanish? I think you'll find it does. When matter interferes with itself, where the hell does it go? I'm reminded of a phenomenon in which an inaudible sound becomes distinctly audible when surrounded by white noise. But what are we really hearing? What if the apparent determinacy of the universe is white noise? And what is that term anyways? Deter-minacy? Certitude, or resistance? Or is a word never play?
  • RussellA
    54
    Doesn't the theory of evolution require undetermined mutations?Metaphysician Undercover

    From the viewpoint of the machine - internally it is determined - but external forces acting upon it that possibly cause internal change are undetermined.
  • RussellA
    54
    Science, if it's going to offer explanations, needs something to explain.Srap Tasmaner

    I agree that I may not have used the standard philosophical structure of thesis, antithesis, synthesis, and not made clear the difference between my understanding of Kant's transcendental idealism, and what I believe to be a sensible extrapolation of Kant's transcendental idealism.

    I agree that Kant did not consider language, but rather space, time and objects. However, once Kant had established the principle of innate a priori concepts, the number of examples can be increased. I am sure it is commonly accepted that children don't need to be taught the difference between the touch of smooth and rough, the taste of sweet and sour, the sight of red and blue, the hearing of loud and quiet, the smell of acrid and sweet, in that these must be innate a priori concepts. Our understanding of the world can then be built up from these common-sense core concepts of body, person, space, time and causation.

    The mechanism by which any innate a priori concept became part of the brain is a matter of belief. For an Evolutionist, they have evolved over millions of years through the continuous interaction between life and its surroundings. For a Creationist, they arrived through a supernatural act of divine creation.

    The downside of innate a priori concepts is that any profound understanding of the truth of the world is inherently limited. We can understand three dimensional space because we have evolved within it , but this is not the case when we try to understand the expansion of the universe from the Big Bang. We may use the analogy of blowing up a balloon, but this is no more than glimpsing one of Plato's Forms, no more than a deaf person being able to experience the sound of a bell.

    Whether language is innate a priori is debated. On the one side, Chomsky in Reflections on Language 1975 argued that the development of language is in large part predetermined by genetic factors, innate rather than being a blank slate upon which psychological and social forces act. But even those who argue against him, such as Philip Lieberman, proposed that our ancestors invented modes of communication that were already compatible with the brain’s natural abilities.

    IE, Kant's transcendental idealism gives a solid foundation on which we can base our understanding of the world.
  • Gary M Washburn
    103
    An end of metaphysics? Don't think so! If Kant weren't full of holes Hegel would not have had anything to add. The epistemic and the formal are incoherent to each other. A useful lie is required to convince us they are. Between opposites, between an assertion and its negation, we need absolute certitude which is which in order to extend the proposition one or the other is. But that extension alters the completeness, if any, of what we had been resolutely convinced of between them. In a determinate world there is no subjunctive. If there's any if about it there is no if about it. If there is no if about it it's all pretty iffy. To attribute anything "solid" to Kant is just vacuous! But even in his Critique, with his square of opposition, he demonstrates his inability to support the excluded middle as an a priori law of reason. If we have to add a quantifier to make it so, that excludes any coherence between the rational and the real. We cannot know which one we mean and count up how many it is, or count up how many anything is and still know which one it is, except by providing ourselves with a useful lie about them.
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