• Banno
    9.6k
    The question is whether this is how people reason about the utterances of others,Srap Tasmaner

    Hm. Given the task at hand - understanding what someone means by what they say - it seems not unreasonable to be charitable. Again, that folk sometimes are uncharitable in interpreting the utterances of other folk is true, but beside the point.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.6k


    No, I mean is there a procedure to maximize agreement -- as an abstract goal, sure, whatever -- but is it conceivable that an interpreter has at his disposal a procedure whereby he could maximize agreement between his model and the speaker's?

    Think about the trouble in economics with rational agents maximizing their utility. It's an interesting idea, and something you might try when working through a problem, but it turns out (a) this is really hard, and (b) there's no evidence people do anything like this habitually, so this particular kind of careful working through, even if we do it once in a while, is not the foundation of people's decision-making habits.

    Similar questions then for Davidson: can it actually be done? and do we do it so much and so well that it becomes habit? I don't know what Davidson says, or whether there's any evidence.
  • creativesoul
    9k
    ...it might be what Davidson thinks.Srap Tasmaner

    Seems to be a goal he strives for. As far as truth conditional semantics goes, truth conditions play a major role in one's belief statements. Belief statements are meaningful to the speaker. We need only look to Gettier's first case to see that "the man..." in Smith's own belief(which is what is being taken account of) can only be Smith himself, and thus Smith's belief is not true.

    Gettier uses entailment and in doing so changes the truth conditions of Smith's belief, which completely changes the meaning, and is thus no longer Smith's belief. Salva Veritate. So, I do think that there's something to it.
  • Harry Hindu
    3.5k
    You'd have to ask him. But it certainly looks like DNA is getting copied a lot.Olivier5
    You're the one that made the analogy with DNA. Does DNA intend to copy itself correctly? Copy machines make lots of copies, but where is the intent to make copies - in the copier or in the mind of the human using the copier? The copy machine just does what was designed to do. If something goes wrong, then that was part of the design. You have to call a tech to change the design (replace a part).

    Was some use of language "wrong" if the reader or listener understood what was meant to be said?
  • creativesoul
    9k


    With regard to avoiding and/or skirting around the psychology, which Davidson seems to want to do...

    Davidson deliberately states it does not add anything to this thesis to say that if the passing theory does correctly describe the competence of an interpreter, some mechanism in the interpreter must correspond to the theory, but also says that what must be shared is the interpreter’s and the speaker’s understanding of the speaker’s words. What is understanding if not thought and belief about speech? Nevermind all of the context aside from just the words being used that determines the meaning of the words.

    He also attempts to justify calling that understanding "a theory" because a description of the interpreter’s competence requires a recursive account. That conflates his own account(the description) with what's being taken into account(the shared understanding between speaker and audience).

    This segues into the much broader problems of convention writ large. The failure to draw and maintain the actual distinction between what thought and belief consists of and/or is existentially dependent upon, and what thinking about thought and belief consists of and/or is existentially dependent upon. I see no reason to say that we cannot acquire knowledge of the basic elemental constituent core of both by virtue of using language, and do not think that our doing so forces us to invent our own psychology. In doing so, it becomes rather apparent that meaning is not existentially dependent upon language, for rudimentary thought and belief are not.

    The core is what is common to all of these things. That core is what allows psychology to emerge and grow in it's complexity according to the correlations drawn by the thinking creature. Language creation, acquisition, regular use, and talking about language use(meta stuff and logical notation) are just different 'points' along the timeline of evolutionary progression. All of which emerge from that common core. That is to say that they are all existentially dependent upon the same basic elemental constituents.
  • Olivier5
    805
    Does DNA intend to copy itself correctly?Harry Hindu
    Not really I suppose. But the fact is that it is getting copied inside your body at this very moment, quite a lot in fact, because your body constantly produces new cells to replace the ones dying. And if the copies are too different from the original, you may well die as a result. Doctors call it cancer.

    So DNA doesn't really want to be replicated but if it doesn't get replicated, or if it gets replicated not exactly as it should, it dies.
  • Janus
    9.4k
    Exactly, so now I'm confused as to why my analogy didn't work for you if you're now admitting that similarity of sound and shape are the associations that are used to solve the problem of what is actually meant to be said but wasn't?Harry Hindu

    Similarity of sound and shape are not the only associations; there are many other associations of ideas; that's why I thought the analogy unhelpful, because too simplistic.

    Finding something interesting isn't the goal here. Finding the truth is.Harry Hindu

    Everyone here likely has different goals, so again you're thinking too simplistically. Philosophy is the search for wisdom, not truth, according to my view. Truth is an empirical matter.

    It's not just me. Look it up in a dictionary or Google it.Harry Hindu


    Definition of malapropism

    1 : the usually unintentionally humorous misuse or distortion of a word or phrase especially : the use of a word sounding somewhat like the one intended but ludicrously wrong in the context "Jesus healing those leopards" is an example of malapropism. (my emphasis)

    From here: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/malapropism

    Again your thinking is too black and white, too simplistic.
  • Harry Hindu
    3.5k
    Definition of malapropism

    1 : the usually unintentionally humorous misuse or distortion of a word or phrase especially : the use of a word sounding somewhat like the one intended but ludicrously wrong in the context "Jesus healing those leopards" is an example of malapropism. (my emphasis)
    Janus
    Looks like the definition supports my assertion. Thanks.

    Similarity of sound and shape are not the only associations; there are many other associations of ideas; that's why I thought the analogy unhelpful, because too simplistic.Janus
    Sure, but that is the type of association that was being talked about and that I was responding to. All I was saying is different associations require different algorithms to resolve the errors made in using them.

    Everyone here likely has different goals, so again you're thinking too simplistically. Philosophy is the search for wisdom, not truth, according to my view. Truth is an empirical matter.Janus
    :roll: ...and what is "wisdom" if not applying knowledge that is true? How do you know whether or not you are wise if not empirically? Is not the difference of being wise or not an empirical matter? Maybe if you'd stop trying to be artful with your language use and get more to the point, then we would all be wiser.
  • Banno
    9.6k
    OK, I'll reply by stepping away from Davidson for a bit and answering as Banno. The question is, is there a process that can be used to achieve, perhaps asymptotically, the goal of ensuring that you and I agree as to the meaning of some utterance? I've consistently argued that there is not a single thing that might be called the meaning of an utterance, but instead we should look at what is being done with the utterance. Hence, if there is not a thing that is the meaning of an utterance, there cannot be a method that will help us work towards understanding what that meaning is.

    But, quite pedantically, there are ways to achieve agreement, cooperation, or even progress. Chief amongst these we might place the Principle of Charity, which says that you and I and old Fred over there have pretty much the same beliefs. That is, while there are a few statements on which we will disagree, overwhelmingly we agree as to the position of the chairs in the room, the state of the weather, the agreeable nature of vanilla ice cream, and so on. Now Old Fred might be a raving, unmasked Trumpophile, but despite this he and you and I will agree as to what is the case far more often than we will disagree.

    While you may be right about the impracticalities involved, we have little choice but to make charitable assumptions about those with whom we chat. The alternative is to deny any form of agreement, and hence any form of conversation. So with Bongo and Harry, above, it's not so much that their posts are incomprehensible, as that there is no clear way to proceed. I
  • Janus
    9.4k
    Looks like the definition supports my assertion.Harry Hindu

    Says "especially", not 'exclusively'.

    All I was saying is different associations require different algorithms to resolve the errors made in using them.Harry Hindu

    "Algorithm" is a malapropism :wink: as has already been suggested
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.6k


    Something in this neighborhood happens, however we characterize it. There are differences among Davidson's account (charity) and Grice's (cooperation) and Lewis's (truthfulness & trust), but for the moment we can agree that we all recognize this. Even LW says stuff in this ballpark.

    My first thought is that this is not something we choose to do; it is not voluntary, anymore than understanding an utterance in a language you know is voluntary. You need not choose to understand it; you simply do.

    Except when you don't, and then you must analyze or ask questions or decide to put off, perhaps forever, understanding the troublesome utterance.

    Do we agree up to here?
  • creativesoul
    9k
    Looking for a method to ensure that we agree on the meaning of a sentence or statement is a metacognitive endeavor that is fraught, and puts the cart well ahead of the horse. We 'agree'(scare-quotes intentional) on what 'X' means long prior to taking account of that. I'm inclined to agree with Srap that our doing that is not - at first anyway - a choice that we make. It's the ability that Davidson spoke of throughout this paper. That ability is autonomous and consists of a plurality of capable creatures drawing correlations between language use and other things.

    Shared meaning(landing on the same language, etc.) between speaker and audience does not require being taken into account. It is necessary and more than adequate for understanding. It consists of a plurality of creatures drawing correlations between the same things. We agreed to use the term "trees" to talk about trees long before we began talking about the fact that we had. Our 'agreement' prior to talking about our own language use amounted to the fact that a plurality of speakers found themselves using the word "tree" to pick out trees.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.6k
    "Algorithm" is a malapropism :wink: as has already been suggestedJanus

    Not by me. I only said we need to be careful, because there are problems in this domain distinguishing algorithm from implementation.

    But clearly a whole lot of language processing is algorithmic, just as a lot of other biological processes are.
  • creativesoul
    9k
    Something in this neighborhood happens, however we characterize it.Srap Tasmaner

    How we characterize it matters most here. Mutual understanding, successful communication with speech, arriving at shared meaning, etc. is something that happens long before we take it into account. The ability to do so has yet to have been described in an acceptable fashion. I don't think Davidson has succeeded there either.

    There's quite a bit missing. A gulf between thought and belief and thinking about thought and belief. All of them are meaningful. Not all of them are existentially dependent upon language use. Not all of them are drawing correlations between language use and other things. Meaning is prior to language creation, acquisition, and/or subsequent use.

    Grice's claim that clouds mean rain is fine by me as long as we're talking about a creature capable of drawing correlations between the clouds and rain, because that's when clouds mean rain. Clouds do not mean anything unless or until they become one part of a correlation being drawn by a capable creature. Such a creature draws correlations between clouds and something else(rain, in this case) both become meaningful to the creature as a result. Prior to becoming a part of that meaningful correlation, clouds are just clouds, and rain is just rain. Neither is meaningful.

    Drawing such a correlation does not require language creation, acquisition, or use in any way shape or form. It's the mysterious 'ability' pervading Davidson's paper. A sufficiently framed discussion demystifies it.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.6k


    The connection between storm clouds and rain is not mental.
  • creativesoul
    9k
    The connection between storm clouds and rain is not mental.Srap Tasmaner

    Who said that it was?

    I would no longer even be willing to say that the meaningful connection drawn between them is mental. There are no clouds or rain inside one's head. The meaningful correlation consists of the clouds, the rain, and the capable creature. Remove any one, and what's left is not enough.
  • Janus
    9.4k
    But clearly a whole lot of language processing is algorithmic, just as a lot of other biological processes are.Srap Tasmaner

    Can you offer an example of "language processing"? Understanding language seems to be more ad hoc and associative than algorithmic. Sure language has it's conventions but they are more like habits, well-beaten paths, than they are like well-defined procedures.
  • Janus
    9.4k
    :roll: ...and what is "wisdom" if not applying knowledge that is true? How do you know whether or not you are wise if not empirically? Is not the difference of being wise or not an empirical matter?Harry Hindu

    As I see it wisdom consists in making good use of knowledge. What good use consists in is an ethical matter, a matter for each individual according to how they wish to live. I suppose you could call this "good use" 'truth, if you define truth as something like 'hitting the mark'.
  • Harry Hindu
    3.5k
    Can you offer an example of "language processing"? Understanding language seems to be more ad hoc and associative than algorithmic. Sure language has it's conventions but they are more like habits, well-beaten paths, than they are like well-defined procedures.Janus

    https://becominghuman.ai/a-simple-introduction-to-natural-language-processing-ea66a1747b32

    The key word here seems to be "context", but then context is simply integrating all sensory information at once - the sound of someone's voice and the environment they are speaking, etc. - all which require senses to acquire and a brain to process, both of which a human being and a robot have. The only difference is how the brain is programmed - the algorithm, or implementation.

    Learning a language is hard for a robot because they don't possess the physiological basis for language use that evolved over millions of years in humans. Humans are programmed by natural selection (and other humans are part of natural selection as humans have an effect on what utterances make it to the next generation based on how useful at communicating some idea they are). Computers are programmed on a much shorter time scale and their programming is updated when an error occurs, just as our programming is updated when an error in understanding or communicating occurs.
  • Harry Hindu
    3.5k
    So meaning is causal, as in words mean what they were intended to mean. The existence of some idea and the intent to communicate it is what caused the words to be heard or seen.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.6k
    Can you offer an example of "language processing"? Understanding language seems to be more ad hoc and associative than algorithmic. Sure language has it's conventions but they are more like habits, well-beaten paths, than they are like well-defined procedures.Janus

    You don't see anything systematic in English phonology, morphology or syntax?

    Also: might want to rethink your concept of "habit". Putting on your slippers when you get up in the morning is a habit, but so is getting 17 when you add 12 and 5.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.6k


    I only want to say that you don't need a reason to take someone at their word. This is some kind of default, and all the theorists I mentioned, Davidson, Grice, and Lewis, recognize this.

    So what happens when you realize there is a problem taking someone at their word? Not because you suspect deception, not because you suspect factual error, not because you suspect somewhat figurative use of language such as irony, but because you suspect a deviant or novel use of some word.

    In daily life people make mistakes and use words in novel ways and we seem to manage. Do we need a special explanation for that?
  • Harry Hindu
    3.5k
    I only want to say that you don't need a reason to take someone at their wordSrap Tasmaner
    It seems to me that we start off, as children learning a language, taking others at their word, and only when we experience them use words in a way that they don't mean what they say (they lied), that we question whether or not we should take them at their word in the future.

    We have to learn how to lie and detect lies and that only comes after learning how to take people at their word.

    If humans are inclined to learn and use a language, thanks to natural selection, it seems to me that we instinctively take people at their word until we learn to do otherwise.

    Language use evolved from our evolutionary ancestors observing and interpreting the involuntary behaviors of other organisms. Involuntary behaviors cannot lie.
  • creativesoul
    9k
    In daily life people make mistakes and use words in novel ways and we seem to manage. Do we need a special explanation for that?Srap Tasmaner

    We do so long as we are setting out a criterion for what all successful communication with speech requires and/or consists of. Not 'special' though, just adequate.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.6k
    It seems to me that we start off, as children learning a language, taking others at their wordHarry Hindu

    I think rather that how a language is learned, and that it may be learned, is the source of the habit of taking people at their word, but itself is not an example of taking people at their word.

    I don't think a child learning the names of the colors is called on to believe that we are telling them the truth, neither in the sense that we are not lying about what we believe the names to be, nor in the sense that these are indeed the real names of the colors. I want to say that the question of truth just does not arise here at all.

    This leaves me feeling that the analysis of language only or primarily in terms of truth conditions is fundamentally wrongheaded. And in this, I think I agree with @unenlightened: the practice comes first and theory after. In this case, when called upon reflectively to analyze a bit of language, the method of truth conditions can be a handy tool to be familiar with, but it does not underlie our ordinary use of words. But what does? How does that work?
  • Harry Hindu
    3.5k
    I think rather that how a language is learned, and that it may be learned, is the source of the habit of taking people at their word, but itself is not an example of taking people at their word.Srap Tasmaner
    Then I'm not clear on what you mean by "taking people at their word".

    I don't think a child learning the names of the colors is called on to believe that we are telling them the truth, neither in the sense that we are not lying about what we believe the names to be, nor in the sense that these are indeed the real names of the colors. I want to say that the question of truth just does not arise here at all.Srap Tasmaner
    The truth is that this scribble or sound, red, is used to point to, or communicate something that isn't that scribble or sound, namely a particular color.

    Learning how to use scribbles and sounds to communicate requires that the thing you are pointing to exists in the same frame as the scribble or sound being seen or heard. The child hears "red" and observes the teacher pointing to a red square. How does the child know that she's pointing to the color rather than the shape? The teacher points to another red object that isn't a square and the child begins to understand the relationship between the sound and what it points to.

    This is how we learn a language, yet how we end up using it is different.

    We don't keep going around imitating the teacher's use of the sound. We don't look for red and then point to it, as that would be redundant information being communicated. The listener can see that the square is red and doesn't need to be told, unless the listener was learning the language. Instead, we use language to point to things and events that are somewhere else, or that have already happened, or haven't happened, because the whole point of language use is to communicate ideas, not what is observed right in front of you. If we talked about something happening right in front of you, that would be redundant information and a waste of time and energy to communicate.

    A sports announcer is useful on the radio, when you can't see the plays the players are making, or the score, etc., but provides redundant information if you were watching on TV. There is an expectation that the sound I hear coming from the radio speaker is about some game in another city, and that the relationship is one of truth - that the sound carries information about some football game in a city hundreds of miles away - that I can get at the state of the game by correctly interpreting the sound coming from the speaker, and correctly interpreting the sound can only be done by learning how others learned to point states-of-affairs with those sounds.
  • Janus
    9.4k
    You don't see anything systematic in English phonology, morphology or syntax?

    Also: might want to rethink your concept of "habit". Putting on your slippers when you get up in the morning is a habit, but so is getting 17 when you add 12 and 5.
    Srap Tasmaner

    Sure English can be systematized, but it doesn't seem to follow that language use is systematic not to mention algorithmic. Not all systems are algorithmic as I understand the meaning of the term.

    Also the concept of habit in putting on slippers is not the same as that of arithmetical addition; in the latter there is only one right answer; there are many ways of putting on your slippers.
  • creativesoul
    9k
    The following vein of thought is promising...

    It seems to me that we start off, as children learning a language, taking others at their word
    — Harry Hindu

    I think rather that how a language is learned, and that it may be learned, is the source of the habit of taking people at their word, but itself is not an example of taking people at their word.
    Srap Tasmaner

    I would readily agree with this, and would add the following...

    Promises aside, when an audience takes a speaker at their word, the audience is granting the sincerity/reliability of the speaker. They trust and/or believe the speaker. When the audience does not take the speaker at their word, the audience is doubting the sincerity/reliability of the speaker. They do not trust and/or believe the speaker. The ability to place/bestow trust upon and/or doubt another is key here.

    Taking a speaker at their word is to trust that they are being honest, sincere, and/or truthful. One cannot trust that a speaker is being honest, sincere, and/or truthful unless one knows the difference between that and being dishonest, insincere, and/or untruthful. Doubting that a speaker is being sincere or honest requires first knowing, believing, and/or otherwise realizing that some are not.

    When an audience is doubting whether to take a speaker at their word, the audience is believing that either a.)the speaker doesn't know what they are talking about(doesn't have and/or hold true belief about the matter at hand) or b.)the speaker is deliberately misrepresenting their own thought and belief(does not believe what they say).

    Typically when we're talking about not taking a speaker at their word, the audience believes that the speaker does not believe their own words. That is, when an audience cannot take a speaker at their word, it's because they doubt the speaker's honesty and/or sincerity. The audience does not trust that the speaker believes what they say.

    One who is first learning how to use common language has no ability to doubt such things about any speaker... teachers notwithstanding. They quite simply do not have what it takes to do so. All doubt is belief based. Language acquisition results in one's initial worldview(belief system), and it is precisely that belief system that grounds all doubt... doubting another's reliability, sincerity, and/or trustworthiness notwithstanding.




    I don't think a child learning the names of the colors is called on to believe that we are telling them the truth, neither in the sense that we are not lying about what we believe the names to be, nor in the sense that these are indeed the real names of the colors. I want to say that the question of truth just does not arise here at all.

    I agree as above. Certainly, the question of truth does not arise in the mind(thought and belief) of the student so early on, but nor does the question of meaning. However, meaning and truth are both inherent to thought and belief formation, long before we are capable of taking that into account, which requires thinking about thought and belief.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2.6k
    Understanding an utterance in a language you know is not a voluntary action. You don't get the meaning through a conscious and laborious process something like decoding an encrypted message. If there's good reason to think you are doing something like this, you do it out of habit and a facility developed through countless hours of practice, quickly and without attention. You have to pay attention to the speaker, but not to the process of decoding. Or you're not doing anything like that. I would hope this is an empirical question. Either way, understanding is not something you usually should be described as "doing". It's more like something that happens to you.

    There is something similar with speaking. Not just with respect to phonetics, not even just with all the mechanical bits of language production, but even in what you say. Think back over the last few days of verbal exchanges you had at work or in a social setting: in how many of those did you have to, or choose to, consciously and with effort decide what to say? Most of the time we effortlessly select the words to use, assemble them into a sentence and utter that sentence, but more than that, very often we don't even have to think about what to say; it just comes to us, which is to say, it just comes out.

    Again, there are questions about how to describe what's going on here, but candid speech is, at least very often, habitual, requiring no more conscious effort than understanding the speech of others.
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