Since 1997, you’ve been coming to BarnesandNoble.com to discuss everything from Stephen King to writing to Harry Potter. You’ve made our site more than a place to discover your next book: you’ve made it a community. But like all things internet, BN.com is growing and changing. We've said goodbye to our community message boards—but that doesn’t mean we won’t still be a place for adventurous readers to connect and discover.

Now, you can explore the most exciting new titles (and remember the classics) at the Barnes & Noble Book Blog. Check out conversations with authors like Jeff VanderMeer and Gary Shteyngart at the B&N Review, and browse write-ups of the best in literary fiction. Come to our Facebook page to weigh in on what it means to be a book nerd. Browse digital deals on the NOOK blog, tweet about books with us,or self-publish your latest novella with NOOK Press. And for those of you looking for support for your NOOK, the NOOK Support Forums will still be here.

We will continue to provide you with books that make you turn pages well past midnight, discover new worlds, and reunite with old friends. And we hope that you’ll continue to tell us how you’re doing, what you’re reading, and what books mean to you.

Reply
Blogger
IlanaSimons
Posts: 2,223
Registered: ‎10-20-2006
0 Kudos

Discussion Week 4: Our ongoing conversation about Facts, Arguments, and Definitions

This week, there were some great posts made in this club about how an argument can slip from something objective to something subjective, and what in the world that means.

I'll try to link to that discussion here:
http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/bn/board/message?board.id=isll&thread.id=276&view=by_date_descen...

In general, I'd like to hear anything you have to say about how argument happens: When is it easy to stick to "facts" and when is it not easy to do this?

We also spoke about love this week. Some people here were talking about how hard the thing is to define. What role do facts play in our struggle to define love?



Ilana
Check out my book, here and visit my website, here.


Distinguished Wordsmith
Everyman
Posts: 9,216
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Discussion Week 4: Our ongoing conversation about Facts, Arguments, and Definitions

You posted the following in a different thread, Ilana, but I think my response belongs here. Your post included the following:


IlanaSimons wrote:
I just read a great book on love called The Conditions of Love, by John Armstrong, in which he defines and explores the word.
He uses one of the philosopher Wittgenstein's terms there to explain why the word “love” gets applied in so many different ways.
Wittgenstein argued that some things in the world have accurate definitions--i.e. a bobcat is not a bobcat if it's not of the species Lynx rufus. All bobcats share that defining trait. But other terms work by way of what Wittgenstein calls "family resemblance." For example, the word “game” works by way of family resemblance. This means that there are many things we call “games”—from badminton to card playing to hide and seek—and they might not share any one quality. Instead, badminton and card playing might share a scoring system, and card playing and hide and seek might share a playful deception, but there is no one quality that all games have in common. Instead, they’re simply close enough to each other that they are all grouped under “games.”


Plato would disagree. He would say that there is a "universal form" or eidos of "gameness" which exists somewhere out there which is what makes it possible for us to call something a game. The quality that all games have in common is that they all partake of the form gameness.

Take, for example, the eidos of chair. We all have an understanding of what items are chairs and what aren't. The A hard metal folding chair and a Lazy-Boy recliner have virtually nothing in common, but we call them both chairs. And you can't just say that a chair is something with a back and seat that we sit in, because bar stools have the same things and we recognize that they are stools, not chairs. And sofas and loveseatshave backs and seats and legs, and are much closer in appearance to overstuffed recliners than to metal folding chairs, but they still aren't chairs. While it may be impossible to create a definition both general and specific enough that it includes all chairs and excludes all non-chairs, we all have a sense of what is a chair and what is not a chair because we have an innate sense of the eidos of chairness.

Similarly, we all have an innate sense of the eidos of gameness that makes football, chess, and peek-a-boo all games.
_______________
I think, therefore I drive people nuts.
Blogger
IlanaSimons
Posts: 2,223
Registered: ‎10-20-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Discussion Week 4: Our ongoing conversation about Facts, Arguments, and Definitions

[ Edited ]
Well put, and Wittgenstein was specifically fighting Plato's notion of essence. Plato said an essence defined each category (each definition) in the world. Wittgenstein argued against that very idea—saying that language is a sloppier game: that we can say "chair" and roughly refer to some area of practical human action, without needing to nail some essence within the object itself.
If a word “works” in naming something, Wittgenstein said, then the definition “works.” I.e. he said there might be no single essence that all chairs have in common.
(But you and I don’t need to argue this. This is just the argument between Plato and Wittgenstein.)




Everyman wrote:
You posted the following in a different thread, Ilana, but I think my response belongs here. Your post included the following:


IlanaSimons wrote:
I just read a great book on love called The Conditions of Love, by John Armstrong, in which he defines and explores the word.
He uses one of the philosopher Wittgenstein's terms there to explain why the word “love” gets applied in so many different ways.
Wittgenstein argued that some things in the world have accurate definitions--i.e. a bobcat is not a bobcat if it's not of the species Lynx rufus. All bobcats share that defining trait. But other terms work by way of what Wittgenstein calls "family resemblance." For example, the word “game” works by way of family resemblance. This means that there are many things we call “games”—from badminton to card playing to hide and seek—and they might not share any one quality. Instead, badminton and card playing might share a scoring system, and card playing and hide and seek might share a playful deception, but there is no one quality that all games have in common. Instead, they’re simply close enough to each other that they are all grouped under “games.”


Plato would disagree. He would say that there is a "universal form" or eidos of "gameness" which exists somewhere out there which is what makes it possible for us to call something a game. The quality that all games have in common is that they all partake of the form gameness.

Take, for example, the eidos of chair. We all have an understanding of what items are chairs and what aren't. The A hard metal folding chair and a Lazy-Boy recliner have virtually nothing in common, but we call them both chairs. And you can't just say that a chair is something with a back and seat that we sit in, because bar stools have the same things and we recognize that they are stools, not chairs. And sofas and loveseatshave backs and seats and legs, and are much closer in appearance to overstuffed recliners than to metal folding chairs, but they still aren't chairs. While it may be impossible to create a definition both general and specific enough that it includes all chairs and excludes all non-chairs, we all have a sense of what is a chair and what is not a chair because we have an innate sense of the eidos of chairness.

Similarly, we all have an innate sense of the eidos of gameness that makes football, chess, and peek-a-boo all games.



Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 06-15-2007 01:05 PM



Ilana
Check out my book, here and visit my website, here.


Distinguished Wordsmith
Everyman
Posts: 9,216
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Discussion Week 4: Our ongoing conversation about Facts, Arguments, and Definitions



IlanaSimons wrote:
(But you and I don’t need to argue this. This is just the argument between Plato and Wittgenstein.)

But isn't it fun for us to discuss what we think are the strengths and weaknesses of each position?

My problem with Wittgenstein is that if we don't have some objective sense of what a chair is, when I see something that is unlike anything I've seen before, say a rustic object made entirely of branches tied together with thongs, how do I know whether it's a chair or a stool or a bench or a table or a bed? I have to have generalized from specifics; it seems to me that the only question is whether each person creates their own eidos or whether there exists an external eidos that each of us taps into.

Come to think of it, isn't that a bit like different theories of the divine? Do people create the divine they need, or is there an external divine existent "out there" which people tap into in their own ways?
_______________
I think, therefore I drive people nuts.
Blogger
IlanaSimons
Posts: 2,223
Registered: ‎10-20-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Discussion Week 4: Our ongoing conversation about Facts, Arguments, and Definitions

[ Edited ]
Wittgenstein is a pragmatist when it comes to definitions. If a definition works for a community, then it works. If I say, “Get me the hammer” and you do get that object which I meant when I said “hammer,” then the definition works. This is a simple example that can be applied to non-physical terms like “games” or “God.” Nietzsche made this argument before Wittgenstein did. Lots have made it, I guess.

In a pragmatist's lens, it doesn't matter if a definition is "wrong" or doesn't refer to a true essence; if it serves a community, it's a real thing in the world.
Quine had the most famous argument about this. His was the “rabbit part” argument. He said that when I use a word like "rabbit," I might actually be referring to a rabbit's leg, and you might actually be referring to a rabbit's body, but if all of our sentences in the conversation still work, then the definition "works."



Everyman wrote:


IlanaSimons wrote:
(But you and I don’t need to argue this. This is just the argument between Plato and Wittgenstein.)

But isn't it fun for us to discuss what we think are the strengths and weaknesses of each position?

My problem with Wittgenstein is that if we don't have some objective sense of what a chair is, when I see something that is unlike anything I've seen before, say a rustic object made entirely of branches tied together with thongs, how do I know whether it's a chair or a stool or a bench or a table or a bed? I have to have generalized from specifics; it seems to me that the only question is whether each person creates their own eidos or whether there exists an external eidos that each of us taps into.

Come to think of it, isn't that a bit like different theories of the divine? Do people create the divine they need, or is there an external divine existent "out there" which people tap into in their own ways?



Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 06-15-2007 03:12 PM



Ilana
Check out my book, here and visit my website, here.


Inspired Contributor
Choisya
Posts: 10,782
Registered: ‎10-26-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Discussion Week 4: Our ongoing conversation about Facts, Arguments, and Definitions

I am not much given to philosophising and this is all too 'deep' for me but I would comment that Wittgenstein was an Austrian and was used to a Germanic language with far, far fewer words (especially adjectives) than English. The English language is one of the richest and most varied in the world (I believe only Russian exceeds it in the number of words - Laurel?) As someone with an English dictionary in the house (or a computer at my fingertips) I do not want to reduce 'games' or anything else to a 'single essence' The more words the merrier, the more adjectives to describe what we call 'love' the merrier.

Plato's 'innate sense of the eidos of chairness' seems to accord with Jung's collective unconscious, in that we are all born with 'a reservoir of the experiences [and languages] of our species.' It is a theory which seems to make a lot of sense. (I am agreeing with Everyman again - this is getting serious:smileysurprised::smileysurprised:)




IlanaSimons wrote:
Well put, and Wittgenstein was specifically fighting Plato's notion of essence. Plato said an essence defined each category (each definition) in the world. Wittgenstein argued against that very idea—saying that language is a sloppier game: that we can say "chair" and roughly refer to some area of practical human action, without needing to nail some essence within the object itself.
If a word “works” in naming something, Wittgenstein said, then the definition “works.” I.e. he said there might be no single essence that all chairs have in common.
(But you and I don’t need to argue this. This is just the argument between Plato and Wittgenstein.)




Everyman wrote:
You posted the following in a different thread, Ilana, but I think my response belongs here. Your post included the following:


IlanaSimons wrote:
I just read a great book on love called The Conditions of Love, by John Armstrong, in which he defines and explores the word.
He uses one of the philosopher Wittgenstein's terms there to explain why the word “love” gets applied in so many different ways.
Wittgenstein argued that some things in the world have accurate definitions--i.e. a bobcat is not a bobcat if it's not of the species Lynx rufus. All bobcats share that defining trait. But other terms work by way of what Wittgenstein calls "family resemblance." For example, the word “game” works by way of family resemblance. This means that there are many things we call “games”—from badminton to card playing to hide and seek—and they might not share any one quality. Instead, badminton and card playing might share a scoring system, and card playing and hide and seek might share a playful deception, but there is no one quality that all games have in common. Instead, they’re simply close enough to each other that they are all grouped under “games.”


Plato would disagree. He would say that there is a "universal form" or eidos of "gameness" which exists somewhere out there which is what makes it possible for us to call something a game. The quality that all games have in common is that they all partake of the form gameness.

Take, for example, the eidos of chair. We all have an understanding of what items are chairs and what aren't. The A hard metal folding chair and a Lazy-Boy recliner have virtually nothing in common, but we call them both chairs. And you can't just say that a chair is something with a back and seat that we sit in, because bar stools have the same things and we recognize that they are stools, not chairs. And sofas and loveseatshave backs and seats and legs, and are much closer in appearance to overstuffed recliners than to metal folding chairs, but they still aren't chairs. While it may be impossible to create a definition both general and specific enough that it includes all chairs and excludes all non-chairs, we all have a sense of what is a chair and what is not a chair because we have an innate sense of the eidos of chairness.

Similarly, we all have an innate sense of the eidos of gameness that makes football, chess, and peek-a-boo all games.



Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 06-15-2007 01:05 PM


Frequent Contributor
saltydog
Posts: 46
Registered: ‎01-27-2007
0 Kudos

Re: Discussion Week 4: Our ongoing conversation about Facts, Arguments, and Definitions

Choisya wrote


Plato's 'innate sense of the eidos of chairness' seems to accord with Jung's collective unconscious, in that we are all born with 'a reservoir of the experiences [and languages] of our species.' It is a theory which seems to make a lot of sense.

Edited by Salty Dog 6
14/07




I agree the "idea" does make inate sense. My training as a psychologist included seminal work on behavioral neurology (Pincus and Tucker) and over time I have come to believe that much of the therorizing by psychologists concerning behavior and cognition will be found to be discredited by the neurosciences finding brain structures and functions which account for nearly all human behavior.

Just this morning I read an article about a team of economists and social psychologists working together have found that charitable giving results in a structure of the brain (caudate nucleus) generating a "feel good" cognitive response.


Salty Dog
Salty Dog
Distinguished Wordsmith
Everyman
Posts: 9,216
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Discussion Week 4: Our ongoing conversation about Facts, Arguments, and Definitions



IlanaSimons wrote:
Wittgenstein is a pragmatist when it comes to definitions. If a definition works for a community, then it works. If I say, “Get me the hammer” and you do get that object which I meant when I said “hammer,” then the definition works. This is a simple example that can be applied to non-physical terms like “games” or “God.” Nietzsche made this argument before Wittgenstein did. Lots have made it, I guess.

In a pragmatist's lens, it doesn't matter if a definition is "wrong" or doesn't refer to a true essence; if it serves a community, it's a real thing in the world.

I don't think Plato would necessarily disagree with this; he would say that the reason it works is that we both are accessing the same eidos.
_______________
I think, therefore I drive people nuts.
Distinguished Wordsmith
Everyman
Posts: 9,216
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Discussion Week 4: Our ongoing conversation about Facts, Arguments, and Definitions



Choisya wrote:
(I am agreeing with Everyman again - this is getting serious:smileysurprised::smileysurprised:)

And it's all Ilana's fault. :smileyhappy:
_______________
I think, therefore I drive people nuts.
Inspired Contributor
Choisya
Posts: 10,782
Registered: ‎10-26-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Discussion Week 4: Our ongoing conversation about Facts, Arguments, and Definitions

[ Edited ]
Great and informative response saltydog - thanks a lot! I think maybe there will be a fusion between the conjectures of the behavioural psychologists and the findings of the neuroscientists. If the brain structure and functions account for all human behaviour, won't this make us more like automans or animals?




saltydog wrote:
Choisya wrote


Plato's 'innate sense of the eidos of chairness' seems to accord with Jung's collective unconscious, in that we are all born with 'a reservoir of the experiences [and languages] of our species.' It is a theory which seems to make a lot of sense.

Edited by Salty Dog 6
14/07




I agree the "idea" does make inate sense. My training as a psychologist included seminal work on behavioral neurology (Pincus and Tucker) and over time I have come to believe that much of the therorizing by psychologists concerning behavior and cognition will be found to be discredited by the neurosciences finding brain structures and functions which account for nearly all human behavior.

Just this morning I read an article about a team of economists and social psychologists working together have found that charitable giving results in a structure of the brain (caudate nucleus) generating a "feel good" cognitive response.


Salty Dog



Message Edited by Choisya on 06-15-2007 06:08 PM
Distinguished Wordsmith
Everyman
Posts: 9,216
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Discussion Week 4: Our ongoing conversation about Facts, Arguments, and Definitions


saltydog wrote:
My training as a psychologist included seminal work on behavioral neurology (Pincus and Tucker) and over time I have come to believe that much of the theorizing by psychologists concerning behavior and cognition will be found to be discredited by the neurosciences finding brain structures and functions which account for nearly all human behavior.

I agree with you that this is the way brain research is heading, though I'm not sure how far it will go.

Are you familiar with the argument that we are "hard wired" in the brain for a belief in God? The argument was made in, among other books, Why God Won't Go Away, by Newberg and DAquili. I have found this argument both fascinating and challenging.
_______________
I think, therefore I drive people nuts.
Blogger
IlanaSimons
Posts: 2,223
Registered: ‎10-20-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Discussion Week 4: Our ongoing conversation about Facts, Arguments, and Definitions

[ Edited ]
But Quine's point (with the rabbit thing) was that we might not be accessing the same eidos, even when a definition "works." That is, when we use "rabbit," I might be referencing the rabbit foot; you might be referencing the rabbit body. If our language games never got around to uncovering this difference between our intentions (if all conversation using the word "rabbit" still worked), then the definition itself would "work." No eidos needed.
Quine uses a silly example but suggests that in many cases, this gap in reference exists, while a definition still "works."

Plato might come back and then say, but language would eventually uncover the difference...if we went on talking about rabbits for a very, very long time. And then we'd want to further refine our definitions so that all language would be exactly "right." But the "natural language" philosophers in Quine's line were specifically fighting against Plato's purist notion of language.




Everyman wrote:


IlanaSimons wrote:
Wittgenstein is a pragmatist when it comes to definitions. If a definition works for a community, then it works. If I say, “Get me the hammer” and you do get that object which I meant when I said “hammer,” then the definition works. This is a simple example that can be applied to non-physical terms like “games” or “God.” Nietzsche made this argument before Wittgenstein did. Lots have made it, I guess.

In a pragmatist's lens, it doesn't matter if a definition is "wrong" or doesn't refer to a true essence; if it serves a community, it's a real thing in the world.

I don't think Plato would necessarily disagree with this; he would say that the reason it works is that we both are accessing the same eidos.



Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 06-15-2007 09:11 PM



Ilana
Check out my book, here and visit my website, here.


Distinguished Bibliophile
KathyS
Posts: 6,898
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Discussion Week 4: Our ongoing conversation about Facts, Arguments, and Definitions

I hope you don't mind me posting this...While Everyman was defining a chair, this lyric of Lerner's popped into my head...:smileyhappy: You're going to feel lucky I don't post more than I do, because every word that comes out of everyones mouth reminds me of a song lyric..

Facts are facts, and if arguments occur over facts, it becomes pointless to me. In a debate, the preconceived idea is to drive a point so thoroughly, there are no facts left....who has the last laugh, or who has given the last fact or word, seems to be the winner of a debate (Hopefully with tooth and nail still in tact). Discussions, on the other hand, as I define them, are presented with a different tactic. It's the actual wanting to hear another point of view. Shaping and molding an answer or question to find another question to answer, and yes, sometimes the question depends on who's listening.

Trying to define things/subjects that are ambiguous, can be interesting, and fun. How do we find answers, without questions, and more questions lead to more answers....there is never one definition without the other. It's like that chair...with many seats, and backs and arms....

So, once in a while I'll get a song stuck in my head, and it plays over and over and over, no answers.....Then I want to close the door and sit in that chair, contemplating my navel, as it were....but not until it comes out here - A Million Miles Away Behind The Door! (sorry if this is too ambiguous)
(PS - no response is necessary :smileywink:

Send back the world
There's too much night for me
The sky is much too high
To shelter me when darkness falls

Four cabin walls
Would be just right for me
I need a threshold I can cross
When I can sit and gather moss
Forevermore
A million miles away behind the door

Roll up the plains
There's too much view for me
There's so much space between
The waiting heart, and whispered word
It's never heard

One room will do for me
Where every evening I can stare
At someone smiling from his chair
Across the floor
A million miles away behind the door

No fears
No fools
No lies
No rules
Just doing with my life
What life is for
A million miles away behind the door
Distinguished Wordsmith
Everyman
Posts: 9,216
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Discussion Week 4: Our ongoing conversation about Facts, Arguments, and Definitions


IlanaSimons wrote:
Plato might come back and then say, but language would eventually uncover the difference...if we went on talking about rabbits for a very, very long time. And then we'd want to further refine our definitions so that all language would be exactly "right." But the "natural language" philosophers in Quine's line were specifically fighting against Plato's purist notion of language.

I don't think Plato needs to say that. He just needs to say that the eidos of rabbit was never unclear, but that you weren't using language precisely. When I spoke just of rabbit, I could mean the entire thing, or I could mean the dish made of rabbit meat, or I could as in your example mean just the foot, but it's not the fault of the eidos being unclear; it's the fault of me not saying what I mean. You can't blame the eidos for careless language. There is an eidos of rabbit, which can be a jackrabbit, a white rabbit, or many kinds of rabbit. The rabbit can have feet (or can have lost a foot and still be a rabbit), can be any size, any color -- that's the point of the eidos; it includes ALL rabbits. There is also an eidos of foot, so if I want to refer to a rabbit's foot, I need to use both terms, each of which has its own eidos, which we then combine. And if I want to, I can add that it is the front foot, in which case I invoke the eidos of front; I can say it's the left front foot of a white jackrabbit, in which case I an invoking many eide. But if I just say "rabbit" when I really mean front right foot of a white jackrabbit weighing three pounds six ounces and missing one ear, it's my fault for not being precise, not the fault of the eidos rabbit, which incorporates that rabbit as well as any other rabbit.
_______________
I think, therefore I drive people nuts.
Distinguished Wordsmith
Everyman
Posts: 9,216
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Discussion Week 4: Our ongoing conversation about Facts, Arguments, and Definitions

Let me try being a bit less obtuse, if that's possible.

When you say rabbit, you may be thinking of an image of a rabbit (you should be, otherwise why did you say rabbit in the first place?)

When you say rabbit, if I'm paying attention to you it conjures up an image of a rabbit.

They are almost certainly totally different rabbits. Mine may be the rabbit my sister in law kept in a cage behind the pump house. Yours may be Bugs Bunny.

But that's fine. We don't need to be thinking of the same rabbit. We're both thinking of rabbits. That's what counts. And in both our cases, the rabbits participate in the eidos of rabbitness, which is all inclusive of each and every rabbit that ever has existed, ever will exist, and ever could exist.
_______________
I think, therefore I drive people nuts.
Distinguished Bibliophile
KathyS
Posts: 6,898
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Discussion Week 4: Our ongoing conversation about Facts, Arguments, and Definitions

[ Edited ]
I named my Peter. Is that ok? I know that conjures up a cottontail, probably a different sex altogether....but he is part of the family, right? Between chairs and rabbits.....I wonder if you can breed them....hmmm, a rabbit with wheels and a foot rest?

Everyman wrote:
Let me try being a bit less obtuse, if that's possible.

When you say rabbit, you may be thinking of an image of a rabbit (you should be, otherwise why did you say rabbit in the first place?)

When you say rabbit, if I'm paying attention to you it conjures up an image of a rabbit.

They are almost certainly totally different rabbits. Mine may be the rabbit my sister in law kept in a cage behind the pump house. Yours may be Bugs Bunny.

But that's fine. We don't need to be thinking of the same rabbit. We're both thinking of rabbits. That's what counts. And in both our cases, the rabbits participate in the eidos of rabbitness, which is all inclusive of each and every rabbit that ever has existed, ever will exist, and ever could exist.



Message Edited by KathyS on 06-15-2007 10:42 PM
Blogger
IlanaSimons
Posts: 2,223
Registered: ‎10-20-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Discussion Week 4: Our ongoing conversation about Facts, Arguments, and Definitions

[ Edited ]
Quine would probably say that to hypothesize some quality which all rabbits share might be a dead end game (we're always breaking seemingly single species into other species, noticing difference where we didn't think it existed). So the only essential similarity that those rabbits which today we call "rabbits" would share is the name we've given them, for functional purposes (to refer to this group of animals which we now believe compose a species).

Quine would say that a search for essence is unnecessary in understanding how language actually works in the day-to-day.
That was the thrust of "natural language" philosophers: They wanted to do away with metaphysics (a study of inborn essence) and simply build a description of language that dealt with pragmatics--with the way that language "works" between different speakers. His point is that you and I could be looking at totally different parts of a rabbit, and still our sentences could "work," and so we would here have a good, healthy, functioning definition. We'd have a totally mismatched edios (reference) but a functional and (I guess "true" ) definition. [I might have my Quine a little wrong here...someone correct me if so.]

It's really a difference of approach: Plato wanted to say language refers to an innate essence; the natural language philosophers wanted to deny themselves reference to any essence, to simply talk about function: If a definition allows for communication--even if the reference is actually totally flawed--it's still a "definition."




Everyman wrote:
Let me try being a bit less obtuse, if that's possible.

When you say rabbit, you may be thinking of an image of a rabbit (you should be, otherwise why did you say rabbit in the first place?)

When you say rabbit, if I'm paying attention to you it conjures up an image of a rabbit.

They are almost certainly totally different rabbits. Mine may be the rabbit my sister in law kept in a cage behind the pump house. Yours may be Bugs Bunny.

But that's fine. We don't need to be thinking of the same rabbit. We're both thinking of rabbits. That's what counts. And in both our cases, the rabbits participate in the eidos of rabbitness, which is all inclusive of each and every rabbit that ever has existed, ever will exist, and ever could exist.



Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 06-16-2007 10:00 AM



Ilana
Check out my book, here and visit my website, here.


Distinguished Wordsmith
Everyman
Posts: 9,216
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Discussion Week 4: Our ongoing conversation about Facts, Arguments, and Definitions

[ Edited ]
IlanaSimons wrote: Quine would probably say that to hypothesize some quality which all rabbits share might be a dead end game (we're always breaking seemingly single species into other species, noticing difference where we didn't think it existed). So the only essential similarity that those rabbits which today we call "rabbits" would share is the name we've given them, for functional purposes (to refer to this group of animals which we now believe compose a species).

But what is it that enables us both to call these very diffeent things rabbits? We must have some common understanding of what a rabbit it. We must both have some sense of "rabbitness."

And how many species we break them into is irrelevant; they are all still rabbits, and all still partake in the eidos of rabbitness. They may also partake in the more specific eide of specific species, but that's fine.

I'm reminded of that famous (presumably fictional) anecdote of the blind men examining an elephant. The elephant is what it is, whatever the blind men call it. Our words don't create or define a thing; they merely describe what we perceive.

Quine would say that a search for essence is unnecessary in understanding how language actually works in the day-to-day. That was the thrust of "natural language" philosophers: They wanted to do away with metaphysics (a study of inborn essence) and simply build a description of language that dealt with pragmatics--with the way that language "works" between different speakers. His point is that you and I could be looking at totally different parts of a rabbit, and still our sentences could "work," and so we would here have a good, healthy, functioning definition. We'd have a totally mismatched edios (reference) but a functional and (I guess "true" ) definition.

I'm reminded of the story of the blind men and the elephant. They are all examining the same object, and the elephant is what it is. But in feeling the different parts, one saying it's a snake, another saying it's a tree, their sentences all work but they aren't communicating the reality of elephant.

The problem with just going with a natural language approach is that it doesn't answer how I can recognize as a chair an object I've never seen before and which is distinctly different from any chair I've ever seen before or have heard anybody describe as a chair. I take a woodworking magazine which has each month a gallery of photographs of works, usually exotic, that readers have sent in. One woodworker may have made an object that is just four slabs of plywood, yet I recognize it instantly as a chair. What enables me to extrapolate from my knowledge of a Morris chair, a Lazy Boy recliner, a Morris chair, one of those wire backed chairs with little round seats in French parks, and know instantly that this is a member of that class of chair, whereas the next picture also of four slabs of plywood is a table, and the next picture is of a stool? What enables me to do that? What does Quine say enables me to do that?

Message Edited by Everyman on 06-16-2007 11:53 AM
_______________
I think, therefore I drive people nuts.
Blogger
IlanaSimons
Posts: 2,223
Registered: ‎10-20-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Discussion Week 4: Our ongoing conversation about Facts, Arguments, and Definitions

[ Edited ]
Quine [but we're probably not really doing Quine anymore, b/c I don't know enough about Quine to say this is "Quine." Instead I'll say "linguistic pragmatists"] would call our ability to class things as chairs a social convention. It's not an ability we're born with, like Chomsky would say language is, and it can shift as new ideas/chairs/things are built.

So when you write "We must have some common understanding of what a rabbit is. We must both have some sense of 'rabbitness,'" a pragmatist would just say, "no—actually you probably have a pretty different idea than I have. But it doesn't really matter—there's no exactly right answer to what rabbitness is. As long as our conversation works, the definition works." I think that's actually the big difference: Plato would say there is a right and wrong conception of rabbitness; with enough thought we will all correct our “false” understandings. But the pragmatists would say, "well probably not. The boundaries are awfully hazy—as to what does and doesn’t define a rabbit. All that matters is that you and I have ideas that are similar enough so that conversation moves along, and gets stuff done. I.e. you say, ‘I want a rabbit for Christmas!’ and I buy you one. Then, the definition is good enough—no metaphysics needed.”

That's it I think: a subtle difference. Lots of pragmatists would say there's no single, utterly correct defining essence behind our current category terms.

p.s. to you: I'm totally enjoying this dialogue, but now I find myself behind deadline on something I have to write today. So my part of this dialogue (if it goes on) might be delayed till tomorrow.






Everyman wrote:
IlanaSimons wrote: Quine would probably say that to hypothesize some quality which all rabbits share might be a dead end game (we're always breaking seemingly single species into other species, noticing difference where we didn't think it existed). So the only essential similarity that those rabbits which today we call "rabbits" would share is the name we've given them, for functional purposes (to refer to this group of animals which we now believe compose a species).

But what is it that enables us both to call these very diffeent things rabbits? We must have some common understanding of what a rabbit it. We must both have some sense of "rabbitness."

And how many species we break them into is irrelevant; they are all still rabbits, and all still partake in the eidos of rabbitness. They may also partake in the more specific eide of specific species, but that's fine.

I'm reminded of that famous (presumably fictional) anecdote of the blind men examining an elephant. The elephant is what it is, whatever the blind men call it. Our words don't create or define a thing; they merely describe what we perceive.

Quine would say that a search for essence is unnecessary in understanding how language actually works in the day-to-day. That was the thrust of "natural language" philosophers: They wanted to do away with metaphysics (a study of inborn essence) and simply build a description of language that dealt with pragmatics--with the way that language "works" between different speakers. His point is that you and I could be looking at totally different parts of a rabbit, and still our sentences could "work," and so we would here have a good, healthy, functioning definition. We'd have a totally mismatched edios (reference) but a functional and (I guess "true" ) definition.

I'm reminded of the story of the blind men and the elephant. They are all examining the same object, and the elephant is what it is. But in feeling the different parts, one saying it's a snake, another saying it's a tree, their sentences all work but they aren't communicating the reality of elephant.

The problem with just going with a natural language approach is that it doesn't answer how I can recognize as a chair an object I've never seen before and which is distinctly different from any chair I've ever seen before or have heard anybody describe as a chair. I take a woodworking magazine which has each month a gallery of photographs of works, usually exotic, that readers have sent in. One woodworker may have made an object that is just four slabs of plywood, yet I recognize it instantly as a chair. What enables me to extrapolate from my knowledge of a Morris chair, a Lazy Boy recliner, a Morris chair, one of those wire backed chairs with little round seats in French parks, and know instantly that this is a member of that class of chair, whereas the next picture also of four slabs of plywood is a table, and the next picture is of a stool? What enables me to do that? What does Quine say enables me to do that?

Message Edited by Everyman on 06-16-2007 11:53 AM



Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 06-16-2007 12:57 PM



Ilana
Check out my book, here and visit my website, here.


Distinguished Bibliophile
KathyS
Posts: 6,898
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Discussion Week 4: Our ongoing conversation about Facts, Arguments, and Definitions

Everyman, I'm not going to profess to know everything you and Ilana are talking about, because I don't. I can see subtle differences in your dialogue, but that's about it. All I know is, if it has four legs (providing it hasn't lost one by way of it being caught in a trap) and has two long ears, a little fuzzy tail, and big beautiful eyes, and a coat that keeps it warm in the winter, it could just be a wacky wabbit. No matter whether it's has long hair, or a short, or it's ears stand up or flop, and whatever the names you use to identify that particular rabbit, it's all learned by way of someone or something. I wasn't born to know these facts.

And the same with those chairs, although chairs can be described and classified into a million different "styles". I would probably start by asking someone if the wanted to sit down....that someone would assume it would be a chair they are sitting in. (Especially after I've said, "whould you like to sit in this chair?" But, again, it's a leaned identification. If they said, "Wow, what a neat chair." I'd probably tell them I made it...or Everyman made it, it's an Everyman's chair....er, ladies too!

I know this isn't any kind of an answer, or anything remotely-intelligently-close to your discussion, but discussions of symantics never did make sense to me....only my own logic, and that's all that counts on my end of this discussion :smileywink: I'm certainly not going to sit on a bunny rabbit, or fry a chair!

Kathy S.