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Why is philosophy difficult to define?

Why is philosophy difficult to define?

Why is this question so compelling? (to someone, anyway) Charles Taliaferro posted a thoughtful answer/challenge to the same question just three weeks ago: http://askphilosophers.org/question/24944

In several answers in AskPhilosophers, philosophers say that some uttered words

In several answers in AskPhilosophers, philosophers say that some uttered words express emotions, feelings, sensations and the like (but you always use the word "express"), and that this is not the same as some words saying or stating that such emotion (etc.) occurred. So you make a big difference between expressing and saying (or perhaps stating). For instance, "ouch" expresses pain, while "I am feeling pain" states that such pain exists. Sometimes you say that expressing cannot be true or false, but statements can. It is very difficult for me to understand this difference. I understand that "ouch" is much more immediate than "I am feeling pain", and that "ouch" is slightly humorous, and there may be other differences, but basically these two sentences just say the same thing. They convey the same basic information and both can be used to give a false information. Would you be so kind as to explain me what is the difference between expressing and saying (stating) in cases where what is expressed can be...

A very interesting question touching on complicated territory! Probably the best response I can give is to recommend the SEP article on "Pragmatics," available at this link. I think you'll find it contains lots of information highly relevant to your question.

A very interesting question touching on complicated territory! Probably the best response I can give is to recommend the SEP article on "Pragmatics," available at this link . I think you'll find it contains lots of information highly relevant to your question.

I'm grateful for Allen Stairs' response to question 5821, but he, like Richard

I'm grateful for Allen Stairs' response to question 5821, but he, like Richard Heck and Stephen Maitzen when answering question 5792, ASSUMES that words like "all" have the same meaning in everyday English as they have when used by logicians. That's what seems very strange to me. At least, everyday "all" is ambiguous. Professors Stairs, Heck and Maitzen believe that "all the strawberries he has" always means "all the strawberries he may have", and never "all the strawberries he does have". But look at the latter example ("does have"): you're still using the word "all", but here it is clearly said that he has some strawberries. Why can't that happen (in the right context) with "all the strawberries he has"? By the way, in several Romance languages, there is a difference between (e.g., in Portuguese) "todos os morangos que tem" (indicative) and "todos os morangos que tenha" (subjunctive). Both can be translated as "all the strawberries s/he has", but the first sentence indicates that he (or she) does have...

I'm not convinced that your expression "all the strawberries he does have" is a recognized way of disambiguating the expression that you say is ambiguous: "all the strawberries he has." When would we use the expression "all the strawberries he does have"? As far as I can see, only in special contexts such as this one: "He doesn't have all the strawberries in the county. But all the strawberries he does have are organic." In that example, "does" isn't used to signal the indicative mood; instead it's used merely to emphasize a contrast.

Nor am I convinced that "does" + infinitive always carries existential import (i.e., implies the existence of at least one thing satisfying the verb phrase). Consider:

(P) "All the intelligent extraterrestrials our galaxy does contain are extraterrestrials."

Again, P will sound awkward except in a context such as this:

(Q) "Our galaxy may not contain any intelligent extraterrestrials. But all the intelligent extraterrestrials our galaxy does contain are extraterrestrials."

Whether or not you believe our galaxy contains intelligent extraterrestrials, it would be wrong to deny the second sentence in Q, wouldn't it?

I'm not convinced that your expression "all the strawberries he does have" is a recognized way of disambiguating the expression that you say is ambiguous: "all the strawberries he has." When would we use the expression "all the strawberries he does have"? As far as I can see, only in special contexts such as this one: "He doesn't have all the strawberries in the county. But all the strawberries he does have are organic." In that example, "does" isn't used to signal the indicative mood; instead it's used merely to emphasize a contrast. Nor am I convinced that "does" + infinitive always carries existential import (i.e., implies the existence of at least one thing satisfying the verb phrase). Consider: (P) "All the intelligent extraterrestrials our galaxy does contain are extraterrestrials." Again, P will sound awkward except in a context such as this: (Q) "Our galaxy may not contain any intelligent extraterrestrials. But all the intelligent extraterrestrials our galaxy does contain are extraterrestrials...

Suppose I have never played a game of chess. If I now make the claim that I've

Suppose I have never played a game of chess. If I now make the claim that I've won all the games of chess I've ever played, is that claim true, false, or undefined? A group of friends had an argument over this, and I figured that philosophers are deeply logical thinkers that can give us the answer and also to get a proper understanding of why the answer is what it is.

It would, of course, be equally true that you've lost every game of chess you've ever played. Bad news to go with the good.

It would, of course, be equally true that you've lost every game of chess you've ever played. Bad news to go with the good.

Just what is a definition? Are definitions ever proved or are they all man made?

Just what is a definition? Are definitions ever proved or are they all man made? If they are man made, what good are they?

Just what is a definition?

To answer your first question, I looked up "definition" (in the linguistic sense of the word) and got this: "define: to explain the meaning of (a word, phrase, etc.)." If that definition is accurate, then a definition is an explanation of the meaning of a word, phrase, etc.

Are definitions ever proved?

The definitions in dictionaries are attempts to explain the actual meanings of terms as those terms are used by the community of language-users. As such, definitions can be more accurate or less accurate, depending on how well they capture the actual way terms are used. I wouldn't say that such definitions are ever "proved," but as a matter of empirical fact some definitions are more accurate than others.

Another kind of definition, not found in dictionaries, is a stipulative definition: it's just a speaker's proposal to use a word in a particular way or else the speaker's declaration that he/she will be using the word in that way. Stipulative definitions aren't meant to report the actual use of the word by the community of language-users; instead, they're proposed or declared in order to have a shorthand way of saying something.

Are definitions all man-made?

Yes, in the sense that all definitions are invented by language-users rather than arising independently of language-users.

If they are man-made, what good are they?

As far as I know, all explanations (on Earth, anyway) are made by humans. Being explanations, dictionary definitions are useful in the way that explanations in general are useful. Stipulative definitions are useful as shorthand ways of saying something.

Just what is a definition? To answer your first question, I looked up "definition" (in the linguistic sense of the word) and got this: " define : to explain the meaning of (a word, phrase, etc.)." If that definition is accurate, then a definition is an explanation of the meaning of a word, phrase, etc. Are definitions ever proved? The definitions in dictionaries are attempts to explain the actual meanings of terms as those terms are used by the community of language-users. As such, definitions can be more accurate or less accurate, depending on how well they capture the actual way terms are used. I wouldn't say that such definitions are ever "proved," but as a matter of empirical fact some definitions are more accurate than others. Another kind of definition, not found in dictionaries, is a stipulative definition: it's just a speaker's proposal to use a word in a particular way or else the speaker's declaration that he/she will be using the word in that way. Stipulative...

My reductionist friend argues that rice noodles are not noodles since the very

My reductionist friend argues that rice noodles are not noodles since the very first noodles ever made and the noodles most commonly eaten around the world are made from wheat by definition. That is to say, the term "rice noodles" is an oxymoron, much like "vodka martini" so just how valid is it to argue about features of rice noodles such as length, taste, and texture in order to conclude that noodles made from a different ingredient really are noodles?

I would question your friend's claim that "the very first noodles ever made and the noodles most commonly eaten around the world are made from wheat by definition." I don't see the justification for the final two words in that claim. Even if the first noodles happen to have been made from wheat, I don't see how being made from wheat becomes part of the definition of 'noodle'. The first boats weren't made of fiberglass, but surely that doesn't preclude the existence of fiberglass boats or make 'fiberglass boat' a contradiction in terms.

I would question your friend's claim that "the very first noodles ever made and the noodles most commonly eaten around the world are made from wheat by definition ." I don't see the justification for the final two words in that claim. Even if the first noodles happen to have been made from wheat, I don't see how being made from wheat becomes part of the definition of 'noodle'. The first boats weren't made of fiberglass, but surely that doesn't preclude the existence of fiberglass boats or make 'fiberglass boat' a contradiction in terms.

Reading Wikipedia and a bit of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, I learn

Reading Wikipedia and a bit of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, I learn that, for most philosophers today, the distinction betweem analytic and synthetic truths or falsities is no longer acceptable. For them, there are no analytic truths. This rejection originates in Quine. I wonder if that is really so. Is there anything synthetic in mathematics? Is there anything synthetic in the thought that all birds are birds, or that all brown balls are brown things? How do philosophers argue that these truths are synthetic?

It's a good idea to consult the SEP for discussion of these questions and for citations to various published answers. Continue to do so. I'd question, however, whether "most philosophers today" reject the analytic/synthetic distinction. According to the recent PhilPapers survey, 64.9% of "target faculty" either "accept or lean toward" accepting the distinction (see this link). Reports of its demise would appear to be exaggerated.

It's a good idea to consult the SEP for discussion of these questions and for citations to various published answers. Continue to do so. I'd question, however, whether "most philosophers today" reject the analytic/synthetic distinction. According to the recent PhilPapers survey, 64.9% of "target faculty" either "accept or lean toward" accepting the distinction (see this link ). Reports of its demise would appear to be exaggerated.

Are definitions always human made? If so, do they not exist on non-human planets

Are definitions always human made? If so, do they not exist on non-human planets?

I strongly doubt that all definitions are human-made. Given the staggering number of stars that astronomers say exist, it seems highly likely that intelligent life has arisen in at least one other place -- intelligent life capable of creating languages and capable of creating explicit definitions for at least some of the items in those languages. All the definitions we currently know of are human-made, but the region of spacetime we've sampled is exceedingly small compared to what's out there.

I strongly doubt that all definitions are human-made. Given the staggering number of stars that astronomers say exist, it seems highly likely that intelligent life has arisen in at least one other place -- intelligent life capable of creating languages and capable of creating explicit definitions for at least some of the items in those languages. All the definitions we currently know of are human-made, but the region of spacetime we've sampled is exceedingly small compared to what's out there.

Why are counterfactual claims taken seriously by philosophers? Aren't they just

Why are counterfactual claims taken seriously by philosophers? Aren't they just an imaginative way of thinking and talking? For example, why is a counterfactual of the form "If it had been the case that A, then it would be the case that C" supposed to have truth conditions? For if causal determinism is true, then there is a complete specification W of the history of world w in which A would occur such that W entails either the truth of C or the falsity of C, making the counterfactual either vacuously true or a contradiction (and this is so for all possible deterministic worlds which include A); whereas if causal determinism is not true, then the history of w cannot be fully specified because A depends on non-deterministic processes, and the truth or falsity of the counterfactual is not determined. And for a non-deterministic world of which the history is fully specified (i.e. W includes the outcomes of non-deterministic processes) in which A occurs, the vacuous/contradictory result again obtains. ...

The most obvious reason why counterfactual talk is taken seriously by philosophers is that it's virtually impossible to avoid it. We constantly find ourselves asking -- for good reason -- what would happen in certain circumstances, and so understanding more deeply what that sort of talk might amount to seems to be a reasonable project.

You offer a dilemma. We consider a counterfactual "If A were the case, then C would be the case." You then give us a choice between determinism and indeterminism. So suppose determinism is true. Then even if 'A' is false as things are, the deterministic story you're imagining can still be applied in a hypothetical case in which A is true. After all, we do that sort of thing all the time when we solve physics problems! If the result of applying the theory is that C also turns out to be true, then it's true as things actually are that if 'A' were true, 'C' would be true as well. Why is that vacuous? It's certainly not trivial; otherwise physics itself would be trivial.

On the other hand, if assuming 'A' rules out 'C,' then it's false as things actually are that if 'A' were true, 'C' would also be true. That's not vacuous, and it doesn't make the counterfactual a contradiction. Keep in mind: the laws of nature are contingent truths.

But in fact, we're over-simplifying. Suppose the world is deterministic. Suppose Johnny is about to strike a match. Will it light? Our two assumptions don't answer the question. Whether the match would light depends not just on the laws but also on the background conditions, as you're aware. But notice: when I say "If Johnny were to strike a match, it would light" I'm saying (on a Lewis/Stalknaker-type account) that in the non-actual situations that most closely resemble how things actually are except that Johnny strikes a match, the match lights. That's something I could well be wrong about, or right about, consistently with determinism and with the actual laws of the world. Whether Johnny's match lights in the nearest possible situations where he strikes isn't just obvious. It depends (among other things) on all sorts of contingent facts about the actual world, and these are facts about which I might well be mistaken. The point of spelling out truth conditions is to give an account of what being right or wrong would amount to.

Things don't change if we consider indeterministic worlds. One reason is that even if things aren't fully deterministic, there would still be true counterfactuals. Some aren't so interesting. For example: if I were 6' tall, I'd be over 5' 10." That's true, even if it's true as a matter of logic/mathematics. Others wouldn't have to be so trivial. There could be cases where strict causal relations hold even if not all events have strict causes. But suppose everything is, so to speak, loose and separate. Then it might be that all counterfactuals that aren't true as a matter of logic or math are false. (False, by the way; not indeterminate.) That would be a big deal but it wouldn't make the non-logical counterfactuals vacuous and it wouldn't make then contradictory. It would just make them false. It would also leave us with a lot of true "might"-counterfactuals. For example: if Johnny were to strike the match, it might light, and it might not. Lewis's account spells out truth conditions for "might" counterfactuals, and also allows us to state truth conditions for "would" counterfactuals in terms of "might." From "If it were the case that A then it might be the case that not-C," it follows on Lewis's account that "If it were the case that A then it would be the case that C" is false.

As for rigor: the everyday use of counterfactuals may lack rigor in various sorts of ways, but this isn't as bad as it might sound. The everyday use of language in general lacks various sorts of rigor, but that doesn't make the study of semantics pointless. And it's also worth keeping in mind: Lewis saw it as a virtue of his theory that it can take straightforward account of certain kinds of lack of rigor. You say there's no one answer to questions about which possible worlds are nearest? Lewis would agree. He'd point out, however, that once you're settled on the criterion of closeness that fits your purposes, you can apply his apparatus.

A closing thought: suppose the reply to my comments is that I still haven't addressed the issue about applying rigor to the non-rigorous. (It's not clear to me that your original worry amounts to this, but no matter.) Even to apply Lewis' apparatus contextually goes beyond anything we can do with absolute rigor, or so it could be argued. But now the criticism proves too much. We're almost never in a position to apply physics (or any other science, for that matter) with the sort of rigor that criticism has in mind.

Theories in philosophy are often like theories in science, or so I'd suggest: they're more or less useful intellectual tools. My own take on what Lewis and Stalnaker have bequeathed us is that this intellectual tool has more than proved its usefulness. That's not to say it's beyond criticism or will never be replaced. But it's a considerable accomplishment.

A very sophisticated question! In short, philosophers take counterfactual conditionals seriously at least partly because everyday language and thought take them so seriously. Entire legal regimes, such as the negligence regime in tort law, use confident judgments about counterfactuals -- "Had you not acted negligently, the plaintiff wouldn't have been injured (then and there)" -- in ways that matter hugely to people's lives. Indeed, it's hard to imagine a way of living that doesn't sooner or later involve counterfactual reasoning. The reliance on counterfactuals probably extends to all of natural science too, because explaining how or why a phenomenon occurred commits one to counterfactuals about how things would have gone had the "explanans" for the phenomenon not occurred. Your points about determinism and indeterminism are good ones. Theories of counterfactuals are supposed to work regardless of whether determinism is true. If determinism is true, then a counterfactual of this form must...

The notion of something being a "fake" seems linguistically odd. Normally, if

The notion of something being a "fake" seems linguistically odd. Normally, if you have an adjective and a noun, the noun notes what the thing being talked about is, and the adjective describes some quality of the thing in question. A "fake plant", however, doesn't seem to fit that pattern at all, because a fake plant isn't a plant to begin with; the noun seems to be violating its intended function. Is "fake" something other than an adjective, then, perhaps analogous to "not a"? Or is a "fake plant" actually a "fakeplant", i.e. the fake is a part of the noun rather than an adjective, despite its apparent form? Doesn't the adjective "fake" somehow undermine the purpose of nouns?

One point worth noting here is that words like "fake" are, so far as I can see, always intensional. meaning that whether something is a fake F depends upon what property F is, and not just which things are F. They are also "attributive", meaning that an Adj-Noun isn't just an Adj that is Noun, but (roughly) something that is Adj for a Noun. E.g., a tall basketball player is someone who is tall for a basketball player, not just someone who is tall and a basketball player. Attributives are hard enough; intensionality is hard enough; both by themselves. Put them together, and it's a nightmare.

I'm having trouble confirming it online at the moment, but I believe that linguists have a category for words such as fake , artificial , would-be , and the like: I think they're called "cancelling modifiers" or "cancelling adjectives." These words are well-known exceptions to the rule that, given an adjective A and a noun N, any AN is an N. I don't think they "undermine the purpose" of nouns or adjectives; instead, they perform a special and useful adjectival function in language. Anyway, you might search for information on the linguistics of cancelling modifiers or cancelling adjectives. I hope you find the clarification you're seeking.

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