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One can say something mixing words from two languages (say, English and

One can say something mixing words from two languages (say, English and Ukrainian), and make good, clear and exact sense. One can even mix parts of words, or structures, and make perfect sense. My problem is that such an invented sentence wouldn't be meaningful according to any one of the "previously existing" languages. But, since it has linguistic meaning, it seems that it should have meaning according to some language. What language is that? The "sum" (what is that?) of the two used languages? The sum of all the existing languages in the world (since we can mix words from whatever language)? A new language created just by saying or thinking (one doesn't have to say it) the mixed sentence? And what about sentences with newly invented words? Sometimes we can invent a word and make perfect sense for people who listen to it for the first time. My point is that, after all, it seems that linguistic meaning isn't meaning according to a language. Or, if this is wrong, at least there is no "definite...

It depends on what you take ‘language’ to mean. I take it to mean, roughly, a set of rules for constructing meaningful sentences. These rules specify a list of words and ways of putting them together to form sentences. It specifies the meaning of each word and how to compute the meaning of sentences from the component words and the way they are put together. All typical human languages conform to the principles of what Noam Chomsky called ‘Universal Grammar.’ Universal Grammar is a set of principles for the construction of languages, which severely constrain the range of possible human languages. All normal human children are born with a representation of Universal Grammar encoded in their mind/brains and they (or their mind/brains) use this representation to construct a representation of a language that resembles those of the people around them. Each normal adult human has at least one language represented in their mind/brains. Each such language is unique to the individual, though it will be very similar to those of many other speakers. What we call ‘English’, ‘French’ etc. are just somewhat arbitrary groupings of individual languages. So if I say e.g. ‘Je voudrais a cup of tea’ I am using a sentence of my language, or one of my languages, and many others will be able to understand it because it is a sentence of their languages too. It is an unusual sentence in that French languages and English languages tend to use different vocabularies and grammatical principals. But it is not too hard to mix and match and draw on elements of both to construct a single meaningful sentence. Also it is not hard artificially to construct a new language with just one sentence in it. Thus: the language GL contains the one, syntactically-unstructured sentence: ‘Чайбудьласка,Дарлінг’ which, when uttered or written by speaker at a time, expresses the proposition that the speaker would like a cup of tea at that time.

For a philosophy student, what is the best language to learn? Particulary, a

For a philosophy student, what is the best language to learn? Particulary, a student interested in moral and political philosophy, and epistemology too. I think is english, and that's why I'm already learning it. If I'm right, what is the best after english? I'm a spanish native speaker.

Great question! Your choice of language may depend on your philosophical interests. If you are interested in Greco-Roman and philosophy in late Antiquity and Medieval philosophy, then Greek and Latin would be excellent. If you are interested in Indian or Hindu philosophy sanscrit would be best. Your Spanish will be good for reading a very fine, dynamic Spanish philosopher and essayist, Jose Ortega Y Gasset. Spanish philosophy (that is, philosophy in Spain, not just in Spanish) experienced hard times after the defeat of democracy in 1939, but after the restoration of democracy in 1978, Spain has been a place of multiple, alternative philosophical debates. Two outstanding philosophers to consider (AFTER you have read some Ortega, who is fabulous), I suggest you consult J.L. Lopez Aranguren and J.M. Valverde.

I think your pursuit of English is a great choice. I could be wrong, but I believe that probably the most number of philosophical works available today are accessible in English, more than any other single language. This is not just do to the works that are first published in English, but due to the wide ranging works that have been and are being translated into English. English is also more easy to learn than, say, Chinese in terms of numbers of characters and punctuation. When I was in graduate school (long, long ago...), after English the languages of choice were French and German. Because life is short, and in mastering English and reading current Spanish speaking philosophy (which also is flourishing in Mexico, Central and South America; on this, see Latin American Philosophy Today, edited by Jorge J. E. Garcia), I suggest choosing French or German, depending on your interests. If you want to read Heidegger in the original, go with German, if you want to read Sartre in the original, I suggest you go with French.

Isn't racist to find the word "nigger" racist? As in when it's merely said

Isn't racist to find the word "nigger" racist? As in when it's merely said around you and not directed towards you. When someone calls another an "asshole," there isn't a normally a particular ethnicity that comes to mind -- yet The "N" Word is automatically associated with people of African descent. This all seems to fit into the ideology of race making racism possible.

I'll have to admit that I'm having a bit of trouble following you.

In the sorts of cases that matter for this discussion, the "N" word is a slur. It's also a slur that, unlike "asshole," has a racial meaning. It's belittling someone because of their race. I think we agree on all that. The reason the "N" word brings "a particular ethnicity" to mind is because of what the word means; no mystery there. You write "yet the 'N' word is automatically associated with people of African descent" as though this was somehow puzzling or in need of explanation, but there's no puzzle that I can see.

Close enough for present purposes, a racist is someone who has a negative view of some people simply because of their race or who mistreats people on account of their race. Seems pretty clear that that's bad; also seems pretty clear that there are plenty of people like that. Using a racial epithet like the "N" word is stereotypically racist behavior, and I can't see why that should seem puzzling.

So what's left is your first sentence and your last one. Start with the first. You suggest that it's racist to find the "N" word racist even when the person making is judgment isn't the target of the insult. But why? I don't have to be the target of an insult to recognize that someone has been insulted, just as I don't have to be the one who was hit to tell that someone was assaulted.

So let's consider your last sentence: "This all seems to fit into the ideology of race making racism possible." Now it's certainly true: without racial distinctions, racism isn't possible. You can't demean or mistreat someone on account of their race unless we can talk about their race in the first place. Same goes for gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, economic status, educational level and so on. But if I recognize that someone is being shunned simply because they don't have much money, I'm not buying into an ideology; I'm recognizing bad behavior. Same in the case of race.

Now someone might argue that by acknowledging race at all, we help make racism possible. But let's think that through. I might think that race is a category with no interesting biological basis. I might think that distinctions among so-called races are shallow. I might also think it would be better if we all just left the idea of race behind. But thoughts like that might be exactly why why I object to racial slurs. We don't live in a post-racial society, and pretending that we do doesn't make it so. Racism is real and it's wrong. Even if I dream of a world where people are judged by the content of the character and not the color of their skin, that's not the world we live in.

One last stab: maybe the idea is that the best thing to do with racism is to ignore it. By calling it out, we draw attention to it and help keep the idea that race is important alive. If that's the thought, then there's an empirical question in front of us: what ways of responding to racism are most likely to help bring it to an end? In particular: would ignoring people who make racist insults be better in the long run than worrying about it or calling it out?

Since this is an empirical question, I can't pretend that I know the answer a priori, but even a casual glance at history makes a strong case for saying that confronting racism rather than ignoring it is what's brought about the demise of many ills (slavery being an obvious example), and the diminishment of others (job discrimination, for example.) The question of how best to move forward isn't always easy to answer, and if that's part of your point, I agree. But it seems to me that we have a ways to go, and I find it hard to convince myself that racist acts and attitudes will go away if only people of good will ignore them.

My question concerns whether or not questions should be taken into consideration

My question concerns whether or not questions should be taken into consideration in understanding the answers to those questions. Let's take the following question and answer as an example: Q: What time are you leaving for your lecture today? A: I'm leaving at 2:00. The answer could be interpreted to mean that the the answerer is leaving for the lecture at 2:00 today. Yet the answer could also be interpreted to mean that the answerer is leaving at 2:00 on some day (not necessarily today) to go somewhere (not necessarily the lecture). Another example follows and it is this one upon which I ask your opinion. Given the following question and answer, which of the two possible interpretations of the answer would you choose if you were required to select only one without being able to provide an explanation of any kind. This is not a hypothetical question as I, along with other people, faced the exact same situation recently. Q: Is anybody in all of Athens wiser than Socrates? A: No. No one is wiser...

Very interesting! A philosopher who worked hard on this very matter was Paul Grice. He studied what he called conversational implicature, a fancy term for the ways in which the meaning of what we say can be shaped by a variety of conditions. For example, if you asked me to pass you some water and I replied saying that I am glad to hand you a glass of water which, as it happens --and then I go on to tell you all the properties of water, how much water is there on earth, and so on. Most people would (I think) conclude that I am trying to be funny or I am insane or simply a bore. I can imagine this exchange between two philosophers. George: "Good to see you. Based on seeing you, I now think it more likely that all ravens are black.' Ringo: "So, you are still trying to solve the Raven Paradox! Give it a rest!" An "outsider" would not get this, but for students of induction and reason they would also (probably) infer that the only reason someone would say what George did is if he was thinking about the Raven Paradox. So, I think context is important, both to pick up on clues about what a question is about, as well as to disambiguate remarks. Someone might yell out a question "Prune?" and it is not clear she is referring to a fruit or the act of pruning as in pruning a bush.

On your two questions: I think most of us would adopt the first interpretation, and if the speaker meant he was leaving on some other day this was misleading. On the second, I am inclined to the first interpretation, and suggest that if #2 was intended, this would be carrying on to extend beyond the scope of the question. But you are right, so many such interpretations may need confirming and vagueness, ambiguity, and misdirection can spoil a conversation. Though it can also be used in stressful situations to get out of trouble. I was late for an important meeting at the Humphrey Institute due to having a longer than expected lunch with friends. The Dean said: "You are late." I replied "The traffic is terrible. Sorry." On the one hand, I could defend my reply because the traffic that day was jammed. But clearly I was implying that the reason I was late was because of the traffic. I'm afraid I lied or was at least deceptive. If that Dean reads this email: I am sorry, sir. Next time we meet, I will buy you some flowers and a coffee or the drink of your choice, and I will be there on time even if the traffic is terrible.

I read in one of my dad's linguistic books that some languages have exactly

I read in one of my dad's linguistic books that some languages have exactly three basic color words: black, white, and red. I wondered if this meant that for the people who speak these languages, everything that is not black and white is called red (the sky is red, grass is red, etc.) -- or if they just don't have a word to describe anything that is not black, white, or red. If it is the latter, then how would they describe the color of the sky and grass? Noah L. Age 11

Hi, Noah, thanks for writing us with your question.

I'm not sure which book you were reading, and I have never heard of such languages myself. To be honest, I kind of doubt there really are such languages. Have you ever heard about how Eskimos have lots of words for "snow"? Well, at least a lot of people think that's just wrong. It's a myth. In this case, I find it hard to imagine that the people speaking any language wouldn't find it useful to have words for more colors than the ones you mention. And if it's useful, then they will introduce such words.

But let's suppose that there are languages like that and ask what we should say about them, if so. Both options you mention seem possible: that they have words for "black", "white", and "colored", and that they have words for "black", "white", and "red". In the latter case, then, as you say, they would have no word for the color of the sky. But they could still describe it, if they had a word meaning "same color". They could say the sky was the same color as the lake, maybe, and that the grass was the same color as the leaves on the tree.

If they couldn't describe it, and felt they needed to do so, then, as I kind of said before, I think they would probably make up a word for it. Languages grow that way all the time. They are alive, changing every day to fit the needs of the people who use them.

In fact, you might even have made up new words yourself! We all do it. Mostly, we make up names for things, but sometimes we make up names for new kinds of things, even. One of my cats used to make lots of different kinds of meows depending upon what it was he wanted. So we made up words to describe his meows. We needed a word, and there wasn't one, so we created it.

Isn't language cool?

Are expressions like "women are beautiful" sexist? Doesn't that imply that women

Are expressions like "women are beautiful" sexist? Doesn't that imply that women exist as something to be admired rather than as beings in and of themselves?

I suggest that when a person calls or describes a gender or species or event or thing as beautiful, this implies or signals that the person believes the gender etc is worthy of aesthetic pleasure or delight. There need not be anything sexist or demeaning in this, and it does not suggest that the object of delight is merely an object of delight or that the beautiful "object" (or the object of beauty) is in some sense passive. One might claim 'the women Olympic athletes swam beautifully today' or 'the women soldiers performed beautifully in their rescue of the orphans yesterday when they met with severe resistance from the hostage-takers' without any sexism coming into play.

Going a bit further: I suspect the phrase "women are beautiful" is somewhat odd. I suppose one might first want to know the scope of the reference: are all women beautiful or the majority or a significant number of women are beautiful? Are women all beautiful in the same way? What are the reasons for thinking all or many or some women are beautiful? Are women beautiful because they are women or for some other reason? What would it be like for a person to actually take aesthetic delight in all living women (as a gender) currently on our planet? Or possibly taking pleasure in all past and future women? I suppose one is more likely to hear a more specific claim like: 'Those women who attended the conference on human rights are doing a beautiful job presenting their case for famine relief'... or something similarly more specific. Similarly, I think one needs to get more specific in order to really be guilty of sexism. Probably the following would be pretty sexist: "the only thing better than a beautiful car is a beautiful woman" or "beer tastes better when you are sharing it with a beautiful woman." I can imagine how these might be said in a non-sexist context, but they move toward sexism insofar as you are comparing a woman to a car or you suggest that if you really like a certain drink, it will enhance your enjoyment of the drink if you are flirting with a woman (woman as sex object and beer enhancer)! Put-downs of women or treating them in a sexist fashion will sometimes seriously depend on context. Imagine Hillary Clinton gives a passionate talk on human rights at the United Nations calling on Syria to stop its abuse of human rights. Imagine further that after Clinton's heated speech the Syrian ambassador rises and rather than address Clinton's admonition and call to action, he said "Your hair is beautiful today! My wife wants to use the same hair stylist. What's her number?'

Does complex and conventional language hamper the growth of true understanding

Does complex and conventional language hamper the growth of true understanding in philosophy?

On one way of understanding your question, the answer seems not just to be "No," but "Hell no!"

What I mean is this: the discipline of philosophy isn't a mystical practice. Among its most important techniques are careful analysis and well-reasoned argument. The kind of thinking philosophers pursue needs to be embodied in a rich and subtle language. And on one meaning of "conventional" -- i.e., based on shared conventions and meanings -- we would be unable to communicate successfully without the conventions of language.

Now for a couple of caveats. Good philosophical ideas might come by any number of routes, including sudden bursts of insight. But the discipline of philosophy calls for shaping and articulating those insights. And if by "complex language," you mean bad, bloated writing, then indeed that can get in the way of understanding. But this goes for any discipline; not just for philosophy.

So yes: philosophers sometimes smother their ideas in a blur of verbiage. But good philosophy really does need needs sharp, subtle linguistic tools.

I was recently at a wedding where one of the guests at my table (people from the

I was recently at a wedding where one of the guests at my table (people from the other side of the new family) said something about the "maid of honors". Another person sitting next to him quickly leapt in to correct him into saying the "maids of honor," and I was then witness to a ten-minute, heated argument about whether or not it mattered. So that is my question to you, philosophers. How much does it matter whether a person makes minor grammatical mistakes, so long as everybody understands what is meant? How important is it to say "My friend and I" instead of "Me and my friend," or "Passers-by" instead of "Passer-bys"? What is at stake?

It doesn't matter to me. I would say 'my friend and me' rather than 'my friend and I' because it sounds better to me ... it is really just a question of taste. A lot of people get hung up about the 'correct' way of speaking .. with the idea that in some sense one formulation is 'right' and another is 'wrong'. Usually these people are ignorant of how language works in general, the actual syntactic and semantic properties of the words used, and their history. For example, in a conjunction like 'my friend and ...' no case is assigned to the individual words by the deep grammatical principles by which language actually does work .. which have to do with the computational systems in the mind-brain that underlie our linguistic capacities. So it is question of what form people happen to use as a default for the first-person pronoun: 'I' or 'me'. And both are widely used. I think 'me' is actually a more natural default form for English. So, for example, if someone is offering the last piece of cake and says 'who wants this?', the natural one-word answer would be 'me' and not 'I'. The elite would normally say 'my friend and I went to the opera' but 'Peter gave it to my friend and me' with the idea that the pronoun is a nominative position in the first example and a dative position in the second (as in 'I went to to the opera' and 'Peter gave it to me'). But actually it isn't, it is default in both. I would use 'me' in both instances. But many would use 'I' in both instances. It is just a matter of taste.

My question is about Rigid Designators. I enjoyed reading Kripke a lot, but I

My question is about Rigid Designators. I enjoyed reading Kripke a lot, but I find this concept hard to understand. According to Kripke, a rigid designator refers to, or picks up, the same thing in every possible world. But this way of defining, if it is defining at all, rigid designators is too vague for me to understand. Take 'pain' as an example. Since there are many debates over what pain is (that is, is it a illusion, is it purely physical, it is purely mental, or it is mental and physical etc.), how can it still be a rigid designator if we do not even know what it picks up in our actual world? It could be argue that even though we do not know what it picks up in this world as long as it picks up the same thing in every possible world it is still a rigid designator. But indeed, what would guarantee that it could pick up the same thing?

I'm no expert here, but my recollection is that Kripke reminds us/warns us to avoid the following picture: that we somehow glance into all the many possible worlds and have the task of figuring out which items, in those worlds, are designated by our terms. That would be impossible (for more reasons than one!), not least of all for this reason: suppose there's a possible world where Fred (a dark-haired man in the actual world) is a red-haired woman (and differs in many other traits from actual Fred too). How could we possible look at that red-haired woman (etc) and say, "Oh look there's possible Fred!" The whole point of these "possible variations" on Fred would obscure the possibility of identifying Fred by any of his (her) properties in those other worlds ... Rather, Kripke says, we stipulate possible worlds: we have whatever intuitions we have re: what's possible and we get to stipulate that we are speaking of that world which varies from this world in such and such respects. So if we believe it possible for Fred to be a red-haired woman, we may speak of the possible world in which he is a red-haired woman. We don't need to "guarantee" that our term "picks up the same thing" (i.e. Fred): we stipulate it. Things get a little more complicated re: natural kinds, and you make many good points re "pain," and I recall Kripke has an extended discussion of how we have to distinguish cases/worlds where words get used differently from cases where the natural kind itself is possibly different. But I think, ultimately, the point you make in the penultimate sentence is the right one: when we use natural kind terms our intention is to use them rigidly, even when we may not be entirely sure exactly what their actual denotation is. We don't have to worry re: "guaranteeing" cross-world denotation because we stipulate it.

But I'm sure greater experts than I will weigh in shortly too ....

best, ap

Could someone explain the Frege's puzzle? Is it directly related to semantic

Could someone explain the Frege's puzzle? Is it directly related to semantic stuff? How?

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