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What is the difference between a word having two meanings and a word that has an

What is the difference between a word having two meanings and a word that has an "alternative" meaning? For intance, is MOUSE a word that has two meanings (first meaning: "a small rodent of a species found all over the world that has a brown or greyish-brown coat and a long mostly hairless tail"; second meaning: "a hand-held device for working with a computer by controlling a pointer on the screen") or does it have only one meaning ("either a small rodent of ..... or a hand-held device for ....")?

Interesting question. But I'm wondering what rides on the answer. And what is connected to the question. Of course, we begin by wanting to distinguish the meanings of the two relevant clauses you give ("small rodent," v. "hand-held device"). So, separately, you obviously hold that there are two meanings in play. Now in logic it may be true that, strictly speaking, the proposition "P or Q" is a distinct proposition from either of its disjuncts, and can happily count as a "single" proposition -- but we also recognize that it is compositional, composed of parts, so we can think of it as one compound proposition or as a disjunction of two simpler propositions. But these are perfectly consistent with each other, so we can happily accept both -- it is both one compound, and a disjunction of two simpler, proposition(s). No need to choose! Why not just say the same with respect to your example? In any case you can raise the same question even of the component meanings in your example - your 'rodent' version is implicitly a disjunction too, as is, probably, ultimately, the 'hand-held' example .....


When are conditional statements actually true?

When are conditional statements actually true? I am getting contradicting answers. Please help. One resource, a geometry book, says that to prove a conditional statement true, you must show the conclusion is true every time the hypothesis is true. On the contrary, however, a discrete mathematics book says a conditional statement is true unless the hypothesis is true and the conclusion is false. These methods for checking the truth of a conditional statement do not produce the same results, however. For example, consider the conditional statement (1) If today is Saturday, then 5 + 5 = 6. Under the first method, this (1) is false, because when there is a time when the hypothesis is true (It is Saturday), but the conclusion is false (5 + 5 never equals 6). A counterexample exists, as they would say. But under the second method, the statement's truth value changes with time. It is true when it is not Saturday since the condition for falsehood, that it is Saturday and 5 + 5 does not equal 6, is...

You are confusing truth and logical validity. Your geometry book is writing about the logical validity of conditional arguments. Your math book is talking about the truth of conditional statements. Logical validity is much more than truth: it is truth that is independent of the truth or falsity of the premises.

When I write on social forums on the net people want to correct my speeling or

When I write on social forums on the net people want to correct my speeling or my grammar. Is there any good reason for that other than aesthetics?

Wel, fore a starrt, speeling mistaches can mak itt dificcolt two reed & undestand wot u ar actuwally tryin to saye, eh? An getting yours grammer awl rong can makes mawr problem of comprehention.

Of course, there are occasions where pointing out slips in spelling or grammar can be a bit rude and pointless. But equally, it is -- to say the least -- impolite not to try to smooth communication by using standard spellings and constructions.

I have asked many regular non-philosopher type folks about how to avoid

I have asked many regular non-philosopher type folks about how to avoid appearing "rude, crude and stupid" when indicating sexual interest in women. Not many well formed answers are given to me but I am told that a necessary ingredient is subtlety. You should never be direct about your intentions. Is being direct and straightforward really rude? What does saying that you must not be straightforward imply about the nature of those intentions in the first place? What then distinguishes rude from non-rude forms of expressing sexual intention?

It's an interesting question and not easy to answer. Let's start with what may seem to be a minor point but actually isn't. It's not right that we should never be direct. The most obvious exception is when two people already have a sexual relationship and they're both comfortable about it. But even there, being blunt isn't always welcome. Sex isn't one-dimensional. There's lusty animal sex and there's also tender romantic sex. What works for one doesn't necessarily work for the other.

If it's complicated even for people who are in a relationship, it's not hard to see why rude and crude doesn't tend to work when that's not so. Human relationships just are complicated; after all, there are completely non-sexual matters that most of us don't like having broached too directly. When we add sex to the mix, things certainly won't get simpler.

Leave male vs. female aside for a moment. If someone hints to me that they're interested but the feeling isn't mutual, I can ignore the hint in ways that get the message across but don't hurting the other person's feelings or make them lose face. This doesn't go just for sex, but it seems safe to say that it goes particularly for sex. Being less direct can make things a lot less awkward.

A different sort of case might help. If I'm upset with someone, then depending on the relationship and the reasons, being clear and straightforward might be best. But the old saying "least said, easiest mended" often has a point. A certain amount of indirectness seems to make social life easier.

The fact of the matter is that there's a lot of communication that doesn't take place using words, and on the whole, we humans seem to like it this way. The advantage is that this adds a lot of nuance and subtlety to the way we communicate. But not everyone is equally fluent in the language of gesture, gaze, tone of voice and standard dictionaries are hard to find.

As noted, all of this is general and applied to a lot more than sex. But there's another issue here that's at least as important. There's often a lot at stake in sexual encounters, and there's usually a lot more at stake for a woman than for a man. For the most part, unwanted sexual attention isn't a problem for men. For women it very often is. At the very least, staying away from the rude and crude is a way of acknowledging that important fact.


Afternote: a friend pointed out this very instructive youtube video in which Steven Pinker says a lot about all these issues. Stick with it to the end.

Opponents to gay marriage often argue that marriage is "by definition" a union

Opponents to gay marriage often argue that marriage is "by definition" a union between one man and one women. I support gay marriage myself, but this kind of argument is interesting to me--I'm not sure what to make of it. What does it mean to say that marriage is, by definition, thus and so? (Is this just a statement about the way people tend to use the word "marriage"?) More importantly, should we ever be persuaded by such arguments?

Let me add a few words to Sean's excellent response.

I think one thing worth keeping in mind here, which I may have said already in response to a similar question, is that the institution of marriage in the United States, and in some other places in the developed world, has changed a great deal over the last sixty years or so.

A friend of mine once joked, "Of course marriage has to be between a man and a woman. Otherwise, how would you know who gets to beat up whom?" Not very funny, of course, in one sense, but perhaps you see her point. There was a time, not very long ago, when it was legally impossible in many states for a woman to be raped by her husband. A married woman's ability to own property independently of her husband was curtailed in some jurisdictions. Men had, by law, that kind of control over their wives, and the entire institution of marriage was one of ownership. That is why many radicals of the Victorian and post-Victorian eras were deeply suspicious of the entire institution. One of these people was Bertrand Russell, who wrote a book, Marriage and Morals, on the topic.

With the explosion of the feminist movement in the 1950s, these things begin to change, and marriage starts to be seen as a partnership between equals. The fact that one of these partners was male and one female slowly, over time, came to be quite irrelevant. Neither party has rights or privileges that the other does not have, simply on the basis of gender, and any such privilege would be seen as sex discrimination.It was essentially on this ground, that the gender difference had no legal significance, that the Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts made its historic decision legally same-sex marriage.

That is why it is no accident that those who trumpet the "one man, one woman" line are anti-feminist, too.

Is this sentence true:

Is this sentence true: "Miles Davis and narwhals both have horns." The word "horn" can mean a musical instrument (which only Miles Davis has) or a bony protrusion (which only narwhals have.) But is it possible to mean both things at once (which would make the sentence true). Or does the sentence only have two possible meanings, both of which are false?

This phenomenon is well-known. It's a form of zeugma that is known as "syllepsis".

I think most linguists would say that this sentence cannot mean that Miles has a trumpet and a narwhal a protrusion from the head. The reason is the obvious one: that "horn" has to be interpreted a single way. Note that, if correct, this shows that "Ms and Ns are F" is not, as we sometimes tell our introductory logic students, simply an abbreviation (or something) for "Ms are F and Ns are F", since, in the latter, "F" could be interpreted differently in its two occurrences.

When one makes a claim like the one just made, we are talking about how the sentence is immediately, unreflectively, and automatically understood by a hearer. So what I'm observing is, in effect, simply that our "language faculty" operates a certain way, and not another way that it could, in principle, have operated. And put that way, the point should be fairly uncontroversial. The humorous effect one can get from syllepsis depends the fact that syllpetic utterances strikes us in the first instance as odd.

But language-use is complex and one can, of course, reflect on what has been said and arrive at a kind of secondary interpretation. Certainly we do that will sylleptic utterances, and so one can manage to communicate something by such an utterance that it cannot literally mean.

What is the best way to approach questions like "What is the meaning of the word

What is the best way to approach questions like "What is the meaning of the word x?"? Is there some kind of advisable generalised approach to such questions, based on the remarkable developments in philosophy of language? What would Wittgenstein probably say? I'm thinking for example of the debate in aesthetics concerning the meaning of the word beautiful.

The best way to approach questions about the meanings of words is to look in a good dictionary. (This isn't meant to be a smart-alecky response: J. L. Austin, perhaps the foremost practitioner of 'ordinary language philosophy' recommended the dictionary as a starting point for ordinary language investigations.) Insofar as most, if not all, words are to be found in a good dictionary, this is a generalized approach. The reason it may be a useful starting points for the kinds of question in which you seem to be interested is that dictionaries, as Austin noted, reflect the range of meanings, and hence of concepts, that speakers of the language have found useful. The reason that I think that the kind of question you're interested in is more related to ordinary language philosophy than more recent philosophy of language is because I would think that you would find the most illumination in attending to the kind of variation of which terms admit--as manifest in the question concerning different meanings of 'beautiful' and its cognates--than in the kinds of issues that are treated in more recent philosophy of language, especially that influenced by linguistics. (There may be certain developments in the treatment of 'vague' terms that may be relevant to your question: perhaps a panelist better versed than I in recent philosophy of language can speak to this issue.) Wittgenstein, although sometimes taken to be an ordinary language philosopher, differs from practitioners of ordinary language philosophy such as Austin in subtle, but very interesting and important ways (on this topic in particular, and on ordinary language philosophy generally, I highly recommend the work of Stanley Cavell: you might start out with three essays from his collection Must We Mean What We Say? that bear on this topic: "Must We Mean What We Say?"; "The Availability of Wittgenstein's Later Philosophy"; and "Austin at Criticism"). Wittgenstein would not, I think, recommend looking to a dictionary as a starting point, as Austin did, in part because Wittgenstein wasn't as interested as Austin in fine distinctions between the uses of words, although Wittgenstein was interested in drawing distinctions: a proposed epigraph for the Philosophical Investigations was a line from King Lear: "I'll teach you differences". Wittgenstein would, moreover, have rejected the very idea of a "generalised approach" to philosophical questions, and indeed, his notion of 'family resemblance terms', of which 'beautiful' and its cognates might well be an example, was, I think, introduced to undercut the 'craving for generality' that drives certain kinds of philosophical questioning. Ultimately, although Wittgenstein's approach to the kind of question that you are raising would differ greatly from that of Austin, both would, I think, have emphasized the great range of things that can be called beautiful, and indeed, after consulting the dictionary, you might just attend to the various ways that the word and its cognates can be used, which is at least a way into the nest of issues in aesthetics in which you seem to be interested.

What's the difference between saying "John is fat. Mary is tall." and saying

What's the difference between saying "John is fat. Mary is tall." and saying "John is fat and Mary is tall."? What does "and" mean here?

I don't see that there is much difference in terms of what you're committing yourself to regarding how the world is. In both cases your claim will be true if "John is fat" is true and "Mary is tall" is true, and false otherwise.

With each language in the world there seems to be a set number of words, some

With each language in the world there seems to be a set number of words, some have more it seems and some have less. My question is that in a language that has less words, is it limited in it's ability to conceptualize and describe and thus understand less about it's reality around it, or is it's simplistic view what gives a clearer view of things? Follow up: If you can't define a word without using another word, wouldn't words be subjective?

You may be referring (directly or indirectly, intentionally or not) to the infamous Whorf-Sapir hypothesis, in brief the idea that the structure of one's language constrains/determines one's conceptualization of and cognitive approach to the world. (If the Inuit genuinely have more words for snow than ordinary English speakers, then that reflects that they can make (say) visual distinctions between the kinds of snow than we can ....) I'm not particularly familiar with the literature except that I believe this hypothesis is no longer much in fashion at all -- while perhaps in some limited senses different languages (including their different vocabularies, number of words, grammatical structures) are able to express various thoughts differently, etc., far more people accept these days that the 'thoughts' themselves are roughly universally available -- and indeed the fact that languages CAN be translated into each others (even if not always perfectly) suggests that all languages are capable of expressing the same thoughts ... (and even when a translation isn't perfect we can usually describe the ways in which it is imperfect, thus more fully capturing the 'thought' expressed') ... As for your follow-up: depends what you mean by 'subjective' (or course), but you have your finger on a very deep issue: whether meaning is ultimately reducible to the relationship between a word and our conception or perception of things ... (at some point words must 'make contact' with the world ....)

A professor of English who taught a class I once visited said that every time we

A professor of English who taught a class I once visited said that every time we used the word "vulgar", we are expressing elitist prejudice against the working class and the peasants, because of the word's roots in the Latin vulgus ("the common people, the public") combined with its pejorative meaning in English. This doesn't seem right; surely, most of us, if we use the word "vulgar", don't mean to insult the working class. Are we doing so nonetheless?

It's hard to know where to draw the boundaries on this sort of thing, and we need to distinguish questions. Is the claim that the working class will themselves be offended by use of the term "vulgar"? Or is the claim that, by using the term, you are showing them disrespect (that is, showing disrespect for them), even if they are not themselves offended? Different cases will be different.

Consider the verb "gyp", meaning to defraud or swindle. As the spelling indicates, the term comes from "gypsy". I expect few people, other than gypsies, know this. So, in that sense, people who use the term are probably not trying to offend gypsies. But, if I were a gypsy, I'd find it offensive and so, by using it, one may be offending such people, even if one does not mean to do so. One would not be blameworthy for that usage, but, once informed of its consequences, one should stop using the term.

A similar case might be "Indian summer". The history of this term is closely related to the more obviously derogatory "Indian giver". Again, few people who use the term are probably aware of the etymology, but their use of the term may still be offensive. And we might add here the related case of the use of Indian "mascots": The Braves, Redskins, and so forth.

Yet another case is the common use of the term "gay", among the younger set, to mean something like "stupid". My daughter tells me that many of her peers are completely unaware of the history of this usage and don't themselves intend to insult anyone by using the term that way. Here, one might think there is some blame to be assigned, since obliviousness is not necessarily an excuse.

All of that said, I think your professors concerns are misplaced. I very much doubt that working people are going, as a group, to be offended by the use of the term "vulgar". Nor does the mere fact that a word has a certain Latin etymology imply that its use expresses something connected with that etymology.