« Trump Haters, Supporters, Neither, and Both | Main | Welcome to the Age of Feeling »

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

>> So it seems that one and the same word can be both used and mentioned in one and the same sentence.

It would seem so. Clearly one sentence can mention a word while another uses it. Why can’t the same sentence do so?

You're agreeing with me? Amazing.

Are there other examples?

Giorgione (Big George) was so-called because of his size. (Example from Quine)

'Giorgione' is being used to name the Venetian painter Barbarelli. But we are also being given information about the name.

I often agree with you (apart from when you claim we disagree).

Yes I had meant to mention the 'so-called' examples (honestly).

So we agree. What next?

The "this" in "this sentence" doesn't raise reference problems that overwhelm the cats part?

The self-referentiality of the sentence does muddy the waters.

What about this sentence: The last two words of this sentence refer to impossible things.

Is it really possible to "refer" to things that cannot exist? I get that the job of words is to refer and to something, and I also understand that "impossible things" is an understandable idea, although you could argue that it is a non-disclosed group. Surely there is a class of "things" which are impossible, but it's hard to thing of referring to "impossible things" as a specific group of things.


1. Every sentence that signifies (i.e. is meaningful) is made up of words that signify.
2. The sentence ‘the last word of this sentence signifies cats’ is meaningful, therefore the last word signifies something, let that be X.
3. The sentence says that the last word signifies X, and the last word does signify X, so the sentence is true.
4. Since X could be anything, the sentence cannot be meaningful without being true.
5. Yet the last word of the sentence does not have to signify cats, for ‘cats’ might signify dogs.

Clearly not all these can be true. But they all have strong claim to plausibility. (1) how can a meaningful sentence contain a word without a meaning? (2) the sentence in question seems to be meaningful. (3) is not immediately obvious but seems true on reflection. (4) involves universal instantiation, which we all believe in (5) is true in virtue of language signifying by imposition, or convention.


Meinong held that one can refer, both in thought, and with words, to things do not exist (e.g., the golden mountain) and to things that cannot exist (e.g., the round square). Meinongian theories are plausible but fraught with difficulties. In any case, this is not our present topic.

Please don't bait the Ostrich. He hates Meinong.


Will get back to you later. Early morning chess beckons.

>>Please don't bait the Ostrich. He hates Meinong.

However the Ostrich does hold a 'sophisticated' theory where it is true that 'centaurs' refers to centaurs.

>>Early morning chess beckons.

You had an interesting picture of a middle game in an earlier post that I was going to ask about. The position of the chess clock suggests it was your move, and there was all sorts of stuff going on like Queen swap. Interested to know who won.


I find your 'signify' unclear.

>>(1) how can a meaningful sentence contain a word without a meaning?<<

It can't. I grant that if a sentence has meaning, then every part has meaning. But it doesn't follow that every part has a meaning by having a referent.

'Tom is tall and Tina is tiny.' Every part of that sentence has meaning. But I don't think you want to say that 'is' and 'and' have referents. A word can signify without referring. There are syncategorematical expressions, expressions Brentano calls *mitbedeutend.*

It was my move and I won the game. I wasted time just now searching for the score (move list) but to no avail.

OK change to 'every term' in the sentence, or every 'categorematic' term.

Or just simplify by assuming, which is obvious, that the last word of the sentence is meaningful, i.e. signifies.

An editor trying to impose clear use-mention distinction on authors soon realises that most certainly words can be both used and mentioned, and that it is not inherently wrong. BTW, the Scholastics believed that in case of the so-called material supposition it is regularly the case: cf. "man is a noun" (note the lack of quotes around "man"); and the apparatus of material supposition cannot be always equivalently "translated" into the "quoting" convention.

There are also some interesting cases involving quotes:

- Nietzsche said that "God is dead".

Here the phrase "God is dead" is both used to complete the sentence, and mentioned as that what Nietzsche literally said.

Scare quotes:

- I cannot wait to hear and refute Peter's "arguments".

"Arguments" is both used to refer disparagingly to what Peter presents as arguments, and mentioned as the word Peter actually uses.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo
Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 10/2008



December 2023

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
Blog powered by Typepad