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Friday, August 28, 2020


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About my last question. Consider the ontological issue of holes. The sentence, "The piece of paper has a hole it in it" can be paraphrased in a number of different ways. For instance,

∃x(x is a piece of paper & x is singularly perforated)

∃x∃y(x is a piece of paper & y is a hole in x)

Notwithstanding those less that perfect translations, I do not understand how, or perhaps why, these manipulations ought to contribute to our philosophical understanding of holes? On the face of it, they undermine they introduce a sort of relativism in our use of language, and provide evidence to the claim that language does not capture reality very accurately. If that is that case, how then can we use language to give an accurate expression of metaphysical truths?

Do analytical philosophers really think that analysis of language can answer philosophical problems? Problems of language, certainly, and maybe certain problems involving human cognition, but not ontological or epistemological or normative problems--as far as I know.

Analytical philosophers have used analysis of language to undermine philosophical positions. For example:

(1) In a sentence such as "In Germanic folklore Odin exists" it is a mistake to think that "Odin" refers to anything or that "exists" is meant to modify the thing that "Odin" refers to, so to the extent that Meinong's ontology is based on this mistake, it is unjustified.

Arguments of this sort are often made in service to competing metaphysical claims, but the argument itself doesn't lead to a metaphysical claim; it only undermines a metaphysical claim.

Are there actual metaphysical claims that are made based on language analysis? I can't think of any.

This I think will be the last addition to what I wrote before. Hopefully, it will be interesting to others too.

Although I still do not know, what it is that I do not know, here is an attempt at a presenting the problem. Consider the following:

(0) There are correct and incorrect inferences

(1) I exist

(2) Something exists

As put above, we know can infer correctly (2) from (1). This assumes that there is a distinction between inferences that are correct and incorrect. Thus there are 'laws of logic'. However this is made more complicated by the fact that there is a distinction between true proposition and tru propositions that I know. It seems to me that the following is true:

Language Thesis: For every x that is a true proposition, x has to be expressed in language to be known

This seems true enough. When I say, 'Snow is white' or in Russian 'Cнег белый', I express the same meaning, but that 'meaning' is itself only understood using language. The meaning of the sentences 'Snow is white' & 'Cнег белый' is that "Snow is white". The meaning is only known through language. From this it would follow that for me "know" the proposition that 'I exist', I would have to presuppose knowledge of language. Equally, if I were to know (0), then I would only know it if it were expressed using language. However here comes the problem. Language surely makes some logical presuppositions, perhaps identity statements of sorts. However, we now have a circularity problem:
in order to know the logical presuppositions of language, expressed as propositions, I have to know language first. To put my line of thought more clearly:

(1) For every x that is a true proposition, x has to be expressed in language to be known (premise)

(2) 'I exist' and 'Something exists' are true propositions (premise)

(3) For the propositions 'I exist' and 'Something exists' to be known, the propositions have to be expressed in language (by 1 & 2)

(4) 'Something exists' is a true proposition because it is correctly inferred from 'I exist' which is also a true proposition (premise)

(5) If any proposition y is inferred from a proposition z, then logically prior to the inference there are true propositions that are 'laws of logic' or 'rules of inference' (premise)

(6) Hence, logically prior to the inference there are true propositions that are 'laws of logic' or 'rules of inference' (by 4 & 5)

(7) Hence, logically prior to the inference (from 'I exist' to 'Something exists'), and for the 'laws of logic' to be known, they a have to be expressible using language (by 1 & 6)

(8) There is a set of propositions or 'laws of logic' A, every member of which must be true, in order for language to meaningful (premise)

(9) In order to know that language is meaningful, every member of the set of propositions A must be known (by 8)

(10) Thus, in order to know that language is meaningful, every member of the set of propositions A must be expressible using language (by 9 &1)

However thinking about it (10) is absurd because in order to know that language is meaningful, I have to assume that is meaningful. Hopefully, I have not made too many errors in the above. I still have a lot of study ahead of me. Admittedly, your blog post on "The Discursive Framework, Logic, and Whether the Via Negativa is the Path to Nowhere" changed my attitude towards language and now I cannot stop thinking about it.

@Grigory: regarding your "...task... to try and find the most foundational and basic pieces of knowledge that are required by any worldview" and the question "how can the analysis of language be used to answer philosophical questions?" that you have repeated upon reading Bill's response. I suggest first to re-read the response as it is both brief and informative and does not presuppose technical philosophical knowledge.

If that does not work, I'd recommend Russell's "Problems of Philosophy" and (not or!) Nagel's "What Does It All Mean?" -- both good short introductions that could help you to come further on the path of achieving your goal.

And consider the following incomplete analogy: there are many pictures, depictions and descriptions of, say, Pisa Tower. As long as these different representations are of Pisa Tower, they are all true. Some are better, some are worse relative to your goals. Some are relevant to what you are looking to know about the tower. Some false representations, in the sense discussed here, could be relevant to your task even more than the true ones.

Thanks everyone. There is still more thinking and studying to do for me, so I appreciate the comments and suggestions.

You're welcome, Aleksin. Best wishes.

>>And you have really gone off the deep end if you hold that all reference is intralinguistic.

Did you have any theory in mind here?

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