Friday, October 16, 2009

For future reference

There is a reason that jargon and tediousness exists in various academic fields or fields of inquiry: necessity. I type this that I may never have to explain myself again.

1. Words refer to things, without being those things.

If I type “Barry Obama,” the 44th President of the U.S. is not suddenly on your computer screen where the name “Barry Obama” appears. There is a difference between the sign and the signified.

2. Words do not necessarily mean any particular thing, or IOW, the meaning of words is not intrinsic.

That is, suppose you have a baby lying in a crib in America who uses the word “dada” to refer to his father. The fact that “dada” denotes and connotes his father here does not mean that the physical set of sounds [dada] now refers to someone’s dad and necessarily carries ideas of the same when someone in who lives in Ghana and speaks only Ewe uses that set of sounds. No, if that person in Ghana says “dada” to refer to his sister and everyone belonging to his speech-community thinks of qualities or properties of sisterhood when they hear that word, then that word does not absolutely refer to fathers or connote fatherhood. That physical set of sounds does not have an intrinsic meaning.

Notice that this has nothing to do with ideas of deconstructionism or postmodernism.

3. What a word means and refers to are not identical.

The classical demonstration goes more or less as follows; compare the following two sentences:

(A) Hesperus is Hesperus.
(B) Hesperus is Phosphorus.
Naively speaking, A is not informative since we all know that any given object is itself. However, B is informative as it tells those of us who may not have heard the name “Phosphorus” before that there are certain properties attendant to the name “Phosphorus.” So the two sentences do not “say” the same thing though there is only one object being named by them. Meaning and reference are not identical.

4. The word “connotation” is ambiguous, and there is a particular word that can be used in lieu of it.

What word refers to it denotes, and vice versa; in fact, reference and denotation are the same. Meanwhile, connotations in one sense are those things which mediate the denotation relation, or the relation that holds between the sign and the signified. So if I say “Obama’s mama” and you have never heard this phrase before you nevertheless know that I denote the mother of Obama; for the ideas which are commonly and conventionally attached to the word “mama” determine how we use the word to denote new objects.

However, a name like “Omar” sounds hopelessly Arabic; but that does not mean that any object denoted by that name is Arabic, for there are people called Omar who are not Arabs. In other words, in the vernacular sense of the word “connotations”the name “Omar” carries Arabic or maybe even negative connotations those these same ideas or concepts play no part in the denotation process.

For this reason, it is helpful to use jargon to avoid confusion. The denotation of a name can instead be its extension and the properties which one has in mind and which one uses to determine the appropriate/conventional use of a name in referring to something can be called its intensions, with an “s.”

5. Just as words denote objects without their being identical, sentences express propositions without their being identical.

The physical set of letters “La neige est blanche” and the physical set of letters “Snow is white” are not identical. They have different locations and different forms. However, both sets of letters commonly and conventionally express the very same idea: that snow is white.

So sentences express propositions without being identical with them. However, the relation of expression is not the only relation that obtains between sentences and propositions....

6. Some propositions are merely implicated by particular sentences.

Thanks to HP Grice we have the terms conventional implicature and nonconventional implicature. Both matter.

But first, the word “many” simply means a large number of. So if any one of us were to say “Many people didn’t show up for work” we would be asserting precisely that a large number of people did not show for work: nothing more, nothing less asserted. However, we also know in experience that such a sentence will virtually never be spoken unless some people nevertheless did show for work. In this case, implicature is at work. The sentence itself expresses one proposition as true while pragmatic rules accidentally suggest that another given proposition is true—the sentence “says” one thing and “implicates” another. In this case, the implicature is also conventional since words such as “many” and “some” are commonly employed where implicature is at work.

Finally, nonconventional implicature shows up in random exchanges such as the following:

Smith: You going fishing this weekend?
Jones: I’ve got something else I have to do.
Jones does not say “no,” but it is understood nonetheless that Jones expects that he won’t be fishing.

7. Grammar can be the study of the rules by which words and phrases are put together. Pragmatics can be the study of the rules by which some words and phrases are selected against other ones per context. Discourse analysis takes things to a third tier and looks at how sentences and surrounding sentences and paragraphs work together.

8. Lexemes are analogous to morphemes and phonemes in linguistics.

For example, allomorphs belong to morphemes and allophones belong to phonemes. Likewise, allolexes would belong to lexemes. An example of a lexeme would be “baptize” where the words “baptizes,” “baptized,” and “baptizing” could be thought of as variants of the parent word “baptize.”

9. The meaning of the word “intuition” varies with context.

In linguistics, it more or less speaks of knowledge that a speaker may have without necessarily being cognizant of it. In philosophy, it can refer to direct or basic knowledge, knowledge which one does not learn through lessons or anything of the sort, but rather more or less something had from the time of a person’s conception or birth.

10. Though we are all familiar with the probabilistic from of reasoning which is inductive reasoning, there is also abductive reasoning.

An abductive argument may go as follows:

(1) It sounds like Smith just insulted me.
(2) But it is extremely unlikely that Smith would ever do such a thing.
(3) So Smith (probably) did not insult me.
Note immediately that this form of reasoning is not necessarily based on repeated observations of data, as is the case with inductive reasoning.

11. Some noun phrases are adjectival in function.

This is pretty much the case with Saul Kripke’s “rigid designators.” If I stop to ask, “Who is the 44th President of the United States?” I am not asking who Barack Hussein Obama is, but rather am making an inquiry into who has certain properties at the present moment. This is not to suggest that such phrases are many. Just a point of reference; that’s all.

12. Some words are non-referential, including nouns.

The word “nothing” is non-referential. Likewise, the word “car” in “I need to buy a new car” apparently refers to nothing since, if one will be honest with himself, the car he now has is hardly an object which he did have in mind when he says this and goes looking for a new car. Sentences like this seem to function in virtue of connotations and not so much denotations.

13. “Just in case” and “iff” mean the same thing in philosophy.

They mean if, and only if.

14. Sums

A particulate object is not identical with any of its constituent parts. Again, an object is not its parts. Want proof? Take that coffee table in your living room that is five years old. The table is five years old, but the atoms which compose it are 16 billion years old, or rather thousands of years old if you are a YEC. Nevertheless....

15. Metonymy

People do and will speak of objects as if they were identical, and not necessarily of ignorance or subterfuge.

Some metonymy involves synecdochy: “All hands abandon ship!” where the part represents the whole. Other metonyms pertain to relations which do not obtain between an aggregate and its constituent parts: “Germany invaded Poland in 1939.” But there is always some close psychological or extrapsychological connection between the two objects which are treated as being identical.

1 comment:

Kwame E. said...

And notice immediately that the way this post appears is NOT the way it was formatted and appeared in preview form.

I won't have to explain myself anymore cuz I'm about two seconds from not using Blogger anymore. Blogger's html formatting is lousy and they don't compress pics well either.