Of Semantics and The Meaning of Words - Finally Revealed!

Discussion in 'Politics & Religion' started by 2cents, May 15, 2007.

  1. this is just a civil conversation, Stu and i discussing a few points about use of language and its possible implications etc. Feel free to chip in everybody! The origin of this dialogue can be found in the 1st few pages of the Did God Create Science thread/poll for people who feel the need for more context. Cheers
  2. let's kickstart this with Stu's latest response, numbered by me for convenience:

    Quote from Stu:
    1. we are comparing notes , right?

    Quote from 2cents:

    when speaker A uses words such as Science, Did (notion of "past"), God, Melon etc, in order to communicate and in this case ask for an opinion, from a 3rd party, that doesn't imply in any way that speaker A presupposes anything about the terms used to ask the question, nor the concepts they represent in the minds of the listeners... simply that speaker A believes that his thus posed question is intelligible enough for purposes of an exchange of opinions (or in other cases, of information), a meaningful one wherever possible... that's what reporters do day in day out for instance, and so do teachers etc

    2. I agree. Posing a question does not necessarily mean the questioner is making any presuppositions. I think it's fair to say though, I have referred only to the question making a presupposition, not you. Correct me if that's wrong.

    3. To pose a question for purposes of eliciting opinion etc; surely requires some care in the construct of the question. Then if people generally never examine a question itself for implications raised by the way it is formed then , - 'when did you stop beating your wife' - wouldn't be noticed to contain its damning prejudgement to most any answer offered.

    4. Because reporters or teachers ask questions day in day out, does not mean they are always asking good questions, or questions which are not more or less presupposing a state of affairs from which no useful meaningful or relevant answer can be achieved.

    Quote from 2cents:

    a listener might be bothered by the logical sequence in cases where predicate A is false or meaningless to him/her for instance, and the question posed is about whether predicate A in some ways is related to predicate B, predicate that the listener considers to be true or meaningful for instance. of course there would then be a way for speaker A to reformulate so that predicate B appears first in the question, thus making it easy on this particular listener. but equally there is nothing to stop the listener to simply reject A for instance, or reformulate A to his/her satisfaction, or simply propose another predicate C as being related to B in a more meaningful manner etc. speaker A can only control the form of the question, not the answers

    5. I would argue there is no predicate in your question 2c. Just a presupposition.

    6. Yes, A can control the form of the question. So why would speaker A not get rid of an implicit and possibly controversial presupposition and ask... Did anything thought / or believed / or understood / to be God create science?
    It is in someways obviously trivial. But in anothers - not. Going around accepting on face value every loaded question, every fallacious question (that can't be legal) etc and every question which makes glaring presuppositions without any thought of what the question actually infers, does not in my view, lend itself to people understanding each other any better. (That is not meant as a barb against speaker A ! )

    Quote from 2cents:

    if one wants to know what speaker A's answer is to the question, one must first ask speaker A the question. any other presupposition, inference etc is only made in the mind of the listener, and unless speaker A validates the assumptions made by the listener or has previously made statements upon which the listener can validly base his/her assumptions, those presuppositions, inferences etc are as likely to be wide off the mark as not... therefore not very useful

    7. I disagree. To ask speaker A his own question is to compound or continue the error the listener notices. A presupposition is either present in the question or it is not .
    There are basic logical parameters which are generally adhered to in communication, which describe the conditions , context , implied or reasonably attached to a word or words, which then communicate meaning and understanding.
    If a presupposition can only be personal to the listener, then there is no logical understanding of what a presupposition generally entails and any useful meaning to the conversation is lost.

    To presuppose God is to presuppose "you beat your wife" , so to speak. That's my point.

    8. A separate thread !? Don't you think there is enough trouble around as it is
  3. 1. absolutely. just to be clear, i may at times choose to answer with short sentences, but there will be no intent to be dismissive or anything similar

    2. I thought u did, but even then, a question itself has no intent, it is a string of words, therefore makes no presupposition. it may contain presuppositions from the point of view of the listener, but that's a different story. the listener can deal with these as part of his/her answer(s)

    3. some care, of course. but the mature listener is generally expected to examine the question for him/herself and notice any 'when did you stop beating your wife' type implications and deal with them as a matter of routine.
    agree that some perhaps less mature or inexperienced listeners may be tricked by a loaded question in a courtroom when they are under time pressure to answer and show good faith etc from the other parties' lawyer but this is ET and there is no obvious reason to lend me "intent" to load the question for instance... in other words, even in this case, context matters

    4. very much a matter of judgement. and without knowing the intent (of speaker A) and the context of the question, i don't think one has enough elements to form a judgement as to whether a question is intrinsically "good" or "bad". of course one can always venture an opinion as to "this would be a better/worse question etc" but then we are moving into opinions, dialogue and exchange of views... different story

    5. predicates in a mathematical sense (predicate logic), but i cld have phrased that to fit the language of grammatical analysis if u will... its just much less practical to illustrate my point, but the point remains. one of those implicit (but not presupposed) predicates is that "Word X has its place in a discussion between humans" for instance, or could be formulated more strictly/loosely as befits the overall context. Think Easter Bunny for instance, just to give an example

    6. why not but that becomes a different question then. a question that may (but not necessarily) be cluttered / entangled with speaker A's opinion. I'd argue that opinions are always best expressed separately (from questions) if one wants to communicate efficiently

    also consider that points of views can be as diverse as it gets. every single word in the question i posed can be challenged, every one of them, even "did" (notion of past), in a way similar to your suggestion

    what guided my choice of words here, just to explain, is simplicity

    7. the listener cld simply go: i don't believe A makes sense. now what would be your answer to the same question.

    let's not be afraid of words! the world is not a permanent courtroom

    8. i don't want to put the readers on the other thread to sleep ;-)

    2am in tokyo, bed time for me
  4. stu


    Woo hello 2c, didn't notice this 'til just now....

    and for me to be absolutely clear also, these are my opinions to you made with in the best of good nature and are not meant to be offensive in any way
    Then we fundamentally disagree at this very first step. You can't rely on these generalized statements such like ' - a question has no intent,' when it patently does. One intent is to elicit an answer. Questions are also put rhetorically and in that case most certainly do have intent.( I got that the wrong way round if you see what I mean!!) The listener is not always at liberty to be able to decipher whether a question is rhetorical or has implications implicit and embedded in its formulation. Unless the words in it convey the question's intention as best as they possibly can and the listener can use mutually understood meaning and grammar, then there is no useful point really in putting a question in expectation of meaningful replies
    Yes - understand the point you are making but that reasoning sounds to me more like an excuse to your English teach on why you didn't better phrase a question. There are other circumstances than you've mentioned on why there should be a general effort to communicate questions more clearly so not to invite ambiguity because the question maker assumes the listener will react only in certain ways.
    Fair comment. but we are not talking good/bad in that sense, we are discussing presupposition embedded reflexively I would say, because everyone got over used to presupposing things. Presupposition is not a good thing anyway unless adopted because there is nothing else whatsoever to go on .
    Ok but predicates in a mathematical sense may not I think always transfer so readily for use in grammar. Predicate in the Easter Bunny sense yes, but a presupposition in the form of the noun - God , as predicate to what , science?? or the word did?? I don't think so.
    I am not so sure it is simplicity. You know best of course what guided your words, but I suggest it was passive conformity to use the word God as a given , and not as a presupposition, which it is.
    I was trying to be polite for christ's sakes!! :) I simply pointed out you have a question whose subject is a presupposition. I was wondering how you could logically arrive at any useful answers which did not first at least acknowledge the presupposition. Not to be afraid of words is to first understand their potential for confusion
    well many I imagine will be more entertained by argy bargy, but thanks for taking the trouble
    sleep peacefully.

    ps. what was the question again?:p
  5. 1. cheers!

    2.a. i'd hold that the intent of eliciting answers, provoking thought, is implicit in the choice of a question form by speaker A. if we agree, let's reserve use of the word "intent" for anything beyond the implicit.

    2.b. agree that we have a fundamental point of disagreement though. basically i hold that intent if any can only be with speaker A (or whoever controls or indoctrinates etc him/her). i also hold that the words alone are insufficient to determine intent, irrespective of context. of course one may always lend speaker A intent XYZ but unless it is supported by other statements and/or behaviours from speaker A, that's no more than a wild guess, a generally subjective attribution, and more likely a reflexion of the issues the particular listener has with the choice of words (but not necessarily) or with speaker A more generally (i don't believe thats the case at all here, just covering bases). it doesn't in truth tell us much about speaker A's intent(s) if any (beyond the implicit of choosing a question form).

    2.c. i agree that speaker A may have chosen to pepper the question with controversial statements as an attempt (intent) to subdue, confuse or otherwise indoctrinate the unsuspecting, weak etc or even willing listener... there are tons of good books on manipulative techniques, that's a good topic for yet another thread i'd suggest ;-) .... however to me, A) u need to establish that, not just suppose / assume it, B) the mature listener is always free to examine and interpret the question and its constituent parts in any way he/she wants, and in the context of ET i hold that it is reasonable to expect the listener to be a mature person, under no obligation nor any pressure, whether time or otherwise, to react in any particular way...

    again allow me to reiterate, context matters, and my statements are made within this particular context... this (ET) is no primary school

    3. from the above i trust it is clear that i am not looking for excuses re the choice of words. i do agree there are other circumstances where etc though, as noted above, but i am comfortable that the question thus posed is fine in the context of ET, and does not by itself invite much ambiguity. i also accept that this is just my assessment and i could be wrong on both counts...

    4. i agree that presupposition is not a good thing generally, and also agree with your statement in full.

    that is also why the distinction between presupposing (indicating cognitive choice in some form, exercized by either speaker or listener) and implicit (as in, a question form by convention is meant to elicit answers etc) is important for sake of clarity.

    there's tons to be said about why and how presupposition is so pervasive as a behaviour, but i'll hold that the mature listener, given the time and the "right" conditions to think things thru, can reasonably be expected to have questioned and hopefully resolved to the extent possible, his/her own presuppositions, all the way back to early childhood's (and beyond... errhhh... just kidding... or perhaps not ;-) )

    5. agree but they are a purer form though, makes for simpler descriptions and resolves any paradoxes of a semantic or even grammatical "analysis" nature

    we can deconstruct in many ways of course, but one way would be:
    . is the proposition "God created Science" true? to u the listener

    but one has to define the operating set. the set here is the one of humanly designated (given a name if u will) concepts (objects) and operators (relationships), as used in human discourse...

    . is the following proposition set (AND operator):
    * the operating set u are presented with is reasonable (for the purpose of a discussion)
    * the "God" concept and the "Science" concept are related by way of the non-commutative operator "Create" modified by the operator of temporal precedence "Did"... in other hum... words: G D(C) S

    is this proposition set true to u the listener? or what comments if any are u willing to make?

    6. i am not too good at conformity but it's your right to doubt, and i'd hold it is generally a good attitude to have (constructive / well-intentioned doubt).

    one comment however: is the word "God" a presupposition? well, it is only to the extent that the listener has made presuppositions... but as far as speaker A, the question is not about what presuppositions the listener may or may not have made regarding the word / concept of "God", but whether the listener holds the statement "Did God create Science" to be true.

    i mean we routinely disagree on definition on every other concept / word be it "Economy", "Politics", "Origins", "Causality", "Sky", "Blue" etc...

    do we for that reason routinely build sentences such as:
    Is whatever you may hold as being the sky out there exhibit a taint of that colour some people seem to perceive as blue?

    or do we simply ask: Is the sky blue?

    just asking ;-)

    7. I understand, but as explained above i hold that the only confusion that may arise here if any is in the mind of the listener, and that a mature listener would be aware of his/her own presuppositions and should be able to deal with the question and/or its constituents pretty easily

    8. true, entertainment is one of the things we all come to ET for i guess, but then shorter posts (at the expense of precision at times) make for a more lively exchange i'd suggest

    peace to u too

    ps. what question?
  6. stu



    I think we really can agree on all those . I am clear I did not say, nor do I indirectly imply, that you were presupposing.
    I do stand by what I said, that it is your question which presupposes.

    I agree in your holding that the speaker's own intent is not truly implicit in a question, although of course some inferences as you say, can be reasonably associated with a question by the listener .

    But it is because the listener, mature or otherwise, can assume some obvious implications , I think it important Speaker A generally recognizes that, and can decide there is no need to form their question in a way which contains obvious elements of ambiguity,. The question should not unnecessarily reinforce subjective conclusions, which would consequently, and then unavoidably, render Speaker A with erroneous or non meaningful answers.
    Otherwise I think Speaker A does not do their self nor their question much justice. Unless of course the intent was to encourage any old answer, but that's a different matter altogether.

    Well, from my assessment I contend - you are wrong 2c.[edit:bit strong maybe!] A question that assumes its own undefined subject as a given, can be expected to inevitably invite at least as much ambiguity as it inescapably creates.

    But what does that say about the mature questioner !. A mature listener might be more comfortable in approaching a question whose very construct does not carry with it such an obvious flaw which a direct answer would have to incorporate.. Back to "wife beating" here.

    From a question to a proposition, ok .As far as predicates go, I think it would be more a straightforward matter in the form of a proposition. Then predicates can emerge from there to give strong semantic argument for issuing clear concise defined proposals, inviting direct responses more reliable in answer . I would agree predicates are a purer form but they are not pure enough to get over their own (arguably) non- existence in your question! :

    .We are discussing semantics , but I do not think this is necessarily about the linguistic integrity of the whole of your question .. It is about one presupposition which I say advances uncertainty enough to cause all responses made in direct answer to it devoid in their objective meaning because they have to subjectively make the same presupposition..

    Sky is a concept ? - only a concept ?. ..and the color thing!! I know but come on 2c, I asked earlier if we were to go into this area of " is anything real"

    Does everyone see "blue" how can you know, Does everyone see the " = " operand in the same form as seen here!? Any reasons to think (or is it - know) they do? I think so. If nothing is actually known or real then God fits that condition too as does Sky and then no point in asking any question as none could possibly be justified for reasons of understanding.

    .But it is not like that is it?
    Economy, Politics, Origins, Causality, Sky God , or rather.. Sky, Blue and God are all concepts only - to the point where if you get hit over the head with them in certain ways, they take on a different reality.. Same with baseball bats.

    Philosophically it can be argued bb's cannot affect you. . But wherever you go and who ever you ask, everyone will give a clue as to what reality is and means when you get hit over the head with one..
    The actual effect a bb will have outside of philosophy and into reality is widely understood.
    Not by certain groups of course - like hippies for instance. But they wont let you test your concept on them. So you can be sure there is something quite true about the word reality.
    Test ... " Economy, Politics, Origins, Causality, Sky God , dammit Sky, Blue and God " .. outside philosophy, in a similar reality of existence the bb resides in and , generally speaking, it is the effect , in my view, which is the reality .

    Sky as a concept is one thing Sky as a reality is another. see the Sky see the ' = ' operand. That form of reality is what we were dealing with.
    Bugger-all has ever been shown anywhere that God as the undefined subject of your question, fits that category of reality. .Hell, the half drunk cup of tea next to me here on my desk has no trouble fitting that category of reality. 'God the Father ' can't manage that much. So in passing that accross as a presupposition as if it was a given , knobbles the answer before it can be made.

    Again 2c, why put all the onus on the listener? What about the mature questioner posing a question which recognizes and avoids making its own obvious presuppositions?
    The word God is only a presupposition , institutionalized so far up its own backside to the point of a blind acceptance conforming enmasse, often thoughtlessly, toward the fact that the word has only ever formed concepts. Concepts which in the end are on a level of imaginary friend, not actually existing in any practical way which the Sky is and " = " 's are , and now as my empty tea cup can ,
    So without even a nod in the direction of the God presupposition, you asked ... did It create Science?

    You don't like conformity...right? .. :)

    best wishes

    ps ....there was a question ?
  7. 2.c. fine then, we actually disagree but that's ok.

    as i earlier wrote, to me, a question itself has no intent, it is a string of words, therefore makes no presupposition. it may contain presuppositions, or statements that are subjective from the point of view of the listener, but that's a different story. the listener can deal with these as part of his/her answer(s)

    moreover, what is ambiguous to a particular listener may be crystal clear to another.

    3. see 2.c. above

    just out of curiosity, how do you define "consciousness" for instance? just in case i want to use it in a question... that would be helpful for me to know... thanks in advance ;-)

    4. to 7.all come down to the same point...
    in the same vein as for 2.c above, to me a word can hardly be a presupposition, however you have made it sufficiently clear what you have a problem with, therefore i'll address that as best i can:

    as far as i can observe, "God" is a principle routinely invoked by numerous communities over the ages and continents etc to provide guidance in their lives.

    as speaker A, i don't see why i couldn't therefore freely use that very word in the simplest manner to ask them whether It created Science, in their opinion? mind you, for people who do not associate meaning to the word "God" itself, we kind of know the answer, therefore not much point in asking...

    however if speaker B wants to make a personal statement or two prior to asking the question, eg "i believe this God business is meaningless, but, do you guys in your little minds actually believe It created Science", that's speaker B's right to do so... why don't you try it if that's what you want to hear?

    conformism: not my cup of tea ;-)


    ps .... or a presupposition?
  8. stu


    2a is ok
    2b is ok
    2c.is not

    2c Then. ok , let's try to clear this up.
    You are saying, a question in and of itself has no intent., it's just a string of words. But I agree. Right that's that bit done.

    Now having said that, on what grounds are you considering a presupposition to be an intent anyway?.

    Just why cannot a presupposition be present or made in a sentence by a word(s) without any intent being present? As I do not say you are making a presupposition, any intent is an irrelevant issue anyway.

    The issue is, is there a presupposition present / contained / carried in the sentence?, in the same way you could ask, is there a verb present or a command present, in the sentence?
    A question, (interrogative sentence) either does or does not contain certain definable things like declarations ,instructions, propositions or presuppositions for example.

    So why should we disagree on that point.? I agree no intent. So how does no intent mean no presupposition ? Does no intent mean no interrogation, no statement ,no instruction ? Of course not, so why no presupp??

    4. to 7.
    Woa there 2c, do I sense a change in tone? we were comparing notes on semantics This is not about what I want to hear.

    if you no longer wish to see this through in that light any further, then I suggest you might better understand my drift if you read this from top to bottom.
    Apologies if I misunderstand you.Linky

    good luck.

    ps... perhaps ironically, the question seems 2b 2c (not 2a or 2b)
  9. 2c ok, our disagreement seems to be limited to definitions: to me, "presupposition", or "presupposing" rather, is a cognitive choice - and if anything is going to be characteristic of "intent", to me, that's a cognitive choice - and "implicit" isn't, as i wrote previously.

    i agree that a question can contain presuppositions, but those would be presuppositions made by speaker A, or "vetted" in some form as reasonable assumptions to make by speaker A - to the extent speaker A understands what he/she is doing (i know i may be presupposing too much here ;-) ) - hence cognitive choice.

    in other words to me if there are in fact presuppositions in the question, speaker A carries some form of "responsibility" for it, good or bad. but we have to be careful that what may subjectively be conceived of as a (valid / invalid) presupposition by a listener, may simply not be to another listener.

    just so we don't go around in circles, why don't you explain what presupposition(s) you see in the original question?

    4 - 7.interesting link, and thanks for providing. that explains some of the misunderstanding therefore i won't edit my above response. as you can tell, i significantly differ from this wiki. more specifically:

    a. as earlier explained, right or wrong, i am not a fan of most of grammatical "analysis", and let's add most of "linguistics" to that list. those fields are riddled with built-in paradoxes and are (still) severely lacking in (mathematical-type) rigor

    b. an interesting link however: http://semanticsarchive.net/Archive...Focus: Presupposed or Expressive Meanings.pdf

    notably, in order for speaker A to ask: "does X schbingle Y?", there is no requirement on speaker A to have resolved for him/herself the possible (but not necessary) antecedent(s): "does X exist?" or "does X have any generally accepted meaning?" etc

    what i meant by "what you want to hear" is, using as antecedents your own answers to the question, a new question could be formulated. but as i was attempting to illustrate, all we end up with is a question laced with the views of the questioner... not necessarily a more "appropriate" question, whatever that means

    my apologies if i have misunderstood you. i certainly wish to look at the semantics involved but to me there is a fine line between free expression and what "existential"-type presuppositions from listeners may impose on speaker A's choice of words unrightfully... as i said, in the case we are looking at, the presupposition is that of the listener, not of speaker A

    cheers ;-)

    ps... i'll give you that