Thursday, November 16, 2006

Logic and Language

Let me try to get to some of the logic and language questions today:

Nick + Adam ask, "After a week of debate, we come to you with this question: Is there an example of an argument that one should believe that is inclusive of one or more premises that are fallacious?This is separate from those premise which cannot be classified as being, "well-grounded." (religious claims, ethical prose...) We've sat here for about a week trying to think of one. Is it possible?"
It is possible -- in a very cheesy way. Take a deductively valid argument -- here's a simple one:
Bob has sugar and cream in his coffee
Therefore, Bob has sugar in his coffee
Now, add a fallacious premise or three.
Everyone else thinks Bob has sugar in his coffee
Sugar looks like salt and Bob puts salt on his toffee which rhymes with coffee
I didn't see Bob not put sugar in his coffee
Bob has sugar and cream in his coffee
Therefore, Bob has sugar in his coffee
Deductive arguments have a property called monotonicity, that means that once there is enough logical content to make them valid, you can add anything else you want (even fallacious or contradictory premises) and they will stay valid. Maybe not what you were looking for, but a degenerate case that does the trick.

C. Ewing asks, "Can there actually be a nonsense syllable? And is doo-wop actually using such? Isn't an emotional enunciation ("ouch!" "argh!" "blargh!", etc.) saying something? Certainly it is not as easily or clearly defined as "You complete me" (to steal a movie line), but it's certainly possessed of a kinship is it not?Is "body language" actually a type of language as well? After all, a person who is crying, has a pained expression, etc., seems to certainly be "telling" onlookers something in at least some sense. Hence, focusing on language in the sense of "words" seems to not only do a disservice to language, but seems to be contradictory in that "of language" (as in, the philosophy) now becomes a misnomer itself, since now it's only the philosophy of word usage. The picture Hanno uses when introducing Hume's ethics comes to mind."
Wow. Ok, yes, there can be nonsense syllables, but it is clearly language dependent -- my favorites are the ones used by adults in the Charlie Brown tv specials and those used by Ella Fitzgerald when she scats.

Exclamations are not nonsense because we know what they mean. Exclamations are not declarative sentences, but one can deduce true declarative sentences from them by what H. P. Grice called a conversational implicature. When someone says, "Ow!" it usually means he or she is in pain, but in the context it might mean "I want you to stop doing that right now," it might mean "look at me, I might need first aid," or "how could you not notice you are sitting next to James Brown?" The key is that meaning comes from the structure of the sentence, the words in the sentence, but also from the context. Focusing on the language, by which I think you mean exclusively the words, does do a disservice to language in general.

Jeff Maynes asks, "What is the linguistic status of small talk? Does "filling silence" count as a speech act? Perhaps the speech act is just relieving awkwardness? If two people are involved and the two people interpret the small talk differently (e.g., one considers it filling silence, one considers it flirtatious) what do we say about act? Surely a speech act requires intent, but in a two way conversation it strikes me as odd to say that there are two acts going on."
Pulling again on Grice, I think you are pretty much on target that one needs to infer from the context what the meaning of the utterance from the context and people can do this in radically different ways. Thinking you know the speaker's intention is always dangerous, especially when flirting is one possibility. I think, it leads to two other questions -- So, who's flirting with you? and What is a grad student wasting time on blogs for? Get your butt back to work -- you're not supposed to have if hanging out on a blog was having a life...sigh. (C. Ewing, don't interpret that sigh, please)

Phil Thrift asks: "Are there actually nothing questions?" (I'll get to your real question tomorrow.)
Yes. A question is a request for information. When some asks a questions that they don't really want to know the answer to, but are trying to waste time in class when the prof has asked "Any questions, auto mechanics to quantum mechanics," that's a nothing question.

More tomorrow folks.