Monday, February 27, 2012

Natural and artificial languages

Belette makes a breathtaking comment here that deserves comment. 
I know about the difference between a pointer and the thing pointed to. I'm a software engineer. Its all a lot clearer in an artificial language; one day philosophers will realise that.
This is breathtaking both in its ignorance and (for that reason) in its arrogance.  For the entire history of Anglo-American philosophy since Frege in the 1880s and Russell in the 1900s onwards is about using the insights acquired from the development of the predicate calculus - mainly by Russell and Whitehead in Principia Mathematica - to address ancient philosophical problems.

Russell says "I remain convinced that obstinate addiction to ordinary language in our private thoughts is one of the main obstacles to progress in philosophy"*.    Russell's early work explored the idea that the misleading subject-predicate form of traditional Aristotelian logic was responsible for the pernicious defects of monism.  His theory of descriptions is intended to show that by using a formal language to analyse a problematic sentence like 'the king of France is bald', we can resolve an apparently intractable philosophical problem.  Following that, almost the entire program of Anglo-American analytic philosophy (AAA) is to address philosophical problems by analysing ambigous, vague statements expressed in ordinary language into precise, crisp, verifiable statements in some formal or artificial language. Obviously the distinction between 'pointer and thing pointed to', which is essential to Tarski's theory of truth, has a significant place in this program.

So what is it that philosophers are not realising? 

*Quoted in R.M. Sainsbury, "The Perfect Language", Russell, Routledge 1979, p.140

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6 Comments:

Blogger Belette said...

So why are you still doggedly sticking to English and Latin?

8:57 am  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>So why are you still doggedly sticking to English and Latin?

Long story. There is pretty much a consensus that the analytic program failed for at least standard predicate logic. I.e. there are certain types of sentences in English and other languages (including Latin) that seem to have a clear and definite meaning, but the meaning fails to translate into any known form of standard logic. So there are now two main camps

1. Those who follow Wittgenstein and other philosophers in holding that ordinary language defies any kind of formal treatment. Sometimes I think the Maverick philosopher falls into this camp.

2. Those who think the program can still succeed, but with a different kind of formal treatment. I'll put myself in this camp. A lot of my posts here, if you hadn't noticed, are around the problem of developing a logic that will handle singular belief ascriptions and evidence reports. But you don't seem to have grasped what the problem is, yet.

11:33 am  
Blogger Anthony said...

I thought of another way to phrase my point about sentences vs. propositions (and dereferencing):

1 the morning star = the evening star
2 "the morning star" does not equal "the evening star"
3 that the morning star is the evening star = that the morning star is the morning star
4 "the morning star is the evening star" does not equal "the morning star is the morning star"

That is my position. It is, I believe a position which follows from direct reference theories. 3 is about propositions. 4 is about sentences. I assume you disagree with 3.

2:56 pm  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>I assume you disagree with 3.

Spot on.

4:18 pm  
Blogger Belette said...

> But you don't seem to have grasped what the problem is, yet.

Don't sound so disappointed. Perhaps you haven't explained it clearly.

But no. In fact I turn off at the endless verbiage, which goes nowhere. Its in Hobbes, if you know it: the bit about it being pointless to make long laws: English words are always ambiguous; people try to patch this up by adding more words to nail down their meaning, but it never works: all you do is add more ambiguity.

11:04 pm  
Blogger Anthony said...

But you agree with 1?

What is wrong with 3? Do you have any argument for the falsity of 3, or is this a base premise? If 3 is not a premise, what premises lead to the falsity of 3?

5:15 pm  

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