Philosophy Forum — Part 1
Philosophy is inescapable. It is ignorable, which is what most people do with it. There are parts that I find quite interesting, enjoyable, and useful. Technical logic is not exactly one of the areas that excite me, but it can be useful, and is important. Maybe the most important thing about it is understanding the difficulty of the problems, and the complexity that underlies the set of problems.
In this course on logic there were two sets of six questions posed. The idea is to give a short answer to one from each set. The first set has to do with descriptions. I chose question number four. Here is the question and my answer.
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4. Suppose I say “When I use the term “The King of France”, I’m just talking about my idea of the King of France.” How well does this account for the way we speak?
In view of the idea that we speak to communicate, having a purely subjective referent obstructs the primary purpose of speech. However, that is not the whole story. Branching away from the original purpose of communication, we use highly developed language to think. Across time in both thinking and communication the meaning of referents change to adjust for other changes in a dynamic and evolving system of individual and cultural thought. After the statement in this example it would be reasonable to expect the speaker to then clarify the way in which he is using the term “The King of France.” Thereby the shared referent is restored and the individuals are able to achieve a level of correlated thinking and regain the ability to communicate with a shared reference. I conclude that the statement does account for the way we speak in some instances.
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In the second set of questions I chose number two. These questions had to do with the concept of vagueness.
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2. What is the difference between the way ‘vague’ is used in ordinary language and vagueness as discussed in philosophy?
In philosophy vague is a technical term with a precise definition, a concept with borderline cases, where it is hard to tell when one thing becomes another. For instance, what measurement is the dividing line between short and tall? In ordinary use vague is less precise. It is often used to show that there has been a noticed lapse in communication, an uncertainty about what something means or what is to be done. This is usually resolved by providing more information, which points us to greater insights into the problem. As an example, the color spectrum is what it is. Yet, people do perceive it differently. And, beyond that, different cultures denote the difference between colors at slightly varying points. Where in the spectrum does red become pink? When thinking through a problem that is trying to be solved this concept can be held stable or varied in an effort at a solution. In communication a shared referent is needed otherwise confusion results. At times a more precise differentiating point may be needed, at other times more vagueness may not pose a problem in itself. To resolve a miscommunication it is sometimes possible to reference back to the specific percept in question. In the case of color, the color that is being represented by a word for communication can be pointed at. This sharing of a direct referent provides more information, much in the same way that vagueness is often responded to in ordinary use.
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As you can see, I specifically picked questions that have to do with ordinary language. Our ordinary language is this organic monster that has emerged over time in the immensely complex struggles of thinking and communicating that mankind has engaged in since the beginning of our existence. There is value there.
The connection between philosophy and the living of life is often cut. I think there is worth in trying to bridge the gap and bring philosophy into the view of people that would normally ignore it. And there is also use in bringing the pragmatic way in which people think and communicate in ordinary language and life to philosophy.