I have two essays on logic to write today. And we’re going to see one of the reasons that I don’t particularly like academia right away.

Here is a note about the essays.

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Remember when answering that one of the key things you’re aiming to do in an assessment essay is to demonstrate your understanding, so more fundamental than trying to make difficult arguments is honing your ability to clearly lay out the debate.

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I understand the value of this approach. Most things that people are trying to solve they can just look up the answer to if they would work on researching more, or it’s unsolvable and they would realize that by researching more. Nevertheless, I like to struggle with solving the problems themselves. To succeed in academia is a rather straightforward endeavor. You take the information that they’re giving you, and then you repeat it back to them. I just have a dislike for parroting information like that. I only do it for a fairly short period of time before I branch off on my own.

I can have a combined total of up to 3,500 words in the two essays. Here’s the first question.

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P. F. Strawson criticises Russell’s theory of descriptions both in cases of too few and too many referents. What are his reasons, and is he right?

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I’ve read a little Bertrand Russell because he’s a famous philosopher. I liked his book ‘A History of Western Philosophy’. But, a lot of his work is about turning everything into math. I find that both tedious and to be an endeavor that’s destined to fail. It does remind me of Pythagoras, who I find interesting, but other than that I am not particularly interested in Russell. Strawson on the other hand I find quite interesting, but I haven’t read much from him. In the past I think I came across some summaries of his ideas, and that’s all.

As I was reading through material to understand both sides of this argument I made a few notes from my own thoughts. Different directions that I might go while writing.

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for there to be a reference, there must be a referrer with intention and a referent intended or it’s nonsense

a sentence cannot refer, there must be a subject and therefore also a context including a personality with a complex and dynamic system which holds a referent

semantic triangle / square

3 levels of knowledge, Jerome Bruner, Endel Tulving

words as tools, affordances, James Gibson

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There are a lot of interesting things in those notes. Unfortunately I ended up not including the last two items because it would have been an immense expansion in a direction that would have resulted in doubling the length of the essay. Here’s how it came out.

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Russell’s theory of descriptions is part of his effort to take mathematical principles and apply them to language. Strawson makes the case that math is a limited language, and therefore cannot contain something greater than itself, such as ordinary language.

Let’s play a game with chairs. Jack and Jill are standing in a room. Jack says to Jill, “The chair has a book on it.” Jill looks around, scrunches up her face, and replies “Umm, what are you talking about?” For when she looks around she sees no chair.

Russell would say that Jack’s statement “The chair has a book on it.” is false, because there is no chair. Strawson would say that the statement is neither true nor false, because there is no chair.

There are two things happening in this statement. There is a subject that is being identified, the chair. That is the referent, the thing that is being referred to. Then there is what is being said about the chair, the predicate, the thing that is being attributed to the chair, which is that that it has a book on it.

Let’s look at some other ways this type of situation could go.

Jack and Jill are standing in a room. Jack says, “The chair has a book on it.” Jill looks at the old wooden chair with its back against the brick wall, a worn copy of ‘The Courage to Be’ by Paul Tillich laying there. The chair exists, there is one that is unique, there is a book on it. This statement is true, Jack, Jill, Russell, and Strawson would agree.

Jack and Jill are standing in a room. Jack says, “The chair has a book on it.” Jill looks at the old wooden chair with its back against the brick wall, a worn copy of ‘The Courage to Be’ by Paul Tillich lays on the floor. The chair exists, there is one that is unique, there is a book, but it’s not on the chair. This statement is false, Jill, Russell, and Strawson would agree.

So, it’s not all cases that Russell and Strawson disagree on, it’s just select sets of problems. One is the case that we’ve already mentioned, when there isn’t a shared referent. The other is when there isn’t a clear referent because there is potentially more than one.

Jack and Jill are standing in a room. Jack says, “The chair has a book on it.” Jill looks around the room and says, “Umm, I guess so.” For when she looks around she sees two chairs, each with a book resting on the seat. Which chair Jack is referring to is ambiguous, and whether such a statement is true or false and to what extent can also be debated. But, let us move on and see if we can discover something more fundamental about human communication.

To say that there is a thing being referred to there must first be a consciousness that is doing the referring. In referring, this consciousness has an intention. This referrer, this consciousness that is doing the referring, has a personality, which is part of the context. Both the personality and the context are complex and dynamic systems. And, in order for there to be communication there must be another conscious personality that receives the reference and interprets it. There’s a lot happening before we get to identifying and attributing in the sentence itself. Let’s see how it might go in the case of no referent being present, i.e. when there is no chair in the room.

Jack and Jill are standing in a room. Neither speaks. Jack is looking at the carpet, down and to the left, his right hand in a fist gently pressed into his left palm, deep in thought. Jill stands with her hands entwined behind her back, staring at the wall. Jack blinks, raises his head and says, “The chair has a book on it.”

That’s an objective perspective of the situation. It’s like we’re an invisible entity floating in the room and observing what’s going on. Things change if we take an omniscient perspective and are able to discern the thoughts of the characters.

Jack is looking at the carpet, down and to the left, his right hand in a fist gently pressed into his left palm, deep in thought. ‘I can’t believe I didn’t see this before. People are going to notice, word is going to spread, and it’s going to go bad. That is, unless I can come up with a simple solution that fixes it in less than two minutes.’ Jill stands with her hands entwined behind her back, staring at the wall. ‘Hopefully Jack holds it together for this meeting.’ she thinks. Jack blinks, raises his head and says, “The chair has a book on it.”

Let’s take it further and see if we can get an even better view of it.

A complex and dynamic personality operating in and through a corporeal body known as Jack had arrived early. Jill, his agent, hadn’t made it yet. Since he had some extra time he started looking through the manuscript one last time before the presentation with the publishers. On page seven he noticed a problem. A woman that would have sat down in a chair when she could have, didn’t. Jack thought about leaving, going home to work on the problem. A mystery novel relied on details, one thing being out of place could ruin the entire story. Just then Jill walked through the door and joined him in the little waiting room with no chairs. Before she could say anything Jack said, “I found a mistake.” Jill rolled her eyes as she took a deep breath, Jack was always finding a mistake. He never wanted to actually publish anything, just continually rewrite. She didn’t even want to hear what the so-called problem was. “I’m sure it will be fine.” she said. Jack slid his manuscript back into his carrying case, set it on the floor, and both of them stared off in different directions. Jacked looked at the carpet, down and to the left, his right hand in a fist gently pressed into his left palm, deep in thought. ‘I can’t believe I didn’t see this before. People are going to notice, word is going to spread, and it’s going to go bad. That is, unless I can come up with a simple solution that fixes it in less than two minutes.’ Jill stands with her hands entwined behind her back, staring at the wall. ‘Hopefully Jack holds it together for this meeting.’ she thinks. Jack blinks, raises his head and says, “The chair has a book on it.” Jill’s worst nightmare, he’s going crazy a minute before the meeting. “What?” she says. Jack holds out his hands like it’s the most obvious thing, “The reason the woman doesn’t sit down… the problem with the book,” he says in a rising voice, frustrated that she’s not getting it, “I can fix it!” Jill closes her eyes and takes another deep breath, maybe this will go okay. She opens her eyes and smiles at him, “Great!” she says. And the meeting room doors open.

Now answer me this, is “The chair has a book on it.” true or false? To work it out in logic formulas is incredibly difficult, to the point of being impossible. Life is more than logic, and our complex, dynamic, and emergent languages struggle with the task of dealing with life in its entirety rather than just in the limited set of cases that logic can handle.

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That’s a total of 1,261 words. It seems like the start to making a larger point rather than a complete essay in itself, yet I’m going to go with it. I close with a strong statement against Russell, which also relates to my opening. I think my examples make my point. Overall I’m going to call it decent, and I do like the examples.

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