Back    All discussions

2015-06-09
Is it possible to argue against a person who is skeptical about the meaning of all words?
Such person would consider the meaning of all words to be vague(including the meaning of the word "vague") and think that actually we do not know what we are talking about(including this sentence itself) even though we feel that we know very well about what we are talking about. Therefore all of our knowledge presented in the form of language is nonsense(including this sentence itself).

For example:
A: Truth is any statement that corresponds to the reality.
B: What does "correspond" mean? What does "reality" mean? What does "statement" mean?
A: "Correspond" means XXX, "reality" means XXX, and "statement" means XXX.
B: Then what does XXX mean?
A: ...
(And B would even question the meaning of his own sentences.)

It seems to me that such absolute-skepticism is invincivle. Any argument against it would be considered nonsense according to this theory. We might well ask, in what situation can the meaning of a word be "clear"? Philosophy is not as exact and accurate as math (perhaps math is not that accurate either since it is based on the use of language too). Even if we feel that the meaning of something is "clear", is it really clear? And if we give some definition to the word "clear", then we can still ask: is this definition precise enough? To make matters worse, I have noticed that all my thinking is based on language, on a series of "vague" words. I feel really puzzled, it seems that we have to use some tools beyond language to think. Is there a solution to it?


2015-06-15
Is it possible to argue against a person who is skeptical about the meaning of all words?
Reply to Yuki Nagato
Kia ora Zhen Wun

Yes, absolute skepticism is invincible.  (I must point out that in terms of our European-derived philosophies, I'm a skeptic).  

Yes, maths too is a language.  Questions can be asked about whether it relates to any kind of reality at all - and there is no final answer. 

No, there really is no solution to it. That's the failure of contemporary philosophy from the European-derived cultures where any kind of theism that might ground knowledge has been removed from the philosophy.


2015-06-15
Is it possible to argue against a person who is skeptical about the meaning of all words?
Reply to Yuki Nagato
Such a person: a pure sceptic would not argue anything of that sort at all. That is, he or she would not be able to formulate a proposition. He or she would not speak. There is no room for argument if there is no language (language being vague all over amounts to this). There is no distinction between sense and nonsense. He or she would not be able to think a clear thought for the simple reason that clear thought is impossible/non-existent. (And even that cannot be said.)

The ultimate conclusion of a sceptical argument (taken as something that has sense) is suicide. Anything short of that is sophistry or showbiz.



2015-06-22
Is it possible to argue against a person who is skeptical about the meaning of all words?
Reply to Yuki Nagato
I wouldn't be necessary to argue against such a person, because the position that words are meaningless is nonsensical. If words are meaningless, then the position cannot be formulated.  If it can be formulated, then words are not meaningless.  Thus, if a person is skeptical about the meaning of all words, then that person would either a) not be able to formulate his/her position because that would imply using words which, according to him/her, are meaningless or b) if the person formulates the position (using words, obviously) then he/she has effectively undermined that very position by showing that (at least in this case) words are meaningful.  But, even if words are meaningful only in that case, the position has effectively been undermined.

2015-06-22
Is it possible to argue against a person who is skeptical about the meaning of all words?
Reply to Yuki Nagato
We're just talking linguistic skepticism rather than full ontological skeptisism, so it's managable. Find a way to describe your subject manner in words that can be explicated by ostension--simple, concrete nouns, verbs and adjectives. If your interlocutor tries to push you for tge meaning of functional words sich as determiners or the verb "to be," then just omit those from your discourse; a linguistic akeptic has no grounds to enforce grammatical rules anyway.
Like any skepticism, this really isn't worth the effort it takes to argue over, but it can be done if you are so inclined.

2015-06-22
Is it possible to argue against a person who is skeptical about the meaning of all words?
Reply to Yuki Nagato
What you are looking for is Wittgenstein's "logical behaviorism". Check this out: Book

2015-06-22
Is it possible to argue against a person who is skeptical about the meaning of all words?
Reply to Ian Stuart
Skepticism is not invincible but self refutning. It is skeptics who are "invincible", since the option of irrationality is always there for them. But who cares about individual skeptics - philosophy enquires into the truth and justification of certain general ideas, it has no means to cure individual stubborn irrationals of their irrationality.

2015-06-22
Is it possible to argue against a person who is skeptical about the meaning of all words?
I disagree.  That's a bit of a straw-man put up by opponents of skepticism. 
All a person has to accept is the socially constructed language. 

But whether that language has any connection to whatever reality may or may not exist around us is an unanswerable question. 

Are there people around me to help construct this language???  A good working hypothesis - but not provable. 

Is there a distinction between nonsense and sense?  That depends on how you want to define those terms, however, in the end, there is not a lot of real difference. 

Sense can be seen in a functionalist way - in that when I say something, like "please pass the salt" other people react as I want them to.   When I speak "nonsense" they do not react as I want them to. 

So I suppose I'm basing this all on a use value but I am completely skeptical about whether any of our "knowledge" has a truth value 

2015-06-22
Is it possible to argue against a person who is skeptical about the meaning of all words?
Reply to Yuki Nagato
First, we have to ask skeptic about this what he or she undermines resp. cast in doubt. They said then our terms or notions is vague. But in order to undermines the notion of "clear" they have to understand notion of "meaning", they they can said then our notion of "clear" is vague. But, if he udermines some mean he have to know a mean and then they can undermine. In this way this leads him to contradiction, but he can undermine a notion of contradiction. Simplest: If he undermine notion resp. meaning of meanings (what in itself is problematic) then it is not "clear" he must understand term "meaning" and "clear", which are in the context, then they understand it "clear" and contradicts itself.

Kind regards
pg 

2015-06-22
Is it possible to argue against a person who is skeptical about the meaning of all words?
Reply to Yuki Nagato
I agree with Joseph. The premises that such a person assumes in taking this viewpoint makes the argument self-defeating. In order to assert that all words are ambiguous in meaning presumes that the person arguing from this viewpoint understands the meaning of 'ambiguity' and of 'words'. Furthermore, assuming that arguments requiring language (i.e., all arguments) are necessarily nonsensical implies that the assumption is nonsensical, ipso facto.
I believe such a person would be conflating the notions that language can be ambiguous with the notion that what we are trying to express cannot be known (this assumption is taken from your first sentence). I would certainly agree that our natural language does tend to be ambiguous, although I also believe that concise definitions for words can be reached. 

2015-06-22
Is it possible to argue against a person who is skeptical about the meaning of all words?
Reply to Yuki Nagato

Hi Zhen,

1. One of the preconditions of having a meaningful discussion with anyone is that you and they understand some parts of a common language.   So, to answer question as stated, the answer is, ‘No’. 

2. However, the skeptic is not invincible. You just cannot have a meaningful discussion with that person.

3. There is a way to deal with this perplexing problem.  Some words and concepts are more basic than others and many of these are primitive (primitive in the sense of being intuitively understood).  The best set of words and sentences that fit this requirement are those of our everyday language.  There is no reason to think that we cannot start with these everyday words and sentences.  The next step would be to refine them, as necessary, using our everyday words.  This is in fact what we do and is the reason we lean so heavily on metaphors and analogies.

4.  Your point is well taken, but, I think, overstated. 

- Ron


2015-06-22
Is it possible to argue against a person who is skeptical about the meaning of all words?
Reply to Yuki Nagato
As a follow up to my earlier reply, I am not arguing that words are meaningful because they correspond to some non-linguistic reality.  One does not have to advocate the correspondence theory of meaning and truth in order to argue that language is meaningful. One can adopt a conventionalist conception of meaning.  However, note that the purpose of any theory of meaning is not to argue that words and language are meaningful, but to explain why and how language is meaningful.  In other words, the meaningfulness of language is not in question.  How could it possibly be?  It's very much like the Kantian synthetic a priori: it is what renders it possible to communicate at all, even if what we are communicating is skepticism about the meaningfulness of language.

2015-06-29
Is it possible to argue against a person who is skeptical about the meaning of all words?
You'd have to agree about the meaning of "I am skeptical about the meanings of all words".

2015-06-29
Is it possible to argue against a person who is skeptical about the meaning of all words?
Reply to Ian Stuart
I'm not sure what disagreement means here. If language is vague in the sense that it has no meaning then dis/agreement amounts to nothing. That it has no meaning is what I take you to mean when you say it is "socially constructed". But saying that it is socially constructed is saying something definite, only you do not want to say what is definite about it (what socially constructed means).

That does, I admit, make you invincible in the sense that I have no way of holding you to what you say (making sense of it) since you can shift your meaning every which way you want. But that only makes any discussion with a skeptic pointless.

If there is no agreement in judgment, as Wittgenstein says, there is no possibility of traffic between us. Our moves pass each other by.

It is as if we were playing chess and you insisted that your moving the king of the board is as valid as any other move in the game because no one really knows what chess is, we only have a "working hypothesis". And the rules are uncertain because they are socially constructed and do not "hook on to reality". (The question to ask here is whether "social construction" is a hypothesis and if so then forming one is meaningful and determining its truth is possible.) That being the case (a fact) there is really nothing I can do but abandon the game as pointless, or find someone else to play with.

You will notice that the concepts used here have a fairly stable meaning we agree on and that that is why we can talk about these things. Now if you insist that we cannot be sure of their and therefore cannot really talk to each other then there is no more to say. Because even that, your position, cannot be said.

"Use value" does nothing here, because there must be a way for us, independently of each other, to determine whether our use of language is correct. And correctness of use mirrors truth in this sense. If you then claim that this cannot be determined at all then "use value" is a meaningless. You want to have the cake and eat it.

In philosophy, as in life, we do not ask whether there is meaning, we assume it. Or not even that. Meaning is at the bottom of what we do. We ask how meaning comes about but never question that it is. Your use value is a reflection of the same fundamental. It is inescapable.

For you to say there is no meaning or only this sort of meaning (your explanation) assumes meaning at the outset, necessarily, for otherwise you would not say anything.

Your check just bounced.


2015-06-29
Is it possible to argue against a person who is skeptical about the meaning of all words?
Reply to Yuki Nagato
The short sharp answer:

TLP 6.51 Scepticism is not irrefutable, but obviously nonsensical, when it tries to raise doubts where no questions can be asked.
     For doubt can only exist where a question exists, a question only where an answer exists, and an answer only where something can be said.

This is not a fact or experience. It goes before it.


2015-06-30
Is it possible to argue against a person who is skeptical about the meaning of all words?
Reply to Yuki Nagato
If I said that every word's may be "vague", I understand the term "vague" clearly, then not all word's is vague but some word's is vague.If I don't understand clearly the term "vague", then I can't argue, that all word's is vague, becouse i do not have correct notion of "vague"/"ambiguity" in the set of my notions.

2015-06-30
Is it possible to argue against a person who is skeptical about the meaning of all words?
Yes, I largely agree.
I did take the original post to be about ontological skepticism, as "skepticism about the meaning of words"  is a trivial and nonsensical position to hold.  Clearly that position can only be articulated by using words - an skepticism about their meaning makes that impossible. 

I'm not Lewis Carol's Humpty Dumpty 'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'   

Words have a largely agreed meaning, agreed through a process of social construction. The meaning of words is also context-dependent (Bourdieu) , so it is possible to challenge the exact meaning of a word in a specific context, but the general meaning is a socially agreed one. This is what I meant by social construction - not that it has no meaning, rather that it may or may not have any connection to any physical reality that may or may not surround us.  

"Meaning" itself has several possible interpretations, and given that "skepticism about the meaning of words" is a trivial and nonsensical position, I considered, in this case, "meaning" to be about the connection to any reality, rather than any lack of what might be called information content.


2015-06-30
Is it possible to argue against a person who is skeptical about the meaning of all words?
Reply to Yuki Nagato
Moreover, as You said, We have a lot theory of meaning, then We can ask in which theory of meaning sceptics doubt. Furthermore radical scepticist should to keep quiet, then he can't argue for whatever. 

2015-07-27
Is it possible to argue against a person who is skeptical about the meaning of all words?
Kia ora Piotr
As, I suppose, a 'radical skeptic' in western terms ... 

From Wittgenstein On Certainty  proposition 5   "Whether a proposition can turn out to be false after all depends on what I count as determinants for that proposition".

If that is applied,then whether we "know" something is up to the individual.  This is not a good grounding if we are talking about shared knowledge.  

Proposition 8  "the difference between the concept of knowing and the concept of being certain isn't of great importance at all, except where 'I know" is meant to mean: 'I can't be wrong' ... 

There are a few more propositions I could cite.

First, it is in Wittgenstein's sense "I know" is meant "I can't be wrong"

We can be wrong about the apparent "fact" that there is a world around us.  We may be grossly deluded in our own, individual consciousness, which may be the only consciousness existing in any universe - there may not be a universe outside our mind.  

For me, then, what would count as a determinant to say that I know there is a world around me?  Begin able to assume a Godlike perspective that was outside this universe we live in.  Such a perspective is impossible, so the determinants I count to prove the world around me exists are non-existent. 

Therefore I am a radical skeptic. 

Descarte's "I think therefore I am" is countered by Nietzsche's 'Does the thinking construct the I, or does the I do the thinking?"

This then, is dealing with not the practical doubt, of which it seems silly to act as if we doubt the world, but rather something behind that practical doubt (Wittgenstein proposition 19).


2015-08-11
Is it possible to argue against a person who is skeptical about the meaning of all words?
Reply to Yuki Nagato
Dear Zhen Wu,I am a person sceptical about the meaning of all words so maybe you should try to argue against me. But I think you will fail because I think you are starting from false premises and generating non sequitur arguments.

So: I maintain that all words are vague. This seems to me pretty standard. Words very rarely have unique meanings. Generally speaking meaning only starts with propositional units that one can see either as information increments (as in Dynamic Syntax) or truth evaluables. And each word will acquire a specific meaning flavoured by the other elements of the proposition. Moreover, one proposition is almost never non-vague. In most discourse propositions draw their meaning from thousands of other propositions previously rehearsed in a domain of context. 

So meaningfulness in language arises out of recurring usages indicated by conventions to be making use of words in a particular way. Clear meaning with precise truth evaluation can then be, and often is, possible using words that are hugely vague. In science we do this all the time. When I write a paper I build an introduction that lays out antecedent propositions and gives references to publications with other antecedent propositions and I continue until I think enough ground is set for my methods and results to be understood precisely.

You say that this sceptic would say that we do not know what we are talking about. But that is not so. She may be very happy that someone knows what they are talking about if they have defined word meanings with adequate context. It is then possible to evaluate truth by matching subjects defined by one set of propositions with predicates given in others, as per Leibniz. But she might well suspect that your opening question was an instance of not knowing what it was talking about because it makes unreasonable jumps from vagueness to meaninglessness. Vagueness is just an indication that the sets being labelled with words are larger than you want them to be for a precise proposition. If you use other words in introductory remarks to indicate intersections between sets you can trim them down to the precision you need.

In your examples I would definitely ask the sceptical questions. What is 'correspond' in this context? is it some form of isomorphism and does that isomorphism depend on some transformational routine instantiated by a brain etc etc. We need to know. Otherwise the statement could mean anything. (In fact it is almost certainly useless, which is why I prefer Leibniz.) What is 'reality'? Is it being conceived naively in terms of 'objects in space', or in a more sophisticated dynamic framework or what etc etc. ? What is a statement? Is it a particular utterance token or is it a type defined by a string of words or what etc etc? And all the answers to these questions will need further elaboration with YYY and ZZZ probably for the duration of at least several glasses of good beer before the conversation begins to mean anything interesting.

So I would argue that absolute scepticism in the sense of everything being vague is not just invincible; it is the way language is always used. It is invincible because it is the right and only useful way to approach language. Nothing need be puzzling. Each word narrows down possibilities from a starting point of nothing being defined. After several beers you may be narrowed down to something very interesting, even if every word could have been used in quite a different way.

2015-08-19
Is it possible to argue against a person who is skeptical about the meaning of all words?
Kia ora Jonathan
I agree.

As Bourdieu says, language is context dependent.  ((1991). Language&Symbolic Power. Camb. Mass, Harvard University Press.)   Words get their meanings from their place in sentences and from the words around them.    Meaning is not inherent in the word.  Meaning lies in context.

This is very true of the Māori language, which may have four or five meanings for one word/sound  pairing.  The meaning of each word/sound is completely context-dependent. 

2015-10-20
Is it possible to argue against a person who is skeptical about the meaning of all words?
Reply to Yuki Nagato
maths too is a language.