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RUMINATIONS

© Avi Sion, 1990-2005 All rights reserved.

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RUMINATIONS

Part I – Chapter 3

About Words

1. Meaning

2. Traditional Distinctions

3. Logic and Linguistics

4. Dialogue

5. Poles of Duality

1. Meaning

Words are gestures, sounds or drawings[1] (whether physical or mental) that mean something to someone. But what they mean is not necessarily real, but may be imaginary. The meaning (or signification or reference or “sense”) of a word is the direction it points our attention in (its “intention”). It is something wordless beyond the word, which we have to apprehend and comprehend to grasp the word.

Words are utilitarian symbols, whose function is to arouse some perception or conceptual thought, some memory or imagination, selected by their speaker, in their auditor (or by gesticulator for spectator, or by writer for reader). The same word may signify different things to different people, though good communication depends on there being some harmonization of meaning between them; otherwise, there will inevitably be misunderstandings between them.

Many words do have a reasonably ‘objective’ meaning, one that appears the same to many observers; in this sense, they are absolute. For example, “she has green eyes” is hardly debatable. But some words are wholly or partly about ‘subjective’ events, so that their meaning is relative to some conscious Subject’s viewpoint. The relativity involved is usually due to the beholder engaging in some valuation. For examples, the predicates in “she’s so exotic” or “she’s beautiful” tell us as much about the speaker as about the person discussed (i.e. “she”). Such words can be made more public, simply by increasing verbal precision; e.g. “she is beautiful to him”.

Although generally a word ultimately refers to some experience(s), its meaning varies considerably from person to person or in the same person across time. E.g. if one has never seen an elephant in the flesh, but only a picture of one, the word ‘elephant’ means somewhat less to one than it does to an elephant trainer.

Indeed, there are things we know very little of – not much more than their name, and perhaps a rough description of the experiences or thoughts of other people that gave rise to this name (for examples, the meaning of ‘enlightenment’ to an unenlightened person, or of ‘black hole’ to a non-physicist).

Thus, the experiential basis for a word varies greatly, ranging from direct personal experience to indirect second-hand experience, based on hearsay evidence, verbal descriptions, various illustrations and recordings. Use of a word does not signify full knowledge of its potential meaning.

Note well that reference, here, does not imply a ‘correspondence’ theory of meaning, such as that proposed by naïve realism. It is rather based on the idea of words acquiring meaning by intention – intention being a volitional act or velleity of the cognizing Subject, attaching this word to that appearance. The appearance may be experienced or conceived, real or illusory. In sum, reference is justified by a phenomenological approach.

Words are first produced by designation, i.e. pointing and naming – this is suggested in colloquial language by the expression “show and tell”.

Physical pointing is usually performed by extending the index finger in some direction, in some cases touching the object concerned; or one can more precisely delineate the object’s boundaries, at a distance or right up close. At a later stage in the development of knowledge, something akin to indication is often performed verbally; we may do so by using words like “this” or “that”, or by describing how to get to an object or what the object looks like.

It should be stressed that indication cannot function if it is merely positive, just pointing and saying “this” – except when we intend to refer to the whole of our present experience (the here and now). Normally, indication has a usually tacit negative component, which excludes some of the present experience, leaving only the part of it we wish to refer to. We may say “this – but not that”.

The negative clause is as important as the positive one, in directing our mind to the precise object intended. We cannot really understand pointing, if we do not realize the limits of its applicability, i.e. what we intend to exclude from consideration. “This” by itself may include too much. We need the negative thought “but not that” to delimit it.

It is important to realize that, whereas the positive aspect of indication is a purely empirical act, the implicit negation is in part a rational act. “This” only requires a look, whereas “but not that” requires a mental ‘crossing off’ of some items seen, i.e. an imagination of the part of the world covered by “this” existing without (in abstraction from) the part of the world covered by “that”.

It is perhaps for this reason that babies (to about nine months) and most (or all) animals seem unable to comprehend the pointed finger: it does not merely point towards something, but also away from other things. There was no doubt a long evolutionary history, before the human species could grasp it.

Another marvel occurred when our ancestors managed to associate a word of some sort with the object pointed to. This is the act of naming or verbalizing (putting into words). A name is conventional insofar as the word is arbitrarily chosen; but the thing intended by it – whether real or imaginary, objective or subjective – is not invented.

Once some indicative words have been coined, knowledge often progresses by analogy; rather than the use of similes, this consists of creative assimilation by means of metaphor. For example, the mental domain is empirical with regard at least to mental sights and sounds, which are similar to physical sights and sounds. Once this domain is established, it is permissible to assume “mental emotions” by analogy to those felt in the body. However, here the analogy is metaphoric, rather than based on simile, since mental emotions are not so concretely evident.

Some words we use have been consciously invented by an individual to put a handle on certain newly discovered things; others (the large majority of them, probably) arose more unconsciously in the course of history, through the give and take of two or more people trying to exchange information and instructions.

The property used in the definition is not all that the word refers to. A word is defined by some supposedly constant and distinctive property (or set of properties) of the object(s) it refers to, precisely because we are thus (if we supposed rightly) sure to always and in all cases find this property in the object(s) concerned and in no others. There may be and usually are many other properties equally eligible for the role of defining property. Moreover, we do not intend by our act of definition to ignore or exclude the less permanent and widespread properties of the objects concerned.

The definition of a word is not something essentially verbal – it is not other words. The verbal definition only serves to draw our mind in the direction of the intended property; the words used are mere means to this end. If definition were only verbal, knowledge would consist of a suspended cloud of ultimately meaningless movements, grunts and shapes.

Use of words is not evidence of understanding. A proof of this is the experience we sometimes have of reading a sentence again and again (saying the words in our head) without having an inkling of what they are saying (due to our inattention – our failure to focus on their meaning, in addition to their shapes and sounds). Philosophers who equate thought with verbal thought fail to take such evidence into consideration.

It is important to realize that definitions may change over time, in scope or altogether. If a term is predefined by some experienced or inferred character, its definition is pretty well immutable. But this relatively ‘deductive’ approach is only one schema of definition. In the more common case of inductive definition, the sense of a term is not fixed, but a tentative hypothesis in an ongoing research. We do not know at the outset what defines the referents thought of, but gradually try to answer that question by trial and error.

Some philosophers tend to regard definition as arbitrary and conventional, because they think of all definition as predefinition and ignore inductive definition. Furthermore, they confuse word and concept, and consider that since the word chosen for a definition is initially freely chosen and always changeable, the relation of the concept to its meaning is equally open to choice.

The difference between use of a word as such or while intending its meaning should be kept in mind. For example, disjunction can refer to underlying meanings, or to a choice of wording for the same meaning. The former is substantive disjunction, the latter merely verbal. The former implies a question (“X or Y?”), whereas the latter effectively stresses by repetition (“X1 or X2” just means “X, however named”).

Note that the same word may be used for different referents (homonymy, ambiguity); and conversely, different words may be used for the same referents (synonymy, equivocation).[2] This may occur within the same language, or in different languages.

2. Traditional Distinctions

How meaningful and valuable are the traditional distinction(s) between the denotation or connotation, or the intension or extension, of words or concepts? These qualifications are somewhat ambiguous and equivocal, and the doctrine(s) concerning them are unclear and doubtful. They are colloquially used, but rather variably and vaguely.

The ‘denotation’ of a term usually means its definition, i.e. to the defining aspect of the things the term refers to; in contrast to the ‘connotation’ of the same term, which then refers to all non-defining aspects of the things meant by it[3]. Thus, these concepts divide the characteristics of a thing (or class of things) into two sets: the essence (denotative aspect) and the non-essentials (connoted aspects). Obviously, some things are thought of so precisely and exclusively that they have a denotation but no connotation.

Note that these same terms are sometimes interpreted a bit differently, so that ‘denotation’ refers to the totality of meaning, while ‘connotation’ is taken to mean more specifically the essence. This can be confusing, since the earlier sense of ‘denotation’ and the later of ‘connotation’ mean about the same – so be careful! Moreover, in cases where the object thought of is very simple, the denotation and connotation in their latter senses will be coextensive.

Similarly, usually, when we consider the ‘intension’ of a term, we focus on the common attributes of the things referred to, and especially on its distinctive, defining property; whereas considering the ‘extension’ of it, we turn our attention to the multiplicity of things referred to, scattered in the world and in our experience of it. In other words, these two concepts are designed to direct our awareness to different aspects of the same thing: on the one hand, what it is that makes of certain objects a kind of thing, versus the instances of that kind[4].

Note in passing that these concepts ought not be confused with ‘intensity’ and ‘extent’ of awareness (although it might be argued, not very convincingly, that intensive consciousness is more intense and extensive consciousness is more extended). Also note: the expression ‘intension’ is not identical with ‘intention’, in spelling or meaning, though they are related; the latter is a verb denoting a cognitive and volitional act by a Subject: intending a word to have a certain meaning is convening such word and meaning to be attached together, so that henceforth the one draws our attention to the other.

Thus, it would appear that denotation (in its first sense) and intension (in its narrower sense) may be roughly equated, and identified with the essence or definition of the thing discussed. However, connotation (in its first sense) and extension are divergent in meaning, the former covering the wider aspects of intension, while the latter focuses on the underlying occurrences of the thing discussed. For this reason, the two distinctions are not identical, though they overlap somewhat.

Sometimes, as just considered, the qualifications seem to refer to one and the same term. Each term is thought to have both a denotation and a connotation, or both an intension and an extension: these are considered different perspectives on the same thing, different aspects of meaning. For example, ‘humans’ may be thought of with reference to the properties that constitute each and everyone of them, or as a group of entities with these properties.

Sometimes, however, it seems that different though connate pairs of terms are intended by each of these distinctions; i.e. one term is denotative and its ally is connotative, or one is intensional and the other is extensional. This is suggested by examples often given, such as the contrast between ‘humanity’ and ‘humans’ – clearly, though their intents are related, these terms are not one and the same.

Note anyway: these distinctions are not only applicable to ‘entities’ and their properties and instances, but to any category of thing – ‘qualities’, ‘actions’, etc. For examples – the quality ‘green’ as such and its particular occurrences here and there, or the action ‘dancing’ and every variant event that can be so characterized, and so forth.

Our ability to intellectually distinguish between a defining property and other observed properties, or between a definition and the things that have this defining property, should not be taken too literally. All aspects of an object’s existence, all contents of a class, must continue to be taken into consideration, whatever distinctions are made. Intellectual distinction is not actual separation.

As a practicing logician, I have found these various distinctions relatively confusing and of little use. I do use three of these terms occasionally, but I do not remember ever having really needed to use the notion of ‘intension’ to elucidate some logical issue. The concept of ‘extension’ has often been useful to me (as to most other logicians), but this includes within it the connotation of intension[5]. It seems very artificial to me (and many others) to think of the intension of a set of things apart from their extension, or vice versa.

It might be suggested that a more modern terminology for this distinction might be ‘meaning’ vs. ‘reference’. But as far as I can see, the intention, meaning and reference of a term are all ultimately the same thing. The difference is only one of emphasis, at best: intention emphasizes an underlying psychological act; meaning signifies a logical equation; reference is a reminder of where to move attention towards.

Concerning ‘entities’ – the original suggestion seems to be that the world consists mainly of numerous, discrete bodies (of material, mental or spiritual substance) in space and time, each of which may be viewed as an aggregate of various qualities, states or attributes, and to be undergoing a particular course of motion, change and action.

In one version, one of these properties is the veritable ‘essence’ of the thing, that which can objectively be identified with and equated to the entity as such – every other property being incidental (though fixed) or accidental (because fluctuating) relative to that. In this extreme version, the entity proper or essence is the ‘thing in itself’, whereas all else associated with it is mere adjunct to that. Here, the essence is conceived as in principle capable of existing ‘by itself’, ‘independent of’ non-essential properties.

A milder version of the doctrine is that any permanent, distinctive and universal property may arbitrarily be considered the essence or that all these together count as the essence. This viewpoint would deny that the essence is conceivable as existing apart from other fixed properties, allowing only accidental properties as irrelevant to or outside the essence, arguing that separation has to be found to occur empirically for such distinction to be meaningful.

Others argue that even non-essential aspects of an apparent entity must be counted as part of it, even though they may be temporary, nonexclusive and/or not general. There are apparent entities, but this concept refers to a whole thing in all its variations – not to any selected substratum. Some conclude from this argument that there is no entity at all, just a changing contiguity of cognized states and events that we arbitrarily mentally isolate together and give this (or some more specific) name to.

Another issue arising in this context is that of ‘universals’ – just what is it that common attributes have in common, that allows us to name two things with one name? I have discussed this issue too at length in other writings – for instance, pointing out the inconsistency of the Nominalists, who do not explain on what grounds they freely refer to ‘one’ name while forbidding others to refer to ‘one’ thing named.

In my view, the concept of entity is legitimate inasmuch as there seems to be entities already at the experiential level. The mere phenomenological fact that there appears to be entities – i.e. that we do not just perceive series of disconnected phenomena and arbitrarily tie them together, but we perceive phenomena as apparently having a certain continuity in spite of perceived fluctuations – this fact is enough to justify an initial concept of entity.

Philosophical rejection of the concept is still logically possible thereafter – but one would have to bring forward some unassailable arguments. I know of no empirical evidence or logical antinomy capable of causing such rejection, so I remain attached to the concept. The onus of proof (or rather of disproof) is on the skeptics, since the concept was based on appearance.

However, I may have already abandoned this defensive posture and joined the opposition, when I argued that all boundaries between things are artificial constructs, in my book Phenomenology[6]. So let us stay open-minded!

In the light of these underlying philosophical issues (which are epistemological and ontological, as well as logical), the proposed distinction between intension and extension of a term should be indulged in very sparingly and critically.

With regard to the adjectives ‘denotative’ and ‘connotative’, I would suggest an excellent justification of them would be to apply them, respectively, to the deductive and inductive approaches to definition. In the former case, we focus on a previously cognized (established or imagined) property as a fixed definition, and wonder what (new or specific) instances it applies to; whereas in the latter case, we repeatedly research and adapt our definition of the distinguishing common attribute of a set of things (they appear someway similar at the outset, and we try to gradually determine exactly why so).

Thus, a term functions denotatively, when we take the definition as given and use it to identify the instances it applies to; whereas, a term functions connotatively, when its definition is still open and variable, and we are rather led on by our wordless insight (or even vague feeling) that the things we so named do have some distinctive common property that we have only to find (and thus justify our initial search). These approaches remain flexible and interchangeable. Occasionally, we may start in one mode, and later switch to the other, according to need.

3. Logic and Linguistics

Logic and linguistics overlap to some extent; but they are not coextensive or in a genus-species relation. They are considerably different studies, though they have interests in common. Linguistics studies statements as words, sentences and texts, with little interest in their underlying meanings – compared to logic, for which they are concepts, propositions and arguments, deeply charged with meaning.

Some properties of words are of interest to both disciplines, though with perhaps slightly different perspectives. For instance, grammarians have observed that words may vary in form according to their position in a sentence. For example, in “I do not like what this is doing to me”, the pronouns “I” and “me” (or he-him, they-them, etc.) refer to the same person – but the former concerns that person in position of subject, while the latter concerns him or her as object. For grammarians, this observation is mainly about use of pronouns (morphology of words) and sentence structure (rules of syntax)[7].

They may point out that some words are different because, though they refer to the same referent, they refer to it in a different relational position. This comment is not however merely about language; clearly, it has semantic undertones, i.e. it refers to some extent to the underlying meaning of some of the words. The logician would emphasize that aspect, and conclude: we may be justified to use a different name for the same thing, if we wish to signify a difference in our perspective towards it in a given context. In such cases, the word change is technically useful, as an aid to ordering and clarifying thought.

The acceptable wording and order of words in a sentence, in a given language, is an empirical given for linguistics. Some variations in wording and order may be permitted within that language, or may occur over time, or comparing one language with another; but outside such existing range of rewording, some sentences are grammatically unacceptable. I could not legitimately, in English, write: “some sentences unacceptable are grammatically”, even if you understood me![8]

Our natural languages, by the way, have many imperfections. In English, for instance, we lack a ‘common’ (or ‘neutral’) gender, i.e. one that we could use for both males and females indifferently. This forces us (in this age when discourse is addressed to women as well as men) to make clumsy statements using “it”, “one”, “we”, “he or she” or “they”. Another example is when pronouns become confusing because two or more subjects are discussed with the same pronoun; e.g. in “after they fought them and they became blue in the face” – it is not clear to whom the latter “they” refers, those who fought or those who were fought.

There are aspects of language, which emerge from the serial arrangement of words in sentences, which are not directly relevant to logic. Contrary to what many people suppose, logic is not overly concerned with such issues, provided the intention is reasonably clear. For example, logic does not care whether we place the subject, copula and predicate of a proposition in that order, or in any other order we please[9]. Logic does not even require that we express a proposition in words – it suffices if we wordlessly intend some meaning in our thought, for logic to evaluate our underlying thought.

Notwithstanding, the verbal sequence is usually intended to convey some logically relevant information. Thus, the categorical form “S is P” could be reshuffled any way we want without affecting its meaning; but in English, we have the convention that the term before the copula “is” is intended as the subject and the one after as the predicate. Similarly, in “X becomes Y” a chronological sequence is intended from X to Y, and in “if P, then Q” a logical sequence from P to Q. The tacit conventions enable us to avoid lengthy explanations every time as to which item precedes which. They serve to convey a maximum of information in a minimum of words.

Another interesting example (more comparatively): the adjective generally comes after the noun in some languages (e.g. in French, le chien noir), while in others it is placed before (e.g. the black dog). Logic might ask: which is more “logical”? The French order seems more rational, because one would want to think of the entity (dog) before thinking of its attribute (black). Perhaps the English order reflects a more empirical stance: one sees the entity’s particulars (blackness) before realizing its totality (dogness). In conversation, then, the French put you in the overall picture first and then give you details, whereas the English require you to hold onto details before you even know what they are about![10]

One could suggest that different languages are similar in many respects due to their having common objects, but dissimilar in many respects due to their handling the serial aspects of verbal discourse in various ways. The common objects naturally restrain divergence; whereas issues like order of words are relatively accidental, so that their treatment is optional and conventional.

Similar comparisons could be made in all fields of linguistics. The peculiarities of each language in comparison to others may, upon reflection, seem more or less “logical” or “natural”.

Logic is also, of course, interested in the underlying psychological and material facts. How thoughts are put into words in accordance with a language and its rules is a fascinating object of study, which some linguists have made valiant inroads into. They have, for instance, pointed out how verbalization requires comparison of the present situation to similar ones in the past, so that the language used is in conformity with accepted practice, even while it is necessary to adapt creatively to the new variation.

Thoughts arise in our minds gradually; they are verbalized serially, word after word; they are gesticulated, spoken or written down in sequence, too. Discourse is thus inevitably shaped like a string of cognitive and verbal events. Thus, even though no particular thought or word order need be considered more natural or logical than any other, it must be acknowledged that some sort of ordering will occur. It is therefore useful to adopt linguistic conventions, as we indeed do, to standardize and thus facilitate our discourse.

Logic may also acknowledge that, once such linguistic convention is adopted by a population group, it may somewhat affect their “ways of thinking”. Different languages instill different habits of thought. Indeed, the reverse may be historically true in some cases; namely, that certain habits of thoughts were solidified in the early stages of a language[11] (as a result of which the ancestors of a group continue to influence their descendants).

There are other respects in which logic and linguistics may or may not have common interests. Certain cultural, social or political aspects of language may be of little relevance to logic. For instance, rhetoric may interest linguists from an aesthetic point of view or as an effective way to political power, while the logician will focus exclusively on the validity or fallacy of the argumentation involved. For logic, poetry is of little interest, except as a nursery for the cultivation of new linguistic forms.

For the logician, language is primarily a tool of individual thought, facilitating acquisition and storage of knowledge, and only secondarily a tool of social communication and action. In principle, a human individual could and would invent a language to think with, given sufficient time (and genius and motive). In practice, as some famous “experiments” in isolation have shown, no one would have the enormous amount of time required (not to mention the cerebral power and occasion). Historically, language has arisen very gradually[12] and variously, as a collective achievement of mankind.

Indeed, the intelligence of mankind (our biological ability to think conceptually and rationally) did not antedate language ready-made, but evolved and developed in tandem with language. Human thought, language – and the underlying bodily organs – grow together, feeding off each other. Each little advance in the one requires or generates an advance in the other. Results are cumulative, building on past acquisitions. But anyway, such small advances must occur in some individual(s) to begin with, before they become a collective acquisition.

4. Dialogue

A Russian Marxist linguist of the early 20th Century (whose name I have forgotten) has suggested that all monologue is dialogue – and I agree with that to some extent. Monologue is often virtual dialogue – if only with oneself, or with an imagined other[13] (such as a future reader of one’s books). However, dialogue does differ from mere monologue in that, within real dialogue, each unit of monologue is successively tailored in some way (which may or not be relevant) to reply to the previous remarks of one’s respondent, the intent being to actually effect a change in the other’s beliefs, attitudes or behavior.

In conversations between two (or more) people, information and reasoning can be transmitted from one to the other – one way, or back and forth – provided they have certain common grounds. They need to have some past or present (or future) common experiences, which make it possible for their words to have mutually agreed referents. These experiences – together with others that each separately has – will stock their respective minds with data bases. They may have already discussed and harmonized their databases to some extent, but never fully.

Each, within his or her mind, has somewhat ruminated over and digested at least some of that pool of data. But they have probably not done so in quite the same way or to the same extent. For their knowledge bases are not identical, and the effort and processes they have put into assimilating them are bound to differ. The courses of their lives, their senses and brains, their intellectual powers and logical skills, and their characters are naturally all different. So we say they have different contexts.

As the two converse, their minds will refer to shared memories, of perceptions or conceptual information or logical inferences. And all this is of course what makes understanding between them possible.

But to correctly depict interpersonal discourse, it is equally important to emphasize the misunderstandings that occur! Information and reasoning can be correctly transmitted to some extent, but there will likely always be failures of transmission. And of course, the latter (the blanks and missteps) can equally affect the resulting interaction between the people involved.

Each one of us sees and hears what he or she more or less prepared to see and hear. We take in what we please, and ignore or keep out the rest. We tacitly or explicitly reword the messages received, to assimilate them within our own framework and knowledge context. Value judgments come into play, whether in the structured form of an ideology or in vague subconscious waves – turning the discourse received into a somewhat other discourse.

Knowledge transmission requires efficient communication. The speaker or writer must be good at formulating just what he or she means, clearly, precisely and concisely. People often interpose irrelevancies that needlessly divert attention from their main message; they embellish their discourse for psychological or social reasons, i.e. trying to put across some additional, unrelated message(s).

At the other end, the interpretation made by the auditor or reader does not inevitably match the intended message, because he or she may not be as receptive, focused, knowledgeable and logically skillful as required.

5. Poles of Duality

Concerning the principle, advocated by many, especially oriental, philosophers, that poles of duality (e.g. good-bad, light-dark, etc.) arise together – certain comments are worth making.

Oriental philosophers pursue a non-sorting mode of consciousness, the awareness prior to the making of distinctions; for this reason, dualities are obstacles in their eyes. Such Monist consciousness is, however, rarely if ever attained.

I would reply, ontologically: since we can conceive of Monism, then we can also conceive of a universe with only good or only light, etc.; i.e. a world with one polarity of such dualities is logically possible. Of course, this would only be strict Monism, if this quality was quite alone and no other quality was found in the world (i.e. not just not the other polarity of that quality). Of course, also, we – those now conceiving of that world – would not be distinguishable in it, since then there would be two things in it – viz. object and subject.

But note such solitude of existence could not apply to just any quality. Negative concepts like ‘imperfect’ cannot exist alone[14]; i.e. an only imperfect world is inconceivable, as some part of it must remain perfect to exist at all. However, this remark may rather concern the next observation.

From an epistemological and psychological (rather than ontological) viewpoint, there is some truth in the said oriental belief. That is, the idea of good or light is not possible without the idea of bad or dark. Imaging one pole necessitates our also bringing to mind the other pole for the purpose of contrast. This is due to the mechanics of concept formation: it functions by making distinctions as well as by identification of the things distinguished.

Because it is only by way of contrast to dissimilars that similars can be classified, every word, every concept, has to make some room for its opposite; we cannot comprehend a term without having to think of its opposite. Thus, one might suggest: although logically, X totally excludes nonX – psychologically, “X” may be said to be say 99% “X” and 1% “nonX”.

Another point worth making, here: contradictory terms, such as X and not-X, have equal logical status, i.e. their formal treatment is identical; however, phenomenologically, affirmation and denial are very different: the first signifies an actual experience (phenomenal, through the senses or mentally, or non-phenomenal, intuitively) – whereas the latter signifies a rational act, a conceptual report that some anticipated experience has not occurred. Strictly, perhaps, experiences should be verbalized affirmatively, while negations should be cast in negative terms. In practice, this is rarely followed.

A positive word like ‘silence’ or ‘stillness’ may indicate a negative event (no sound, no move). However, even in such cases, there may be an underlying positive event; in our examples, although silence refers to the non-perception of any sound phenomenon – we may by this term mean rather to refer to our will to block sounds, which volition is something positive, though without phenomenal character, known intuitively.

Similarly, I suspect, some negatively cast words may in fact refer to positive experiences, although there may be a good reason why the negative form is preferred. For example, ‘unabashed’ simply means without apology, but viewed more closely refers to certain behavior patterns; so, though negative in form, it is rather positive in intent. However, the negative form is not accidental, but serves to indicate the missing ingredient in the behavior patterns, which makes them socially questionable.



[1] ‘Gestures’ refers to sign language. Sounds to the spoken word. Drawings (doodles, scribbles) to the written word, be it in pictorial form or in purely symbolic script.

[2] Also note the terms: Two words are ‘homophones’, if they sound but are not spelled the same (e.g. red and read). A word is ‘polysemic’, if in addition to its original meaning (e.g. the red color), it has been assigned new, incidental meanings (e.g. a ‘red’ is a communist, due to red being the color of the communist flag).

[3] In colloquial usage, ‘connotation’ is often taken to suggest association of ideas, or at least verbal association; this is not exactly what is meant here.

[4] We may also apply them to an individual thing, insofar as an individual in toto is the sum of its particular manifestations in space and time – so that it is technically very similar to a class.

[5] Thanks to the idea of extension, we define ‘quantity’ (all, this one, some) and develop syllogistic theory (e.g. distribution of terms). I also often use this term with reference to extensional modality. But observe introspectively, and consider how extension is thought in practice: e.g. to think of ‘humans’ in extensio, we mentally project a few human shapes without clear features and perhaps wordlessly refer to some human samples in our memory or currently in our sight. In all, just a few imagined shadows and some features in a couple of sample remembered or perceived cases! And note: even in this minimal evocation, there are intensional aspects.

[6] See chapter IV, sections 4 and 5.

[7] In French grammar, it is the distinction between the nominative and the accusative cases.

[8] Noam Chomsky (American, b. 1928), the founder of modern ‘generative grammar’, distinguishes between ‘deep structure’, which consists of facts and rules found common to all languages, and ‘surface structure’, which refers to the grammars of specific languages. Incidentally, in my view, deep grammatical structure is an ex post facto construct used by the grammarian to summarize features found in all languages. Deep grammar differs from logic as such, in that the former is essentially verbal whereas the latter can be pre-verbal. But the two converge in their common concern with what underlies actual language.

[9] This example of subject, copula and predicate, by the way, is often given as an objection to formal logic – but such critics merely display their own misunderstanding, their own confusion between logic as such and the words through which we may transmit it.

[10] It is interesting that historians of philosophy usually classify French philosophy as more rationalist, and English as more empiricist.

[11] Why do some languages involve more “flexion” than others? The differences may not reflect “ethnic” characteristics, or genetic makeup, but perhaps simply the accident of some first thought taking a certain shape rather than some other, and then being imitated on and on.

[12] Though some linguists suggest that the early languages were not as simple they expected. There may, then, have been some quantum leaps in the evolutionary process.

[13] We may even in some cases fantasize specific responses from our imaginary respondent.

[14] As Alan Watts pointed out, somewhere.

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2016-08-23T09:52:37+00:00