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It all depends on what you mean.

 
 
Reply Mon 17 May, 2010 07:20 am
"It all depends on what you mean by.....". I assume that what the "it" refers to is, the truth (or falsity) of what you are saying. So, if I say, for instance, that, ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, whether that statement is true or false "all depends on what I mean". But is that true? (I guess that all depends on what I mean too, but skip that. That way madness lies). To begin with it can be only with a certain class of statements that their truth all depends on what they mean. Those would be analytic statements like the old chestnut, all bachelors are unmarried males, since its truth really does entirely depend on the meaning of the words, "bachelor", "unmarried male" and, of course, "all". But except for the class of analytic truths (and analytic falsities-contradictions) is it true that the statement we make all depend on what we mean? Of course not. Does, the truth of, ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny all depend on what is meant by the constituent terms? Certainly not, for even after we settle what those terms mean, and so understand the statement, there is clearly something else that must be considered, namely, what the facts are. Does, in fact, ontogeny recapitulate phylogeny? So, to say that whether what one says is true or false "all depends on what is meant" is clearly (except for a particular class of sentences) false. What is true is that for most statements we make, their truth or falsity partly depends on what their constituent terms mean, and partly depends on what the facts, independent of what the words mean, are.
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Khethil
 
  1  
Reply Mon 17 May, 2010 09:13 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;165275 wrote:
... What is true is that for most statements we make, their truth or falsity partly depends on what their constituent terms mean, and partly depends on what the facts, independent of what the words mean, are.


Yes, of course. And it also depends on how the question or assertion is phrased: "All white horses are white" would depend on both since its predicate is contained in the definition of its subject as a precondition.

Although, "It depends on what you mean" might well be legitimately answered when the question interrogates an opinion, hypothesis or evaluation. For example, if I were to ask, "Do you think ontogeny is completely dependent upon phylogeny?" then we know an opinion - which may be completely left field - is incoming.
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Mon 17 May, 2010 09:38 am
@Khethil,
Khethil;165310 wrote:
Yes, of course. And it also depends on how the question or assertion is phrased: "All white horses are white" would depend on both since its predicate is contained in the definition of its subject as a precondition.

Although, "It depends on what you mean" might well be legitimately answered when the question interrogates an opinion, hypothesis or evaluation. For example, if I were to ask, "Do you think ontogeny is completely dependent upon phylogeny?" then we know an opinion - which may be completely left field - is incoming.


Yes. All that. But what what I am getting at is that people who tell us that it all depends on what you mean neglect that we cannot bend the facts to language. Language is not as flexible as that. Although, as matters become more and more abstract, it often seems that the facts begin to lose their importance, and whether what we say is true or false depends on how we choose to talk. No one (or nearly no one) would say that whether chickens lay eggs depend only on what is meant by "chickens", "eggs", and "lay". But when it comes to the sentence, "there is no evidence that life comes from anything but matter, and all the available evidence is that life does come from matter" many people will be happy to say, "well, that depends on what "matter", and "life", and "evidence" all mean. As if there were no facts but only words and their meanings.
fast
 
  2  
Reply Mon 17 May, 2010 10:47 am
@kennethamy,
What I may mean (when I say what I do) is apparently of lesser importance than what I actually say (with the words I use) means, but the context in which I say what I do is apparently important as well. After all, you don't chastise the boy who points to a picture of George Washington and says, "look, it's George Washington." What he means is understood not only by the meaning of the words he uses, but our interpretation of what he means is also a function of context.

If the boy is mentally challenged, we may be inclined to ask the boy what he means-just to make sure he doesn't think it's actually George Washington (in the flesh) as opposed to a picture of a past president.

If he means George Washington but slips up and says Abraham Lincoln (and we recognize that it's a slip up), is he wrong even though the facts coincide exactly with what he means?

Here's a challenge for ya:

If both a mentally challenged boy and a girl (that isn't mentally challenged) points to a picture of George Washington and says "It's George Washington," then are both correct? We don't know if he is because he may think it's actually George Washington, so we do need to inquire as to what he means before saying he's correct?
0 Replies
 
TickTockMan
 
  2  
Reply Mon 17 May, 2010 10:53 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;165325 wrote:
many people will be happy to say, "well, that depends on what "matter", and "life", and "evidence" all mean. As if there were no facts but only words and their meanings.


Sounds to me like the kind of statements made by people who are trying to delay the execution of one of their sacred cows.
0 Replies
 
Emil
 
  1  
Reply Mon 17 May, 2010 10:57 am
@kennethamy,
Keep in mind which theory of truth carriers is assumed. The people that say that usually believe in some sort of monistic sentence theory, at least a sentence theory of some sort. Let's assume some sentence theory. Consider:

1. "The Earth exists."

Now whether (1) is true or false depends on what it means. But maybe than that too. For if it means what it means in standard english year 2010, then its truth also depends on whether the Earth exists. However if (1) meant something completely different, like 1+1=2, then its truth would not depend on anything but what the sentence means.

I don't know what "statement" means here. I rather not use that word. I like to use the words "proposition" and "sentence" as I know what they mean, and their meaning is clear in this context. (Maybe the meaning of sentence isn't clear in some linguistic contexts.)
0 Replies
 
TuringEquivalent
 
  1  
Reply Mon 17 May, 2010 11:30 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;165275 wrote:
"It all depends on what you mean by.....". I assume that what the "it" refers to is, the truth (or falsity) of what you are saying. So, if I say, for instance, that, ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, whether that statement is true or false "all depends on what I mean". But is that true? (I guess that all depends on what I mean too, but skip that. That way madness lies). To begin with it can be only with a certain class of statements that their truth all depends on what they mean. Those would be analytic statements like the old chestnut, all bachelors are unmarried males, since its truth really does entirely depend on the meaning of the words, "bachelor", "unmarried male" and, of course, "all". But except for the class of analytic truths (and analytic falsities-contradictions) is it true that the statement we make all depend on what we mean? Of course not. Does, the truth of, ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny all depend on what is meant by the constituent terms? Certainly not, for even after we settle what those terms mean, and so understand the statement, there is clearly something else that must be considered, namely, what the facts are. Does, in fact, ontogeny recapitulate phylogeny? So, to say that whether what one says is true or false "all depends on what is meant" is clearly (except for a particular class of sentences) false. What is true is that for most statements we make, their truth or falsity partly depends on what their constituent terms mean, and partly depends on what the facts, independent of what the words mean, are.


Meaning is language independent.
fast
 
  1  
Reply Mon 17 May, 2010 11:46 am
@TuringEquivalent,
TuringEquivalent;165355 wrote:
Meaning is language independent.
Why do you say that?
0 Replies
 
Jebediah
 
  1  
Reply Mon 17 May, 2010 01:11 pm
@kennethamy,
hmm, when I tried to imagine a circumstance where the phrase would be used I came up with this:

Person A: Do we have free will?
Person B: It depends on what you mean by "free will".

In this conversation it seems like it's being used to acknowledge that a "yes/no" answer is not very useful, since it doesn't tell person A what you actually think, and it's quite possible that the two of you agree but would give different answers to the question.

The reasons why we ask the question are certainly important, and usually in conversation you want to know what the other person meant. It can be used a slippery debate tactic though.
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Mon 17 May, 2010 01:21 pm
@Jebediah,
Jebediah;165397 wrote:
hmm, when I tried to imagine a circumstance where the phrase would be used I came up with this:

Person A: Do we have free will?
Person B: It depends on what you mean by "free will".

In this conversation it seems like it's being used to acknowledge that a "yes/no" answer is not very useful, since it doesn't tell person A what you actually think, and it's quite possible that the two of you agree but would give different answers to the question.

The reasons why we ask the question are certainly important, and usually in conversation you want to know what the other person meant. It can be used a slippery debate tactic though.


My basic quarrel is not with, "it depends on what you mean by.....", but with, "it all depends on what you mean by....". As if the facts did not count, or more, as if what were the facts depended on what we meant. As I said, this dismissive attitude toward the facts is directly proportional to the abstractness of the discussion.
fast
 
  1  
Reply Mon 17 May, 2010 02:25 pm
@kennethamy,
[QUOTE=kennethamy;165402]My basic quarrel is not with, "it depends on what you mean by.....", but with, "it all depends on what you mean by....". As if the facts did not count, or more, as if what were the facts depended on what we meant. As I said, this dismissive attitude toward the facts is directly proportional to the abstractness of the discussion.[/QUOTE]

Oh that. That may just be an instance of hyperbole or an exaggeration.

Whether or not I take my girlfriend snow skiing this winter all depends on whether or not her dad and mom will give her permission. Well, maybe I shouldn't say it all depends on that, like you say, but maybe I shouldn't be taken literally since really, I only mean to indicate that it's the only likely substantial stumbling block for us not going. Including the word "all" may be nothing more than a product of habit.
0 Replies
 
Jebediah
 
  2  
Reply Mon 17 May, 2010 02:38 pm
@kennethamy,
Maybe people say "it all depends" when they mean "it depends". Either way, what is meant by "it all" is very vague, and thus a good hiding place for poor thought.

The temptation certainly is to redefine certain words and phrases. The problem is that they still have all of the old connections in the brain. It's like the common argument between atheists and theists, "is there a god". I think kenn may have even posted that bit by antony flew about the gardener. You might be able to logically argue about what god is, and therefore whether there is a god, and thus arrive at a defendable proposition. But that is a form of deceit, because you and everyone you talk to thinks of god in a different way.
kennethamy
 
  0  
Reply Sat 12 Jun, 2010 01:09 am
@Jebediah,
Jebediah wrote:

Maybe people say "it all depends" when they mean "it depends". Either way, what is meant by "it all" is very vague, and thus a good hiding place for poor thought.

The temptation certainly is to redefine certain words and phrases. The problem is that they still have all of the old connections in the brain. It's like the common argument between atheists and theists, "is there a god". I think kenn may have even posted that bit by antony flew about the gardener. You might be able to logically argue about what god is, and therefore whether there is a god, and thus arrive at a defendable proposition. But that is a form of deceit, because you and everyone you talk to thinks of god in a different way.
kennethamy
 
  0  
Reply Sat 12 Jun, 2010 01:15 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy wrote:

Jebediah wrote:

Maybe people say "it all depends" when they mean "it depends". Either way, what is meant by "it all" is very vague, and thus a good hiding place for poor thought.

The temptation certainly is to redefine certain words and phrases. The problem is that they still have all of the old connections in the brain. It's like the common argument between atheists and theists, "is there a god". I think kenn may have even posted that bit by antony flew about the gardener. You might be able to logically argue about what god is, and therefore whether there is a god, and thus arrive at a defendable proposition. But that is a form of deceit, because you and everyone you talk to thinks of god in a different way.



I don't understand what you mean in your last paragraph. It isn't true that everyone thinks of God in a different way. In this society, anyway, everyone thinks of God in much the same way, as an omnipotent, etc. person. And when the existence of God is argued about (when it is) whether such a person exists is what is being argued about.
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Sat 12 Jun, 2010 01:50 am
@kennethamy,
Quote:
In this society, anyway, everyone thinks of God in much the same way, as an omnipotent, etc. person.


But this might only mean they have been subject to the same conditioning. It might mean nothing at all in relation to the reality of the matter, in which case, most of the arguments about God are about a concept with no referent. It is then an argument about ideas.
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Sat 12 Jun, 2010 01:54 am
@kennethamy,
Furthermore, in relation to your post in general, I would say that the statement 'it all depends on what you mean' is very much context dependent. There are many cases in which what is meant is perfectly unambiguous. 'Keep speeding and you'll loose your license'. 'I've told you before, I can't stand the sight of you'. And so on. Obviously in much more abstract matters, then the qualification 'it all depends on what you mean' becomes much more important. Different people may mean completely different things by the same word or phrase. In which case, it pays to engage them in dialog and try and find out what they really mean.
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Sat 12 Jun, 2010 02:02 am
@TuringEquivalent,
Quote:
Meaning is language independent


Can you provide an illustration or argument for that?

kennethamy
 
  0  
Reply Sat 12 Jun, 2010 09:45 am
@jeeprs,
But the question is whether what is said all depends on what is mean, and save in a special case, it doesn't. And, of course, what a sentence means never depends at all on what some particular individual means by it (save in the special case of stipulation). But it is true that we are sometimes more interested in what the speaker means by what he says than we are in what it is that what he says means. So, although we know perfectly well what a particular sentence means, we are primarily interested in what the speaker means by that sentence. Secret codes are an obvious example of this. But try the following experiment. Say, "the Sun is shining brightly", but mean, "Chickens lay eggs". Can you even do it?
0 Replies
 
kennethamy
 
  0  
Reply Sat 12 Jun, 2010 09:48 am
@jeeprs,
The meaning of the book is red is the same whether we say, "the book is red", or whether we say, "le livre est rouge", or whether we say, "das Buch ist rot", or whether we say, "the book is red".
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Sun 13 Jun, 2010 04:56 am
@kennethamy,
Yes but you always choose very simple statements like this, and then believe it can be extrapolated to all propositions. There are philosophical ideas which might be put into very few words that have many shades of meaning. You are always trying to fix meaning in such a way that you always know what you mean, and everyone that talks to you does likewise. But the nature of philosophical discourse is such that we will often be considering ideas, the meaning of which is not simple, fixed and clear-cut.

Now I am quite sympathetic to what I think is behind your question. I do agree that people use the tactic of re-definition to evade many difficulties and play all kinds of word games. But nevertheless it is one of those kinds of tendencies which I don't think it will be possible to really get rid of. It is an unavoidable difficulty that a range of meanings will pertain to particular terms, especially in areas like philosophy, so perhaps the best approach is to regard it as an opportunity to argue for particular usages and lead by example.
 

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