[lit-ideas] Re: America's Greatest Word

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2011 20:03:46 +0000 (GMT)

--- On Mon, 31/1/11, Robert Paul <rpaul@xxxxxxxx> wrote:

> > "the concept of 'ok' is arguably not a very precise
> one compared with '3',
> > usually conveying a meaning that achieves only o.k.
> levels of precision"
> > 
> > He is having in mind Tarski:
> > 
> > "Snow is white is true" iff snow is white.
> Tarski wrote, 'Snow is white' is true iff snow is white.
> Many people think that's all he ever wrote.

I didn't have Tarski in mind more than I always have him in mind, but wish to 
add to Robert Paul's remark not only that JLS's quotation of Popper is also 
spurious but that Tarski's result is independent of the precision of the 
concepts involved:- a proposition 'p' will be true iff p, and this is so no 
matter how precise or otherwise 'p' is, save that 'p' must be a well-formed 
formula and 'precise' enough in that sense. This independence from 'precision' 
is why it is not precisely correct to suggest I had Tarski in mind. 

On a quibble: Tarski was not a "Polish logician" so much as Polish and a 
logician. He no more was a specifically Polish logician than he had a 
specifically Polish cell-structure or DNA or was a specifically right-handed 
logician. But we all knew this.

> Frege said that a concept without sharp boundaries is no
> concept at all. Wittgenstein said, 'Stand roughly here.'

(Depending on our concept of a concept, of course) Wittgenstein is right to 
suggest the Fregean concept of a concept is overly restrictive and demanding 
and does not fit well with our ordinary and meaningful use of language where we 
only use as much precision as necessary. Popper argued that in science we also 
should only aim for as much precision as necessary (to solve the problem in 
hand) and the view that 'precision' is otherwise (or for its own sake) an 
important aim of science, and is an essential part of scientific method, is 
based on a misunderstanding. He argued there was a symmetry between the false 
idol of certainty in the pursuit of truth and the false idol of precision in 
the pursuit of meaning - and even devised a table to illustrate this.

Donal O'Kay

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