Re: [quickphilosophy] Re: Fodor on Concepts IV: Circularity (my typos)

  • From: wittrsl@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • To: quickphilosophy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 21 Sep 2010 10:45:03 -0700 (PDT)

Some typos: "I am putting forth" and "in no possible world".

--- On Tue, 9/21/10, Ron Allen <wavelets@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

From: Ron Allen <wavelets@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Subject: Re: [quickphilosophy] Re: Fodor on Concepts IV: Circularity
To: quickphilosophy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Date: Tuesday, September 21, 2010, 10:19 AM


Hi Neil:
Thanks for your comments. It seems that we are both calling upon Wittgenstein 
to support opposite sides of an argument about Quine.
Maybe Budd by "global indeterminacy" means "applies to all words in all 
languages" and "local" means just some words in some languages. In any case, 
one question I putting forth is what words, if any, are immune from this 
alledged indeterminacy. I asked about the logical connectives. Quine grants 
that "no unmarried man is married" is analytic. Well.
I agree with you if by indeterminacy you mean imprecision. But I have always 
taken Quine to be injecting a degree of modality into his assertion of 
indeterminacy, that it is ultimately insurmountable in all cases, whereas the 
simple imprecision of a term allows for border cases, and there analyticity is 
not assured. So, we know that a bachelor is unmarried, but we're not sure that 
a playboy is unmarried. Wittgenstein admits imprecision without denying truth, 
and, I think, analyticity. Is it not correct to say, stand roughly here? It is 
sometimes thought by his followers that W advocated an ultimate relativism, 
that one could never really say whether the rules for using a word were or were 
not being followed. But the passages PI 201 and PI 202 refute this. I guess 
that's where everyone stops reading. Now I know all meaning is a muddle, and I 
can quit right here.
Well, maybe my argument doesn't work. OK. I'd still like to see an argument for 
why an infant is better equipped and more successful at learning a new language 
that a trained linguist is.
Quine gives no examples, yes, that's what I'm saying. To give an example, he 
needs to provide us a word in a language other than English and give us its 
meaning in that language, and then tell us why we can not (I mean: never, ever, 
in no possible word; this is the modal content of his theory) translate it. 
Again, this is probably what Budd is claiming to be the incoherent part of 
Quine's thesis.
I'm sorry to be so obtuse, but I don't think your example (while interesting) 
of nautical miles vs. statute miles works. One can clearly speak the language 
of statute miles and then be told that in this other sea-faring language they 
have the same word 'mile' but that it's differently applied. The landlubber 
passenger says it's 3293 miles from New York to Liverpool, but the sailor says 
it's 2861. Can't they ever reconcile this? To be an example of 
indeterminacy--which means in a state where it cannot be determined--it would 
need to be impossible for the passenger to ever understand the sailor's usage. 
But, a geographer on board could point out the origin of the sailor's word and 
how it differs from the passenger's, and then it's clear (enough, as you point 

--- On Mon, 9/20/10, iro3isdx <xznwrjnk-evca@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:

From: iro3isdx <xznwrjnk-evca@xxxxxxxxx>
Subject: [quickphilosophy] Re: Fodor on Concepts IV: Circularity
To: quickphilosophy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Date: Monday, September 20, 2010, 2:04 PM


--- In quickphilosophy@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, Ron Allen <wavelets@...> wrote:

> responding to message 228

> Ron:
> I'm not sure what Budd means by "global" indeterminacy of
> translation, or, for that matter, whether there is a "local"
> indeterminacy. But, I don't think that the notion itself is
> incoherent; it is, however, unsubstantiated.

I'm not sure about the "global" vs. "local" either. It seems odd for
you to say that indeterminacy is unsubstantiated, when it seems to me
that it is plain to see and obvious to all natural language users with
the possible exception of philosophers.

> Without a criterion for telling a priori what words are
> deterministically translatable from those that are not, it follows
> that I don't understand any words in my own language.

That's an argument I have heard before, and might be what Budd has in
mind. I think it is bogus. It seems strange to me that you call on
Wittgenstein to support that argument. For it is my impression that
Wittgenstein's talk of "language game" and of "meaning is use" were an
attempt to get away from the kind of thinking assumed in your argument.
I suspect that Wittgenstein would have agreed that there is an
indeterminacy, though he would not have thought it a problem.

> It could only be that Q understands the meaning of y and Q
> understands the meaning of x1, x2, ..., and Q knows that none of
> x's carries the same semantic content as y. There could be word
> in X's language that semantically matches y, or there could be no
> word in X's idiom that correspends. Q still has to know one or the
> other of these things to be justified in denying all matches. In
> other words, there is someone who can translate from Y's language
> into X's language.

No, that argument does not work. In particular, you have provided no
basis for the last quoted sentence. Q could perfectly well know that
there is no translation from Y's language to X's language, without Q
being able to make such a translation.

Incidently, Q is an obnoxious pedant. He should have been able to say
that while x2 is not quite right, it is close enough.

And now an example. Before its modern standardization, the nautical 
mile was a distance that subtended an arc of one minute at the center
of the earth. Because the earth is not perfectly spherical, distance
measurements in nautical miles were incommensurable with distance
measures in statute miles (or other measuring rod based scales). The
translation between nautical miles and statute miles was indeterminate.
But that doesn't mean that we could come close enough for ordinary use.


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