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Kenny Davis

Are contradictions meaningful

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I suspect not, though I do see arguments online claiming they are.

 

Here is my reasoning.

P1 Words represent concepts. 


P2 Concepts can be made of more concepts. (dragon=lizard with wings)

C1 Therefore if a word purports to represent a combination of many concepts, but those concepts fail to cohere into a new concept then the word fails to represent a concept.


For a example of my conclusion:

 "Buglump" is a Colorless red existing dog that is a cat and doesn't exist. 


Buglump's concepts fail to cohere and thus do not form a new idea. Unlike wings and lizard, which form the new thought dragon

 

If I am wrong I would ask then for a explanation for why sentences like "Colorless green ideas are currently sleeping furiously" are considered meaningless generally.   

Edited by Kenny Davis

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I think your idea of concepts "cohering" needs fleshing out. Why exactly do they fail to cohere?

I'm going to simplify your definition for the sake of clarity: Buglump is a colorless red dogColorless and red do not seem to cohere, because their genera irreconcilably conflict. Colorless is the absence of a color. Red is the presence of the color red. A cannot be both A and not A at the same time. But what if we try a bit harder to reconcile the apparent contradiction? Maybe a "buglump" is a part-colorless and part-red dog. Now we have a new concept that explains the mistake we made originally in thinking the concepts could not cohere. So the trick is to be able to integrate the concepts without altering their essential characteristics.

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As an aside, the original quote says ‘sleep’, not ‘are currently sleeping’. To show that the sentence is meaningless, you first have to show what “mean” means. When an expression means something, it refers to that thing. It would be pointless to get into a long technical wrangle establishing what that sentence would refer to, but non-technically, it’s clear that it claims that certain things and actions exist, and the things are doing those actions. As MisterSwig points out, ‘colorless’ and ‘red’ are mutually incompatible, at the most basic definitional level, and nothing can be colorless and red. I will ignore ‘colorless’ because I believe that it’s meaning is more subtle than the denial of ‘having color’; but ‘red idea’ also invokes a contradiction, in this case involving the nature of ‘idea’ (not the definition) and the definition of ‘red’. Likewise, the nature of the act ‘sleep’ contradicts the nature of an action being ‘furious’ (and finally, ideas cannot sleep: an idea is non-living, and sleep is an action of a living thing – again, a contradiction).

A contradiction does not identity or refer to any existent. When an expression means something, it refers to an existent. A contradiction lacks meaning, or, is meaningless.

 

 

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47 minutes ago, DavidOdden said:

A contradiction does not identity or refer to any existent. When an expression means something, it refers to an existent. A contradiction lacks meaning, or, is meaningless.

I would put it a little differently. A contradiction lacks existence as a real or imaginary thing. Meaning refers to something real or imaginary. A contradiction has no real or imaginary meaning.

I also see the problem of metaphor. Words have figurative meanings in addition to literal ones. So the struggle to find meaning must include possible metaphorical interpretations.

Colorless green ideas are currently sleeping furiously.

Colorless can mean dull. Green can mean new. And sleeping can mean lying dormant.

So we have a complex metaphor: Dull new ideas are currently lying dormant furiously. This sort of works if you also anthropomorphize the subject ideas so that furiously makes sense. And so we arrive at a non-contradictory metaphor, admittedly odd, but still workable. Essentially: colorless green ideas currently sleep furiously. Why are they furious? Maybe they hate being dull. Or maybe it's because they are currently dormant and want to be activated.

In considering whether a combination of concepts are contradictory, we must take account of all possible contexts for the proper interpretation. If no context is provided, it would be a mistake to assume the words were meant literally. A meaning might be found in a figurative context.

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11 hours ago, DavidOdden said:

As an aside, the original quote says ‘sleep’, not ‘are currently sleeping’. To show that the sentence is meaningless, you first have to show what “mean” means. When an expression means something, it refers to that thing. It would be pointless to get into a long technical wrangle establishing what that sentence would refer to, but non-technically, it’s clear that it claims that certain things and actions exist, and the things are doing those actions. As MisterSwig points out, ‘colorless’ and ‘red’ are mutually incompatible, at the most basic definitional level, and nothing can be colorless and red. I will ignore ‘colorless’ because I believe that it’s meaning is more subtle than the denial of ‘having color’; but ‘red idea’ also invokes a contradiction, in this case involving the nature of ‘idea’ (not the definition) and the definition of ‘red’. Likewise, the nature of the act ‘sleep’ contradicts the nature of an action being ‘furious’ (and finally, ideas cannot sleep: an idea is non-living, and sleep is an action of a living thing – again, a contradiction).

 

 

A contradiction does not identity or refer to any existent. When an expression means something, it refers to an existent. A contradiction lacks meaning, or, is meaningless.

 

 

 

 

Ok, so im not crazy!!!!

Thank you, however this warrants a follow up question. 

If contradictions are meaningless then can a contradictory statement be false?  

Consider the following definition and how its used in a proposition. 

"Boobob is a dead dog who is living" 

"Boobob whent to the store."  

The latter sentence many would say false.

 

However if "Boobob" identifies no entity real or imagined  then the sentence isn't about anything.

So what about it could be false?

Edited by Kenny Davis

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10 hours ago, Kenny Davis said:

Ok, so im not crazy!!!!

Thank you, however this warrants a follow up question. 

If contradictions are meaningless then can a contradictory statement be false?  

Consider the following definition and how its used in a proposition. 

"Boobob is a dead dog who is living" 

"Boobob whent to the store."  

The latter sentence many would say false.

 

However if "Boobob" identifies no entity real or imagined  then the sentence isn't about anything.

So what about it could be false?

I've often thought about what people normally take false to mean.  At face value "false" had seemed self evident. After a few decades of chewing and understanding Objectivism, including such important topics as rationalism, the arbitrary, "nothing", evidence and the senses, and the analytic synthetic dichotomy... "false" takes on new importance, in the form of its sheer impotence.

 

Statements are not the same as gibberish. 

 

skdjfh skdjfh khsdj fskdjfh skdj

Is no less meaningless than

"That blue dog is a red cat"

Neither has any possible referent.  One (the latter) misleads one into thinking perhaps it will mean something, but its self negation resolves to sheer nothing.  It is no more meaningful than utter silence, i.e. no statement whatever.  It matters no more to the content of the "proposed statement" whether A) the words do not form a statement OR B )  the letters do not form words.

 

With this in mind observe, for something to be "true" it must be a something, which could qualify as true.  In the case of a statement, it must first be a statement.  Evaluation as true then requires evidence to validate the statement. 

Your question essentially asks, is there the same requirement for falsehood?  Must something you claim is "false" have to be something which "could have" been true in reality.  Must that which is "false" be potentially meaningful?

Now, you probably agree "John killed Mary" is false if John in reality did not kill Mary. The referents, John, Mary, and the relationship "killed" are all meaningful, AND moreover evidence of reality is such that it is not true.

Now consider "dkjfhs kd  kjhs ldfkjh", "", or "That blue dog is a red cat with a dfjdfhsj on its dlkjfh skj"

EACH of these is not a statement, EACH is also NOT true, in fact each cannot be true because there is nothing to evaluate as true with reference to reality.  Now we could attach a special label to these as some kind of "null" or meaningless, gibberings, but why bother?  I tend to see what is essential about the idea of truth and falsity, is the distinction between truth and non-truth, which is the evaluation against reality, not the form of the thing being evaluated. 

"fkdjhfsk j" lacks truth.  Therefore it is to be ignored and dismissed.

Floating abstractions, the arbitrary, and statements which are in fact contradictions but not on their face (i.e. you cant tell just by analyzing the words superficially) all lack truth, they do not contain reveal or convey truth.  I would also contend that they are false even though they are in fact meaningless.  A zero is a zero, the nature of the zero is not important.

 

So the "Boobob is a dead dog who is living" is false (if you don't like the word, simply refer to it as "not true") and although it is also meaningless gibberish such is inconsequential and insignificant in the face of the more important fact that it simply is not true.

 

 

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Quote

If contradictions are meaningless then can a contradictory statement be false? 

There is an important epistemological distinction between the true, the false, and the arbitrary. “Truth is the recognition of reality” (quoting from Galt’s speech). As stated in Peikoff’s Objectivism: The philosophy of Ayn Rand ch. 5

Quote

“True” and “false” are assessments within the field of human cognition: they designate a relationship [of] correspondence or contradiction between an idea and reality. . . . The false is established as false by reference to a body of evidence and within a context, and is pronounced false because it contradicts the evidence.

Or, as Binswanger in How we know puts it, the false contradicts known facts.

Not all statements have a connection to evidence, and Peikoff points to a third epistemological category, the arbitrary:

Quote

 

such claims are “arbitrary,” i.e., devoid of evidence…An arbitrary claim is one for which there is no evidence, either perceptual or conceptual. It is a brazen assertion, based neither on direct observation nor on any attempted logical inference therefrom.

 

The answer to all such statements, according to Objectivism, is: an arbitrary claim is automatically invalidated. The rational response to such a claim is to dismiss it, without discussion, consideration, or argument. An arbitrary statement has no relation to man's means of knowledge. Since the statement is detached from the realm of evidence, no process of logic can assess it. Since it is affirmed in a void, cut off from any context, no integration to the rest of man's knowledge is applicable; previous knowledge is irrelevant to it

 

Similarly Binswanger identifies the fact that
Quote

 

To have a definite meaning, a proposition must ascribe a properly conceptualized predicate to a clearly designated and properly conceptualized subject

(propositions not based on evidence) …are outside the domain of cognition. They are neither true nor false, but arbitrary….the truth or falsehood of a conclusion depends upon the nature of the conceptual processes one has used to reach it — not just the current processes but also the earlier processes, which led to the premises and to the concepts used

 

A “contradiction in terms” lacks the cognitive-identification characteristics required for a proposition to be true or false: it is arbitrary. However, a false statement contradicts the facts.

 

 

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There's a lot in this thread, and what I have to say is not really meant to comment on anyone else's meaning -- I don't know exactly how it fits, to be honest -- but...

If my five-year-old tells me that there's a monster in her closet, it is certainly false. But I'm not as certain that her statement is rightly described as "meaningless." Perhaps some sort of analysis of the terms alone is devoid of meaning? I take this to be the substance of some other opinions, at least. But actual human communication takes place in a context, and there may (or arguably must) be meaning in my daughter making the statement. Perhaps she means to communicate that she is afraid, or is bothered by something else in her life (e.g. something she saw on a tv show), or has mistaken some shadow, or that she craves attention, or wants to sleep in Mommy and Daddy's bed, or so forth. (Or hell, maybe there isn't a monster, per se, but an actual intruder.)

This recognition is the difference between responding to her with interest and empathy, versus deciding "her statement is meaningless, therefore, no action is warranted," or even "no action is morally permissible," which, I would argue, would be poor parenting.

This is also true (and perhaps more readily seen) in earlier life: a baby's gibberish has no content, analyzed literally, but I would not be comfortable saying that the baby's gibberish is meaningless; it does not arise out of nowhere, for no reason, and that context represents the very things that a parent is pressed to determine -- the meaning of the baby's cry (which is made famously hard because there is no particular relationship between the meaning of the cry, and its literal content). And then, I think this is true of later life, as well (though, perhaps ironically, harder to diagnose). Even people who are not babies and not five-year-olds sometimes (or regularly) express things without intending to express them, or even without understanding their own expression, and our false statements thereby reveal us -- our thoughts, emotions, interests, misunderstandings, etc. -- and in those ways are meaningful.

Now as I said initially, my thoughts on this subject may run oblique to those expressed by others', or even tangential. I don't intend to argue with anything, exactly, but when I consider "contradictions" in the widest possible context I can (which, in this case, is to say: offered as a statement in the context of some situation -- and this can include an authored statement in a text, or anything else; come to think of it, it is also the case with a thought that a person has, even if not stated aloud -- it is still "stated" to the self, for some reason), I find that they have something I would call "meaning."

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I would say that baby gibberish a.k.a. babbling, is completely meaningless in all senses. It is a physical exercise related to refining motor control over vocal anatomy, and it is not a manifestation of language (it is a precursor to language). The “motivation” is that infants need to understand how to relate movement of articulators to sounds, and this is the experiencial precursor to forming words like “mama”. There is no intent to communicate with babbling. Baby cries, which vastly precede babbling (are present from birth) are automatic responses to pain. These kinds of noises, along with physical gestures that babies make, are caused, but they are not caused by an intention to communicate anything. The cause of baby crying is of concern to the parent, in case there is something they can do to alleviate the problem. But when a newborn cries because it is hungry, that is not communication of an intention, that is a physical response.

There are at least three distinct senses of meaning (or, “mean”). The broadest notion of meaning is “is evidence that”, so rocks can have meaning, e.g. “Those rocks mean that there was a landslide here recently”. A somewhat narrower sense, in the context of human actions, is “intend” exemplified by “I didn’t mean that you should have to get up and close the door” (in saying “It’s drafty”). Virtually always, when somebody says “That’s not what I meant”, they are saying “I did not intend to communicate that proposition”.

Many statements are not expressions of an intended proposition, instead they indirectly communicate a fact. “You could have asked me” is virtually guaranteed to not be a recognition that a person has the ability to address questions to another, instead it is a communication of hurt feeling. Saying “My feelings are hurt because you didn’t ask me” is a literal communicative proposition. Some of these hidden meanings (communicative intentions) are pretty obvious, and some are obscure.

The narrower sense of meaning, which I think we are discussing here (in light of the OP), is the logical sense, having to do with the objective relationship between words and concept, sentences and propositions. When a child says that there is a monster under the bed, they are not setting forth a logical proposition, but they are communicating something.

It is important for Objectivists to not confuse the subjective – an intention to communicate something – with the objective – the proposition expressed by a statement. When the two do not line up, that is, when a person can not reasonably be thought to have actually asserted the proposition that they objectively have asserted given their words, then we must recognize the difference. Especially in a political context, it is mandatory that we challenge the disparity between what was literally said, and what people are likely to conclude was intended.

I don’t deny that the word “mean” is used in very many distinct ways: I am saying that we have to understand that they are not interchangeable. Using a word like “intend” for the communicative sense distinguishes that sense of “mean” from the logical sense.

 

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3 hours ago, DavidOdden said:

The narrower sense of meaning, which I think we are discussing here (in light of the OP), is the logical sense, having to do with the objective relationship between words and concept, sentences and propositions. When a child says that there is a monster under the bed, they are not setting forth a logical proposition, but they are communicating something.

Is that the literal sense? It's not clear to me what you mean by logical sense. Logic applies to argumentation, but doesn't meaning precede argumentation? We need to know how to take someone's utterances before we consider the logic of it. Are they even being serious or joking around, etc.

I'm seeing a problem with my own earlier formulations. It seems likely that a contradiction has meaning simply as a false statement.

A dog is not a dog.

This is false, and it's a contradiction. But the only way we know it's false and a contradiction is because we understand its meaning. If we didn't understand what it meant, we couldn't identify it as anything but gibberish.

Edited by MisterSwig

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16 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

Is that the literal sense? It's not clear to me what you mean by logical sense. Logic applies to argumentation, but doesn't meaning precede argumentation? We need to know how to take someone's utterances before we consider the logic of it. Are they even being serious or joking around, etc.

Logic is the art of non-contradictory identification: one of the secondary things that you can do with it is employ it in an argument. Its primary function is cognition. When I speak of “meaning” in the logical sense, I am speaking of literal meaning, that is, in the way that one uses it in the context of talking about logic (as opposed to general human behavior).

The meaning (referent) of a proposition is always the product of linguistic rules and knowledge of individual concepts. The feeling that one can “kinda make sense” out of a contradiction in terms such as “A dog is not a dog” is that many of the parts do refer to something. “A dog” does have meaning, as does “is not a dog”, but the entire proposition does not refer to anything, literally.

Once you go beyond the realm of logic, you can indeed assign an indirect communicative intent, which might be “I plan on confusing you in this argument”, or “That is the most ludicrous argument I have ever heard”. It totally depends on context.

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1 hour ago, DavidOdden said:

Logic is the art of non-contradictory identification: one of the secondary things that you can do with it is employ it in an argument.

Yes. The first thing you do with it, however, is validate concepts, right? You make sure your concept of dog represents dogs in reality. 

1 hour ago, DavidOdden said:

The feeling that one can “kinda make sense” out of a contradiction in terms such as “A dog is not a dog” is that many of the parts do refer to something. “A dog” does have meaning, as does “is not a dog”, but the entire proposition does not refer to anything, literally.

We can say that the entire proposition literally contains two things: the presence of a dog and the absence of a dog. But since the dog's presence is equated with its absence, the proposition offers an irreconcilable contradiction, and therefore it does not identify anything new, real or imaginary.

A dog has wings.

This proposition also contains two things: the presence of a dog and the presence of wings. But the attribution of wings to a dog is not an irreconcilable contradiction. We can imagine wings on a dog. However, this new imaginary thing (object) contradicts the real nature of dogs. So the proposition is literally false.

I guess I'm trying to distinguish between two types of contradictions, but I don't know where this is going, and I'm out of time. Sorry.

 

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