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Nitpick: Words are not concepts

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A while back I read a book of essays on Ayn Rand and some academic was complaining how she didn't just go the distance and equate words with concepts. (The book contained many other mistakes, wish I remembered the name.) I thought, how ridiculous this is! But then I found the quote: "With the exception of proper names, every word we use is a concept" (aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/concepts.html).

Well, this simply isn't true. Consider the sentence:

 

You are likely to be eaten by a grue.

 

"You" is a deixis (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/deixis) and isn't quite a proper name or a concept (okay, this one is nitpicking and You can consider it a proper name if You want to.)

"are... to be... by" rearrange the sentence. It is grammatically equivalent to "Likely, a grue will eat you.". (We can do this deductively without considering the meanings of the words rearranged.) The sentence isn't really about what you are (where "are" is the concept of being).

"a" grue distinguishes it from "the" referred-to-before grue, but the only concept describing our entity so far is "grue". You might say, "but I distingish it from a group," but then realize that you had to say a group. It's just grammar.

 

Similarly, you certainly have concepts about the use of these words. But this does not mean that the words are concepts. I have a concept of a period, and a period aids in transmitting meaning, but it is not itself a concept.

 

Don't go thinking grammar is bound in a well-defined way to meaning, as our very own page (wiki.objectivismonline.net/Concept) seems to. Grammar is a fickle mistress and will confound you at every step.

 

P.S. If you choose a random entry in a dictionary, you will almost certainly find a concept.

 

P.P.S. If you found this post too easy, try and count the concepts in "It would have been done earlier had it not been delayed until later by what he had been doing to it."

 

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You might consider reviewing ITOE, esp. the section on Concept Formation where she delves into concepts of entities, concepts of colors, concepts of attributes, concepts of motion, concepts of materials, concepts of characteristics of motion, concepts of relationships, concepts of relationships between thoughts, and concepts of consciousness.

 

The concept of a period is a grammatical tool used to express the end of an expression. It essentially tells your mind to stop and consider the group of words preceding it as a complete thought. Whether the words preceding the period do, in fact, express a complete thought is a different question.

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Well, if you're gonna nitpick, then I'm gonna nitpick too. Technically, a "word" isn't every single sequence of letters separated by space in a written sentence. Some languages don't even have spaces. 

 

The definition of a word, as per wikipedia, is:

In linguistics, a word is the smallest element that may be uttered in isolation with semantic or pragmatic content (with literal or practical meaning).

So, while grammar may not be, I have no choice but to "go thinking that words are bound to well defined meaning". By definition.

By this definition, "would have been done" is not four words. Without too much thought put into it, I'm gonna say it's two (would + "have been done", which is just a conjugation of "to do"). Many languages don't use spaces to conjugate verbs.

You won't find the conjugated forms of verbs in a dictionary, because they are considered the same word.

Edited by Nicky
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The concept of a period is...

You have a concept of how periods are used, but something can be a useful grammatical tool without itself being a concept. If a period were a concept you would need some way to specify that you are done talking about periods. Like I just did, juxtaposing "period" with an actual ".".

 

Technically, a "word" isn't every single sequence of letters separated by space in a written sentence.

Still, merely contracting the phrases in a sentence may give you a list of word groups, but it won't give you a list of concepts. In the example, are ... to be... by can't be contracted. Another example is either ... or ... or (AKA one-of). A skilled grammarian could go from a sentence to, say, an entity-relationship diagram, but there is no reason to believe that this has to be simple or that it is a philosophical matter (many errors have been made due to philosophising about grammar). It should be sufficient for philosophy that we verbalize concepts and their connections somehow.

 

It's good that sentences are not mere lists of concepts and that we have words (or, at least, sounds represented by symbols) for both the concepts themselves, and their topology (their connections). (Look: if... were... then... would, it's ... that, both... and.)

 

P.S. I would treat the final sentence as having the form X implies Y, where X is that he didn't delay it and Y is that it was done earlier. This isn't to say this is the only right answer; grammar is hard.

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A while back I read a book of essays on Ayn Rand and some academic was complaining how she didn't just go the distance and equate words with concepts. (The book contained many other mistakes, wish I remembered the name.) I thought, how ridiculous this is! But then I found the quote: "With the exception of proper names, every word we use is a concept" (aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/concepts.html).

Well, this simply isn't true. Consider the sentence:

 

You are likely to be eaten by a grue.

 

"You" is a deixis (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/deixis) and isn't quite a proper name or a concept (okay, this one is nitpicking and You can consider it a proper name if You want to.)

"are... to be... by" rearrange the sentence. It is grammatically equivalent to "Likely, a grue will eat you.". (We can do this deductively without considering the meanings of the words rearranged.) The sentence isn't really about what you are (where "are" is the concept of being).

"a" grue distinguishes it from "the" referred-to-before grue, but the only concept describing our entity so far is "grue". You might say, "but I distingish it from a group," but then realize that you had to say a group. It's just grammar.

 

Similarly, you certainly have concepts about the use of these words. But this does not mean that the words are concepts. I have a concept of a period, and a period aids in transmitting meaning, but it is not itself a concept.

 

Don't go thinking grammar is bound in a well-defined way to meaning, as our very own page (wiki.objectivismonline.net/Concept) seems to. Grammar is a fickle mistress and will confound you at every step.

 

P.S. If you choose a random entry in a dictionary, you will almost certainly find a concept.

 

P.P.S. If you found this post too easy, try and count the concepts in "It would have been done earlier had it not been delayed until later by what he had been doing to it."

You, I, he, she etc...refer to person or some times to animals and rarely to objects. You claim that they are not concepts?  Are, is , be, am-verbs of existence. You claim that existence is not a concept? By-concept of relationship. Cannot see where is exactly your problem?

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You have a concept of how periods are used, but something can be a useful grammatical tool without itself being a concept. If a period were a concept you would need some way to specify that you are done talking about periods. Like I just did, juxtaposing "period" with an actual ".".

 

Periods also have several other contexts that are not grammatical, consider how it used within sports, menstrual cycles, time, etc. Same word, several difference conceptual grasps of it. A word is a symbol which can represent one or more concepts.

 

I guess I don't get what you're driving at.

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Still, merely contracting the phrases in a sentence may give you a list of word groups, but it won't give you a list of concepts. In the example, are ... to be... by can't be contracted. Another example is either ... or ... or (AKA one-of). A skilled grammarian could go from a sentence to, say, an entity-relationship diagram, but there is no reason to believe that this has to be simple or that it is a philosophical matter (many errors have been made due to philosophising about grammar). It should be sufficient for philosophy that we verbalize concepts and their connections somehow.

 

It's good that sentences are not mere lists of concepts and that we have words (or, at least, sounds represented by symbols) for both the concepts themselves, and their topology (their connections). (Look: if... were... then... would, it's ... that, both... and.)

 

P.S. I would treat the final sentence as having the form X implies Y, where X is that he didn't delay it and Y is that it was done earlier. This isn't to say this is the only right answer; grammar is hard.

Regarding this, I'll have to refer you to the first paragraph of dream_weaver's first post.
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Are, is , be, am-verbs of existence. You claim that existence is not a concept?

You could only think I imply the latter by assuming that words are concepts.

 

Periods also have several other contexts that are not grammatical, consider how it used within sports, menstrual cycles, time, etc. Same word, several difference conceptual grasps of it. A word is a symbol which can represent one or more concepts.

 

I guess I don't get what you're driving at.

You are confusing the word "period" with periods. Periods are not used to describe periods. (". .. ... . .. ." doesn't tell you anything.) Frankly, I expected easy agreement with the idea that a period is not a concept. For a more extreme example, the use of italics does not directly represent a concept, even though it is used to help convey meaning. I use these examples to show that denying that every word is a concept not mean denying that language conveys meaning (which is what Leonid seems to think).

 

Regarding this, I'll have to refer you to the first paragraph of dream_weaver's first post.

ITOE does not address my objections; it is primarily about concepts, not words. Reading it again will not cause me to believe that every word is a concept.

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Now a word about grammar. Grammar is a science dealing with the formulation of the proper methods of verbal expression and communication, i.e., the methods of organizing words (concepts) into sentences. Grammar pertains to the actions of consciousness, and involves a number of special concepts—such as conjunctions, which are concepts denoting relationships among thoughts ("and," "but," "or," etc.). These concepts are formed by retaining the distinguishing characteristics of the relationship and omitting the particular thoughts involved. The purpose of conjunctions is verbal economy: they serve to integrate and/or condense the content of certain thoughts.

For instance, the word "and" serves to integrate a number of facts into one thought. If one says: "Smith, Jones and Brown are walking," the "and" indicates that the observation "are walking" applies to the three individuals named. Is there an object in reality corresponding to the word "and"? No. Is there a fact in reality corresponding to the word "and"? Yes. The fact is that three men are walking—and that the word "and" integrates into one thought a fact which otherwise would have to be expressed by: "Smith is walking. Jones is walking. Brown is walking."

The word "but" serves to indicate an exception to or a contradiction of the possible implications of a given thought. If one says: "She is beautiful, but dumb," the "but" serves to condense the following thoughts: "This girl is beautiful. Beauty is a positive attribute, a value. Before you conclude that this girl is valuable, you must consider also her negative attribute: she is dumb." If one says: "I work every day, but not on Sunday," the "but" indicates an exception and condenses the following: "I work on Monday. I work on Tuesday. (And so on, four more times.) My activity on Sunday is different: I do not work on Sunday."

(These examples are for the benefit of those victims of modern philosophy who are taught by Linguistic Analysis that there is no way to derive conjunctions from experience, i.e., from the facts of reality.)

Edited by Grames
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You are confusing the word "period" with periods. Periods are not used to describe periods. (". .. ... . .. ." doesn't tell you anything.) Frankly, I expected easy agreement with the idea that a period is not a concept. For a more extreme example, the use of italics does not directly represent a concept, even though it is used to help convey meaning. I use these examples to show that denying that every word is a concept not mean denying that language conveys meaning (which is what Leonid seems to think).

 

Quite frankly, if you recognize what this (.) {the object between the ()'s} is, you've already gotten this the context of the concept depending on what you identify it as

Edited by dream_weaver
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One could even say, "Walking is being done by Smith. Walking is being done by Jones and by Brown." The grammatical structure of a sentence can change without altering the meaning.

 

Her argument has been addressed; having a concept about a word does not imply a word denoting a concept. The fact that we have a concept of how "and" is used to communicate meaning does not mean that a use of "and" in a sentence denotes itself as the concept. I disagree, for example, that "and" is the concept of "and", or that a period communicates the concept of a period.

 

How does she know that Smith, Jones, and Brown are walking, as opposed to a relationship among thoughts doing the walking? Grammar. Our words not only convey concepts, but their structure. Put another way, grammar is the fact that a sentence is not merely a list of words, just as an idea is not merely a set of concepts.

This is the sort of naive directness that would lead one to think that the letter "b" is the sound "b". Well, I have my doubts.

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In order to be used as a single unit, the enormous sum integrated by a concept has to be given the form of a single, specific, perceptual concrete, which will differentiate it from all other concretes and from all other concepts. This is the function performed by language. Language is a code of visual-auditory symbols that serves the psycho-epistemological function of convening concepts into the mental equivalent of concretes. Language is the exclusive domain and tool of concepts. Every word we use (with the exception of proper names) is a symbol that denotes a concept, i.e., that stands for an unlimited number of concretes of a certain kind.

Edited by Grames
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Grames, that reminds me of something I was thinking about. Take a word like "centaur". Would you say centaur is a concept, despite having no referents besides drawings? This isn't quite an invalid concept, since the idea of a centaur is made up of concretes, i.e. horse body, human torso and head.

 

Basically what I want to know is: are invalid concepts a type of concept, or just the simplest way to describe something like god? Following that, is there a reason to say centaur is an invalid concept, too?

 

This relates because rowsdower seems to liken "and" to phrases; "The sky is blue" is not a concept, it is a proposition, but it consists of concepts. If centaur is invalid as a concept, and since the word centaur has valid concepts that are assembled to imagine a centaur, it is possible that single words are not always concepts. My reasoning might be convoluted, but answering those two questions would clarify a lot.

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"Centaur" is a valid concept whose referents are literary, creatures from ancient Greek myths.  "Centaur" is not a valid concept in biology because there are no animals in existence that are centaurs.   Concepts are contextual.

 

Invalid concepts are types of concepts, or else the normative standards of proper concept formation would not apply.

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If I removed this comma, then this sentence would have the same meaning. However, you can't remove a concept from an idea without changing (usually destroying) the meaning.

Just as an idea is not a mere set of concepts, a sentence is not a mere list of words, but a structure of words. Punctuation emphasizes structure. Grammar, by definition, is the structural part of language.

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If I removed this comma, then this sentence would have the same meaning. However, you can't remove a concept from an idea without changing (usually destroying) the meaning.

Just as an idea is not a mere set of concepts, a sentence is not a mere list of words, but a structure of words. Punctuation emphasizes structure. Grammar, by definition, is the structural part of language.

 

Not sure that I understand your point.

 

I think you're saying that Objectivists assert that the concepts in a sentence function something a math problem. For example, something like: 1+1+1+1= 4.

 

On the other hand, you seem to be suggesting something like: 2+2 = 5. I am not using that example to disparage you, but rather to merely suggest that you are arguing that the structure of a sentence adds another layer of meaning that is not strictly contained within the concepts/words used in a sentence.

 

I have no problem with that. Language and its usage is flexible and hardly written in stone. A sentence can contain a variety of implicit meanings that are not the same as its explicit/intended meaning.

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If I removed this comma, then this sentence would have the same meaning.

No, if you removed the comma, your sentence would have no meaning, until a reader guessed what you're trying to say, and where you left out that comma from.

Exactly the same as if you wrote "If I misspell this wrod, then this sentence would have the same meaning."

As part of the studio audience, the punctuation mark itself (.,!;:-) are symbols. The conceptual portion occurs with-in the mind by the means of utilizing them as intended; a method organizing thought(s) in writing.

Yes, punctuation marks are symbols. Same as words, except they look different (as an aside, in some languages, they might not even look different, and you'd have trouble figuring out which are the punctuation marks, and which the morphemes or words; not to mention that Japanese uses particles where English might use ' or : ). The quote in the OP (stating that words ARE concepts) is an out of context sentence. Ayn Rand made it clear that she doesn't literally consider the words concepts. They're symbols stand for concepts.

And a symbol represents one of two things: a concrete or an abstract. Punctuation marks represent abstracts. Proper names (and other symbols one might use to represent proper names in writing, for instance the singer Prince uses a symbol instead of his name sometimes) are not concepts. Everything else is.

The only question is, what grouping of letters and spaces constitutes a word (a symbol that stands on its meaningful own). Some examples of words are "has been", "hasbeen" (as a noun; I guess that's a new one, my spelling software doesn't like it), "town hall", or "doghouse". These examples are each single words (they each stand for one concept), each made up of two morphemes.

In other languages (agglutinative ones), words can be made up of lots of morphemes. For instance, this is a plant name in Japanese: 竜宮の乙姫の元結の切り外し. That's one word. Looks like a sentence, and it started out as a sentence. But now, it refers to a single concept (a type of seaweed, according to Yahoo Answers, called "eel grass" - oh look, another example of an English word with a space in it).

(note: these last two paragraphs aren't really related to your post, it's just me trying to clarify my previous point, and add something new - since Grames did such a good job settling the issue raised by OP)

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you are arguing that the structure of a sentence adds another layer of meaning that is not strictly contained within the concepts/words used in a sentence.

 

A adds another are arguing concepts contained in is layer meaning not of sentence strictly structure that the used within words you.

I am not arguing that structure merely adds more meaning. I consider 'concepts/words' an invalid package deal.

 

 

Exactly the same as if you wrote "If I misspell this wrod, then this sentence would have the same meaning."

Well, yes. Letters are not concepts. People talking about yoghurt and yogurt are talking about the same thing.

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If I removed this comma, then this sentence would have the same meaning. However, you can't remove a concept from an idea without changing (usually destroying) the meaning.

Just as an idea is not a mere set of concepts, a sentence is not a mere list of words, but a structure of words. Punctuation emphasizes structure. Grammar, by definition, is the structural part of language.

Yeah, a sentence is a structure of words. Grammar is structural, yeah. So why can't a structural word or punctuation be a concept? I really don't see where you reach the conclusion that "and" isn't a concept. At best, you've shown that there is more to a concept than *only* meaning. My earlier post was getting at what might seem to be a non-concept.

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If:

1. A sentence contains information other than a set of concepts. (Zebras are mammals =/= Mammals are zebras; concepts: { zebras, being, mammals })

2. The information in a sentence is communicated through words (Vocal 'punctuation' is unreliable)

 

Then it wouldn't be surprising if:

3. Some words aid in meaning without directly conveying a concept. (A grue was eaten by you = You ate a grue; concepts: { ingestion, grues })

 

As part of the studio audience, the punctuation mark itself (.,!;:-) are symbols. The conceptual portion occurs with-in the mind by the means of utilizing them as intended; a method organizing thought(s) in writing.

 

It is important to distingish between what is conceptual or conceptualizable, and what is itself a concept. A colon may trigger thought, but for actually talking about the concept colon we use the word, not the symbol.

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