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Can a word be used incorrectly and still be 'useful'? I've heard that pragmatists define true statements as those that are useful in predicting future empirical outcomes, to quote Wikipedia. However, I have heard of words being used incorrectly that can still be 'useful' despite being incorrect. The words 'subjective' and 'objective' are often used in everyday language to divide and distingiush things that are 'a matter of opinion' from things that are 'a matter of fact', respectively. Although this is an oversimplified and incorrect use of the words, you can't deny that people still find them useful in labelling 'facts', as distinguished from 'opinions'. It seems that just because a term is 'useful', doesn't make its usage correct. What are your thoughts on this? Thanks.

Interesting question, thanks! A word used in a deviant way would only have meaning if those who listen or read understand it. For example, I sometimes get confused in casual conversation and come out with a spoonerism -- a mixed up word. Usually, though, my wife understands what I mean anyway, by interpolating from a shared context. A new word, or a new meaning of a word, might gradually come to be accepted usage more widely. Slang words, in particular, tend to get picked up rapidly in this way. Let us say that the 'correct' meaning and usage of a word is determined by the dictionaries. But a modern dictionary is itself only a reflection of broad usage by speakers and writers. We have to go back quite a way in time to find a dictionary that sets out to adjudicate meanings, rather than simply record or describe them. So, the 'official' meaning of word comes about because of common usage. If enough people use a slang word, it ends up in the dictionary. Dictionaries tend to be a conservative force in...

Are the intentions of a speaker or writer relevant to determining the meaning of what they say or write? It seems common to suppose so. For example, people will often try to argue for an interpretation of a book by citing statements the author has made about her thought process in writing it. At the same time, it seems obvious that, even if there is merit to this approach, it can only be pushed so far. If J.K. Rowing said, " Harry Potter is really about a time travelling cyborg sent back to 1917 to intercept the Zimmerman telegram--that's what I intended," we wouldn't take her at her word. If she really meant to convey that "meaning" she simply failed. Considerations like this make me wonder if the intention of the author is relevant at all. (After all, it would be kind of weird to suppose that authorial intent bears on the justification of moderate, plausible interpretations, but not on extreme interpretations.)

I really dislike doing this, but variations on your questions have been asked before, and some good answers put up. Please see: http://www.askphilosophers.org/question/3587 Other questions and answers pertain to your broader question, which is not about works of fiction, but about 'speakers and writers' more generally. But I'll add, re your nicely absurd J. K. Rowling interpretation, that even this would have SOME bearing on how we read the Harry Potter books. We might suspect that Rowling was clinically insane, and scour the books for further evidence; we might suspect that she was a prankster, and again scour the books looking for meta-fictional jokes; we might suspect she was writing a time-travelling cyborg novel and looking to promote it, and again we might then return to Harry Potter using it to help us imagine what the new novel would be like. The point is, the author clearly has some connection to the book(s). Either, then, we ENTIRELY discount the author when...

What does 'all things equal' actually mean? I don't understand the expression at all. It surely isn't to be taken literally...unless one is constructing a thought experiment. But philosophers don't only use the phrase when constructing thought experiments. I'm lost.

Like any real experiment, a thoughtexperiment (or analogy, case study or example) in order to be validevidence for some position, has to be conceived of as beingrepeatable. So, my thought experiment should be compelling onits own terms, and not because of some special context that makes itcompelling. Only then will the thought experiment (or whatever) havevalidity beyond that context. 'All things being equal' is thus akinto the notion of controlling variables.

I'd like to hear what you - dedicated to answering questions - have to say to the following: 1) Philosophers and scientists seem to believe that a) problems are shared (by people), i. e. are the same (identical?) for every man b) each attempt to solve a problem produces its own solution. Here's my first question: If we think there are as many solutions to a problem as there are written papers, what makes us believe it's different with the problems? What are the criteria for the interpersonal identity of a problem? 2) Relating to the first: If two people refer or at least pretend to refer to the same problem (in solving or just discussing it), and given the thesis that in some way we must understand the problem or at least its verbal expression: What is it, that we know, when we understand a problem? Or, a bit less heavy-weighted:What kind of semantics of questions would enable us to understand how it comes that the problems questions articulate are real and shared by people, while the answers...

An extremely sophisticated question, and one I'm not sure I could address in its entirety. However, I will start and perhaps one of my colleagues can take things much further than I can. I take it that the core of your question is this: why do we assume that problems are 'one' while answers are 'many'? Is this in fact the case? Although as a matter of fact, there will be hundreds (maybe thousands) of papers addressing a particular problem, is there not also a working or regulative assumption that all of these are contributions to an answer (that is, a single answer)? If it turns out that one answer cannot be arrived at then so be it, but I do not believe that is the starting assumption. Also, if there is an irreducible variety of answers then this suggests that the problem itself has been misstated, or perhaps there is more than one problem. Which leads nicely to the second part of my answer. Is it the case that philosophers tend to assume that a problem is the same problem, intersubjectively shared...