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I've just returned from holiday. On the flight back I noticed that the seating rows were numbered from 1 to 33 and on further inspection that there was no row 13 marked (presumably through superstition). So there were actually 32 rows. My questions are: Does row 13 exist even if it is not numbered? Is there really a row 33, or is it merely row 32 given an incorrect name?

Row 12 is followed by row 14, so that if the steward directed you to sit in row 14, that is where you would go. We should distinguish between the what the rows are called (there is no row called "row 13") and which rows they are. The thirteenth row is still the thirteenth, as could be proved by counting the rows from the first to the thirteenth. You would end up with a count of thirteen rows. But when the steward says, 'Go to row 14,' he does not mean 'Go to the fourteenth row'. He means, 'Go to the row, over there, that you can see has the number "14" written above it' or wherever, even though you might not be able to tell the difference between the thirteenth row and the row numbered "14". Does this help? The thing we shouldn't say is that the fourteenth row is the thirteenth row (that were a contradiction) or that there isn't a thirteenth row. There plainly is such a row, as counting rows shows, and not even superstition can remove it. What is thought to be unlucky is the number thirteen, but - alas!...

How important is translation in the study of philosophy? It seems like, in certain areas of philosophy, precise definitions and subtle nuance can have significant impact in outcomes. I was curious how a difference in translation might affect it. One example: I have three different translations of the Tao te Ching , and for some of them, the same original comes out so differently one wonders what each translator thought they were reading at the outset! Another example: when I first read Das Kapital (in English), I was initially confused by the recurring term "means of production." Finally, it dawned on me, that term meant "technology" and serendipity! it all clicked. thank you for your consideration.

Translation is enormously important in philosophy. It is a philosophical topic of interest in its own right. There are issues that arise in connection with the thesis of the indeterminacy of translation and "radical translation", from scratch, associated with Quine, that call for an account of what translation actually is. Should language preserve poetry, or is it true that poetry is what is lost in translation? Is it acceptable to turn a Hebrew original into perfect English iambic pentameter, for example, as the King James Bible did, 'She gave / him of / the fruit / and he / did eat'? Or is the importation of a majestically inevitable and continuing process into the language itself a specious artifact? There is also the question whether translation into an ideal language is translation at all, or whether it is a funny kind of reconstruction. Besides all this, we have the question whether, since French and German, for example, lack an equivalent word for the English "mind", English sentences using "mind"...

It seems that one characteristic of the present Western culture is redefining anything. The unborn has now been defined as a human being who is not a person. Marriage is no longer just between a man and a woman. Homosexuality is no longer a mental disorder. With all these redefinition, it is confusing whose testimony is to be believed. My question is: is there any correct criteria for defining anything, or is it simply the case that the definition of something depends on what people thought about it?

I do not believe that it is a "characteristic of the present Western culture" that it is in the habit of _redefining_ everything, as if that were some sort of local parlour game. The re-definitions come about because many people are making the claim that their own views about such things as marriage and the unborn _are_ the right ones. The reason is that Western culture has become a less traditional culture, so there is less automatic acceptance of the concepts that in the past would have been inherited from the previous generation, and not questioned, or not as much. But our experience has become more extreme and more troubling. I am thinking of reactions to the Great War, for example. How could anyone whole-heartedly accept the wisdom of the Establishment when just one battle (the Battle of the Somme) resulted in 1,250,000 casualties? War in the past had a kind of nobility; not so scientific and "total" wars. "Whose testimony is to be believed?" It cannot be right to say that the definition of...

What is the essential relationship between rules of grammar and a living language? Is it primarily descriptive or prescriptive? I am fluent in 3 languages, and it seems to me that native speakers, especially in Chinese, rarely know much about the "rules". Native speakers, instead, are confident. They don't worry that what they say is "wrong", and they're also inventive and creative. American kids are fond of saying about someone that "so-and-so is boss". It seems to me there are many instances now of nouns being converted to adjectives: so-and-so might also be "legend", for instance. Native speakers don't fear that they are "wrong". Does grammar play catch up, like law with technology, or does grammar just unctuously go on insisting that such statements are "wrong"?

It is possible to have a view in which a grammar has some description, and a bit of prescription. If someone speaking English used only "sentences" without verbs, then a bit of prescription might be in order, and the response that "grammar is descriptive not prescriptive" would or should fall on very deaf ears. For the language at the moment does have verbs. And the same is true if someone confuses "infer" and "imply", for example. On the other hand in American English "insure" has replaced "ensure", so "insure" in US parlance now has two meanings, and one of them ("to make sure that") may be in the process of being forgotten. I find this hard to take, myself, but a descriptivist has a case here too. It is obvious that most living languages do change over the years by shifts like this one. But the basic structure of the sentence is fairly stable over a long time. I do not think that English could suffer the loss of all its verbs and remain in any reasonable sense the same language. About changes over time...

Why do so many scholars and intellectuals think that language is necessary for thought?

My answer is a little different from Olilver's. Why do so many scholars and intellectuals think that language is necessary for thought? Answer: Because it really is easier to think about definite rather than indefinite things. But indefinite and formless things also have to be thought about. It takes more of an effort of course to think in a pathfinding sort of a way about something new, and one may or may not be thinking "in" language, whatever that means (muttering to oneself, sub-vocally?) If one is trying to come to an understanding of some hard and new logical or mathematical matter, it may be more like shaping forms in ones mind, and then moving them, and less like chattering in French. If one insists on calling "shaping forms", or whatever the metaphor is "a kind of language", then of course the claim is drained of any content, and with that of any interest. People of say that mathematics is a language, or a "language", something like a language. But it has a function and a status very different...