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I the Koran subject to interpretation or to be taken literally?

I'm curious why you raise this question only with respect to the Koran--and not with respect to other sacred literatures (or perhaps you have them all in mind). I'm no expert on the Koran but I am pretty sure that, first, your question has a false dichotomy: "interpretation" is a matter of determining the meaning of a text (or of a speaker), and sometimes the meaning you settle on is what might be called a literal one, so interpretation CAN itself be literal in nature. Presumably what you have in mind then is a different contrast--between metaphorical or symbolical interpretation v literal interpretation. But even there I would imagine (said without claim of expertise) that the Koran is filled with much symbolic/metaphorical language, not least because ordinary (non-sacred) speech is itself filled with such; it's rather hard to imagine a text in which every single sentence is possessed (or meant to possess) only literal meaning. THAT said, perhaps your question is actually a little different, something on...

Any comment the the fact that the expression "begs the question" is now used regularly in the U.S. media to mean "needs to be asked" rather that it's original meaning "Assumes the conclusion in the argument" ? Should Philosophers develop a new expression the capture the original meaning ? Thanks.

One of my biggest pet peeves, it drives me crazy! I don't know how feasible it is to develop new expressions etc., but we might consider this: when speaking to philosophers we can use the original latin term for the fallacy, petitio principi, and when speaking to the general public, use the term the way it's widely used. (When in Rome, speak as the Romans ....) This is painful to do for most philosophers, I imagine, but just slightly less painful than using the term properly and then either being widely misunderstood or taken by others to sound either arrogant or like an idiot ..... the worrisome thing is that so many who misuse the term in public discourse are educated, opinion-shapers, including journalists, politicians -- who (one would hope) might have taken some philosophy in college and should know better ..... but changing that practice (I think, sadly) is probably a losing proposition. which begs the question: how should one use the expression 'begs the question'.... :-) hope that's useful. ...

The question comes out of an thought experiment which goes like this: Suppose i ask you to choose a random word from English dictionary. And I tell you to find its definition. Now the definition of the word will also contains some set of words. I ask you to find the definition of all words taking one at a time. The definition of this second word will also contain some set of words, so you have to repeat this definition finding until you reach a word which has already been defined. Now you take the second word from the definition of the very first word you chose and keep repeating this process. As there are finite number of words in English dictionary, you will reach a point where there is nothing to define. Hence, if a set of definitions(in this case the English dictionary) there are finite definitions for each unknown. Accordingly, if our laws of universe are finite, then there will be finite answers to explain the entire universe. Or we can say existence of each physical process can be satisfactorily...

This is a first-rate question, if a little complicated, and deserves a longer (first-rate) answer. But it's Thanksgiving so I have to be brief! First your point about the dictionary is quite fascinating. I'm pretty sure Wittgenstein (and maybe Augustine) made roughly similar or closely related observations -- but partly in service of recognizing that ultimately for language/meaning to work we must connect (some) words not merely to other words but to 'reality' (or at least our perceptions thereof) -- we have some 'ostensive' definitions whereby we assign the meaning of a word by relating it directly to some object or object of perception ... (Not that that is problem-free itself, but it attempts to break the cycle of words-words definitions). Second, I'm not entirely clear on the analogy you make between the definition case and that of physical laws (and not clear whether the point I just made about ostensive definitions would apply in some analogous way to the laws). But apart from the analogy I can say...

My question is about Rigid Designators. I enjoyed reading Kripke a lot, but I find this concept hard to understand. According to Kripke, a rigid designator refers to, or picks up, the same thing in every possible world. But this way of defining, if it is defining at all, rigid designators is too vague for me to understand. Take 'pain' as an example. Since there are many debates over what pain is (that is, is it a illusion, is it purely physical, it is purely mental, or it is mental and physical etc.), how can it still be a rigid designator if we do not even know what it picks up in our actual world? It could be argue that even though we do not know what it picks up in this world as long as it picks up the same thing in every possible world it is still a rigid designator. But indeed, what would guarantee that it could pick up the same thing?

I'm no expert here, but my recollection is that Kripke reminds us/warns us to avoid the following picture: that we somehow glance into all the many possible worlds and have the task of figuring out which items, in those worlds, are designated by our terms. That would be impossible (for more reasons than one!), not least of all for this reason: suppose there's a possible world where Fred (a dark-haired man in the actual world) is a red-haired woman (and differs in many other traits from actual Fred too). How could we possible look at that red-haired woman (etc) and say, "Oh look there's possible Fred!" The whole point of these "possible variations" on Fred would obscure the possibility of identifying Fred by any of his (her) properties in those other worlds ... Rather, Kripke says, we stipulate possible worlds: we have whatever intuitions we have re: what's possible and we get to stipulate that we are speaking of that world which varies from this world in such and such respects. So if we believe it...

I just heard that, in the case of Hilary Putnam's "Twin Earth" experiment, Tyler Burge argued that Oscar and Twin Oscar had different concepts in mind when talking about "water". This seems bizarre, doubly so if neither Oscar nor Twin Oscar are familiar with the chemical composition of the stuff they call "water". If they don't know the chemical composition of the stuff, and the chemical composition is the only different between the two substances (all mesoscopic properties are identical), how can their mental concepts of the stuff possibly be different?

Suppose we individuate concepts by "reference," so two mental states/thoughts are identical if they are about the same things, otherwise different. If (arguably) one twin's thoughts 'refer to' H2O and the other's 'refer to' XYZ, then they would count as different thoughts or concepts. What you are merely presuming is that the notion of 'concept' should be narrowly individuated (ie defined only in terms of what's 'in the head', so the two twins shoudl have the same concept). But that is the very thing that is explicitly being debated in the classic papers by Putnam, Burge, and all the rest ....! best, ap

If it was for an organised civilization of aliens to be discovered, could an actual form of communication emerge? I mean, aside the fact that we would speak different langugages, we would have totally different habits, different way of thinking and ethics (if not different ''types'' of logic as they would have grown on a diffent planet with all the consequences this fact induces).

Great question. I would think, though, that the onus would be on the skeptic raising the question to give solid reasons why communication would NOT be possible. Already on earth we find different cultures with different languages, different "habits," different ways of thinking and ethics, and in fact even different 'types of logic' apparently (or so some cultural psychologists have argued at various points). But why should that make some form of communication impossible? True, the process of translating between such languages might be more complicated than it would be if more were shared; and true, more miscommunication might well occur during the translations, due to all sorts of pragmatic reasons. But that seems very far removed from holding a strong claim such as "communication is impossible." Absent such an explicit argument, and given the kind of counterevidence different earth cultures already present, I would have to go with a "yes" answer to your question! (By the way, Donald Davidson famously...

According to Wikipedia, "any definition that attempts to set out the essence of" a concept "specifies the necessary and sufficient conditions for a thing being a member of" the set corresponding to that concept. Ok. But I wonder if it wouldn't be great if, for some more difficult concepts, we could at least specify some sufficient conditions in a way that we would pick most things that are members a the corresponding set. For instance, wouldn't it be a nice philosophical progress if we could get a "definition" (?) of beauty that would cover most beautiful things and no non-beautiful thing? I mean a definition that is not circular, of course.

I haven't looked at the wikipedia article, but the view it expresses is VERY old-fashioned. Since Wittgenstein's "family resemblance" concept, and especially since cognitive scientists such as Eleanor Rosch's work in the 1970s, it's far more fashionable to think of concepts (and categories) as constituted not by "necessary and sufficient conditions" but by prototypes and similarity relations, far more befitting "fuzzier" concepts -- for example the way we think about "dogs" is not to generate an "essence" of necy/sufficient conditions, but by having in mind some prototypical dog at the center and then linking it to less familiar, less central, other examples ... This is far more in keeping with your nice suggestion, that what we seek (as I'd put it) are some "characteristic" properties of the paradigmatic members of the set, recognizing that other creatures may share these properties to various degrees and still count as members of the set in question ... So unless the wikipedia article was...

Most words function properly because we more or less agree on what they mean. I can say "chair" and you will most likely have a good idea of what I am talking about. There are other terms, however, where people seem to squabble quite a bit about what a term actually means - like "art", "personhood", "fairness", etc. My question is: Can such terms be useful even if there are several opposing interpretations of what they mean? How? No doubt the debate itself is informative, but if we don't have a clear understanding of what "art" means, I wonder how useful it is to talk about the qualities of art, the study of art, or whether something counts as art. So how useful are terms where people can't agree on a concrete meaning? When does a term become too vague or disputed to be useful?

Great question, though I might worry that words like "useful" are about as vague as any of those in your examples, and thus your question may suffer from the same problems! ... I like your point that "the debate itself is informative" -- assuming that's true, which seems plausible, why couldn't that be "useful" enough? We learn an awful lot about our own concepts and beliefs when we grapple over what constitutes a person, or a work of art, or fairness ... So I'm a bit curious why, after recognizing that as a value for even these vague terms, you seem to demand something significantly more. Perhaps you would like these terms to take on refined and precise meanings like those in natural science, at least paradigmatically -- but then again, these terms DO often take on such precision, at least once they're in the hands of philosophers debating the issues. Bertrand Russell has a nice bit where he observes that if scientists are entitled to develop their own terminology and refine ordinary words to make...

What is the difference between a word having two meanings and a word that has an "alternative" meaning? For intance, is MOUSE a word that has two meanings (first meaning: "a small rodent of a species found all over the world that has a brown or greyish-brown coat and a long mostly hairless tail"; second meaning: "a hand-held device for working with a computer by controlling a pointer on the screen") or does it have only one meaning ("either a small rodent of ..... or a hand-held device for ....")?

Interesting question. But I'm wondering what rides on the answer. And what is connected to the question. Of course, we begin by wanting to distinguish the meanings of the two relevant clauses you give ("small rodent," v. "hand-held device"). So, separately, you obviously hold that there are two meanings in play. Now in logic it may be true that, strictly speaking, the proposition "P or Q" is a distinct proposition from either of its disjuncts, and can happily count as a "single" proposition -- but we also recognize that it is compositional, composed of parts, so we can think of it as one compound proposition or as a disjunction of two simpler propositions. But these are perfectly consistent with each other, so we can happily accept both -- it is both one compound, and a disjunction of two simpler, proposition(s). No need to choose! Why not just say the same with respect to your example? In any case you can raise the same question even of the component meanings in your example - your 'rodent'...

Is this sentence true: "Miles Davis and narwhals both have horns." The word "horn" can mean a musical instrument (which only Miles Davis has) or a bony protrusion (which only narwhals have.) But is it possible to mean both things at once (which would make the sentence true). Or does the sentence only have two possible meanings, both of which are false?

As with all excellent questions, this one is the tip of a very large iceberg! This one nicely ties in questions of meaning and truth, of literal v. metaphorical meaning, as well as of speaker-meaning v sentence-meaning. But rather than try to answer it here, why not simply observe that there's no reason not to treat it as "true", by common sense, just because of the equivocation in meaning -- for anyone who gets the pun involved will clearly understand that this sentence is a clever way of expressing the proposition 'Davis has an instrument and narwhals have a bony protrusion', which we have no reason not to think of as true. So since the sentence in its rather ordinary use, and context, with many people, expresses a true proposition, why not treat it as true? Meanwhile people who do NOT get the pun (for whatever reason) might understand this sentence to express the proposition 'Davis has a protrusion and narwhals have a protrusion', which they would take to be straightforwardly false (assuming...

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