Just what is a definition? Are definitions ever proved or are they all man made? If they are man made, what good are they?

Just what is a definition? To answer your first question, I looked up "definition" (in the linguistic sense of the word) and got this: " define : to explain the meaning of (a word, phrase, etc.)." If that definition is accurate, then a definition is an explanation of the meaning of a word, phrase, etc. Are definitions ever proved? The definitions in dictionaries are attempts to explain the actual meanings of terms as those terms are used by the community of language-users. As such, definitions can be more accurate or less accurate, depending on how well they capture the actual way terms are used. I wouldn't say that such definitions are ever "proved," but as a matter of empirical fact some definitions are more accurate than others. Another kind of definition, not found in dictionaries, is a stipulative definition: it's just a speaker's proposal to use a word in a particular way or else the speaker's declaration that he/she will be using the word in that way. Stipulative...

My reductionist friend argues that rice noodles are not noodles since the very first noodles ever made and the noodles most commonly eaten around the world are made from wheat by definition. That is to say, the term "rice noodles" is an oxymoron, much like "vodka martini" so just how valid is it to argue about features of rice noodles such as length, taste, and texture in order to conclude that noodles made from a different ingredient really are noodles?

I would question your friend's claim that "the very first noodles ever made and the noodles most commonly eaten around the world are made from wheat by definition ." I don't see the justification for the final two words in that claim. Even if the first noodles happen to have been made from wheat, I don't see how being made from wheat becomes part of the definition of 'noodle'. The first boats weren't made of fiberglass, but surely that doesn't preclude the existence of fiberglass boats or make 'fiberglass boat' a contradiction in terms.

Reading Wikipedia and a bit of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, I learn that, for most philosophers today, the distinction betweem analytic and synthetic truths or falsities is no longer acceptable. For them, there are no analytic truths. This rejection originates in Quine. I wonder if that is really so. Is there anything synthetic in mathematics? Is there anything synthetic in the thought that all birds are birds, or that all brown balls are brown things? How do philosophers argue that these truths are synthetic?

It's a good idea to consult the SEP for discussion of these questions and for citations to various published answers. Continue to do so. I'd question, however, whether "most philosophers today" reject the analytic/synthetic distinction. According to the recent PhilPapers survey, 64.9% of "target faculty" either "accept or lean toward" accepting the distinction (see this link ). Reports of its demise would appear to be exaggerated.

Are definitions always human made? If so, do they not exist on non-human planets?

I strongly doubt that all definitions are human-made. Given the staggering number of stars that astronomers say exist, it seems highly likely that intelligent life has arisen in at least one other place -- intelligent life capable of creating languages and capable of creating explicit definitions for at least some of the items in those languages. All the definitions we currently know of are human-made, but the region of spacetime we've sampled is exceedingly small compared to what's out there.

Why are counterfactual claims taken seriously by philosophers? Aren't they just an imaginative way of thinking and talking? For example, why is a counterfactual of the form "If it had been the case that A, then it would be the case that C" supposed to have truth conditions? For if causal determinism is true, then there is a complete specification W of the history of world w in which A would occur such that W entails either the truth of C or the falsity of C, making the counterfactual either vacuously true or a contradiction (and this is so for all possible deterministic worlds which include A); whereas if causal determinism is not true, then the history of w cannot be fully specified because A depends on non-deterministic processes, and the truth or falsity of the counterfactual is not determined. And for a non-deterministic world of which the history is fully specified (i.e. W includes the outcomes of non-deterministic processes) in which A occurs, the vacuous/contradictory result again obtains. ...

A very sophisticated question! In short, philosophers take counterfactual conditionals seriously at least partly because everyday language and thought take them so seriously. Entire legal regimes, such as the negligence regime in tort law, use confident judgments about counterfactuals -- "Had you not acted negligently, the plaintiff wouldn't have been injured (then and there)" -- in ways that matter hugely to people's lives. Indeed, it's hard to imagine a way of living that doesn't sooner or later involve counterfactual reasoning. The reliance on counterfactuals probably extends to all of natural science too, because explaining how or why a phenomenon occurred commits one to counterfactuals about how things would have gone had the "explanans" for the phenomenon not occurred. Your points about determinism and indeterminism are good ones. Theories of counterfactuals are supposed to work regardless of whether determinism is true. If determinism is true, then a counterfactual of this form must...

The notion of something being a "fake" seems linguistically odd. Normally, if you have an adjective and a noun, the noun notes what the thing being talked about is, and the adjective describes some quality of the thing in question. A "fake plant", however, doesn't seem to fit that pattern at all, because a fake plant isn't a plant to begin with; the noun seems to be violating its intended function. Is "fake" something other than an adjective, then, perhaps analogous to "not a"? Or is a "fake plant" actually a "fakeplant", i.e. the fake is a part of the noun rather than an adjective, despite its apparent form? Doesn't the adjective "fake" somehow undermine the purpose of nouns?

I'm having trouble confirming it online at the moment, but I believe that linguists have a category for words such as fake , artificial , would-be , and the like: I think they're called "cancelling modifiers" or "cancelling adjectives." These words are well-known exceptions to the rule that, given an adjective A and a noun N, any AN is an N. I don't think they "undermine the purpose" of nouns or adjectives; instead, they perform a special and useful adjectival function in language. Anyway, you might search for information on the linguistics of cancelling modifiers or cancelling adjectives. I hope you find the clarification you're seeking.

Does a proposition which is always false such as 'one plus one equals seven' have false truth conditions or no truth conditions?

I can't see how it could have no truth conditions if it's always false : if it's always false, mustn't it have truth conditions of a particular kind, namely, truth conditions that are never fulfilled? I wouldn't call those "false truth conditions," however; I'd call them unfulfilled truth conditions or, in the case of "One plus one equals seven," unfulfillable truth conditions.

Is it psychologically possible to believe a proposition in the absence of understanding the proposition? If not, do many of us continue to harbor beliefs "as tho" they are understood. While admitting that total understanding is, probably, not attainable, it appears to me that our mutually formed groups that purport to make and implement serious decisions stands as a possible threat to concerted action. I have classified these thoughts as somewhat metaphysical since, if totally psychological, the answer might be in the domain of science. Thank you for this site. Jerry D. H.

Interestingly, something like the converse of your question was asked and answered at Question 4669, linked here . The earlier question was " Is 'understanding' a proposition necessary, but not sufficient, for 'believing' that same proposition?" Whether it's psychologically possible for someone to believe a given proposition without understanding the proposition will depend on whether it's even conceptually possible, i.e., whether it could even make sense to describe someone that way. When asking whether something is conceptually possible, philosophers often consult their linguistic intuitions. So you might ask whether you would sincerely assert something of the form "So-and-so believes that p but doesn't understand it." I myself wouldn't. Now maybe that shows only that such statements are unassertible rather than conceptually false, but I think it's conceptually confused to describe someone as believing a proposition without understanding it. If it is, then the answer to your second...

Is "understanding" a proposition necessary, but not sufficient, for "believing" that same proposition? Further, where could one find arguments (discussion) for and/or against either position?

I confess I'm puzzled by Prof. Heck's reply. He defends the following three assumptions: (1) If you understand a proposition, then you also understand its negation. (2) It is necessary, if you are to believe a proposition, to understand it. (3) It's perfectly possible to believe a proposition and not understand its negation. I interpret those assumptions as follows: (1*) Understanding P entails understanding not-P. (2*) Believing P entails understanding P. (3*) Believing P doesn't entail understanding not-P. (1*)-(3*) imply a contradiction: Believing P does and doesn't entail understanding not-P. If so, then (1)-(3) imply everything (if I've interpreted them correctly). I also don't see how the falsity of (3) implies that we would always have to believe contradictions. If (3) is false, then believing P entails understanding not-P; I don't see how any unwelcome consequences follow from that. PLEASE NOTE : (3) above was taken from Professor Heck's original...

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