A statement P about a single element in a dual or multiple set does not seem to logically exclude P applying equally to other elements in the set; yet we often talk as though "P is true of X" implies "P is not true of Y (or Z)", when X, Y, and Z all belong to some grouping. For example, take "Men work to support their families". Does this logically imply that women do not work to support their families? What about "African Americans suffer from discrimination"? Does this logically imply that Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans and white Americans (among other racial groupings) do not suffer from discrimination? Such objections are often raised in discourse. Given (x, y), "P is true of X" is thought to imply "P is not true of Y", or "Not-P is true of Y". If there is no logical exclusion above, what are these objections targeting? Is it a question of salience, rather than logic?

Thank you for your good question! Answering questions of this general type has been a big concern of the field of philosophy of language for the last few decades. One way of starting to understand where this tradition is coming from, is to distinguish between the literal meaning of a sentence, and the meaning that a speaker using that sentence is normally thought to convey. So suppose that you often has unkempt hair. One day you show up with nicely combed hair and I remark, "Your hair is combed!" Now it will be natural to take me to be *suggesting* that your hair is normally not tidy. But this is no part of the literal meaning of the sentence. If it were, then I'd contradict myself by saying, "Your hair is combed, though of course it is normally tidy." This might be an odd things to say, but it isn't a self-contradiction like, "Bob is a bachelor, but he is married." So we can distinguish between what a sentence usually means and what a person uttering that sentence might be conveying,...

I understand that generalizing from one example can be fraught with problems; at the same time, here is an experience that might bring some clarity to the question, "when we think, do we have to think in words, or can we think without using words?" Years ago, our family went to a state park. we were walking along a paved path near the edge of the cliff, and the place at which we were walking had a fence along the edge of the path because the cliff edge was quite close there. My wife, myself, my 2-1/2 year old daughter, and 16-month old son were strolling together, and my son toddled along ahead of us until he was about 18 to 20 feet away. He was past the end of the fence, because the fence stopped once the cliff edge was eight feet away from the path. My son stopped, looked at the end of the path, then looked back at me, made eye contact, and grinned. Right after that I had a blur of sensory impressions; after which I saw my right hand clutching the front of his overalls. I was on my stomach around...

Thank you for your question and the very dramatic example! Your question is, "When we think, do we have to think in words, or can we think without using words?" I take your example to be one in which you seem to have been thinking but not in words. You then break down your first question into two, one of which is about the significance of self-reported events; the other is about whether response mechanisms should count as thought. About the significance of self-reported events. I'd say that in philosophy and even more in psychology, self-reported events don't carry a great deal of weight. However, your example is one that any student of human behavior knows happens quite often. Furthermore, if someone were to doubt that claim, we would have a good sense of how experimentally to settle it. About the second question: I would say that a majority of scholars concerned with cognition and action would agree that you did not verbalize much of anything to yourself in the process of...

There is this idea that languages can be judged and valued - take the very stereotypical image of the proud French person praising their own language's beauty and warmth while explaining that English is an impure, soulless and emotionless tongue with "stolen" vocabulary. Is the idea that languages can be judged and praised/scorned (sort of like works of art) rooted in a theory of linguistic aesthetics? Has such a theory ever been articulated? More to the point, are there any general justifications for such views, or are words really just words?

You ask, first of all, whether the idea that languages can be judged and praised/scorned is rooted in a theory of linguistic aesthetics. Well, that might be one basis on which to evaluate a language; there may be others, such as those I'll mention below. Also, I don't know of any substantial theory of linguistic aesthetics. However, one can imagine some of what such a theory might say. For instance, just as we can find a line of a poem beautiful because of its sonic properties, we might want to say such a thing of a sentence of a certain language. If a language L is one in which such sentences are commonly found, while another language L' has sentences line that rarely, but a lot of other sentences are are percussive, gutteral, or in some other way less beautiful, that would be a reason for judging L to be superior to L' on aesthetic grounds. That would not for a moment prejudge the relative merits of the two languages on other dimensions, such as clarity. For hints of a line of thought along...

If "saying" refers to an action, and "believing" to a mental state, what is "asserting"? It seems to require an action (i.e. you have to say something) and it also seems to require a mental state (you need to believe what is said).

Thank you for your question! Saying is indeed an action, and believing is a mental state as you say (though just what a "mental state" is is no easy question). Asserting is an action, too: it is something we do at will, something we can refrain from, something we can be held responsible for, something we can try but fail to do and so on--in short, it has all the hallmarks of an action. However, unlike mere saying, asserting is subject to a norm, namely, "assert only what you believe." This is colloquially referred to as the norm of sincerity, thought there are some delicate issues about just what sincerity is. At any rate, that asserting is subject to certain norms involving mental states, does not imply that it is itself a mental state. (In this respect, compare asserting with promising.) Nonetheless, asserting is a comparatively sophisticated action, since it is subject to norms, without which I suspect assertion would not even be possible. Philosophers have long been fascinated with...

I read somewhere that an ostensive definition is a definition that does not rely (only) on words, but (also) on a gesture of pointing. As far as I can see, however, a gesture of pointing is also a word. It is word in a sign language, or in a language that includes sounds and gestures. Isn't it?

Thanks for your nice question. Even if a language such as a sign language has a sign that is made just in the way that I move my hand when I point at something, that does not mean that when I am pointing at something I am using a word. Similarly, even if a baby happens to utter a series of sounds that sound exactly like the word 'hyperbole', this does not mean that the infant is referring to anyone's overstatement. Accordingly, when I point, particularly because I don't speak any sign language, I'm not using a word. The most that can be said is that I am making a hand movement that is identical to a word in some other language. You can, I think, see this even more dramatically if you think about gaze: we often use gaze, particularly overt gaze, as a form of ostension. However, even if there were a language that used overt gazing as a word (meaning perhaps, "look at that"), that doesn't mean that I am using a word in overtly gazing at something. Mitch Green

I've been thinking about derogatory words for people who belong to specific groups. These words, I think, not only identify these persons, but they also kind of "state" that those persons are bad, inferior, or something like that. For instance, if you would call someone a "boche" (e.g. "She is a boche!"), you would not only be saying that that person is a German citizen, but also that ALL Germans are, say, despicable. Do you think this is a plausible view? And, if it is, don't you think that it is strange that a single word, as apllied to only one person, somehow contains a statement about a whole group of people?

Thanks for your perceptive comment/question. Derogatory words do identify groups. So both 'Wop' and 'Italian' apply to all and only Italians. However, the derogatory words convey more than this. You describe this further things by saying they kind of state that the persons are bad, etc. Philosophers of language have spent some time trying to get clear on this notion of "kind of stating", and so I'll try to give you the flavor of that effort here. In addition to what we literally say with our words, we now know that we can communicate a great deal more. Sometimes what I leave unsaid carries a lot of meaning: I ask you how you like the painting I just completed and you reply, "Well, it's very colorful." Here you don't actually say or state that the painting is not so great, but your meaning is clear. Philosophers often call this type of meaning, "implicature." Some implicatures, such as this one, depend heavily on context. In other cases, however, our implicatures depend on the...

Is philosophy of language and empirical study, since it discusses how humans actually communicate, as opposed to all the ways we hypothetically could communicate?

Thanks for your message. The philosophy of language is not exclusively interested in how humans actually communicate; it is also interested in the various ways in which we could communicate, where 'we' is not limited to members of our species. Nonetheless, the field is not entirely divorced from empirical considerations. For instance, theories concerned with what it is to *mean* something are sensitive to the cognitive requirements that have to be met for one to do so, and some such theories are at risk because they make empirically implausible predictions about what, for instance, a child would have to know in order to mean anything. By contrast, some areas of the philosophy of language, such as those that share a border with metaphysics (for instance, theories of propositions) are relatively un-empirical. Most theorizing in such areas can be done "in the armchair." The result is that some areas of the philosophy of language are relatively empirical, while others are not.

Suppose I was born on March 17, 2010, which was a Wednesday. I was born on a Wednesday. My question is whether the fact that I was born on a Wednesday is a "conventional", "artificial" or "socially constructed" fact (I'm not sure about the right words to use, but I'm sure you got the idea). But I want you to make a distinction. It is obvious that we could have another word for Wednesdays. We could have called them "Sonntags", or "Fourthdays", or "Potatoes", or whatever. But the days would still be the same. As we could have called dogs "cats", and cats "dogs", but the animals would still be the same. In my view, the fact that I was born on a Wednesday is NOT a conventional or socially constructed fact, but rather a strictly objective, perhaps even "natural" or "logical" fact. Unfortunately I haven't found anybody who agrees with me until now.

Thank you for your message. Your instincts about this issue are correct. We could have called Wednesdays something else, and that would not have changed when it was you were born. Abe Lincoln saw this long ago when he remarked, “How many legs does a dog have, if you call his tail a leg? The answer is four, because calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg.” So more precisely: It is in part a conventional fact that you were born on a day we call 'Wednesday'. It is not a conventional, or even partly conventional, fact that you were born in the moment in time that you were.

What is the difference between philology and linguistics?

Thanks for your question. Very roughly, philology is the study of words and their meanings, and the development of these two over time. This includes work deciphering "dead" languages such as Aramaic or Sumerian. By contrast, linguistics is a good deal more theoretical, aiming not just to describe, but also to explain such linguistic phenomena as morphology, phonetics, syntax, semantics and pragmatics. Unlike Philology, Linguistics also aims for generalizations that hold across all languages. For a fuller discussion, you may enjoy the highly readable _Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language_, edited by David Crystal.

Is it possible to realize something which is not true? Or do all realizations point to a truth? For instance, if I realize that "life is short" does it really imply that life is really short? Or is that realization just a form of value-judgment and does not have anything to do with truth? Thanks for this very helpful site. Keep up the good work and the spread of wisdom.

Thank you for your question. I'd say it is not possible to realize something that is not true, and this is due simply to the meaning of the word 'realize'. This word is what semanticists fall "factive", meaning that the sentence following it must be true for the entire sentence in which it occurs to be true. So if 'John realizes that A' is true, then A must be true as well. In this respect 'realize' is like 'know': If John knows that A, then A must be true also. Of course, the fact that you can't realize what is not true, doesn't mean that your new view is without value. So suppose that life is really long and not short. Then you can't realize that life is short, but on the other hand, you can come to be convinced that life is short (because 'convinced' is not a factive), and that might prompt you to live each subsequent day to the fullest. If so, more power to you!