Re: email@example.com (Pat Hayes)
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Date: Wed, 1 Feb 1995 17:39:27 -0600
To: firstname.lastname@example.org (Fritz Lehmann), email@example.com
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Pat Hayes)
Subject: Re: truth
Cc: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
At 8:47 PM 1/31/95 -0600, Fritz Lehmann wrote:
> On the definition of the "sign-relation" in the works of Charles
>S. Peirce, Peirce expert Joe Ransdell said on the peirce-l email list:
>....The reason is that these are "real" definitions rather than "nominal"
>ones, in the sense that they are not mere stipulations of verbal
>equivalence or replicas of such stipulations but descriptions of the
>subject-matter to which the term applies which aim at identifying those
>aspects of it which will be maximally fruitful for purposes of deductive
>elaboration of the conception associated with the word when the conception
>functions hypothetically in a context of inquiry into the phenomena.
What a magnificent sentence! However, I believe it rests on a misconception
about the meaning of 'definition'. Even the driest (modern) logical
conception of a definition satisfies this description. If I define 'foo' by
(forall x)((foo x) iff (<body>)), where the body does not contain 'foo',
then the definition as a whole is a "stipulation of verbal equivalence",
and its body is a "description of the subject-matter" which "identifies
those aspects of it which will be maximally fruitful...context of inquiry
into the phenomena.". Consider, for a simple example, defining 'batchelor'
to mean 'unmarried man'. Now, here is a description of a subjectmatter: 'is
an unmarried man'. Its not a complete description, of course: in fact, it
aims at "identifying those aspects of it" (the subjectmatter, ie some
unmarried chap) "which will be maximally fruitful for purposes of"..etc.,
ie the fact that he (the chap) is unmarried. One can easily imagine a
context of inquiry in which this is maximally fruitful, eg say between two
women seeking a husband, when confronted by Bertie Wooster.
>real things have facets, unlike fictions, which are like facades, and the
>variations in the descriptions reflect the difference in different
>viewpoints on the same thing.
What are the "fictions" here? Platonic ideals? Linguistic as opposed to
physical entities? Words that have been given definitions? Is 'batchelor' a
fiction, or the concept of male unmarriedness, or particular unmarried men?
We are so accustomed in modern and
>contemporary philosophy, though, to the notion that meanings can be
>established once for all by pure stipulations--pure volitions that somehow
>have a power of continuing to act "until further notice", gluing things
>together "from now on" with the magic of intentionality
The definition of 'batchelor' (or of 'Abelian group') has got nothing to do
with the 'magic of intentionality' (a phrase which I assume is intended to
be witheringly sarcastic, in some way which escapes me.) Definitions aren't
intentional or volitional in nature.
> This request is wholly alien to Ransdells's main conclusion, BUT,
>would someone please propose the CENTRAL and BEST Peircean formal definition
>of the sign-relation. Include any A. Necessary conditions true of any
>sign-relation, and B. Any sufficient conditions to determine that
>a given relation is in fact a sign relation, and C. Any necessary-
>and-sufficient conditions (pure logical "definition").
> (Note that my allowing for A. and B. above, as opposed to C.,
>means that I'm not confining this to Ransdell's "mere stipulation"; the
>"definition" may be acknowledgedly incomplete and approximative,
>of something real in the world, but still a reliable formal
>constraint suitable for automated inference.)
Why do you say that such a definition is a FORMAL constraint? Because it is
to be expressed in a formal language? But a formal language can express
informal concepts. Watch: 'VeryFondOf(Jackie, Aielonwy)' asserts something
informal (ie not formally defined) but true about my wife and her cat. Its
informal becuase there is no formal defintion of 'VeryFondOf'. Thats OK:
all we need to be able to do is to write some axioms using it, and I just
did that. An axiomatisation (even in a formal language) isn't necessarily a
> We have a practical task which is to create a useful ontology
>for the real world (as part of the "CCAT" group of the "Peirce
>Software project" -- dealing with Conceptual Catalogues). A major
>"core ontology" will be REPRESENTATION/SEMIOTIC which turns out to
>be required for most other subjects. We know that any sign-relation
>is triadic (a representamen A represents object B to interpretant C)
We do? I dont find this at all convincing: the relation seems essentially
binary to me. If you include 'interpretant', why stop there? Why not 'in
context D' and 'at time E' and 'for purpose F' and 'among socioeconomic
group G' etc etc. ?
>and inherently causal (the relations of A to B, and of A to C,
>_cause_ a relation to arise between B and C),
You just indicated why the relations involved are binary.
If you mean eg that "cat" meaning cat (your A) causes my thinking of cats
when I see or hear "cat" (your B), then I think theres a problem. Its not a
relationship between "cat" and cats which causes me to think of anything,
its a relation between "cat" and complicated aspects of my psychological
state, including my knowledge of English. I don't think the denotation
relation can possibly cause anything, in fact.
>but that is still too
>general to capture what is meant by sign-relation or representation.
> Any takers?
Heres a suggestion, which Ive made before. Dont start by trying to write
definitions. Rather, try to write down facts about the subject-matter,
using the best vocabulary youve got, and try to sharpen up the vocabulary
while sorting the facts out. That way you might discover some definitions:
but to try to make definitions first is bound to lose. Similar things have
been said (and done) by many others, maybe including Peirce.
Eg think about an act of representing, ie what happens when a
representational token is used in a representational way. Ask what can
count as such a token; and the answer is just about anything, which
suggests that attempting to give a general definition of your A might be a
mistake, since it is pretty much the universal relation. ("Let this
sugar-cube represent the Russian cavalry...") On the other hand, Chomsky
seems to have taken it quite a long way. So where is the tension? Maybe
there are two different senses of token being discussed (mark made with
intent to convey meaning vs. mark with a syntax). Already we need to make a
distinction, Any attempt to define 'token' before getting this clear would
never have succeeded: but there are probably lots more distinctions
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