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Can something with attributes not have a definition?

It is natural to think of definitions as something that we formulate, whereas attributes are usually thought of as something that we might formulate or construct (the attribute of being a human invention, for example), but also something that we do not invent or create. On this later view, there may be indefinitely many objects with attributes that we have yet to define and we might be incapable of defining. Even our brains, for example, might have attributes we might never discover. It may even be that everything we observe and is observable has an attribute that we may not know and hence be able to competently define (e.g. the attribute or property of being created by God or Brahman). So, I suggest that some things do have attributes that lack definitions. For further thought, I suggest that some attributes may only be conceivable in cases of when we have definitions. So, in asserting that triangles have three sides, conceiving of the attribute of *being three sided* (or, in more detail: *being a...

My question is about real vs. nominal definitions. It is generally, though not universally, held that to come up with a real definition, one needs to investigate the world to discover the properties of the entity denoted by the term. So for example, to provide a real definition of the term "tiger," one would need to look at tigers to determine their characteristics. My question is: does this characterization of real definitions imply that one can make assertions about real definitions that are true or false? Consider the following: I fix the denotation of the term "tiger" (pointing to several large cats), and then provide the following real definition of "tiger": an eight-legged invertebrate. Can I accurately say that the real definition I provided for "tiger" is false? Likewise, is the correct real definition of tiger: a large four-legged cat, true?

Great question! The idea of there being "real definitions" is linked to the idea that there are natural kinds or types of things and that we can discover these. So, we can discover what makes a tiger a tiger and come to know that those animals we recognize as tigers are vertebrates and thus know it would be wrong or misleading to define a tiger as "an eight-legged invertebrate." We can, however, take a well defined term like "tiger" and give it a different, perhaps analogous meaning as when Spider Man is hailed by Jane in their first meeting as "a tiger," evidently meaning something like he is a beautiful, exotic, perhaps wild creature.

Could someone explain in layman's terms the difference between truth conditions and assertability conditions, and what is at stake between them? Thanks for your time.

Truth conditions are often held to be independent of assertability. Thus, the claim that 'snow is white' or '6 is the smallest perfect number' are true, regardless of whether anyone is warranted in asserting these claims. The reason why some philosophers might object to this format is that it appears to open the door to a radical skepticism, e.g. it may be claimed that there are truths that elude our best cognitive posers. Such philosophers thus advance what may be called an epistemic understanding of truth that would make it incoherent to think there are truths that outstrip our warranted assertability. Although I am not a radical skeptic, I am inclined to think that a wide-ranging skepticism is at least coherent --why limit truth to what we have (or ideally might have) justification in asserting? You might find the work of Roger Trigg of interest in such matters, e.g. Reality at Risk.

If something can’t be defined can it exist? and vice versa

Some things can be defined that cannot exist, such as "A square circle in two dimensional space" or "2+2=1" --and some things can be described that do not exist but could have existed or might come to exist (unicorns). And, I suggest, that there may be indefinitely many things that exist for which we do not have any successful definition. "Consciousness" might be a candidate, insofar as some philosophers are right in thinking we may never have a good or at-least problem-free definition. As an aside, your question raises the need for a good definition of definitions. I will not attempt such a philosophy of definitions here, but you might check out the Stanford Encyclopedia entries bearing on philosophy of language for further, useful material. Paradoxically, if nothing can exist than cannot be defined, and we have no definition of being defined, we all might be in trouble. Thinking further: I suspect you may be principally concerned with the problem of affirming that something (X) exists, and...

For a philosophy student, what is the best language to learn? Particulary, a student interested in moral and political philosophy, and epistemology too. I think is english, and that's why I'm already learning it. If I'm right, what is the best after english? I'm a spanish native speaker.

Great question! Your choice of language may depend on your philosophical interests. If you are interested in Greco-Roman and philosophy in late Antiquity and Medieval philosophy, then Greek and Latin would be excellent. If you are interested in Indian or Hindu philosophy sanscrit would be best. Your Spanish will be good for reading a very fine, dynamic Spanish philosopher and essayist, Jose Ortega Y Gasset. Spanish philosophy (that is, philosophy in Spain, not just in Spanish) experienced hard times after the defeat of democracy in 1939, but after the restoration of democracy in 1978, Spain has been a place of multiple, alternative philosophical debates. Two outstanding philosophers to consider (AFTER you have read some Ortega, who is fabulous), I suggest you consult J.L. Lopez Aranguren and J.M. Valverde. I think your pursuit of English is a great choice. I could be wrong, but I believe that probably the most number of philosophical works available today are accessible in English, more...

My question concerns whether or not questions should be taken into consideration in understanding the answers to those questions. Let's take the following question and answer as an example: Q: What time are you leaving for your lecture today? A: I'm leaving at 2:00. The answer could be interpreted to mean that the the answerer is leaving for the lecture at 2:00 today. Yet the answer could also be interpreted to mean that the answerer is leaving at 2:00 on some day (not necessarily today) to go somewhere (not necessarily the lecture). Another example follows and it is this one upon which I ask your opinion. Given the following question and answer, which of the two possible interpretations of the answer would you choose if you were required to select only one without being able to provide an explanation of any kind. This is not a hypothetical question as I, along with other people, faced the exact same situation recently. Q: Is anybody in all of Athens wiser than Socrates? A: No. No one is wiser...

Very interesting! A philosopher who worked hard on this very matter was Paul Grice. He studied what he called conversational implicature, a fancy term for the ways in which the meaning of what we say can be shaped by a variety of conditions. For example, if you asked me to pass you some water and I replied saying that I am glad to hand you a glass of water which, as it happens --and then I go on to tell you all the properties of water, how much water is there on earth, and so on. Most people would (I think) conclude that I am trying to be funny or I am insane or simply a bore. I can imagine this exchange between two philosophers. George: "Good to see you. Based on seeing you, I now think it more likely that all ravens are black.' Ringo: "So, you are still trying to solve the Raven Paradox! Give it a rest!" An "outsider" would not get this, but for students of induction and reason they would also (probably) infer that the only reason someone would say what George did is if he was thinking about...

Are expressions like "women are beautiful" sexist? Doesn't that imply that women exist as something to be admired rather than as beings in and of themselves?

I suggest that when a person calls or describes a gender or species or event or thing as beautiful, this implies or signals that the person believes the gender etc is worthy of aesthetic pleasure or delight. There need not be anything sexist or demeaning in this, and it does not suggest that the object of delight is merely an object of delight or that the beautiful "object" (or the object of beauty) is in some sense passive. One might claim 'the women Olympic athletes swam beautifully today' or 'the women soldiers performed beautifully in their rescue of the orphans yesterday when they met with severe resistance from the hostage-takers' without any sexism coming into play. Going a bit further: I suspect the phrase "women are beautiful" is somewhat odd. I suppose one might first want to know the scope of the reference: are all women beautiful or the majority or a significant number of women are beautiful? Are women all beautiful in the same way? What are the reasons for thinking all or many or...

Suppose Jane, while growing up, somehow learned the wrong meaning for the word "migraine," and came to believe that any particularly strong headache, regardless of whether it occurred on one or both sides of the head, was a migraine - i.e. that "migraine" and "headache" were mostly synonymous terms. Suppose Jane then has what we would call a headache, a severely painful sensation in her head distributed across both sides of her head, and tells us "I have a migraine." According to her understanding of the term "migraine," her statement is true, but according to her community's differing understanding of the term, her statement is false (because we call them migraines only if they affect one side of the head only). Is there a hierarchy between the contexts in which we can understand her claim? Is her claim ultimately either true or false, or is its truth-value ambiguous?

This is the sort of question that has vexed many in philosophy of language (Hilary Putnam, Tyler Burge, Lynne Baker, etc). Actually, in my dictionary "migraine" designates the pain as "usually confined to one crania" as opposed to always being so confined. But let's assume the public definition is more restrictive. Philosophers who are sometimes called 'externalists' locate meaning primarily in terms of social discourse. On this view, Jane has said something false. Philosophers (like me) who are sometimes called 'internalists' tend to think of meaning in terms of the speaker's intention. On this view, what she meant to say is true, though the words she used simply failed to identify what the public thinks she is referring to. To feel some of the intuitive appeal of internalism, imagine a man walks into a room where he sees a group of women and some female dogs. He does not know English very well, but he does know that "bitch" refers to female dogs. He says: "Look at all those great bitches!' ...

Seeing that most languages require that sentences to have tense, can we actually have any progress discussing time? I mean every sentence by its structure already assumes a understanding of time , how do we ever transcend the bounds of our current understandings of time if we still using "time" bound language?

Great issue(s)! Two thoughts to consider: first, it may not be obvious that all language is time-bound or tensed. The sentence 'two plus two equals four' or 'squares are four sided' might be interpreted as tensed (both sentences were true on Monday, and on Tuesday, etc) but they may also be understood as tenseless (their truth does not depend on temporality unlike the sentence uttered by me 'I am writing in response to your question now'). Second, I suggest that we can have interesting, competing philosophical theories of time when we look at the meaning of what you are calling "time bound language." So, for example, those who embrace what is often called four dimensionalism, treat all times as equally real. On this view, the French Revolution is occurring in 1789, and that is as real as the Battle of Waterloo which is occurring in June of 1815 and my writing you a reply in 2012. According to what is sometimes called presentism, only the present is real, so while it is true that the French...

What does 'all things equal' actually mean? I don't understand the expression at all. It surely isn't to be taken literally...unless one is constructing a thought experiment. But philosophers don't only use the phrase when constructing thought experiments. I'm lost.

The Latin for the term is: ceteris paribus. When a philosopher is articulating a thought experiment, she may use the expression 'all things being equal' or 'other things being equal' / ceteris paribus, to put aside extraneous factors not essential to the thought experiment. So, to take a simple example, imagine a philosopher is developing an argument from analogy for the conclusion that it is permissible for a nation to launch a preemptive attack against a nation that is threatening it. She might ask you to imagine the following: you are an innocent person and you are alarmed by the sight of someone you believe has assaulted and killed another innocent person drawing a gun and he appears to be getting ready to shoot you. Under these circumstances, when there are no police around and there is not time to run away or attempt to verbally confront the apparent assailant, wouldn't it be permissible for you to harm or perhaps even kill the person on grounds of self-defense? Why should you be compelled...

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