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What is the logical analysis of propositions such as 'Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better'?

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    Please clarify your specific problem or provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it's hard to tell exactly what you're asking.
    – Community Bot
    Commented Mar 6 at 23:58
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    In your sentence, the use of "nothing but" is clearly metaphorical, so the "logic" (or rather literal semantics) of "nothing but" will not help you. The intended metaphorical meaning is to put emphasis on one opportunity that freedom provides, not to say what it literally "is", despite the surface grammar. Namely, the opportunity to improve, which is deemed the most significant. "Nothing but" is there to suggest that all the rest about freedom pales in comparison.
    – Conifold
    Commented Mar 7 at 0:20
  • "The largest room in the world is the room for improvement." I guess that's why Boeing builds the planes there.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 7 at 1:48
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    I’m voting to close this question because the question is about the English language, not logic or philosophy. Commented Mar 7 at 11:05

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Interpreted strictly, "A is nothing but B" means that every example of A is an example of B. It is a subsethood relation. "Nothing in A falls outside of B." Sometimes it might be interpreted as strict equality A = B, so that every example of B is also an example of A, but this depends on the context.

However, informal considerations often dominate. Even though someone may say "A is nothing but B," they may not mean it literally; they may mean only that this applies in a certain context they are thinking of and haven't stated, or they may be slightly exaggerating, or they may be saying it's a useful heuristic to treat instances of A as instances of B.

Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better

What the author of this sentence likely means, informally, is that:

  1. Freedom does not guarantee that you will be better, it only gives you a chance.
  2. Freedom only is a chance to be better. So if you have a chance to be worse, that's not freedom. Only if you are using your freedom to be better in the author's eyes is it really freedom in the author's eyes. If you rob someone, and the author doesn't like you doing that, the author will likely say that is not the exercise of freedom, because it is not "being better." Depending on the author, this might even extend to certain political demonstrations, sexual orientation, or basically whatever the author doesn't like; the word "better" leaves plenty of wiggle-room for the author of the sentence to say this or that thing he doesn't like is not freedom.
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  • Gosh, it makes it sound like everything amounts to a bunch of "No True Scotsman" arguments.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 7 at 1:46
  • I was wondering if "Every A is nothing but B" could be analyzed as "Every A is B and no A is non-B." Is this incorrect? Commented Mar 7 at 14:10
  • @SimonNoriega-Olmos It is correct, but also know that "Every A is B" is logically equivalent to "No A is non-B." So you only need to specify one of them.
    – causative
    Commented Mar 7 at 14:24
  • @causative, thank you so much. I appreciate it. Commented Mar 7 at 14:59
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    @ScottRowe If the chance to be better is out of your control, e.g. up to a roll of the dice, then that's not freedom. I think it is possible to choose to be better, because we aren't the same person from moment to moment. In some moments we feel like doing bad things, in other moments we feel like doing good things, and sometimes the good moments can win and result in long-term changes.
    – causative
    Commented Mar 8 at 2:02
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The question is at risk to search for a philosophical problem behind a linguistic question.

The linguistic term “nothing but” intensifies a statement, often the term can be skipped, e.g., in the OP’s example:

Freedom “is no more than” a chance to be better.
Freedom “is” a chance to be better.

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What is the logical analysis of propositions such as 'Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better'?

Your question is not about the logic of the sentence 'Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better', but about what this sentence means in English.

It means that freedom is a chance to be better and it isn't anything else, i.e., anything which is not a chance to be better.

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  • I wonder if "a chance to be better" is other words for "nothing left to lose"? At which point one doesn't really have a choice in the matter, but it is a chance that a positive effect will occur. Like roll dice, suffer, then maybe be better. Interesting.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 7 at 23:52
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    @ScottRowe I don't think that anyone believing that freedom is nothing but a chance to be better would also believe that there is nothing left for them to lose. I also don't think that anyone believing that there is nothing left for them to lose would also believe that one doesn't really have a choice in the matter. Commented Mar 8 at 10:44
  • They might not think it, yet it could still be the case. But if we all thought what is really the case, probably no one would get out of bed in the morning. Creative Ignorance.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Mar 8 at 13:05

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