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I'm in a class on critical thinking and we are discussing statements and arguments. Here is an example the instructor gave which is supposed to be a statement, but I don't see why.

I do not want to meet a grizzly bear in the wild.

I think this is not a statement because it doesn't make sense to ask if it's true or false that the speaker doesn't want to meet a grizzly bear. The "want" makes it unclear to me. Can anyone explain why it should be considered a statement?

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    Here's a simple test: could the person be lying? If so, then yes, it is either true or false. – Eliran Jan 22 '17 at 7:34
  • @EliranH but sadly the simple test fails for this sort of question in that a person can be mistaken about their introspective feelings. – virmaior Jan 22 '17 at 8:37
  • @virmaior hey excuse my stupidity here, but i don't think that follows. i can be mistaken when i say that the kettle has boiled, but that doesn't mean that i can't lie about it – user6917 Jan 22 '17 at 9:25
  • I can be mistaken about whether or not I like something or even more simply whether or not I would like something. My introspection does not give me that sort of access to the truth about myself. – virmaior Jan 22 '17 at 9:39
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    Did I say the example is not a statement? I don't believe I did. – virmaior Jan 22 '17 at 10:01
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Your doubts about this example statement are well-placed, because there are several issues more complex than one hopes to address in a critical thinking class about how opinions and statements relate.

I think the argument for it being a statement it this:

it is either true or false that the person who said it wants to meet a grizzly bear in the wild.

Thus we have something that looks like A or not A.

But there's several inter-locking problems with this in terms of example quality.

First, the use of "I" ties it into a thorny issue about how to treat demonstratives like "now" , "here", and "I". If we resolve it as I suggest above, we assume that we are looking at the statement as uttered when someone uttered it. If we leave in the demonstrative as a variable (when I (virmaior) says it, it means something different than when I (Susanne) says it). Let's assume that a good faith reading of the sentence will resolve this. (See here, here).

Second, "want" raises an issue that invokes questions in philosophy of mind. Specifically, are desires,etc. and things we normally attribute to minds, objective facts or are they outside of our scrutiny. For determinists and most species of materialists, this poses no problem since "wanting" is then an objective state that we could evaluate say using an MRI or some technology we don't yet have. Of course, for Kantians or Descartes, this is not the case, and desires and wants can be opaque to this sort of analysis. (See for instance here).

This second feature is impossible to resolve merely within the realm of basic logic.

It might be clearer with a separate example:

Jane likes Bobby.

This is actually a hard thing to say true or false about, because what we encounter are Jane's behaviors towards Bobby rather than Jane's feelings directly. If we think we can tell someone's feelings from their behaviors, then we will think this is a statement. If we don't, then we would not want to call this a statement. (For the sake of argument, perhaps Jane is a Russian spy trying to gain control over Bobby and get access to information, but for this purpose acts like she likes Bobby).

For this reason, I avoid these sorts of examples when I teach critical thinking, because it's best to pick examples that focus only on the feature in question, and this one raises two issues (demonstratives and internal opinions).

Just to qualify this again, I'm not here registering an opinion on whether I do not want to meet a grizzly bear in the wild is in fact a statement or not, I'm just explaining two of the reasons why it's not great as an example statements insofar as it raises at least two questions we don't need to raise to look at statements more generally.

  • not sure, it's hard to say whether a solution to the Hodge conjecture is true or false. in no way does that itself mean that no proof of it is true, or at least true that the solution is proven. or an example in physics, that it was very difficult to discover the "mechanism responsible for breaking the electroweak gauge symmetry", but we know it right? though obviously, discussing what we like may be confusing. if you just mean to say we cannot know our preferences, then i suppose you could maybe say statements about them aren't true or false. but kowledge is stronger than belief anyway – user6917 Jan 22 '17 at 9:37
  • I did not say that we cannot know our preferences. I said it's a problematic type of example statement, because people disagree about whether or not a third party can determine the fact about our preferences and moreover it's not always clear to even our own selves. – virmaior Jan 22 '17 at 9:40
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    No, that doesn't follow. There's three interrelated problems. First, can I know clearly my own preferences? Second, are my preferences going to be true in the future? Three, can another person know my preferences? Even if I know that I presently do not want to meet a bear (clearing condition one), that doesn't by itself say that I will feel the same way as I meet a bear (condition two), nor provide factive (fictive) conditions for others to be able to objectively decide the truthfulness of these statements (condition three). – virmaior Jan 22 '17 at 9:47
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    This is an excellent answer that might be improved by including an alternate example (or several) of a statement which (in your opinion) would be more appropriate to include in such a critical thinking class. – Wildcard Jan 22 '17 at 10:31
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    @SusanneDodier If we assumed that feelings are determinable, then this rephrasing would be better: "During class, Susanne presumed that she would not want to meet a grizzly bear in the wild." If we only want to address outward behaviors and not feelings, then: "During class, Susanne claimed that she would not want to meet a grizzly bear in the wild." or "If Susanne met a grizzly bear in the wild, she would run." The former is clearly either true or false--either Susanne claimed it or she did not. The latter is also clearly true or false--either Susanne would run or she would not. – called2voyage Feb 3 '17 at 18:28
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The sentence is a statement because it conveys a proposition. The truth-value of the proposition may be derived from contextualizing information, or real-world knowledge. Irrespective of its truth-value, its propositional properties can be used further for reasoning about sentences such as:

I do not want to meet a grizzly bear and ants in the wild.

I do not want to meet a grizzly bear in the wild on Sundays.

Note that with all these statements, we might as well be talking about entities that don't exist or entities whose existence is disputed. The syntax and semantics of these statements remain the same if we were talking about a unicorn or an angel, instead of a grizzly bear.

Establishing the exact meaning of such sentences may turn out to be complicated, but it does not take away from the fact that such sentences convey propositions. For further reading on the topic, I recommend the book Intensional Semantics by Kai von Fintel and Irene Heim. Read Chapter 1 to familiarize yourself with their terminology and their mathematical expressions. After that, read Chapter 7 to get an understanding of issues arising from "wants" statements. This may be beyond the scope of a class on critical thinking, but skimming the book may give you a rough idea of the issues at hand.

I think this is not a statement because it doesn't make sense to ask if it's true or false that the speaker doesn't want to meet a grizzly bear.

I don't understand your objection. If I were on a diet, I might say at a café,

I want a cup of espresso but I don't want sugar.

The meaning is perfectly clear to the person who understood each of my words. It is true that I want espresso, in that context. It is false that I want sugar, in that context.

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Either he wants to meet a grizzly bear in the wild or he doesn't. This wanting is either true or false. People's desires are real things, even though you cannot scientifically verify them. I suspect your confusion comes from the prevailing notion that the only things that are true are the things that can be verified using the scientific method. This example of desire is something that is very real; every human experiences desires from day one, but we can't pinpoint it scientifically. Sure, we might be able to see part of our brain light up on a pet scan, but we don't even know if we're seeing the source or an effect of the desire. Anyway, I challenge you to enlarge your sense of reality.

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The sentence is either an "opinion" or a "logic statement" depending on whether it is to be interpreted in "ordinary" conversation, or in the context of "critical thinking" logic, respectively.

In ordinary conversation, the statement would be an opinion. However, in the context of "critical thinking," the sentence is an ambiguous example of a logic statement.

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"They each want that" either is true or false, but the more interesting question is:

"Why are statements sentences expressing one's opinion?"

A simple example would be, "either it is saturday or it is not saturday." This statement, the truth of which seems to be self-evident, actually is expressing an opinion that affirms to be true the principium exclusi tertii sive medii inter duo contradictori. It is asserting the belief that "a statement either is true or is false". Thus, any statement of bivalent logic with a truth value that depends on principium contradictionis (i.e. any statement with a truth value that depends on principium exclusi tertii sive medii inter duo contradictori) rests on, if not reduces to, an opinion about truth and logic that principium contradictionis is a true logical principle.

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