There is an issue that blurs my head. For instance, lets have a proposition p that says: “X is round”. X is a symbol that we could mark something into. If we say X is an orange fruit, then the proposition p would be true. But if we say X is a book, proposition p would be false. But we cannot just say the proposition p that is “X is round“ is false, because we must first mark some value into X.

Now the thing that blurs my head is this: What makes our daily life words different from X in the proposition p? Our words that we use in our daily life can’t be just like symbol X? When we say “the desk is beautiful”, as we disscussed if “beautiful” is just a symbol, than we would have to mark a value into word beautiful to speak about the truth value of “beautifulness of the desk”.

Well, I think the facts won’t be changing with my definitions of beautifulness. But by definitions of words like beautifulness, my and others’ mindview about the world will change. And I think this is an important matter. When we are discussing something fundamental like good, value or as I said beautifulness, for me that kind of problems are appearing. That makes me wonder, how can we be sure about whether or not we are dealing with meaningful problems in philosophy?

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    The symbol X is a variable; it acts as a pronoun in natural language. The sentence "it is red" has no meaning unless the context does not gives us the missing informations about the denotation of "it". If the context gives us the info that "it" refers to my shirt, then the sentence is true; if "it" denotes my pen, the assertion is false. Without context, the truth value (and meaning) of the sentence is undefined. Oct 21, 2017 at 16:44
  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm interpreting your question as dealing with how a word, which is only an empty symbol (like X), can mean anything, especially when that meaning is abstract, such as good, beautiful, etc. Is that right?
    – user3017
    Oct 21, 2017 at 17:04
  • Mauro Allegranza, Thank you for answering my question. Somehow, i feel when we are trying to argue about moral values, truth, aesthetic, nature of reality etc., the concepts that we are trying to examine gets blurry. We seem to use the concept of reality for example as a variable, we first define what reality is and then tell what things are real based upon the first definition we made. Besides that, how can we acquire the meaning of this kind of philosophical abstract concepts? Pé de Leão, we can interprete my question as what you have said. How can these abstract concepts mean anything? Oct 21, 2017 at 17:21
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    Good question. You've highlighted the crucial importance of defining our terms clearly when doing philosophy. Often the argument is about 'X' where 'X' has not been defined clearly and the result is a muddle. I'd say our words are exactly like 'X' - meaningless until defined.
    – user20253
    Oct 22, 2017 at 10:06
  • @PeterJ. This is actually a huge point. Wilfrid Sellars was troubled by the fact that indefinite designators, like "something", seem to be more fundamental than definite designators. It didn't sit well with his presuppositions as to how the word-world picture must be. He said: "Is there a 'word-world' connection between variables and items in the extralinguistic realm of stones and tigers?"
    – user3017
    Oct 22, 2017 at 10:43

2 Answers 2


Language isn't just symbols. Language is your history. (This is why it is a crime to assimilate people into your culture.)

From that history, there are generationally-encoded values of both semantics and syntax. We pass these former unconsciously, each generation, through culture.

Now it is very meaningful to ask: can we really understand a language from a different culture? And I argue no, not without being connected to its history or assimilating to it. The white man never understood the Red Man, for example (with few exceptions, some involving ingesting psycho-active substances), because they share NO history AT ALL. The evolutionist would argue otherwise, but the Biblical narrative is the only way to understand this complete failure of Western culture to understand the Native American.

Another example is Ancient Greece. It is not clear at all that we share any genetic connections from Greece, so these texts must be carefully translated.

So now, in philosophy, we have two different systems of semantics (not just syntax): first-order calculus consisting of many non-alphbetic symbols and predicate sentential logic using some form of the verb "IS". The latter we can understand intuitively, the other we have to be trained and only when we have completely embodied this training can we be said to understand their propositions.

As another example, you understand what I'm saying, even though these ASCII characters givce you get NO inflection data (besides the use of caps, etc.), no intonation, and no rhythm of interaction, right? You probably understand 50-80% of what I typed despite what I just said because we share a lot of common culture (which I can tell by YOUR use of language). The rest you have to extrapolate or ask for clarification if sufficient interest is present.

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    That seems like a plausible answer for me. Your explanation reminded me a quote from Wittgenstein: "If a lion could talk, we could not understand him." Oct 27, 2017 at 17:19
  • The evolutionist would argue otherwise, but the Biblical narrative is the only way to understand this complete failure of Western culture to understand the Native American. Why is this true?
    – ritlew
    Nov 2, 2018 at 13:57
  • @ritlew: Because the evolutionist believes we all share a common ancestor.
    – Marxos
    Nov 2, 2018 at 14:44
  • @TheDoctor - Right, which is because we do all share a common ancestor. That doesn't mean the "evolutionist" (someone with basic literacy in biology?) doesn't recognize the fact that evolutionary and geologic timescales are not the same as human timescales. Quite the opposite, in fact. Cultural differentiation happens at a much faster rate than speciation.
    – Dave B
    Nov 2, 2018 at 19:41
  • @DaveB: We absolutely DO NOT share a common ancestor. You are a cultist for science, but are on a philsophy SE. There is NO "basic literacy" in biology because life is not a machine. Machines, like in physics, you can organize a workable model of operation. With biology, the biologist only fools themselves into thinking they're doing science. You can't prove otherwise.
    – Marxos
    Nov 12, 2018 at 1:30

"X is round" like "X is an even number" is not a proposition but only a form of a proposition. (It could be a definition if you claim: Let X be a round object" or "let X be an even number".)

In your example nothing about X is known. Words that we use in daily life have another status although they are usually not as clearly defined as words of formal languages. (That's why in mathematics it is attempted to use only uniquely defined expressions.) You have learned the meaning of most words as a child by having seen examples. Your mother has said "mother" (of course in your language) and has pointed to herself. Later you learnt what the word car means. Of course you have had to do a large amount of abstraction in order to conclude from your mother on other mothers and from the special car on the general meaning of this word. The same process of abstraction had to be accomplished by mankind when devising mathematics, for instance to obtain from "three sheep" and "three apples" the general meaning of "three animals" and "three fruits" and then the meaning of "three".

But the deeper problem that you may have in mind are words that have a different meaning for different people. What you think is good or useful or desirable may appear to others as the contrary. Here it helps only to explain your opinion as well as possible by simple and clear words which you can expect to have the same meaning for everybody. Of course you can never be sure about the degree of "sameness".

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    Can't we just say propositions' truth values are independent from their symbols and presentation? In other words can't we examine propositions by just looking, or knowing or acquiring their meanings? It seems like, the thing that has a truth value is meaning of a proposition rather than symbolization of a proposition. By that view we could say, the sentence "table is round" cannot have a truth value because it is just a symbolization, but its' meaning can have a truth value. By saying the sentence "table is round" is true, we actually mean that the meaning of "table is round" is true. Oct 23, 2017 at 19:17
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    @UğurErdemKüçük. I agree: Meaning (to the extent that it signifies an objective state of affairs) has truth value independently of any symbolic representation.
    – user3017
    Oct 23, 2017 at 19:46
  • Truth values of propositions are certainly independent of their symbols and presentation. But only if the symbols uniquely define a proposition, we can talk about that proposition and its truth value. To say X is round is insufficient.
    – Hilbert7
    Oct 24, 2017 at 7:33
  • @Heinrich. Are you sure about that? Logicians assign truth values to propositions of the form Ǝx[Px] or ∀x[Px → Qx] all the time. As I was saying about Sellars above, he started to perceive that indefinite designators appear to be more fundamental than definite ones. I believe there's a very good reason for that, namely, that any theory about bootstrapping the learning process has to conceive of knowledge in the most general terms.
    – user3017
    Oct 24, 2017 at 13:17
  • @Pé de Leão: I can't tell what logicians do. But I know that the propositional form "n is an even number" has no truth value. Further the truth value of propositions depends on the range of x. For instance, the proposition Ǝx[x is an Euler pseudoprime] is false for 1 < x < 1729 but true for x > 1.
    – Hilbert7
    Oct 25, 2017 at 7:55

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