1

It is clear that many words are defined by how they are used. That context defines the word. The setting of the environment together constitutes the context, and a word is a meaningless string which serves the purpose of denoting or expressing the context.

  1. That 'apple' means (equivalent to denotes) a red colored fruit with such and such properties - and the properties are exhaustive to the extent that they can uniquely differentiate apple from similar fruits say peach. Here means is defined by the usage (in this case denotation).

  2. That 'happiness' means an emotion of joy, not-sad, etc. Here means is equivalent to the expression of an emotion.

What these cases illustrate, and very clearly to me, is the origin and usage of the word 'meaning' - and it is shown by how the word is used.

Now consider the statement: Meaning of Life. Many people have written so much about it, while it is very clear to me that it is a blatant abuse of language. Meaning of life expresses nothing in objective reality. It is a misuse of the word meaning. Perhaps a close and correct reformulation of the statement would be: Purpose of Life.

This illustrates how important it is to use words in their original context, otherwise we fool our brain into thinking things which are senseless, in the sense that the rules of language used to expresses those senseless statements have been violated. So while they appear very philosophical, they are pure rubbish.

The issue which concerns me is the following: because the usage of a word is limited to the context, and if I create a unique string for every possible context in the world, then I have a list of all possible contexts possible in the world, and can accurately describe everything possible clearly. Our natural language is a weaker case of this case, and it is so because we cannot do the former exercise. But it is also clear that if I am able to do this monumental exercise, then I will be able to express everything, and the power of this language will not be weaker than natural language, for it will be able to express everything possible.

Now if I have words for all possible contexts, then it follows from my previous arguments that in order to describe or discuss, we cannot use words belonging to different contexts in our discussion. So if the stronger language I have created cannot express anything other than all possible contexts in the world, how can the weaker language (natural language) express anything higher? It therefore appears to me that the entire exercise of discussing philosophy is an illogical task which only makes people believe they are discussing something very important, when in fact they are just arguing about senseless things. One direct consequence is that texts talking about existence, abstract entities become void, for they are an abuse of language.

  • 1
    See The Meaning of Meaning. To define what "meaning" is it is not a simple task... Meaning is the objects referred to by a word; meaning is the "conceptual content" of a statement; meaning is the "consequences" of a theory. "Meaning is use"... but we may say that the "meaning of Life" is the correct (best) way to live, i.e. to use Life. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA May 25 at 19:53
  • "The issue which concerns me is the following: because the usage of word is limited to the context, and if I create a unique string for every possible context in the world, then I have a list of all possible contexts possible in the world, and can accurately describe everything possible clearly" is why second Wittgenstein was angry at first Wittgenstein. More seriously: do you seriously think you can grasp all contexts ? It's not monumental, it's impossible. Assuming you succeed, then how do you account for the bergsonian duration - a context being a spatialisation of the psychological flux ? – Gloserio May 25 at 20:06
  • @Gloserio But in principle my arguments do show that discussion is a dangerous activity, because it can border on senselessness without us ever realising. – Ajax May 25 at 20:13
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA Can it be the case that by intertwining contexts together (using different words in conjunction) the result can yield a (logically possible) conceptual modelling of the issue at hand -something which is better able to express the thought- perhaps more like "giving shape to thoughts"? That is, while shape and thought are out of context in general sense. but can this statement itself mean something conceptually -perhaps helping us to express or communicate or describe something elusive like thoughts? – Ajax May 25 at 20:32
  • @Ajax: that's more or less the essence of first Wittgenstein's comment on language. He'd later on revise, since he'll understand that language is not meant to be ideal rather expressive. It's not only a matter of context, it's more a matter of the living creature that lives through the context. Also if you don't mind me saying: you're conceiving of an ideal language, isn't that to some degree philosophical work ? You've summed up an unrealized work in an theoritical construct (the strong language). It does seem like using philosophy to kill philosophy. – Gloserio May 25 at 20:53
2

This answer only offers a possible alternative to the hypotheses in the question. Those hypotheses are two-fold:

  1. One assumes that one can "create a unique string for every possible context in the world".
  2. One assumes that such a language is "stronger" than natural language.

Not everyone agrees that (1) is possible or that (2) such languages are stronger than natural languages. For example, Michael Polanyi claims the following: (page 7)

...all knowledge is either tacit or rooted in tacit knowledge.

The language that creates a unique string for every possible context in the world would be an example of "explicit knowledge", not "tacit knowledge". It is an objective language. Wikipedia describes such knowledge as:

Explicit knowledge (also expressive knowledge) is knowledge that can be readily articulated, codified, stored and accessed. It can be easily transmitted to others. Most forms of explicit knowledge can be stored in certain media. Explicit knowledge is often seen as complementary to tacit knowledge.

Tacit knowledge, which Polanyi claims roots this explicit knowledge, is described as:

Tacit knowledge (as opposed to formal, codified or explicit knowledge) is the kind of knowledge that is difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalizing it. For example, that London is in the United Kingdom is a piece of explicit knowledge that can be written down, transmitted, and understood by a recipient. However, the ability to speak a language, ride a bicycle, knead dough, play a musical instrument, or design and use complex equipment requires all sorts of knowledge that is not always known explicitly, even by expert practitioners, and which is difficult or impossible to explicitly transfer to other people.

If Polanyi's position is correct, and this would be a different hypothesis to the one offered in the OP's question, then the first assumption would be false. One could not then create such a language. Furthermore, if natural language is closer to tacit knowledge then it would be stronger than any such explicit language expressing every possible context.

Of course, Polanyi's position might not be correct, but it is one to keep in mind as a position one would have to argue against if one accepted the two hypotheses mentioned above.


Polanyi, M. (1966). The logic of tacit inference. Philosophy, 41(155), 1-18.

Wikipedia contributors. (2019, April 14). Explicit knowledge. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21:20, May 25, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Explicit_knowledge&oldid=892485038

Wikipedia contributors. (2019, May 14). Tacit knowledge. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21:32, May 25, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Tacit_knowledge&oldid=897032930

  • This is a useful answer. Is it possible that tacit knowledge can be (somewhat) communicated by a careful arrangement of words belonging to different contexts? If so, then discussion can yield some insights. Not insights strictly, but words together can give an approximate shape i.e. an analysable form to our thoughts or ideas. – Ajax May 26 at 5:21
  • Intresting, however I believe this is merely a side of the question. The relation between language and epistemology is one aspect, because when you assume tacit knowledge, you assume its "knowbility". That's very much the advanced analytical claim I guess, whereby all is describable. Natural language is clearly used in situations when there's no epistimological intention, for example, when you yell : "Ouch !" when hurt. +1 for the explicit knowledge (pun intended). – Gloserio May 26 at 6:15
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There's a cardinality error in your "strong (enough for all contexts) language" project.

To wit:

The space of "all possible contexts" (I'd say all possible experiencings) has the cardinality of the continuum – aka real numbers.

The space of (finite) strings over a finite alphabet – any language including your strong language – is equipotent to the integers.

The former is a strict superset of the latter

And therefore the 2 sets are not "one-to-one-correspondence-able"

As an image:

  • Imagine you are setting out to study Spanish
  • And building your own English-Spanish dictionary as you go along
  • That dictionary will have zillions of gaps – English words whose Spanish you yet don't know

The situation here of a context to strong language mapping is analogous.

In short your project is not "monumental"; it's impossible


Added later

Reading this again and the ensuing exchange, I see that the word "experience" is becoming a blocker.

In that case I suggest replacing "experience" with "sense-input". Or even more rigorously: "5-tuple (vector) of sense-inputs".

  • True. But experience is my own interpretation. It is possible for one state of affairs to have multiple interpretations, since each individual may experience it differently. The context I am speaking of is the one which can be communicated unambiguously. Philosophy, I would say, employs natural language to communicate personal interpretations. But since words, as we understand them, are context specific, and we end up using them in conjunction with incompatible words (of other context), we muddle our minds. The more we discuss, farther we get from truth. That is what I am trying to say. – Ajax Jun 1 at 8:20
  • If you define context in terms of communicatibility you have a circular definition problem given that your original project is to define a language (= communication system) which is sufficiently strongly context-tagged to disambiguate all disparate usages. Also related to @frankhubeny point about tacit (≠ noncommunicabke) knowledge being a strict superset of verbal knowledge – Rusi-packing-up Jun 1 at 8:31
  • Also I'd question the equation: experience = interpretation. If I see green grass it's experience. If I say the grass is green it's an interpretation based on many things including knowing the word green in English. The green grass is the same experience even to a non English speaker (qualia arguments aside) – Rusi-packing-up Jun 1 at 8:39
  • Perhaps I should make myself clearer. Context is the state of affairs. It need not be communicated, because every individual can learn it by himself through his sense input. But it can be communicated, if need be. The other person will simply verify my claim that "yes, grass on left is greener than grass on right", "That x bears relation R to y". Tacit knowledge cannot be communicated. That is what philosophy is about. Tacit knowledge is my interpretation, how I understand the world. – Ajax Jun 1 at 9:01
  • Ignore the word experience. See, this is the problem. we are using more words...interpretation, experience, etc. I am simply trying to refer to "how I see/understand the world". Trying to communicate it using different words, but it is not helping! There really are just two things. Objective facts (verifiable), and my interpretation (how I understand them, what they mean to me, results of application of my intelligence on objective facts, etc...). – Ajax Jun 1 at 9:04
1

Sense is the meaning of a word in a certain context. The ability of the human mind to even create sense at all is philosophy. Your higher language already exists. It is practised here. Language is not abused or void if people discuss existence or entities, because these senses are rooted in etymologies originating from concrete senses. Each existence means ‘ex-ist’ or ‘out of being’ thus coming from something that is. It is a consequence. If we apply your high language rules, speaking would be without consequence. Noone would be able to hear you. Your speech is existence itself. We can not mimick that in language.

  • Vow²! 2: for "exist = ex-ist". 1: for "sense is meaning of word in some context". But there is a paradox here. The other sense of "sense" is sense-ation. This is one of those few things that are actually context-free. See the discussion below my answer here : the distinction between the sentence "The grass is green" and the fact "The grass is green" Do you see (sense!) the paradox?? – Rusi-packing-up Aug 11 at 7:58
  • One can discuss whether grass is green as a fact. The sensation shows how we name abstract ideas after concrete ones. And we so it all the time. Like ‘knoweth’ is the near anagrammed but intended inversion of ‘think’. We apply our other senses to explain our thinking. An ‘idea’ as a word comes from ‘jd’ (hand). Facts are always conditional. The grass is not always green and therefore ‘grass is green’ is not a fact. Truth is a variable mistaken for a fact. But this is hard for people to grasp. You sense green grass sometimes or often. And that sense is captivated in speech. – Ajagar Aug 12 at 13:51
0

If I had a dollar for every time someone fell into the self-referential trap of trying to debunk philosophy by engaging in philosophy...

First problem: even if you could "create a unique string for every possible context in the world", you still would not have captured every combination of words that can be used in that context. To use Wittgenstein's analogy, I could write out the rules of chess in a couple of pages, but if I do that have I written out every possible chess game? I've certainly captured the game context completely, but not the implementations. I can imagine a Big Book of Games that lists out the rules for every known game in the world, but that wouldn't even scratch the surface of the things that can be done within those contexts.

Second, you have to recognize that use-value is a subtle and cagy concept. If I place a hammer in the middle of the dinning room table at Sunday dinner, someone might find a use for it. It won't necessarily be the use the hammer was meant to fulfill — i.e., driving nails — but the tool can be used constructively for other purposes. Where you've invoked 'the meaning of life' as an example, above, you've tried to claim:

  1. that 'meaning' should be understood within the context of a particular language game (invoking the particular rule: "a word is an arbitrary string denoting a particular context"), and...
  2. that 'meaning' has no relevance in any other context.

But making that restriction is itself nonsensical, like saying that a king must always move one square in any direction in every game (chess, checkers, poker, Dungeons and Dragons...), otherwise it's meaningless.

  • Can you elaborate more on issues you have mentioned? In first problem you mentioned, context means a complete logical description of what is the case. That is the only 'objective' reality. Why should I care about how words can be used within that context? Anything else is just philosophy. – Ajax Aug 7 at 18:40
  • @Ajax - If you could clarify this phrase, first: "context means a complete logical description of what is the case." It's confusing as to scope. I mean, I'm sitting in a chair in front of my computer. Is that a complete logical description, or do I need to describe things like the arrangement of my molecules, my thoughts or intentions or history, my relationship to the person in the other room? What is necessary and sufficient to achieve 'completeness'? – Ted Wrigley Aug 7 at 18:58
  • In principle all atomic stuff. In practice, we can operate at different levels. How deep one wants to work. For example, if there are two identical but differently colored balls, then their spatial relationship matter. Red one is to the left of green one. And thoughts are not to be included. – Ajax Aug 7 at 19:24
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    If you make this 'in principle'/'in practice' distinction, you end up undercutting your own argument. If you define 'context' as a complete logical description, but then define 'complete' as determined by context, then you've collapsed into circularity. I think you should think more about the 'games' analogy W is making. – Ted Wrigley Aug 9 at 19:21
  • Sure, will think on it! Thanks! – Ajax Aug 9 at 19:23

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