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I have heard that theoretically you can classify all things you can possibly talk/write about into 3 categories i.e. be, do and have. People and things can be something, do something and have something, but that is it. (Beliefs, experiences and intentions fall under the Have category; we have beliefs, experiences and intentions.)

What is the significance of this? Is it true (is it possible to categorize all sentences into these 3 categories with nothing left over)?

  • "What is the significance of this?" I don' know, I hope you say me. There are languages ​​where you only can count to 4. And if there is a language that only has a verb instead of 3? What is the relevance of this besides the obvious consequences? So what? – Annotations Jul 25 '13 at 16:11
  • Possibly useless, but someone might have found some use for this pattern of language. E.g. It seems like most things can be expressed as all of them 'I HAVE money' therefore 'I AM rich' and can 'spend money'(DO). I 'HAVE a belief' which 'make me a certain type of person' who 'DOES certain things'. Maybe anything which can be expressed in one of these categories will necessarily have meaningful expressions to be found in the others? I was hoping that someone might have some useful theory since it is quite fascinating if it is true that we only ever express versions of these 3 types of claims. – Kriss Jul 25 '13 at 16:36
  • I think this is just a grammatical thing. Sentences need verbs, and verbs are either linking verbs, like be. Or action verbs, like do. I don't see much philosophical significance in this. – Keshav Srinivasan Jul 27 '13 at 4:10
  • Aren't all 3 fundamental auxiliary verbs in some sense? There are other auxiliary verbs, like can, will, should, etc, but they cannot stand alone in the sense that be, do and have can; they always add something additional on top of either be, do or have e.g. 'I can do', 'I will have', 'I should eat food'. In the last case (I should eat food) I'm not using 'do' but that is the meaning i.e. I should do x. 'Be' might not mean something by itself, but 'I am strong' is not the same as 'I strong'. Maybe these 3 are a base for semantics? – Kriss Jul 27 '13 at 16:42
  • This seems, superficially anyway, somewhat reductive -- at the very least perhaps a little too simple a story... Is there any chance you might be able to share a little bit more about what problem you're encountering here; what solutions you've attempted so far, what hypotheses you've formed, what you've discovered already? A little more about the motivations behind the concern might help too :) – Joseph Weissman Jul 27 '13 at 18:55
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You can convert everything into Do.

"I have X" is equivalent to "I am a haver-of-X". (I have a car. I am a car-owner.)

"I am Y" is equivalent to "I am engaging in having the Y-property". (I am hungry. I hunger. (I am owning a car.))

English grammar doesn't always make it easy to make these conversions, but there's no conceptual problem. (It would be weird if we could not, as physics is just state unfolding over time, which is a "do" even if sometimes the bulk properties are quite stable.)

On the other side, if you split "be" and "have", why not reflexive and transitive verbs? What about "give", which involves three entities, or "trade" which involves four?

Bottom line is that there's nothing fundamental here beyond common patterns in language which reflect common relationships in daily life. There's no logical necessity, just convenience.

  • I asked this question in English language stackexchange and got this suggestion. "1) BE and PAST. Things and creatures come into being, and when they can be said to BE, they have a history. 2) HAVE and PRESENT. To have something tangible and/or intangible is to have it in the PRESENT, even if the notion of the present is evanescent (as soon as it's here, it's gone!) DO and FUTURE. Each and every act or movement ("people act; things move") is in the process of acting and/or moving." (english.stackexchange.com/questions/120387/…) What do you think? – Kriss Jul 27 '13 at 16:36
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    @Kriss - Be, Have, and Do have nothing to do with temporal order, so I don't think much of that answer. One can draw temporal distinctions also, but again three is rather arbitrary because you can also have ongoing actions (all the progressive tenses), and then you can have intervals that overlap the present. You can reduce everything to an ongoing Do (temporal stream) out of which you specify the time range. Future is a bit different in that it hasn't happened yet, but again it's mostly a linguistic construct. Conceptually it can all be put in the same Do framework. – Rex Kerr Jul 27 '13 at 17:39
  • I'm really sympathetic to this answer. I think equivalently you can convert everything to 'being'. So everything is both doing (pure immanence; the tree 'greens') and being (infinite transcendence; existence-as-such; pure metaphysics). You can frame even an impersonal flux ("it rained") in this double way ("it did rain"; "it was raining"). – Joseph Weissman Jul 27 '13 at 18:51
  • I guess I'm just not sure what the inference is supposed to be from the fact that we can permute any expression whatsoever to find/discover a 'being' or a 'doing' underneath. (It seems pretty plainly a matrix we're imposing from outside; a machine-part we're importing.) – Joseph Weissman Jul 27 '13 at 18:52
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    @JosephWeissman - Agreed on being vs. doing. All I draw from this is that we don't absolutely require different realms of discourse for these different things. It's usually convenient to treat e.g. "unchanging" properties differently from volitional activities, but they're not truly differences in kind. – Rex Kerr Jul 27 '13 at 18:59
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As many questions this touches linguistic as much as philosophy. Consider the exact meaning of "to do somthing". Will it comprise a "thought" or a "reflection"?

Indeed this could be "done", but using the word in this way is much too general. A better way to define and understand "to do" is to see the separation between the subject and the object. DOING could and should be seen as CHANGING. In this sense, there are things outside of this fence that are quite special for humans. They can dream.

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