How much do semantics affect the way we reason?

Interesting topic. Anyone got a say on it?

Specifically, perhaps this is what I want to define: Every word has a meaning. Arguably, every word has more than ONE meaning.

Is it possible, that by the nature of our language and meanings, we can transfer an argument from what it was originally intended to argue, to one which is almost not related?

So perhaps, we never argue each other, only our own definitions of each other?

Example dialogue…

A:“I’m very angry.”
B: “You can’t be very angry! That’s not very angry! This is very angry!”
A: “That’s not very angry! That’s bloody angry!”

Metaphysics, or at least arguments for metaphysics, requires just such a transference.

The argument presented here may be addressed by seeing the difference between Chinese language and that of the West. Nietzsche and Wittgenstein believed our ideas are linguisticaly formatted. They argue that the subject/ verb/ object nature of Western languages conditions our point of view and determines what our verbal symbols evoke. On the other hand, it is argued that Chinese pictorial writing evokes whole pictures of reality, not those spliced by syntax.
This is a good OP. You will probably get responses from those who need to dissect, parse, analyze thought and from those who need to see it as a translater for wholes.

As if to illustrate your question, WillNZ, I have a reply to Faust…

I entirely disagree, although I may be mistaking your meaning. Metaphysics, and all philosophy, requires flawless logic that does not confuse definitions or allow secondary meanings to influence rationality. This need is precisely why we created logic - to provide a system in which such a thing was possible, or at least closer to possible. Maybe you mean that metaphysics is often about such transferences? Even so I’d disagree.

Will, I think that’s a VERY interesting topic. I know Noam Chompsky has a lot to say about it, although honestly I don’t know what any of that is. But for myself, I see professional academic philosophers making such verbal and definitional mistakes and transferences all the time, even routinely in published papers. Philosophers will almost all agree it shouldn’t be that way - but it clearly is.

Is it an unavoidable human tendency? I think humans will always do that to some degree, but personally, I’ve found that problem to be very avoidable. You can merely strive to be more precise and exact in your speech and thinking. This really does do a good job at circumventing imprecision, transference of meaning, and so on - but it also hurts a lot of the ability for your language to convey meaning. Basically, I think precision of speech and thought is an absolute necessity for philosophers and mathematicians and scientists, but more of a hindrance to many writers and poets and artists, and even orators. Can you have the capacity for both precise and imprecise speech? If so, that’s the ideal, I think.

Then how do metaphysical terms gain meaning? Even Wittgenstein, who posited a structural correlation between the logic of language and the logic of the world left the problem of meaning unanswered.

So do the Chinese think differently? Do they reason differently? If not, then did Nietzsche and Wittgenstein have things backwards?

I don’t see how that’s a problem - they gain meaning in the same way that concrete terms gain meaning. We know through experience what a horse is - but we also know through experience what a choice is, and what other abstract concepts are. Ideas like “free will” are formulated using abstract concepts we’re familiar with - like “choice” - and so are comprehensible in those terms.

I may be misunderstanding you. If so, can you elaborate, or give me a specific example?

Twiffy - What I mean is that metaphysicians, for example, misuse the word “object” regularly. Maybe it would be more clear if I use the word “thing”. But metaphysicians are always talking about metaphysical “objects”, which are different from spacetime objects. A metaphysical object is merely an idea, but is treated as if it has “properties” - the way a table has properties.

It boils down to confusing a word with the thing it names, but a symptom of this is the confusion of different sense of the same word.

There are eleventyzillion examples of this, none of which I will cite unless my meaning is still unclear to you.

It regresses like mad – if you want it to. Most philosophers who pursue this do.

Our semantic conception of literal meaning is something Searle talks about using the example ‘the cat on the mat’; this is meant to illustrate our most basic reliance on context. So basic, in fact, that many times we do not even notice it at first.

So here, if we’re going to try and pin down 1 meaning to a word we must do it in a null context environment. This is essentially intuitive but for explanation’s sake if we put ‘angry’ in a particular context as the OP did, we can see that the perspective within essentially changes the meaning, and thus obfuscates the literal meaning.

But how do we get to a null context? Searle shows it to be harder than it looks at first. Take the phrase ‘the cat on the mat’ – seems easy enough right? The cat is -on- the mat. But what is ‘on’? What if the cat is in space; is it really ‘on’ the mat then? Or if we look at the atomistic level: Where does the cat and mat separate? Here, clearly not only can we not get outside of context, but we see how we rely on our minds to automatically fill it in.

Try ‘I’ll have a cheeseburger please’. Well, what if you get a cheeseburger inside of 4 feet of iron? Or you get a 300 foot cheeseburger? Here the meaning conceived relies on social norms which dictate the types of meanings we take away from these semantics.

To answer the OP, it’s not so much that semantics affects the way we reason, rather it -is- the way we reason.

That makes a lot of sense Gobbo. I’m not quite sure if I interpreted what you said correctly but what I got out of it was that the human thought process is so complex that when we put metaphysical and even non-metaphysical concepts into words, we end up filling in the blanks because words are really a systematic way of putting our imagination into context, but not everyone’s imagination is quite the same so we apprehend things differently.

That’s an awesome reason why humans drag on and seem to change the subject of any argument so quickly.

If you also include under semantics the complex logical relations that words have with respect to each other. So that a proposition, whose words refer to public dictionary definitions, also gains a publicly logical meaning. An image of a cat perched on top of a mat in vacuum, waiting for the rest of the picture to be drawn and colored. To reason by analogy requires a transferrance of this logical structure to another picture with different representations.

I presented the East and West concepts of language only to show that two views of lingustic meaning are possible. Maybe there are more than two. Both the Chinese and Western descriptions can apply to each other’s articulations of thought; so I’m siding with neither or both plus. I do believe, however, that Eastern language is more evocative of direct experience than Western language is. That can be seen in haiku as opposed to most Western analogic and metaphoric poetic descriptions.

Good point. Linguistic analysis of just one language lacks that comparative component. It can easily be seen be anyone who speaks more than one language that some languages are more utilitarian while others permit more poetic, experiential expression. I’m sure there are differences in this regard between Eastern languages as well.

I’ve heard, nto that I know it for a fact, that the Chinese use both their brain hemispheres in cooperation when they speak, where westerners only use them alternating.

I do know for a fact that I think differently in different languages. I have different rational behaviour in Dutch, French and English.

it would be completely illogical and incmprehensible if the type of sound you make to indicate something did not influence your experience of that thing. That would mean that language exists outside of experienced reality.

Back in my college days (the Jurassic era) I had a professor who taught French and German in English. Someone asked him “In what language do you think?” He said he thought in German because he was born and raised in Germany. Yet his comprehension of English was remarkable. Can anyone who is polylingual think in languages other than his/her native language? Do native nuances of speech patterns evade accurate translation?
Poetry in any language strives to evoke direct sensual experience. Does it transcend the translation barrier? I read English translations of Rumi, Omar Khyyam, Beaudelair, etc. Am I getting Anglocized, second-hand helpings of a moveable feast?

And this is what would be the ultimate tyranny, a closed system which creates entropy, meaning just badness, in human terms. Not evil, just bad. Not the dark side of the coin of which good is the light, but a drop in quality/health and all the cascading effects of that intraspecies.

It is required for our being that language is an open system, that it contrasts and doesn’t correspond with itself, that there is chaos, which is earth.