Please rephrase the question!

I will begin with a few definitions, after which I will explain my position.

A lexical unit is a form-meaning composite that represents a lexical form (i.e. an abstract unit representing a set of wordforms differing only in inflection and not in core meaning) and a single meaning of a lexeme (i.e. the minimal unit of language, which has a semantic interpretation and embodies a distinct cultural concept).

For example, the lexeme “brooch” n. “a large ornamental pin with a clasp, worn by women” has a single lexical unit with a single lexical form representing the two wordforms, brooch and brooches. The primary sense of the lexeme “ignite”, vt. “to set fire to” is a single lexical unit with a single lexical form representing several wordforms such as, ignite, ignited, ignites and igniting.

By “value-laden lexical unit,” I mean a lexical unit of which English speakers in general would accept the following broad description: “expressing value, merit, desirability, usefulness, or importance.”

A “semantically controversial lexical unit,” is a lexical unit that is controversial in the sense that people often disagree over what they think that lexical unit means. By “semantically uncontroversial lexical unit,” I mean just the opposite: a lexical unit that is uncontroversial in the sense that people rarely disagree over what they think that lexical unit means.

“Value”, “merit”, “desirability”, “usefulness”, “importance”, “ought”, “good”, “morally right” and “virtue” are some examples of semantically controversial value-laden lexical units (SCVLUs). The questions “Is stealing bad?” “Is abortion wrong?” “Is euthanasia acceptable?” “Is it okay to torture terrorists?” “Should we allow human cloning?” all contain SCVLUs. Not only do people give different answers to these questions, but they also have different understandings of what they think they mean. So much so that there is a field in philosophy exclusively devoted to getting to the bottom of it (metaethics).

For instance, depending on the theory that one espouses, one can take the sentence “Torture is terrible,” which contains the SCVLU “terrible”, to mean either “I disapprove of torture.” “Torture tends to thwart people’s desires.” “Torture maximize the likelihood of the pleasure or happiness of as many people as possible, including oneself.” and “Torture, boo!” just to give a few examples.

The latter sentences are constructed of semantically uncontroversial lexical units, as are the following questions: “Does stealing conform to the Golden rule?” “Does stealing conform to the Kantian maxim?” “Will tax increases cause more pleasure than displeasure in 10 years?” “Does the Pope approve of gay marriage?” Although people may give different answers to these questions, they generally agree on what they think they mean. “Like,” “appreciate,” “desire,” “hate” and “distaste” are examples of semantically uncontroversial value-laden lexical units.

Now, I contend that it would be more efficient to avoid using semantically controversial value-laden lexical units when we try to convince others to hold certain attitudes, desires and preferences.

Suppose that I insist on using SCVLUs when I try to convince you to oppose abortion, or, in other words, that I want to convince you that the answer to the question “Should we allow abortion?” is “Yes.”

Given the semantically controversial aspect of these lexical units, it is necessary to first take some precautions if we want to be sure to avoid talking past one another. We can either:

  1. simply explain to one another (without using SCVLUs) what we mean by the SCVLUs that we are using, regardless of what the lexical units actually mean, or
  2. seek to arrive at an agreement about what we think the SCVLUs that we are using actually mean, and in order to do so, we may have to convince one another of the validity of our analysis of the meaning of these lexical units.

However, we can avoid these difficulties if we simply avoid using SCVLUs. If I aim to convince you that the answer to the SCVLU-free question "Will tax increases cause more pleasure than displeasure in the long run?” is “Yes,” we can begin to discuss the facts right away. As opposed to SCVLUs, semantically uncontroversial value-laden lexical units cut to the chase, they put it all out on the table.

Now, can you please rephrase the question.

JDavid,

Why is “more pleasure” not value laden?

Dunamis

Hello JDavid,

You wrote:

More efficient still would be to place a drug in our water supply that compels us to hold certain attitudes, desires and perferences.

But ethics isn’t tasked with finding efficient ways to convince other people to hold certain attitudes. Oughtn’t we relegate that job to the thought-police? Imagine a world in which you’ve successfully and efficiently convinced all of us to hold certain attitudes, desires and preferences. To my mind, the thought of murder, war, or even nuclear annihilation in the present world seems a sweet luxury in comparison. I’d rather die as a man in this violent world than live as a drone in such a “Utopia”.

Regards,
Michael

There are no singular lexical units which simply carry their meanings in the way you’ve suggested. Words are irrevocably dependent on other words for their meaning - meaning is simply another set of signifiers.

You might say ‘For example, the lexeme “brooch” n. “a large ornamental pin with a clasp, worn by women” has a single lexical unit with a single lexical form representing the two wordforms, brooch and brooches’ but in order to say that you require other words than the ones being discussed. Should there be any confusion you would need yet more words to explain the meaning of ‘brooch’.

Treating words as atoms is an inaccurate representation of language.

It is value-laden.

Cheers!

David

Hi Polemarchus,

All I’m saying is that avoiding SCVLUs will make you a more effective communicator, which will in turn help you to achieve your ends.

David

You can extrapolate the different senses of “words” from the way they are used in context. For example, in context 1, “juice” means this, in context 2, “juice” means that, etc. The different senses of “juice” can then be classified in a dictionary as lexical units.

David

Nope, ‘context’ is just another signifier or set of signifiers to which the signifier ‘juice’ is related and onto which it defers it’s meaning.

Also, there is no ostensive definition of ‘context’:
hydra.umn.edu/derrida/sec.html

Hi someoneisatthedoor,

The wordform “juice” has definitions, senses (lexical units), i.e. we use the word “juice” in specific ways. I don’t see how the fact that to define the wordform “juice”, you need other wordforms and to define those other wordforms you need yet other wordforms, and so on, contradicts this statement. That wordforms form a semantic web does not undermine the fact that you can take a wordform, say “juice”, out of context and list its different definitions, senses (lexical units), like the dictionary.

By what criteria do we assess specificity? Well, actually the criteria is irrelevant, we can discuss specificity without using the same inspecific form that is language. There is no meta-language such as the one we’d need so we could define the specific in language.

Because if you need other words to define ‘juice’ then the meaning of juice isn’t simply contained in the singular unit ‘juice’. It is deferred along the signifying chain that is used to try to explain it.

The dictionary fails in more than it succeeds. You cannot take a word out of context, without relations to other words a singular word is utterly meaningless because there is no distinction between its appropriate use and its inappropriate use (which is defined by little more than habit and agreement). When you say ‘take a word out of context’ you mean ‘put it into a different kind of context that its everyday use’ and yes, it is built into words that you can do this. This simply adds to the deconstruction, making specific, immediate meaning even harder to pin down.

I don’t know what you mean by “contain” and “deferred”.

“Brooch” = (in meaning) “a large ornamental pin with a clasp, worn by women”. The fact that the “=” sign unites different wordforms does not undermine the validity of the relation.

The meaning of a linguistic expression is the property that it shares with all its paraphrases.

This definition may seem circular since it basically says that the meaning of a linguistic expression is the property that this expression shares with all the other expressions that have the same meaning. However, this circularity is merely apparent: to have the same meaning (or to be a paraphrase of) is a property that is immediately perceived by the locutor, without it being necessay to define it precisely. If you are an english locutor, you can immediately say if the three english following phrases are paraphrases - if they have the same meaning:

a) I think therefore I am.
b) The fact that I think proves that I exist.
c) My thoughts are the proof of my existence.