Propositions and their nature.

Can we only apply logic/rationality to actual propositions? Like “Ice freezes at this temperature” or “Trees aren’t made out of metal”

if someone said “a colorless green idea has wings” (Atran’s example) theres no correct or incorrect criticism of that which I could possibly make on any rational grounds, because they are making a statement which is essentially and fully incoherent.

For example, these nonpropositions, Atran claims are used to bring about other ideas in an open-textured manner depending on the circumstances at the time. How well can these claims, even be debated about in any way that makes sense.

When people make claims about gods, it seems as if they are making a claim about the universe, but when someone says “a colorless green idea has wings” are they actually making a claim about the universe?

In a lot of ways religious ideas can be compared to " ac colorless green idea has wings"

How can someone apply or not apply any form of coherent reasoning for or against that statement? Other than to say its an emotional semi-proposition that is only made to fullfill some deep-seated emotional need.

Well, you could view it as a challenge - take the proposition as a conceptual starting point and see if you can find something “out there” which might fit into it.

I’m thinking a colorless green idea has wings could, in some contexts, refer to a promising environmental alternative.

A “green” (enviromentally friendly) idea that is nonetheless physically colorless and has some potential to be effective (it “has wings” in other words)

you could then criticize the statement on rational grounds, by challenging it’s environmental friendliness or the likelihood of it’s efficacy . . .

  • i don’t know if that’s what you were getting at or not . . .

the problem with a statement like that is not that it is intrinsically or even logically incomprehensible, only that it is decontextualized (or, perhaps in this case, re-contextualized as something nonsensical)

Okay, what you say might be true that the statement itself isn’t logically incomprehensible only that its ‘viewed’ or ‘contextualized’ in such a way, if we use the word green to mean environmentally friendly thats true.

But i mean, if the statement is meant to conceptually absorbed in that way, if the person making the statement doesn’t mean environmentally friendly, but actually means ‘green colorless ideas have wings’

not about environmentally friendly or the power of the idea to soar, but exactly that comment.

Somtimes statements would have to be viewed in that light to make any sense, but if the person making the statement didn’t mean it in that way; their proposition (or quasi proposition) how open is that to rational criticism?

Well, if a person is deliberately making a rationally uninterpretable statement, or spouting spontaneous gibberish, then there’s no way to open it to rational criticism - is that not given? If the words don’t correspond to anything in ANY context, then, from a strictly rational point of view, i would assume you can dismiss the content of the proposition entirely as meaningless (though, the fact that a person is making such a statement in the first place will probably still have some kind of rational meaning). My only point is that in evaluating something as logically nonsensical, you need to take into account the possible metaphorical, neologistic, poetic, etc meanings first. Which words we use to express certain meanings is to a significant degree arbitrary after all, so we shouldn’t let the words themselves become the only factor in determining the meaning of any given proposition.

I think there’s a correct criticism. Doesn’t that statement contain a contradiction? “Colorless green?” Isn’t that the same as “A is not A?”

Aside from that, the statement is fine. You can say “a green idea has wings.” It may be untrue, but it’s not illogical.

“Colorless green” is not the same thing as “A is not A” because “green” is not a precise synonym for “color”.

In any case, it’s possible to use the phrase “colorless green” in ways in which it would not be contradictory. There is no rational or even logical requirement that a descriptive statement always be evaluated literally.

that’s the thing about semantic logic - it frequently fails because it decontextualizes every statement by ignoring the speaker’s intent.

imagine if we used the phrase “colorless green” to describe a stoplight where the green plastic had broken off, so when the green light came on it just shined regular white light - you could then fairly describe the light as a “colorless green light” without logical contradiction.

  • Scott Atran.

Perhaps seeing the quote would give people a better idea on what i’m wondering is true or not.

and here

Scott Atran

If the green idea is green as a result of having chlorophyll, then, when you take chlorophyll out it will be colorless.

Or, if the idea with wings is the idea of a plant, when that plant is underground it cannot be seen and has no discernible color, but then has color when it comes out due to the chlorophyll.

As a result of cross-pollenation, pollen can be taken from one plant (by a winged insect) and carried and dropped somewhere else on the ground where it has the potential to grow into a whole new plant. The pollen is then, “The colorless green idea,” which does have wings as the insect is its method of transport.

The statement, to me, makes absolute sense. It is colorless at the time, but the idea is it will grow to become green being trasported by way of flight.

There are also probably some green bugs that have wings (though I can’t think of any offhand. So, if one bug impregnates another, the fetus is without a specific hue, but when born, the bug will either be green, or develop to be green and have wings. If the two bugs have not yet mated, but one bug is considering mating, it would be a colorless green idea with wings.

Sure, I think that is one of the major problems with the term ‘god’. It is very hard to pin down the meaning of ‘god/God’ and oftentimes within a conversation people will be using different ones. I’m not sure I’d go so far as “totally meaningless” but “exceedingly vague” and “often meaningless” certainly fit the bill.

I have qualms about what Atran is saying - it’s a literal dogma of its own (or maybe a dogmatic literalism). All language, even the most scientific, relies on intimation, nuance, ambiguity etc to get its point across just as much as it does on dictionary definitions (which are always in gradual flux anyway), some language is more vague than others, of course, but, among other things, vaguer language (when it is recognized as such) results in less arbitrary meaning. More open language is often more accurate because it can allow semantic room for the words being used to better approximate the thing being expressed. Semantic precision is a philosopher’s stone, an arc of the covenant. I think people who use religious language often have very precise ideas of what they are talking about - wether or not those ideas can be verified through the analysis of the language being used to express them is ultimately besides the point. We can’t verify scientific propositions through the language used to express them either.

in order to approach accuracy the concept must approximate the object and the language must approximate the concept - ultimately, that formula is as true for religious or poetic language as it is for scientific propositions

If our concern is only with verification, then there needs to be consensus about the concepts which are used in the proposition - this is easy within the insular realm of a given community of scientists, but less so in real life where empiricism is not treated as a theology - this means that in order to judge the accuracy of a statement like “a green idea has wings” we need to understand the context in which it is being expressed so that we can do our work as listeners or readers and try to grasp the concept it was intended to approximate.