Exploring Ontology

It's all about the deep questions.

Category Archives: Philosophy of Language

Against Deep Questions

(FYI: This post should probably considered to come prior to the “what it is to know” post)

Many philosophical questions are considered so deep, that it is often the case that one doesn’t know where to begin. Take the seemingly deep question, what is the nature of X? Don’t we just “point” at what the concept of X means? If one asks what is a bachelor, most people wouldn’t want to take that question too seriously, but if one asks what is morality, one is often taken very seriously. What really is the difference between these two questions? Well, since the only difference in the two sentences is the words “bachelor” and “morality” then the culprit has to lie in those two words. Two vital distinctions need to be made to address this question.

A first distinction can be made between precise and imprecise words. The best example of a precise word is that of a mathematical definition introduced within an axiomatic framework. The standard words used in every day english usually fall far short of this standard. Take the word “chair”. There are some cases where it is clear whether a certain object should be referred to as a chair. In other cases, two different people may disagree on whether a certain object should be called a chair; the cases cease to be so easy. So, should we deem the question “what is the nature of chairness” a deep, philosophical question? After all, its answer doesn’t seem to be straightforward, and for most (if not all) definitions we propose for “chair”, there would be someone who disagreed. Most of us would answer no, asking the nature of what it is to be a chair is not a profound philosophical question. The problem is that the concept “chair” is an imprecise one and hence defective for an in-depth debate of the nature of chairs. When two people utter the word “chair”, they might have two slightly different meanings in mind. We can distinguish the different meanings that chair might have as chair1, chair2, …, chairn, etc. Now, when asking “what is the nature of chairn?” The endless counterexamples of proposed definitions cease to exist. Once we stipulate a precise definition, the answer is in front of our faces. In summary, a precise word is one in which there exists unambiguous necessary and sufficient conditions for its application, an imprecise word is one where there does not exist unambiguous necessary and sufficient conditions. The vast majority of english words are imprecise [Note: Vague concepts are not meant to be necessarily imprecise. One could say red = (exact levels of gradation as to how red something is at particular wavelengths.) This concept of red can be discussed with perfect preciseness.] Read more of this post