Meaning and Argument: An Introduction to Logic Through Language (Philosophy: The Big Questions)
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Plato, cir. One of the greatest names in philosophy, was born in Athens, knew Socrates as a youth, and desired to enter politics until the death of Socrates. Plato founded the Academy in Athens which may be called the first European university. Plato's dialogues are classic as a model of simplicity of philosophic expression.
The conclusion reached by analytic philosophers is that anything not verifiable is nonsense. All of the systems of the past that go beyond verification are to be rejected as nonsense. This means that the realm of values, religion, aesthetics, and much of philosophy is regarded only as emotive statements. An emotive statement reflects only how a person "feels" about a topic.
Declaring that rape is wrong is only to declare that I feel it is wrong. I may seek your agreement on the issue, but again it is not an objective truth, but two "feelings" combined. Other analytic philosophers moved beyond the limitations of the verification principle to the understanding of language itself. Instead of talking about the world and whether things exist in the world, they talk about the words that are used to describe the world. This exercise in "semantic ascent" may be seen in contrasting talk about miles, distances, points, etc.
Language philosophers such as Quine spend entire treatises on the nature of language, syntax, synonymous terms, concepts of abstractions, translation of terms, vagueness and other features of language. This is a philosophy about language rather than being interested in great issues that have frequently troubled the larger tradition of philosophers.
by Ernest Lepore
Language analysis as the definition of philosophy changes philosophy from being a subject matter into a tool for dealing with other subject matters. It becomes a method without content. This definition is as one-sided as the definition it rejected. The analysis of language has been an important part of philosophy from the time of Socrates and others to the present.
But language connected with verification and restricted by that principle places great limitations on areas that philosophy has often regarded as important. This limitation is seen particularly in the areas of morals and ethics. Morality cannot be verified in a scientific way. But it does seem obvious that we can discuss actions and adopt some means of objective evaluation in terms of reason.
Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889—1951)
Moreover, it does not seem obvious that some moral distinctions are merely "emotive feelings. If verification is required for the statement--it is wrong to kill the child--then all moral standards are at an end, and philosophy is turned into stupidity.
Karl Marx declared that the role of philosophy is not to think about the world, but to change it. Philosophy is not to be an ivory tower enterprise without relevance to the world of human conditions. A contemporary Marxist has asked:.
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What is the point in subtle epistemological investigation when science and technology, not unduly worried about the foundations of their knowledge, increase daily their mastery of nature and man? What is the point of linguistic analysis which steers clear of the transformation of language ordinary language! What is the point in philosophical reflections on the meaning of good and evil when Auschwitz, the Indonesian massacres, and the war in Vietnam provides a definition which suffocates all discussion of ethics? And what is the point in further philosophical occupation with Reason and Freedom when the resources and the features of a rational society, and the need for liberation are all too clear, and the problem is not their concept, but the political practice of their realization.
The criticism of Marcuse is a stinging one. But the question of change is not one for philosophy per se. Philosophy has no built-in demand that change be the end product of one's thinking. It seems natural that one who is thinking seriously about the problems of man that one seek good solutions.
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It seems natural also that one having good solutions should seek to carry them out. But it is also possible that one have good solutions and only contemplate them without any action. There is no inherent mandate in philosophy for a program of action, although it may be tacitly assumed that some good action will come forth. Philosophy is in contrast generally to a movement like Christianity which has a built-in motivation for changing the world by the conversion of people to its cause.
Traditional philosophy has concerned itself more with academic questions. But there is the underlying assumption: if you know what is right and good, you will proceed to do it. Another view of philosophy with an emphasis on doing, or change, is that of Alan Watts. Watts describes philosophy from the standpoint of contemplation and meditation. He starts with the conclusion of the language philosophers: all language about philosophy is meaningless.
If this is true, then philosophy should be silent and learn to practice oriental mysticism which is characterized as "idealess contemplation. What is the Ground of Being? In a simple way it can be described as the all-pervasive Spirit that is the only basic reality of the world. Everyone is part of the Great Spirit.
The aim of philosophy is not to think, but to achieve union with the Great Spirit.
The idea of change is different between Marcuse and Watts. The Marxist idea of change is to change the material world and man will be better. Watt's view of change is to forsake social change for all change is futile. The real change is to attain oneness with the impersonal world-soul. The world of the material is transient and the visible world is not the real world. Even the Ground of Being, or the Great Pervasive Spirit is changing and manifesting itself in various forms. There is a subtle contradiction in Watt's philosophy.
The Ground of Being continues to produce human beings who must continually deny their own being to be able to return to the Ground of Being. This denial of one's own being reflects the fact that the Ground of Being is constantly making a bad thing come into being. Another variation on the theme of mystic contemplation--the attempt to attain oneness with God--is seen in the thought of men such as Eckhart or Plotinus.
Their philosophy encourages a contemplative role. While Eckhart or Plotinus are motivated from a religious or quasi-religious motive like Watts, they do not promote the revolutionary social change as advocated by the Marxists. Philosophy has a long list of topics it has been interested in. Some of these are more interesting and up-to-date than others.
Is the world of one or more substances? Is it matter, mind, or other? Is man only a body?
Is he, or does he have a soul? Does God exist? Many other questions could be incorporated here. Some questions have several proposed solutions. This is true in trying to answer what the nature of man is. Other questions cannot be answered decisively. No scientific proof can decide the question either way. Some questions have been answered to the satisfaction of many philosophers for a long period of time only to be raised again.
One example of this is the old question of Socrates' day about man being born with knowledge, called innate knowledge. For centuries this was accepted by a variety of people. But John Locke seems to have solved the matter for many philosophers that man is not given innate ideas at birth. Hence, he must gain his knowledge through experience. Now in contemporary thought, Noam Chomsky has raised the question again in proposing what he calls "generative grammar.
When we learn a language we are able to understand and formulate all types of sentences that we have never heard before. This ability to deal with language is regarded by Chomsky as innate, something we have inherited genetically. So the issue comes anew. But other questions have not met with the same success for such a long period of time. In summary, it can be said that defining philosophy as a set of questions and answers is not unique by any means.
Other disciplines or studies could also be defined by the questions they seek to answer.