JS: “Writing is the principle means by which philosophic thoughts become part of the public progress of culture. When a thought expressed is original and true, then something of novel importance has been communicated. When such a thought expressed is also well expressed, then insight and beauty are united in a single intellectual object, and a mind digesting it is doubly rewarded.”
ON WRITING AND REWRITING
JS: “As living is mostly reliving, so writing is mostly rewriting. However, there is a notable difference between reliving and rewriting. It is the difference between repetition and revision. Repetition and revision in turn have different consequences. In reliving, the same kind of thing is experienced once again, and its lack of novelty is such as to make it likely that consciousness takes no special note of it. (An exception is works of art.) In rewriting, on the other hand, mind attends to the project of completing something incomplete, of perfecting an imperfection. When the revision is satisfactorily concluded, life is not relived but renewed.”
ESSAY PROBLEMS I
1. The windy preamble. In this problem the writer delays getting to the point of the paper with introductory remarks that are unnecessary.
Solution – Avoid the unnecessary, and get to the point.
Solution – Organize your thoughts in logical order.
3. The knee-jerk reaction. Here only the author’s initial response to an issue is considered.
Solution – Consider the issue in the depth required to treat it properly.
ESSAY PROBLEMS II
4. The glancing blow. Issues are addressed indirectly rather than directly.
Solution – Address issues head on.
5. Let the reader do the work. Reading is made difficult by bad writing involving “non sequiturs, abrupt shifts in direction, and huge gaps in logic.”
Solution – Make your writing reader-friendly by writing in a linear, logical fashion.
A good writer always strives for clarity in his or her writing.
The successful communication of thoughts from writer to reader depends on making it clear just what thoughts the writer is attempting to communicate.
Difficult ideas can demand difficult expression, but every attempt should be made to be as clear as possible.
Deliberate obscurity is an insult to the reader, and may indicate that the author does not understand the subject himself. Unintentional obscurity should be eliminated through rewriting and through getting another opinion.
Write as if your life depended on the successful communication of your ideas.
PARTS OF DEFINITIONS
In any definition, there is the term or expression being defined, and the term or expression that defines.
That which is being defined is called the definiendum. (The plural is definienda.)
That which defines is called the definiens. (The plural is definientia.)
A ‘table’ (definiendum) is ‘a piece of furniture consisting of a smooth flat slab fixed on legs.’ (definiens)
‘The early bird catches the worm’ (definiendum) means ‘rise early if you want to be successful.’ (definiens)
‘broke’ (definiendum) = ‘penniless’ (definiens)
TYPES OF DEFINITION AND THEIR PURPOSES I
Stipulative definition =df. A definition which introduces an unusual or unfamiliar word, or a coined word, (a neologism) or gives a new meaning to a familiar word.
Example: “A ‘concipient,’ (definiendum) as I am using the term, is a subject who produces an object with which an artwork or one of its parts is meant to be identified in virtue of comprehending language which singles out an object which the comprehension of the language has an essential role in producing.” (definiens)
Definition by synonym =df. A definition which gives another word or phrase that means the same thing as the the word or phrase being defined.
Example: ‘Capital punishment’ (definiendum) means ‘the death penalty.’ (definiens)
Electric Chair, Andy Warhol, 1971
DEFINITION BY SYNONYM?
Not every philosopher or logician agrees that definition by synonym is really a definition of the definiendum (term or phrase being defined) as opposed to a means of making the meaning of the definiendum understood through the use of an equivalent term or phrase.
For instance, to say that ‘valor is courage’ is not accepted as a definition of ‘valor’ by L. Susan Stebbing, who maintains that “the defining expression [definiens] must contain more words (or symbols) than the defined expression [definiendum].”
For Stebbing we would need something like ‘valor’ means ‘strength of mind or spirit that enables a person to encounter danger with firmness” to have a definition of that term.
TYPES OF DEFINITION AND THEIR PURPOSES VI
Definition by example =df. A definition which points to, names, or describes one or more examples of something to which the defined term applies.
Example: Willem de Kooning’s Excavation (definiens) is an example of Abstract Expressionism. (definiendum)
Excavation, de Kooning, 1950
DEFINITION BY EXAMPLE? I
Again, not every philosopher or logician agrees that definition by example is really a definition of a word or phrase being defined, rather than being a means of making it clear to what the definiendum refers.
Stebbing also objects to this kind of definition, since one could point to examples of a kind of thing, like a sonnet, without being able to define it. She says: “We must be careful not to use ‘definition’ so widely that it comes to stand for any process enabling us to learn the application of terms.”
Ostensive definition =df. “The act of indicating, presenting, or introducing the object to which the name is to apply.” – W. E. J. Johnson.
Although Stebbing recognizes that we can learn the meaning of terms ostensively, she disagrees that it constitutes definition, since “names simply demonstrate” they don’t define, and this is “to confuse understanding a symbol with defining it.”
DEFINITION BY EXAMPLE? II
Definition by example may be all we have in certain cases, or at least what we have until we are able to produce an explanatory definition of the definiendum. For instance, no one has yet succeeded in giving an explanatory definition of either ‘art’ or ‘artwork.’ We may be left with giving painting as an example of art, and pointing to an artwork such as the landscape to the left by Chaim Soutine as an example of art.
TYPES OF DEFINITION AND THEIR PURPOSES VII
Analytical definition =df. A definition which specifies: a) the type of thing the term applies to, and b) the differences between the things the term applies to and other things of the same type.
Example: A ‘readymade’ is a work of art which is not a new thing created, but is a preexistent object which is merely selected by the artist whose work it is.
Not every term can be given a complete definition.
Abstract terms like ‘goodness,’ ‘truth,’ ‘knowledge,’ and ‘beauty’ cannot be completely defined.
M&P: “A writer may have to settle for providing mere hints of their subtle meanings.”
Hence, although M&P do not do so, we might refer to definitions which hint at the meaning of terms which cannot be completely defined as suggestive definitions.
Example: “By ‘reality’ I mean the things that most of us agree have independent existence apart from our perceptions of them.”
TYPES OF DEFINITION AND THEIR PURPOSES IX
If we exclude definition by synonym and definition by example, then not every term can be defined.
Terms which cannot be defined except through synonym or example are basic or primitive parts of our conceptual scheme.
JS: “A concept is basic or undefinable when any attempted definition of the concept must employ a term which refers to a concept synonymous with the concept to be defined, so that the definition utilizes the concept itself of which it is meant to be the definition, and no meaning of the term is thereby provided.”
TYPES OF DEFINITION AND THEIR PURPOSES X
Example: The term ‘object’ names a primitive concept in our conceptual scheme, and so does not admit of definition apart from synonym or example.
JS: “One might attempt to define ‘object’ by saying that ‘An object is anything of any sort of which a property or properties can be predicated.’ But since ‘thing’ in ‘anything’ is a synonymous means of indicating what is meant by the basic concept of object, the concept is not here defined, but something is merely said about it which may or may not be true.”
JS: “Or if it be said that ‘An object is whatever can be presented in any way to mind’ we would have to inquire into the meaning of the term ‘whatever,’ and in doing so would discover that it means ‘anything or everything that,’ and so we would be utilizing once again a synonym of our basic undefinable notion.”
TYPES OF DEFINITION AND THEIR PURPOSES XI
We could say that ‘object’ means ‘entity’ or ‘thing’ and this would be a definition by synonym.
Or we could give as examples of objects things like chairs, trees, the sky, thoughts, emotions, numbers, and so forth.
Or we might attempt a suggestive definition by saying something like: (JS) “Everything is an object, including the concept of ‘object.’ Not only is the concept of ‘object’ primitive, but it has unrestricted application. As such, the concept of ‘object’ will apply to anything of which we, as subjects, are or can be aware, and anything of which we think as not depending on awareness will also be an object.”
TYPES OF DEFINITION AND THEIR PURPOSES XII
M&P: “Most terms convey meaning beyond the literal sense of the written or spoken words. This ‘meaning’ is a term’s emotive or rhetorical force – its tendency to elicit certain feelings or attitudes.”
For instance, the term ‘abortion’ literally means ‘deliberate termination of pregnancy.’ But that term can have different emotive or rhetorical force for someone depending on his or her view on the morality of abortion. For one person it may elicit feelings of revulsion, and that person may think of abortion as ‘baby murder.’ Another person may think that abortion represents freedom of choice, and that person may think of ‘abortion’ as ‘expression of an individual right.’
M&P: “The emotive or rhetorical force of a term is subjective, and can vary considerably from one person to another, and is usually not taken to be part of the literal meaning of a term.”
SIMPLICITY AND COMPLEXITY IN WRITING
A general rule of thumb in good writing is to be as simple as possible. Don’t use two words if one will do, don’t use a longer word if a shorter one will get the meaning across. Avoid repetition and unnecessary complexity. Thus writing should be direct and to the point when possible.
However, complicated ideas can demand complicated expression. And there may be cases where to attempt to simply an idea may pervert the idea or destroy its force. It may even be necessary at times to be complicated to be clear. And some repetition may be necessary to get across novel and difficult ideas.
Also, to write simply need not mean to write for an uneducated audience. There is nothing wrong with good academic writing which shows a command of vocabulary as it expresses intelligently difficult concepts.
AMBIGUOUS CLAIMS I
A claim is ambiguous if: a) it can be assigned more than one meaning; and b) if the particular meaning which it shouldbe assigned is not made clear by the context. (See example on p. 49.)
A claim can be ambiguous for different reasons.
A semantically ambiguous claim =df. A claim whose ambiguity is due to the ambiguity of meaning of a particular word or phrase. (See examples of semantic ambiguity on p. 50.)
To remove semantic ambiguity substitute an unambiguous word or phrase for the word or phrase which causes the claim to be ambiguous.
AMBIGUOUS CLAIMS II
A syntactically ambiguous claim = df. A claim which is ambiguous because of the structure of the claim. (See examples on p. 50.)
To eliminate syntactic ambiguity rewrite the claim.
Syntactic ambiguity can result when it is not clear what a pronoun refers to. Example: “John peeled the skin from the tomato and then ate it.” To what does ‘it’ refer, the skin or the tomato?
Syntactic ambiguity can also result from careless use of modifying phrases. Example: “Joan filed her nails on the sidewalk.” Was the sidewalk the place of filing or was it used as the tool of filing?
AMBIGUOUS CLAIMS III
A grouping ambiguity occurs in a claim when it is not clear how groups referred to in the claim relate to the claim.
Example: “Social drinkers actually consume more alcohol than alcoholics.”
To remove the ambiguity, it must be made clear whether we are talking about individual members of the group or about the group as a collection of individuals.
FALLACIES OF COMPOSITION AND DIVISION
The fallacy of composition =df. Thinking that, because something holds true of a group of things taken individually, it must hold true of the same things taken collectively, or as a group.
Example: Joan, John, Jane, and Joe are the best musicians of all musicians on the different instruments which they play. It follows necessarily then that together they would make the best band.
The fallacy of division = df. Thinking that, because something holds true of a group of things taken collectively, it must also hold true of the things which compose that group as they are taken individually.
Example: The best band is The Four Js. The Four Js is composed of Joan, John, Jane, and Joe, each of whom plays a different instrument. Therefore since The Four Js is the best band, Joan, John, Jane, and Joe must each be the best musician of all musicians on the particular instrument which he or she plays.
VAGUE CLAIMS I
A vague claim = df. A claim with a meaning that is indistinct or imprecise.
Vague claims and ambiguous claims are two different things. (Recall that an ambiguous claim is one with a meaning which can be interpreted in more than one way, and whose meaning is not made clear by the context.)
Vague claims should be avoided because they lack sufficient precision to convey the information appropriate to the claim.
VAGUE CLAIMS II
Some vague claims are due to fuzzy words like ‘smart,’ ‘heavy,’ ‘warm,’ and ‘heap.’ However, not all claims made with fuzzy words are too vague for use. And just because a claim lacks fuzzy words, it doesn’t mean that it is automatically precise and clear rather than vague.
A vague claim’s vagueness is a matter of degree, and what is to be avoided in clear writing and critical thinking is “an undesirable degree of vagueness,” not vagueness of any kind.
For instance, saying that you should study for a couple of hours or so for each hour that you are in class each week is less precise than saying that you should study precisely two hours and ten minutes for each hour spent in class, but it is acceptable for getting an idea of study time.
Absolute precision in a claim is not always possible and not always necessary. M&P: “The appropriate criticism of a claim is not that it is vague, but that it is too vague relative to what you want to communicate or know.”
In a comparative claim one thing is either specifically compared with another – “A Ford runs quieter than a Rolls Royce” – or it is implicitly compared with another – as in, “Fords are better” (than all other cars).
Things to ask in assessing the truth of comparative claims:
1. Is important informationmissing? Thus, how was the claim that a Ford runs quieter than a Rolls Royce determined?
2. Is the same standard of comparison being used when Fords are compared with other cars? Were the Ford and the Rolls driven over the same territory?
3. Are the items being compared really comparable? Was it a new Rolls that was being compared with a new Ford?
4. Is the comparison expressed as an average? If so, make sure again that important information isn’t missing. M&P: “Comparisons that involve averages omit details that can be important, simply because they involve averages.”
Example: ‘On average, women are better students than men.’ Where? When? How big was the student group sampled? What were the backgrounds of the students compared?
KINDS OF AVERAGE
Mean =df. The number that results when the sum of a group of numbers is divided by the number of members in the group.
Median =df. The number in a group of numbers which has as many numbers larger than it as smaller than it.
Mode =df. The number which occurs most frequently in a group of numbers.
Example: Five people in a small firm make the following yearly amounts: $40,000, $40,000, $60,000, $75,000, and $100,000. This totals $315,000. Divided by 5 employees that gives an average salary of $63,000. That is the mean salary. The median salary is $60,000, and the mode is $40,000.