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Re: your mail

On Wed, 22 Nov 1995, Steven M. Belknap wrote:

> But Peter still fails to set an independent, nonsubjective criteria for
> distinguishing hills from mountains or heaps from nonheaps. Peter seems to
> be using the same approach Ed Meese used to define pornography, "I know it
> when I see it." Surely language, even natlangs, can accomplish more than
> that!

It is certainly possible to define terms and concepts.  It's just that
words like baldness and tallness are *already* defined.  And those
definitions are true-false terms, which don't involve counting hairs or
measuring inches of height.  You are either tall or not-tall.
Constructions like "tallish" or "sort of tall" or "very tall" don't change
this fact.  If you ask someone if Joe is tall, they can answer yes, no, or
they can say "tallish".  But "tallish" doesn't really convey more
information than if the person said "Well, he was of a height which made
it difficult for me to say for certain."  These "fuzzy" words simply
convey uncertainty.  Fuzzy logic puts numbers on levels of uncertainty and
pretends it's a new science.  Haven't fuzzy logicians heard of statistics?

If you want to use the word "tall" in a logical way, it has to be defined.
If two people are both aware of the definition, then communication can
occur.  Similarly, if you want to use the word "pornography" in a
communicative way, it is important to explain your criteria to any
listeners if there is a chance that they may have different views.

Peter Schuerman                                    plschuerman@ucdavis.edu
                        Co-editor, SPECTRA Online
          for back issues: http://www.well.com/user/phandaal/