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Ambiguity, Generality, and Definitions • Sign In • Review: Vagueness and Semantic Ambiguity • Syntactic Ambiguity • Arguments and Ambiguity • Definitions • For next time: Comprehensive Ch. 3 HW: (3-1) 1,3,5; (3-2) 1,5,10; (3-7) 1,12,27; (3-9) 3,7,10
Review: Vagueness • Vague sentences include concepts that have borderline cases • Because people may draw the boundaries of these concepts in different ways, a vague sentence can mask sources of agreement / disagreement • Vague sentences are also difficult to translate into argumentative claims • The best we can do when we run into vague claims is to make them more precise
Vagueness • How might we resolve the following sentences in order to clarify the vague term(s)? • 1. He promised not to significantly raise taxes on the wealthy • 2. That is a really expensive car even for a fancy person like you • 3. She was arrested for driving too fast • 4. It's better not to go outside yet, it's too cold
Ambiguity • Like Vagueness, ambiguity can also cause translation problems • We said that ambiguous sentences were sentences with two or more possible meanings • We also made a distinction between two kinds of ambiguity • Semantic • Syntactic
Semantic Ambiguity • We said that the best way to resolve semantic ambiguity was to re-phrase a sentence so that the intended meaning was clearer • How might we resolve the following semantic ambiguities? • 1. Jessica is cold • 2. The Raider tackle threw a block at the Giants linebacker • 3. You have to get to the right bank before sundown
Fallacies • We ended class by looking at two different fallacies (mistakes in reasoning) that we can be led to make as a result of semantic ambiguity • Fallacy of division – assuming that what is true of a group is true of all its members • Fallacy of composition – assuming that what is true of all of the members of a group is true of the group itself • Can you give me any examples of these fallacies?
Syntactic Ambiguity • Syntactic ambiguity, unlike semantic ambiguity, derives its ambiguity as a result of the structure of a sentence • “How Therapy Can Help Torture Victims” • This sentence is ambiguous even though the meaning of each word is fairly clear • What are the two possible readings of this sentence? • The ambiguity here is the result of poor syntax
Syntactic Ambiguity • As with semantic ambiguities the best way to resolve these problems is to translate the sentence so that the ambiguity is settled • The Principle of Charity can often help us figure out the clearest or 'intended' reading • Susan saw the farmer with binoculars • With some ambiguities this can be very difficult • People who protest often get arrested
Syntactic Ambiguity: Pronouns • Pronouns are words that stand in for nouns in a sentence • “He,” “she,” “it,” “you,” “they,” “I,” and “we” are all examples of pronouns and their use is normally not a cause for concern • Erick buys coffee in the morning. He drinks it quickly. • The second sentence has replaced the nouns with pronouns in a way that is not ambiguous and is not problematic • But, in a carelessly constructed sentence, pronoun use can be a source of syntactic ambiguity
Pronoun Ambiguity • Pronouns become ambiguous when there is more than one potential noun in a sentence that they could be standing in for • Example: “Paul agreed that, once Gary removed the motor from the car, he could have it.” • In this sentence there are two potential nouns (motor and car) that “it” could be replacing but the sentence leaves it unclear which one it is meant to replace • Whenever this happens we get an ambiguous pronoun reference
Pronoun Ambiguity Examples • What do you think is the best way to resolve the following ambiguities? • Identify the pronoun and the possible noun-candidates • The dog ate the bird and it died • We gave the bananas to the monkeys because they were here • The couple watched a child kick the ball and it made them happy
What to do? • If you are writing these sentences then you should take care to leave only one noun for each pronoun to replace • If you are reading these sentences then the best you can do is appeal to the Principle of Charity to help pick out the strongest interpretation of each sentence: • When all else fails see if one of the two interpretations makes an argument valid, sound, or strong and go with that translation of the ambiguous claim
Definitions and why the matter • Definitions, as we said on Monday, are often critical components of arguments • The definitions of person and murder are critical to debates about abortion, suicide, and euthanasia (both voluntary and involuntary) • If the terms in question are neither vague nor ambiguous then definitions are easy • In other cases (person), definitions can be much harder to agree on
Types of Definitions • Defining terms is the best way to resolve ambiguity. When we do this we are giving a precising definition. • There are other reasons why we might need a definition • 1. We might need to know a word's standard (dictionary) meaning. This is a lexical definition • 2. We might instead want to use a word to mean something in a more specific context. This is a stipulation definition. • Argument, Vagueness, claim, etc • 3. We might not care about either the standard or technical definitions of a term but instead want to convince others. This is to rhetorical definition.
What kind of definition is this? • Watch the following video and decide what kind of definition is being given • Pay attention to how the word is being defined
Truthiness • What is the definition of this term? • Do you think it is intended as a lexical, a stipulative, a rhetorical definition or some combination of these? • Did you notice any other potential factors meant to make the definition more rhetorically (or argumentatively) persuasive? What were they? • How was the word defined? Using examples or synonyms?
Definitions • If definitions are serving a good role in an argument then they should not: • Beg the Question: an argument or definition begs the question when it already assumes the truth of its conclusion before having proved it • Trigger cognitive biases: definitions can be used to evoke cognitive biases like framing effects (meat is murder) and negativity biases • A good definition avoids these practices
For Next Time • For next time: Comprehensive Ch. 3 HW: (3-1) 1,3,5; (3-2) 1,5,10; (3-7) 1,12,27; (3-9) 3,7,10 • Quiz!!! Don't be late!