Friday, March 14, 2008

Expressions And Meanings - Part 2: Elaboration

Going back to Timmy [see part 1], Timmy says (utters): "666 is a prime number"... What he means to say is: "666 is a cool number"... Lets take things from an observer's POV [POV: point of view]: When hearing Timmy saying "666 is a prime number", it is obvious that Timmy is saying something wrong. From an observer's POV, we have no knowledge to qualify the beliefs of Timmy as true or false, simply because we can't go inside Timmy's head to learn what he means, we only know what he said, and he said something that is obviously wrong!

Can an observer say: "Timmy believes that he believes that 666 is a prime number".... As tempting as it seems to say that, this is not true. Read what the aforementioned blog entry has to say:
What of Timmy's meta-beliefs? He might not have any, if he's very young, but let's suppose that he's aware of himself as a believing agent. What does he think he believes? Jack suggests to me the following: "Timmy believes that he believes that 666 is a prime number". But this attribution seems mistaken for exactly the same reasons. Timmy lacks the concept prime number, so he can't have any (even meta-) beliefs involving it. And nor can he have any de re beliefs about primeness (under whatever guise), because he lacks any alternative grasp of the property in question. He's not capable of having primeness feature in his mental content at all. (source)

Timmy does NOT believe that 666 is a prime number. He says what would conventionally suggest that he does, but he doesn't mean what he is saying. He believes that 666 is a cool number. His mistake is that he thinks that the utterance "666 is a prime number" expresses the idea that 666 is a cool number, oblivious to that the utterance "666 is a prime number" conventionally means that 666 is divisible by only itself and 1.... He may and may not believe that 666 is divisible only by itself and 1, but his utterance is simply unmeant to this concept.

In this series:
Expressions And Meanings - Part 1: Introduction
Expressions And Meanings - Part 2: Elaboration
Expressions And Meanings - Part 3: Linguistic Relativism
Expressions And Meanings - Part 4: Conclusion

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