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Re: [ontolog-forum] what is a proposition?

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: KCliffer@xxxxxxx
Date: Thu, 24 May 2007 14:43:58 EDT
Message-id: <d46.9e24acc.338736ee@xxxxxxx>
In a message dated 5/23/2007 3:21:46 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time, ingvar.johansson@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx writes:
I would like to switch from "truth and reality" to "what is a
proposition?" Here is what one of my philosophical dictionaries says:

"In philosophy, but not in business and sexual activity, a proposition
is whatever can be asserted, denied, contended, maintained, assumed,
supported, implied, or presupposed. It is that which is expressed by a
typical indicative sentence. The same proposition may be expressed by
different sentences."
I have a few thoughts related to a point I made about determining the truth of propositions - that is, they have truth values, but we may have a hard time ascertaining the truth value of any given proposition. Science gives us a way to approach that endeavor in a way that agreement is sought in a community about what propositions have a high likelihood of having a high degree of truth.
Here's a similar thought about what any given proposition is: it can be similarly difficult to ascertain in some cases. I'll consider a proposition to be the meaning of the statement expressing it, not just the form of the words. Although a person making a proposition has an intended meaning for it, the _expression_ of a proposition might a) be taken by a receiver as having a different meaning from how it was intended by the proposer, and b) some part of the meaning of a proposition may even be hidden from the conscious awareness of the proposer. The point is that the meaning of a proposition, although theoretically inherent in the proposition, may not be entirely clear to one or more of the participants in a transaction involving the proposition, just as the truth value of a proposition (even if the meaning is clear) may be hard to ascertain in a meaningful way.
I'll try to clarify part of where I'm coming from here:
I'm assuming equal and competent mastery of the fundamental "language" in which the proposition is framed by all participants - but part of the issue is that some of the meaning might not be inherent in the formal, verbal language - for example, if we consider a verbal statement by someone as expressing the proposition, some body language and intonation might carry some meaning associated with or part of the proposition, but these do not come through in a verbal transliteration of the proposition. The way someone says something, the inflection and intonation, often carries part of the message (meaning - the core of the proposition), as does the "body language" used in delivery. The same could be said of context even for entirely written propositions. Example for the manner of speaking being important (but other examples could be much more subtle): saying "This is really good" in a sarcastic way is quite a different proposition from saying it in a straightforward or excited way. Furthermore, people who speak and understand the same verbal language might have very different competencies in picking up and interpreting some of these non-verbal or contextual parts of the message, and have different interpretations of what they mean. One could say that emotion is a main element of messages conveyed in this non-verbal way, but a) that may not be true in every case, and b) emotional content or emotional-related content might be just as valid a part of a proposition as anything else.
One could confine consideration of propositions to the meaning of the verbal and symbolic elements of them (as I think I implied doing in my previous comments), but this might leave out an important aspect of reality. One could try to translate the non-verbal parts into verbal form - this might or might not be fully feasible.
In this view, the meanings of propositions can be difficult to ascertain, as may be their truth values, being inextricably involved in the human (animal; being) nature of the activity of asserting them and interpreting them.
Although I developed the thoughts here in response to Ingvar's question, I imagine that there is a philosophical precedent for this point of view that someone could refer us to. What are the implications of this point of view for the endeavor at hand? How might it relate to John's approach and Ingvar's response to it? Or is it relevant at all?
Are we confined to dealing only with the parts of propositions or types of propositions that are more easily accessible, with meaning inherent formally in the verbal parts of the language? Science's realm is not all propositions, but only those for which the approach can be used meaningfully. If the useful realm of propositions is as severely limited by language and symbol as I suggest here it could be, what is the implication for an ontology as ontologies are meant to be considered and implemented here?
I don't mean to open a can of worms, but just to pose some questions that seem potentially relevant to me, and the question of their relevance in others' eyes.
Kenneth Cliffer, Ph.D.

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