There are many areas where precision has been achieved, and other
areas where nobody has a clue about where to begin. Remember Socrates?
Philosophers have never found precise definitions to resolve all his
debates for a simple reason: no definitions can cover all cases.
CM>> Semantics is about meaning, more exactly (though still
>> the connection between symbols and their interpretations.
FK> It is a pity that we tend to use labels (x is about..) instead
> of definitions...
For some domains, such as mathematics, Chris's statement has been
made very precise with exact definitions.
For domains that involve people, houses, cars, and such things,
the issues are more complex, and it becomes difficult to state
precise definitions with necessary and sufficient conditions.
For example, the Canadian census required every person to have
a "dwelling", but the dwelling didn't have to be in a building
because they also accepted dwellings like igloos and tepees.
But when they found one person who lived in a sewer, they had
to get a ruling from a high government official that a sewer
could be considered a "dwelling".
When you get to domains that include concepts like Money,
Fairness, and Liability, things get
very messy. Those issues are critical to the world economy,
and lawyers and legislatures try to state definitions that
are as precise as they can make them. But subtle changes
in circumstances create disputes that different judges and
juries cannot resolve in consistent ways.
FK> - an appropriate semantic theory for a language will provide
> notions of *logical truth* and *entailment* that can be used
> to justify the axioms and inference rules that constitute an
> actual reasoning system.
That is fine for mathematical systems, but that idea doesn't
help a census taker decide whether a sewer can be considered
For the legal system, the lawyers state definitions that cover
all the "normal" cases that have come up in the past. But
inevitably, unusual circumstances and new innovations arise
that make the old necessary
and sufficient conditions either
unnecessary or insufficient.
Bottom line: Vagueness and ambiguity are *not* the result of
natural languages, but of the complexity of the world. Mapping
words to logical symbols cannot resolve all disputes.
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