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[ontolog-forum] Hermeneutics and semiotics (was FWD: mKR2IKL)

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: John F Sowa <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 01 Apr 2014 10:41:11 -0400
Message-id: <533AD007.3030707@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Bruce,    (01)

You raised some important issues.  They are fundamental to logic and
ontology.  I changed the subject line to indicate a change in topic.    (02)

> I see subject areas like "hermeneutics" or "semiotics" as examples --
> which look to me like attempts to create scientific or strict
> interpretations of abstractions, but without the benefit of a
> well-grounded precision -- the way a biologist might ground ideas in
> chemistry, which in turn might be grounded in physics.    (03)

That's why I cited Peirce.  He founded the field of semiotics,
and he stands head and shoulders above the rest -- primarily
because he covered the whole field *in depth*.    (04)

He used precise logic and math in science.  But he also worked as
an associate editor for the _Century Dictionary_, for which he wrote,
revised, or edited over 16,000 definitions.  He understood both ends.    (05)

> I was interested in the interpretation of broad abstractions,
> like those considered in hermeneutics.  But I took a critical and
> skeptical view of their methods, convinced that their approach
> would never lead to “reliable and trustworthy results” – so,
> without changing the subject matter (deep intuition and holistic
> thinking) my methods migrated to computer science.    (06)

That's important.  There are three kinds of logicians -- and the
same classification could be applied to any branch of science:    (07)

  1. Those who make important contributions by solving hard problems
     and narrow the field to problems they know how to solve.    (08)

  2. Those who understand the full continuum.  They have solved hard
     problems, they know what it means to solve a problem, and they
     do their best to extend the field.    (09)

  3. Those who have solved some hard problems, but criticize those
     who try to extend the boundaries beyond the safe and secure.    (010)

Among the pioneers, Frege, Russell, and Carnap are the first kind.
Peirce, Whitehead, and Wittgenstein belong to the second kind.    (011)

Quine is an example of the third.  He criticized innovations even
by his mentor and best buddy, Carnap.  One of his former students,
Hao Wang, called Quine's philosophy "logical negativism".    (012)

> The Wikipedia comments on Schleiermacher illustrate this issue.
> “Hermeneutics is the art of avoiding misunderstanding”.  An art,
> not a science.  So – at some point, I would say, this task of
> “translating” the broadly intuitive (and perhaps fuzzy) ideas
> of the liberal arts into precisely unambiguous scientific
> definitions has still not been accomplished.    (013)

You can't translate a vague or fuzzy idea into a precise one without
changing it.  Sometimes the vague idea is *better* or more appropriate
then any attempted translation.  That's the major strength of natural
languages -- you can continue to use the same words for the full
continuum from vague to precise.    (014)

Peirce, (CP 4.237)
> It is easy to speak with precision upon a general theme. Only,
> one must commonly surrender all ambition to be certain. It is
> equally easy to be certain. One has only to be sufficiently vague.
> It is not so difficult to be pretty precise and fairly certain
> at once about a very narrow subject.    (015)

When you express your precise scientific ideas in NLs, you can use
the same words for centuries with precise, but changing definitions.
Look at physics -- the hardest of the hard sciences. The fundamental
words -- mass, energy, force, momentum, space, time -- have had many
precise, but changing definitions over the past several centuries.    (016)

In science, it's not a good idea to change the words every time you
change the definition.  URIs are good for finding documents, but I
have very serious doubts about the philosophy of replacing vague
words with supposedly "precise" URIs.    (017)

If you change your words with every change of meaning, you don't
improve communication -- you destroy it.    (018)

> my primary question is “How do we avoid misunderstanding – in
> ‘human to human’ communication?”    (019)

Good question.  Short answer:  never.    (020)

Longer answer:  Ask questions. Continue the dialog. As Peirce said,
the fundamental rule of reason is "Do not block the way of inquiry."    (021)

John    (022)

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