The Language of Wisdom and Folly: Background Readings in Semantics

By Irving J. Lee | Go to book overview

Ambiguity and Its Avoidance1

JAMES MACKAYE


STANDARD FORM FOR THE AVOIDANCE OF AMBIGUITY

Arnauld has very truly remarked that "some of the greatest controversies would cease in a moment, if one or other of the disputants took care to make out precisely, and in a few words, what he understands by the terms which are the subject of dispute," words which are peculiarly applicable to the fallacy of ambiguity. That fallacy indeed is so important in connection with reasoning, and defeats the purpose thereof throughout such a wide realm of thought, that it seems well to formulate a standard form in which ambiguities and the mode of avoiding them may find expression. Five steps in the process may be conveniently distinguished.

First, the difficulty always arises in connection with some issue, and this issue should first be stated, either in the form of a categorical or interrogative proposition. The latter form is very convenient, and when possible the questions should be so phrased as to be answerable "Yes" or "No." This is usually feasible; perhaps always so. Thus, suppose the question at issue is, Does the compass point north? This might very well be a disputed question, and its statement is the first step in the process of avoiding the ambiguity which causes the dispute.

The second step is recognition and record of the ambiguous word or words which lead to disagreement, and in this case it is rather easy to recognize the word "north" as the culprit because of the two meanings which would be most likely to be confounded in connection with compass readings, viz. (1) geographic north, and (2) magnetic north.

The third step is to recognize and record a meaning of the ambiguous word (or words) which fails to make the distinction required to resolve the dispute; a meaning which slurs over the essential issue involved,

____________________
1
From The Logic of Language. Hanover, New Hampshire: Dartmouth College Publications, 1939, pp. 125-130, 135-136, 143-146. Copyright, 1939, by Darmouth College. Reprinted by permission.

-164-

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The Language of Wisdom and Folly: Background Readings in Semantics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • Introduction xiii
  • Part I - The Recognition of Words as Such 1
  • Everything Has a Name 3
  • The Phenomenon of Language 6
  • Symbolic Pointing 7
  • The Mobile Word 15
  • Two Types of Names 19
  • Precision in Natural Language1 23
  • Part II - The Functions and Purposes Of Language in Use 29
  • The Three Forms of Discourse 31
  • The Condition of Clarity1 41
  • The Functions of Poetry 48
  • Behavior That Language Makes Possible 57
  • Talking About the Weather 59
  • Part III - Matters of Fact, Fiction and Opinion 63
  • Matters of Fact and Opinion - George Cornewall Lewis 65
  • The Semantic Conception of Truth - Alfred Tarski 67
  • Every Man His Own Historian 71
  • Literature as Revelation 78
  • Knowledge by Definition 82
  • On the Logic of Fiction 92
  • Fictions, Hypotheses and Dogmas 101
  • Part IV - Questions and Answers 109
  • The Nature of a Question 111
  • "Footless" Questions 121
  • The How and the Why of Things 129
  • Part V - The Ambiguous Word 135
  • On Definition 137
  • Nominal and Real Definitions 139
  • How is "Exactness" Possible? 141
  • Definitions and Reality 149
  • Interpretation 160
  • Ambiguity and Its Avoidance 164
  • Part VI - The Recognition of Differences 173
  • Of General Terms 175
  • Realists and Nominalists 178
  • On Knowing the Difference 180
  • The Passion for Parsimony 184
  • The Individuality of Things and The Generality of Language 188
  • Part VII - Verbal Fascination 205
  • The Attributive Attitude - Ellis Freeman 207
  • Riefication 214
  • The Context of Associations 224
  • Part VIII - The Structural Patterns and Implications Of a Language 245
  • Perception and Language 247
  • An Experimental Study of the Effect Of Language on the Reproduction Of Visually Perceived Form 251
  • Language and Thought 262
  • Languages and Logic 273
  • Part IX - Escape from Verbalism 287
  • Sensation and Cerebration 289
  • An Address on Words and Things 295
  • Experience with Languages 305
  • Two Kinds of Knowledge1 309
  • Preparation of the Child for Science 310
  • Significs 336
  • Index 359
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