Notes on 2.1 and 2.2
Emotive meaning and cognitive meaning
In the literary (English class) sense, the “connotation” of a word means the conventional associations that come with the word. Often these associations have an emotional tone. Some words have positive connotation: “fresh”, “new”, “natural”, “friend”, etc. Think how often you hear words like that in advertising, and in product names and descriptions. Some words have negative connotations also.
People often use words with positive or negative connotation in order to to express or evoke emotion. Expressing or evoking emotion is not a bad thing in itself, but emotions can take over — Hurley says they have a “steamroller effect” — and interfere with people’s reason and judgment. In logic, we try to analyze reasoning, to determine which arguments are objectively better. So when we hear an arguer using emotionally-loaded language, we should be careful not to get sucked into the emotions. This can be hard, especially if we have our own strong views on the topic being discussed. Our brains are already grooved to hop on board the emotion train.
Linguists and philosophers of language do NOT use the word “connotation” in the literary sense. (We will see what philosophers and linguists mean by “connotation” shortly.) To express the concept of connotation in the literary sense, philosophers and linguists use the expression “emotive meaning”.
and advertisers tend to use emotive language and images in very subtle ways. We
should be on the lookout for propaganda and slanting. Think of the term “harvest” used in
connection with hunting; or the recent “surge” in
In the literary sense, the “denotation” of a word means the exact meaning of a word without the attached feelings or associations. People use words denotatively when they want to convey information, rather than evoke or express emotion.
Linguists and philosophers of language do not use the word “denotation” in the literary sense. To express the concept of denotation in the literary sense, philosophers and linguists use the expression “cognitive meaning”.
The order of discussion in these notes
I think it is easier to understand the rest of section 2.1 if we first learn the terminology of section 2.2. So I’m going to now proceed to section 2.2 and return to 2.1 in a bit.
Section 2.2 Notes
Hurley defines “term” as “a word or group of words that can serve as the subject of a statement”. The subject of a statement is always a noun or noun phrase. So you can think of terms as nouns or noun phrases. Mathematically speaking, nouns and noun phrases designate classes, or sets. For example, the noun “dog” designates any one of a class of things we call dogs. So for philosophers, terms are words or phrases that designate classes.
There are three kinds of terms:
In the usage of philosophers and linguists, the denotation of a term is the class of things in the world to which the term correctly applies. For example, the denotation of the term “book” is all the books. Philosophical synonyms for “denotation” are “extensional meaning”, “reference” and “extension”. Note this sense of “denotation” is not the literary sense.
The denotation (extension) of the general term “square” is all squares. The denotation (extension) of the term “inventor” is the class consisting of Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Samuel F. B. Morse, the Wright brothers, etc.
“A set of terms is in the order of increasing extension when each term in the series (except the first) denotes a class having more members than the class denoted by the term preceding it.” For example, the following set of terms is in the order of increasing extension: tiger, feline, mammal, animal.
In the usage of philosophers and linguists, the connotation of a term is the list of membership conditions for the denotation. It is the properties or characteristics or attributes that a thing must have in order to be a member of the denotation, i.e., it is a list of necessary conditions. Philosophical synonyms for “connotation” are “intentional meaning”, “sense”, “intension”, and “real definition”. Note this sense of “connotation” is NOT the literary sense.
The connotation (intension) of “square” is the attributes “rectangular” and “equilateral”. The connotation (intension) of the term “inventor” includes attributes such as “clever”, “intuitive”, “creative”, “imaginative”, etc.
“A set of terms is in the order of increasing intension when each term in the series (except the first) connotes more attributes than the term preceding it.” When a term connotes more attributes, more membership conditions must be met, so the term is more specific and less general. The following set of terms is in the order of increasing intension: animal, mammal, feline, tiger.
Now I’ll go back to Section 2.1.
People often use arguments to establish value claims. Value claims are not merely expressive, or “matters of opinion”, or “subjective”. Value claims convey (or are intended to convey) cognitive meaning.
Value claims require argument (evidence or support).
People usually think of value claims as ethical or moral claims, but value claims also include aesthetic and political claims: e.g., claims about which movie is better, which team is better, which form of government is better, which laws are better, which public enterprises are better, which wars or taxes are better, etc. – everyday arguments people have all the time.
If you think (as many students do) that value claims are merely subjective and matters of opinion, you may be surprised to learn that philosophers often think value claims are objective matters of fact. For example, the claim “You should eat vegetables” is a value claim. But it is not merely a matter of opinion, or “subjective”. As a matter of fact, it is true (to the best of our knowledge at this point) if you want to optimize your health. But people do want that. The claim “Steve Young plays football better than Hillary Clinton” is a value claim. But it is not merely a matter of opinion. It is true if we agree what it means to be a good football player. But people do agree on that.
Value claims involve very interesting and important philosophical issues, discussed in the notes “Thinking Critically About the Subjective-Objective Distinction”.
When people argue for value claims, they often get emotional, and tend to overuse emotive terminology and/or images, so their arguments are often problematic. Value arguments require especially careful analysis. It IS possible to have reasoned debate about value claims, but we need to untangle and separate the cognitive and emotive meanings.
The distinction between open and closed concepts is usually discussed at length in Introduction to Philosophy courses. It is not in your logic book, but I think it helps to understand much of the material of Chapters 2 and 3.
A closed concept is one for which it is possible to precisely specify the membership conditions for getting into the class of things denoted by a term (the denotation). (Another more technical way to say this is that a concept is closed if it is possible to precisely specify its connotation, in the linguistics/philosophy sense.) For example, the concept “square” (in the geometric sense) is closed. The set of squares has two membership conditions: being equilateral and being rectangular. For something to be in the denotation of “square,” it must satisfy both conditions; in other words, it must be both equilateral and rectangular. Each condition is necessary and together the conditions are sufficient to make something a member of the denotation of “square.”
Few concepts are closed.
Open concepts (more or less vague)
Most concepts are open (i.e., more or less vague). This is not a big deal. Open concepts still define classes; it’s just that the borders of these classes are fuzzier and, for some very important concepts (like “person”) these borders are liable to change as we continue to reason and solve new problems. Examples of open concepts: beard, rich, disabled, obscene, unselfish, healthy, sexual harassment, date rape, person, etc.
With open concepts, we don’t define by listing membership conditions. Rather, we recognize members of the class by their resemblance to paradigms of the concept, but it is often difficult to specify the connotation precisely.
The old paradigm of a person was a white straight man of property. A conceptual paradigm shift occurred and now women, children, and former slaves count as paradigms of persons. Undoubtedly there will be more changes.
Example: “disabled person”
We know the paradigms of disabled persons (people like Stephen Hawking and Christopher Reeve), and we judge whether or not another individual should be called “disabled” on the basis of the resemblance between this person and the paradigms. (I.e., we argue by analogy.)
When we say that the concept “disabled person” is open, we mean simply that it is hard to decide in some cases whether that concept should be applied to an individual person. We do NOT mean to say that the concept is useless. Just because it’s hard to say in some cases doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as a disabled person! Arguing that way would be committing the continuum fallacy (see separate notes).
Most of the interesting social, legal, and philosophical debates concern are open concepts, and require argument by analogy to decide borderline cases: “person,” “good,” “religion,” “rich,” “sexual harassment,” “obscenity,” “minority,” “educated”, etc. Such argument is important because it matters what we as a community decide to call things: social realities exist, in fact, only because we decide they do. Social realities include money, marriage, weeds, national parks, citizenship, etc.