When I write on social forums on the net people want to correct my speeling or my grammar. Is there any good reason for that other than aesthetics?

Wel, fore a starrt, speeling mistaches can mak itt dificcolt two reed & undestand wot u ar actuwally tryin to saye, eh? An getting yours grammer awl rong can makes mawr problem of comprehention. Of course, there are occasions where pointing out slips in spelling or grammar can be a bit rude and pointless. But equally, it is -- to say the least -- impolite not to try to smooth communication by using standard spellings and constructions.

Why do most philosopher's talk in language incomprehensible to normal people? Do philosophers study 'the' because they know there are a few million other words that they can study afterwards, and therefore be philosophers forever?

Mitch and I posted our responses simultaneously! I agree very much with his ... I'm not sure it is true that most philosophers talk in a way incomprehensible to non-professionals -- at least when they are trying to address them! After all, there are many, many, dozens of well-written, accessible, thoroughly readable books by philosophers written for beginners. And even if books by philosophers written for other philosophers are difficult to understand, that isn't usually a matter of the language used: the trouble is more that the books tend to contributions to long-running debates, and if you don't know the background you probably won't grasp the point of what's being said. As to 'the': why do philosophers of logic and language want to know how "definite descriptions" like "the present Queen of England", "the tallest man", "the woman in the corner drinking a martini" work? Well, it's part of a larger project -- understanding the way referring expressions of various kinds...

How did things get their names? Like, why is a book called "book" instead of something like "oober-doober"? Is it possible that a book's name REALLY IS "oober-doober" and we are using the wrong word? Noah L. Age 8

Hello Noah! Right back from the early ancient Greek philosophers, people have wondered about questions like yours. What things are due to the nature of the world? What things are due to decisions by people? It's a good sort of question. For example, it seems to be a law of nature that heavy things drop to the ground when you let go of them (nothing we can do about that!). But it is due to a rule we've made up that people in your country drive on the right (or the left, whichever it is). People could decide to change the driving rule -- as people in Sweden did some years ago. So: it doesn't matter what people choose or want or decide: heavy things fall. It does matter what people choose or want or decide to do when it comes to the rule about driving. Other cases are less obvious. What makes stealing wrong? Is it like the heavy-things-fall case, i.e. is stealing wrong whatever people think? Or is it more like the driving-on-the-right case, so that stealing is counted as wrong because...

Can someone please explain the word instantiate to me? The most conherent answer I could find was: to represent an abstract concept by a concrete instance; to create an object. I am sort of confused as to what this means. Thank you.

I guess that different philosophers adopt somewhat different usages here (it's one of those cases where you have to glean from someone's writings their preferred usage). It will be interesting to see what colleagues say. But speaking for myself, I think I use the word in two different ways. (A) First, on my lips, since it's true that (1) Barack is tall, I'd be on for saying (2) Barack instantiates the property of being tall. Now, I treat properties as worldly items (part of the furniture of the world, so to speak), while concepts are ways of thinking of properties. In Fregean jargon: properties are in the realm of reference (what we think about), concepts are in the realm of sense (constituents of the thoughts we have about what objects have which properties). So, at least when I'm on my best behaviour, I'd not be too happy to say (3) Barack instantiates the concept tall since the relation that Barack (the man) has to tallness (the property) is different in...

Is there any knowledge/wisdom/insight that cannot be expressed as a proposition?

One thing I know is the difference between the taste of sangiovese and pinot nero -- a bit of wine-wisdom I've acquired over the years. But I certainly would be very hard put to express that knowledge in propositional form, at least in any informative way that could usefully convey my knowledge to you. Is there any proposition I could use to do that? Of course, I can say -- taking a sip -- " this one is sangiovese", and -- taking another sip -- " that one is pinot nero". But that won't help you, unless you are sipping away from the same wines, and you are attending to the differences. You need to experience the wines for yourself, and need to pay attention to them and learn to tell them apart. And developing that skill, that know- how , seems to require something other than picking up propositional knowledge- that about the wines.

It is said that language poses a problem in the study of philosophy because, for example in the English language, of the different meanings a single word can have and because there are no words to describe certain concepts, mixed thoughts, mixed emotions, etc. However, some languages are supposed to be better than others (for the purpose of understanding / teaching philosophy) Sanskrit apparently being the best / one of the best. Is this true and is it worthwhile learning Sanskrit for the purpose of greater understanding of philosophy?

Suppose that you have a conceptual problem about e.g. your notion of moral responsibility (or justice, or freedom, or causation, or whatever). How could doing your philosophical thinking in Sanskrit terms possibly help? Either the concepts available in Sanskrit are the same as yours -- in which case, they will raise the same problems, and the move gains you nothing. Or they are different concepts -- in which case, thinking about them won't resolve the problems you started off with, which were problems to do with your concepts, and again the move gains you nothing (except additional problems).

I would like to ask you if we can define "possibility" (and "impossibility", "necessity" and "contingency") in the following way: If something is true, then it is possible. On the contrary, from something being possible, it does not follow that it is true. If something is necessary, then it is true. On the contrary, from something being true, it does not follow that it is necessary. I am assuming, of course, that we can easily define the four first terms from each other (for example, if something is necessary, then it is not possible that it is not true). Isn't this a good way to define possibility, at least taking "possibility" in its ordinary more or less vague meaning?

Consider the schema: "For every p , given Op , it follows that p : but it is not the case that for every p, given p , it follows that Op ". For what fillings for O does this come out true? Certainly if we put Op = it is necessary that p , we get a truth. But equally Op = Jack knows that p works too. And if we put Op = p and q (for some fixed contingent q ), the result will again be true. So just requiring the schema to hold isn't enough to fix it that Op = it is necessary that p as opposed to the alternatives. Hence requiring the schema to hold is certainly not enough to define the notion of necessity. [A little wrinkle. The scope of the negation in the schema is important here. For take the variant schema "For every p , given Op , it follows that p , but given p , it doesn't follow that Op ". This variant isn't satisfied by Op = it is necessary that p. For suppose p is a proposition of the form ...

Where on earth did Philosophers get the idea that "just in case" means "if and only if"[1] instead of "in the event of"? I ask just in case there's a legitimate reason for the apparently willful muddying of language! [1] for example http://www.askphilosophers.org/question/2290

I recall someone sending me a short paper complaining about the linguistic tic of using "just in case" to mean "if and only if" when I first started editing Analysis 20 years ago. So, rightly or wrongly, this has been going on for a while! But note, we can't grammatically substitute "in the event of" for "just in case" in e.g. "I'll buy some tofu just in case some guests are vegan". And the latter doesn't mean the same as "I'll buy some tofu just in the event that some guests are vegan" either. The first, on my lips, means that I'll buy the stuff anyway, so I'm prepared: the second means I won't buy the stuff unless I really have to.

Over a year ago, I read Quine's Two Dogmas for a philosophy class. One part in it makes the step from talking about meanings to abolishing meanings and talking only about synonymy. I never quite got that. I mean, if there are two things similar (or the same) about something, don't they each have to have those things? If two pieces of string have the same length, they have each have a length, and they happen to be the same. Likewise for any other properties I could think of, such as color, volume, mass, etc. I don't see how sameness could not imply those "intermediary entities" which are the same. Thanks.

Consider an example from Frege: the direction of the line L is identical to the direction of the line M if and only if L is parallel to M. That's true. But how should we read it? Do we read it as explaining the notion of being parallel in terms of the identity of two abstract objects, i.e. two directions? Or do we take it the other way about, as partially explaining talk about two abstract objects, directions, in terms of the already-understood notion of lines being parallel? There's lots to be said for taking it the second way, as introducing reference to certain abstract objects in terms of something more familiar. Likewise: the meaning of "gorse" is identical to the meaning of "furze" if and only if "gorse" and "furze" are synonymous. That looks true too. But how should we read it? Do we read it as explaining the notion to synonymy in terms of the identity of two abstract objects, meanings? Or do we take it the other way about, as (hopefully) partially explaining talk about two...

What do we mean when we say that we think "in words"? When I think, I don't "hear" speech or "see" written words. So what is it, exactly, that we are aware of that indicates that thought is linguistic?

Indeed, not all thought is done 'in words'. Sitting in front of the chess board, I'm certainly thinking hard (and it's serious rational planning, not wool-gathering!). But I'm imagining sequences of moves on a board, not going in for inner speech. Likewise, when Roger Federer out-thinks his opponent, he probably isn't giving himself a wordy running commentary in English (or Schweizer-Deutsch) -- how distracting would that be!? Gilbert Ryle long ago wrote much good sense about this. (One fairly characteristic piece is available online here .) But yes, some thought is naturally described as being 'in words'. And not just my written thoughts here on the screen but, so to speak, the private ratiocinations as I was sorting out my ideas and thinking what to say here. My thoughts weren't in some other medium that I then had to translate into words: I was rehearsing these very words "in my head", as we say. But what does that mean? A good question. What we want here is a general story about what...