Chapter 2 – Invitation to Critical Thinking – Rudinow and Barry


Language is the fundamental medium of our thinking.  If we were to ask , “Who did you talk to most today?”  What would the answer be?  Answer – Yourself - The internal conversation of gestures – We talk to ourselves not necessarily expecting an answer.  It is through this individual discussion that our thoughts take form and gain expression. Attention to another’s language is essential to finding out what an how that other individual is thinking.  Other factors that add meaningful dimension to the process of communication between individuals – Posture, gestures, inflection, timing and context.  However, language is central and basic.


Functions of language

The use of labels – labels are essential for communication – enables us to generalize, point “things” out – refer to the child’s initial experience at birth – William James and the blooming buzzing confusion  – the emergence of language and the constitution of experience with objects.  Problems with labels –labels are limiting – they highlight similarities and commonalities but ignore individual differences. Stereotyping – a real danger in the application of labels.  Etymology – [<Gr.stereos, hard, firm] Illustrate with other terms using Stereos Steric acid – the substance used to harden candle wax for molding.  Cholesterol – crystalline fatty alcohol C27H45OH found in animal fats, gallstones, bile and blood – blocks the veins Stereotypes are those hard fixed ideas that block our “brains”(hehe) Stereotyping involves overgeneralization and oversimplification.  The quest for simplicity in the answers and solutions we seek.  An uncomfortable existence when faced with doubt and uncertainty.  Black or White fallacy – rigid dichotomies–

Informative: (This is typically referred to as a declarative sentence.)
When language is used to communicate information it is being used in an informative manner  that is they perform an informative function.  Claim = language used  in an informative manner.  For the purpose of this class we will use the word “proposition” as an equivalent of  “claim”.  Propositions are statements that have truth value.  Propositions are true or false.  Statements who’s truth is in doubt are still functionally informative. 

Expressive:(This is typically referred as exclamatory sentence.)
Whenever language is used to arouse feelings or vent emotion it performs an expressive function.  Poetry is an example of the expressive function of language. Expression of emotion (WOW) feelings of affection , terms of endearment are used to communicate feelings as opposed to information.

Language serves a directive function when one uses it to immediately (not temporally but contrasted with immediately) affect the behavior of another person (an overt invitation to act - thank you Tom).  “Close the door!”  The directive function of language attempts to elicit behavior – produce action. Often the directive is in the form of a request as opposed to a command. I have recently been engaged in a discussion with my office partner about the distinction between directive and persuasive functions of language. Tom thinks that the distinction can be better made - directive = an immediate attempt to change behavior while persuasion = a mediated attempt to change behavior via belief and motivation. Stay tuned for the results :) 1/29/09

Our text makes a big deal out of the distinction between persuasive and directive. Language serve a persuasive function when it is used in an attempt to influence the behavior (beliefs) of another individual indirectly - a covert invitation to action. (Thanks again Tom) Here's the difficulty that arises. In our ordinary conversation we generally will use the words - "persuade" and "convince" interchangeably. Our class text (R&B) makes a big deal out of the difficulties inherent in the concept of persuasion. I want to hold on to some of the distinctions the text establishes between the directive function and the persuasive function of language and also maintain a distinction between what it means to persuade and to convince. I want to stipulate a definition for "persuade" that distinguishes it from "convince". (apply the pseudo-definition criteria established in the text to the persuasive definition) Persuasion for the purpose of this discussion will involve the use of emotion and non-reflective content in the statement. Persuasion is used as motivator. The text wants to maintain the distinction between convince and persuade. The note below discusses the distinction that had at least achieved some notoriety in the past. {Our new edition of the text (Invitation to Critical Thinking , Joel Rudinow, Vincent Barry , 5th edition)has even abandoned this distinction.}


Kenneth G. Wilson (1923–).  The Columbia Guide to Standard American English.  1993.
convince, persuade (vv.)
Some conservatives still cling to what was once thought to be a semantic and grammatical distinction between these two: semantically you were to persuade somebody to act but convince somebody that something was true, and grammatically you were to use persuade plus to and an infinitive and convince plus that and a clause. But although both conventions were strongly if confusingly and unevenly defended until quite recently, neither describes the practices, then or now, of Standard users, most of whom continue to use the two words interchangeably with of, as in Let me persuade [convince] you of the need to act [the truth of my remarks].


When language is used to make something so it’s function is said to be performative.  Ex. -  “I now pronounce you husband and wife.” Or   “Play ball.”

Multiple Functions:
Communication often employs any number of combinations of the above functions of language in order to express a point.  Ordinary language usage has mixed functions.  It is up to the listener to analyze the “conversation” and decide what portion is open to critical analysis.



Meaning in Language

Language as Convention:
Convention – def. – a behavioral regularity which humans maintain and follow in order to solve problems of coordination.  (Be sure and look at the “if and only if statement” embedded in the discussion on page 35)  Rules of common usage

Denotation and Connotation: (p.36)

Denotation – the relationship between a word and the object or group of objects it “points” to. Denotation uses general nouns – classes of objects.

Extension – the group of objects denoted by the term

Intension – the criteria that defines the extension of the term

Connotation – includes the word’s includes the word’s intension (the set of characteristics which defines the term’s extension)  Use the example of the word “Father”

Here's the problem with the above terminology. These are very brief definitions of some very complex concepts - However, the discussion surrounding these terms can expand with mind numbing quickness. In a recent casual discussion with some trained logicians about a complex definition (remember I want you to define for me the term "abortion" - What does abortion mean?) I introduced the idea of an extensional definition of abortion and asked "what cases would populate the domain - "Abortion" and the logician's logician among us eyes quickly began to glaze over. In fact I was rounded upon soundly by both logicians for having spoiled a perfectly good inquiry. The point is that if the logician's logician doesn't want to call into play all the technicalities associated with "connotation/denotation - intension/extension why should we foist this off on first year critical thinking students. Another difficulty is that the rhetorical tradition uses denotation as the dictionary definition (lexical) and connotation as the psychological/emotional association with the word. A "father " might connote warmth, care, protection with one individual but major beatings and abuse by another. My friend Tom Louvier has an interesting solution to the problem - He uses the definitions of connotation and denotation from the rhetorical tradition but also likes to use the ideas of "sense" and "reference". The justification is to avoid confusion with adopted terminology used in other disciplines. The "Sense" of the word is the meaning of the word. "Reference" is the extension of the word.


Ambiguity and Vagueness:

Ambiguous – A term is ambiguous when it has more than one conventional meaning.  For example, “Father” in one context may mean the male parent of a child.  In another context it may mean the leader of a Catholic parish.  There is an important aspect concerning the clarification of meaning – clearing up ambiguity.  (Misunderstood usage of words and terms - confusion in communication.)

Vagueness – A vague term or expression is one with indefinite extension.  That is, it is not exactly clear that to which the term is referring.  Words like happy, good, hot, cold, etc. need context to limit their application and extension.



Definition of definition –- a definition is an explanation of the meaning of a term.  Etymology – [Latin definite – setting boundaries or limits] What we generally mean by “explanation” is “an assist offered in an attempt to help another person understand.  Two types of explanations (definitions)

Functional – A functional definition is a definition that explains or defines an object, term, or concept in terms of its use.  (What it is used for) This is often referred to as a utilitarian system of classification.  We arbitrarily classify objects and their resultant meanings into classes according to what they are used for. When asked to define “trash can” very often “A receptacle used to contain waste or unwanted material” is more than adequate to define or explain what we mean.  We are defining (classifying) the term “trash can” in terms of its use.  Many definitions are framed using this strategy.  Understanding of what is meant can be achieved using a functional definition.  Functional (utilitarian) definitions are tested pragmatically.  That is they are tested by our experience.  Do they successfully solve the problem or the purpose for which they are intended to be used?  One major problem with functional definitions is that many objects may serve a similar purpose.  However the functionality of an object may not be the only factor that needs to be considered.  (A problem of intention.) For example, if I asked some one to go to Walmart and purchase a trash can and that individual brought back a gift bag I would not feel that the task had been satisfactorily completed.  The purchaser’s response would be, if (s)he were using a functional approach to the problem, “Why not you can pit trash in it can’t you?” My response would be, “Do I have to explain what a trash can is?” Which leads us to a second form of definition and classification system.

Explanatory – The basic purpose of any explanatory system of classification is to facilitate the understanding of the essential nature of the object, term, or principle being defined or classified.  We organize items in explanatory systems according to their similarities and their differences.  We will discuss this more when we consider the strategy of defining a term using an essential definition.


Other Types of Definition:

A. Ostensive – An Ostensive definition is a definition by example.  It consists of pointing while saying the word.  Ostensive person = “show off”

B. Synonymy – A definition using synonymy is a definition using synonyms.  We explain unfamiliar words or terms using words with which we are familiar.  For example, “ogre” = “man-eating monster”

C. Etymologies – the etymology of etymology – [< Greek – etumon – “true sense of the word] – useful strategy for explaining unfamiliar terms.  Know where a word comes from can be useful for explaining what the word means.

What dictionaries do: A guidebook that tells you how to use and understand words in a particular language. Dictionaries provide conventional spellings of a particular word. Dictionaries provide a pronunciation key Dictionaries report the conventional usage of words in language – common usage.

What dictionaries don’t do: Dictionaries won’t tell you the meaning of a word being used in an unconventional manner.  Normally a dictionary won’t tell you the words intension.  Stipulative definition – specifies an unconventional meaning for a word in a particular context.  Essential definition – definition that gives the words intension (remember to define intension again – important reference – intension provides the criteria by which we define the words extension. - rules or standards to which decisions are made about whether something is in the words extension or not. The function of an essential definition is to make clear the criteria that define the extension of the word.

Brief lecture on Dialectics: Dialectics – the opposition of ideas and their resultant compromise.  The dialogue – Thesis -> Antithesis resulting in synthesis (resultant thesis).  Compare with the scientific method.


Essential Definition by genus and differentia:

Step 1 Locate the extension of the term you are defining with some larger category.  This larger category is the genus.

Step 2 Set up the differentia  - those features that separate or distinguish the extension you are defining from the genus (larger category)


Pseudo-Definitions: These resemble definitions but actually they’re not

Metaphorical Definitions – metaphors – highly unconventional poetic uses of words.  They serve as suggestions, manners in which we may conceptualize things that may never have occurred to us before. I.e. “War is Hell”

Persuasive definition – often appear to be a definition – often involves a relatively minute shift in the meaning of a word.  We’ll explore this in greater detail during our study of material (informal) fallacy


Categories of Issues and Disputes

Verbal Disputes: a dispute arising out of overlooked verbal ambiguity.

Issue Analysis: 3 types

Factual Issues and disputes – an appeal to empirical events

Evaluative Issues and Disputes – these cannot be resolved with an appeal to the facts – consistency in moral standards.  Appeals to completeness

Interpretive Issues and disputes – question concerning understanding the complexity of certain problems.  Multi-layered problems.  Discussions of long-range v short-range consequences  - cp phase 4 of the problem solving method