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  • What is a game? Easy question, right?

  • You know what a game isthere’s basketball, Chutes and Ladders, Dungeon and Dragons, tennis, Wizard School!

  • But those are examples of games. What I’m asking for is the definition of a game.

  • Maybe, if you haven’t been keeping up with Crash Course Games, you’d simply say that,

  • a game is a competition, with winners and losers.

  • But, what about a game like ring around the rosie?

  • Does a game require at least two players?

  • No, there is literally a game called solitaire solitaire.

  • Maybe a game is just a thing you do for fun.

  • But what aboutwho can stay quiet the longest” –

  • the game that your parents used to use on long car trips?

  • Or, like, Russian roulette?

  • Or The Game of Thrones, where you win or you die?

  • When it comes to language, there’s a lot to philosophize about.

  • But one question that philosophers of language like to mull is the question of meaning.

  • What do wordslikegameorredorbananaWhat do they mean?

  • How do we know what they mean?

  • And who gets to decide?

  • [Theme Music]

  • Language is one of our most nuanced and powerful tools.

  • It takes all of the stuff that’s swirling around in each of our lonely, isolated brainsall those thoughtsand transfers them into someone else’s brain.

  • Which is really, fabulously cool. It’s like telepathy!

  • But with the extra step of actually speaking or writing.

  • But, how do words – a collection of sounds or written symbolskey into the mental concepts that we want to communicate?

  • The naive understanding of what words mean is just that theyre just whatever the dictionary says.

  • But we know that’s not totally true.

  • Think about the difference between words likecat,’ ‘kitty,’ ‘mouser,’ andfeline’.

  • Early 20th century German philosopher Gottlab Frege helped parse out this difference by drawing a distinction between what he called sense, and reference.

  • The reference of a word is the object or concept that it’s meant to designate.

  • The reference of all these words is this.

  • 觀念(常識), on the other hand, is the way in which the words tie us to the object or concept.

  • So, while the reference of each of these words is the same, they have different senses.

  • A kitty might be a baby cat, or sort of fancy lap cat,

  • while a mouser might be a cat that lives in a barn and kills rodents for a living.

  • So how do words get their meaning?

  • A definition is traditionally understood as whatever meets the conditions for both necessity and sufficiency.

  • A necessary condition is what’s neededlike, what must be presentin order for a thing to be a thing.

  • In order for X to be X.

  • A necessary condition of being a bachelor, for example, is that you must be unmarried.

  • A sufficient condition is something that’s enough for X to be X,

  • but it’s not required for that thing to meet that definition.

  • For example, being born in the United States is a sufficient condition for being an American citizen.

  • But it’s not a necessary condition, because people who weren’t born in the US can still become citizens.

  • The long-standing view of definitions was that, if you can figure out both the necessary and sufficient conditions for something to be X, then youll have your definition.

  • That is, youll have found the criteria that exclude all non-X’s, but include all X’s.

  • If youre following me.

  • But 20th century Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said this rigid concept of definitions doesn’t actually work.

  • For example, you just can’t define the wordgamein a way that’s going to make everybody happy.

  • Any definition you give, someone’s going to come up with a counterexample

  • either some game that’s excluded by the definition,

  • or something that the definition includes that not everyone would agree is a game.

  • It took Andre and entire 10 minute episode to define games!

  • But the thing is, Wittgenstein said this doesn’t matter!

  • Because, everyone knows what a game is!

  • He pointed out that we learn and know the meaning of words

  • by hearing the way other members of our linguistic community use them.

  • We hear Candyland, rugby, and Cards Against Humanity all referred to as games,

  • so eventually our brains piece together what’s common between them,

  • in a recognition that Wittgenstein called family resemblance.

  • You know how you can just see the relation between people sometimes?

  • Rather than rigid definitions, Wittgenstein said word meanings are so-called cluster concepts.

  • There’s no one element that everything in the cluster has in common,

  • but they all share something with some other members of the group.

  • It’s sort of like you have your dad’s nose and your mom’s sense of humor,

  • and your sister has your mom’s eyes and your dad’s athleticism.

  • You and your sister don’t really have much in common, but you do both resemble both parents.

  • But it’s not like every concept in the cluster is equal.

  • The ones that everyone would accept are the paradigm casesyou can picture them in the center of the cluster.

  • And as you move to the outer edges youll get fringe cases, the ones that some people would include in the group but others would exclude.

  • Everyone will agree that football is a game, but there’s going to be some disagreement about things like,

  • I don’t know, knife fights, or how long you can hold your breath under water.

  • And Wittgenstein said that’s fine.

  • Language is a living phenomenon, and like most living things, there’s going to be change and variation.

  • But who gets to decide what words mean, or if a meaning is legitimate?

  • Here, Wittgenstein said, “meaning is use.”

  • In other words, as long as a linguistic community uses a word in a particular way, it has that meaning.

  • Watching the way words develop and change does suggest that Wittgenstein was onto something.

  • I mean, ‘mousedidn’t used to mean that thing, but now it does.

  • We make words up as we need them.

  • And at the same time, words also fall out of use, or take on entirely new meanings.

  • Now, this view of language assumes that meaning is tied to a particular linguistic communities.

  • And a community might, or might not, span all of the speakers of that language.

  • Think about the regional differences in words that might be specific to your town, or school, or group of friends, or family.

  • And what about this: Do you and your best friend have code wordswords that you use to talk privately, even when youre in public?

  • Like, the two of you could be at a club, and one of you would say to the other:

  • That guy at the bar is a total shoehornand the other one would know exactly what you meant?

  • In that case, do those words, that have meaning specific to the two of you,

  • really mean what you say they mean, even if no one else agrees with you?

  • And what happens if the two of you forget that meaning?

  • Is the meaning still there?

  • Or does it only exist as long as someone uses the word that way?

  • Let’s bounce over to the Thought Bubble for a bit of Flash Philosophy.

  • A linguistic community of twolike you and your friendseems fairly plausible.

  • But is it possible to have an entirely private language?

  • Wittgenstein asked us to imagine that each of us has a box, and inside each box is something.

  • We all refer to the thing in our box as ‘a beetle,’ but no one can see inside anyone else’s box, ever.

  • We all call our hidden thing a beetle, but we have no idea if the content of our boxes is the same.

  • Wittgenstein said there’s no way we can meaningfully use the wordbeetlein this context,

  • because we have no way of verifying what others mean when they use the word, and they have no way of verifying what we mean.

  • This is meant to illustrate how it’s impossible to directly communicate our subjective experiences.

  • We all use the wordredto refer to the color we see when we look at a stop sign,

  • but I have no way of knowing if youre actually seeing the same thing that I’m seeing.

  • I don’t know if your pain feels like my pain or your love feels like my love.

  • Our minds are like boxes.

  • No one else can see what’s inside.

  • But here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter.

  • Becausebeetlejust means, ‘what’s in the box.’

  • It could literally be a beetle, or it could be a fox! In socks!

  • The point is, we don’t know if the color red in my mind is the same as the color red in your mind, because the color red is a beetle in a box.

  • It’s a label for what’s in our minds.

  • So language, Wittgenstein said, can’t refer directly to an internal state,

  • like what it’s like to see the color red, or to experience pain.

  • Instead, it can only refer to the aspect of it that’s publicly observable by other people.

  • So, the wordpainisn’t the feeling of physical suffering, it’s jumping on one foot and cursing when you stub a toe.

  • It’s rubbing your temples when you have a headachethe observable behaviors that are associated with it.

  • Thanks, Thought Bubble! Now I want to propose an experiment.

  • If use is meaning, you should be able to give a word meaning by using it, right?

  • At least, if you can convince a linguistic community to go there with you.

  • So let’s try it.

  • If every Crash Course viewer starts referring to bananas as chom choms, can we make it catch on?

  • Can we create meaning?!

  • Well have to stay tuned for the answer to that one, but in the meantime, we can think about what might happen.

  • And to do that, we need to make a distinction between two different types of meaning.

  • When people communicate verbally, there’s speaker meaning, which is what the speaker intends when using a word.

  • And then there’s audience meaning, which is what the audience understands.

  • Since the whole point of language is communication, our goal is for speaker meaning and audience meaning to match up.

  • But, as anyone who’s ever, like, had a conversation, knows, this doesn’t always work out.

  • Like, Billy tells Bobby that he likes Sally.

  • Billy, the speaker, means that he likes Sally as a friend.

  • Bobby, the audience, takes Billy’s statement to be a profession of, like, you know, like-like.

  • So Bobby then goes and tells Sally that Billy like-likes her, when in fact Billy actually like-likes Suzy, and pretty soon, you know how it goes. Tears.

  • The point is, that even with a simple word that we all think we understand, likelike,’

  • speaker meaning and audience meaning can fail to connect.

  • When we get into more complicated or nuanced words, or when we try to invent a new word, like chom chom,

  • were likely to run into some pretty high-level speaker-meaning/audience-meaning confusion.

  • But for now, we learned about meaning.

  • We talked about sense and reference, beetles in boxes, and language games.

  • And we learned that bananas are called chom choms.

  • Repeat it with me: chom choms.

  • Never say bananas again.

  • Next time, were going to talk about another linguistic conceptconversational implicature.

  • Crash Course Philosophy is produced in association with PBS Digital Studios.

  • You can head over to their channel to check out a playlist of the latest episodes from shows like

  • PBS Idea Channel, It's Okay to be Smart, and Physics Girl.

  • This episode of Crash Course was filmed in the Doctor Cheryl C. Kinney Crash Course Studio

  • with the help of all of these awesome people

  • and our equally fantastic graphics team is Thought Cafe.

What is a game? Easy question, right?

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Language & Meaning: Crash Course Philosophy #26

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    Darya kao posted on 2016/10/09
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