Jason (jcreed) wrote,
Jason
jcreed

Talking to Noam, he referred me to some papers of Girard's. A common point between one of them and the part of Lakoff I just read today is a decrying of the distinction between syntax and semantics. I think I need to meditate on that idea some more.

Lakoff made another comment later on that really surprised me:

Any theory of meaning at all, model-theoretic or not, must obey the following constraint:
[...] The meaning of the parts cannot be changed without changing the meaning of the whole.


This seems like a very strong strictness condition, but I can't think of any counterexamples which would not admit reasonable objections. The recurring problem, when I try to imagine a dialogue between a supporter and detractor of the claim, is that the supporter seems to always be able to weasel around about what the parts mean.

For instance, if I say that "This microwave has a thingumabob to set the temperature" has the same meaning as "This microwave has a widget to set the temperature", then the supporter says, "well, then thingumabob and widget are both nonsense words of equal standing, therefore they have the same meaning". However, I could easily say "the thingumabob is above the widget, turn the thingumabob ninety degrees to the right", and in this case they clearly mean different things.

I really hope I'm setting up a strawman, though, because Lakoff clearly can't in good conscience think that the "parts" have an objective meaning inependent of the context-providing "whole", can he?
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