Friday, October 19, 2007

“Beam me up Scotty.” The role of context

“Beam me up Scotty.”
According to the textbook(Fromkin et al), an inherent part of an expression's meaning, together with the context can determine its referent.
Without knowing the context of the Star Trek world, we cannot know for certain the true meaning of this phrase. Which of the following three points from the textbook does it fit into~
1. Some expressions have sense, but no reference
2. Others have reference, but no sense
3. Deitic terms have sense, but need context to determine reference.
It has reference. Does it make Sense? Well according to the above definition, no, as it doesn’t have the context. We don’t know what it means to ‘Beam someone up (unless you’re a trekkie!).

Given the 3 points above, we can probably say that a phrase can make complete sense, even though the referent is not known, or may be fiction. The truth of a sentence is determined only if the circumstances are known, not just if a sentence has sense.

What does this mean in real terms? Well, it may mean that I can come up with a logical, well formed argument that makes perfect sense, but could be totally false in the real world. Thus, we need to support our arguments with accurate real life (context dependant) information.

Also, a fanatical religious person can make sense in his/her preaching to us in terms of the paradigm they are working within, but when they go beyond that line of thinking, into someone else’s context, they may run into some difficulty.

Therefore, what makes sense to one person may be totally confusing, or completely wrong, to another.
What do you think?

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