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What is empirical evidence?

 
Speakpigeon
 
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Speakpigeon
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21 January 2019 10:25
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 21 January 2019 08:54 AM
Speakpigeon - 21 January 2019 01:36 AM

So, please explain in a rational way what would be problematic with my claim that “dictionary definitions are empirical evidence of how words are used”.
EB

I already agreed with that. I’m questioning your claim that:

Speakpigeon - 19 January 2019 02:58 AM

One, dictionary definitions are empirical evidence of . . . what they [words] mean.

???
You would need to read my post more carefully, perhaps?
Anyway, so you did come round to explain your point. It took a while, though…
Let’s look at what you write…

Antisocialdarwinist - 21 January 2019 08:54 AM

Maybe just semantics, but it seems to me that a consensus on the meaning of a word is empirical evidence of the consensus on the meaning of a word—nothing more. In the same way that a consensus on the wrongness of stoning adulteresses is empirical evidence of a consensus on the wrongness of stoning adulteresses, and not empirical evidence of wrongness itself.

No, and I’m sure there is a big difference.
The consensus among a small group of people you don’t even know by name is just evidence of a consensus among a group of people. However, a dictionary, while also a consensus among a small group of people you don’t even know by name, is also and more importantly the consensus of lexicographers. As such, the consensus is the result of technical expertise and observations of actual native speakers using the language, and a rational confrontation of the possibly various points of views of the lexicographers. So, this is good evidence and this is relevant evidence. A consensus among lexicographers is relevant to what words mean to most people. 
And so your question earlier was just ill-thought out:

So, if the consensus is that God exists, does that constitute empirical evidence of God’s existence?

No it’s not because the belief people have is not relevant to whether their belief is true or not, and we all know that.

Antisocialdarwinist - 21 January 2019 08:54 AM

Or, to circle back, a consensus on the rudeness of an internet forum patron is empirical evidence of a consensus on the rudeness of an internet forum patron, and not empirical evidence of rudeness itself. Claims about rudeness, wrongness and the meaning of words all being subjective.

No, because the fact that people complain about his rudeness and reach a consensus about that is relevant to whether the guy is rude or not. Relevance is absolutely crucial.
That I am worried about my stock of cheese and red wine may be some evidence about the state of my stock of cheese and red wine but not evidence of what the weather will be tomorrow. Unless…
Unless… what?
Can anybody can complete the sentence?
EB

[ Edited: 21 January 2019 10:29 by Speakpigeon]
 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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21 January 2019 17:13
 
Speakpigeon - 21 January 2019 10:25 AM

The consensus among a small group of people you don’t even know by name is just evidence of a consensus among a group of people. However, a dictionary, while also a consensus among a small group of people you don’t even know by name, is also and more importantly the consensus of lexicographers. As such, the consensus is the result of technical expertise and observations of actual native speakers using the language, and a rational confrontation of the possibly various points of views of the lexicographers. So, this is good evidence and this is relevant evidence. A consensus among lexicographers is relevant to what words mean to most people.

All you’re saying here is that lexicographers rely on a consensus of native speakers to determine (descriptive sense) the meaning of words. So what? The meaning of words is still determined (prescriptive sense) by consensus.

Suppose I hired a professional polling service to conduct a statistically meaningful poll of seven-year-olds in order to determine (descriptive sense) the physical characteristics of Santa Claus. Couldn’t I, using your same argument, claim the results of the poll as “empirical evidence” that Santa Claus is a fat old white man? How is the professional polling service any different from your lexicographers?

 
 
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21 January 2019 18:15
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 21 January 2019 05:13 PM
Speakpigeon - 21 January 2019 10:25 AM

The consensus among a small group of people you don’t even know by name is just evidence of a consensus among a group of people. However, a dictionary, while also a consensus among a small group of people you don’t even know by name, is also and more importantly the consensus of lexicographers. As such, the consensus is the result of technical expertise and observations of actual native speakers using the language, and a rational confrontation of the possibly various points of views of the lexicographers. So, this is good evidence and this is relevant evidence. A consensus among lexicographers is relevant to what words mean to most people.

All you’re saying here is that lexicographers rely on a consensus of native speakers to determine (descriptive sense) the meaning of words. So what? The meaning of words is still determined (prescriptive sense) by consensus.

Suppose I hired a professional polling service to conduct a statistically meaningful poll of seven-year-olds in order to determine (descriptive sense) the physical characteristics of Santa Claus. Couldn’t I, using your same argument, claim the results of the poll as “empirical evidence” that Santa Claus is a fat old white man? How is the professional polling service any different from your lexicographers?

Descriptive-dictionary publishers collect massive amounts of information about current word usages. They then apply—assuming they do it wisely—science-style methodologies to write and edit definitions. Such a process can be called empirical even if words themselves are not able to be studied the way a bio-cell or a temperature or a velocity can be studied. The word “empirical” calls to mind many numbers backing up some entity or information bit.

 

[ Edited: 21 January 2019 18:17 by nonverbal]
 
 
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22 January 2019 05:08
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 21 January 2019 05:13 PM
Speakpigeon - 21 January 2019 10:25 AM

The consensus among a small group of people you don’t even know by name is just evidence of a consensus among a group of people. However, a dictionary, while also a consensus among a small group of people you don’t even know by name, is also and more importantly the consensus of lexicographers. As such, the consensus is the result of technical expertise and observations of actual native speakers using the language, and a rational confrontation of the possibly various points of views of the lexicographers. So, this is good evidence and this is relevant evidence. A consensus among lexicographers is relevant to what words mean to most people.

All you’re saying here is that lexicographers rely on a consensus of native speakers to determine (descriptive sense) the meaning of words. So what? The meaning of words is still determined (prescriptive sense) by consensus.

It’s not really the meaning of words which is determined, only definitions of meanings.
Each of us remain free to mean whatever he wants when he speaks a word, and to some extent we all do that.
Definitions, on the other hands, as found in dictionaries, are descriptive, as inferred from how most people speak and write, which may be seen as a kind of consensus, and have therefore more authority than how any one person will use words. So, dictionary definitions are therefore both descriptive and prescriptive.

Antisocialdarwinist - 21 January 2019 05:13 PM

Suppose I hired a professional polling service to conduct a statistically meaningful poll of seven-year-olds in order to determine (descriptive sense) the physical characteristics of Santa Claus. Couldn’t I, using your same argument, claim the results of the poll as “empirical evidence” that Santa Claus is a fat old white man? How is the professional polling service any different from your lexicographers?

I’m not sure I can make sense of that.
Still, I can grant you that, like God and Santa Claus perhaps, the meaning of a word, as an idea in our mind, isn’t an objective thing and as such cannot be observed by other people. So, when we want to know what someone else means, all we can do is ask him, “What do you mean?”, which will at best only elicit an explanation, never meaning itself.
However, dictionaries are definitely not meant to contain the meaning of words, and so lexicographers don’t need to observe meaning as such. Instead, dictionaries contain definitions of the meaning of words. The definition of a word is just an explanation of the meaning of this word, in the same sense as above. Thus, all that lexicographers have to do, is to observe what a sample of the population explain that their meaning is, or infer meaning from the observation they make of how a sample of the population use a word in speech and writing.
There is no substantial difference between this process and the process by which physicists admit of the existence of energy and mass, both things they can’t observe directly, but things that they define in terms of their assumed effects on observable things, just like we define what meaning is in terms of its effect on observable things, i.e. speech and writing.
So, I don’t see any merit in the parallel you make between the lexicographers’ process to define meaning and the one you describe concerning Santa Claus or God.
Perhaps the difference is between reporting a belief and reporting a fact. You seem to be talking about observing the reports of beliefs, belief in Santa or in God, while the lexicographers’ process is about observing the reports of facts, namely what people report as to what they mean by a word. The lexicographer doesn’t ask “What do you believe the word mean?”, but “What do you mean?”. So, the equivalent with your process would be that you can collected empirical evidence about what people believe, I hope we all agree on that, but that’s not in itself empirical evidence on whether what people believe is true.
EB

 
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22 January 2019 05:19
 
nonverbal - 21 January 2019 06:15 PM

Descriptive-dictionary publishers collect massive amounts of information about current word usages. They then apply—assuming they do it wisely—science-style methodologies to write and edit definitions. Such a process can be called empirical even if words themselves are not able to be studied the way a bio-cell or a temperature or a velocity can be studied.

So we agree on that at least.

nonverbal - 21 January 2019 06:15 PM

The word “empirical” calls to mind many numbers backing up some entity or information bit.

Not necessarily. To see someone steal something is empirical evidence.
And in a way, seeing anything does involve a massive batch of visual data. There is more factual information in our visual field when we observe a short event than in the whole of any months-long scientific campaign of observation on the field.
So, in a sense, yes, empirical evidence involves information bits, if not necessarily numbers as such.
EB

 
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23 January 2019 09:12
 
Speakpigeon - 22 January 2019 05:08 AM

It’s not really the meaning of words which is determined, only definitions of meanings.

Huh? According to the dictionary, the definition of definition is: “a statement of the exact meaning of a word, especially in a dictionary.” Your sentence can therefore be rewritten as: “It’s not really the meaning of words which is determined, only statements of the exact meaning of their meanings.” Is that really what you mean to say?

I think you should cut your losses and admit that your original claim (“Dictionary definitions are empirical evidence of how words are used and of what they mean”) was sloppy. Leave it at, “Dictionary definitions are empirical evidence of how words are used” and you’ll have a winner—unless, of course, you’re open to the claim that there’s such a thing as empirical evidence for the physical appearance of Santa Claus. But you’ve already made it clear that you’re not:

Speakpigeon - 22 January 2019 05:08 AM

So, I don’t see any merit in the parallel you make between the lexicographers’ process to define meaning and the one you describe concerning Santa Claus or God.
Perhaps the difference is between reporting a belief and reporting a fact. You seem to be talking about observing the reports of beliefs, belief in Santa or in God, while the lexicographers’ process is about observing the reports of facts, namely what people report as to what they mean by a word.

My process for determining the physical characteristics of Santa Claus does not depend on beliefs any more—or less—than your lexicographers’ process does. The facts in both cases are that people report holding certain beliefs: about the meaning of words and about the physical characteristics of Santa Claus. The process in both cases involves observing these facts in order to determine the consensus of belief.

 
 
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24 January 2019 01:08
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 23 January 2019 09:12 AM
Speakpigeon - 22 January 2019 05:08 AM

It’s not really the meaning of words which is determined, only definitions of meanings.

Huh? According to the dictionary, the definition of definition is: “a statement of the exact meaning of a word, especially in a dictionary.”

And so all the empirical facts you get in a dictionary are definitions, not the meanings themselves. Definitions of meaning, and therefore definitions, but not the meaning themselves. Meaning in this case is something your mind works out, within itself, on the basis of the definitions. Your mind interprets the definition of a word to form within itself the meaning suggested by the definition.

Antisocialdarwinist - 23 January 2019 09:12 AM

I think you should cut your losses and admit that your original claim (“Dictionary definitions are empirical evidence of how words are used and of what they mean”) was sloppy. Leave it at, “Dictionary definitions are empirical evidence of how words are used” and you’ll have a winner—unless, of course, you’re open to the claim that there’s such a thing as empirical evidence for the physical appearance of Santa Claus. But you’ve already made it clear that you’re not

The crucial point here is that dictionary definitions are interpreted by our mind to consistently infer what most people probably mean by words. The result is that if you accept dictionary definitions as empirical evidence of what people mean, you’re more likely (probability) to be able to make sense of social facts.
How words are used is an objective fact. Meaning is a subjective fact. So, for the mind to work out a meaning which it can take as consistent with what other people’s mind mean, the mind inevitably goes through a subjective interpretation of what it takes to be objective facts. These facts can be what people do in relation to what they say, for example, that’s prevalent when you’re a child, or what dictionaries explain is the meaning of words as used by most people, something more for grown-ups.

Antisocialdarwinist - 23 January 2019 09:12 AM
Speakpigeon - 22 January 2019 05:08 AM

So, I don’t see any merit in the parallel you make between the lexicographers’ process to define meaning and the one you describe concerning Santa Claus or God.
Perhaps the difference is between reporting a belief and reporting a fact. You seem to be talking about observing the reports of beliefs, belief in Santa or in God, while the lexicographers’ process is about observing the reports of facts, namely what people report as to what they mean by a word.

My process for determining the physical characteristics of Santa Claus does not depend on beliefs any more—or less—than your lexicographers’ process does. The facts in both cases are that people report holding certain beliefs: about the meaning of words and about the physical characteristics of Santa Claus. The process in both cases involves observing these facts in order to determine the consensus of belief.

Clearly, you’re not even trying to understand what I explained.
People report their belief that God exists, but they don’t report what they believe is the meaning of words, they report what they themselves mean by the word. A report of meaning is no different therefore from a report of pain, and that’s very different from a report that you believe God exist.
Lexicographers can also infer what people mean from how they behave. Similarly, we usually take seriously the subject’s behaviour we believe is consistent with the subject experiencing pain.
If you can’t see the difference, we’ll have to leave it at that.
EB

[ Edited: 24 January 2019 01:13 by Speakpigeon]
 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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24 January 2019 09:55
 
Speakpigeon - 24 January 2019 01:08 AM
Antisocialdarwinist - 23 January 2019 09:12 AM
Speakpigeon - 22 January 2019 05:08 AM

It’s not really the meaning of words which is determined, only definitions of meanings.

Huh? According to the dictionary, the definition of definition is: “a statement of the exact meaning of a word, especially in a dictionary.”

And so all the empirical facts you get in a dictionary are definitions, not the meanings themselves. Definitions of meaning, and therefore definitions, but not the meaning themselves. Meaning in this case is something your mind works out, within itself, on the basis of the definitions. Your mind interprets the definition of a word to form within itself the meaning suggested by the definition.

Antisocialdarwinist - 23 January 2019 09:12 AM

I think you should cut your losses and admit that your original claim (“Dictionary definitions are empirical evidence of how words are used and of what they mean”) was sloppy. Leave it at, “Dictionary definitions are empirical evidence of how words are used” and you’ll have a winner—unless, of course, you’re open to the claim that there’s such a thing as empirical evidence for the physical appearance of Santa Claus. But you’ve already made it clear that you’re not

The crucial point here is that dictionary definitions are interpreted by our mind to consistently infer what most people probably mean by words. The result is that if you accept dictionary definitions as empirical evidence of what people mean, you’re more likely (probability) to be able to make sense of social facts.
How words are used is an objective fact. Meaning is a subjective fact. So, for the mind to work out a meaning which it can take as consistent with what other people’s mind mean, the mind inevitably goes through a subjective interpretation of what it takes to be objective facts. These facts can be what people do in relation to what they say, for example, that’s prevalent when you’re a child, or what dictionaries explain is the meaning of words as used by most people, something more for grown-ups.

Antisocialdarwinist - 23 January 2019 09:12 AM
Speakpigeon - 22 January 2019 05:08 AM

So, I don’t see any merit in the parallel you make between the lexicographers’ process to define meaning and the one you describe concerning Santa Claus or God.
Perhaps the difference is between reporting a belief and reporting a fact. You seem to be talking about observing the reports of beliefs, belief in Santa or in God, while the lexicographers’ process is about observing the reports of facts, namely what people report as to what they mean by a word.

My process for determining the physical characteristics of Santa Claus does not depend on beliefs any more—or less—than your lexicographers’ process does. The facts in both cases are that people report holding certain beliefs: about the meaning of words and about the physical characteristics of Santa Claus. The process in both cases involves observing these facts in order to determine the consensus of belief.

Clearly, you’re not even trying to understand what I explained.
People report their belief that God exists, but they don’t report what they believe is the meaning of words, they report what they themselves mean by the word. A report of meaning is no different therefore from a report of pain, and that’s very different from a report that you believe God exist.
Lexicographers can also infer what people mean from how they behave. Similarly, we usually take seriously the subject’s behaviour we believe is consistent with the subject experiencing pain.
If you can’t see the difference, we’ll have to leave it at that.
EB

I do understand what you’ve (repeatedly) explained. It’s an argument I’ve seen before in the context of objective right and wrong, up to and including the call to “subjective facts.” Which sounds like an oxymoron to me—in the same way that “objective consciousness” sounds like an oxymoron, and for similar reasons.

I think the heart of our disagreement stems from the question of whether the meaning of words is something that can be discovered, like the boiling point of water or the shape of the earth; or if it’s something that is imagined by a particular species of mammal, like Santa Claus’s weight and race or the omnipotence of God. The former I would call “objective facts;” the latter “subjective non-facts.” I say that I would call them that—if it weren’t redundant, since, to my mind, “objective” implies “fact” and “subjective” implies “non-fact.”

Clearly, the meaning of words does not fall into the category of “objective facts” like the boiling point of water or the shape of the earth. Therefore, I say that it must fall into the category of “subjective non-facts,” there being no other categories. But you and your objective morality-claiming counterparts claim a third category somewhere in between: “subjective facts.”

I say that this third category only appears to exist because of confusion between the awareness of a thing and the thing itself. Awareness of things exists even when the things themselves don’t. There are objective facts to be discovered about the awareness of things even when those things don’t exist: it is a fact that most seven-year-olds believe Santa Claus is a fat, old white man; it’s a fact that most English speakers mean a small, furry mammal that meows and drags dead things inside when they say the word, “cat.” (Except when they mean something else, like a cool character.) But, however, there are no “facts” to be discovered about Santa Claus himself—only facts about what seven-year-olds believe about him. And—I say—no “facts” to be discovered about meaning itself—only facts about what human beings mean when they utter certain sounds.

And therefore, to circle back, there can be no empirical evidence of Santa himself, and no empirical evidence of meaning itself.

So while I understand your explanation and your argument, it looks like we’ll have to agree to disagree this time. But I appreciate the painstaking effort you’ve taken to persuade me.

 
 
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