Dogg's Hamlet

a note from the director

How do we infer the meanings of words? When, as children, we see someone point to a chair and say, "chair", why do we understand that the word represents the abstraction of the object? Why not the colour (red) or the material (wood) of the chair? Why not the cushion on the chair, or its arms, or its back? Why not that type of chair (swivel), or that particular chair (Mother's), or furniture in general? Why not the condition of being sat on, or of being spun? Why not the state of being a chair today and a table tomorrow? To be sure, we are helped by numerous repetitions of the word and the object, but that in itself is not enough to explain what the logician W. V. O. Quine has called the "Scandal of Induction".

Now imagine meeting someone who had learned the other meanings. Suppose the words "block", "cube", "plank" and "slab", to you innocuous names of objects, meant to this stranger, "next", "thank-you", "ready" and "okay". Imagine trying to hold a conversation with him. Imagine trying to build a set (say, for Hamlet) from blocks, cubes, planks and slabs. You call for "block", he hears "next" and gives you the next piece: with luck, a block. Wittgenstein considered this situation in his Philosophical Investigations and pointed out that there is some chance that you and this mysterious stranger may never realize something is wrong.

Then again ...

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