Social Philosophy

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By John Wilson (auth.)

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Sample text

That is, I think, an entirely reasonable distinction; and we say quite naturally that, for instance, someone "doesn't know what 'check-mate' means", or (more loosely) "doesn't know what check-mate is", or (more technically) "doesn't have the concept of check-mate". We shall note also that a term X may share the same rules of meaning as a term Y, either within the same natural language (as a synonym) or from two or more languages: so that the same concept is marked by 'dog', 'chien' and 'Hund', concepts being related to words in much the same way as propositions are related to sentences.

Concept, as if a concept were a sort of image or echo of the thing which it is a concept of. Notoriously philosophers in the last few decades have reacted against this idea in favour of the second idea; which is, roughly, that if I have a concept I do not have any kind of private possession, but rather stand in some kind of relation to something: like having a view of the sea rather than the crown jewels. Then we talk more easily of the concept or the thing or the meaning of certain words: 'the concept of check-mate', 'check-mate', 'the meaning of "check-mate" '.

Indeed it is rather hard to think of cases where this would not be so. "Unicorns have horns" is not very informative about physically-existing animals, but informative about animals in story-books or heraldry: and even though the deductive arguments of pure mathematics relate to ideally-defined circles, lines and so on, nevertheless circles and lines in the physical world are sufficiently like the ideal for mathematics to be informatively applied. The (fairly obvious) reason for this is that language and concepts are unlikely to be merely idle: we have them because we want to do something with them, to apply them.

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