Tag Archives: verbal disputes

A. J. Ayer

[W]hatever may be the practical or aesthetic advantages of turning scientific laws into logically necessary truths, it does not advance our knowledge, or in any way add to the security of our beliefs. For what we gain in one way, we lose in another. If we make it a matter of definition that there are just so many million molecules in every gram of hydrogen, then we can indeed be certain that every gram of hydrogen will contain that number of molecules: but we must become correspondingly more doubtful, in any given case, whether what we take to be a gram of hydrogen really is so. The more we put into our definitions, the more uncertain it becomes whether anything satisfies them.

A. J. Ayer, ‘What Is a Law of Nature?’, Revue Internationale de Philosophie, vol. 10, no. 36 (2) (1956), p. 151

Mark Balaguer

Whenever you’re trying to discover something about the nature of the world, you can always proceed straight to the point at hand, without having to determine the meaning of some folk expression, by simply introducing some theoretical terms and defining them by stipulation. Thus, for example, if you just want to know what the solar system is like, you can forget about folk terms like ‘planet’ and introduce some new terms with clearly defined meanings. And if you just want to know what human decision-making processes are like, you can simply use terms of art like ‘Humean freedom’ and ‘L-freedom’ and so on and proceed straight to the point at hand, trying to determine which of the various kinds of freedom (or “freedom”) human beings actually possess without first determining the ordinary-language meaning of the folk term ‘free will’. And if you’re in a situation where you already know all the relevant metaphysical facts but don’t know what some folk term means, then you can describe the metaphysical facts using technical terms with stipulated definitions, and so your lack of knowledge of the meaning of the folk term shouldn’t be treated as a genuine ignorance of (nonsemantic) metaphysical facts.

Mark Balaguer, Free Will as an Open Scientific Problem, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2010, pp. 34-35