metaphors and the logical grammatical slight of hand.

From a point of view (see : Halliday’s amazing Introduction to Functional Grammar –…/dp/0340761679 – and you can find the full PDF online just by a search of the title ) – both Moral Realism and Scientific Realism – in fact, *all* of Modern Science – is built upon a bit of a grammatical slight-of-hand.

This grammatical slight of hand, (or he more precisely called logico-grammar) which is the use of grammatical metaphors (which are what leads into semiotics but it’s not yet the level of semiotics) to eliminate the subject and instead talk about the object “as if” they have qualities such as personality, intent, will, drive, etc – allows for levels of abstraction away from “What they’re really talking about” that *can* end up being misleading.

For example “What is love?” (baby don’t hurt me…. don’t hurt me…. no more):

Love is an act. [x] is loving [y]. Acts require subjects and objects.

But when we personify them into ‘real”, while this allows us great flexibility in discussion, it can also be completely misleading because without a true subject, and rather using this noun-i-fied verb to act *in place of* a real subject, there’s no real way to know what’s going on. It’s a convenient fiction.

A useful fiction of course : we all do it, and it’s part of our common language. – and it’s very pragmatic – it allows modern science and moral realism alike to function – (and I just did it in that sentence – did you see it?) – but it can be dangerously misleading.


That’s the ‘chink’ in the armor of Moral Realism. [I can give some better examples but I haven’t had my coffee yet].

That being said, Moral Realism can be valuable in sorting out some difficult issues. It just, imo, has to be kept in mind that when using it (or any system that removes subjects and personifies non-persons and THEN applies such abstractions to actual subjects (real people and real situations)) that we’re not led down to incorrect conclusions.


I’m glad I just read the headline. It really seemed divisive just by headline, and going by people’s reactions to the contents of the article, I’m glad I didn’t read it. I feel like I’d be getting dragged into a hot mess.


I don’t usually read books from front to back. I almost never do. I skip around a book – a little index, table of contents, pictures (if any), titles of sections, italics, etc.

I learned speed reading when I was little and used it my whole life.

But this one? Cover to cover. Took me a total of 7 hours – three at night, and four when I woke up the next morning.

I didn’t study it at length but i read every word and paid slightly more attention to the charts.

It took 600 pages for me to find the part I wanted: Metaphor in grammar.

Metaphor is usually relegated to the world of semiotics where it happily lives and breathes.

But before semiotics, is grammar – and it is in grammar, at the end of a LONG, “just the facts ma’am” straightforward text on grammar that is truly the bible of grammar if there ever was one… is where you can find the beginnings of semiotics in the foundations of logico-grammar.

It’s such an innocent substitution. You can see a piece of it in this portion of a chart. under mental/verbal/relational clause look at how everything shifts from x is wise to into “it is wise to” to a complete elimination of the subject? Then it just becomes “Wisdom”.


None of this is a *negation* of moral realism or even that of modern science. Rather, it is a recognition of a flaw that it is based upon, a hidden “man behind the curtain” that allows such discourse to function.

I’m using it now. It’s a part and parcel of academic discourse in general – somewhat of a fantasy world removed from reality… a convenient fiction we use to ascertain true-values within its own field.

The danger of it, in my opinion, is when it is used for policy that affects real people and real situations. That’s when a closer reading of “What’s really being said here” is a good thing imo.


One example: the “broken window” idea from academia in the 1990s became very popular in determining police policies. The theory went something like this: If people see a broken window in a community, it thereby is ok to have broken windows in a community, which will lead to more broken windows. With more broken windows comes the impression of “crime is ok” and once that attitude is common in the community, greater and greater crimes will proceed.

So in order to stop further crime, penalize heavily the broken windows so as to fix them and that will stop crime from getting worse.” Something like that.

In some communities, this thought experiment – this metaphor – this fiction (and it is a fiction) – turned into policy.

The broken window idea being enacted has led to “Zero tolerance” – a “All broken windows are forbidden”.

Lots of evil done by police in the name of broken windows. A no-littering can lead to a dead person: a clear sign of a broken metaphor because it neglected one very important thing:

People are people and not metaphors.


Ok, I can see what you saw in it, but you don’t see what I see in it. I’ll try to explain further:

What started “Broken Window”?

A story. It was a thought experiment. There was no basis in reality for it.


If they counted broken windows and crimes and did the statistics, then that would apply to broken windows within that context among those people in that measured period of time.

But to abstract it and reapply it to OTHER communities, other contexts among other people in other periods of time, are NOT NECESSARILY valid. The “not necessarily” is important here.

Also, when you transfer broken windows (even if it were measured) into “no littering”, there can be a *different* series of causals and effects from littering that are unrelated to broken windows.

Generalizing is an effort, imo, that needs to be taken with great care when it applies to people and policies. But that’s also what you were saying, but differently.


You’ve just used a metaphor there as well. You’ve transferred something from the field of Physics (effects of gravity) and applied it to thought experiments.

A good short paper on “Metaphors we are led by” is called “Metaphors we are led by” by Navy Professor. It’s about 10 pages long and a good easy read.


Appeals to physics is a common use of transference in rhetoric, so when you mentioned “jump off the empire state building”, I saw “rhetoric / convincing point” but missed where you said “empirical”.


Ok, I scanned Black’s Is/should paper:

He gives this thought experiment:
“Doing A will produce pain.
Apart from producing the pain resulting from A, doing A
will have the same consequences that not doing A would have had.
Therefore, A ought not to be done. ”

I’ll see if I can find a chink in it, although it’ll be hard and I’ll probably fail:

“Doing A will produce change of conditions.

Apart from producing change of conditions resulting from A, doing A will have the same consequences that not doing A would have had.

Therefore, A ought not to be done.”

It’s a recipe for doing nothing.


Most of my knowledge of Philosophy was gained late: I’m 44 now. At the age of 42, I decided to tackle Philosophy head on by joining several large, boisterous Philosophy groups. I spent about a year in debates and learned as I went along, referencing various sources in the middle of debates so that I knew what they were talking about and had some ideas how to respond, all colored by my own presumptions beneath them as well.

I did similar studies to comprehend “New atheism” and over the past year, to comprehend the alt . right mindset.

But logic is something I’ve understood from a young age. After doing some computers in school, at 11 in 1983 I got my first computer. [Tandy Color Computer 2]. The marvel of algorithms (programming) is that, if the program won’t run or compile, it’s illogical. If it functions, it’s logical, even if it doesn’t do what you expect.

So, I come at logic from an entirely different perspective than someone trained in Philosophy.


For me, I’m just trying to figure things out as best I can. I see knowledge as Universal and myself as a generalist, with some particulars that I’m stronger at and others that I’m weaker at.

For example, I’m stronger with analogies to computer science and physics but weaker with analogies to political designations such as liberal, conservative and such concepts as “agenda” (unless I see a “to do” list).

The University style breakdown of knowledge into silos has its purposes for sure. Keeping chemistry to chemistry, evolutionary biology to evolutionary biology, conflict theory to conflict theory can be very useful in developing a specialized “lens” through which to view, discern and comprehend reality.

However for all of its gains in specificity, it can sometimes lose in the areas where a transdisciplinary approach would be more useful.

For example, Dawkins. My prejudice is that I’m not much of a fan. I could give a dozen reasons. Yet, I understand where he’s coming from in this way:

As an evolutionary biologist by specialty and by training, I would expect him to view EVERYTHING from that lens. Fields that have nothing to do with evolutionary biology he will do this: use metaphors drawn from evolutionary biology to explain such things.

While a lot of useful insight can be gained from “lifting” knowledge “out of” one silo and into another (metaphor), it ought to be done with care and comparing such results as you receive against/with those views which come *from* the speciality one is using such metaphors with.

What can happen if one applies one’s own preferred modality (am I using the term properly?) to another realm is that “the maps don’t align” as it were.


An interesting direction might be to investigate the logic of *why* I think it “ought to” be done with care, although it may be as simple as, “Because if it’s not, then the conclusions are wrong and misleading”. :P – How far down the rabbit trail can we go with this? I don’t know, but I like the rabbit holes.



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