PHIL 210 Study Guide - Quiz Guide: Syntactic Ambiguity, Streptococcal Pharyngitis

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Lecture 3 Quiz Notes
Provide an example of two sentences with the same literal truth conditions that suggest very
different things.
The boy is cute, but Samantha is smart; implies that her intelligence will prevent her
from developing feelings for the cute boy
Samantha is smart, but the boy is cute; implies that despite knowing better, she will
fall for the cute boy. The “But” suggests that the boy’s cuteness is stronger than her
will to stay away from him.
The sorites paradox argues that one grain of sand cannot make a heap, and adding just one
grain of sand to something that is not a heap will not give you a heap. It seems, then, that no
matter how many grains of sand you use, you cannot make a heap but this is clearly false.
What do you think goes wrong with the reasoning in this paradox?
The issue is with the vagueness of the descriptive term “heap”. The image of a heap
may differ from person to person, and how many grains of sand required to make a
heap varies from person to person.
Explain the key differences between vagueness and ambiguity
Vagueness is a property of clarity while ambiguity is a property of speaking/writing. To
say something is vague is to imply that it is unclear and imprecise, for instance, when
instructing someone on how to make a recipe and you tell them to put a “handful of
sugar” – the size of the handful varies from person to person, because people are not
made the same size, and especially so if the person doing the recipe is a younger
individual. Ambiguity is when a term/sentence can have a variety of meanings at once.
There are two types of ambiguity lexical and syntactic. Lexical ambiguity occurs when
someone says or writes something that can be interpreted in different ways, for
example, if someone says, “I am so sick!” they can either be referring to the fact that
they have strep throat, or to them being tired and annoyed with the amount of work
they have. Syntactic ambiguity relates to sentence structure, in the sense that a
sentence can be structured in a way where it can have a variety of meanings. For
example, if I say “my mother yelled at me so aggressively” to which she replies “I did
not”, it is unclear whether my mother is saying “I did not yell” or “I did yell, but not
aggressively”, or both.
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