Sophism and Falling Trees

If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one to hear it, does it make a sound?

I've been thinking about the relationship between language and, at least some, so-called philosophy. This question in it's most common form* is simply silly; a debate not about philosophy, but rather about the meaning of the word "sound". It's more suited to debate among dictionary compilers rather than philosophers (or wannabe philosophers). This can be demonstrated simply by making it more specific what we mean by "sound":

If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one to hear it, does it cause the mechanical process of sound?

Well yes, of course. The first part of the question presumes that the mechanical processes of gravity and decay still happen with no one around to observe them, so it's improbably that vibrations in the atmosphere would stop.

If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one to hear it, does it cause the perception of sound?

No, don't be silly; the question says right there that there's no one to perceive it.

This is one of the benefits of learning multiple languages, because it helps reveal that there are often multiple concepts encased in the one word. You'll notice that a lot of Christian teachers often speak about the different Greek words that roughly correspond to the English word "love" for example, which was my first exposure to this basic concept.

* Yes, there are some more sensible forms of the question, which generally just turn into Schrodinger's cat, but I'm referring to the most commonly heard form.

Categories: Philosophy
Date: 2013-12-18 23:03:54, 3 years and 250 days ago

Comments

  1. M:
    2014-02-11 03:56:01, 3 years and 195 days ago

    I had some conversations where that sentence come up and never encountered before this concept that makes my bilingual brain nods.

    Some words indeed pack multiple concepts that when translating them into other languages, one needs to be careful and aware about which concept it is conveying.

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