Negation

Author: Napoli, Ernesto

Source: Grazer Philosophische Studien, Propositions. Edited by Massimiliano Carrara and Elisabetta Sacchi , pp. 233-252(20)

Publisher: Rodopi

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Abstract:

The paper is concerned with negation in artificial and natural languages. "Negation" is an ambiguous word. It can mean three different things: An operation(negating), an operator (a sign of negation), the result of an operation. The threethings, however, are intimately linked. An operation such as negation, is realizedthrough an operator of negation, i.e. consists in adding a symbol of negation to an entity to obtain an entity of the same type; and which operation it is dependson what it applies to and on what results from its application.

I argue that negation is not an operation on linguistic acts but rather anoperation on the objects of linguistic acts, namely sentences. And I assume that the negation of a sentence is a sentence that contradicts it. If so, the negation of a sentence may be obtained, in case the sentence is molecular, by applying the operation of negation not to the sentence itself but to a constituent sentence. To put it in a succinct and paradoxically sounding way we could say that in order to negate a sentence it is sufficient but not necessary to negate it.

However that negation applies to sentences is true only for artificial languages, in which the sign of negation is a monadic sentential connective. In natural language, negation applies to expressions other than sentences, namely word sand non-sentential phrases. Still words and not sentential phrases are interesting and valuable only as ultimate or immediate constituents of sentences, as a means of saying (something that can be true or false) and the concern with negation is ultimately the concern with the negation of sentences. So the problem is what sub-sentential and non sentential expressions negation should apply to in order to obtain the negation of the containing sentence. The standard answer is that the negation of a natural language sentence is equivalent to the negation of its predicate. Yet, I argue, predicate negation is necessary but not sufficient, due to the existence of molecular sentences.

Finally I notice that if to apply negation to an artificial sentence is to put the negation sign in front of it, to negate the predicate of a natural language sentencemay or may not be to put the negation sign in front of it.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2006

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