Demonstration of precision
Whether any expression (E0) is imprecise can be shown by comparison with two or more interpretations of it. The following three steps are necessary for conclusive demonstration of relative precision of terms or expressions:-
Step 1 If there is more than one possible intended elation of an expression (EO), decide whether each of them is a likely Interpretation of E0. Accept only likely Interpretations before proceeding.
Step 2 Compare each interpretation with the origin expression (EO) to ensure that no other likely interpretations can be derived from them that would not also be derivable from BO in the communication situation that applies.
This second step ensures that the derived expressions are not less precise than EO, which they could be even while being likely interpretations of EO. (i.e. 'likely interpretations' are reciprocal). If less precise than EO, an interpretation would have possible meanings other than what reasonably can be derived from E0 in such a case E0 would itself be more precise than the derived interpretation).
Eg) EO "Candidates will be examined for their abilities" could be sufficiently equivalent in meaning to:-
El "Candidates will be judged as to their abilities."
According to current usage the term 'judged' can include all manner of decisions from personal evaluation, oral and/ or written examination as well as evaluation of sporting abilities, behaviour in general and so on. Therefore there are as many interpretations of El, only some of which would be sufficiently equivalent in meaning to EO. So E1 would thus be less precise than EO (and EO more precise than El). A more precise interpretation of EO could be:-
E2 "Candidates will be tested by written academic examination for their abilities."
Step 3 Compare each of the interpretations that remain after applying step 1) and 2) to discover whether their expressions can be judged to be likely interpretations of one another. If they cannot, they are then more precise than the origin expression EO
Let us compare the following two interpretations of EO:-
E2"Candidates will be tested by written academic examination for their abilities."
E3 "Candidates will be tested by oral academic examination for their abilities."
As there is a clear difference in meaning between 'written' and 'oral', E2 and E5 are not sufficiently equivalent in meaning. Therefore both are more precise than EO. They are also both more precise than E1.The reason for requiring at least two more precise expressions than the original one is so as to demonstrate that each is more precise. This can be illustrated by the use of Venn's diagrams (modified here for current use):
Let all the possible meanings (interpretations) of the term 'examined' be represented by an oval circumscribing those interpretations. Within this oval the two interpretations of the term 'examined' as in E2 and E3 are represented by two smaller ovals-
Note: Venn's diagrams can be used as an aid to illustration in such cases, but one should be most careful not to rely on them to solve questions about precision. Problems arise with the diagrams when there is partially-shared meaning between the two more precise terms 'tested by written academic examination' and 'tested by oral academic examination'. In this instance it could actually be done as follows if require:-
While E3 ('Candidates will be tested
by oral academic examination') is more precise than EO, we cannot
thereby conclude that it is completely precise. Full or perfect
precision is doubtless an ideal for such symbol users are mathematicians,
logicians and computer-programmme designers and may be attainable
in certain cases even outside such stringent thought systems. Generally,
however, one will need only to demonstrate sufficient precision
of language usage in practice, which is to say in respect of particular
communications situations. The standard of sufficiency is set by the
principle of sufficient precision. This requires that recipients interpret
the origin expression as making the same assertion as did the communicator.
The 'intended depth of meaning' of a communicator's assertion refers
to the exact assertion that it was the communicator's intention to
convey. This assumes that the communicator did have a clear assertion
in mind, of course. If so, the expression is only sufficiently precise
when it is not likely to convey any other meaning than just that assertion.
Since one cannot 'look into the mind' of other communicators than
oneself, the intended depth of meaning of an expression can only be
assessed by means of common sense, general experience and knowledge
pertinent to the communication situations involved.
The following example illustrates increasing levels of 'depth of intended meaning' as expressed through increasingly more precise expressions:-
EO 'There will be a political majority in favour of full nuclear disarmament'.
El 'There will be a parliamentary majority in favour of full nuclear disarmament'.
(El is more precise than EO because 'political majority' could also be interpreted as 'over 50% of eligible voters', which is not always a guarantee of parliamentary majority).
El a 'There will be a constitutionally-representative parliamentary majority in favour of full nuclear disarmament' (El a) is more precise than E1 because 'parliamentary majority' could also be interpreted as 'a parliamentary majority based upon and unconstitutional system of electoral representation')
El b 'There will be a constitutionally-representative parliamentary majority behind which at least 50% of all voters clearly stand in favour of full nuclear disarmament.' El b is more precise than all the foregoing expressions, for it can be shown that El a can have other interpretations than El such as El a2 'There will be a constitutionally-representative parliamentary majority (even without a genuine voter majority) in favour of full nuclear disarmament.'
The term 'political majority' is obviously a general term, while 'parliamentary majority' is also general. '. Which is the more general is highly arguable, for it may occur that a parliamentary majority is greater than a political majority in some connections, even though at first, glance 'political' seems, more general than 'parliamentary', That the above examples of interpretations are increasingly more precise than EO can be seen by considering the fact that, in each case, exactly the same number of parliamentary votes could be involved. Therefore each of the terms of varying levels of precision could include the same class or main state of affairs.
It is seldom easy to compare terms or
expressions as to their relative degree of generality with any accuracy,
yet it is frequently possible to do so with regards to their degree
of precision by applying the three steps stated above.
The preceding example could be represented by Venn's diagrams as follows:-
EXERCISES (on PRECISION)
1) Consider the expression
EO "Ship owners to take up dumping of nuclear waste again." Suppose three persons see this as the headline of a newspaper article, without reading the article itself. In a discussion later one person asserts that:
E1 "Ship owners are to reconsider dumping of nuclear waste." The second person disagrees, saying it meant that:
E2 "Ship owners are to raise nuclear waste that was dumped." The third person has yet another interpretation:
E3 "Ship owners are to recommence dumping of nuclear waste."
Discuss whether El, E2 and E5 are likely interpretations of the expression EO, and also whether any are more precise than EO, Refer to the steps in applying the principle of sufficient precision and, if you wish, illustrate by use of Venn's diagrams,
2) Consider the following discussion about changing attitudes upon the part of residents towards the increasing number of foreigners in, their country:
Interviewer: In your opinion has there over the past few years been an increase in discrimination in this country?
First .foreigner: If you mean an increase in unfair
treatment on account of racial characteristics, then I would, say
that there has.
Second foreigner: I think that residents are more prejudiced against foreign cultural standards than they were some years ago.
a) State clearly the interpretations that each of the foreigners give of the term 'discrimination' and say whether you find them to be likely interpretations of this term in the situation in question.
b) Are the two foreigners' interpretations of the term 'discrimination' more or less precise than it? Give grounds for your opinion, referring to the principle of sufficient precision "and the method of its application.
3) Consider the following paraphrase of a famous statement :-
EO "If East is East and West is West, then the two can never meet".
Suppose that this is being discussed by an Eastern spiritual leader and an Eastern politician in connection with the problem of world peace and that they give each their interpretation of EO as follows:-
Spiritual leader: E1 "So long as Western leaders remain basically of Western, materialistic mentality there will not be a sufficient basis for understanding between the East and the West".
Politician: E2 "If the Eastern and Western superpowers do not become more politically integrated with one another, agreement on world issues will not become securely established between them".
Consider whether or not the spiritual leader and the politician have interpreted EO in different ways, arguing whether you regard both E1 and E2 to be likely interpretations of EO and also to be more precise than EO.