How to Define a Unit of Length



Year of publication 2010
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description In this paper, I shall discuss the issue whether the standard meter in Paris is in fact one meter long. Whether one could meaningfully assert this proposition depends on how the unit of length a meter is defined. I would like to suggest three conceivable definitions. (1) One meter long is everything that has the same length as an arbitrary chosen rod S now has. (2) According to the second definition one meter long is everything that coincides in the endpoints with the rod S when placed alongside. (3) The third definition states that one meter long is-in a literal sense-the rod S solely. Other objects are one meter long-although in a derived sense-if they coincide in the endpoints with S when placed alongside. The first definition is in essence the standpoint of Kripke, the second one can be attributed to Wittgenstein, the last definition is the proposal I would like to advocate here. In particular, I hold that the third definition can be attributed to Wittgenstein as well. A language-game of measuring presupposes a preparatory game of fixing a unit of measure. The meaning of the expression "standard meter" must thus be derived from this preparatory game. Therefore with all other objects, one can say only in a derived sense that they are one meter long or not.
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