Home Ain’t Where The Heart Is

The Initial Claim:
The word ‘home’ does not refer to where the heart is because the referent it takes on is not any location but a direction. It’s not where, but which way.

Some Evidence:
Consider words that refer to some location, even indeterminate ones, such as ‘the bar’. Aino and Cade is talking to Maite. Aino says, “We’re going to the bar.” The natural way for Maite to understand this assertion is that Aino and Cade together are going to some bar, whose location may or may not be determined already. However, it would be very weird for Maite to understand Aino to be saying that Aino is going to the bar and Cade is going to the bar, but they might be going to different bars, i.e. different locations.

In contrast, consider words that refer directionally, like ‘left’. Aino* and Cade* is talking to Maite*. Aino* says, “We’re going left.” The natural way for Maite* to understand this assertion is still that Aino* and Cade* are going in some direction together. But it would be less weird for Maite* to understand Aino* and Cade* are going toward different locations if, say, Aino* is facing west and Cade* is facing east. In that case, it is plausible that what Aino* means is that Aino* will go toward south and Cade* will go toward north.

Finally, consider ‘home’.

Eduardo and I are talking to Andy. Eduardo says, “We’re going home.” The natural way to understand this, barring any background belief, is probably still that we’re together going to the same location. However, Andy knows that I don’t live together with Eduardo. So, it is not very weird for him to understand Eduardo’s assertion as saying that he is going to his place and I am going to mine. In this respect, ‘home’ seems more like ‘left’ than ‘the bar’; it is more directional than locational. I find this a little surprising, at least.

(Sort of) Analysis:
Wait, perhaps the real distinction isn’t between direction and location, but subject-sensitivity (or “relational”) and subject-insensitivity (or “absolute”). After all, we can think of some directional terms that has some objective reference, like ‘west’, that isn’t sensitive to which way the asserter is facing. So the initial claim is not quite right.

Still, I think there’s something in what I’ve written. It is somewhat surprising that “home” is more like “left” than “the bar”. So perhaps the initial claim can be revised to latch on to this difference more accurately. In addition, there is another thing to notice about how the word ‘we’ functions. With subject-sensitive terms, the same assertion could express two different propositions, depending on the context and background beliefs; one decomposes the we and the other doesn’t. For example, “we are going home” in the above case can be understood as Eduardo is going to his house and I am going to my house. On the other hand, with subject-insensitive terms, no such decomposition is allowed, it seems.

Two Postscripts:
I think the foregoing discussion is one I had with Eduardo (and later Andy) a while back. Thought of it, and thought it mildly interesting, so here is a post. Also, I am trying to convince people that they should use a random name generator for names in philosophical examples, so we’re not always talking about Bobby and Susie.

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6 Responses to Home Ain’t Where The Heart Is

  1. Dustin says:

    Yo, as you point out in the analysis, your “claim” is not really what you are claiming at all. Care to revise? Or should I just say what I think your claim is before responding and then you can accuse me of misinterpretation?

    BTW, nice use of “the bar”! This was obviously not the result of a random example generator.

  2. Shen-yi Liao says:

    Okay. I changed some stuff (and added some suitable hedging). Now criticize away!

  3. Dustin says:

    What did you change? Your “Claim” seems to be the same as it was before, and, accordingly, still seems to not be what you are arguing for. Maybe your changes didn’t publish?

  4. Shen-yi Liao says:

    I made it “the initial claim” and then later said, more explicitly this time, that it’s not quite right. I am not sure what I am going for exactly. Basically, here are some data and some thoughts, but a positive account awaits (for you, perhaps).

  5. a says:

    is it just a coincidence that in your example, ‘the bar’ has a definite article, suggesting a unique location, whereas ‘left’ and ‘home’ don’t?

    and yeah, i do think rhetorical questions make for effective comments.

  6. Shen-yi Liao says:

    i actually chose ‘the bar’ because ‘the’ there doesn’t function like a definite article. ‘a bar’ would work just as well.

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