On the philosophy SE site, I read this answer regarding tautologies:


According to the answer, the statement

"Business is business" is not a tautology because of a deeper and hidden underlying meaning:

"Business is business" means in order for a business to be successful it is necessary to do things that may hurt or upset people.

So, while these may seem like tautologies when considering the words as written, the deeper meanings behind these sayings are clearly not tautological.

I believe this wrong. Tautologies should not be evaluated based on hidden meanings but at "face value". Even in philosophy. Am I wrong?


Edit: I wanted to clarify.

The question asked on the Philosophy SE site was simply:

Is "Business is business" a tautology

There was no additional information regarding context or the definition of the word business. No apriori information.

All answers were prejudiced (in my opinion) by providing context when it wasn't asked for.

Food is food is a tautology but business is business is not.

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    $\begingroup$ Not sure what you are after here. In casual speech, people do not speak with mathematical precision...it doesn't make sense to pretend that they do. And, as to how philosophers use langauge...well, I suggest asking them. $\endgroup$
    – lulu
    Sep 16, 2023 at 16:11
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    $\begingroup$ I think there is a usefull distinction here. The syntax forms a tautology, but the semantics do not. business = business is a tautology, "business is business" = x, where x is as you described is not a tautology $\endgroup$ Sep 16, 2023 at 16:14
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    $\begingroup$ @StevanV.Saban It seems like you got an answer, but I'd like to add that you may like to read about the concepts "sense" and "reference" by Frege. Also you may give yourself an answer to mark as the correct answer. $\endgroup$
    – Julián
    Sep 16, 2023 at 16:40
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelCarey, I think the term syntax is not being well employed here. The syntax can't form a tautology. Syntax is by definition a set of rules of formation that determines a language. The discussed sentence is well constructed in the English syntax. But the question is how to translate this to some more precise language as to preserve the intended meaning to further semantic analysis. $\endgroup$ Sep 16, 2023 at 17:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Lostdefinition you are right, my usage isn't formal- and I hope it wasn't misleading. I was trying to highlight how with English we can ascertain meaning by looking at the sentence structure and definitions of words ( what I refered to as "syntax") OR we can consider meaning from a cultural reference and common use perspective, what I refered to as "semantic" perspective. A better description might be: We have a literal perspective, and a symbolic/metaphorical perspective when assessing language $\endgroup$ Sep 16, 2023 at 18:57

1 Answer 1


In my experience, whenever you translate a statement into a formal language and/or evaluate the truth value of a statement, you must determine the intended meaning of the statement or formula. For this reason, some texts actually distinguish between a statement and a proposition, the latter referring to the exact meaning or information content of a statement. For instance, the statements "Florida is south of Georgia" and "Georgia is north of Florida" are actually the same proposition with identical truth values even though they are two distinct statements. Conversely, the statement "Jack was just let go" refers to two distinct propositions, depending on the context. Perhaps someone was holding Jack and released him, or perhaps Jack was fired from his job. Similarly, the truth value of the statement "Jane put down her dog" may be quite different if $(1)$ Jane was holding her dog and placed him on the ground, or $(2)$ Jane had her dog euthanized. Determining the intended meaning of a statement is often an exercise in examining the context in which it appears, and ignoring the intended meaning can easily lead to erroneous conclusions when analyzing the arguments in which they appear.

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    $\begingroup$ I think Michael Carey clarified it. There is not one answer to to a question about tautologies for colloquial statements. There are both syntax and semantics that can be evaluated independently. $\endgroup$ Sep 16, 2023 at 17:37
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    $\begingroup$ I think @Lost definition makes an astute point about Michael Carey's use of the term "syntax." Reading the statement "Business is business" in natural language and then translating that as a statement about identity, that is, "business = business," necessarily involves interpretation, which must involve determining the intended meaning of the statement if it is to be done properly. $\endgroup$ Sep 16, 2023 at 17:53
  • $\begingroup$ I understand that Michael's choice of words is in question. I edited my question to clarify further. Part of this is about apriori information. $\endgroup$ Sep 16, 2023 at 19:34
  • $\begingroup$ How about literal and figurative tautologies for Natural Language? $\endgroup$ Sep 16, 2023 at 23:30

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