is or are?

The following is from https://books.google.co.kr/boo...minds%22&f=false

 The choices we make typically reflect our desires: we choose what, all things considered, we want. According to the conventional view, the process by which we make choices is rational. We consider the pros and cons of aparticular choice or maybe even do a more formal cost-benefit analysis. After weighing our options, we choose. For the most part, it is a process carried out in our conscious mind. A growing body of evidence suggests, however, that many of our choices are not made in this fashion. We do not make them, if by “we” is meant our conscious minds. To the contrary, the choices are made unconsciously, and it is only after they have been made “for us” that we are informed of them, at which point we put our stamp of approval on them.

 

My question is:

Is the passage in bold right? I think it should be if by "we" are meant our conscious minds

Because when you paraphrase it into a declarative, it should be Our conscious minds are meant by "we", not Our consious minds is meant by "we".

Please tell me if there's any semantic reason to use "is" instead of "are".

Thank you!

Original Post

Lee,

Thank you for providing a link to your source.  I see that it has been misquoted slightly.  The source material in your link actually goes like this:

The choices we make typically reflect our desires: we choose what, all things considered, we want. According to the conventional view, the process by which we make choices is rational. We consider the pros and cons of a particular choice or maybe even do a more formal cost-benefit analysis. After weighing our options, we choose. For the most part, it is a process carried out in our conscious mind.
    A growing body of evidence suggests, however, that many of our choices are not made in this fashion. We do not make them, if by “we” is meant our conscious minds. To the contrary, the choices are made unconsciously, and it is only after they have been made “for us” that we are informed of them, at which point we put our stamp of approval on them.

Here, I've used boldface to point out the differences between the original and your transcription.  For the purpose of answering your question, the only important change is that "We" is italicized in the original, indicating that the author meant "the word 'we'" or "the concept of 'we'".

Frankly, I am not comfortable with the construct "by 'we' is meant", and changing the verb to "are" doesn't fix it.  I prefer these:

1: We do not make them, if “we” means our conscious minds.
2: We do not make them, if “we” is understood to mean our conscious minds.
3: We do not make them, if “we” refers to our conscious minds.

The singular verbs "means", "is", and "refers" work in my examples if "we" is understood to mean "the word 'we'" or "the concept of 'we'", either of which must be seen as a singular subject.

DocV

Thank you for your kind reply.

I know what you mean and your preference for other structures is more than valid. However, the structure in the original sentence is not ungrammatical, too.

We can say like this: The report fails to define what is meant by the term ‘key issues’, instead of The report fails to define what the term 'key issues' mean.

And in the passge above (We do not make them, if by “we” is meant our conscious minds.),   'inversion' is used, as in "In the envelope was tucked a two- dollar bill". Here, a two-dollar bill is subject. 

Again, my question is about the 'agreement'.

I think the clause in question can be paraphrased like our consious minds mean "we", not our consious minds means "we", although sounding awkward - cause "we" is old information, so the original one sound more natural.

And again, my question:

by “we” [is / are] meant our conscious minds 

Which one is right, is or are?

Lee,

I think you're confusing a couple of issues here.  Let me try this again, this time being less stingy with the quotation marks:

1': We do not make them, if “we” means "our conscious minds".
2': We do not make them, if “we” is understood to mean "our conscious minds".
3': We do not make them, if “we” refers to "our conscious minds".

Here, as with my previous examples, "we", although a plural pronoun, represents a singular concept that requires a singular verb.  Now, by putting "our conscious minds" in quotation marks, it should be clear that the same applies to that phrase; although it is a plural noun phrase, here it stands for "the phrase 'our conscious minds'" or "the concept of 'our conscious minds'", either of which must be seen as singular.

My examples can all be inverted:

1'': We do not make them, if "our conscious minds" is what is meant by "we".
2'': We do not make them, if "our conscious minds" is what is understood to be meant by "we".
3'': We do not make them, if "our conscious minds" is what is referred to by "we".

You see that the inversion causes "our conscious minds" to replace "we" as the subject of the "if" clause, but the clause still requires a singular verb.

These inversions also cause the verbs "mean" and "refer" to be passivized as "meant" and referred", which in turn requires that the original subject become the object of a prepositional phrase of agency ("by 'we'").  My comment "I am not comfortable with the construct 'by "we" is meant'" in my earlier post meant that I do not find such a phrase of agency acceptable as the subject of an "if" clause, or any similar subordinate clause.

You wrote:

We can say like this: The report fails to define what is meant by the term ‘key issues’, instead of The report fails to define what the term 'key issues' mean.

I see three basic versions of your main example:

A: The report fails to define what the term 'key issues' mean.
B: The report fails to define what is meant by the term ‘key issues’.
C: The report fails to define what by ‘key issues’ is meant.

(A) is ungrammatical.  The subject "the term 'key issues'" is singular and requires a singular verb:

A': The report fails to define what the term 'key issues' means.

(B) is exactly as you stated it, and conforms to my own recommendations.

I don't really like (C), but it's not an exact parallel with the original example sentence, and doesn't sound quite as bad.

DocV

Thanks a lot, DOC V. As you mentioned, I did make a mistake, when I wrote "The report fails to define what the term 'key issues' mean". 

You wrote: 

Here, as with my previous examples, "we", although a plural pronoun, represents a singular concept that requires a singular verb.  Now, by putting "our conscious minds" in quotation marks, it should be clear that the same applies to that phrase; although it is a plural noun phrase, here it stands for "the phrase ''our conscious minds" or "the concept of 'our conscious minds'", either of which must be seen as singular.

That's what I suspected, and the reason I posted this question, here. You made it all clear. 

 

Thank you again for you kind reply. DOC V. Have a good day! 

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