Judith Jarvis Thomson, RIP.

To quote the start of Justin Weinberg’s Daily Nous obit, “Judith Jarvis Thomson, professor emerita of philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the most influential moral philosophers of the past 50 years, has died.” I don’t normally commemorate philosophers at LH (though I’ve actually read or skimmed a couple of her articles), but there were some things in Claudia Mills‘ introduction of Thomson at the Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress in 2009 (quoted at the link) that resonated enough with me that I wanted to quote them:

I was asked to give this introduction because I knew Judith Jarvis Thomson not only as a brilliant thinker, but as a brilliant teacher. When I was an undergraduate at Wellesley, I took courses with Prof. Thomson through the Wellesley-MIT exchange. Here is my notebook from the first one: 24.231. (At MIT, departments don’t have names, they have numbers, so 24 is Philosophy – I soon learned from my classmates that it was an error to refer to the course as PHIL 24.231 – PHIL was redundant, as 24 already WAS Phil.) […]

Here is the paper assignment for our second paper for the class, due April 7, 1975. “Is there a variety of utilitarianism which is true? If so, which? And why? If not, why not?” One student put up his hand right away: “What do you mean, ‘is true’?” Without a word, Prof. Thomson turned to the chalkboard and wrote: “S” is true just in case S. That was all. Asked for further guidelines to assist us in writing the paper, she gave us this one: “No eloquence!” I felt as if she was addressing that pithy piece of advice directly to me.

Judy Thomson taught me even more about how to write than she taught me about how to do philosophy. For one paper, she commented on my tendency to switch terminology: I’d talk about “duties” for a while, and then, to add some interest, I’d vary my vocabulary a bit and start talking about “obligations.” She taught me not to do that, that the reader was going to become alarmed: wait, a new term has been introduced, why? She taught me that the point of writing was actually to SAY SOMETHING. On another paper, when I had underlined one particular point for emphasis, she told me: “You think that if you say it loudly enough, people won’t hear how false it is.” I finally wrote a paper that began with a sentence that pleased her. I still remember the sentence. It was: “Two things seem to me to be true.” She brightened upon reading it. “You just like it because it’s short,” I told her, as I knew she had disliked my long, flowery, dare I say eloquent, sentences. “I don’t just like its length,” she told me. “I like IT!” That was a wonderful moment that I’ve carried with me for thirty-four years. I wrote a sentence that Judith Jarvis Thomson admired.

Just the thought of having to deal with “S” is true just in case S terrifies me, and I have even more respect for my wife for having done grad work in philosophy (though she sensibly didn’t try to make a career of it). But I’m tickled by the fact that MIT departments don’t have names, they have numbers (but of course!), and I love the insistence on eschewing elegant variation (see my rant about one form of it here). And “No eloquence!” is a widely (though not universally) applicable admonition.

Comments

  1. David Eddyshaw says:

    Cute story, but I am unable to make any sense at all of

    “Is there a variety of utilitarianism which is true? If so, which? And why? If not, why not?”

    if “true” is interpreted in that sense.
    Utilitarianism is not a theory of how things are; it is a theory of how things ought to be. The question (in that sense) is illogical*, Captain.

    Maybe that was the answer being sought.

    *Illogical stricto sensu, even leaving aside the colossal category mistake; you need modal logic for something like that.

  2. You should have taken the course, obviously.

  3. I’m at a loss too, about ‘“S” is true just in case S’. It makes me think yet again of Jonathan Miller as Bertrand Russell.

  4. David Marjanović says:

    “S” is true in the case that we call S, and in no others.

    1.0. Die Welt ist alles, was der Fall ist.

  5. David Eddyshaw says:

    “S” is true just in case S

    That’s just a way of saying that to declare a proposition to be true is merely a more long-winded way of asserting the proposition itself. Whether you agree with that or not, It’s meaningless if you try to apply it to something that actually isn’t a proposition, like a system of ethics. On reflection, I’m pretty sure that that must indeed have been the point of the question; not sure that asking deliberately nonsensical questions is a great pedagogical strategy … very Zen, though.

  6. Andrej Bjelaković says:

    Y, thank you for that!

  7. Yes, that’s a great clip.

  8. My pleasure! Now, maybe someone could explain to me, why does he pronounce wont (1:02) with an [ʊ]? That’s not normal RP, is it?

  9. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Is there any pragmatic difference between regarding a proposition as true and regarding it as being true?

    (The latter has been calqued in Danish as som værende sand (also with other adjectives) and I’m pretty sure we had no truck with that kind of superfluous pleonasm when I was larned the language. IOW I’m having trouble getting used to it, a sign of impending dotage I have no doubt).

  10. Now, maybe someone could explain to me, why does he pronounce wont (1:02) with an [ʊ]? That’s not normal RP, is it?

    It is indeed; the first pronunciation given in the OED entry is “Brit. /wəʊnt/.”

    Edit: The whole line is

    Pronunciation: Brit. /wəʊnt/, /wɒnt/, U.S. /wɔnt/, /wɑnt/, /woʊnt/, /wənt/

    I myself say /woʊnt/, but I have no idea how common that is, since USians hardly ever have occasion to use the word.

  11. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Lars:

    The question is really whether there is a pragmatic difference between simply making a statement and asserting that that same statement is true; there obviously is such a difference in normal everyday discourse. (Consider the likely contexts of “it’s raining” versus “it’s true that it’s raining.”)

    The glib assertion that there is no actual difference is part of the reductionist philosophical mindset exemplified by Russell himself (and Wittgenstein, before he got better), to the effect that all of that sort of thing just belongs in (empirical scientific) psychology and sociology and has no fundamental relevance for philosophy at all; it’s all just part of the pathology of human language which prevents us from apprehending the Truth.

    ‘“S” is true just in case S’ is a perfectly reasonable thing to say if all you’re concerned with is propositional logic. It seems conceivable that this is not a broad enough basis to encompass all valid human knowledge, however …

  12. I don’t hear any [ǝ] at all. Maybe [o̟ʊ] or [ʊʊ̟].

  13. David Eddyshaw says:

    It is my /wəʊnt/ to pronounce it /wəʊnt/.

  14. As the local MIT expert:

    Course 24 (that’s the correct way to refer to a department) is Linguistics and Philosophy. Thus it’s where Noam is situated, as well as the philosphers. Of course, everything at MIT does have a name as well as a number, but whether those names are used is another matter. Department names are used all the time, class names sometimes, and a building name only in the immediate presence of the donor who it is named after.

    There is also no such title as “professor emerita” at MIT, and soon there will not even be “professor emeritus.” Around 2000, when I was there, the Institute changed the rules to allow retired full professors to keep the title of “professor” and to vote on university faculty decisions. So once all the remaining emeritus professors die, there will probably not be any more. The change in policy did lead to a few unusual effects; I remember that Alam Hein was able to remain as the head of undergraduate studies for Course 9 (Brain and Cognitive Sciences, my brother’s major, and my daughter’s planned major, assuming she attends MIT*), even after he retired. (However, I doubt the remaining full-time Course 9 faculty were complaining about Hein continuing to take on such a heavy service responsibility, even though he was no longer getting paid.)

    Finally, one thing about Judy Thomson specifically: It was considered funny that, even at MIT, she was never going to be more than the second-most-famous “J. J. Thomson” (spelled just that way), after the discoverer of the electron, Joseph John.

    Previous discussion of the pronunciation of wont.

  15. David Eddyshaw says:

    So once all the remaining emeritus professors die, there will probably not be any more.

    Nos emeriti te salutamus.

  16. Brett: so it is! With Rodger recalling the very same word in that clip! But still no explanation.

  17. I recently decided to use the THOUGHT vowel in “wont” to avoid confusion with “won’t” or “want”. I can’t yet say it’s worked, as I have not had occasion to say it since this decision.

  18. J.W. Brewer says:

    I think I use the THOUGHT vowel in “wont” but that doesn’t disambiguate it from “want” because at least sometimes I use the same vowel there (and I don’t have the cot/caught merger). I pronounce “wanton” differently from “won ton,” but that may be more a matter of stress pattern than vowel distinction.

  19. Am I the only one for whom just in case can’t mean “only in the case that”? I only have the sense in Take an umbrella just in case it rains.

    Maybe that answers David E’s objection. One ought to maximize happiness, just in case it turns out there’s nothing else to maximize.

  20. @TR: I really dislike that use of “just in case,” but it seems to be too common in logic to have any chance of disappearing.

  21. John Cowan says:

    TR: That’s because you don’t talk like an analytic philosopher. “Just in case” in their jargon is equivalent to “if and only if”, but shorter; “iff” is shorter yet, but hard to pronounce”.

  22. J.W. Brewer says:

    I think the rest of us can collectively pretend not to think of their in-group jargon as a legitimate dialect or register of English and make fun of it instead. Not to speak ill of the recently-deceased, but I’m not convinced the “philosophy” side of 24 was much better than the Chomsky-cult side.

  23. From the obit: Professor Thomson was known for her work on a variety of issues in normative ethics, applied ethics, metaethics, and metaphysics.

    Symmetry requires her to also have worked in applied physics and normative physics. The latter is constructing environments with predetermined physical laws. A very useful branch of science, unfortunately confined mostly to science fiction and thought experiments. What we need is applied normative physics.

  24. “Just in case” in their jargon is equivalent to “if and only if”

    That is what I needed to know!

  25. @John Cowan: It’s not just analytic philosophers. I have a couple of European-authored mathematics textbooks that use that “just in case” for definitions. One of those books also starts virtually every proof with, “Indeed, ….”

    @J.W. Brewer: “24” is just a number. The MIT department is “Course 24.”

    @D.O. I did once get involved in a discussion with some of the philosophy of science faculty (at South Carolina, not back at MIT) about which formulations of physics were “normative.” There were probably some more interesting observations to be made along that line, but we didn’t actually get very far before the discussion was cut short and never returned to.

  26. It turns out you would all take Course 24 if you went to the MIT:

    Linguistics and Philosophy (Course 24)

  27. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard this “just in case” from linguists, too. Maybe it’s one more instance of the baleful influence of Course 24.

  28. David Eddyshaw says:

    It’s actually quite a neat indication of what’s gone wrong with linguistics at MIT that it should be bundled in with philosophy (as opposed to Anthropology – the correct answer, or literature, or pretty much anthing.)

    For all I know, the converse may be true as well. (All I know of Prof Thomson is her famous and extremely silly thought experiment purporting to be a good framework for thinking about the ethics of abortion.)

  29. Lars Mathiesen says:

    @DE, my question is about the specific context “regard as [being] legal” or whatever. There is one level of assertion implicit in “regard” already, is anything added by the second?

    The apple is green is clearly not the same as The apple is being green, but so far Æblet er værende grønt or Barnet er havende kolik are shuddersome things that people never say/write in Danish, it’s only as a complement to betragte, anse and similar verbs that the construction is being used.

    (In general, the Danish present participle cannot be the head of a clause, the infinitive is used. “It’s not easy being green” has to be Det er ikke let at være grøn — and that doesn’t work as a predicate. Æblet er i en tilstand af at være grønt is the closest workaround, explicitly talking about a state).

  30. 24.93 The Search for Meaning
    Subject meets with 24.A03
    Prereq: None
    Acad Year 2020-2021: Not offered
    Acad Year 2021-2022: U (Fall)
    1-0-1 units

    “We create islands of meaning in the sea of information” (Freeman Dyson). In this subject, we will explore a central feature of human nature: we are meaning-seeking engines. There are many ways of encoding and extracting meaning. We will talk about smoke signals, talking drums, alphabets, Universal Grammar, artificial languages, the problem of first contact, code breaking, Sherlock Holmes, the genetic code, and much more. We will bring in ideas from information theory, cryptography, linguistics, logic, psychology, anthropology, computer science, philosophy, and literature. Includes some reading and thinking outside class, but no problem sets or papers. Subject can count toward the 9-unit discovery-focused credit limit for first year students.

    K. von Fintel

    It wouldn’t be Course 24 without Universal Grammar

  31. David Eddyshaw says:

    Your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to seek meaning in Course 24.

  32. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Lars:

    I think (not that I am any sort of expert) that those are two different questions.

    “I regard this as being legal” takes one deep into epistemology, and even logical positivists would probably concede that it is not simply equivalent to “this is legal”, because it explicitly implies something about the internal mental state of the speaker, unless the speaker means no more by it than “it is true that this is legal.” In the latter case, a philosopher who was determined to treat all ordinary everyday statements as if they were simply disguised propositions of formal logic might claim that the statements were identical; however, it’s clear that this is a ludicrously inadequate account even of statements, let alone questions, commands, etc. Without getting deep into the morass of ordinary-language philosophy, it’s clear already that “It is true that this is legal” violates the Gricean maxim of quantity: there is an implicature, therefore, that the validity of the statement “this is legal” might be or actually has been impugned (and thus that “it is true that this is legal” is, paradoxically, a less forthright claim for legality than the bare statement “it is legal.”)

    “Regard as being legal” is different grammatically from “it is being green”; in English, at any rate (my knowledge of Danish is on a par with my knowledge of Ingush) the latter is an instance of how the use of the “present continuous” for a verb which is normally used statively creates an implicature that the state is temporary, whereas “regard as being” just reflects the normal subordinate construction taken by “regard as” and has no such implicature.

  33. The apple is green is clearly not the same as The apple is being green, but so far Æblet er værende grønt or Barnet er havende kolik are shuddersome things that people never say/write in Danish, it’s only as a complement to betragte, anse and similar verbs that the construction is being used.

    “The apple is being green” is not actually English, it’s some kind of philosophical/Chomskyan display item; no one would ever say it outside of Course 24.

  34. David Eddyshaw says:

    You might say, however: “Now you’re just being clever” (for example.) It’s just that greenness is rarely conceptualised as transient.

  35. J.W. Brewer says:

    Well, if the apple could sing … (not unlike Wittgenstein’s talking lion?)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRZ-IxZ46ng

  36. You might say, however: “Now you’re just being clever” (for example.)

    Yes, just as you might say “Hapless green-eyed ladies sleep restlessly.” You might say some things and not others! The world is wonderfully various!

  37. PlasticPaddy says:

    In “You’re just being clever” I think being means “acting” and could be replaced by that word. Whereas in most philosophies and perceptions of the world, the apple is not “acting” green.

  38. Which meaning of “just in case” came first? I need to know whether to blame pretentious lay misuse of jargon, or the ivory tower for hijacking plain English.

  39. OED s.v. “in case” (updated September 2014):

    4. As elliptical use of sense A. 2 [In provision against the event that, so as to provide for the possibility that; lest it happen that.]. As a precautionary measure. Now chiefly in just in case.
    1898 R. Kipling Fleet in Being 28 One leg over the edge of the bunk—in case.
    1919 ‘K. Mansfield’ Let. 23 Oct. (1993) III. 45 I..treated myself and cured myself. This makes me feel so safe in case we should ever find ourselves on a desert island—just in case.
    1929 P. G. Wodehouse Mr. Mulliner Speaking ix. 301 She rather thought she wouldn’t be able to, but she said leave her ticket at the box-office in case.
    1951 Teazle’s News-let. 24 Apr. [5] A picture..of a London policeman directing the traffic at a busy point in Paris, with a French traffic constable standing by, just in case.
    2008 J. Harvey Cold in Hand xli. 337 I tried to be there as much as I could after that, you know, in case, but I could not always.
    2012 Green Parent Apr. 38/3 Be sure to..use a self-contained fire-bucket, and always have a water source nearby just in case.

    They don’t seem to have the philosophical sense, but I’m pretty sure it’s a latecomer.

  40. They have an example s.v. “phenomenally”:

    1998 Philos. Rev. 107 316 On this version, a state counts as phenomenally conscious just in case it is available to higher-order thoughts which are themselves conscious (that is, available to higher-order thinking).

    You’d think they’d have a subentry on that sense, but no.

  41. phenomenally conscious

    I happened to read this after finishing my second mug of morning coffee, so right now I am indeed phenomenally conscious. I don’t know how long the state will last.

  42. @SFReader: That’s not a normal class, but rather a seminar series that you can register for, to receive a measly two credits. (The 1-0-1 credits listed indicate that it meets one hour per week for lecture, zero for lab, and you should expect one hour a week of homework. Most ordinary MIT classes are twelve credits, listed as 3-0-9, 4-0-8, or 5-0-7. The really killer lab classes are typically 18, 21, or 24 credits. The physics junior lab is two semesters, each 0-6-12, and most people put in substantially more time than that, both in the lab and out.) You notice the course also meets with another one; that other course is a freshman seminar, which combines a low-stress class with social activities and academic advising by the course instructor (since students do not normally choose their majors until the spring of their freshman years). My freshman seminar was in Course 12 (Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences); I think the seminar name was Exploring Geologic Time.

  43. I take “the apple is being green” to mean that the apple is deliberately turning green just to annoy us, while “the apple is green” is a simple statement about colour, with no particular implications. I don’t think we have a verb construction in Swedish for this meaning, you’ll have to use other word classes. (But who knows, maybe the philosophers have an expression?)

    I wasn’t familiar with the technical term “just in case” either. The problem with specific terms that look like everyday language is that it’s difficult to realize that they are specific.

  44. Lars Mathiesen says:

    @DE, my first question was about the statement I regard the question as irrelevant vs I regard the question as being irrelevant — I have a hard time understanding how being is more than just a filler in that exact construction, and I think that’s why its calque into Danish rubs me so wrongly.

    Of course, stating The question is irrelevant is clearly something else (and I think The question is being irrelevant is pragmatically excluded).

    The other part about apples being green was just an excursus on possible predicate structure in Danish vs English: whether the apple is doing it out of spite is neither here nor there, the English sentences are perfectly grammatical and the Danish ones are extremely questionable.

  45. J.W. Brewer says:

    Are there sentences or phrases using “if and only if” that would change meaning and/or become more ambiguous if the phrase were whittled down to “only if”? Because if “just in case” is intended as a syllable-saving alternative to “if and only if” maybe there’s a simpler way to do that.

  46. Stu Clayton says:

    Course 24 seems to be on a par with Warehouse 13 and Lot 49. Lots of fascinating stuff in there, if you’re into fascinating stuff.

  47. PlasticPaddy says:

    @jwb
    The answer is yes. “I will marry you only if you are the last man on Earth” differs from “I will marry you if and only if you are the last man on Earth” in that the second could give rise to a successful breach of promise action (where all legal representatives are female).

  48. Stu Clayton says:

    Are there sentences or phrases using “if and only if” that would change meaning and/or become more ambiguous if the phrase were whittled down to “only if”?

    All of them that were true would change meaning. “A iff B” means B implies A (the “if” part) and A implies B (the “only if” part).

    In mathematics, A will usually be a short statement, and B will be a composite statement put together from other statements by the use of “and” and “or”. B is called a “necessary and sufficient condition” for A (“necessary” is the “A only if B” part , “sufficient” is the “A if B” part).

  49. the English sentences are perfectly grammatical and the Danish ones are extremely questionable.

    I find the English ones extremely questionable, though of course I can’t compare them to the Danish.

  50. The first paragraph of W. V. O. Quine “Designation and Existence” Journal of Philosophy 1939:

    STATEMENTS of the form “There is such a thing as so-and-so”
    I shall call singular existence statements; e.g., “There is such
    a thing as Pegasus, ” “There is such a thing as Bucephalus, ”
    “There is such a thing as appendicitis.” The expression follow-
    ing the word “as,” here purports to designate some one specific
    entity-perhaps an individual, as in the case of “Pegasus” and
    “Bucephalus,” or perhaps a property or other abstract entity, as
    in the case of “appendicitis”; and the statement is true just in
    case there is such a thing as this alleged designated entity, in other
    words just in case the expression really does designate.

    This is the earliest use of “just in case” in the philosopher’s sense that I can find in JSTOR.

    Quine uses the formulation several times in his book Mathematical Logic a year later.

  51. J.W. Brewer says:

    I probably knew that about iff at some point in my wayward youth but had forgotten. But that I couldn’t reconstruct it from the wording of the standard idiom tends I think to demonstrate that it is, in fact, an idiom, i.e. not a particularly transparent or “logical” way to convey the meaning.

    Although now I’m curious about when normal people say “only if” in normal non-technical contexts. E.g., there’s a self-help book out there titled “Love Is Blind Only If You Are: A Woman’s Clear-Headed Guide to Deliberate Dating.” I feel like “is only blind if you are” would be a more idiomatic phrasing and would similarly emend PlasticP’s first example to “only marry you if.” I’d be interested in any scholarship or corpus-trawling shedding light on when “only” is and isn’t immediately adjacent to “if” in clauses like that.

  52. J.W. Brewer says:

    Separately Quine may have been a man of his time because COHA has three times as many hits for “just in case” in the 1930’s as for the entire prior period 1810-1929, and then twice as many again in the 1940’s as in the ’30’s. Adapting to a technical sense right around when it was becoming more popular in a non-technical sense seems plausible, especially if we think that Quine was trying to sound colloquial – or at least colloquial compared to the average fellow writing in his field.

  53. David Eddyshaw says:

    I agree that in “now you’re being clever”, “be” has acquired an agentive sense absent in “you are clever”, but I think that is because the verb is constrained to a more agentive meaning by the fact that it’s being used in the progressive, which is not normal for stative verbs. The English division of verbs into stative and dynamic is a real phenomenon, but it works not at the level of lexemes but semantics; quite a number of usually-stative verbs have secret lives as dynamic verbs at times, often with slightly different senses. CGEL (source of all wisdom) discusses this on pp168ff, including the question about agentivity.

    Kusaal (inevitably) has something very like this; it has a morphologically distinctive minor conjugation of imperfective-only verbs, a subset of which are semantically stative and do not normally occur with the postverbal particle , which by default marks the imperfective as “progressive.” [The matter is greatly complicated by the fact that there is a completely homophonous particle which marks focus; to simplify quite a bit, the “progressive” meaning trumps the focus meaning whenever it is actually semantically possible.] These stative verbs can in fact be used in direct commands, but then inevitably acquire an agentive tinge they normally lack; for example, “exist” can be used as in

    Bɛɛ anina! “Exist there!” (i.e. “Stay there!”)

  54. Lars Mathiesen says:

    @LH, replace the English ones with some that work, like “I’m being a princess now” (in the context of kids dressing up). A word-for-word translation is still not available in Danish because the present participle doesn’t work like that.

    Hmm, I’m realizing that I’m mixing in the progressive in this. Sorry. Does I regard you as being clever contain some sort of transform of you are being clever?

    (What is “progressive” even? An aspect?)

  55. @LH, replace the English ones with some that work, like “I’m being a princess now” (in the context of kids dressing up). A word-for-word translation is still not available in Danish because the present participle doesn’t work like that.

    Thanks, I get it now.

  56. David Eddyshaw says:

    The “be X-ing” verb form is usually called progressive in English grammars. It is indeed best regarded as an aspect; it’s compatible with past, present or future reference, and also with the perfect (I been plunderin in Standard Pirate.)

    “I’m being a princess now” is quite a good example of how stative verbs, which generally don’t appear in the progressive, may do in a temporally limited sense. There is an agentive vibe to this too, as various people have pointed out; the interaction between agentive and dynamic is interesting and quite complicated. (Thsi too is the case in Kusaal, but the details are too language-specific to be very helpful in comparison with English; moreover, I only understand in partially.)

    I don’t think Danish has anything comparable, at least grammaticalised to the same extent as in English; nor do many other European languages, for that matter.

    Although English grammars rarely do this, “progressive” can be regarded as a subset of “imperfective aspect”; the other types of imperfective in English being habitual and stative. Formally, English conflates “habitual” with “perfective” in the “plain” form of the verb (“dance/danced”), a fact which has confused generations of Anglophone learners of French, where English past “danced” corresponds to two different tenses.

  57. the ‘iff’ version of “just in case” feels to me like a (somewhat odd) shortening of “just in the case that” (with “just”= “only”). that at least is something i can parse as an actually-existing english utterance having that meaning and including those words, even if i can’t imagine a cradle-tongue speaker producing it… it feels calquey to me, but do we call it a calque if it’s from philosophical/mathematical symbology?

  58. Confirming Ian Preston, I checked Google Scholar for the phrase, with journal titles containing “philosophy”, “philosophical”, “logic”, or “logical”. There’s Quine in 1939, a few uses in Journal of Symbolic Logic in the 1940s, and then it picks up in the 1950s.

  59. David Eddyshaw says:

    Does I regard you as being clever contain some sort of transform of you are being clever?

    No, I don’t think so; it could equally well “contain a transform” of “you are clever.”

    I think this is what CGEL (p1262) calls “a gerund-participle as complement of a preposition” i.e. “being clever” is the complement of “as”, and isn’t marked for aspect*; in “you are being clever”, “being” is still a gerund-participle in CGELese, but as part of the progressive aspect of “be”, following the auxiliary “are.”

    *You could mark it for aspect; progressive: “I regard you as being being clever.” That is perfectly good Course 24 English. A slightly more acceptable example, with progressive and perfect-aspect marking of the gerund-participle of a somewhat less confusing verb, might be “When all this is over, I should like to be able to think of you as having been doing your best all along.”

  60. @rozele: I agree. Once I figured out what definitional “just in case” meant, I figured that it had most probably arisen in one of two ways: either as a calque of some foreign locution (and as I alluded to earlier, in mathematics, I think I have only seen this usage from non-native, European speakers); or as a shortening of something like your “just in the case that” (again, perhaps an inept abbreviation by a non-native speaker). However, if Quine originated the usage, it may be that both of my hypotheses were wrong.

    I just looked at Quine’s Wikipedia page, to see what year he was born. Once it was open, I thought to search for “just in case,” on the off chance the page might say something about Quine’s terminology. It that turns outthat “just in case” does appear once in the page—although as a use, not just a mention:

    Quine’s chief objection to analyticity is with the notion of synonymy (sameness of meaning), a sentence being analytic, just in case it substitutes a synonym for one “black” in a proposition like “All black things are black” (or any other logical truth).

  61. The use of “in case” to mean “in the event that” is OED’s first “Now rare” sense. Their most recent example, from 1943, is from a philosophical paper:

    1943 Philos. Rev. 52 67 In case an A proposition should have a null subject, in the conventional sense, and a not-null predicate, it is then a false proposition.

    (It’s from an article called “The Null Case Nullified” by P. A. Carmichael.)

    But you can find many examples of its scholarly use to mean, essentially, “if” among philosophers, logicians and mathematicians in the early twentieth century. Here are a few examples from many in journal articles of preceding decades:

    One conception could be truer than another only in case one of our needs were truer than another; that is, only in case some one of our needs conforms more to an absolute standard to which our needs ought to conform. (G. A. Tawney, “Utilitarian Epistemology” 1904)

    The group is infinite in case it has a subgroup of a elements no matter what number a happened to be chosen. (Charles W. Cobb, “On the Notion of Infinity” 1915)

    Socrates lived in Greece and Socrates did not live in Greece cannot on the above view be regarded as true contradictories, since they would both be false in case Socrates turned out to be a myth. (J. E. Chadwick, “On Propositions Belonging to Logic” 1927)

    Quine seems to have been the first to add “just” in the sense “exactly” to then convey the meaning “if and only if”.

  62. John Cowan says:

    Note that South Asian English does not obey these rules: I am (not) remembering your (good) name is perfectly cromulent.

  63. David Eddyshaw says:

    Welsh doesn’t either, despite excited claims by the McWhorters of this world about how the English verbal system is all Brythonic substrate-y and all.

    Mae nhw’n dysgu Cwsâl.
    “They learn/are learning Kusaal.”

  64. J.W. Brewer says:

    I’m not sure I am convinced by Chadwick’s assertion that “[person-who-never-existed] did not live in Greece” would be “false.” It admittedly might be “true” only in a trivial and non-useful sense. But more interestingly it turns out that a few years after making that assertion Chadwick (J.A. not J.E., apparently) left behind first his Cambridge fellowship and then the world of analytical philosophy in rather dramatic fashion, as recounted here: https://praymont.blogspot.com/2016/08/john-albert-chadwick-wwi-vet-who-left.html

  65. Actually the assertion I attributed to Chadwick is not Chadwick’s, though I think he is endorsing it. I see now that it is part of an almost paragraph-long quotation in his article from John Neville Keynes’s Formal Logic of 1894.

    The argument of the whole passage is about the correct way to form the negation of sentences with “existential import”. A distinction is being drawn between Socrates did not live in Greece and It is not he case that Socrates lived in Greece, the former being understood as Socrates existed and did not live in Greece, which is to say as the negation of the sentence If there ever was a man such as Socrates, he lived in Greece. If there never was a man such as Socrates then this latter sentence is true and Socrates did not live in Greece is false (whereas It is not the case that Socrates lived in Greece would be true). (That, as I understand it, is one of the sorts of thing Russell’s theory of denoting tried to clear up. It’s like The king of France is not bald, false on one way of reading it and true on another.)

  66. Does anyone still argue logic this way? It seems as pointless as arguing about the semantics of the English verb go in the context of a goto-statement in a programming languages. Both formal logic and programming languages use for their vocabulary and syntax tiny bits borrowed from human languages (particularly English) for the convenience of their flesh-and-blood practitioners, but they are very different systems. I’d like to think that the way of thinking that seemed clever to Keynes in 1894 (or even to Russell decades later) is no more than an antiquarian curiosity today. Is that so?

  67. J.W. Brewer says:

    Further to Y’s comment, based on his name and biography you would have thought John Neville Keynes had native-speaker fluency in the English language, but Ian Preston’s summary makes me wonder if that’s really true. Maybe the problem is that a lot of stuff that Grice explained seems in hindsight so commonsensical that one assumes that previous generations of philosophy-of-language dudes can’t have been so stupid as to not get it, but that assumption may be inaccurate?

    A sentence like “X did not live in Greece” comes (absent contrary indications from the context of the discourse in which it is uttered) with implicatures both that X existed and that X plausibly might have lived in Greece even though he didn’t actually, because usually (and the key point here is that usually != always) it would make no pragmatic sense to have uttered the sentence otherwise. But a sentence’s implicatures are more like rebuttable presumptions about the world than actual truth claims about the world, innit? Talking about their “import” seems blind to that distinction. And these are typically the same guys who come up with implicature-defying example sentences like I dunno “Ben Franklin did not live in Outer Mongolia,” right?

  68. J.W.Brewer, maybe I misunderstand you, but I think you are unnecessarly harsh. In math, there is nothing unusual in discussing properties of objects of doubtful existence. No one knows whether Goldbach’s conjecture is true, but no one is barred from thinking about properties of a number that violates it. Even in everyday life it seems quite normal to discuss properties of a thing that probably doesn’t exist. Russian linguist Zaliznyak has written a whole book about authenticity of the “Tale of Igor’s host” by imagining the forger who wrote it instead and trying to identify what properties that forger should have had (and finding that they are completely implausible).

    COCA search shows a number of possible “only if” which are not equal iff, but they are outnumbered by at least 10:1, maybe 20:1 (there are a lot of questionable cases).

    a button-down shirt with a collar, khakis and belt. He wore jeans only if he was going to a baseball game. # Some of her favorite memories But quite plausibly not every baseball game.

    stop when the fighting ends in Germany and Japan. Democracy can win the peace only if it does two things: -Speeds up the rate of political and economic inventions Presumably, it is not an exhaustive list of requirements

    members of Congress said that they could support immigration reform in the future, but only if we first made significant progress securing the border. This reflected the real concern

    and therefore politically costly, because public opinion will support wars in peripheral regions only if they are quick and decisive. Even poorly equipped indigenous forces, this view

  69. In propositional logic “A if B” , “B only if A” and “A or not B” are all equivalent. This does not map exactly to the usual English meaning of “if or “only if”.

    A presupposition is a different animal from an implicature. A natural reading of “Socrates did not live in Greece” presupposes that Socrates exist[s|ed] but not that Greece exist[s|ed].

  70. To be fair to Keynes and Chadwick (who appeared in this thread to exemplify use of a particular two word phrase not as exponents of particular views on language) I think they are interested here much more in constructing a system for making valid inference between propositions than they are in interpreting sentences as used in ordinary English. They are interested in these sentences because it is a problem if, say, they express two seemingly contradictory propositions which are both false and they are trying to reconcile that with rules of formal logic. Keynes is saying, I think, that this is the best way to interpret such a sentence if you want to treat it as expressing a proposition in formal logic, not making any claim about what that sentence would necessarily mean if ever uttered in ordinary conversation. Chadwick is in the course of discussing sentences which I am sure he would have recognised as unlikely ever to appear in ordinary English. What is the logical relationship between sentences like This is round, Something has roundness, It is not the case that this lacks roundness and so on? This is formal logic rather than philosophy of language so they are not being “so stupid as to not get” anything.

    Here’s the whole paragraph from Chadwick:

    Dr. Keynes has likewise recognised that singular propositions
    “have certain peculiarities of their own,” and has dealt with the
    matter in the following passage: “A purely denotative name must
    necessarily be the name of an object which exists or is supposed to
    exist in the universe to which reference is made. … Take, for
    example, such propositions as the following This hat is an old
    one
    . . . . It will be well to differentiate singulars from general
    universals, and to regard them as implying the existence of their
    subjects in all cases. . . But here it is necessary to add a word
    with regard to the opposition of singulars. Socrates lived in Greece
    and Socrates did not live in Greece cannot on the above view be
    regarded as true contradictories, since they would both be false in
    case Socrates turned out to be a myth. The true contradictory of a
    singular proposition will now take the form of a hypothetical; thus,
    the contradictory of the first of the above propositions will be, If
    there ever was such a man as Socrates, he did not live in Greece
    “.
    And again, taking as his original proposition Socrates is wise he
    describes its contradictory thus: “If the original proposition is
    understood (as it probably would be understood) to imply the
    existence of Socrates, then a strict application of the criterion of
    contradiction requires that our contradictory be written-If there is
    such a man as Socrates, he is unwise

  71. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    What if it wasn’t Socrates, but someone else of the same name?

  72. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Of course Danish doesn’t have a gerund-participle, because the three Germanic deverbal nouns didn’t merge. Hørende, høren and høring all translate to English as hearing. (I’m not quite sure which of those deserve the name of “gerund,” but probably the second one comes closest to the Latin concept — its usage is similar to the German substantivierter Infinitiv). But more to the point, perhaps, we see no need to mark the progressive aspect on the verb; there are all sorts of handy adverbs to use in case the distinction matters.

    If and only if does take some getting used to (tar lidt tid at vænne sig til), it’s probably best kept as jargon — how about exactly when? (Præcis når would be cromulent in Danish).

  73. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    I think I’ve sorted out this if and only if, but maybe some cleverer person can check for me.

    If I (philosophically speaking) say ‘I wear a hat if my head is cold’, I mean that there are no occasions when my head is cold and I don’t wear a hat, but I might wear a hat for another reason on other occasions.

    If I say ‘I wear a hat only if my head is cold’, then there are no occasions when I wear a hat and my head isn’t cold, but I might have a cold head and still not be wearing a hat.

    However, if I say ‘I wear a hat if and only if my head is cold’, then the two things coincide completely, with no expections.

    Which isn’t quite the same as the meanings in casual speech, particularly the ‘stop moaning and put a hat on’ implication of the first version, although there are definite overlaps.

  74. To be fair to Keynes and Chadwick (who appeared in this thread to exemplify use of a particular two word phrase not as exponents of particular views on language) I think they are interested here much more in constructing a system for making valid inference between propositions than they are in interpreting sentences as used in ordinary English.

    Sure, but these guys — and Wittgenstein too — do not make the kind of distinction you’re making; I’m not sure any of them would have agreed that their analyses were of nothing more than their own constructions.

  75. Lars Mathiesen says:

    @Jen, that is exactly how it’s interpreted in maths, except that notation is used to obscure the plain sense of it.

    “de Morgan uses notation! It is very effective!”

  76. I wasn’t familiar with the technical term “just in case” either.

    I heard it in the 1970s — from a transformationalist — and thought it was a strange American usage. Nice to find out it’s a philosophical usage that was taken over by linguists of that persuasion.

  77. @J. W. Brewer: I suppose that the book title was designed to begin with the common saying “Love is blind” and then to modify it.

  78. David Eddyshaw says:

    Sure, but these guys — and Wittgenstein too — do not make the kind of distinction you’re making; I’m not sure any of them would have agreed that their analyses were of nothing more than their own constructions.

    Wittgenstein got better after teaching primary school for a bit. The solution might be to make this mandatory for all philosophers.

  79. Sure, but these guys — and Wittgenstein too — do not make the kind of distinction you’re making; I’m not sure any of them would have agreed that their analyses were of nothing more than their own constructions.

    I don’t know enough about Chadwick to say anything but Keynes’s book begins with an explanation of what he thinks his subject matter is: “Logic may be defined as the science which investigates the general principles of valid thought … in particular, it seeks to determine the conditions under which we are justified in passing from given judgments to other judgments that follow from them.” He says this necessitates an interest in language because it is is the instrument through which propositions are expressed and logic “cannot be adequately discussed, unless account is taken of the way in which this instrument actually performs its functions”. He draws a contrast between the precision required to express propositions in a form suitable for formal treatment and the imprecisions of “ordinary discourse”. “Language is full of ambiguities, and it is impossible to proceed far with the problems with which logic is concerned until a precise interpretation has been placed upon certain forms of words as representing thought”. That is pretty close to the distinction, isn’t it? I don’t say his conception of the ordinary use of language has the subtlety of later philosophy but nowhere does he seem to me to say or imply either that ordinary discourse only ever expresses logical propositions, unambiguous and free of context, of the sort he analyses or, at the other extreme, that what he analyses is some construction independent of ordinary language.

  80. Wittgenstein got better after teaching primary school for a bit

    But didn’t he get into trouble for excessive corporal punishment of his students? I don’t know that traumatizing small children is an acceptable price for improving the thought processes of would-be philosophers. At the least, there would have to be some sort of Institutional Review Board to oversee such matters.

  81. Or perhaps I should say: just in case, there would have to be an IRB…

  82. nowhere does he seem to me to say or imply either that ordinary discourse only ever expresses logical propositions, unambiguous and free of context, of the sort he analyses or, at the other extreme, that what he analyses is some construction independent of ordinary language.

    Exactly, and it’s the other extreme that I would have liked to see. I mean, not independent exactly, but having little or no relevance to it. For that matter, I’d like to see a similar acknowledgment from Chomskyites: “We enjoy our little walled garden, but don’t worry, we don’t claim to know anything about actual language as spoken by humans.”

  83. J.W. Brewer says:

    But it’s not that natural language is too imprecise and thus needs to be hijacked in order for logicians to talk about what they want to talk about. “P being true is both a necessary and a sufficient condition for Q being true” is a perfectly cromulent English sentence, innit? The trouble comes when logicians want to use a less wordy formulation and paraphrase a sentence like that into another, terser English sentence that doesn’t mean quite the same thing. If you wanna be terse, you have those symbolic notations.

  84. Logicians are just humans and they do what all humans do, use simplifications, shortcuts, metaphors (and ocasionally litotes)

  85. David Eddyshaw says:

    But didn’t [Wittgenstein] get into trouble for excessive corporal punishment of his students?

    Apparently there was no problem with his corporal punishment of boys, which was felt to be entirely in line with contemporary norms; the trouble was that he treated the girls in just the same way as the boys, under the obviously ludicrous misapprehension that they were every bit as capable of learning maths etc.

    Still, your general point is incontestable: if philosophers were to teach primary school, they would obviously need to be very closely supervised. Corporal punishment would be the least of the worries … one shudders to think of the probable effect of the Theory of Types on an immature brain …

  86. From which I digress to arithmetic: Is the usual order of arithmetic operations, with the operator in the middle (as in 1+1) an artifact of our mathematical forebears speaking SVO languages (unless the operators evolved from conjunctions, not verbs)? Did Sanskrit (SOV) arithmetic put the operator last? Does Japanese (SOV)? If so, do Japanese users find HP’s RPN calculators less esoteric than Americans?

  87. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Wikipedia surmises that + was originally a form of the word et. (The whole article looks like it was cribbed wholesale from EB). So more like a conjunction.

  88. J.W. Brewer says:

    I pulled off my shelves McCawley’s “Everything that Linguists have Always Wanted to Know about Logic* *but were ashamed to ask” (2d ed. 1991). What Keynes pere apparently talked about as “existential import” is covered under the theme “‘world-creating’ predicates,” which may be more useful and has an interesting discussion of whether the correct answer to the question “Is this painting a picture of someone?” ought to be “Yes, it’s a picture of Santa Claus” or “No, it’s a picture of Santa Claus.” There are also other example sentences that might have troubled Keynes and Chadwick, such as “If Sapporo is the largest city on Hokkaido, then Beethoven lived in Vienna.” There is also a (counterfactual) example sentence which presupposes that the first Pres. Bush had chosen Donald Trump for an important cabinet position (and Manuel Noriega for another), but now I can’t find it quickly, because the index does not include personalities mentioned only in example sentences.

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