[lit-ideas] Re: D. P. Henry's Quæstio Subtilissima

  • From: "" <dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> (Redacted sender "Jlsperanza" for DMARC)
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 20 Oct 2015 10:27:58 -0400

In his essay published for the Manchester University Press, D. P. Henry,
the renowned philosopher, wondered about what he called a 'quæstio
subtilissima', to wit, whether "a chimera buzzing in vacuity is able to devour
second intentions". He adds that this was debated, to fruitful results, for ten

weeks, at Constance, during a council meant to deal with the schism in the
Church and the Hussite heresy.

In a message dated 10/20/2015 9:33:39 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx writes:
You're kidding.

Indeed. If a 'chimæra' is a one-year she-goat, it might well be that the
Norses had no word for it. They used 'kid' instead.

The first written record of this (the Norses spoke more than they wrote --
due to the difficulty of carving runes) is 1203, where a trunk reads,


Skeat thinks the meaning here is: "the young of a goat".

"And I say the meaning is such because I can trace the Scandinavian kið
"from Proto-Germanic *kidjom."

"Otherwise," he adds as if to convince Popper, "how would you explain the
cognates in Old High German ("kizzi") and its modern German descendant,
"kitze", and Danish and Swedish "kid".

The way McEvoy turns the Norse root into a verb to "tease playfully, to
coax, wheedle, hoax", Skeat notes, is "probably related to the way humans
interpret the behaviour of kids", i.e. "treat as a kid, make a kid of."

The word also gives to the expression "to kidnap". As Skeat explains, "The
Norses worshipped their goats and modeled expensive gold statues of them.
These were often stolen. Due to the frequency of this, 'kid-napper', a
snatcher of a statue of a goat -- or sometimes the snatcher of an actual goat
became a conversation topic.

"The goats," Skeat continues, "were probably snatched to be eaten, and
their gold statues to display -- the idea that the real goat was snatched was
stolen to be transported to the American colonies is perhaps an

But back to Popper's treatment of the 'quæstio subtilissima' whether "a
chimera buzzing in vacuity is able to devour second intentions". The thing
would be unfalsifiable.

For Strawson it would lack a truth-value (Strawson borrows 'truth-value
gap' from Quine).

For Grice, it would be false that a chimera buzzing in vacuity is able to
devour second intentions. Nevertheless, it can trigger an implicature to the
effect that a second intention needs to be 'materialised somehow' and
surely a goat can eat something materialized.


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