Thanks to McEvoy for his commentary.
We are considering Donleavy’s concept of “wrong information” (as being given
out at, of all places, Princeton, Donleavy suspects). McEvoy quotes a question:
“So what does Donleavy implicate?” “(That’s the Popperian question)” -- and
comments: “No, it is not – [the Popperian question].”
McEvoy expands: “Popper’s question, or questions, go to whether this kind of
analysis gets us anywhere worthwhile.” But he (Popper, that is) did lecture at
Prince-town, so perhaps he should know? “Popper’s position here is nuanced and
complicated but might be summed up in two main theses.”
McEvoy lists those two main theses for us: “The first thesis is,” to put it
bluntly, that “[Grice’s\ 'conceptual analysis' is a hoax, in that there is no
worthwhile substantive knowledge to be gained by analysis of concepts.” The
second thesis is subdivided in two minor Popperian points:
“There may be worthwhile, substantive knowledge as to, say, metaphysical
issues.” And, surprisingly: “It is possible that such knowledge can be
extracted from something presented as a 'conceptual analysis'.”
McEvoy goes on to note that: “For a conceptual analyist, these two theses may
appear difficult to reconcile, if not contradictory.” “Within Popper's
philosophy they are not.”
“In respect of (1), Popper maintains that either a claim is 'non-substantive
definitional/conceptual' or it is 'substantive non-definitional/non-conceptual'
i.e. there is no such thing as a claim that's both substantive/synthetic (where
it may be false given the facts) and simultaneously true merely by definition
of terms (or conceptually). Re (2)(b) Popper claims it may be worthwhile
sometimes to recast an argument presented as true definitionally/conceptually
so it is regarded instead as a substantive /synthetic claim, and assessed as
As to Grice’s claim that ‘false’ (never mind Donleavy’s ‘wrong’) information is
no information, McEvoy takes sides: “This is [notably NOT] Popper's view. For
Popper, Newton's physics is information - indeed has extremely high
'informative content' (perhaps the highest of any human "information" at the
point Newton published his _Principia_) - though that physics is false.
Similarly, "knowledge", for Popper, includes false propositions.”
Even if, or ESPECIALLY (as Donleavy might prefer) if given out – or worse,
taught -- at Princeton.
McEvoy notes: “Popper thinks it pointless to try to treat any dispute here as a
'conceptual' one:- it is of course possible to 'conceive' "information" and
"knowledge" so that, for example, a proposition can only constitute
"information" or "knowledge" if it is true, but _it is purely a matter of words
and how we use them_ whether we restrict "information" and "knowledge" to what
is "true". This matter of words leaves the important substantive issues
Although it would perhaps NOT leave Princeton’s reputation untouched. (I say
this with some Donleavyian irony, seeing that Gilbert Harman, one of the best
Griceians, gave out some information at Princeton – and in fact, invited the
“Master” to give out some, too).
McEvoy goes on: “For example the substantive role of false propositions in the
growth of knowledge (where Popper would say any serious thinker should admit
false propositions have played a most significant role in the growth of
knowledge). Popper might well say that what underpins Grice's claim that 'false
info is no info' is Grice's adherence to 'JTB-theory' (as it might be termed
i.e. the theory that "knowledge is JTB"). If knowledge = JTB, then it follows
that what is untrue cannot be "knowledge". It is clear that Popper's "Objective
Knowledge - An Evolutionary Approach" is, inter alia, a many-sided attack on
JTB-theory. It is on substantive issues, of 'knowledge as JTB' versus
'knowledge as evolutionary product of life', that Popper would mark his
opposition to Grice (who, compared to Popper, is not an important theorist of
knowledge at all). What Popper is not interested in is "Objective Knowledge - A
Definitional Approach' - equally his interest in JTB-theory is not 'conceptual'
but only because of the substantive theory of knowledge with which 'JTB-theory'
is tied. It goes much further than this e.g. Popper argues that trees and
plants have "knowledge". If someone denies this, by defining "knowledge" so
this is impossible, Popper would say it is a deadend to think this denial
advances anything but also a deadend to think one definition can be proved
against the other. Rather we can go one of two ways and both substantively get
us to the same place: either we can accept it is definitionally impossible for
"knowledge" to be false, and then move to the substantive question whether what
is 'false' nevertheless plays a role in the evolution of knowledge; or we can
accept false knowledge is definitionally possible, and then move to the
substantive question false knowledge plays a role in the evolution of knowledge
(vis-a-vis certain aims, such as increased truth-likeness or truthfulness). The
either/or debate is a pointless one here. The substantive questions remain the
same whatever definitional dogmas we adopt.”
Touché. And thanks for the clarifications.
It might be argued that Donleavy, by ‘wrong’ information, means, ‘immoral’
information. (There’s ‘right’ information and there’s wrong information, that
happens to be given out at Princeton.)
The (perhaps, now, yes, Popperian) question is whether ‘wrong’ information (in
this ‘moral’ usage of ‘wrong’) can be ‘true’.
A conceptual analyst would perhaps challenge a Popperian with Grice’s quip,
“How clever language is!”. There’s the lexical item, “misinformation;” so it
seems that English speakers prefer to narrow down the use of ‘info’ to _true_
information – and throw everything else under ‘MIS-information’.
But “mis-“ can trigger the wrong implicatures. If I misplaced my keys, it
doesn’t mean I have NOT placed them (+> somewhere). So misinformation is still
different from non-information, one would suspect.
It might be all different at Princeton, and perhaps Harman did take offense by
Or most likely not.
Grice’s seminar notes at Princeton (for what they are worth) are now deposited
at the Grice Collection, in the Bancroft, at Berkeley.
Is that the right place?
We do say, “wrong answer!” when we implicate something related to ‘false’.
Consider a multiple-choice question, where three choices are given. You review
your results, and you realise that, “oops, wrong answer!” – in full expansion,
the proposition “p” expressed by the answer I chose proves to be ‘false’”. It
might be argued that ‘wrong answer!’ is short for ‘wrong choice of an answer’.
And in any case, Donleavy is more focused on ‘wrong information’ as being given
out at Princeton. This comes from a novel whose subtitle refers to the
chronicles of a New Yorker: “The Chronicle of One of the Strangest Stories Ever
to Be Rumoured about Around New York” and the attending implicature is that it
is this chronicle that may involve one proposition or two that are not exactly
_true_. One reviewer wrote:
“Like his protagonist, Stephen, the novel is a muddle without purpose and
without irony. In fact, the novel’s promise ends at its amusing (but
where ‘misleading’ is almost like ‘wrong’ if not ‘misinformative.’ (Wikipedia
does NOT list Donleavy’s novel under the entry “Princeton” – “In literature”).
On the other hand, Donleavy’s second wife was, like Donleavy his self,
American. Donleavy used to refer to her as an ‘aristocrat’ from the East Coast.
The second Mrs. Donleavy’s gregarious instincts did not match her husband’s
enjoyment of solitude.
She had two children during her marriage to Donleavy, but she left him, taking
the children with her.
An acrimonious custody battle ensued, in the privacy of The London High Court
where, it was later reported, DNA evidence was provided showing that Donleavy
was *not* the (biological) father of their children.
The divorce went through and Donleavy’s second wife later re-married Finn
Guinness, a scion of the brewing family.
Donleavy continued to acknowledge their children as his in his "Who’s Who"
The world at large remained ignorant of their true parentage until Donleavy’s
former second wife admitted publicly that, while married to Donleavy, she had
had an affair with Finn’s elder brother Kieran Guinness, and that Kieran had
fathered their daughter, Rebecca.
She then had an affair with Finn and had a son, Rory.
Donleavy stayed on good terms with both Finn Guinness and his wife – and that
is right information!