[lit-ideas] Geary on Attributive/Predicative

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 21 May 2004 08:24:12 EDT

J. M. Geary writes in reply to R. Paul:
>We all know that Sherlock Holmes was a dectective, but, of course, he
>wasn't, since he wasn't an actual person and only actual persons can be


But you said _dectective_. Interestingly, Google.com retrieves 8,020 hits for 
'dectective' and it may well be an alternate spelling in the OED, but R. Paul 
has not checked.

R. Paul writes:

>I want to learn more about Geary's
>theory of abstract predication.

Geary replies with a rhetorical question,

>isn't the only predication possible encoding?

Interestingly, talking of 'predication' (vs. 'attribution') I was reading F. 
Sibley's posthumous paper, 'Adjectives: attributive and predicative' 
(Clarendon Press, 2001), and its commentary by C. Lyas in _Essays after Sibley_ 
(Clarendon, 2001): The manifold complexity of adjectives. It seems Sibley's 
reflections fit Geary's. Consider 'blue'. 'Blue' is identified by Sibley as the 
_predicative_ adjective _par excellence_ -- as opposed to 'big'. Whereas if you 
(1), you can always disagree, with (2):

  (1) The car is big.
   (2) Not really big for a car. I've seen bigger.

But you don't seem able to proceed ditto with 'blue'

   (3) The car is blue.
   (4) Not really blue for a car.

-- or at least C. Lyas says in the excerpt below. Then there's Moore's 
comparison of 'yellow' and 'good' -- implicating that Aristotle was wrong. What 
Sibley does -- rehashing a discussion by Geach, and McKay -- is the old 
'attributive'-'predicative' distinction (Quine's syncategoremic in _Word and 
Object_. It 
does not just pertain to colour words, but interestingly these colour words 
seem to have epitomised the _predicative_ extreme of the 
predicative-attributive continuum. More quotes from Lyas below. -- Cheers,


Lyas writes: "That some distinction is needed is suggested by the fact that 
from 'this is a big flea' and 'this is a creature' it does not follow that this 
is a big creature. Whereas from 'this is a red flea' and 'this is a creature' 
it seems certainly to follow that this is a red creature" (p. 151). ... 
"Whereas a forged banknote is no banknote, bad food can still be food -- 
though, as 
[Jerrold] Levinson points out to me, beyond a certain point of 
non-nutiritious awfulness it would cease to be so)."  ... "Sibley's discussion 
of these 
tests is an exemplary exercise of philosophical methodology." ... "Take 'X is a 
good sponge fisherman', add 'a spnge fisherman is a vertebrate', and you get 'a 
good sponge fisherman is a good vertebrate'. This is not false but rather odd. 
... Let 'aristocratic' be predicative. Then from 'Jarvis Cocker is an 
aristocratic person' and 'persons are vertebrates' we get the conclusion 'an 
aristocratic person is an aristocratic vertebrate', which, by the oddity test, 
'aristocratic' attributive." ... "Most, if not all adjectives, have more than 
one meaning. 'Damien Hirst is big' cannot be assigned a truth value unless we 
know whether 'big' means 'physically large' or 'hot on the culltural ephemera 
market'. Eddy Zemach put the cat among the pigeons when this paper was first 
delivered by robustly denying that any adjectives were predicative. At the 
he will have to explain the oddity of expressions like 'red for a car'." ... 
"[Sibley's] 'Adjectives, predicative and attributive' ... was subsequently 
read at ... Cambridge, where the audience included Anscombe and Geach, neither 
whom, Sibley told me with some relief on his return, appeared to find 
anything wrong with it." ... "Sibley hoped that his account, as an account of a 
distinction, would be vigorously debated whereas, as often was the case, once 
had finished, there didn't seem much to debate." ... "Moore's comparison of 
'good' with 'yellow' suggests that he clearly thought it predicative. This is 
innocent step. For so to categorize 'good' is to take a stand against virtue 
ethics, of the kind to be found in Aristotle." Further refs include of course 
Geach's paper -- on 'evil and good' -- and one (cited by Sibley) by McKay, 
'Attributive-Predicative'. Sibley also quotes from Aristotle's El.Soph. on 
(concave) as applied to 'nose' only. 

Sibley writes: "This is crucial when one makes some general claim about an 
adjective, as Geach does for 'good' and 'bad, for I believe this consideration 
applies to them. Of course the various meanings of potentially ambiguous words 
may be quite unrelated, mere accidents of language; or contingently related as 
'red' (colour and 'communist'); or related in meaning in varying degrees 
ranging from 'dry' (applies to wines, wit, and umbrellas), and 'sour' (applied 
fruit and faces) to 'intelligent' (applied to men and actions) and 'healthy' 
(applied to people and diets)." (Sibley, 'Adjectives, Predicative and 
Attributive', p. 159).

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