[lit-ideas] Re: I will but I shan't

  • From: Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 18 Mar 2014 15:32:41 -0700 (PDT)

I seem to think that my opinions were misrepresented by JL, but whatever. 
Perhaps a more annoying issue is a claimed inability to understand, as if I am 
expressing myself like Heidegger or Derrida, instead of expressing myself in 
rather prosaic English.


On Tuesday, March 18, 2014 11:21 PM, "Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx" <Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx> 
We are reminiscing an exchange. It all started with McEvoy challenging  
Popper with the statement:

This was McEvoy's pre-Oxford days, which sound to me like Cambridge  days.

McEvoy notes:

"When I was at [secondary] school a friend of mine, 
who filled out my application to Oxford when 
I could not be bothered because he wanted 
me to go with him (we both got in, but it was all his fault), 
was adamant that Popper was 
some CIA-funded stooge."

"Suitably impressed, I put a version of
this allegation to Popper in one of my ... letters to him"

Let us symbolise this as:

i. Popper is a CIA-funded stooge.

Popper replied that he didn't understand McEvoy.

And he was polite enough, since McEvoy was making the same point about R.  
Paul not understanding stuff (but understanding Benjamin's Mondernism)

Basically, Popper's point can be rephrased as:

"As to [McEvoy's] more personal criticisms of me, 
I do not understand them (i.e. your criticisms)"

I.e. Popper shows an inability to understand an utterance like:

i. Popper is a CIA-funded stooge.

He is polite enough to go on:

"and do not see what I could say in self-defence or, if I said anything in  
self-defence, why you should believe me." 

McEvoy is right that there are various readings to this rephrasing.

For Popper is talking about

ii. McEvoy believes Popper.

Rather than any good old proposition, 'p'. But surely (ii) should be  
expanded, as per Popper's implicature, into:

iii. McEvoy believes Popper as to Popper NOT being a CIA-funded  stooge.

-- i.e. it's the proposition expressed in (i) that Popper was responding to 
-- what he called McEvoy's "criticisms". 

As McEvoy notes, as things are:

"Popper may have written "would" not "should"."

"It hardly affects the substance."

Well, there are TWO substances: 

one is the inability by Popper to understand the claim which I have  
expressed as (i). The other is the logical consequence of this: surely Popper  
cannot answer a criticism he cannot understand. The real substance is that  
Popper implicates the negation of (i)

iii. Popper is NOT a CIA-funded stooge.

For, otherwise, he couldn't have called McEvoy's statement a 'criticism'  
(even if he didn't understand it).

McEvoy now notes in retrospect:

"and so [the use of 'should' or 'would'] hardly affects the sense in any  
important way - though it of course may give rise to grammatical nitpicking 
from  those who think this intellectually important enough."

Well, if we are GOING to nitpick, we should expand the thing into 

iv. McEvoy's reasons why he should or would believe that Popper is NOT a  
CIA-funded stooge, seeing that Popper says it.

Which allows for expansion:

v. Popper gives a proof that he was not a CIA-funded stooge (although it is 
hard to prove a negative -- _pace_ McEvoy) and McEvoy is convinced.

It would seem that Popper is further implicating (or disimplicating,  
perhaps, at this stage) that a statement like (i) -- "Popper is a CIA-funded  
stooge" -- can only be REFUTED or falsified conclusively.

But, as an anti-inductivist, Popper would hardly care to provide EVIDENCE  
for his not being a CIA-funded stooge. 

Perhaps he should have challenged McEvoy to refute him (where it is not  
clear who the 'him' refers to).

McEvoy goes on:

"As a matter of "sense", I would contend "should" is perfectly in order  in 
good English: because its sense is the same as "would" here, but it is  
somehow more polite."

Yes. Supposing something like Grice's maxims apply, suppose Omar  says:

Benjamin was a Soviet spy.

Seeing that Omar is operating by, "Do not say what you believe to be false  
or lack adequate evidence for", surely the addressee of the utterance 
should  TRUST Omar.

Similarly, if Popper would have cared to merely NEGATE McEvoy's criticism  
(by virtue of having understood it in the first place) I think, Gricean 
maxims  operating, McEvoy may have come to believe that Popper was NOT a 
CIA-funded  stooge ("since he himself told me so").

Instead, Popper challenges the intelligibility of the statement and  
explores the possibility that there is no obligation ("should") under which or  
which McEvoy will or would come to believe the proposition whose negation 
he  put forward ("Popper is NOT a CIA-funded stooge").

McEvoy provides an alternative:

"Take the phrase "You are what you eat". The "sense" of this in English  is 
clear enough - it means, roughly, how you are is importantly affected by 
your  diet: it is a more compendious and pointed way of expressing this. Only 
a  grammarian with an obtuse mind would object on the grounds that the 
phrase,  taken literally, means something like "If a person eats a banana, that 
person is  (or becomes) a banana" - this "literal" meaning is not the sense 
of the phrase,  of course, and it would be absurd to suggest it."

Well, I would take it that the meaning:

"You are a banana"

is part of the DISIMPLICATURE of the statement.

Note that, while you are what you eat, it is not true that you eat what you 
are (by reverse).

"I feel that making any point about the difference between "would" and  
"should" in the context of Popper's letter is similarly misconceived and absurd 
- as there is, in standard polite English, a substantial overlap, so that 
in  many cases the following phrases are equivalent: (a) "I should if I were 
you"  (b) "I would if I were you"".

Granted. But the more specific context here is in the course of an  

"You are a CIA-funded stooge".

And Popper's rather polite way out. "Sorry I don't understand you, and in  
any case, what could I say?". The latter part, less rhetorically put, 
"Nothing  that I can say SHOULD change your mind, or should it?"


McEvoy goes on:

"It seems to me some philosophers are so tied up in "grammar", they have  
blindfolded themselves to understanding the actual sense of words as they are 
used by people. So much the worse for being tied up in "grammar"".

Perhaps the one to blame is the father of the friend of McEvoy's  
"Cambridge" days (i.e. pre-Oxford).

For, recall, the accusation came 'second-hand':

McEvoy's friend, McEvoy recalls, was adamant as to the truth of 

i. Popper is a CIA-funded stooge.

McEvoy's friend's evidence:

"adamant, adamant, like it had been clearly proved somewhere (though he  
also had forgotten the reference, he knew this via his father who was a  
university academic)."

McEvoy recalls that he was "suitably impressed."

---- The father of McEvoy's friend (or 'friend of his', as he may prefer)  
was an university academic --. Here we may look for common ground.

For Popper, 'some' allegedly CIA-funded 'stooge' (to use McEvoy's  friend's 
wording) -- or is it 'allegedly some CIA-funded stooge' -- was, like  the 
father to McEvoy's friend, ALSO an university academic.

It's different, perhaps, with Soviet spies.

As Omar now recalls:

"Okay, ... I cannot prove that [Benjamin] was a spy. It may be  that I 
confused him with some other left-wing intellectual of the period."

Note that a more elaborate exchange could have been:

"The father of a friend of mine says you are a CIA-funded stooge".

"Sorry, but I don't understand that. And whatever I should say, SHALL [or  
will] your friend's father change his obtuse mind?"

Or not.



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