[lit-ideas] Re: Literally

  • From: Adriano Palma <Palma@xxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 2 May 2015 10:39:36 +0000

Palma Gershom a partagé la photo de NThambo Tree Camp.
2 h ·
occasionally, true love
Photo de NThambo Tree Camp.

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Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: Literally

McEvoy refers to what an 'explanation' or philosophical explanation may amount
to. I address that, and throw in 'spirit vs. letter', and 'legere' into the

In a message dated 5/1/2015 7:55:34 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx writes:
"[E]ven if "telementationalism" is right or correct up to a point, it falls
well short of a "theory of meaning" that explains how and why words have the
meanings they have."

Well, it is true that authors such as Grice do distinguish between a theory of
meaning and an analysis of meaning. He thinks that 'meaning' is an intuitive
concept, and a conceptual analysis will just do. To think that we need a
THEORY of meaning would mean we must postulate 'meaning' as a 'theoretical
term' beyond our intuitive reach, and this is counter-intuitive. (He develops
this point when reviewing "Mrs. Jack on the rights and wrongs of Grice on

McEvoy goes on:

"[F]or example, why the calling out of "Dog" may be a noun when asked what kind
of pet we have or a proper name if we have called our dog "Dog" etc."

Well, the telementationalist may apply Grice's section on "Names and
Descriptions" in his essay in the Quine festschrift. "Dog" used as a proper
name would defy translation, and thus a word in Finnish including a reference
to "Dog" would still use 'Dog', whereas a sentence referring to the kind of
pet would need to translate 'dog' to Finnish.

There ARE criteria.

McEvoy goes on:

"The "telemantationist", a la JLS' Grice, merely indicates we model on each
other's psychological schemes - but, even if true, this does not explain how we
are able to develop psychological schemes where the same words may have
different senses and different words the same senses (to mention just two
problems any "theory of meaning" would have to solve. One of the great defects
of modern academic philosophers is their frequent delusion that they have
properly explained something when what they say amounts to nothing like a
proper explanation - it is as if they are ill-educated in what a proper
explanation looks like."

I think Omar K. was raising the same point when he was defending the view that
a philosopher POINTS to a problem for the SCIENTIST to solve or explain. I
think this is wrong in that there is a keyword: "PHILOSOPHICAL EXPLANATION".

I can attend a lecture by a philosopher. He presents a problem, he provides,
say, a conceptual analysis, and he offers other tidbits, and I leave the
lecture hall, whispering, "I am convinced by his explanation, are you?".
Philosophical explanation is not scientific explanation.

McEvoy gives another example:

"A typical error is to offer some definitional argument as if it constitutes an
explanation, which it never does e.g. that defining "knowledge" as JTB somehow
explains the character of knowledge, whereas it merely amounts to a
stipulation. On top of that, they are often themselves confused as to whether
they are offering something substantive or merely definitional - and often
because they harbour the delusion that a mere definition can also express a
substantive truth [akin to a delusion that the analytic can be simultaneously
synthetic. McGinn, we might remember, is someone who in the same book - his
"The Philosophy of Mind" - manages at two different points to assert both that
the self cannot be a "substance" and that we are driven to the conclusion that
the self is a "substance" (while the same word can have two different senses
without contradiction, these two propositions can only be reconciled by saying
we are driven to a mistaken conclusion, which does not appear to be what
McGinn wishes to say). But then McGinn belongs to that club overly prone to
reasoning that is tortuous to very little effect.
JLS is also a member."

Well, 'self' is a notoriously difficult item in the philosopher's lexicon, and
I'm not surprised McGinn (who knew Grice well -- he exaggerates in his
"Memoirs", though, when he says Grice "had only one tooth") was not careful
enough with Grice's early essay on "Personal Identity" and failed to stick with
Grice's modified Occam's razor, "Do not multiply senses of 'self'
beyond necessity".

An analysis of 'self' (or personal identity) is PRETTY complicated one. One in
terms of memory is provided by Grice in the aforementioned paper, and he
concludes: "Some may argue that my analysis of the simple concept of "I"
(as in "I fell from the stairs") is a case of 'obscurus per obscurius', but
this criticism is so weak that I won't even address it". Perry, decades later,
felt that Grice's essay was still very valuable and provided a lovely intro to
it in a book on "Personal identity" published by Grice's university then:
University of California Press at Berkeley.

Now for the letter and the law and the legere.

"Law" in the Graeco-Roman terminology is cognate with 'legere', which means
'read'. I read from Short/Lewis, "Latin Dictionary':

"legere": to read or peruse a writing.

INTERLUDE with Lewis/Short's apparatus ---

ut eos libros per te ipse legeres, Cic. Top. 1: defensionem causae, id.
Verr. 2, 5, 43, § 112: legi apud Clitomachum, A. Albium jocantem dixisse, etc.,
id. Ac. 2, 45, 137: aliquid studiose intenteque, Plin. Ep. 9, 13, 1:
significas legisse te in quadam epistula mea, jussisse Verginium, etc., id.
9, 19, 1: philosophorum consultorumque opiniones, Quint. 12, 11, 17: liber
tuus et lectus est et legitur a me diligenter, Cic. Fam. 6, 5, 1:
orationem, Quint. 1, 1, 6: aiunt multum legendum esse non multa, Plin. Ep. 7,
9, 15.
—With a pers. obj.: antiquos et novos, Quint. 2, 5, 23: antiquos studiosius,
id. 3, 6, 62: poëtas, id. 1, 4, 4. —In pass.: Horatius fere solus legi dignus,
Quint. 10, 1, 96: si cum judicio legatur Cassius Severus, id. 10, 1,
116: dumque legar, mecum pariter tua fama legetur, Ov. Tr. 5, 14, 5:
sepulcra legens, when reading epitaphs, Cic. de Sen. 7, 21: legentium
plerisque, Liv. 1 praef. § 4: opus nescio an minimae legentibus futurum
voluptati, to my readers, Quint. 3, 1, 2; cf. id. 9, 4, 2; 2, 5, 3: nec
Cynicos nec Stoica dogmata, Juv. 13, 121.—Absol.: legendi usus, Lact. 3, 25,
9: memoriam continuus legendi usus instruit, Macr. S. 1, 5, 1.—

-- end of interlude.

And so, we have some notion of 'reading' when speaking of the Law, on which
Cicero was obsessed. What about the perhaps more philosophically interesting
distinction between the 'spirit' and the 'letter', or is it the letter and the
spirit. If 'spirit' is ghost, we have a sort of a Rylean ghost in a machine, as
it were.

To distinguish between the 'letter' of, say, the law versus the 'spirit' of it
said to be an idiomatic antithesis in need of some conceptual analysis.

Thus, when one obeys the letter of law L1 but not the spirit of L1, one is
obeying the "literal" interpretation of the words (the "letter") of the law,
but not the Griceian M-intent of those who wrote the law.

By "M-intending", Grice means the intention as conceptually analysed in "Way of
Words": i.e. all the three types of intention that are required to MEAN
something: the intention to display your psychological attitude (a belief or a
desire), the intention that one's addressee will recognise that intention, and
finally the intention that nothing which is not aboveboard (figuratively
speaking) counts as having been meant.

Conversely, when one obeys the 'spirit' of, say, the law but not the 'letter',
one is doing what the authors of the law M-intended, though not necessarily
adhering to the literal wording.

It is not clear what is best.

"Law" originally referred to legislative statute, but in the idiom may refer to
any kind of rule, since, as Hart demonstrates, the law is a system of primary
and secondary rules.

Intentionally following the letter of the law but not the spirit may be
accomplished through exploiting technicalities, loopholes, and ambiguous

William Shakespeare wrote numerous plays dealing with the 'letter' versus the
'spirit' antithesis, and he may have taken it from Boccaccio (I find that most
interesting things Shakespeare wrote he borrowed from Boccaccio but never

Shakespeare almost always comes down on the side of "spirit", often forcing
villains (who always sided with the letter) to make concessions and remedy.

In one of the best known examples, "The Merchant of Venice", he introduces the
quibble as a plot device to save BOTH the spirit and the letter of the law.

The moneylender Shylock has made an agreement with Antonio that if he cannot
repay a loan he will have a pound of flesh from him.

When the debt is not repaid in time Porzia at first pleads for mercy in a
famous speech:

"The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath.
It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes."

When Shylock refuses, she finally saves Antonio by pointing out that Shylock's
agreement with him mentioned no blood, and therefore Shylock can have his pound
of flesh only if he sheds no blood.

When Porzia says that there was no mention of 'blood', she means "EXPLICATURE".
"Blood" may have been IMPLICATED, but implicatures are cancellable.

To refer to another realm, interpretations of the U.S. Constitution have
historically divided on the "Letter versus Spirit" debate.

For example, at the founding, the Federalist Party argued for a looser (rather
than 'literal') interpretation of the Constitution, granting Congress broad
powers in keeping with the spirit of the broader purpose of some founders
(notably including the Federalist founders' purposes).

The Federalists would have represented the "spirit" aspect.

I..e they would be Griceian at heart.

In contrast, the Democratic-Republicans, who favoured a limited federal
government, argued for the strict, 'literal', interpretation of the
Constitution, arguing that the federal government was granted only those powers
enumerated in the Constitution, and nothing not explicitly stated.

No implicatures allowed, as it were. On the other hand, the Federalist would
counter-argue: Implicature happens.

The Democratic-Republicans represented the "letter" interpretation, and would
be Russellian in spirit. Recall that Grice concedes that both Russell and
Strawson make the same 'common mistake': they fail to recognise Implicature.
But still the Federalists are more Griceian than the Democratic-Republicans.

Modern Constitutional interpretation also divides on these lines.

Currently, Living Constitution scholars advocate a "spirit"-esque
interpretative strategy, although one grounded in a spirit that reflects broad
powers. This may be given a Griceian explanation and justification.

Originalist or Textualist scholars advocate a more "letter"-based approach,
arguing that the Amendment process of the Constitution necessarily forecloses
broader interpretations that can be accomplished simply by passing an
amendment. This can also be given a Griceian explanation and justification by
stating as per an axiom, "No implicatures, please."

A third realm is the Christian Bible references the letter and the spirit of
the law in Romans 2:29 NASB.

Though it is not quoted directly, the principle is applied using the words
"spirit" and "letter" in context with the legalistic view of the Hebrew Bible.

This is the first recorded use of the phrase, as it should, so perhaps it's
not Graeco-Roman in nature, but since it occurs in "Romans" it is perhaps at
least "Roman", who were also pretty legalistic in spirit.

In the New Testament, Pharisees are seen as people who place 'the letter'
of the law above 'the spirit' or Griceian M-Intention (Mark 2:3–28, 3:1– 6).

Thus, "Pharisee" has entered the language as a pejorative for one who does so.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'pharisee' with one of the meanings as a
person of the spirit or character commonly attributed to the Pharisees in the
New Testament; a legalist or formalist.

Of course this is figurative, as when the Queen met the Greek ambassador at
her own garden party.

THE QUEEN: You are from Athens, I suppose.
THE GREEK AMBASSADOR: No, ma'am, if I may, ma'am. I'm a Lesbian.


Pharisees are also depicted as being lawless or corrupt (Matthew 23:38).

The Greek word used in the verse means lawlessness, and the corresponding
Hebrew word means fraud or injustice, which are what Grice calls
'value-oriented words' (in The Conception of Value).

However, the Hebrew word "Perushim" from which "Pharisee" is derived, actually
means "separatists", referencing their focus on spiritual needs versus worldly
pleasures. So this complicates things.

"Traditionally, the word 'pharisee' comes from the Hebrew פרושים prushim from
פרוש parush, meaning "separated," that is, one who is separated for a life of

In the Gospels, Jesus is often shown as being critical of Pharisees. But then
he is being critical of many other stuff, too.

Luther protested.

Jesus is more like the Essenes than the other Jewish groups of the time
(Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots).

However, the pharisees, like Jesus, believe in the resurrection of the dead,
and in divine judgment.

The pharisees advocate prayer, almsgiving and fasting as spiritual practices.

The pharisees are those who were trying to be faithful to the law given to
them by God.

Not all pharisees, nor all Jews of that time, were legalistic.

The same could be said of the Romans. Regulus was VERY legalistic, but Cato
the younger wasn't, and so on.

Remus was possibly more legalistic than Romolo, for that matter.

But back to the pharisees, though modern usage has the lexeme "pharisee"
as a pejorative to describe someone who is legalistic and rigid, it is not an
accurate description of all pharisees.

It is like Grice's discussion of 'athlete'. When in "Meaning" he criticises
Stevenson's analysis of meaning he plays with Stevenson's example, "All
athletes are tall". This Grice notes should not make us think that 'tall' is
part of what is meant by 'athlete'.

The argument over the "Spirit of the Law" vs. the "Letter of the Law" was part
of early Jewish dialogue as well.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) is one of the New Testament
texts to address this theme.

The passage concerns a dialogue between Jesus and an "expert in the law" or

As described in verse 25:

"a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him saying, Teacher what must I do to
inherit eternal life?," NKJV

-- the intent of the dialogue was to trap Jesus into making statements contrary
to the law, and Grice would add, to trap him into even triggering IMPLICATURES
contrary to the law.

Jesus responds by posing the question back to the lawyer, as already having
knowledge of the law:

"What is written in the law?" verse 26.

The lawyer quotes Deuteronomy 6:5

"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with
all your strength, and with all your mind and your neighbour as yourself.",

and Leviticus 19:18.

The question

"Who is my neighbour?", that follows in verse 29, is described as being asked
with the goal of self-justification.

It is THEN that Jesus responds with the story of a man beaten by robbers who
is ignored by a priest and a Levite, but then rescued and compassionately cared
for by a Samaritan.

Priests and Levites were Jews whose qualifications and duties were very
meticulously set forth in Mosaic law (Leviticus 10, and Numbers 5-8) while
Samaritans were descended from Jews who had intermarried with their Babylonian
captives and had been forced to establish a sect with an alternative (if not
literal) interpretation of the Law.

In the story, both the Priest and Levite follow their prescribed regulations
dutifully, yet do not help the injured traveller, even crossing to the other
side of the road to avoid possible rule violations.

(This is difficult to formalise in deontic logic: cfr. supererogatory and

The Samaritan, whose very existence is based on a REFUTATION of Jewish law
(specifically Deuteronomy 12 which speaks to the proper place of worship which
Samaritans had replaced the Temple in Jerusalem with Mount Mariah -- and
treating law as something that can be refuted alla Popper than merely rejected,
positivistically) goes above and beyond simply tending to the injured man.

He takes him to an inn and gives money for the man's care, promises and then
actually does return to inquire about the man, and pay any overage incurred.

Jesus concludes by asking him which of the men was a "neighbour" to the beaten
traveller, to which his reply was "the one who showed compassion".

Like Socrates, and later Hart, it would seem as if Jesus was an adherent of
'conceptual analysis' as the proper type of philosophical explanation, or a
good necessary prolegomenon to a good philosophical explanation.

According to Jeremiah, "the qualities of the new covenant expounded upon the
old are :

a) It will not be broken;

b) Its law will be written in the heart, not merely on tablets of stone;

c) The knowledge of God will deem it no longer necessary to put it into written
words of instruction."

(b) is 'figurative' in that it does not have to be literally written 'on'
the heart. Either 'heart' or 'written' has to be understood as a 'trope' --
cfr. "I learned it by heart".

According to Luke (Lk 22, 20), and Paul, in the first epistle to the
Corinthians (1 Cor 11, 25), this prophecy was fulfilled only through the work
of Jesus Christ, who said

"This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you."

Christ did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it -- were 'abolish'
is a better term than 'refute'.

Jesus's alleged purpose was to encourage people to look beyond the "letter of
the law" to the "spirit of the law" and this may be the implicature behind
"Jesus Grice Almighty", in looking to he principles behind the commandments and
the law's Griceian M-intention.

Jesus quotes from the book of Deuteronomy and Leviticus:

"All the Law can be summed up in this: to love God with all your heart, all
your mind and all your soul, and to love your neighbour as yourself"

Hart ignores this since he thinks Jesus is being figurative (and Hart was not
raised as a Christian, anyway).

Another realm where the letter/spirit applies is in gaming the system, also
called "rules lawyering".

This is the following of the letter (sometimes referred to as RaW or "Rules as
Written") over, or contrary to, the spirit (sometimes referred to as RaI or
"Rules as Intended") of the law -- where the "I" of "Intended" is best
expanded as "Griceian M-Intended", since there are intentions and Griceian
intentions, and interpretation of a sophisticated type requires Griceian

Gaming the system is used negatively to describe the act of manipulating the
rules to achieve a personal advantage.

It may also mean acting in an antisocial, irritating manner while technically
staying within the bounds of the rules.

There are other keywords to explore here: Expounding of the Law, Legal
opportunism, Legal technicality, Loophole, Malicious compliance & Work-to-rule,
Hart's Positive law & Natural law, Sense and reference The Spirit of the Laws,
the 1748 political theory treatise by Montesquieu, Abuse of the legal system,
and Mosaic law in Christian theology.



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