[lit-ideas] Logical Corpuscularism

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  • Date: Sat, 5 Sep 2015 08:29:24 -0400

McEvoy writes:

"What is vital to the theory is not "corpuscularism" but "emergentism" and

I might disagree: everything is vital to corpuscularism.

McEvoy had earlier written about this doctrine:

"Might I then rush to be first to found, and tempt even weaker minds with,
the School of Logical Corpuscularianism? Admittedly, like "nomological
dangler" and unlike "Logical Atomism" or "Logical Positivism", it perhaps
doesn't have that ring to it. Might explain why it's not a well-known School.
Anyway, we have the copyright. Might I further propose that the central and
abiding problem for our new School is determining how far 'logical
corpuscules' can be further divided, and in what ways? This will be discussed
nauseum in our house journal, "The Corpuscular Review" (incorporating "Logical
Entities Monthly" and "Divisibility [Bi-]Weekly")."

I was suggesting that the greatest logical corpuscularist of all seems to
have been Witters.

As cited by R. Paul,


But how many kinds of sentence are there? Say, assertion, question, and
command? There
are countless kinds; countless different kinds of use of all the things we
call "signs", "words", "sentences". And this diversity is not something
fixed, given once for all ... Review the multiplicity of language games in
the following examples, and in others. Giving orders, and obeying them--
Describing the appearance of an object, or giving its measurements--
Constructing an object from a description (a drawing)-- Reporting an event--
Speculating about an event-- Forming and testing a hypothesis-- Presenting
results of an experiment in tables and diagrams-- Making up a story; and
reading it-- Singing catches-- Guessing riddles--
Making riddles-- Making a joke; telling it-- Solving a problem in
practical arithmetic-- Translating from one [language] into another-- Asking,
thanking, cursing, greeting, praying.--"

If we stick by Witters's original causal remark:

"assertion, question, command"

later expanded as "reporting an event, asking, and giving an order" we
would have a corpuscularist doctrine. Let "p" be the propositional content,

i. The door is closed.

This is a 'radix', it needs to be 'played' with, as per an assertion


⊢The door is closed.

Or as R. M. Hare prefers:

ii. The door is closed, yes.

Then we have the second type, the order or command


iii. Close the door!

or as Hare prefers

iv. The door is closed, please.

Finally we have the question

v. Is the door closed?

Grice considers various types of questions in the third John Locke lecture.
There are 'yes/no' questions and 'x' questions (Witters underestimates the
distinction). Surely, "Is the door closed?" is not an x-question, and
thus, in Grice's words, "its logical form is simpler" (than it would otherwise
be). It allows for three answers:

vi. Yes.
vii. No.
viii. (Strawsonian pseudo-answer): The question does not arise. The house
has no door (cfr. "The present king of France is not bald"). For Grice this
is a "No".

Had it been an x-question the proper form would have been alla:

ix. What door is the one you want me closed?

which may trigger the implicature:

x. What are YOU talking about? I never said anything about 'wanting': it is
a matter of 'duty'.

The utterer of (x) sees commands as Kantian categorical imperatives, not
mere (to use McEvoy's favourite corpuscule) the expression (in W2) of
someone's will.


"Giving orders, and obeying them--"

By having 'obey a rule' as a game, he is suggesting (or implicating) that
"Close the door!" should be followed by closing the door WHILE uttering, "I
will, sir".

"Describing the appearance of an object, or giving its measurements--
Constructing an object from a description (a drawing)--"

The implicature seems to be IKEA: that as you construct or assemble the
object you TALK about how you do it.

"Reporting an event-- Speculating about an event-- Forming and testing a
hypothesis-- Presenting the results of an experiment in tables and
diagrams-- Making up a story; and reading it--"

For surely you can read a story that you did not make up. A different
language game, inviting or implicating a different corpuscule.

"Singing catches-- Guessing riddles--Making riddles--"

To guess a riddle implicates (or entails) that someone made it.

MH: Why is a raven like a writing desk?
A: I guess I know the answer to that. But on second thoughts, I don't. Why
is it?
MH: I haven't the slightest idea.
A: You should try and find something better to do with your time than
making a riddle that has no answer or that someone cannot guess.

Is Witters IMPLICATING that making a riddle ENTAILS or merely IMPLICATES
that someone can guess it?

The Mad Hatter can always say that he was merely "asking" and not "making a
riddle". But Witters is not clear about this. (He would if he'd be

"Making a joke; telling it-- Solving a problem in practical arithmetic--"

And verbalising it. Euclid found that spoken Greek was clumsy and tried to
invent a mathematical language for solving (or dissolving as Witters would
prefer) a problem in arithmetic.

"Translating from one language into another--"

-- as Strawson would add, "where the translation exists." In Mundle, "A
critique of linguistic philosophy", Mundle reports a repartee by Strawson.
They were discussing types of nonsense. And Mundle asked Strawson: So what is
nonsensical in a language is nonsensical in every language? Sir Peter
wisely reported: "Into which in which it can be translated, of course."

Witters concludes (but he has said, "[these examples or "others"):
"Asking, thanking, cursing, greeting, praying.--"

"Asking" rightly falls within ?p but surely an answer to ?p is what Frege
has as


?Is the door closed.
(a) ⊢Yes, the door is closed.
(b) ⊢No, the door is open, or semi-closed, only.
(c) ⊢The house has no doors.

?But if the door is semi-closed isn't it closed?
⊢By implicature, not entailment.

After 'asking', Witters adds four corpuscules:

"thanking, cursing, greeting, praying."

"I thank you" may be seen as an assertion:

!Close the door
⊢The door is now closed, yes.
⊢I thank you.
⊢And you are welcome.

"Cursing" is also assertive in character. A curse without assertive force
is not really a curse. Greeting may be expanded as an assertion, or a
question, or an order

⊢I greet you.
?How are you
!Be well

Praying is a form of asking God (for this or that).

Vide J. H. Gill, "J. L. Austin and the religious use of language".



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