[lit-ideas] Re: On Being Misinformed

  • From: jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 15 May 2010 00:32:25 -0400


But I fear I am getting interested.

McEvoy´s two points taken:

Indeed, "to wrongly misinform" can well be rendered as "to misinform wrongly", and the Existential Import thing was my illustration of Grice´s early discovery (circa 1950) of the "implicature" business.


But some inescapable points in McEvoy´s approach:

If "inform wrongly" makes sense, what would the USE be of the simpler, "misinform"?

As Grice said, "How clever language is!" -- for, Warnock reports (¨"Saturday Mornings"), "English had made for us all the right distinctions we needed to make, no more no less."


Surely if you can say "MIS-inform", that is because it´s best to leave "inform" narrowed down to deal with "so-and-so" such that the utterer of "inform" believes in them.

"She informed me that she was pregnant". I.e. the utterer of "She informed me that she was pregnant" BELIEVES she was pregnant (never mind if she herself believed it, or whether she in fact was).

McEvoy confuses the INTENTION to influence others with the intention to INFORM. But INFORM has nothing to do with the INTENTION to inform.

"Inform" is a factive verb such that its user must commit himself to the truth of so-and-so, in the expressions in which it occurs.

Surely you wouldn´t say that the Guardian is a "very informative" newspaper if all that it covers is lies!

Only in connection with the truth-value being TRUE can we say that something is informative.

Luciano Floridi, who teaches philosophy at Wolfson asked elsehwere about this, and I quoted to him the Grice passage. And he requoted it in the Stanford Encyclopaedia entry on "information" quoting me, so I have a say on the matter!

Floridi considers a case by Grice:

War is war.
Women are women.

This are VACUOUSLY informative, Grice says. They are true, but everybody knows that they are true (they are tautologies). So their informative value is nill.

Carnap and Bar-Hillel, misled somehow by this example, concluded that by the same toke:

War is not war.
Women are not women

would be "too informative to be true".

In general, Griceans have ceased using "informative" and replaced it by "influencing".

¨She influenced her husband by TELLING her that she was pregnant".

To tell is like to inform, only different:

i. What you tell can be false.
ii. You can inform by a signal, but hardly "tell" it with flowers. When they say "say it with flowers", they only mean, "I love you". You cannot, with flowers, say, "It is raining," example.

But you CAN inform your addressee that it is raining by spitting for example. In general, iconic signs get their meaning by posing as "natural" indications of what they "inform" about.

One cannot say that "dark clouds" inform rain. But a burp can INFORM that you have digested the food alright.

To inform that so-and-so, by the uttering of "x", the utterer must have under his rational control the production of "x". A burp, a hand wave, a string of phonemes, can thus be informative.

They are MISINFORMATIVE when the utterer KNOWS that they are not informative. There is no in between here: no grey shade. Either p is informative or is not (and it´s misinformative).

McEvoy´s use of "wrong" is wrong. The correct is "inform TRULY", a redundancy. The oxymoron, "inform falsely" makes however more sense than "inform wrongly" (or "rightly" for that matter).

Wrong and right are best restricted to MORAL issues. I actually believe that you cannot morally inform wrongly. Because truth prevades. But my friends say that if a female, just before the theatre, asks you ¨Does this dress becomes me?", it´s best to misinform "rightly", that "Yes, it does become you", than to inform WRONGLY, "No, it does not become you". Etc.

J. L. Speranza

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