[lit-ideas] Re: Presumptive Meanings: Geary vs. Davidson

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 12 Feb 2015 08:40:44 +0000 (UTC)

>Words certainly do not have to mean anything to me, just please me.>
This may do as the attitude of a literateur towards forms of literature 
considered in aesthetic terms (actually, it doesn't do even for that - for even 
literary meanings mostly depend on non-literary ones). But it cannot be general 
attitude of users of language in any practical situation - here even what 
"pleases" depends on the meaning. If buying a train ticket I am told all trains 
have now been cancelled, the meaning is what what leaves me unpleased (given 
that what is meant is true) and I won't be able to affect an attitude like 
Mike's. No matter how pleasing in other terms is the way the words are used 
(perhaps the person in the ticket office replies in the form of a Shakespearean 
sonnet or a Beckettesque short play) I will be hacked off because what it means 
is that I cannot get my train. The same is true when a judge uses words that 
say I must go to prison for ten years.

Mike's posts are always entertaining and welcome but on this point he 
illustrates why students of literature often make poor philosophers of 
language: because they have studied language for 'meanings' in terms of 
aesthetics and, worse, a version of  aesthetics often comes down to little more 
than 'what is pleasing'. The vast field of language owes very little generally 
to aesthetics in this sense - neither ordinary discourse, nor for example 
science nor the law [imagine how far-fetched would be a book titled 'The 
Pivotal Role of Aesthetics in Legal Decision-making/Scientific 
Decision-making/Discussing the Weather/Buying a Train Ticket/etc/].


     On Thursday, 12 February 2015, 4:30, Mike Geary 
<jejunejesuit.geary2@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:

 I am quite sure that JL has answered my philosophical cri de coeur to his 
satisfaction and I applaud him for that.  Nevertheless (I've never understood 
that word -- why "less"?)  But I bid your patience and allow me to delve a 
little deeper into my psychophilosophic quagmire.  I am a man of many words --  
not as JL is, that is, with words that go somewhere,--  but of words that 
simply word our world for us and go nowhere.  Words are sootheriffic for me.  
Words certainly do not have to mean anything to me, just please me. .  That's 
my philosophy anyway and I'm sticking to it. Language is made up of words as we 
all know, except that it's not -- language is made up of existence.  Existence 
is made up out of words.  Only humans exist, that is, have words.  Words like 
"existence".  What does that even mean?  Fuck if I know.  Some words take us 
more into existence than others, but I'm not about to go there. Not here.  Not 
now.   Anyway, the thing is, without words to throw around we''d all be 
throwing rocks.  Someday, maybe, we'll all know the same words and sit around 
and marvel at the  sound of them.  Here's a start:  The slithy toves did gyre 
and gimble  upon the wabe, all mimsy were the borogroves and the mome raths 
outgrabe.  What greater truth could be said than that??? 

On Wed, Feb 11, 2015 at 5:29 AM, Redacted sender Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx for DMARC 
<dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

How global can scepticism be?

Who edited Descartes's "Solipsistic Dialogues"?

Was Donald Davidson wrong?

Is Geary wrong?

Did someone once said that?

What's that?

These are all fascinating questions...

In a message dated 2/10/2015 7:33:25 P.M. Eastern Standard Time,
donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx writes:
"Someone once said [Donald Davidson,  the UC/Berkeley philosopher] was
wrong about that."

Exactly that the 'that' amounts that can be doublecheck in the original
post. But that post also included a quote which I should expand now.

It comes from

Malpas, Jeff, "Donald Davidson", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
(Spring 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL =

The whole point was to compare it with Geary's claim about presumptions,
assumptions, mispresumptions, and what I call orthopresumptions.

Malpas writes as per below, and we could reconsider how wrong he is in
rephrasing Donald Davidson's view, and, into the bargain, how wrong Davidson
(or  Geary for that matter) can be:

Malpas writes:

"Since knowledge of the world is inseparable from other forms of
knowledge, so global epistemological scepticism — the view that all [...] of our
beliefs  about the world could [or might] be false — turns out to be  committed
to much more than is  usually supposed."

The implicature seems to be that it might turn out to be committed to a
paradox, that post-Socratic philosophers love (cfr. Socrates, "All I know is
that I know nothing") ("Only that Socrates wasn't a post-Socratic
philosopher,"  Geary marginally notes).

Malpas continues:

"Should it indeed turn out that [all] our beliefs about the  world  were
all [...] false, [...] this would not
only imply [or  entail, as I prefer -- Speranza] the  falsity of [all] our
beliefs about  others [but as Descartes said, "Never mind others" --
"Letters to a Solipsist"],  but it would also have the peculiar [i.e. 
self-contradictory]  consequence of making false [all] our beliefs about

Which was Geary's point:

"It doesn't matter, of course, but I'd kind of like to know because, well,
you know, my emotional life, it sort of matters to me and I don't want to
get  all bent out of shape over a mispresumption."

Note that the keyword is "emotional life", and more specifically, Geary's
emotional life. It may be argued that Geary's point is more general than
Davidson, who is only concerned about beliefs. Geary is concerned about
desires,  too, inter alia.

Malpas continues:

"— including the supposition that we do indeed hold those particular  false

i.e. beliefs about ourselves, including the supposition, or
'mispresumption', as Geary might prefer, that we indeed hold those particular  
beliefs (or mispresumptions, to use again Geary's term).

Malpas indeed grants a point that might be the source for McEvoy's  opinion
on this point to the effect that someone once said that Davidson was

Malpas: "Although this may fall short of demonstrating the falsity of  such
[global] scepticism, it surely  demonstrates it to be deeply  problematic."

Which is deeply good. If philosophy generated no problems it would be dead,
 and if it generated the same old problems it would never be alive.

Re McEvoy's "* [Davidson] was wrong -- I am not surprised. It seems the
exercise of philosophy involves what H. P. G. calls a diagogic approach.

He writes:

"At first sight, more than one distinct philosophical thesis would appear
to account for the material
and settle the question raised by  it."

Here we may just consider

(GS) Global Scepticism is right.

Davidson, and perhaps Geary, are denying (GS):

~(GS) Global Scepticism is wrong.

Grice notes:

"The way (generally the only way) in which a particular thesis is
established is thought to be by the
elimination of its rivals,  characteristically by the detection of

This seems to fit McEvoy's

"Someone once said that he was wrong about that".

Implicating that that someone detected a counterexample to the thesis,
which would eliminate it.

"It is, however my hope," Grice confesses, "that in many cases, including
the most important cases, theses can be established by direct evidence in
their  favour.

The keyword here is the epagogic-diagogic distinction. An epagogic approach
 to philosophy is counterexample-based, a diagogic one is not.

Grice: "The more emphasis is placed on justification by elimination of
rivals, the greater is the impetus given to refutation" -- that Popper loved
--.  "[P]erhaps a greater emphasis on 'diagogic' procedure ... would have an
eirenic  effect.

He adds: "If it were _explicitly_ recognised that being interesting and
fruitful is more important than being right [Grice knew a topologist who was
seldom right, 'but never ceased to interest me, nor did I ever find his
research  fruitful'] and may indeed co-exist with being wrong [the word McEvoy
used when  referring to this someone who objected to Davidson's thesis]
polemical  refutation [that seemed endless to Popper anyways] might lose some of
its  appeal."

"Anyways" is dialectal (but so is "anyroads").



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