[lit-ideas] The Answering Machine

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 10 Jan 2012 15:31:18 -0500 (EST)

Avramides reports:

"[Sir] Michael [Dummett, the late Wykeham  professor of logic, at Oxford 
[University]] * -- adding [University] here, as  Nancy Mitford reports is 
non-U]" "once explained that he [regularly?] made  a  telephone call only to be 
put through to the answering machine. [He  liked it]. He observed: “They 
call it an answering machine but it’s  not. You can ask it questions, but  it 
won’t give you any answers.”".

In a message dated 1/10/2012 5:37:43 P.M. UTC-02,  
donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx comments:

>Did no one ever say, "[Sir]  Michael, but they don't call it a 
'question-answering machine'"?"
McEvoy expands:
"[An answering machine] *answers* a phone call in the [Fregean?] sense  
that it connects the caller to a device that allows the caller to leave a  
And that above is _analytic_.
"That is why most people understand the expression 'answering machine'  
without thinking that it is there to answer questions asked of it and are not 
so  foolish to even try (as you appear to)."
McEvoy goes on:
"Often even when humans 'answer the phone' they only do so to get  
information or take a message and do not answer any questions:"
The fallacy here may be etymological. In German, antwort (ans-wer) means  
"contra-diction", literally.
"perhaps you would also like to take issue with the expression 'answer the  
phone' on the basis that no questions are necessarily answered by whoever 
picks  up the receiver, so how do they answer the phone?"
---- Strictly, the bell may count as the question:
RING RING RING ---- translated as "Is anybody home?"
"And indeed the phone itself is simply a vehicle of communication that  
itself does not communicate, so it is doubly wrong an expression as we do not  
answer the phone but respond to the person ringing."
I wouldn't think the _person_ rings. "Ring" is a mechanical verb: it  
applies to bells, and machines (e.g. phones, or alarm clocks) but hardly to  
persons (or birds).
"I would climb the stairs to bed at this point rather than indulge you  
further in this witless quibbling except no doubt you will say it is untrue 
that  I 'climb' as, in fact, I use only the soles of my feet and in effect 
'walk up'  the stairs. Unfortunately, [Sir] Michael, you have typically failed 
to notice  something important - how absolutely pissed I am. I shall climb."
I would take a different implicature:
What Sir Michael said was:
“___They____ call it an answering machine but it’s not."
Similarly, in "The Seas of Language" he quotes from Kripke's example:
"He is called Socrates, but he isn't".
---- This, to Kripke, is not contradictory per se but _otiose_ (if true).  
Cfr. Puccini, "La Boheme", "Mi chiamano Mimi" (they call me Mimi -- 
implicature:  I'm NOT Mimi -- Her real name was Lucrezia). 
Dummett writes:
“They call it [i.e. "it"] an answering machine but it’s not. You can ask 
it  questions, but it [i.e. "it"] won’t give you any answers.”"
Oddly, "Answering machine" does not translate to Magalasyan.
"Climb" brings in other issues, and implicatures. Strictly, truly, it is  
McEvoy's Feet who climb. But since McEvoy's feet BELONG to McEvoy, by 
extension,  it is not _false_ to utter that McEvoy climbed the stairs.
A different case is Grice on 'sink'. As he notes:
"H. M. S. Pinafore sank the enemy ship".
This is different from: 
"Therefore, H. M. S. Pinafore SANK" (simpliciter).
---- And so on.
Grammar is full of Quirks, and Sir Randolph knew it.

You can ask it questions, but  it won’t give you any  answers.”".

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