[lit-ideas] Re: The Answering Machine

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 11 Jan 2012 08:01:53 -0500 (EST)

In a message dated 1/11/2012 4:27:23 A.M. UTC-02, _rpaul@xxxxxxxxx 
(mailto:rpaul@xxxxxxxx)  quotes from Avramides:
"Park Town is where he raised his family, and he was as much a part of  Park
Town life as he was of university life. Over a cup of tea he would tell  a
story  or make an observation — followed by his infectious giggle.  Michael
once  explained that he made a telephone call only to be put  through to the
answering  machine. He observed: “They call it an  answering machine but it’
not. You can  ask it questions, but it won’t  give you any answers.”"
and comments:

>from which we can safely infer that humour in Park Town was of a  very  
>low order
The keyword indeed being 'infer'. 
It may be argued (or inferred, even -- cfr. 'imply/infer', in Dummett,  
"Grammar and Style: for examination and others" (where others include Grice,  
etc. (in fact, 'and others' provides a Fregean puzzle in terms of 
substitutional  quantification, a pet with Dummett)) that Dummett is 
illustration the 
fallacy of  'aequivocatio' (so known to Aquinas, etc.):
"They call it an answering machine. But it is not". 
---- "You can ask it questions."
---- "But it won't give you any answers."
x is an answering machine.
CONCLUSION: x answers.
In another format:
x is an answering machine
Therefore, x answers.
Dummett's counterexample, pointing at the 'aequivocatio' in 'answer':
x is an answering machine
Therefore, x answers.
We then proceed to take the conclusion as a further premise, "x  answers". 
Dummett's observation: x does NOT answer. Dummett's analytic  evidence for x 
not answering proceeding in one easy step:
"You can ask x questions. x does [will] not give you any answers".
McEvoy suggests we introduce then two SENSES to 'answer' (I disagree. cfr.  
Grice, "Do not multiply senses beyond necessity"). With McEvoy's manoeuvre, 
 indeed, we get Dummett's aequivocatio fallacy redeemed: There would be  
answering-1 machines (of the Dummett type -- those which you ask questions, 
and  which give you the answers). But there would also be answering-2 
machines,  of the type invented in "Popular mechanics": "Robot takes messages". 
Note that 'to take message' is perhaps a better description of 'answer-2'.  
Dummett is pointing to the fact that the deployment of a concept by a 
population  is no proof that the concept makes actual sense. Cfr. Grice:
'the fact that a certain concept or distinction
is frequently deployed by a population of speakers
and thinkers offers no guarantee that the concept
in question can survive rigorous theoretical
scrutiny' (Grice, "Reply to Richards", p. 54). 
And so on. Grice was often amused by 'aequivocatio', and pointed to the  
positive side to this notion. We tend to think of 'aequivocatio' as a fault. 
But  strictly, it means, etymologically, 'aequi-', the same, and '-vocatio', 
voice.  So, it is, naturally, the use of the same voice (in this case 
'answer') to  render perhaps different concepts. The fact that the _same_ voice 
used should  alert us that there is an alleged semantic connection 
implicated by the use of  the same linguistic item to designate two allegedly 
disparate notions. (His  famous use of the 'EQUIvocality' thesis is the 
application of it to the word  'must' -- "Aspects of Reason").
The Griceian counterattack would proceed by refuting the alleged  
'aequivocatio' in terms of disimplicature: 'an answering machine' is thus  
"disimplicated" of any 'contradiction' that may be ascribed to its inventor (or 
'inventer', if you mustn't). 
And so on.
To change your Lit-Ideas settings (subscribe/unsub, vacation on/off,
digest on/off), visit www.andreas.com/faq-lit-ideas.html

Other related posts: