[lit-ideas] Re: The Answering Machine

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 10 Jan 2012 16:56:15 -0500 (EST)

"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’s  not. You can ask it questions, but  
won’t give you any answers.”".
We are considering Michael Dummett's analysis of 'answering machine'. In a  
message dated 1/10/2012 7:30:14 P.M. UTC-02, donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx  

"If the alleged "fallacy" is contained in the idea that we 'answer the  
phone', how is this a fallacy - especially if we do answer it?"
The point would be that, strictly, you don't _answer_ it. As the links  
below suggest, the 'original sense' of 'answer' was "to make a sworn statement, 
 rebutting a charge"
--- begin EXCERPT from Etymology online:
answer (v.) 
O.E. answarian "to answer;" see answer (n.). Meaning "to  respond in 
antiphony" is from early 15c.; that of "to be responsible for" is  early 13c. 
Related: Answered; answering. The telephone answering machine is from  1961.
answer (n.) 
O.E. andswaru "an answer, a reply," from and- "against"  (see ante) + 
-swaru "affirmation," from swerian "to swear" (see swear),  suggesting an 
original sense of "make a sworn statement rebutting a charge." A  common 
compound (cf. O.S. antswor, O.N. andsvar, O.Fris. ondser, Dan.,  Swed. 
ansvar), implying a P.Gmc. *andswara-. Meaning "a reply to a question,"  the 
modern sense, was in O.E. Meaning "solution of a problem" is from  c.1300.
"liable to be held responsible," 1540s, from answer +  -able. Less-common 
meaning "able to be answered" is from 1690s.
----end of  excerpt.
Next, McEvoy considers the possibility of taking the ring as a question,  
"is anybody home?", and comments: "If that is the question, then the 
activation  of the answer-machine may be an answer of sorts, and so the 
answer-machine  answers."
This would 'hold water' if people BELIEVED in 'natural meaning', as it  
were. "Black clouds mean rain". Black clouds don't lie. But surely someone may  
be home, and YET not answer the phone (or the ring). I'm not sure it was 
this  type of 'answer' that Dummett was having in mind when he said that the  
mis-called answering machine does not give them.
Finally, McEvoy expands, for the record, on the indirectness of 'ring'. The 
 ring may count as a question, "is anybody home?". The intentional action 
here is  indeed, as McEvoy notes, to "MAKE ring":

"Machines may 'ring' but persons may also perform an action that is called  
'ringing': 'I rang the alarm', 'I rang my brother on his mobile' etc. It is 
in  this sense second sense that we respond to the person ringing by 
answering the  phone. Obviously. If they were 'ringing' in the first sense we 
might respond by  calling a doctor."
Note, however, that no analogical intentional action applies to the  
answering machine, so Dummett's point stands: only by 'extension' is an  
'answering machine' called so. Cheers,
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