[lit-ideas] Re: The Answering Machine

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 11 Jan 2012 00:29:33 +0000 (GMT)

 From: "Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx" <Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx>

>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".>

Original meaning does not determine further meanings of a word, nor is the 
original necessarily the "strict" meaning [it may be obsolete a meaning, as 
seems to be the case with the original meaning of the term "answer" as a sworn 
response]. Any meaning falling within certain strictures may be said to fall 
within the permissible meaning of a term: this leaves open the decision as to 
what strictures we accept. The appeal to "strictly" is here at best a 
question-begging appeal to certain strictures - strictures that fly in the face 
of ordinary usage which recognises such an activity as 'answering the phone' 
and that an incoming call may be answered by an answer machine.

>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". >

This is an Aunt Sally. That an answer machine 'answers' holds water here 
because people use the term 'answer' as in the expression 'answer the phone'. 
and without subscribing to 'natural meaning', and they may regard an answer 
machine as answering an incoming call, also without subscribing to 'natural 
meaning'. What is ungrammatical or wrong about answering the question "If we 
leave, who will answer the phone if they call?" with "I'll set the answer 
machine to answer any incoming calls"? Who, but some point-missing obsessive, 
would reply "Hold on: the answer machine will not actually answer the call 
given certain strictures I impose on the use of the term 'answer', so you 
cannot set it to 'answer' incoming calls."

>But surely someone may be home, and YET not answer the phone (or the ring). >

Yes, of course; and if they use an answer machine they can thereby use a 
machine to 'answer' incoming calls without personally answering any incoming 
calls. But the fact an answer machine does not answer the question "Are they 
in?" conclusively does not mean we must conclude that the machine does not 
answer incoming calls.

>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. >

Was this his point? Or was his point something of a joke based on taking the 
answer in answer machine in the sense of an answer to a question? But the 
'counterpoint' is that this is clearly a misconceived sense in which to 
construe the 'answer' in answer machine. A machine may perform many actions, 
none of which are 'intentional' but are described by terms that also apply to 
intentional action - and most people are not deceived by this into some fallacy 
like 'natural meaning': a machine may run without stopping for a period, a 
machine may record something, a machine may perform an action etc. If all 
philosophers can do here is allege we have fallen into confusion when we use 
this language this way, with fallacies like 'natural meaning' hovering, and 
that they can save us from these confusions - by telling us the answer machine 
does not 'answer' as per 'intentional action', and that our usage is only 
allowed by some 'extension' of the meaning as it
 concerns 'intentional action' - they are telling us nothing much worth 
telling. Plus their jokes aren't funny but a sign of psychological disorder, as 
is some of their obsession with certain strictures regards meaning. Meanwhile 
the world keeps turning and meanings keep shifting.


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