[lit-ideas] When you were in Oxford, did you dine in college?

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 10 Jan 2012 07:05:00 -0500 (EST)

In a message dated 1/10/2012 8:59:23 A.M. UTC-02, donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx 
A road to nowhere is an analytic impossibility only in the sense that  
everywhere is somewhere is an analytic truth [compare Wittgenstein's "A road to 
nowhere cannot exist in the sense that everywhere is somewhere", 'The Pink 
and  Mauve Books']. ... Also not sure 'misnomer' is the correct term here 
for an  analytic impossibility, but it's perhaps too early in the year to 
expect the  right word to present itself. In any case, 'road to nowhere' would 
still have a  perfectly valid sense, irrespective of the sense in which it is 
an analytic  impossibility, and so we might conclude - so much the worse 
for the importance  of analytic impossibility (quaere: "Are there interesting 
analytic truths?").  (Geary might have something to say about N. Young's 
contribution here to the  quantification of potentially all-encompassing terms, 
"Everybody Knows This Is  Nowhere", and Young's later daring essay in 
analyticity, "Tonight's The Night"  (contrast "Tonight's A Night"), as well as 
Dylan's examination of what  happens when we apply a term, without further 
quantification, to itself in his  "Blonde on Blonde").
Part of the problem is due to the "Dummett-Popper" interface. As someone  
was commenting (Quine): "We did have many people from England delivering the  
William James lectures: Grice, Dummett, Popper." 
Dummett possibly objected to Popper's rather 'free' use of "false". Recall  
Moore's obit. of Dummett: "philosopher who focused on falsehood." O. T. O. 
H.,  Popper is the unmistakable (sic) philosopher who focused on _falsify_.
For Dummett, 'false' (and hence, a posteriori, 'falsify') ARE _misnomers_.  
Dummett wants to argue, intuitionistically, that we don't have a grasp of  
'false' (and a posteriori, 'truth'). He famously called "Truth" an enigma  
("Truth and other enigmas" -- cfr. his other parallelly titled book, "Frege 
and  other philosophers").
On the whole Dummett and Popper interacted poorly, but it should be  
remembered that Dummett was the recipient of the Lakatos award (and LAKATOS  
interacted with Popper richly). The connection with Grice is subtler. As 
once told me, upon being asked about "Frege: the philosophy of language", 
by  Dummett, Grice replied, "I have never read that book; and I hope I won't".
O. T. O. H., I have read some of Dummett's books, and must say that "The  
seas of language" (a title he borrowed from Kripke ("but never returned")) is 
my  favourite. Grice should have been more sympathetic towards Dummett, if 
only for  Dummett having been a tutee of J. O. Urmson ("the greatest English 
living  philosopher" -- "that ever lived") at Christ Church. Also, because 
Dummett was  ALSO a tutee of Flew, who had been a tutee of Grice (These 
things are HIGHLY  important in Oxford). -- The third tutor Dummett had was 
Foster (who died in  1959). 
I'm not too sure about this, but the Oxford of those days was slightly  
sexist: e.g. cricket. So, it's not surprising that Grice classifies all Oxford  
philosophers into three groups:
(I) yes --- Austin, Grice, Hampshire, Strawson, Warnock, ...    (To which I 
add: G. A. Paul, Hare, Hart, Pears, Gardiner, Thomson, ...)
(II) no --- In this list Grice has three: Murdoch and Anscombe (females)  
AND Dummett (male).
Then there's 
(III) the 'overage' philosophers: Grice has Ryle and Hardie ("Oxford  
philosophy, 1948-1970," Notes for the American Philosophical Association", The  
Grice Papers, BANC, Berkeley). (Austin's rule was nobody his senior could 
join  the Saturday mornings). 
Dummett goes on to refer at various stages to Grice and his group (Austin  
and his group would be more specific). In fact, I associate Dummett with the 
 "Tuesday (evening) group", which was a parallel group to the perhaps more 
boring  (for those who think "Thank God is Friday" a good slogan) than 
Austin's and  Grice's "Saturday mornings" ("Who can have a bright idea on a 
post-hangover  Saturday morning -- but recall this is post-war boring 
Oxford," J McW  T remarked). 
Thus, Dummett perhaps should (and will? Beaney is editing his posthumous  
papers, hopefully) reconsider the Grice-Frege interface. Dummett did not 
quote  Frege in German (Austin had translated German to English). But most of 
what  Frege said can be interpreted alla Grice: e.g. the idea of "but" as a  
conventional implicature, and so on. Harnish worked on this.
--- Extracted below from R. Winder's review of Dummett's book, "Grammar and 
 Style" in "The independent", with interspersed commentary:
1486600.html)  --  begin quoted text:
Paul Grice invented implicature and Michael Dummett was Wykeham Professor  
of Logic at Oxford. Dummett's small booklet, "Grammar and Style" was meant 
to  remind us of the principles that should, Dummett thinks, underpin syntax 
and  style. It is what we might call a guide to 'conversational' correctness.
Alas, Dummett's book, unlike Grice's manifests, shares with other forms of  
correctness a distressed and bossy tone that might not endear it to all  
readers. Indeed it is not immediately clear that the Wykeham Professor is  the 
best person to lay down the law about proper 'conversational' English,  
though there are, to be sure, equations between the rules of grammar and the  
arithmetical consistency of logic. R. Winder should agree!
Grice knew that -- and Grice was NO Wykeham professor of logic. But  
Dummett, though almost certainly up to the task, declines to develop his curt  
arguments into a sustained essay on linguistic morality. 
Dummett was provoked, he says, by the horrid prose of the exam papers he  
was obliged to mark. -- For years he never taught at All Souls. ""Grammar and 
 Style" is really a handy anthology of tips to inky-fingered  
"Probably it would have been more amusing had Dummett culled his examples  
from the papers that so offended him." "They lack in implicatures so," he 
would  exclaim. "Every summer, a small list of entertaining schoolroom lapses 
is  published in the press, and we all have a chuckle about the poor saps 
who wrote: 
Keats had an incredible capacity for imagination.
Wordsworth went to the Lake District to answer the call of nature. 
But it is no coincidence that Dummett has chosen to spare his students'  
blushes. He just doesn't see the funny side. The comedy of errors escapes him  
altogether, as it never did escape Grice. Instead, Dummett has rambled 
through  newspapers in search of language abuse, and wagged his spectacles at 
the  wrongdoers. Many of his examples are taken from "The Independent" - 
though  this, he is swift to point out, indicates only that this is a paper he 
often  reads.
"It would be otiose for me to quote from newspapers I _don't_ read." he  
added implicaturally. Perhaps it is odd to be at all vexed by a book built on  
such obvious good taste. Dummett fingers all the common blunders, and his  
linguistic etiquette rests on two powerful ideas.
Dummett asserts, first, that our culture lives in the history of words, and 
 that we should remain awake to the echoes of the past in our daily  
vocabulary. And he insists that language is pointless if it does not  observe a 
common grammar -- or 'logic', by which he means conventional  implicature alla 
Frege's colouring (Farbung). 
Dummett is stern about the encroaching sense that proper English is an  
elitist-imperialist-fascist-bourgeois plot to belittle those who do not speak  
it. And he has no time for those who feel that having their semi-colons 
adjusted  is an affront to their cultural integrity. 
The idea that it is crass and conformist to speak as others do is one of  
the silliest products of pseudo-egalitarian thought. It is semantically  
impossible to have communities that cannot communicate, Dummett argued. (Grice  
too, but blamed it on implicature). And nothing is more divisive than the 
notion  that linguistic conformity is for suckers.
The question is: to what should we conform? Even those anxious to  agree 
with Dummett's uncompromising position might find his detailed  proscriptions 
hard to swallow. There's a lot of talk about the subjunctive  and adverbial 
clauses and the placing of prepositions, but in effect, the  language he is 
proposing as the norm is really English as spoken by Oxford dons  of a 
certain age. 
----- "NOT Austin's seniors". 
Not everyone will see this as the glittering standard to which we all  
aspire. Moreover, "Grammar and Style" addresses itself only to a utilitarian  
idea of language. It has nothing to say about literature, although Dummett is  
happy to give Milton and P G Wodehouse permission to split infinitives or 
muck  around with cliches if they please - just so long as the rest of us 
aren't  tempted to have a go. 
At its poetic best, one could argue, language is magical. It resembles the  
moment when a conjuror pulls the ace of diamonds out of our nostrils and 
makes -  as someone once said - our hearts beat faster. 

But the needle of Dummett's correctness-meter does not flicker over such  
Nor, it must be said, 
is his own language likely to quicken anyone's pulse. 
It is tidy and well-dressed, but in seeking to observe old-fashioned  
proprieties of mood and grammar it sounds, at times, a little fussy and  
There are plenty of having said whiches and that being the cases, and the  
result, a harsh critic would say, is a good deal of bleating around the 
bush.  There is, after all, such a thing as literary tact. Dummett's central  
thesis is not remotely elitist, but he does himself few favours by proposing, 
as  a model of a compound question, the sentence: 
When you are in Oxford, 
do you dine in  college?
Good manners can, in the wrong company, appear merely snooty and  
disdainful. Dummett counters this line of criticism in his conclusion. The  
has not, he insists, irrevocably renounced its rules. 'On the  contrary, 
many people, reading prose written in conformity to them, find it  
exceptionally clear or pleasing, without being able to analyse why it makes 
impression on them.'
Probably he is right that 
not many people will be able 
to analyse exactly 
what is *so clear and pleasing* 
about this stiff, repetitive sentence. 
But the truly unsatisfying thing about this argument is: that's it. The  
sentence stands alone, begging about a thousand questions and casting doubt on 
 the otherwise sensible advice with which the book is full. The same 
problem  recurs in a section called 'Ideological and other uses'. This is a 
subject, even for a chapter of only seven pages. 
Dummett contents himself with attacking three feminist totems: 
i.  the use of gender, 

ii. the awkwardness surrounding the politically-incorrect use of 'he' to  
mean either sex, and 

iii. the use of 'man' to mean 'humankind'.
Is this all that ideology means - the zealous defence of a few feminist  
bogeys? Naturally, he is right to point out that gender refers to the  
masculinity or femininity of nouns, and has nothing to do with sex, which  
describes the masculinity or femininity of people. 
But this new use of the word 'gender' breaks none of his rules concerning  
clarity, simplicity and so on; and since the word is hardly ever used in its 
 true, or old, sense, it does not seem unreasonable to retrieve it from 
obscurity  and give it a new job. Besides, it was always a pointless word: 
English nouns do  not have gender, let alone sex.
Attempts to regulate something so supple and dynamic as the language always 
 have a doomed, Canute-ish quality. In the end, Dummett's book resembles 
nothing  so much as a newspaper style book, an eclectic bunch of local rules - 
1) Use the active tense, not the passive.
2) Avoid metaphors you have not minted yourself.
3) Etc. 
- with a few prejudices thrown in for good measure. 
This newspaper's editor has a particular grudge against the term 
'of course', 
on the grounds that it is an indulgent, unnecessary ["overinformative", in  
Grice's parlance] and self-congratulatory tic. 
He is quite right (of course), though even here one cannot help feeling  
that rules are made for breaking.
-------- cited from R. W.'s review of Dummett in "The Independent". -- end  
quoted text.
--- or 'flouting', as Grice flouted.
---- Incidentally, again: memoirs of Dummett by Peacocke, etc., in "The  
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