L. Helm was wondering if D. Ritchie was influenced by White. That’s E. B.
White. (For the record, I was influenced by the philosopher A. R. White – but
only because of G. J. Warnock – vide ps1 below).
L. Helm quotes a delightful letter – ps2 -- that White (that’s E. B., not A.
R.) wrote to Ferguson. It includes an utterance that may be ripe for Popperian
(I mean Griceian, since everything reminds McEvoy of Popper):
i. Please don’t come.
The context is in the ps (2).
As such (i), contrasts with (ii):
ii. Don’t come!
Popper and Grice would say that (i) is more polite and one of Grice’s
conversational maxims that generate implicatures is indeed, ‘be polite’. Why do
we say that (i) is more polite? Well, because, it features the pleasing lexical
item, ‘please’. Consider the negation of (ii), to wit:
And compare (iii) with (iv)
iv. Please come!
The Ashberyian implicature of (iv) is
v. May it please you to come.
Mutatis mutandis, the implicature of (ii) is White’s utterance, with which we
started, (i) Please don’t come.
Popper distinguishes between the use of “!” and the non-use of “!”. Thus,
White’s (i), “Please don’t come” contrasts with
vi. Please don’t come!
which is VERY RUDE and I’m not surprised White don’t use it.
Now, the Griceian question is whether one what the denotatum of “it” is in “May
it please you NOT to come.” If it’s non-referential, Grice would be pleased.
The opposite is: May it NOT please you NOT to come” which starts to carry what
we may call an Ashberyian obscurity.
“May” is not “can” – so White does NOT mean, “Can it please you NOT to come”.
He is being extra-polite by implicating the ‘may’ rather than the rougher
‘can’. And it is obvious that Ferguson got the implicature alright, since,
well, for short, he did not come, and for long: it *was* the case that _it_ did
please Ferguson not to come.
ps. 1. Grice, H. P. and White, A. R. “The causal theory of perception”, in
Warnock, The philosophy of perception, Oxford readings in philosophy. A[lan]
R.[ichard] holds a PhD from The University of London (thesis advisor: A. J.
Ayer.). He is the Ferens Professor of Philosophy at the University of Hull in
Yorkshire. He is The Secretary of the Mind Association and The President of the
Aristotelian Society. With J. L. Austin, H. P. Grice, G. Ryle, J. O. Urmson,
and P. F. Strawson, is a leading figure in post World War II ‘ordinary language
philosophy’, a movement so named for its emphasis on paying careful attention
to everyday linguistic usage as a means of making philosophical progress –
Popper despised it (“English futilitarians!”)
ps. 2. Andrew Ferguson kept a correspondence with E. B. White (“White had
graciously answered a fan letter I had sent him, and his warm response
established a special intimacy between us.” The letter in point that yielded
the interesting implicature, Ferguson received not long after their previous
exchange. The letter was in response to “a line” Ferguson dropped his friend
White “letting White know I was planning to come [to] see him in Maine.”
“Within four days,” Ferguson recalls, “an envelope was in my mail-box, with
elegant pale blue lettering showing the return address in the upper left-hand
corner. The content of the letter yielding the implicature under analysis read
[more or less]:
“Dear Mr. Ferguson,
Thank you for your letter about the possibility of a visit. It does not find me
in exactly the best of shapes, alas. For one, my eyesight seems to be
“failing,” as they say – but not so that I cannot read your letter, dear. In
any case, to make a short story long: Here I am, one eye gone, and you want to
come [visit]. Figure it out. Bottomline, if I may use an economical metaphor:
Please don’t come.
E. B. White.”