Thanks to McEvoy for his comments! We are considering a letter E. B. White
wrote to Andrew Ferguson, as cited by L. Helm from
“Dear Mr. Ferguson,” the letter read. “Thank you for your letter about the
possibility of a visit.” After this uplifting sentence, the tone went brittle.
He mentioned a couple of his stubborn ailments, including his failing eyesight.
And then: “So here I am, one eye gone, half my wits gone, and you want to come
and view the ruins. Figure it out. There’s one of me, at most, and there are
ten thousand of you. Please don’t come. Sincerely, E. B. White.”
McEvoy notes, regarding the closing of the letter, “Please don’t come,”:
“The 'sense' [of E. B. White’s “Please don’t come,” as uttered to A. Ferguson]
is surely more *complicated* [in an Ashberyian sort of way] a matter to resolve
than [Speranza] suggests. The exclamation mark [which, as Popper would say, and
truthfully, E. B. White did not use] is not the v-sign [i.e. a matter of
truth-functionality, as Witters would have it]. Exclamation marks are often
used [and often not used] as a kind of emoji - and may [but then may not]
denote a sense of fun or playfulness in what is being said. As such,
exclamation marks can reduce the 'seriousness' with which [the utterer] intends
to be taken. To make this clear: exclamation marks can reduce the 'seriousness'
with which [the utterer] intends to be taken! And yes that sentence appears
clumsy (but is it?)!”
For God’s sake! No!
McEvoy goes on!
“Robert Paul [is] fond of saying context is everything.”
Hyperbolically! (Oddly, Grice has an unpublication entitled, “Context is
important,” that relates – Keyword: “The general theory of context”. Grice sets
to place the utterance “Context is all-important” in context – since ‘out of
context,’ he notes, this may prove too provocative – he is playing with
McEvoy goes on:
“Certainly overall considerations set the context within which a particular use
of language may get its 'sense' (or perhaps more accurately, 'aspects of its
sense'). Thus [E. B.] White's "Please don't come" gets some of its full 'sense'
from his other remarks: as these other remarks may be taken as
self-deprecatory, so the "Please don't come" may be read as not rude - perhaps
more pleading. And this may not be much affected by the presence or absence of
an exclamation mark.”
There is an extra point D. F. Pears would rise. Perhaps A. Ferguson
over-reacted. Perhaps the unconscious drive behind “SELF-DEPRECATION followed
by “_Please_ don’t come” mean “Do come!”.
Grice once remarked that “We have to get together for lunch sometime,” in
Oxford _means_ “Perhaps I hope not to see you again anymore!”
If A. Ferguson over-reacted, it is perhaps too late now for Griceian
elaborations. But had he made it to Brooklin, and knocked on E. B. White’s
cottage, I can image the conversation:
E. B. White: I thought I had commanded you not to come.
Ferguson: But you said “please,” which gave your _point_ away – especially
after your self-deprecation. Lovely cottage you have up here! I brought some
brownies, if you make the tea!
McEvoy goes on:
“We can of course pursue the analysis of 'sense' to the 'nth' degree: and so
try to differentiate a sense of "Please don't come" from "Please don't come!".”
Well, the master of this was R. M. Hare in his “Language of Morals,” where he
distinguishes between the ‘phrastic’ – what is said – e.g.
A1. The door is closed.
And the neustic: Frege’s assertion sign and the “!”. Hare reformulates A1 then
A. The door is closed, yes.
To oppose it to
B. The door is closed, please.
Vide also his “Imperatives”. So “yes” and “please” (or the exclamation mark, as
appended to a sentence in the INDICATIVE rather than IMPERATIVE mode, in Hare’s
idiolect) are examples of the “neustic,” not the phrastic. In “Sub-Atomic
Particles of Logic,” Hare goes on to introduce the ‘tropic’ (the mode-marker
itself) and the clistic (the finalisation marker).
McEvoy goes on: “But the point that the exclamation mark is not a v-sign
indicates that, whatever difference the exclamation mark may make, that
difference has no categorical direction in terms of, say, rudeness.”
R. M. Hare indeed confuses things, because he uses a sentence in what we may
call the indicative mode – “The door is closed.” – and adds “please” to it. But
Hare is thinking of Kant’s imperative. And philosophers have been using Frege’s
assertion sign (which is actually a double sign ├) and opposing it to the “!”
sign. It is in this guise of ‘aspect,’ as McEvoy might prefer – that I took E.
B. White’s decision to drop it from his “Please don’t come”. The utterance is
still in the imperative mode, which proves that Kant perhaps was an
over-emphatic person, as he wasn’t.
McEvoy goes on:
“In other words, it is just as arguable that (in context) "Please don't come!"
is less rude than "Please don't come" than it is arguable that it is more rude
- but, as indicated, whether it is rude at all depends on many other things.
One of those things is whether culturally it is rude to put someone off from
turning up on your doorstep -- ”
I agree, and if Grice and R. Paul are right that context is important, the fact
that the doorstep is in Brooklin may add to it.
McEvoy concludes: “and this is the kind of thing that varies according to 'time
where place is Brooklin. Time is contextual too. I would think it would be rude
of Ferguson to knock on E. B. White’s cottage door at, say, 2 a. m. –
especially in Maine, where the nights are so dark.
McEvoy concludes: “So it might very rude for an Ancient Roman to write this to
a fellow senator but not for Bob Dylan to write it to some stranger who says
[he]'d like to turn up some day and see his Dome.”
Well, the explicature of the indefinite “some day” possibly disimplicates Dylan
of any rudeness.