L. Helm notes:
“I won’t add the to the implicative tangent inasmuch as my own thoughts have
gone in a different direction.”
I like that, though, implicative tangent. I was actually intrigued by an
article by Herbert Mitgang on E. B. White. The article reads – perhaps Mitgang
is trying to be funny in a Teutonic way – “Mitgang” means ‘mid-go’ in German --
to the effect that “E. B. White lives
lives in a New England coastal town, somewhere between Nova Scotia and Cuba.”
The implicatures of the above should remind a Griceian of Grice’s example: A
and B are planning a trip.
A: Where does C live?
B: Somewhere in the South of France.
“The implicature by B is ambiguous,” Grice notes: “B may mean, “I don’t care to
tell you,” or, in a more Popperian fashion, “Any more specific location that I
could provide may be unfalsifiable.” If not both.”
Consider now Mitgang’s utterance:
i. E. B. White lives in a New England coastal town.
That is general enough. We surely want to know the exact number of the exact
street of the exact coastal town. Mitgang’s Teutonic humour becomes more
apparent in the expansion:
ii. E. B. White lives in a New England coastal town, between
Nova Scotia and Cuba.
The ‘entailments,’ not implicatures, of (ii) are of course that neither Nova
Scotia nor Cuba _are_ along the New England coast – which starts at Greenwich
and ends on the border of Maine (the southern line of the border) and Canada.
New York State and Canada are NOT part of “New England,” and it is this
geographical _fact_ that turns these into ‘entailments,’ rather than
‘implicatures’. It is different if uttered by White.
iii. At a literature colloquium.
Andrew Ferguson: Mr. White, where do you live, if I may ask?
E. B. White: Oh, in a lovely New-England coastal town. [pause]
Andrew Ferguson remains silent.
E. B. White: Between Nova Scotia and [slight pause] Cuba.
Under those circumstances, the scenario varies from Grice’s example in that we
can NOT assume that E. B. White does NOT know where he lives. Popper would
possibly reprimand White in that White’s utterance IMPLICATES (but not entails)
two falsehoods: that Nova Scotia and Cuba are in New England – “else why
Helm notes: “I was curious about White’s failing eyesight, stubborn ailments
and whatever it was causing him to have only half his wits.”
I too found it interesting that White is not using the more common collocation,
“wits and wisdoms.”
Helm: “In a Wikipedia article I read, “White died … suffering from Alzheimer's
disease, at his farm home in North Brooklin, Maine.” That didn’t sound right.
Would someone who died from Alzheimer’s disease’s side effects be able to write
such a cogent letter two years before his death?”
He would if he were a Griceian! (as White obviously was! – Grice died at 75 and
in one of his later unpublications he writes to the effect: “I better put my
thoughts to paper now before I lose it” – implicating he hadn’t lost it by
_then_. Actually, Grice uses his full baggage of wits and wisdoms. His physical
health was deteriorating and he was making the point that he feared his
_mental_ health might deteriorate, to use a Popperianism, ‘before he knew it’.
Luckily it didn’t.
But I guess I get Helm’s point. Perhaps Ferguson is imagining the letter. It is
interesting that when he reported on the letter to White’s stepson (as the
essay referred to by Helm reads), White’s stepson was hardly surprised.
Ferguson: “I told him the story of my ill-fated correspondence with his
stepfather, and [Roger Angell] laughed. “That sounds about right,” he said.”
There is an implicature in Angell’s “about” (“That sounds about right” – versus
the plainer, “That sounds fully right,” or “That sounds right”). Angell seems
to be implicating that perhaps the punctuation, etc., of White’s letter, are
not as Ferguson states them to be. Shouldn’t the letter be desposited in the E.
B. White archives?
Helm goes on: “White’s NYT obituary,
puts a more realistic emphasis on the matter: “He had Alzheimer's disease and
was 86 years old.” White was a famous wit and might creditably write that
letter to Ferguson with the half he had left.”
I fully agree. I think White is also implicating that Ferguson being is a bit
too much. As Grice says, in “Personal Identity,” we can only be _one_. Yet,
White puns on this in his sarcastic letter to Ferguson:
“Figure it out. There’s one of me, at most, and there are ten thousand of you.”
The “at most” is a very Griceian turn of phrase. The utterance
iv. There are ten thousands Andrew Fergusons.
sounds offensive, especially with psychiatrists speaking of split
personalities, and stuff!
Helm: “As to Ferguson he says that he didn’t have the means to visit White.
Ferguson was almost certainly affected by the rejection of his hero. Did it
lessen the impact of the rejection to say that he couldn’t afford to make the
Well, we are not sure where Ferguson was situated. If he was in South Brooklin
he could possibly walk! It’s different if he is in New Zealand, say – since
trans-world cruises _can_ be expensive (to Ferguson).
Helm: “From the previous (presumable) affection of White’s earlier letter, he
has become “brittle.” That strikes me as a strange word to use.”
Perhaps we should check the etymology. “Brittle” is said to be a very English
word, with Anglo-Saxon pedigree, “brytel,” where the ‘-le’ suffix made it a
favourite of positivist philosophers – since to provide a conceptual analysis
of “x is brittle” requires an engagement with counter-factual conditionals of
the unverifiable (and, anathema to Popper, unfalsifiable) nature!
Helm: “Time has passed since White’s rejection and death. Ferguson by this
time knows that White had Alzheimer’s disease. Would a person suffering from
Alzheimer’s with half his wits be brittle in discouraging a young admirer from
visiting? Wouldn’t White be sincere rather than “brittle” in not wishing
Ferguson to see the ruins? “Figure it out. . . Sincerely, E. B. White.””
I agree. In any case, White should also have considered the possibility that
Ferguson wanted to see the cove and the bay. “Figure it out” is a very Griceian
turn of phrase. “The implicature,” White means by ‘it’ obviously. And it’s
perhaps sad that Ferguson did not! Or didn’t he?