Some (already-known) Data

From letter from undergraduate asking about our graduate program, though without having (yet) taken any courses in philosophy and no background except some reflection on “the most important life questions I could think of”:
“By the time I was thirteen, I knew I was going into politics when I became older. . . . [N]ow I no longer [plan to, and want to do philosophy instead].”


Some (already-known) Data — 13 Comments

  1. Brian, I like the Holton examples, though there is one important difference here. His use of protaganist projection is always third-person: I report that some grad student just knew Phil Review would accept his first submission, but alas… In the quote above, we find first-person protaganist projection, with the person in question looking back on a past self. No objection from that, I think, but it is an interesting version of the phenomenon.

  2. It seems that the folk have a notorious habit of misusing language. Perhaps he is inaccurately expressing in his linguistic behavior what his intuitions about the concept of knowledge really are. (We all do this to an extent; and I’m not saying he is a folk, not that there’s anything wrong with that.) It seems more likely that he wanted to express the concept of believing very very strongly.

    Also, if you pushed a little and asked, “But do you think you really KNEW that you were going into politics?” I’m doubtful that he would stand by it, but I guess that can be put to the test.

  3. I agree this isn’t a misuse of language. It’s just important to recognise that telling truths isn’t the only proper use of language. Telling stories, including stories told from a perspective, is just as good a use.

    I thought one of Richard’s examples was first person past tense: the Billy Bragg lyric about shooting stars. That’s the one I always remember because I like the song.

  4. Despite the fact that these kinds of cases can be explained a la Holton, it’s worth asking why we think they need to be explained away in the first place. (I.e. Why say they are not plain literal uses of ‘knows’?) “Because knowledge is factive, of course!” But why do we think this?

    Something I think we can learn from these kinds of cases is that we don’t learn that knowledge is factive from ordinary language – at least not in the straightforward way we might imagine. The facts about how people use ‘knows’ are neutral between the hypothesis that knowledge is factive (but ‘knows’ is sometimes used in protagonist projection) and the hypothesis that knowledge isn’t factive but people generally say ‘S knows p’ only when p is true (for some other reason).

    I think it’s also important to consider that fact that Andrew’s thought (“the folk sure do misuse language alot”) is not uncommon among professional philosophers. I think such a view is pretty crazy, and I guess what I mean by saying we should consider this fact is just that we should all read Sense and Sensibilia again to make sure we’re over it.

  5. I wouldn’t call many of the phemomena complained about there cases of misuse. For example, I don’t see any reason to object to using “beg the question: X” intended to mean “make salient the question: X”. This would (perhaps) be misguided in a philosophy paper, but unless that’s made explicit by the instructor, I don’t think doing so betrays incompetence. One of the commenters in that thread suggested that using “beg the question: X” in this way would involve one in confusing the fallacy of begging the question with the act of making a certain question salient. I don’t see why that would be, any more than calling the edge of a river a “bank” would involve one in confusing river-edges and financial institutions.

    Alot of the complaints people had about their student’s papers are legitimate – I think American undergraduates in particular are often terrible writers, but not terrible speakers. (I tell students to read their papers out loud and listen for anything that sounds weird; some people find this really useful.)

    The view I think is “crazy” is the view that ordinary speech is often systematically mistaken in deviating from the norms of speech that philosophers have adopted. “Tee hee, you said that a proposition was valid; it’s only arguments that are valid or invalid!” Get over it.

    By the same token, I think it’s unreasonable to expect students to know what we mean by “argument,” “premise,” “beg the question,” and the like when these words have a variety of (in my view) legitimate uses in ordinary language. A student’s failure to master philosophical vocabulary is a failure qua philosophy student, not a failure qua speaker of English.

  6. Allan, the reference was sort of in jest. But what does this (the following) mean?

    “The view I think is “crazy” is the view that ordinary speech is often systematically mistaken in deviating from the norms of speech that philosophers have adopted”

    Do you mean that there are systematic violations, but since the norms philosophers have adopted are not genuine norms, these violations are not mistakes? Or do you mean that there aren’t systematic violations of the genuine norms of use that philosophers have adopted and so there are no mistakes being made? Or maybe something else.

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