Monday, December 5, 2011


Philosophers have scribbled  much ink, and later worn out many a typewriter ribbon, and finally expended great bushels of pixels, discoursing upon the status of “logical truths”; such as, paradigmatically, the following:

            (I) Every man is either married or a bachelor.

(We simplify, since the matter is not really of interest; leaving out of account, for instance, the curious case of Schrödinger’s groom.)
It is agreed that such a sentence tells us nothing about the world, unlike that time-honored exemplar of informativeness,

            (II)  The cat is on the mat.

which has been so oft repeated. down the years, that said cat has achieved the immobility and timelessness of an Egyptian idol.

            And yet its affordances are quite different from those of another statement of the same logical form; say:

            (II) Every number is either even or odd.

For, although the sentence (I) does not perhaps baldly state anything substantive about the world, its presuppositions speak volumes.  For one thing, it gives us to understand that there is a sharply defined institution, Marriage, into which a man may enter or not; and that his resultant state is either-or. Even so much will give our Martian anthropologists  sufficient grist  for many turns of the mill.

            By way of contrast, consider the practice, not of marrying, but merely dating.  In our junior high school, this was a fluid concept, not either-or.  At one end, you had parties, where a fairly consistent set of friends would get together, certain twosomes of whom  spent more time together around the punch bowl than did others.  Then, with various gradations, to the Double Date in its pure form:  wherein a pair of guys, both pals, dated a brace of gals, both chums;  and to be sure, John might scope out Mary more than he did Sue, but her own returning gaze was as likely to be skew as coincident with his; and the only time two people were alone together  was when the girls went off to the sanctum of the ladies’ room, leaving the boys together to sigh and wonder at the world.   The practice finally became sharpened into a digital, bivalent institution, with Going Steady:  this was a relationship as definite (inaugurated with certain ceremonies, and marked with a ring) and as monogamous, as any that has ever been sanctified by the Holy Mother Church.

            Pursuing further this musing line of thought, we might with diligence  tease the meanings out of (I), until we have managed to extract virtually the whole of apostolic theology; and paraphrase the statement (freed of the parochial assumptions of atheist Cambridge) thus:

(I’)  Every Christian man of sound mind and body, falls into exactly one of the following two categories:   (a) he is a layman in his ordinate state, or (b) he is a celibate priest, or else a fellow who needs to find himself a wife.

Such are the fruits that come tumbling out of the cornucopia of a tautology, for them that have ears to hear, and tongue to taste them.

[Update 25 July 2015]  Robert Buissière on Médi1, re the  (presumable eventual) Presidential front-runners (after the Trumpwad has been flushed):

Jeb Bush, frère de son frère,
et Hillary Clinton,  épouse de son époux.

As they stand, these are “analytic”; but we understand the import:  Jeb and Hillary got where they are today, largely owing to family association.

Cf. & contrast the common expression “He is his father’s son.”  Normally this means that he takes after his Dad, and not that he is getting any special favors from other people owing to that filiation.  To imply the latter, you might say “Daddy’s little boy” or something.  By contrast, the French phrases in the above context  do not imply that Jeb’s politics are a close match to Dubya’s, let alone that Hillary’s are a close match to Bill’s.

No comments:

Post a Comment