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Pragmatic Implication1

  • C. K. Grant (a1)


THE PURPOSE of this paper is to clarify some of the logical problems raised by certain uses of the word “imply”which, although very familiar in ordinary language, have not been adequately investigated by philosophers. There have been numerous references to this type of implication in recent philosophical writings. Some of these are listed below.2 However, there does not exist, to my knowledge, any account of this concept in its own right; this deficiency I hope to remedy, in part, in the following remarks.



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page 303 note 2 P. F. Strawson: “On Referring,”Mind, 1950. D. J. O'Connor: “Pragmatic Paradoxes,”Mind, 1948. Y. Bar–Hillel: “Analysis of ‘Correct’ Language,”Mind, 1946; “Indexical Expressions,”Mind, 1954. P. T. Geach: “Russell's Theory of Descriptions,”Analysis, 1950. N. Malcolm: “The Verification Argument,”in Philosophical Analysis, ed. Max Black. Max Black: “Saying and Disbelieving,”Analysis, 1952. Reprinted in Problems of Analysis. P. H. Nowell–Smith: Ethics, pp. 80–4.

page 305 note 1 Cheshire and Fifoot: The Law of Contract, p. 97.

page 306 note 1 It is not always easy to draw this distinction. Hiccuping, sneezing, blushing, etc., are all generally involuntary and hence cannot be purposive; but some people are said to be able to blush at will. The criteria by means of which we decide whether any given blush is intentional are doubtless complex; however, the relevant point here is that once the distinction is made, we can ask of an intentional blush “What was the point of doing that?”a question that cannot be asked about an involuntary blush.

page 309 note 1 As Prof. J. L. Austin points out: “We don't talk with people (descriptively) except in the faith that they are trying to convey information. “Other Minds. Reprinted in Logic and Language (Second Series) p. 129.

page 311 note 1 “When I say ‘S is P’ I imply at least that I believe it.”J. L. Austin, loc. cit., p. 143.

page 311 note 1 For example Bar–Hillel says “ ‘if X is human and X says S, then X believes S' is (generally) highly confirmed.”

page 311 note 2 “Analysis of ‘Correct’ Language,”Mind, 1946 p. 337. This is like saying that in general people do not vote “Aye”unless they oppose the opponents of the resolution–as if occasionally a few people did! More of this later.

page 311 note 3 Cf. Burks and Copi: “Lewis Carroll's Barber Shop Paradox,”Mind, 1950, p. 220, and also: Burks: “The Logic of Causal Propositions,”Mind, 1951.

page 312 note 1 “On Referring”, Mind, 1950, p. 330.

page 312 note 2 “Analysis of ‘Correct’ Language,”Mind, 1946, p. 335

page 313 note 1 Moore, G. E.: Russell's Theory of Descriptions. The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell, Living Philosophers Library, pp. 303 ff., Moore's italics.

page 313 note 2 Cf. “On Referring”, pp. 325–6. But note that on p. 330 Strawson betrays some uneasiness about this; he there talks of a man who “seriously utters”a sentence.

page 314 note 1 It is worth observing that so–called “pragmatic paradoxes”can arise in imperative as well as indicative statements. Two examples must suffice. (i) It is alleged that Mr. Arthur Christiansen, the Editor of the Daily Express, once sent a directive to his reporters which began “Clichés must be avoided like the plague.”(ii) The imperative: “Prepositions are not for ending sentences with.”These paradoxes raise interesting questions, but they are not relevant here.

page 315 note 1 Problems of Analysis, pp. 43–4.

page 316 note 1 This error was criticized, though on somewhat inadequate grounds, in Some Notes on Assertion, by C. Lewy; reprinted in Philosophy and Analysis (ed. Macdonald), p. 120 ff.

page 317 note 1 PHILOSOPHY, 1956.

page 317 note 2 The view that the absurdity of this sort of utterance arises from its pointlessness was first advanced by Mr. A. M. MacIver. Concerning utterances of the form “p, but I think not–p,”MacIver says “the second half of what I say makes the saying of the first half pointless”(MacIver's italics). Some Questions about “Know”and “Think,”Analysis 1938. Reprinted in Philosophy and Analysis, ed. M. Macdonald, p. 95.

page 317 note 2 Black raises the question: “Can we even imagine what it would be like for the utterance in good faith of “p, but I don't believe p”to have a point? op. cit., p. 49–50. The whole problem lies in the analysis of the phrase “uttering in good faith.”It is worth noting that “p, but I don't believe pcould be interpreted, in certain circumstances, as a description of a change in the speaker's psychological state, viz. the transition from belief in p to doubting it.

page 318 note 1 If I am right to take “assertion”as the fundamental notion in resolving this paradox, we can see the deficiency in Prof. Black's interesting treatment of the problem. He distinguishes between an explicit assertion and its “signification”; a sentence in a certain mood “signifies,”but does not state, the speaker's belief (Problems of Analysis, p. 52 ff). In “p, but I don't believe p”the assertion of disbelief contradicts the signification of belief. Such an utterance is a misuse of a conventional sign of belief; but it has been shown that we do not learn rules for the use of sentences over and above the rules of particular words and stock phrases. (R. Willis: “Prof. Black on ‘Saying and Disbelieving’,”Analysis, 1953.) Black introduces this unsatisfactory notion of a rule of signification because he states the problem by considering a speaker who says p; this is too vague–is he just uttering a sentence or making an assertion? If this question is asked, rules of signification become redundant.

page 318 note 2 Cf. “On Referring”, and also A. J. Baker: “Presupposition and Types of Clause,”Mind, July 1956, p. 371.

page 319 note 1 P. F. Strawson: “On Referring” p. 330.

1 An early version of this paper was read to Professor R. Carnap's Faculty Seminar on logic in the University of Chicago in 1951. The present article is substantially the same as a paper read to the Northern Universities Philosophical Society Conference in 1956.


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