Saturday, April 05, 2014

The Fundamental Principle of Civil Rights Protest

You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail

32 comments:

  1. Mlk Realist5:32 PM

    That is what riots and murders did, not MLK posturing.

    ReplyDelete
  2. branemrys6:16 PM

    What is what riots and murders did?

    ReplyDelete
  3. branemrys3:48 PM

    But there is nothing here about creating crises in general but only about creating certain kinds of crises. In what case, precisely, did riots and murders create the kind of crisis that allowed for good faith negotiation on both sides?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Mlk realist4:40 AM

    In what case, precisely, did MLK et al. create the kind of crisis that alllowed for good faith neogtiations on both sides?

    ReplyDelete
  5. branemrys7:37 AM

    MLK isn't saying that he did, nor have I said anything of the sort; MLK is saying that the purpose of what he is doing is to try to create crisis stimulating good faith negotiations on both sides. You, on the other hand, have already claimed that riots and murders actually did create these crises. So which ones?

    ReplyDelete
  6. mlk realist9:35 AM

    You are not maintaining that MLK created or claimed to have created crises that allowed good faith negotiation on both sides. He meant, according to you, only that he was only trying to do this and intended to take no position at all on whether his tactics were working or likely to work. You are completely agnostic about whether MLK's position on nonviolent direct action is really effective and believe that he made no claim about its effectiveness. You think no such claim is implied by the overall context of your remarks so you don't need to reply to my question and I bear all the burden of supporting the only positive position taken in our little dialogue.

    For my part, I was pointing out that black violence was successful in creating “such a crisis and foster[ing] such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.”

    The black riots of May, 1963, and the murder of a white police officer in Birmingham are some of the riots and murders that I mean created a crisis forcing confrontation.

    http://partners.nytimes.com/library/national/race/051363race-ra.html

    May 13, 1963
    50 Hurt in Negro Rioting After Birmingham Blasts
    By CLAUDE SITTON
    Special to The New York Times
    IRMINGHAM, Ala., May 12 -- Riots raged out of control for more than three hours early today, after bombings of a motel and an integration leader's home had enraged Negroes.

    The city police quelled the disturbances shortly after 5 A.M., New York time, with assistance from Negro ministers and civilian defense workers. About 50 persons were injured, including a policeman and a taxicab driver who were stabbed.

    About 2,500 persons joined the crowds that attacked the police and firemen, wrecked scores of police and private automobiles and burned six small stores and a two-story apartment house. Aside from the authorities, only a relative handful of whites became involved.....
    .

    ReplyDelete
  7. branemrys12:52 PM

    This is not 'according to me' but what he actually says, answering a question raised by the text to which he is responding that is literally on exactly that point: Why engage in these kinds of civil rights protest rather than negotiate? And the answer is explicitly, in order to re-establish negotiation. Obviously he did it because he thought it would work; you seem not to be grasping that he was writing the Letter from a Birmingham Jail in a Birmingham jail and so could not possibly have been claiming that the Birmingham jail had worked yet. All he's doing is answering an objection about what the point of the protests are, and what would make them a success. He himself didn't, and couldn't, know at that point whether he had actually succeeded.

    This takes no more than very elementary reading skills to figure out; I've known high school students to pick up on the point immediately. What is more, you have only to look at the title, to see how I was reading it, so you clearly weren't bothering with that, either. So the only reason you could possibly be failing to grasp any of this, assuming that you are older than sixteen years old, is that you are simply using this as an occasion to sound off on issues of your own without any regard for what anyone else, MLK or otherwise, is actually talking about. And I don't see why you think anyone should bother caring what your views are when you clearly can't even be bothered to read what you're responding to and interpret it reasonably.

    Again, MLK is not claiming that the point of civil rights protests is to create just any kind of crisis or confrontation, but specifically crisis or confrontation that restores negotiation as its point. Are you claiming that the black riots and murder of the police officer were intended to establish negotiation between both sides as equal parties? Or are you claiming that in fact they achieved it? It's disingenuous to pretend that you've been shouldering the burden of the discussion when your total contribution has been a few vague sentences, without explanation, whose connection to anything in the context you've never even bothered to mention (and then vaguely) until pressed to do so. You're the one who is wasting my time with these vague, undeveloped, poorly contextualized claims, not vice versa.

    ReplyDelete
  8. MLK Realist7:29 PM

    I asked you a question precisely parallel to one you asked me: In what case, precisely, did MLK et al. create the kind of crisis that allowed for good faith negotiations on both sides? You have failed to answer this question but have not failed to resort to insults.
    The answer to my question (since I believe it must be conceded that peaceful action failed) and the comparative effectiveness of black riots and murders (like the one I referred to) in promoting federal intervention which led to real change, is plainly relevant to evaluating MLK's justification of direct action.

    ReplyDelete
  9. MLK Realist4:08 AM

    As you say, I may be “prissy” and “surly.” My high-school level reading skills and mental grasp of even elementary logic may be quite inferior to yours, just as you suggest. Since I lack your superior mental abilities and more phlegmatic disposition, I can only pledge that I honestly believe that the pertinence of my remarks is clearer than it seems to you and that I did not intend to be "disingenuous" as you charge.
    Assuming that the purpose of peaceful protests is to create a tension and force negotiation, it seems fair and relevant to note, as I believe, that black violence, both rioting and murdering, was the effective force, rather than MLK’s actions, at forcing his white enemies to address black claims. Similarly, if one person stated that the purpose of an insulting and name-calling argumentative style was to cause others to reconsider their position, another person might reasonably and pertinently respond that a succinct and non-insulting style had actually done so far more effectively.

    ReplyDelete
  10. branemrys6:36 AM

    Assuming that the purpose of peaceful protests is to create a tension and force negotiation, it seems fair and relevant to note, as I believe, that black violence, both rioting and murdering, was the effective force, rather than MLK’s actions, at forcing his white enemies to address black claims

    And again -- yet again -- you ignore my questions and avoid actually addressing the issue, despite it being pointed out -- yet again -- that you had repeatedly not addressed it. The only issue on the table, which you have repeatedly been told and repeatedly ignored, is whether the purpose of peaceful protests is to create a tension and force negotiation. Thus by the very fact that you start out with "Assuming" precisely this, you have in fact proven that your marks are irrelevant to the discussion on the table; you have conceded for the sake of some argument you are having in your own head and have repeatedly refused actually to share with anyone, the entire point in question. Thus there is no relevance here; you have refused -- repeatedly -- to establish any relevance, preferring merely to state it over and over again despite it being pointed out that you had not actually shown what the relevance is, and here you have conceded the one and only relevant point as an assumption for argument despite my having repeatedly told you that it is the one and only relevant point.

    As for the rest of your whining, you lost all ground for complaint with your third comment; it is of no interest to me, and you might as well save your breath on the subject. You seem not to grasp that whether or not someone is making elementary logical errors -- like confusing distinct modal domains of questions, or claiming that something is relevant to the discussion when you have conceded the one and only one point of discussion -- is merely a matter of name-calling, when it is in fact an objective matter that is clear from the evidence. These are indeed elementary logical errors, and the adult, non-pissy, non-surly thing to do is to correct them, not whine about being called out on them.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Random Internet Guy aka MLKRe7:12 AM

    I am not, as you say, "Random Guy on the Internet" whose opinions and belief count for "zilch." In fact, I am your neighbor.
    We do indeed disagree about the issue between us. And, candidly, I think you might benefit from reviewing stasis theory. But we should agree on our universal duty to interact with one another politely, perhaps, even charitably.

    ReplyDelete
  12. branemrys7:41 AM

    If you are going around pseudonymously, you are in fact Random Guy on the Internet, and your opinions are worth exactly as much as the actual reasons and arguments you put behind them, and no more. And you repeatedly put nothing behind them but vague irrelevancies.

    And, again, you were the one who decided to engage in intellectually dishonest (and polite and uncharitable, if that's what really matters to you) tactics in your third comment by putting words in people's mouth without regard for what the actual evidence showed. As I said before, you have no grounds to complain: you answered a clarificatory argument by putting words in my mouth to mock me, and I had every right to point out how truly, utterly illiterate that attack was. You have repeatedly failed to exercise even very elementary courtesies of argument, as well documented above; I was mocked, my questions repeatedly ignored or given the runaround, my legitimate concerns with how your claims were relevant were dismissed or ignored as if they didn't exist, and every criticism was treated as nothing more than an ad hominem. The whole comment thread is one long record of you refusing to exercise even the slightest care in your argument or responses, showing no concern for what was actually being said, no interest in the actual evidence of the text, and not even an effort to be logically consistent. As I said before, you are wasting your breath on this point; I have no sympathy at all.

    ReplyDelete
  13. random internet neighbor8:39 PM

    My third comment, the casus belli, was:

    In what case, precisely, did MLK et al. create the kind of crisis that alllowed for good faith neogtiations on both sides?

    It did not put words in your mouth but returned to you a similarly worded question to one that you put to me. The purpose of this, and I apologize if this seemed cruel, was not to mock you. I hoped simply to underscore that creating good-faith negotiations was not something that either violence or nonviolence had accomplished more fully than the other.
    I apologize that this hurt your feelings. I see how if you thought, as I concede would be wrong, that I raised this point to contest what MLK's purpose was, then the question would be irrelevant. If, as I actually intended, my point was that violence served MLK's stated purpose as well as his nonviolence, it still seems to me clearly appropriate. Happy Palm Sunday.

    ReplyDelete
  14. branemrys8:57 PM

    Everyone can read exactly what your third comment was, so there's no point in try to rewrite history. It starts, and I quote:

    You are not maintaining that MLK created or claimed to have created crises that allowed good faith negotiation on both sides. He meant, according to you, only that he was only trying to do this and intended to take no position at all on whether his tactics were working or likely to work. You are completely agnostic about whether MLK's position on nonviolent direct action is really effective and believe that he made no claim about its effectiveness. You think no such claim is implied by the overall context of your remarks so you don't need to reply to my question and I bear all the burden of supporting the only positive position taken in our little dialogue.

    As I said: words in my mouth to mock me.

    I have no interest in your apology; this is not about 'hurt feelings', and you're the only one dragging this out. What we have had here instead is your repeated refusal to extend elementary argumentative courtesies while at the same time continually complaining about mistreatment when this gets pointed out, continuing with your attempts even up to this comment to paint me as the villain of the piece under a stereotypical passive-aggressive non-apology by which one apologizes that the other person is too sensitive while failing actually to take any responsibility.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Random Internet MLK Realist9:08 PM

    You've miscounted as you've misinterpreted me and misunderstood the point of stasis between us.

    Comment 1: That is what riots and murders did, not MLK posturing.
    Comment 2: Created a crisis.
    Comment 3: In what case, precisely, did MLK et al. create the kind of crisis that alllowed for good faith neogtiations on both sides?

    ReplyDelete
  16. branemrys9:14 PM

    Ah, indeed, I did miscount; it was the fourth comment. Everything else stands, of course.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Quintilian9:23 PM

    Even Homer nods. My respect for you will survive.
    But, perhaps, you have made other mistakes as well.
    For example, the point in contention could not have been established by the original post. The point of stasis can only be established between the positions of the parties.

    ReplyDelete
  18. branemrys9:36 PM

    This gets you nowhere; first of all, points in contention are only established between the positions of parties in arguments in which the topic under discussion is established by consensual agreement of the parties. It is manifestly false in formal debates, or in discussions where one of the parties is only interested in one possible point for contention; and in real life disputes the point of contention is often established by external causes regardless of the positions of the parties -- a considerable part of my professional career is concerned with precisely such disputes. Second, this could only possibly be the case if the field of dispute were coherent; but I've already pointed out to you logical problems that put this in question. But third, even if we were by fiction to assume that this were somehow some well-defined, coherent dispute we entered into by consensual agreement rather than my putting up something and you disagreeing with it in unclear way that I could not relate to what you were responding to, the only point clearly shared by the two of us was whether your point was relevant to the topic raised in the original post, which as I repeatedly pointed out was negotiation -- which is unsurprising, since there would have been no sense at all to your original comments if it weren't.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Quintillian9:57 PM

    As I've said, I didn't disagree with what you said in your post.
    Stasis theory is not limited to well-defined coherent disputes. It was developed precisely to deal with the lack of definition in disputes. Since there was no formal defintion for our dialogue, the stasis can only be set where we actually disagree.
    If a person observes that X has Y purpose, it is not inappropriate or unclear or irrelevant to respond that Z actually accomplishes Y, especially if there is a well-known historical context about whether X or Z is better at promoting Y.

    ReplyDelete
  20. branemrys10:23 PM

    (1) Unless I missed it, this is the first time you've actually stated that you didn't disagree with the point of the post. As I repeatedly told you, that was the one thing I was interested in.

    (2) The only point where we actually disagreed -- again, it is the only disagreement where it can clearly be established -- was whether your response was relevant to the topic in the post. Indeed, given that I explicitly pointed out several times that I only regarded the point in the post as relevant, this is logically the only possible point of dispute we could have both shared.

    (3) Incoherent fields of dispute are not the same as fields of dispute lacking clear definition; the latter may be entirely coherent. Incoherent fields of dispute are incoherent: either parties are talking past each other or the dispute itself is formulated in an incoherent way.

    (4) "If a person observes that X has Y purpose, it is not inappropriate or unclear or irrelevant...". This is erroneous; whether a claim is relevant or appropriate depends entirely on the circumstances. No general principle of relevance is possible; if you actually had a general principle determining relevance, it would revolutionize the field of informal logic, in which principles of relevance are major topic. But this principle fails miserably; I can think of no situation in which it would actually be true. If the claim in question is, for instance, that the purpose of the Spanish Armada was to conquer England, and one replied, "But it didn't", that, while true, would not usually be relevant to the original claim unless in context the failure of the Armada were intended to be a direct argument against the Spanish Armada having the purpose of conquering England (which would be obviously absurd). Most of the time it would be changing the subject. And indeed, I have difficulty seeing why one would even take the principle to be even remotely plausible given the existence of unrealized purposes. If I am musing about what the purpose of a given course is, and I say, "The purpose of this course is such-and-such," and you respond, "But you're not fulfilling it," even if true it is not relevant to the original claim because the original claim is concerned entirely with what the purpose of the course is, not whether I am succeeding at achieving it -- that might be a further question, but only if made relevant by something else (e.g., by the project of course redesign). And even then it wouldn't be relevant to the first claim but to the larger project providing the context for the first claim.

    ReplyDelete
  21. MLK Quintilian2:58 AM

    You are either wrong in your remarks about relevance or rejecting pragmatics (Grice,
    Serber and Wilson) wholesale without noting it. Per Serber and Wilson, you err if you mean that a response which is not semantically concerned with the truth
    or falsity of the original claim “cannot be relevant to the original claim.”

    A Statement Y, as you say, can relevantly interact with a prior Statement X by supporting or undermining X. Unfortunately, these seem to be the only ways of relevant interaction that you admit. But, at least for Serber and Wilson, Y would also be relevant to X if X combines with Y to yield other contextually significant implications. E.g., “It’s really icy” is in many contexts a relevant response to the primary claim “We
    should stay home if it is icy” even though it sheds no light on the truth of the primary claim.

    To take another example, consider whether it would be appropriate in familiar dinner-time contexts to criticize the following rejoinder of a wife as “irrelevant:”

    Husband: We should go to McDonald’s for dinner if Hardee’s is closed.

    Wife: Hardee’s is closed.

    Husband: Why do you bother me with such irrelevant
    remarks! Anyone with a high-school diploma would know that whether Hardee’s is open or closed has nothing to do with whether it is true that ‘we should go to
    McDonald’s for dinner if Hardee’s I closed.’ You are either an idiot or deliberately wasting my time.

    I assume we all feel that the husband’s criticism is both wrong (and rude) and not because we disagree with his claim that whether Hardee’s is open has no relation to the truth of his first claim. Rather, the wife’s remarks is
    relevant because granting the truth of his first claim, it combines with the first claim to produce implications that are relevant for a family deciding what to do at dinner time.

    Consider another exchange, much closer to our own initial dialogue, where husband and wife have been talking on and off for months about to see as much as possible during their upcoming trip to Europe:

    Husband: On their last vacation, the King family’s
    purpose was to see as much of Italy as they could by driving around in a rental car.

    Wife: The Carmichaels took trains around Italy and saw
    more of Italy than the Kings did because the Kings’ rental car kept breaking down.

    Husband: That’s irrelevant to the truth or falsity of my
    statement and you must be either dumb or ill-intentioned to bring up something so irrelevant.

    Again, we feel that the husband’s criticism is both rude and wrong and not because we disagree with his claim that what the Carmichaels did does not affect the truth or falsity of his claim. The wife’s statement is neither
    irrelevant nor changing the subject, as you suggest. Rather, in combination with her husband’s statement and the context of inquiring into the best way to
    see Europe, it relevantly implies that trains are better than rental cars, even though it neither supports nor undermines the truth of her husband’s claim
    about the Carmichaels’ purpose.

    ReplyDelete
  22. branemrys6:25 AM

    You are either wrong in your remarks about relevance or rejecting pragmatics

    Neither. Your response repeatedly involves a modal fallacy; that claims "can" interact with prior claims as you say is consistent with what I said. This is very different from any such things being true as a general principle, or, for that matter, it's being possible to determine whether claims are relevant independently of specific circumstances of a case. It's interesting that you bring up pragmatics here, because the need for pragmatics is closely related to the lack of any general principle of relevance; all major pragmatic approaches see locutionary acts in terms of ends and means and both ends and means are context-sensitive.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Quintilian9:59 AM

    No, I committed no modal fallacies. I provided counterexamples to your general aspersions upon the relevance of a subsequent claim that is not addressed to the truth or falsity of a prior. I provided contextualized instances of relevant responses to statements where the response did not relate to the truth of the statement, including where the initial statement dealt with purpose and the latter with denial of its fulfillment. I would be interested to know why you don’t think these counterexamples are instances of relevant responses.

    I should have specified that I was responding to your reasoning in your claims about the Spanish Armada and the purpose of courses, which seems to rely on an idea that Serber and Wilson’s work on relevance shows to be erroneous, i.e. that relevant subsequent statements must strengthen or weaken the truth of a prior statement. Their work is interesting and I think my examples capture some of it that is relevant in our dialogue. I certainly don’t believe that relevance is independent of context. Indeed, in the statement you criticize I intended to highlight context: “If a person observes that X has Y purpose, it is not inappropriate or unclear or irrelevant to respond that Z actually accomplishes Y, especially if there is a well-known historical context about whether X or Z is better at promoting Y.” It would have better caught my meaning to write: “if a person observes that X has Y purpose, it is not generally inappropriate or unclear or irrelevant to respond that Z actually accomplishes Y, if there is a well-known historical context ...”

    If that is your point, I would like to quickly concede it and not miss the interesting issues framed by Serber and Wilson emphasizing that relevance is not connected only to strengthening and weakening of truth, as I tried to illustrate.

    ReplyDelete
  24. branemrys11:19 AM

    I made no "general aspersions upon the relevance of a subsequent claim that is not addressed to the truth or falsity of a prior"; this is a complete misunderstanding of my argument. I pointed out that it is illicit to think that this is always true or that there were general criteria of relevance of the sort to which you appealed, and I pointed out that relevance must be determined instead in light of context and circumstances not according to general principles. Your response isn't a counterexample to this at all; which is unsurprising because it is logically impossible to have a 'counterexample' to a claim saying that something varies according to context -- counterexamples can only establish that things in different contexts vary, not that they are all the same. You are the one making general claims about relevance; I am pointing out that it varies considerably according to context.

    But the modal fallacy exists, in any case; you don't need to establish that there can be cases where relevant subsequent claims are not specifically concerned with the truth or falsehood of a prior claim; you need to establish what you originally claimed, which is that this is the case as a general matter for any claims X, Y, and so forth. This is an error in modal operators. And you need the general claim for any of this argument to be relevant to the point at hand.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Quintilian11:32 AM

    I might mention while on the subject that a major factor of relevance in law has to do with something we have completely ignored, though Serber and Wilson take it up. That is, the ratio between the probative power of a statement and the amount of time, effort, prejudicial effect, confusion of issues, needless accumulation or repetition involved in presenting it. Evidence to be relevant must not only bear on the issue but be worth the cost of processing it.
    In philosophical terms, I wonder whether this is part of the serious protest against more obscure philosophers.

    ReplyDelete
  26. branemrys12:37 PM

    Thus, in a Gricean sense, it is not true, as you say, that “most claims are usually not relevant to other claims.”

    Well, Gricean maxims aren't criteria of relevance, but presumptions that depend on what one already knows to be relevant and irrelevant, given certain assumptions about the already determined ends of the actual discussion. Indeed, that's the whole point of the cooperative principle on which they are based. So it's not surprising that they focus on actual claims in actual conversations and deal mostly with relevant claims -- they already presume that we are considering both. But I think it's a much harder matter to determine whether people are usually making claims relevant to prior claims, and should not be simply assumed. People do often fail to be relevant even when they are trying to be relevant. The fallacy of ignoratio elenchi is very common, and people talking past each other is also common. And, of course, there are cases where people aren't even trying to be relevant, like jokes based on irrelevance, people deliberately being 'random', the common practice of changing the subject because one doesn't want to say something relevant to a claim, and so forth.

    I will point out also that you consistently ignore the last clause …. “if there is a well-know historical context about whether X or Z is better at promoting Y.” That clause is important because it shows both that I was always concerned about context (though I did slip in the placement of the especially) and, if you read my contextual limitation broadly, makes it more likely that the claim about fulfillment of purpose will be relevant by combination.

    This is straightforwardly an equivocation; a historical context for X &c. and a communicative context for claims about X &c. are manifestly not the same thing and cannot possibly have the same role.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Quinitilian3:07 AM

    “Gricean maxims aren't criteria of relevance, but
    presumptions that depend on what one already knows to be relevant and irrelevant, given certain assumptions about the already determined ends of the
    actual discussion.”

    Are you overlooking that relevance or “be relevant” is a
    Gricean maxim? As I understand it, those
    who developed Grice’s insights into relevance theory, in fact, strengthened the
    relevance maxim so that in many ways, it contained the rest. This does not
    necessarily mean we assume that people are being relevant. For example, Grice treats open
    and deliberate violation of the maxims under implicature. The open and flagrant
    violation of a maxim in those cases helps generate semantically ungiven implications. Even allowing for some conversational failure, as I
    understand him, Grice does believe that the maxims are generally observed
    through obedience or apparent, conversation-forwarding flouting in
    conversation. They are descriptive claims about the way conversation in fact tends to operate.

    “This is straightforwardly an equivocation; a historical
    context for X &c. and a communicative context for claims about X &c.
    are manifestly not the same thing and cannot possibly have the same role.”

    I don’t think I was equivocating. By a historical context
    about whether X is Y, I mean a kind of communicative context, specifically one established in historical debates about whether X is Y, e.g., between historic figures like King and Carmichael about whether nonviolence is a tactic or a principle and whether violence is productive. Given the historical context of our own discussion, I thought apparently mistakenly that this would be clearer than it was.

    ReplyDelete
  28. branemrys8:02 AM

    (1) No, I'm not overlooking the Gricean maxim of relevance; it is not a criterion of relevance. First, it is using the word 'relevance' in a very specialized sense; and second, it is useless to talk about presumptions about being relevant unless one has independent means of determining what is relevant and irrelevant. Sperber & Wilson are merely generalizing the Gricean maxim and adding assumptions about how human cognition works (rather controversial ones) to specify what they mean by 'relevance' even further -- it is widely recognized that by the time we get to S&W we are talking specifically about 'relevance to someone' rather than 'relevance to what other people are are doing or saying', for instance.

    It's also important to note that flouting and violating Gricean maxims should not be conflated with being irrelevant in general; that they cannot be so conflated is essential to how the maxims would work in practice. Gricean maxims also, again, do not apply unless the cooperative principle applies; it is known that there are common situations in which it does not, which is why Sperber & Wilson shift to assumptions about human cognition.

    I don’t think I was equivocating. By a historical context
    about whether X is Y, I mean a kind of communicative context, specifically one established in historical debates about whether X is Y, e.g., between historic figures like King and Carmichael about whether nonviolence is a tactic or a principle and whether violence is productive.


    This merely confirms the equivocation. What you are essentially saying here is that by 'historical context' you meant the broader historical context of things talked about in the claim, and not the actual communicative context of the particular claim in question. Again, conflating the two yields obviously absurd results. It reminds me of a troll I once had who, if I ever mentioned a major figure like David Hume or Jane Austen on the blog would go into a long spiel about their politics (usually wrong, but that's not relevant to my point here), no matter what particular issue I was actually considering at the time. That the politics was part of their context, or even that their politics could be part of "historical debates" about particular aspects of their thought, did not, and could not, automatically make it pertinent to the topic at hand.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Quintilian10:05 AM

    How does the fact that the Gricean maxim of relevance is not an independent criterion of relevance matter? The point I made was that for Grice, it is not true that conversation contain infinite irrelevant statements for every relevant statement, as you pointed out is true as a matter of pure possibility. Do the points you raise tend to negate that claim?

    As to the usefulness of general presumptions about relevance without objective criteria, I actually have quite a lot of experience with them. Lots of rules of relevance of the form that you object to are quite practically useful and successfully used every day by lawyers in courts across the country. If you want to appeal to practical effect of formulae like mine, I think you weaken your arguments.
    Finally, I don’t see how my informing you that by a historical context I meant one species of communicative context confirms an equivocation. I don’t think you would deny that only some of the actual communicative context for ordinary conversations like ours is drawn from the immediate course of dealing between the parties while others parts of the context is drawn from what I call the historical context (e.g., the shared legacy of publically known past conversations and topics which people might be expected to know, the historical legacy of their common culture of discourse) in which the parties find themselves even though they themselves have not discussed it themselves. This is emphatically so when the conversational course initially consists of one post about one of the civil heroes of America, whose actions are officially and widely promoted as models of emulation (except for his plagiarism and adulteries and firearm carrying).

    ReplyDelete
  30. branemrys2:46 PM

    How does the fact that the Gricean maxim of relevance is not an independent criterion of relevance matter? The point I made was that for Grice, it is not true that conversation contain infinite irrelevant statements for every relevant statement, as you pointed out is true as a matter of pure possibility. Do the points you raise tend to negate that claim?

    You were the one who selected my claim specifically about criteria of relevance to respond to; I had raised it only as part of a larger set of claims about how Gricean pragmatics is set up.

    I don't know at all what your usefulness argument is responding to.

    Finally, I don’t see how my informing you that by a historical context I meant one species of communicative context confirms an equivocation. I don’t think you would deny that only some of the actual communicative context for ordinary conversations like ours is drawn from the immediate course of dealing between the parties while others parts of the context is drawn from what I call the historical context (e.g., the shared legacy of publically known past conversations and topics which people might be expected to know, the historical legacy of their common culture of discourse) in which the parties find themselves even though they themselves have not discussed it themselves.

    I would in fact deny this if you are claiming this is generally or usually true, or if you are claiming that this can generally be presumed; whether it is true will simply depend on what is being done and discussed, and the way in which it is being done and discussed.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Qunitilian10:15 PM

    I actually can’t tell anymore whether you are contesting that, for Grice, conversation does not contains infinite
    irrelevant statements for every relevant statement, though that might be true as an abstract linguistic possibility. I understand that you want to affirm
    infinite irrelevant possibilities to show why general presumptions about relevance are practically impossible. I am, however, unsure of this because you seem to say that there are general presumptions, at least, about what is not relevant.

    With respect to your last remarks, I did not arbitrarily bring up criteria of relevance. You wrote: “I'm not
    overlooking the Gricean maxim of relevance; it is not a criterion of relevance.” This led me to believe that you regarded the maxim’s failure to be a criterion
    as important.


    Second, when you write “I don’t know at all what your usefulness argument is respond to,” I would have thought it was clear that I am responding
    to your immediately preceding claim about uselessness:“it is useless to talk about presumptions
    about being relevant unless one has independent means of determining what is relevant and irrelevant.”

    Finally, in your last part, I think you usefully summarize our overall positions. You deny that it is “generally or usually true” or “can be generally presumed” that “only some of the actual communicative context for
    ordinary conversations like ours is drawn from the immediate course of dealing between the parties while other parts of the context is drawn from what I call
    the historical context (e.g. the shared legacy of publically known past controversies and topics which people might be expected to know, the historical
    legacy of their common culture of discourse) in which the parties find themselves even though they themselves have not discussed it.”

    (A subsidiary argument is whether in taking this position you are putting yourself in opposition to Grice and S and W. My own sense, though it is in your field, is that they would agree that the communicative context
    necessary to understand ordinary conversations includes more than the course of dealings between the parties.)

    I think your position is meant to support your more specific judgment, which seems prima facie untrue to
    me, that someone writing a blog post like yours, stating in general form that “the purpose of X is Y,” thereby excludes from the communicative context a famous
    debate about whether X actually succeeds in Y. So, for example, if I write a blog post stating and arguing for the claim that “the purpose of U.S. use of waterboarding and torture is to obtain information necessary to prevent terrorism,” I should not expect others to regard as an appropriate conversational response: “other methods are more effective and torture is
    immoral in any case.” They must limit their remarks to strengthening or weakening the claim that this is the purpose of U.S. torture. If, for example, I quoted Rumsfeld’s writings on this subject stating that the purpose of torture is to stop terrorism, you think I
    should regard it as an irrelevant reply if someone responded “torture is immoral and diplomacy is more effective at stopping terrorism” because “nothing logically requires it” and it would be clear from the
    structure of the blog post that the writer is “focusing much more narrowly in their discussion of particular topics.”

    ReplyDelete
  32. branemrys12:20 AM

    I'm not sure where your confusion is coming from, because I hadn't said anything substantive I didn't previously say.

    (1) I didn't say you arbitrarily brought up criteria for relevance; I said that you were the one who selected the comment about them specifically to respond to, and that the original comment was part of a larger context about the set-up of Gricean pragmatics.

    (2) The uselessness comment was part of the same context, was about the structure of Gricean pragmatics in particular, and was, for that matter, conditional rather than categorical. Your usefulness argument has nothing to do with this that I can see.

    (3) someone writing a blog post like yours, stating in general form that “the purpose of X is Y,” thereby excludes from the communicative context a famous debate about whether X actually succeeds in Y. This is not my more specific judgment; my more specific judgment is that I did not thereby include it, and that nothing required that it be included, and that it was not obviously included in context, and that there was in fact nothing in the context to serve as a ground for considering it included, and that it became clear enough in discussion that it wasn't included, and that your arguments that it was relevant are all unconvincing at best, and that it is extraordinarily tiresome to be argued with at endless length about what was relevant to my own post or the claim it was specifically highlighting, and that it is also getting very tiresome repeatedly having claims attributed to me that do not logically follow from what I have actually said.



    (4) If you only considered what the purpose of the US in using waterboarding is, then whether it's very successful or immoral is in fact prima facie irrelevant to what you are specifically considering, and is at least not obviously appropriate to the actual communicative context. (We have already gone through the point that relevance does not require "limiting remarks to strengthening or weakening the claim"; this was a misunderstanding entirely on your part, not a claim I ever made. I'm not sure why you're bringing it up again.) What you do with it is entirely your business; I have not said a single thing about what you 'should' do in your own discussions on your own blog. You would be perfectly reasonable if you regarded it as irrelevant, though; and it would be obviously unreasonable for the commenter in question to deny that you could reasonably do so.

    ReplyDelete

No anonymity (but consistent pseudonyms allowed). Abusive comments, especially directed toward other commenters, will be deleted; abusive commenters will be hunted down and shot. By posting a comment you agree to these terms and conditions.

Please understand that this weblog runs on a third-party comment system, not on Blogger's comment system. If you have come by way of a mobile device and can see this message, you may have landed on the Blogger comment page; your comments will only be shown on this page and not on the page most people will see, and it is much more likely that your comment will be missed (although I do occasionally check to make sure that no comments are being overlooked).