Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Contrastives and Reduplication

I've been thinking of contrastive clauses recently, and as it happens an interesting example of the importance of contrastive phrases came up recently. You may be aware of the recent uproar about Chick-fil-A and gay marriage. According to certain news reports, "'Guilty as charged,', Cathy said when asked about his company's support of the traditional family unit as opposed to gay marriage." The problem is that if you actually compare reports, you realize that Cathy wasn't asked about "his company's support of the traditional family unit as opposed to gay marriage" and doesn't seem to have said anything about gay marriage; rather, he seems to have been asked a vague question about his company's explicit support of the traditional family, and he responded with the vague answer that Chick-fil-A was guilty as charged, and were very supportive of the traditional family. And as Terry Mattingly points out, this doesn't tell us anything about gay marriage. Whatever Cathy himself may have meant, 'supporting the traditional family' and 'supporting the traditional family as opposed to gay marriage' are two distinct things; they do not have the same logical implications and they really do need to be distinguished.

In any case, I find contrastive clauses interesting, since I find reduplication interesting and contrastive phrases are clearly kinds of reduplicative phrases. Reduplicative phrases are interesting in themselves because they can often have significant logical effects. Ignoring a reduplication can result in ignoratio elenchi, for instance, which shows that reduplication affects what's being talked about. Likewise, if for any S, R, T, and P, and for a Q that is inconsistent with P, I say, "S qua R is P" and "S qua T is Q," it's entirely possible that the two are consistent, even though S is P and S is Q, without the reduplication, are inconsistent. For instance, "Mary as mayor has the authority to close the street" is not inconsistent with "Mary as concerned parent does not have the authority to close the street". Another example of somewhat different construction: "This theory T is capable of adequately explaining the U.S. flag as a physical object" is consistent with "This theory T is not capable of adequately explaining the U.S. flag as a social symbol."

Contrastive phrases work reduplicatively in this way. If I say, "This theory T explains physical objects rather than social symbols," the "rather than social symbols" adds something of considerable importance beyond the bare statement, "This theory T explains physical objects". Likewise, saying "This theory T explains physical objects rather than social symbols" is different altogether from "This theory T explains physical objects rather than physical processes." Another example: "Why do you rob banks rather than robbing houses?" is a radically different question from "Why do you rob banks rather than not robbing anything at all?" It's an interesting question, and for which I don't have any sure answers, as to whether the contrastive character makes for important logical differences when compared with other kinds of reduplicative expressions; but it does seem that every contrastive expression "as opposed to R" is equivalent to the reduplicative expressions "as not-R" and "insofar as it is not-R", although this is not entirely adequate because many contrastive expressions are linked with ordinariy reduplicatives.

Reduplicatives and contrastives can be considered relevance-restrictors. As such they they seem to suggest that the proper logic for dealing with them is a modal logic. In philosophy one most often finds discussion of reduplicatives and contrastives in the context of contrastive explanation (answers to questions of the form "Why X rather than Y?"), but remarkably I can find nothing in the literature linking considerations of contrastive explanations with modal considerations. (Perhaps I have overlooked it?) Possibly this is because philosophers still have the nasty and out-of-date habit of thinking of modal logic in terms of possible worlds, and possible worlds are clearly not relevant here. What is relevant are aspects. In this sense, at least some reduplication seems to work somewhat like a ◊ -- "S qua R is P" is like saying "S in some aspect, namely, R, is P," which is different from saying "S in every aspect is P" and thus is consistent with "S in some aspect T is not P". Diamond modalities break contradictions in a similar way. But other kinds of reduplication, e.g., "Being qua being is the subject of metaphysics," are more complicated, and I'm not even sure where to begin with contrastives in particular.


  1. "Whatever Cathy himself may have meant, 'supporting the traditional family' and 'supporting the traditional family as opposed to gay marriage' are two distinct things; they do not have the same logical implications and they really do need to be distinguished."

    Recall that republican politicians used to stand up at all-white rallies in the deep south and loudly proclaim their support for "state's rights".   *That* they were vicious racists using a phrase with obvious contextual connections to slavery in order to earn the support of other vicious racists is incontrovertible.  Yet, the sentence "I support state's rights" does not logically imply "I favour the continued segregation and marginalization of black Americans."  Could we have "distinguished" the two statements as you now do?

    If we're doing Philosophy of Language: (1) Certain phrases plainly function to align the speaker with sentiments shared by a section of their audience, and (2) meaning is not reducible to entailment relations.  "Distinguishing" between two sentences can, in some situations, obscure the reality of the communicative situation rather than clarify it.  This all serves to call into question a philosopher's motives for "distinguishing" two statements on the grounds that one does not imply another.

  2. (1) Obviously; it would be a sign of stupidity to claim that we could not distinguish the meanings of the two statements. Your very characterization of the situation requires that the distinction be made, and that the persons is question were covering a view by using statements of determinably distinct meaning whose implications could be taken to overlap with those of the view in question. Making the distinction is required for identifying such covering behavior, so all you've done is given another example of why the distinction needs to be made, namely, in order to properly classify, and therefore deal with, political covering tactics.

    (2) Your (2) is irrelevant. First, entailment relations are stronger than implication relations; but more importantly, there is no reduction thesis involved. Rather, the point is that distinct implications require that there be a distinction of meaning. Your (1) is also irrelevant, for other reasons.

    (3) I'm utterly amused to see you once again overshooting in the misconception that you are making an argument that defends the gay marriage position. I picked the Cathy example because it was the most recent case, and was brought to the foreground as an example by the journalistic ethics issue noted by Mattingley (which, although it is irrelevant to the point of the post, is brought by journalists attributing directly something that standard journalistic ethics requires that they raise by quoting critics assessing, as you say, the contextual issues). In conversations I usually end up having to use the old rhetorical maneuver -- a reverse covering maneuver, in fact -- in which advocacy of gay marriage is taken to be advocacy of gay marriage as opposed to traditional marriage. The irrational nonsense that would result from defending that maneuver the way you are suggesting should make clear enough the status of your defense here; and defending such maneuvers is unacceptable.


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