Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

SOUP NAZIS


I am delighted to see that there are other Sprachpolizei among my readers.  Great suggestions!  But there might be some who wonder what the fuss is about.  Language evolves, after all.  Shakespeare's plays are full of usages that grate on modern ears.  So who cares if "begs the question" has evolved to mean "forcefully raises the question" rather than "assumes what is to be proved" and "disinterested" now means "uninterested" rather than "not swayed by interest?"

My reply is this:  Language is entirely conventional, onomatopoeia notwithstanding.  So any sequence of letters in English is available to be assigned any meaning native speakers choose.  But there are conceptual distinctions that it is extremely useful to mark and maintain by means of linguistic distinctions.  "Not interested" really means something different from "not swayed by personal interest."  We want to be able to say that a judge should not be swayed by private interest -- should be disinterested -- whereas a saint cares nothing for the pleasures and rewards of this world -- is uninterested in them.  There are also concepts for which it is useful to have linguistic expressions.  Assumes what is to be proved is one of them.  And we damned well better be able to distinguish between prescribe and proscribe before we start taking our daily medications!

2 comments:

Wallace Stevens said...

I have learned something. I too used to harrumph when I heard people using "begs the question" to mean "raises the question." However, I now realize that the harrumph was on me. I thought it meant to "avoid the question" or to "fail to address the question." I think that the error comes from interpreting the words to mean that the poor question has been left "begging" to be answered.

mesnenor said...

I think "begs the question" has always been an error waiting to happen. It's a too-literal translation of the Latin expression petitio principii. The misuse of the expression flows naturally from the initial mis-translation.