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Monday, September 14, 2020


 70 years ago at just about this time in September, I packed my few belongings, went to Grand Central Station, took the shore line to South Station in Boston, took the T to Harvard Square, walked across Mass. Avenue to Harvard Yard and began my education as a freshman at Harvard. The very first course I took was Philosophy 140, Willard Van Orman Quine’s course on symbolic logic, and almost the first thing I learned from Quine, something hammered into me so that I would never forget it, was the distinction between use and mention. Although I started out my life as a logic student, I soon took the path of the Rake’s progress first to the history of philosophy, then to social and political philosophy, and then – Lord help me – to such things beyond the pale as Marx’s economics and even Afro-American studies. So I didn’t have much professional use for the distinction between use and mention, but along the way I became addicted to crossword puzzles and there I found repeatedly that a clear grasp of that distinction is absolutely essential.


For almost 6 months now I have been doing the New York Times crossword puzzle online, a choice I made because my handwriting has gotten so bad that I can scarcely read what I write. One of the side benefits of doing the puzzle that way is that the app keeps track of how I do, telling me for each day of the week my average speed and my best speed of solution. As those of you will know who are also addicted to the Times puzzle, Mondays are the easiest of the week, but sometimes they have a little gimmick in them and today that gimmick was three long across solutions in which the letters “itti” appear in sequence. The solution to another long across clue was “have it both ways.” Not have “it” both ways, which is what a Quine student would expect but simply “have it both ways.” This deliberate confusion of use and mention is one of the standard tropes in crossword puzzle clues and every time it comes up I get a slight frisson of pleasure and a sense that I am a boy once again taking Philosophy 140.


Jerry Fresia said...

Speaking of frissons, in two recent stories you told us about the impact that live music had on you. So powerful was one that you had to leave the concert so as not to weaken the lingering of that experience. So my question is, is there a word for that specific kind of experience? "Spellbound" comes to mind, but that doesn't seem right. I thought of "frisson" but sure about that either.

Meanwhile, I need to look up the distinction between use and mention. I'm totally flummoxed by the example “have it both ways” vs have “it” both ways.

Jerry Fresia said...

It appears that I didn't need the quotation marks around "spellbound" and "frisson" above.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Jerry, your use of quotation marks was exactly correct. The difference is this. One of the answers in the puzzle was "Split ticket." Another was "Detroit tigers." A third was "sit tight." In each of these three letters "itti" appear, and this is having "it" both ways.

Jerry Fresia said...

I never would have figured that out!!

DDA said...

Where possible, add quotation marks to make a true, or at least reasonable, sentence.
If there are two or more solutions then specify them, where possible. If it is not
possible to specify all of the solutions, explain why.

1. There are fourteen letters in the postman’s bag.
2. Happiness is just a word.
3. Happiness designates a word.
4. Happiness designates a word that designates happiness.
5. If John names a man then it is true that John is a man.
6. If John names a man then John is a man is true.
7. For any name of a person, x, and any name of a property, P, we can always form the meaningful sentence x has P.
8. For any name of a person, x, and any name of a property, P, we can always name a meaningful sentence by writing ', x, has, P, and '.
9. is a right-hand quotation mark.
10. The word processor came into use in the 1920s but the word processor came into use in 1964.
11. His name was Dan and he was kind of tough. And everybody called him Dan, Dan, big bad Dan.
12. Please write iff if you want to write if and only if but only if you are writing for philosophers.
13. Please write if and only if if and only if if you want to write if and only if then you will write it right.
14. Is is the English for the French est.
15. Mind your ps and qs.
16. No more ifs and buts.
17. The name is Bond, James Bond.
18. There is one set of quotation marks in this sentence.
19. Smith, where Jones had had had, had had had had. Had had had had the examiner’s approval.
20. (19), when it had been correctly punctuated, had 6 hads, had 1 had, and had 2 had hads.
21. He never used the toilet, always preferring the lavatory.
22. Cicero is the same as Tully, but Cicero is not the same as Tully.
23. That that that that boy wrote is a relative pronoun.
24. Appended to its own quotation is false appended to its own quotation is false can be neither true nor false.

Compiled by Gabriel Segal and Daniel Hill.
In homage to Sylvain Bromberger, Richard Cartwright and W. V. O. Quine.

Tycho said...

Spoiler alert!

Robert Paul Wolff said...

DDA, that is very sweet that it in homage to Sylvain, who was a good friend. Lovely.

Matt said...

For what it's worth, the use/mention distinction has become of interest to those in African-American studies, at least somewhat, in relation to discussion of slurs. The issue comes up when it's debated whether the mention, as opposed to the use of a slur such as the so-called "N-word" in class by an academic can ever be acceptable. I'd like to think that it obviously could be acceptable to mention the term, if not to use it, but many disagree.

(A good paper by the eminent philosopher of language Ernest Lapore and the younger philosopher Luvell Anderson notes that one can "mention" a slur in a way that is still offensive. That's obviously right, but some seem to take it to show that the use/mention distinction isn't relevant at all here, but that's obviously wrong. Somewhat more interesting is what to do about the fact that a lot of people seem oblivious to the use/mention distinction, and so get offended in cases where there is no good reason to.)