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What does ‘ or ’ mean? An utterance of “ My wife is in Oxford or in London ” PowerPoint PPT Presentation


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What does ‘ or ’ mean? An utterance of “ My wife is in Oxford or in London ” is false if the utterer knows his wife is in Oxford. Grice says,

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What does ‘ or ’ mean? An utterance of “ My wife is in Oxford or in London ”

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What does or mean an utterance of my wife is in oxford or in london

What does ‘or’ mean?

An utterance of

“My wife is in Oxford or in London”

is false if the utterer knows his wife is in Oxford.

Grice says,

“The fact that it would be inappropriate to say "My wife is either in Oxford or in London" when I know perfectly well that she is in Oxford has led to the idea that it is part of the meaning of "or" (or of "either ... or") to convey that the speaker is ignorant of the truth-values of the particular disjuncts” (8)


What does or mean an utterance of my wife is in oxford or in london

Suppose I say, “Isabel is my daughter or Lily is my daughter” when in fact Isabel and Lily are both my daughters.

Is what I said true or false?

Consider also this assertion:

MONICA Hi. Uh, my friend here was taking down our Christmas lights, and she fell off the balcony and may have broken her foot or ankle or something.

It seems clear that what Monica says is true even if Rachel had broken both her foot and her ankle. So it doesn’t seem plausible that the inappropriateness of saying “Isabel is my daughter or Lily is my daughter” when in fact Isabel and Lily are both my daughters can really be explained by supposing that the English word ‘or’ is exclusive.


What does or mean an utterance of my wife is in oxford or in london

A more plausible hypothesis about the meaning of the English word ‘or’ is considered by Grice. According to this hypothesis, the inappropriateness comes not from ‘or’ being exclusive but from ‘or’ requiring that utterers not know which disjunct is true:

‘A or B’ is true just when (1) ‘AB’ is true, and (2) there is a nontruthfunctional reason for believing ‘AB’, that is a reason which is not straightforwardly a reason for believing that ‘A’ is true and which is not straightforwardly a reason for believing that ‘B’ is true. (Grice calls this the ‘strong sense’ of ‘or’)


What does or mean an utterance of my wife is in oxford or in london

We have distinguished two levels of meaning, the proposition an utterance expresses (PE) and the proposition an utterer means to convey (PM). The above hypothesis locates the inappropriateness of uttering ‘Lily is my daughter or Isabel is my daughter’ may lie with PE. However, the inappropriateness may lie with PM. And if it does, the complex hypothesis about the meaning of ‘or’ above is wrong.

I want to show that the inappropriateness resides in PM rather than PE. To show this I have to do two things:

a. provide reasons against thinking that the PE is entails that there is a nontruthfunctional reason for believing ‘AB’

b. provide a deduction showing how the exclusivity could reside in PM


What does or mean an utterance of my wife is in oxford or in london

On the first task, (a), consider this statement:

The coin’s not in the red cup or the blue cup.

[I.e. It’s not true that: the coin’s in the red cup or the coin’s in the blue cup]

If the meaning of ‘or’ were strong in this sentence, the sentence would be true when all we know about the coin is that it is in the red cup. But that is just wrong. Here’s a real world example

CHANDLER I decided not to fire her again until I can be assured that she will be no threat to herself or others.


What does or mean an utterance of my wife is in oxford or in london

First, sometimes ‘or’ has a meaning that is not strong.

Anyone who says that the meaning of ‘or’ is strong is also committed to saying that ‘or’ is ambiguous.

Second, the pattern is incompatible with an account on which ‘or’ is ambiguous.

If ‘or’ were genuinely ambiguous, it ought sometimes to have the strong meaning even when embedded in conditionals and negations.

Therefore the ‘strong’ definition does not give any meaning of ‘or’


What does or mean an utterance of my wife is in oxford or in london

So the account of conversational implicature can explain why “Lily is my daughter or Isabel is my daughter” is inappropriate when both disjuncts are known to be true. It’s not that the meaning of ‘or’ is exclusive disjunction; it’s just that cooperative speakers don’t use disjunctions when they know one of the disjuncts is true.


What does or mean an utterance of my wife is in oxford or in london

We need an example to work with:

ONE Is there a pencil anywhere?

TWO [picking up a pencil] I know that this is a pencil.

In this conversation, Two’s utterance seems incongruous. On the face of it, it would have been fine for her to utter “This is a pencil.” The “I know” is mysterious.

But why is saying “I know” incongruous here? Presumably it is true that Two knows this is a pencil, so what’s wrong with her stating that she knows it?


What does or mean an utterance of my wife is in oxford or in london

Wittgenstein seems to have offered an answer to this question according to which there are fixed conditions governing the appropriateness of “I know” statements:

“One says “I know” when one is ready to give compelling grounds. “I know” relates to a possibility of demonstrating the truth. … If what [someone] believes is of such a kind that the grounds he can give are no surer than his assertion, then he cannot say that he knows what he believes.” {Wittgenstein, 1974 [email protected]}

But is Wittgenstein’s explanation right? Consider this conversation:

THREE [pointing at a pencil] This is a microphone … You don’t know much about broadcasting, do you?

FOUR I know that this is a pencil [points at the pencil]


What does or mean an utterance of my wife is in oxford or in london

Summary of the picture

Hypotheses 1 & 2

MS -> PE -> PM

Conversational Implicature explains PE -> PM

Now I want to turn to considering objections to this picture


What does or mean an utterance of my wife is in oxford or in london

First potential problem

Consider:

“I visited a house”

“I broke a finger”

If I uttered these sentences, you would reasonably take for granted that the house wasn’t mine and the finger was.

What these sentences communicate appears to depend on arbitrary details about the utterer, such as whether she is a mobster on the run. 


What does or mean an utterance of my wife is in oxford or in london

Even if this general approach words for “I broke a finger”, it doesn’t seem to work for some quite similar examples. Consider two injunctions outside a hotel:

“Dogs must be carried.”

“Shoes must be worn.”

The first injunction applies only to people who have dogs; you don’t have to find a dog before you can go in. And if you have two dogs, you have to carry them both.

By contrast, the second injunction means you have to have shoes before you can go in; but if you are carrying some spare shoes in your suitcase, you don’t have to get them all out and wear all of them.


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