Reply To: All or some


Professor Casey,

First, thanks so much for the quick reply. I really appreciate it.

I absolutely love your “principle of charity.” It’s a great way to state this idea. And in an argument with another native-English speaker, I totally agree. If face-to-face, I would likely clarify whether or not the person were asserting a universal proposition. However, when the opportunity for clarification is not available, I understand what you’re saying about not wanting to attack the weakest version of the argument. I by no means want to create a straw man and then attack that. That’s a cop out, as I see it.

Concerning my second question, though…

I’m in agreement when you say that “Some men are honest” is logically consistent with “Some men are not honest.” However, neither of these sentences is at all consistent with “Men are sometimes honest.” In the first two examples, the quantifier “some” modifies the noun “men”. In “Men are sometimes honest,” it’s the adjective “honest” that’s being modified (or quantified), which creates an entirely different proposition.

I would, of course, agree that “Men are sometimes honest” is logically consistent with “Men are sometimes dishonest.”

As I mentioned, I’m an English teacher in Japan. Therefore, I view language from the perspective of a teacher. In terms of context, Japanese language is what would be considered high-context. By that, I mean that the context is a much greater part of communication when speaking Japanese than it is when using English. This stems from the fact that overall, Japan remains a very culturally homogenous country. They simply don’t need actual language as much to understand each other.

For example, in Japan when a boss responds to an employee’s request (in Japanese, of course) with “Hmmm… That might be difficult,” the Japanese employee understands that this is essentially the same as “no”. Part of my job is to teach students that because English is used by such a culturally diverse group of people, a response of “Hmmm… That might be difficult” will not necessarily be received as the same as “no”.

I’m trying to help them have a better command of the old “say what you mean, mean what you say” approach. I, of course, try to make sure I do the same. Thus, my challenges to your examples.

Finally, you mention that translation is “rather art than science”. I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I’m convinced that language in general is more art than science. In strict terms, though, I view logic as science, not art. Am I incorrect in thinking so?