August 24, 2004

Further adventures of Grice in Wonderland

If I'm right (in my previous post) then when Lewis Carroll's Duchess says Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise, she gives quite meaningful advice which in my particular case implies I should not imagine myself to be ugly. What is the relationship between this and the Duchess' previous injunction, "Be what you would seem to be", which she appears to say means the same?

Obviously, there is no simple relationship, since "Be what you would seem to be" concerns what one should be rather than what one should imagine about oneself. To give one possible analysis, "Be what you would seem to be" may be understood with "would" interpreted as "want to". I should be what I want to seem to be, i.e. I should make myself handsome. Or else I should fulfill the request indirectly by coming to want to seem to be what I actually am. So if I'm ugly, I should want to seem ugly too. Either way, it's not the same as never imagining myself otherwise than handsome.

The Duchess, of course, never actually says that the two commands are the same: if you read closely, you'll see that she merely implicates that they are the same (to use Grice's terminology, meaning that she suggests it via pragmatic inference). She connects the two commands with "if you'd like it put more simply", but she never states explicitly that the second command is the first but put more simply. Similarly, I can consistently say "Mice are fish, and if you'd like it put more simply, a whale is a fruit." Just in case it flashed through your mind that the Duchess might have been inconsistent. Perish the thought. She may be mad, but, like Carroll's cat, she is consistently mad:

`But I don't want to go among mad people,' Alice remarked.
 `Oh, you can't help that,' said the Cat: `we're all mad here. I'm mad.  You're mad.'
 `How do you know I'm mad?' said Alice.
 `You must be,' said the Cat, `or you wouldn't have come here.'
 Alice didn't think that proved it at all; however, she went on` And how do you know that you're mad?'
 `To begin with,' said the Cat, `a dog's not mad.  You grant that?'
 `I suppose so,' said Alice.
 `Well, then,' the Cat went on, `you see, a dog growls when it's angry, and wags its tail when it's pleased.  Now I growl when I'm pleased, and wag my tail when I'm angry.  Therefore I'm mad.'

The Duchess is famous for having said: "Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it." However, the Duchess has by now exhausted me. So only you can find it.

Posted by David Beaver at August 24, 2004 01:33 PM