The Philosopher's Eye

News and brain candy for the philosophy community

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

Philosophers do like a bit of Lewis Carroll. When Humpty Dumpty exclaimed to Alice, “There’s glory for you!” and meant “there’s a nice knock down argument for you!”, Donald Davidson took it as an illustration of how intention can override convention in determining what one said. When the Tortoise said to Achilles to use logic to force him to accept Z, given that If A and B then Z, Barry Stroud and Robert Brandom (among many others) took this to indicate something important about meaning and inference. And there have been various occasions when the Jabberwocky has been wheeled out to illustrate some point about sense or nonsense.

Last month, DPhil student Melanie Bayley outlined her reading of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. According to Bayley, Lewis Carroll (AKA, Charles Dodgson) was a staunchly conservative mathematician. And each of Alice’s adventures is in fact, if we believe Bayley, a reductio ad absurdum of concepts from the new mathematics of the era.

To see how the Caterpillar’s warning to keep one’s temper is really a warning about  keeping one’s ratios steady, and other allusions, go to the New Scientist webpage.

Related articles:
Authors, Intentions, and Literary Meaning
By Sherri Irvin, University of Oklahoma
(Vol. 1, March 2006)
Philosophy Compass

An Inferentialist Approach to Semantics: Time for a new approach to Structuralism?
By Jaroslav Peregrin , Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic
(Vol. 3, November 2008)
Philosophy Compass

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