Implicature by comparison

We can find implicature all around us, from how we use sarcasm, to how we use innuendo.  I think that some comparisons can communicate something else, too.  So, say, for example, that I say:

Today's as hot as hell.

We take the second comparator as a given (exceedingly and unrelentlingly hot) and use that given to determine something about the first (that it is very, very hot).  The implicature of this is that you know that hell is very, very hot, and that then gives us information about today.  This works with lots of them:

She is as hot as Georgia asphalt

As strong as a bull

Drunk as a lord

I'm not as drunk as you think I am

So the lesson: our defaults are to take the second comparator as the given. You have to be committed to the obviousness of the heat of GA asphalt and the strength of bulls.  Lords are drunk, and it's clear you must think I am very, very drunk. The second comparator can't be even in question for the analogy to be successfully communicative.  (Or, at least, it is communicated as being taken as beyond question.) Notice how one of the two following comparisons is the funnier 'your momma' joke than the other:

Your momma is as fat as Jupiter

Jupiter is as fat as your momma

The second, because your momma's fatness is taken as the base comparator for Jupiter, not the other way around.  That's funny… in a 'your momma' joke sort of way. Here's where the interpretive lesson gets weird.  I bought some bargain basement cat litter at the corner market, and it had the following comparison on the back:

It reads:

For those of you who are as passionate about your pets as you are about price.

Isn't the implicature of this comparison that whoever buys this cat litter is someone who is passionate about price?  Isn't this an overstatement?  Shouldn't it be realistic about price? Moreover, isn't this a questionable thought?  I'm not passionate about price at all, but I love my cats.  So shouldn't the comparators be switched?  I think it's a more obvious commitment that we're passionate about the pets. I don't buy cheap cat litter because I have a passion for saving money, but rather, I have a passion for beer, travel, nice things, cats, and so on.  So I buy cheap cat litter to fit the budget.  That's not price-passion.  That's other-stuff-passion. Or, perhaps, I'm not the target market — I had no idea Ebenezer Scrooge was a cat-owner. 

Anecdotal evidence of global warming

Will Oremus has reported at Slate that more people nowadays are believing in global warming, because more people have experienced extreme weather recently.   

What accounts for the rebound? It isn’t the economy, which has thawed only a little. And it doesn’t seem to be science: The percentage of respondents to the Yale survey who believe “most scientists think global warming is happening” is stuck at 35 percent, still way down from 48 percent four years ago. . . .  No, our resurgent belief in global warming seems to be a function of the weather.  A separate Yale survey this spring found that 82 percent of Americans had personally experienced extreme weather or natural disasters in the past year.

Pat Robertson changed his mind about global warming, too, because he reported a few years back that his back yard was noticeably hotter. (Note: Robertson more recently said he's not a "disciple of global warming" because there are no SUV's on Mars, so there's that… if you hold your views on weak evidence, it's easy for other weird thoughts to influence you.)  And, do you remember how the warming denialists went crazy when D.C. had that big snowstorm?

And so we see the problem with anecdotal evidence: it is certainly relevant, but it is not systematic, often not representative, regularly selective, and too often framed by how the question was asked or by the intensity of the event reported.

An interesting weak man argument

Jonah Goldberg has a nice piece over at National Review Online about the way the recently upheld Affordable Care Act has been received at National Public Radio.  He picks out Julie Rovner's question about whether there are really any losers in the decision.  She eventually concludes that there aren't any.  Goldberg can't hold himself back:

It is an interesting perspective given that this is arguably the most controversial law in our lifetimes. It nearly sparked a constitutional crisis, helped cause the Democrats to lose their majority in the House, and, despite herculean efforts by the president to “sell” the law . . .  And yet, according to Rovner, the law creates only winners if properly implemented. Why on earth are its opponents so stupid?  For the record, there are losers under Obamacare. Here’s a short list: ….

He then goes on with your expected list (taxpayers…it's a tax, you see, Catholics who see part of the law as subsidizing condom use, and people at the bottom of the slippery slope of medication rationing).  This, so far, isn't what's good about Goldberg's column.  In fact, so far, it's just his usual schlocky version of what a dumb person would think a smart person would say about the issue and about the opposition.  But then he surprises:

Obamacare defenders have responses to these objections, and critics have responses to those responses. Still: Serious people do believe that the law creates — or just might create — losers, a fact Rovner might have mentioned.

I don’t mean to pick on Rovner. Her views on Obamacare don’t strike me as exceptional so much as typical — typical of a liberal Washington establishment that still seems incapable of grasping what the fuss is about.

This is nice, except for his saying that he doesn't mean to 'pick on' Rovner.  That, of course, is ridiculous — he's making an example of her. That's not wrong, nor is it worth making a big deal about not doing it.   Rather, what's nice is that Goldberg sees that this isn't the best the other side can do in the debate, but that it's typical of what the other side does in the debate.  That's a good observation, one that shows some real self-awareness and also dialectical sensitivity.  You have to disabuse your audience of the bad but widely made arguments before you can get to the good but infrequently given arguments. 




Who said philosophy was worthless?

Former 13-year old conservative firebrand Jonathan Krohn has had a change of mind, chalks it up to philosophy.  Here's his explanation:

Krohn is bucking the received wisdom that people become more conservative as they get older, a shift he attributes partly to philosophy.

“I started reflecting on a lot of what I wrote, just thinking about what I had said and what I had done and started reading a lot of other stuff, and not just political stuff,” Krohn said. “I started getting into philosophy — Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Kant and lots of other German philosophers. And then into present philosophers — Saul Kripke, David Chalmers. It was really reading philosophy that didn’t have anything to do with politics that gave me a breather and made me realize that a lot of what I said was ideological blather that really wasn’t meaningful. It wasn’t me thinking. It was just me saying things I had heard so long from people I thought were interesting and just came to believe for some reason, without really understanding it. I understood it enough to talk about it but not really enough to have a conversation about it.”

My favorite line: "enough to talk about it but not really enough to have a conversation about it." 

Via Leiter.

Some discussion of this and the Texas GOP's crusade against critical thinking here.

Adventures in false dilemmas

Here's the title of Howard Rich's post at American Spectator.

Barack Obama: Socialist or Nouveau Fascist?

Rich argues that Socialism isn't quite right about Obama's policies, as he does let many who have done well keep their spoils.  So it's fascism.  But the fascism label, Rich concedes, "isn't perfect".  That's why he calls it Nouveau Fascism. You see… when the term doesn't work, just call it a new version of that!