Monday, January 07, 2008


SteveG at Philosophers' Playground:
Hanno asks,
I had a question, but I forgot it. My question: what was my question? the answer to your question would in fact be your question. So, in asking it you have answered it. Unless, of course, it has no answer in which case it would not be a question, but a pseudo-question. So, indeed, before we can set about answering your question, we first need to establish whether your question is, in fact, a question.

Now the act of asking is a form of request and answering that request is a context specific action. One can answer a knock at a door by opening it. One can answer a call from God by joining the clergy. One can answer another team's scoring, by mounting a strong drive to a touchdown. But to answer a question is a speech act requiring the assertion of information in the form of a declarative sentence. If one were to ask, for example, "What color is grass?", the appropriate response is the declarative sentence, "Grass is green." "What color is grass?" is a question because it is a request for information that can be communicated by way of declarative propositions. Your request is not for information so capable of formulation and hence is not truly a question. This applies, not only to your question, but also to your meta-question -- but avoiding the need to invoke something like Russell's theory of types, we'll simply deal with your first order concern.

So, if your request is not, in fact, a question, what then is it a request for? What sort of action would be the appropriate response in the context? My implicature which rationally reconstructs speaker's intended meaning here would reasonably lead to the belief that the request really was for a dopesmack upside the head. Consider it to have been executed, my dear friend.

1 comment:

MT said...

Now, see, that's exactly the problem with you philosophers. I'd have arrived at the same conclusion in half a lemma. Still, point goes to SteveG.