Differing interpretations of conditionals

This is not really a philosophy post; instead, I pretend to be a (bad) linguist.

The textbook I'm using for my critical thinking class this term (Feldman's Reason and Argument) claims that the ordinary English sentence 'If Joe is a professional basketball player, then he is tall' is true. This surprised me somewhat, since there are professional basketball players who are not tall (though of course there are relatively few).

I wanted to know if I was strange in this regard, so I took a quick survey of my students. I asked them whether they thought the sentence 'If today is a February day, then the high temperature today is under 40 F in Geneva, NY.' (Highs in Geneva in February are around 30 or so.) 12 of 24 thought this was true. We then had a little discussion about how one group was requiring conditionals to be exceptionless, whereas the other group was allowing a few exceptions.

Thinking about this later, I realized that the majority of people who said it was true were female, and the majority who thought it false were male. I didn't tally votes by sex of respondent, so I don't know how pronounced the difference was, and my sample size is extremely small, so the difference was almost certainly not statistically significant. But it does seem like it might be something worth investigating.

We could perhaps generalize this by asking: when there are multiple ways for a hearer to interpret a speaker's utterance, only some of which are true, are female hearers more likely to attribute the true interpretation than male hearers? In Gricean terms, are female hearers more likely to assume the speaker is following the maxim of quality (Contribute only what you know to be true; Do not say false things; Do not say things for which you lack evidence) than male hearers?

Perhaps this has already been dealt with in the pragmatics literature. But a quick google search did not reveal an answer to this specific question (though I did find interesting research on gender differences with respect to other Gricean maxims).


tautologous or contradictory pictures?

Following up on the "Russell and Cubism" post, I have another quick question about 20th C philosophy and visual art.

One way my students and I have been thinking about one of the claims of the Tractatus is as follows: there are no pictures (in the ordinary sense of 'drawings' or 'paintings') of tautologies (logical truths) or contradictions (logical falsehoods).

I was wondering, given the conceptual inventiveness of 20th C artists, whether any of them had ever tried to create a picture of a tautology or contradiction. It doesn't seem possible to me (or to Wittgenstein), but my imagination is limited...


come on down

Update/ Correction: the Creighton club sessions will be held in Demarest room 014.

This post is for the locals: the folks living in upstate New York. The 2009 meeting of the the Creighton Club (the New York Philosophical Association) will be held in Geneva NY, at Hobart and William Smith colleges, this Saturday, Oct. 24th. The program is below; we are very lucky to have Ruth Millikan as our keynote speaker. So if you are within driving distance, please join us this Saturday.

All sessions will be in the Sanford room of the Warren Hunting Smith Library.

8:30 AM coffee, etc.

9:00 AM Graduate Student Award Presentation:
Mihnea Capraru (Syracuse University): “Russellian Semantics of Belief Reports”
Commentator: Andrew Wake (University of Rochester)

10:15 AM coffee break

10:30 AM Carlo Filice (SUNY at Geneseo): “Libertarian Autonomy and Intrinsic Motives”
Commentator: Gordon Barnes (SUNY at Brockport)

11:45 AM Business Meeting

12:00 – 1:30 LUNCH

1:30 PM David Liebesman (Boston University): “Simple Generics”
Commentator: Kris McDaniel (Syracuse University)

2:45 PM coffee break

3:00 PM Julie Ponesse (SUNY at Brockport): “Enthusiasmos and Unnatural Natures in the Eudemian Ethics VII, 2”
Commentator: Tad Brennan (Cornell University)

4:15 PM coffee break

4:30 PM Keynote Address: Ruth G. Millikan (University of Connecticut):
"Finally implementing the eviction notices; chucking meaning out of the head"

6:30 PM reception (cash bar)