Wednesday, December 01, 2004

being pleased that

Suppose Ed McMahon shows up at my door with a huge check, telling me that I've won the sweepstakes. I am very pleased! I continue to be pleased for the next few minutes, until it's revealed that this is all a big reality TV prank and I haven't actually won anything. Ed and the camera crews go home. I go and get something to eat.

Consider the following statement, said after the event: "Neil was pleased that he had won the sweepstakes." Is it true or false? I solicit replies from philosophers and non-philosophers alike. No defense of your view need be given, unless you feel like it.


Richard Y Chappell said...

As an undergraduate, my philosophical intuitions are so far only partially corrupted ;).

My natural inclination is to say that the statement is true. If you'd asked a year ago, I think I would have held this quite emphatically. But now I also feel a slight pull the other way, since people tell me that such phrases should be interpreted as factive (and I'm not sure whether to believe them!).

Dana Watson said...

From a semantic point of view, I'd be inclined to say the truth condition of that statement is false. It's presupposition is "Neil won the sweepstakes," which is false. Therefore, how can "Neil was pleased that he won the sweepstakes" be true, if Neil did not, in fact, win?

Anonymous said...

The statement as a whole probably shouldn't be evaluated as true or false, because it lacks sufficient information that is relevent to the prior situation (which it references).

The statement's referent is divided into a simple S(ubject) - P(redicate): "Neil was pleased" and a single condition: "that he had won the sweepstakes." We know that the first division is true. The condition, however, is false. Leaving us with one T and one F in our little truth table, if you believe in such things.

If we are interested in determining the truth of the statement as a whole, then we'll need some means of deciding what to do about that condition... a couple of suggestions leap immediately to mind:
a) determine if it matters that Neil *thought* he had won, or
b) determine if it matters whether Neil ended up pleased at the end of the prior situation (basically, "does time matter?").

Not that I think we need to be overly interested in such things. Despite the statement's insufficiency of information, I imagine that most people figured out what it meant and evaluated its truth for several of the most probable cases automatically (Pragmatics, Watson-san?).

Dana Watson said...

Pragmatics, indeed. Presuppositions are where we must cross the line from semantics, where the information is strictly encoded in the words of the utterance, to pragmatics, where humans must take the utterance and add more information to it. Implicatures are even more fun than presuppositions, but I don't think I can make a case for this one being a conversational implicature by any means.

Neil Sinhababu said...

My intuition is that the utterance is true, and that my actual winning the sweepstakes is not presupposed by "Neil was pleased that he had won the sweepstakes." It seems to me that "is pleased that" works like "believes that," which certainly isn't factive. But according to the currently dominant view in philosophy, the utterance is false and predicates describing emotional states are factive.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Seems to me that this thing does come down to your level of conviction. In the first case, your level of conviction won't be enough for 'being pleased' to be your response. If there's still a live possibility that the Red Sox will beat the Yankees in the ALCS, you'll merely hope rather than being pleased. For "I'm pleased that p" to accurately represent your psychological state, you can't be worried that not p. But when the gamblers tell you that they've got it fixed, you don't need to worry anymore and you can just be pleased.

"Jenny is pleased that Boston will win, and Ann is pleased that New York will win" does sound a bit odd to me, but I'd be willing to accept it.

Neil Sinhababu said...

I share your intuitions on those two cases, Justin.

This isn't exactly topical, but the lottery thing is the kind of case that attracts me to contextualism. The bar for knowledge gets a lot higher in thinking you didn't win the lottery than in ordinary sense-perception, though not quite as high as in dreams.

Neil Sinhababu said...

akkk. by 'dreams' I mean, 'when answering a dreaming-argument skeptic.'

Anonymous said...

(Yes, I realise my post is 2+ years late!)

I am no philosopher, nor am I even much of an intellectual, but I must say you folks spend way too much time thinking about nothing! That being said, I feel compelled to partake...

The statement, "Neil was pleased that he won the sweepstakes", is entirely true because until the point that he discovered it was all a prank, he was truely pleased at the knowledge of his winning. "Neil _is_ pleased that he won the sweepstakes" would be entirely false.

The statement remains true as long as you are referring to the timeline between Neil being told he had won, and Neil being told it was a prank. If you refer to any other period in time, the statement is false.

Thanks for considering my $0.02 :)