Dreier and Negating an Attitude

In Madison, Jamie, echoing Nicholas Unwin, posed a problem for expressivists generally, and for Gibbard specifically.  As I understand it, the problem is that expressivists have no apparent semantic account of a certain kind of negation represented in (N2), which is to be
distinguished from the kinds of negation represented in (N1) and (N3).

(N1) Miss Manners
believes one must not write thank you
notes by hand.
(N2) Miss Manners
believes (not) one must write thank you
notes by hand.
(N3) Miss Manners does
not believe one must write thank you
notes by hand.

I’m not sure I’m seeing the problem.

Assume that, for expressivists, a sentence like (R),

(R) One must write
thank you notes by hand.

expresses an attitude of requirement. If so, then a sentence like (M),

(M) Miss Manners
thinks one must write thank you notes by hand.

attributes to Miss Manners the attitude of requirement toward
writing thank you notes by hand. Now,
(N1)-(N3) represent three distinct ways of negating a sentence like (M). (N1) attributes to Miss Manners an attitude
of requirement, though the attitude is directed toward not writing thank you notes by hand. (N3) is the contradictory of (M), so it
"attributes" to Miss Manners the lack
of the attitude of requirement toward writing thank you notes by
hand. But, (i) it is not clear what
state of mind is being attributed to Miss Manners in (N2), for (ii) it is not
clear what it means for an attitude to be negated.

 

I agree that it is not clear what it means for an attitude to
be negated. I also agree that it is not
clear what state of mind is being attributed to Miss Manners in (N2). But, I am not seeing that these difficulties
raise a problem for expressivists in understanding the kind of negation going
on in sentences like (N2) and, hence, in understanding the difference in
negation between (N2) and, say, (N3). I
read, and I think all expressivists could read, (N2) as attributing to Miss
Manners some state of mind that is other
than the state of requiring the writing of
thank you notes by hand
. Which
other state of mind is unspecified by (N2); that is why it is unclear what
state of mind of being attributed to Miss M. This kind of negation differs from (N3), since (N3) does not attribute any attitude at all to Miss M.

 

I think this reading of (N2) is consistent with our reading
of other sentences like (N2). For
example, if someone were to say to me, "Jim believes not that he is
greater than God," I would certainly understand that person to be
attributing to Jim some belief, just not
the belief that he is greater than God. And if that person were to say, "Believe not that you are greater
than God," I would understand that person as directing me to have some
belief, just not the belief that I am greater than God.

 

Does this response seem plausible?

8 Replies to “Dreier and Negating an Attitude

  1. I did not read the links in the post. But, intuitively i must say there is a difference between n2 and n1/n3. While n1/n3 activates a belief upon a situation, n2 seems to apply a belief (one which seems to be held prior to the situation). I do not know if this helps. Please contact .
    Virendra

  2. For the record, Dreier’s (N2) is this:

    Miss Manners believes it is not so that one must write thank you
    notes by hand.

    Does this make a difference?

  3. Hi Jamie. Thanks for pointing this out so gently(!). I was taking the (N2) from your Madison handout, when I should have been looking more closely at the (N2) from your paper. Even so, if we are taking ‘not’ and ‘it is not so’ to be semantically equivalent negation operators, I think I’d want to give the same response: (N2) attributes some psychological state to Miss M, though the particular state is unspecified (except to say that it is other than the state requiring the writing of thank you notes by hand); and this largely unspecified state is different from the state (or lack thereof) attributed to Miss M in (N3).
    However, I (have good reason to) suspect that there may be a scope ambiguity at work in the background here. If we read (N2) as (N2′),

    (N2′) Miss Manners believes that it is not so that one must write thank you notes by hand.

    then I begin to see the more pressing problem you are raising: (N2′) attributes to Miss M an attitude that is specified, namely, one that is the same in content as ‘it is not so that one must write thank you notes by hand’–but what on earth could that content be on an expressivist account? (The problem is analogous to that of trying to figure out what the sentence, ‘It is not the case that terrific!’ could mean.)
    I think, then, that there are actually four kinds of negation, which are represented below by the new (N1) to (N4), and the problem you are raising is with the new (N2), not the new (N4).

    (N1) Miss M believes (that) one must not write thank you notes by hand.

    (N2) Miss M believes (that) it is not so that one must write thank you notes by hand.

    (N3) Miss M does not believe (that) one must write thank you notes by hand.

    (N4) Miss M believes it is not so that one must write thank you notes by hand.

    Does that sound right?

  4. Dan, yes, as I intended (N2) its “not” is supposed to be sentential negation on the complement of “believes”. (This is not easy to do in English, because of the modal, thus the rather awkward “it is not so that”.)
    As I recall, I used the ambiguous, non-English version in the handout only to save space. šŸ™
    I don’t really understand how your (N4) is supposed to be different, semantically, from (N2).

    Let me just point out that the (wide scope) negation of “One must write thank you notes by hand” is “One may fail to write thank you notes by hand.” (Again, sentential negation of the sentence inside the modal is awkward, because “One may not write thank you notes by hand” means something quite different. Modals and negation interact in a messy way.) Maybe I should say it’s “It’s ok not to write thank you notes by hand.” Now that is what Miss Manners is supposed to believe, according to (N2). And the question is how that ‘belief’ (or whatever state it is) of hers is related to the one attributed to her by (M).
    There, that is in one sense clearer, anyway.

  5. Jamie writes: “I don’t really understand how your (N4) is supposed to be different, semantically, from (N2).”
    If we take ‘it is not so’ to be semantically equivalent to ‘not’, then:

    (N1) is true just in case Miss M has the attitude requirement toward not writing thank you notes by hand;
    (N2) is true just in case Miss M has the attitude ????
    (N3) is true just in case Miss M does not have the attitude requirement toward writing thank you notes by hand. (So, (N3) could be true if Miss M has no attitudes whatsoever.);
    (N4) is true just in case Miss M has some attitude, but not requirement toward writing thank you notes by hand. (This reading of (N4) is supposed to be analogous to a reading of a sentence like, ‘Jim believes not that he is more powerful than God’, which is true just in case Jim has some belief, but not the belief that he is more powerful than God.)

    At least that’s how I’m reading the new (N1)-(N4).

  6. Huh. But “it is not so that” is sentential negation, right?
    Let’s try it with run-of-the-mill beliefs. Suppose I say,
    (G) Gwen believes it is not so that whales are mammals.
    You ask Gwen whether she believes that whales are mammals. She says she has no idea, the thought never crossed her mind. You complain that I lied to you. “No,” I say, “she does have some belief, namely that snow is white, but not the belief that whales are mammals.”
    Nnnnnnnno.

  7. Hi Jamie. I think your response to my complaint would in fact be apt with respect to what you literally said, though not apt with respect to what I took you to be implicating in saying it. But let me set that aside and look at a slightly different example. Suppose I say,
    (G1) Gwen believes not that whales are mammals.
    You ask Gwen whether she believes that whales are mammals. She says that she has no idea, the thought never crossed her mind. Would you really think that I lied to you? You might think that I didn’t give you very much information and that, as a contribution to our conversation, my utterance was rather useless, but I don’t see why you would think that I lied to you. If you wouldn’t, and if we are treating ‘it is not so’ as semantically equivalent to ‘not’, then I don’t see that (G) and (G1)are different in any important way; they are both true just in case Gwen has some belief other than the belief that whales are mammals. If this is right, and if we are assuming that simple expressivism is true, then, by analogy, (N4) is true just in case Miss M has some attitude other than requiring the writing of thank you notes by hand. So, I think the question all comes down to what you think the truth conditions are for (G1) and whether or not you think we should treat ‘not’ and ‘it is not so’ as semantically equivalent.

  8. Getting back to the original problem posed by Jamie, the problem of negation as represented in (N2): I’ve been trying for several days to think of a response to this problem on behalf of expressivists. I can think of no good response on behalf of simple expressivists. (The response at the end of your paper, Jamie, is far better than anything I can think of, and I’m looking forward to hearing how you’ve dealt with the lingering challenge you raise at the end of the paper.) My only response on behalf of complex expressivists is pretty theory-laden. It requires accepting what I’ve here called the “Central Tenet” and “Extensionality” Principles ((CT) and (EP) respectively) and what I’ve here said is the semantic function of attitude attribution verbs.
    (CT) and (EP) together entail that if a speaker properly and literally utters a sentence that contains an ethical predicate in an extensional context, then the speaker performs a direct assertive and a direct expressive illocutionary act. Thus, if speaker were to properly and literally utter ‘It is not so that donating to charity is right’, the speaker would be asserting that donating to charity is not F (where ‘F’ picks out whatever property rightness is) and expressing a positive attitude towards things that are F. Attitude attribution verbs attribute to the subject of the sentence a psychological state that is the same in content as the complement sentence (or an utterance of the complement sentence, etc). Thus, in (2)
    (2) Miss M believes that it is not so that donating to charity is right,
    ‘believes that’ would attribute to Miss M a complex attitude consisting, in part, of a representational state (viz., the belief that donating to charity is not F) and, in part, of a desire-like state (viz., a pro-attitude toward anything that is F). On this, again, rather theory-laden account, we get the result that the negation represented in (2) is semantically equivalent to the negation represented in (1), though different from the negation represented in (3).
    (1) Miss M believes that donating to charity is not right
    (3) Miss M does not believe that donating to charity is right
    ((3) holds that the complex attitude consisting of a representational state that donating is F and a desire-like state of approval towards things that are F is not to be attributed to Miss M.)
    Thus, it looks like complex expressivists can handle the negation represented in (2) in the same way nonexpressivists would–as semantically equivalent to the negation represented in (1), but different from the negation represented in (3).

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