I hope Ralph won’t mind if I piggyback on his post, but I’m just getting started on a paper that’s partly about normative necessity, and I thought I’d get the old juices flowing with some PEA Soup discussion. (Plus it’s February and my name starts with a D!)
This is related to the Finlay thread, but I thought it might raise more general questions.
One of the most famous sets of normative statements in Western culture would be the Ten Commandments. These were written in a language that simply does not have a word that behaves like ‘ought’. To say things that in English would invite ‘ought’ you use “needs to”, “must” or “has the obligation to” or, for non-normative use, “is supposed to”. No “shalt” either, by the way. When God forbid lying he takes the future form of “lie” in the second person and puts “not” in front of it. The whole auxiliary verb thing is alien to Hebrew, with the possible exception of “be”.
I am a big fan of appeal to ordinary language and a big fan of hair splitting, but I fear – for my own sake too – that if you mix together hefty doses of both, you might end up with findings that hang on the specifics of the language you (or your research subjects) speak.
More specifically: to say that a certain philosophical position is only ever held as a result of a linguistic mixup sounds weird to me if people can hold the very same position who speak a language that does not allow a parallel mixup to happen.
I am asking this from a position of ignorance of the relevant literature, but… Any thoughts?
It’s been a couple of days since the Senate released the torture report. The discussion in the press seems to concern (a) whether it really might be effective, (b) whether that doesn’t miss the point, that it’s wrong and that we should take the stance “we don’t do that”; (c) whether the partisan bickering about the report–is it accurate? will it hurt us internationally?–will undermine any broader significance it might have; and (d) how other countries might respond to it–with violence, prosecution, admiration, etc.
A few days back I posted on my Facebook page a link to a piece in The New Republic entitled “We Will Never Know Whether Torture Works. That Shouldn’t Matter.” A friend then asked me if it was really true that its effectiveness doesn’t matter. As he put it: “[T]he use of a flamethrower on [a] bunker is to protect the lives of one’s own soldiers [and citizens], while in the classic “ticking bomb” scenario the use of torture is to protect civilian lives. So maybe there’s more symmetry between the two cases than I’ve usually thought. But the difference remains that flamethrowers are effective in clearing bunkers, while torture is of questionable effectiveness at best. Would we consider flamethrowers acceptable were they ineffective, though still horrifying brutal, weapons? I think not. And would we consider torture permissible were it foolproof? Perhaps. So I’m not sure I agree with the article’s conclusion that the question of effectiveness is irrelevant.”