Thursday, 8 July 2004

When is a hypothetical not a hypothetical?

James Joyner ponders at a distance the following hypothetical exchange:

  • A says to B, “I have X.”
  • B says to A, “So I’ve heard.”
  • A says to B, “And I have to offer it to someone.”
  • B says to A, “Funny how that works.”
  • A says to B, “If I offered you X, would you take it?”
  • B says to A, “No, I wouldn’t take it.”

Here’s your ontological question: did A offer X to B? If not, what is the substantive difference between “If I offered you X, would you take it?” and “Would you like X?” if A intended to offer X to B had B answered in the affirmative?


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No. Maybe A hasn’t decided who to give X to, so he’s asking 10 different Bs if they want it. Once he knows how many of the Bs would be interested in X, there could be follow up questions to see which “B” wants it the most, will put it to the best use, etc.


As a philosophy major (though in the spirit of fair disclosure been away from the field for a while) this question doesn’t strike me as being ontology (that branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being) but rather philosophy of language.

But what saith Brock (who’s got better qualifications than me as well as being less far removed from the action)?

As far as this being mere nit picking (which it is, mea culpa), blame that on the law degree. I wish to gawd I could have my old mind back.

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