Tuesday, December 27, 2005


6 times better than all my previous posts!!!!

I've often thought that a lot of advertising claims work by presenting claims about a product that are pretty much just weak counterexamples to bivalence. Now, weak counterexamples are not sentences which are neither true nor false, but rather sentences which intuitionists have argued over the years that we're unjustified in asserting bivalence to hold for; traditionally certain mathematical sentences (most notoriously these days Goldbach's conjecture), perhaps sentences asserting that a borderline case of a vague predicate is in its extension or its anti-extension, statements about the past, and some carefully constructed empirical statements like 'There will never be a city built on this spot' (said in a particular spot deep in the countryside, say).

The intuitionist isn't just worried that we don't in fact know the truth-values of such sentences, but that we don't even know in principle how to decide their truth-value; to assert bivalence of such sentences is to endorse a conception of truth which allows sentences to have truth values which radically outrun our ability to settle them (even in principle, and usually even granting some hefty idealizations on human subjects). I won't get into why this is meant to be a bad thing (though see Bob Hale's excellent overview of the issues in his 'Realism and its Oppositions' in Hale and Wright's A Companion to the Philosophy of Language).

I'm impressed with how much philosophical scene-setting has been required to make my banal little point, which is that advertisers just chuck such sentences at us all the time. A lot of these claims sound really impressive on their first hearing, but a few seconds reflection (always dangerous) will convince one that we don't even know in principle how to decide whether they're true or not. Lest you think I'm going to leave you without an example, I just ate a new Kit Kat Extra Crispy, which apparently enjoys 'twice the crisp' of a regular Kit Kat. What's the metric on the crispiness of Kit Kats, pray tell?

Should classical semantics and logic be abandoned as a result? Of course. What can I say folks, advertising works.

(Of course, an easily determined truth-value can be bought at the cost of impressiveness; witness my local car-mechanic in Austin whose signs boldly declare 'If it's in stock, we've got it!'.)


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