[hist-analytic] The price of the Bic Mac

Jlsperanza at aol.com Jlsperanza at aol.com
Tue Jun 1 12:27:18 EDT 2010

In a message dated 6/1/2010 9:25:50 A.M., aune at philos.umass.edu  writes:
we can know a priori that that stick has the length it has, whatever  that 
length may be. ... The point is a little subtle, but its sound as a  dollar.
I was told that the way to see how an economy is doing in some country  
(e.g. Thailand) is to inquire for the price of the big mac. 
This may connect with Aune's claim,
"It sounds as a dollar"
For surely we can say that we KNOW a priori that whatever the big mac is  
worth it is worth what it is worth.
I like the point by Aune on the "whatever that length may be". Grice works  
on this, which Evans, I think, rather whimsically, calls Grice's 'stroke of 
the  pen' (following indeed Grice's own description of the device) I think 
(in  Varieties of Reference -- one of the few places where you do see 
Grice's  "Vacuous Names" cited). In any case, for Grice --
it's ALL about the 'whatever that may be'.
Grice uses this in connection with descriptors and features proper (as  
'length' -- but I need to rephrase this to cover Baynes' other example, the  
degree -- vis a vis commentary by R. B. Jones, very apt, on the complications  
brought by mathematical examples here). So, Grice wants to say,
"He didn't do it." perhaps because "he" didn't exist. 
"The man who is alleged to have done it"
"Who _is_ that man?"
"Whoever. Let's call him Bill".
i.e.: we can at any stage introduce a proper name as it attaches to what he 
 calls a 'dossier' -- a descriptor --. So, I take Grice's point to be 
following  Quine's suggestion that names are not as important as they are named. 
Of course,  Mrs. Bayne calling Steven "Steven" WAS important to her (and to 
us and to  Steven, last but not least), but Quine was being imaginative when 
he said that  "Steven exists" amounts to "There is an x such that it 
Now, the 'whatever it may be' (or 'whoever he may be') allows Grice to play 
 with Donnellan in ways that connect with Kripke and this discussion, I 
hope. For  Grice, who wrote "Vacuous Names" in 1969 (it was published in 
Davidson/Hintikka,  "Words and objections"), is able to refer to Donnellan's locus 
classicus in a  footnote (this was BEFORE we had all been Donnellanised to 
tears).  But, typically, Grice finds flaws in Donnellan's approach -- which 
he does  not care to mention JUST THEN. He notes, though, that his own  
"identificatory" versus "non-identificatory" uses of 'descriptors' echoes  
Donnellan on the 'uses' of descriptors ('referential' and 'attributive'). Grice  
seems to be suggesting that he is not ready to buy any conclusion about the  
semantic-pragmatic interface into the bargain, which seems perhaps what 
Kripke  just did, as echoed by Patton in unpublished work (I referred to in 
"Kripke and  the history of philosophy", THIS LIST).
Grice is unclear as to what convention to adopt here. He opts for the  
lower-case versus upper-case. So, "Bill" is non-identificatory, but "BILL" is  
identificatory. It's trickier with symbols -- where we would need to use 
lower  case 'f' for feature and upper case "F" for an identified feature (if 
that makes  sense). Suppose we symbolise Aune's wording above:
"[W]e can know a priori that that stick has the length it has, whatever  
that length may be."
Of course, Aune's point is about the "I know a priori" (that p) rather than 
 the logical form of "p" but let that be. The example is perhaps 
complicated in  that it uses 'length' which is best symbolised in some second-order 
calculus.  For try using 'long':
i. The stick has the length it has, whatever that length may be. (Aune's  
ii. The stick is SOME meter long, whatever some may be. (uses 'long',  
rather than 'length').
(This SEEMS to be different from the angle-degree thing that, as Bayne and  
Jones note, belongs to theoretical geometry rather: proportions and 
calculations  apply to ANY circle whatsoever, in tems of radians, etc.)
Aune concludes his post:
"The point is a little subtle, but it sounds as a dollar."
which is back to the big mac.

"The price of the Big Mac is outrageous"
thus becomes, using Grice's identificatory-nonidentificatory distinction as 
 it represented by upper- and lower-case, respectively:
We represent the above as:
"THE PRICE OF THE BIG MAC is outtrageous" 
-- when we have the knowledge (a posteriori) of the equivalence of the  
price in terms of dollars and the absolute price of the dollar in terms of the  
gold capital of the country where the currency originates. This, on the  
assumption that it makes sense, is 'subtle', too, to use Aune's sobriquet, and 
 it too may sound as a dollar, or not.
"That's VERY expensive, whatever its price" 
DOES SOUND slightly odd -- and my use of "VERY" there is 'emphatic', not  
Griceanly identificatory. So perhaps 'expensive' IS different from 'long' (or 
 'expAnsive') -- as it applies to a stick, which for some reason, must 
always  refer to that thing in Paris -- if we are being metrical -- and assuming 
the  stick in Paris cannot EXPAND).
Going non-metrical may not help at this stage: The stick is five feet long  
("foot" is of course equivocal as regards 'unit of measure' and 'end of my 
leg'  (for surely we can grow, qua species, contingently, out of bounds so 
that the  feet of the 'homo sapiens' is no longer a foot long, etc.) but 
there is a name  for that: disgression (disgricetion).
J. L. Speranza

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