February 11, 2004


Matthew Yglesias says (scroll down to the comments):

I should also do a little unpacking of the term "electability." If you say a guy is "unelectable" that means he can't win. So if a guy is "electable" he can, or at least could win. I'm quite sure Kerry is electable in this sense -- Bush might beat him, but he might beat Bush. Edwards, I would say, is more electable than Kerry, meaning he's more likely to win, and more likely to win, if he does win, by a large margin.

Now, my first guess is that "electable" and "unelectable" tout court are contextually determined like "tall" and "short" tout court. Degrees of relative tallness and shortness aren't contextual--no matter what the context, Yao Ming is taller than Michael Jordan. But how tall you have to be to count as "tall" is contextually determined--in some contexts Jordan may be tall, in others not. So "unelectable" doesn't have to mean the guy can't win--it just means that he's unlikely enough to win that we'll confidently predict it wouldn't happen.

[My currently favored account of "justified" is much the same. The degree to which a belief is justified is the degree to which it is supported by the evidence, and that's not contextual. But whether a belief is plain ol' justified is contextual, or at least depends on pragmatic factors. The stakes riding on the beliefs are important, as in the bank cases. End of digression.]

But things might get complicated because "electable" is a dispositional term (or something). Can someone lose the election and still have been electable? If not, the idea of degrees of electability may be in trouble. Certainly it would seem odd to say that so-and-so was unelectable and yet won.

[UPDATE: Forgot the Yglesias link the first time.]

Posted by Matt Weiner at February 11, 2004 01:00 PM