May 05, 2004

Things I Say But Don't Know

The other day I made the claim that Utah is the only state whose motto is the title of a King Crimson song ("Industry"). When pressed, I admitted that I hadn't looked up all the state mottoes, nor reviewed the list of King Crimson songs for likely titles. It just seemed incredibly unlikely that there could be another (could a state have "Discipline" as its motto? Could Calfornia have "Dig Me"? Delaware "Easy Money"?)

But that's OK, because I am committed to the doctrine that it's sometimes acceptable to assert things that you don't know, so long as they turn out to be true. (Word version, in case you can't read my pdfs.) With that in mind, there are two ways I can go: More examples of possible assertion without knowledge, or stupid jokes about the state mottoes, listed here.

Of course, I'm going to do both.

First, a passage from "Election Day," by Joseph Hansen (in City Sleuths and Tough Guys, ed. David Willis McCullough, at p. 412, numbers added by me):

"Don't apologize," Dave said. "It was my mistake. I'm thankful you came out unscathed. [1] He [Hats] was there [at a crime scene], all right." "[2] He admitted it?" Cecil looked surprised. "[3] No, but [4] those cuts on Bess Jessup's face came from his rings--[5] I'd bet on it. [6] If we could search his place we'd find clothes of his with her blood on them. And Rader's."

By my liberal count, [1] [4] and [6] are all properly asserted without knowledge. In [2] Cecil wonders whether Dave has the direct evidence for [1] that (in my opinion) would provide knowledge; in [3] Dave admits that he doesn't, but he doesn't retract the assertion either. Nor can Dave mean to imply that he's deriving knowledge of [1] from [4] or [6]; [5] implies that he doesn't know [4], and [6] is obviously derived from [1] or [4] rather than vice versa.

You might say that [1] and [4] don't count as assertions without knowledge. The epistemological status of [1] is a bit tangled; Rader has testified that Hats was there, which might ordinarily yield knowledge. On the other hand, Rader would have a clear incentive to lie. So I think you can't say that Dave knows because Rader told him; Rader just isn't trustworthy enough.

You might, on the other hand, say that Dave doesn't really assert [4], since he immediately says "I'd bet on it," which implies less than complete certainty. On the other hand, I don't think there's any reason to say that you haven't asserted something if you imply that you're less than completely certain about it, unless you're already committed to the knowledge account.

In any case, [6] looks like it's asserted outright, and it can't be claimed to be known. Because if Dave were willing to claim he knew [6], he'd have to be willing to claim he knew [4] and [1].

As for the other--I've checked the state mottoes against this King Crimson discography, and now I know that Utah is the only state whose motto is also a KC song. (Though I'd forgotten about the various permutations of "Peace" on In the Wake of Poseidon--quite understandably IMO.) But--did you know that one state's motto is a reggae album? One's a Jim O'Rourke album? One's rhymes with a Pixies song? One is a Philip Glass album? One a really bogus poem once illustrated by Thurber and transformed by Rocky and Bullwinkle? One the street my high school was on, and one a neighborhood on the other side of Pittsburgh's East End? One actually contains a KC song title as a proper substring (oops)? One is a substantive philosophical thesis? One is really lame, one just goofy, and one bizarrely sexist? Answers in comments; either the original language or the English translation is permitted.

Posted by Matt Weiner at May 5, 2004 07:17 PM

In order:
Wyoming, California, Maine, Minnesota, New York, Wisconsin, Texas, Colorado, Ohio, Michigan, New Mexico, Maryland.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at May 5, 2004 07:38 PM

Yet in Boggle, it is illegal to write down series of letters in the hope that they will turn out to be words when they are looked up in the dictionary.

Or, at least, terrible sportsmanship.

Posted by: cara gillotti at May 6, 2004 09:59 AM

To quote Calvin, "So who does that? Are you saying I do that?"

Posted by: Matt Weiner at May 6, 2004 04:08 PM