October 18, 2004

Happy That, Hopefully

Over at Brian's blog Jonathan Weinberg and Tony of Tongue But No Door raised the question of whether "happy that" really is factive--does "S is happy that p" entail p? My initial response was "sure," but I ran across this example that may give some evidence against. (The rest of this post is mostly copied from the comment I left at Brian's.)

Baghdad, April 9, 2003:

Marine Cpl. Orlando Fuentes [said] "Iím happy that I'm here. And I'm happy that this thing is almost over, hopefully."

In the second sentence, what does "hopefully" modify? Is Fuentes (1) happy that (hopefully this thing is almost over); (2) hopefully, [happy that this thing is almost over]; or (3) [happy that this thing is almost overóhopefully itís almost over]?

Iím not sure (1) makes any senseócan "hopefully" be part of the content like that? And (2) doesn't seem like what Fuentes meansóhe's certainly happy about something. But (3) seems to undermine the factivity about knowledge, since Fuentes expresses certainty that he is happy that p and uncertainty about p.

Since Fuentes' belief turned out to be fairly spectacularly wrong, we can also use this as an to raise two more questions--was Fuentes mistaken about his own happiness, and if "happy that" really is factive, how do we describe Fuentes' happiness? It doesn't seem right to say that he was happy that he thought the war was almost over.

Posted by Matt Weiner at October 18, 2004 12:47 PM

And now I'm takin' the fight straight to your doorstep.

Regarding your question of how to describe Fuentes' happiness, the two expressions that come to mind are "[happy in thinking/happy in his belief] that" - these may still suffer from some inelegance, but they seem like phrases we (or I, anyway) would actually use in conversation, and don't discredit the happiness while expressing doubts about the thought/belief.

I'm going to confess now that I really didn't give the question of "hopefully" enough thought when I read it in the comments, and now that I do, it's going to take some more thinking. One useful way of thinking about it (for me) is figuring out what questions you would need to program a computer to know the answers to before you could say it understands this quote, and what the answers would be.

1. Is Fuentes happy?
Well, obviously. His first says that he's happy. He wouldn't say it if he meant it.

2. What is he happy about?
He's happy that the war is going to be over soon.

3. Is he sure the war's going to be over soon?
No, "hopefully" clearly expresses doubt about that fact (at least).

4. Would he still be happy if he turned out to be wrong?

5. Would he still have been happy if he turned out to be wrong?

I'm guessing that the question hinges on this question. It's a tricky one to answer, if for no other reason than that our own personal emotional memories tend to be reevaluated in light of new information. "While they were dating, it seemed like the happiest time of his life, but when he later found out that she had been unfaithful, he realized it was all sham." But those still were happy times, right? We want to say yes, but it's just not going to be the same for him if everytime he remembers those times, it's through the filter of his revelation.

Posted by: Tony at October 20, 2004 02:31 PM

I think the happiness of the first sentence is entirely detached from the happiness of the second sentence in this context. Fuentes is "happy to be here" for an entirely separate reason than he is "happy that the war is almost over". He may be "happy to be here" simply because he wants to participate in a project he considers worthwhile, and "being here" is preferable to "not being here".

I interpret the second sentence, on the other hand, as Fuentes being happy that he is able to believe that the war is almost over, with the "hopefully" added as an additional qualification meant to convey a sort of acknowledgement that he can't really be certain, along with a reinforcement of his desire for the war to be over.

I think the second sentence could be rephrased as:

I believe the war is almost over, which makes me happy; I also realize, however, that because I don't know all there is to know about the war, I can't be absolutely certain that it is almost over. Despite this uncertainty, I hope that my belief is correct, and will not be happy about the war if it turns out not to be almost over.

I agree with Tony's point about re-evaluating emotional memories, and with his assessment about the fifth question he proposed being the key. Since happiness is contingent upon belief rather than reality (where belief is assumed to converge with reality on the part of the speaker), the entire statement includes an implicit qualifier, "I believe that".

A more domestic example might be a Red Sox fan's belief that the Red Sox will win the World Series. Said fan is happy right now because:

1) The Red Sox are playing in the World Series

2) He believes that the Red Sox will win the World Series

The happiness in 1) comes from the same binary preference as in Fuentes' first sentence: "playing in the World Series" is preferable to "not playing in the World Series". The happiness in 2) comes from a prediction of the outcome based on the fan's current assessment of the situation (rational or not... this remains to be seen). But that prediction is always qualified, explicitly or implicitly, with "I hope". If the Red Sox end up not winning the World Series, the fan still will have been happy during the time that the World Series was being played. The "hopefulness" will not have changed, no matter how the lens of emotion distorts the fan's memory.

Right now, I am that fan. I hope the Sox win, but as the cliche Fox has become so fond of using goes: "You can't script October".

Posted by: Walter Sobchak at October 26, 2004 09:43 AM