May 01, 2005

Potter on the Objects of Clarity

The paper before mine at the APA was Stephen Grimm's very nice "Is Understanding a Species of Knowledge?" with comments by Mark Silcox. In the discussion (especially Mark's comments) one of the main issues was what the objects of understanding are, in the sense of 'understanding' we're concerned about. Is it understanding that? Understanding why or how? Understanding a subject matter? Understanding a word or sentence?

Stephen Potter has insights on a related subject, that of making something clear:

'Remarkably little to do with Christianity,' said Sticking. I felt we were in for a dose of Golden Bough, but somehow the Lawrenceman checked him.

'Perhaps,' he said. There was something tip-top about the placid way this word was said. He went on:

'Yet there is a ceremony of departure, a sacrifice. On the hill they lit the wood fire to the morning.' Lawrenceman's eyes were wide open, but he wasn't looking at anybody.

'You don't make yourself clear,' said Sticking, in his most distinct voice.

'Can anybody make themselves clear?' Lawrenceman turned to Sticking for the first time.

'That is the general supposition.'

'I think a man can make his words clear, and even his thoughts. But himself...?' After this stunning and really first-class statement, Lawrenceman turned his back on us and walked to the window, and Sticking made a mistake....

--Stephen Potter, The Complete Upmanship, p. 283 (Supermanship, Ch. 1: "Faces Old and Faces New")

Posted by Matt Weiner at May 1, 2005 11:54 AM

The passage from Potter reminds me of a passage from Lewis Carroll. (Misquoting from memory:) "What is your meaning, child?" "Meaning? I haven't any meaning." "Why, even a joke should have some meaning, and a child is more important than a joke, I hope."

Posted by: Matt's mom at May 2, 2005 08:56 AM

Sounds like something Humpty Dumpty would say.

Posted by: ben wolfson at May 2, 2005 08:58 AM

Damn, the Red Queen—my second guess, honest.

"I'm sure I didn't mean—"Alice was beginning, but the Red Queen interrupted her impatiently.
"That's just what I complain of! You SHOULD have meant! What do you suppose is the use of child without any meaning? Even a joke should have some meaning—and a child's more important than a joke, I hope...
There really is no article before the first "child".

Posted by: ben wolfson at May 2, 2005 09:01 AM