August 22, 2008

Epistemic VPossibilities

At a time when we don't know who Obama will pick as his vice-presidential nominee, but we do know that he has made his decision, somebody tells somebody else:

"The source doesn't know who Obama ultimately chose, but confirms Sens. Joe Biden and Evan Bayh, along with Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine are all in the running."

The bit about "in the running" strikes me as a very weird thing to say. In some sense they aren't all in the running, since Obama has made his choice.

What the source presumably means to evoke is something like the use of 'might' that DeRose discusses: A test has been performed that either indicates that John does not have cancer or indicates that there is a 50% chance that John has cancer. B says to C, "I don't know whether John might have cancer, but the doctor who has seen the test results knows whether John might have cancer." (And if no one has seen the results, it may be that no one knows whether John might have cancer.)

In this case, the source can't confirm that as far as the journalist knows, those three haven't been eliminated. But the source presumably means something a bit strong than "As far as I know they haven't been eliminated." What is meant is presumably something like, "I know that they hadn't been eliminated as of X time before Obama made his choice." But it still seems odd to describe that as "They are in the running" rather than "They were in the running up till the end."

[I would be remiss not to quote the Talking Points Memo headline that linked to a related post: " Breaking: The Press Does Not Know The Candidates' Veep Picks"]

UPDATE: Maybe the source meant those three haven't/hadn't been called to say it was them.

Posted by Matt Weiner at August 22, 2008 11:05 AM