Reflections on St. Sylvester’s Eve (again)

From the obituary for Peter Strawson in the Guardian in 2006:

When his erstwhile tutor Paul Grice declared, “If you can’t put it in symbols, it’s not worth saying,” Strawson retorted: “If you can put it in symbols, it’s not worth saying.”

I actually agree with both of them, I think, though the versions of each I would go along with would insert an “often” or “usually” before “not worth saying.” Carnap, my philosophical grandfather (since Howard Stein, my Doktorvater, was a student of Carnap), would presumably have had more sympathy with Grice in this case than with Strawson (he said as much in his reply to Strawson in the Schilpp volume), but might also have agreed with his student Stein that there are things worth saying that, as Howard put it, can be “usefully vague” (by “vague” I assume he means something like “not amenable at the moment to any sort of formal or symbolic treatment”). He might also have added that the point wasn’t to put something into symbols but to make it more precise, that being “in symbols” is in itself no guarantee of precision, and that precision is (a) a matter of degree; (b) purpose-relative.

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