Philosophy Hurts Your Head

The blog of a cranky Philosophy PhD Student from Newcastle, Australia.

Meaning Scepticism and its Implications for the Interpretation of Policy

Posted by Sam D on November 12, 2006

The working title for my doctoral thesis is “How close can we get to a straight solution to Kripke’s Paradox?” This paper has is based on some of the thoughts I’ve had over the past couple of months. (I delivered this paper at the University of Newcastle School of Humanities & Social Sciences Postgraduate Symposium)

What I’d like to talk about today can be broken up roughly into four parts. I’ll give a brief sketch of Saul Kripke’s development of the argument that leads to this scepticism. Second, I will highlight some of the ways that it affects the interpretation of policy at different levels. Next I will outline Kripke’s proposed solution to this scepticism. And finally I will look at how this solution effects the examples of interpretation previously considered.

Kripke’s Exposition
Meaning Scepticism is more or less exactly what it sounds like, scepticism about meaning. More accurately, it is scepticism about there being some fact in virtue of which a speaker means a certain thing by a certain word. This position which leads to what is known as Kripke’s Paradox – That there is no such thing as meaning anything by any word.

The problem is developed in chapter 2 of Wittgenstein On Rules and Private Language, using the example of a simple mathematical function, but Kripke asserts that “The relevant sceptical problem applies to all meaningful uses of language.” The function chosen to be the example is addition, denoted by the word ‘plus’ and the symbol that represents it ‘+’( ie. what we normally think of as the plus sign). Kripke states that he can ‘grasp’ the rule for addition. Although, as he points out he has only computed a finite number of sums, the rule determines his answer for an infinitely large number of sums he has never considered: “This is the whole point of the notion of learning to add I grasp a rule: my past intentions regarding addition determine a unique answer for indefinitely many new cases in the future.” He then asks the reader to imagine that ‘68 + 57’ is a calculation he has never performed before. Given that he can only have performed a finite number of calculations in the past, an example of this kind must exist. (Kripke 1982, p7-8)

When the computation is performed, the answer is arrived at, with some degree of confidence, to be ‘125’. The answer is correct in both the arithmetic sense, and the metalinguistic sense, that “’plus’ as I intended to use the word in the past, denoted a function which, when applied to the numbers I called ‘68’ and ‘57’, yields the value 125.” (Kripke 1982, p8)

None of this seems controversial so far.

But suppose a bizarre sceptic is encountered. This sceptic questions Kripke’s certainty about his answer, in the metalinguistic sense. “Perhaps, he suggests, as I used the term ‘plus’ in the past, the answer I intended for ‘68 + 57’ should have been ‘5’!” The understandable response to this is to question the sceptic’s sanity and schooling. But the sceptic continues: That the answer was attained through explicit instructions is impossible, as it had never been done before. Rather, the answer was attained by applying a rule or function that had been applied in the past. But what , the sceptic asks, was this function? Kripke indicates that only a finite number of examples instantiating this particular function had ever been performed by him, and in this example, it is supposed that they were all using numbers smaller that 57. The Sceptic compels him to consider the following Hypothesis: “ perhaps in the past you used the word ‘plus’ and ‘+’(the plus symbol) to denote a function I will call ‘quus’, symbolised by ‘⊕ ’.( A Slightly different symbol)
It is defined by:
x⊕y = x + y, if x, y < 57
= in all other cases the answer is 5.” (Kripke 1982, 8-9)

The bizarre sceptic claims that Kripke is misinterpreting his previous use of the word ‘plus’ and ‘+’(the plus symbol), and that he always meant ‘quus’, making a linguistic rather than arithmetic mistake. Now, as the sceptic’s hypothesis is not a priori impossible, it could be true. The problem is finding a way to disprove it, whilst keeping in mind the following: “Ordinarily, we suppose that, in computing ’68 + 57’as we do, we don’t simply make an unjustified leap in the dark.” But what would make this supposition true? Not explicit instruction to say ‘125’. Nor can one appeal to the idea of computing in the same way as shown by previous examples. This would be as applicable for quaddition as for addition.
The bizzare sceptic’s challenge is this: Is there any fact in virtue of which a speaker meant plus not quus? Can the speaker be confident that they should answer ‘125’ instead of ‘5’? An answer, according to Kripke, must satisfy several particular conditions: “First, it must give an account of what that it is (about a speakers mental state) that constitutes them meaning plus, not quus.” And “It must in some sense show how they are justified in giving the answer ‘125’ to ’68 +57”. (Kripke 1982, p10-11)It is vital to note these two aspects, the first descriptive, the second normative. Kripke considers suggestions as to what this answer could be, but claims from the outset, that they will all fail to answer the sceptic’s challenge, because of the nature of the requirements of an account of meaning. In case it isn’t obvious, and it some scholars have missed this, this is ontological scepticism. It isn’t just that we don’t have access to the fact in virtue of which Kripke means plus and so on, he actually doubts that such a fact exists at all.

Failed solutions
There are many, many failed solutions to the sceptical challenge, too many for today’s purposes. These have included two forms of Platonism as well as appeals to qualia, picture theory and simplicity. I’m going to limit my discussion to just two: Rule following – because it helps illuminate Kripke’s position, and dispositionalism, because it is the one of the most widely defended replies to the sceptic in contemporary philosophic academia.

So let’s consider Rule Following:
Perhaps, the problem can be solved by saying that a rule is learned which determines how addition is to continue. The rule would be something along the lines of this: If we want to add x to y, take a large number of countable tokens (Kripke uses marbles), count x number of tokens into one heap, and y into another. Put the two piles of tokens together, and count the result. The result is of course x + y. This could be the set of directions that is used. The idea of proceeding according to an algorithm such as this is incompatible with the sceptical hypothesis that it was quus that Kripke meant. This looks like a solution.

There is however, a problem. Kripke’s applications of the word ‘count’ like ‘plus’ have been only finite. Thus the sceptic can question the past usage of ‘count’ and ask if what was really meant was in fact ‘quount’, “where to ‘quount’ a heap is to count it in the ordinary sense, unless the heap was formed as the union of two heaps, one of which has 57 or more items in which case one must automatically give the answer ‘5’” Similarly if one appeals to the idea of counting a heap independent of its constituent sub-heaps, then the sceptic can simply ask if we mean independent or quindiendent? The core of this issue is that one cannot use a rule to interpret another rule. Now, barring the possibility of an infinite regress, the sceptical move can be made until a so-called ‘basic’ rule is arrived at. This is no help, as Kripke points out: “How can I justify my present application of such a rule, when a sceptic could easily interpret it so as to yield any of an indefinite number of results? It seems my application is a stab in the dark” (Kripke 1982, p16-17). It is the same as the situation in which an intelligence tester asks for the one possible continuation in a sequence. If a finite initial sequence can be compatible with an indeterminately large number of rules, then there is no uniquely appropriate way to continue a finite sequence, any response being as arbitrary as the next. ( There is a relative sense in which this is not true, but this is due to the socially appropriate answer, not any inherent ‘meaning’, which is more or less the point, isn’t it? )Similarly, the use of ‘+’ when it is only supported by a finite number of examples is arbitrary also.

This next, and more serious objection to the argument that no fact about a speaker constitutes them meaning anything in particular, (for example, ‘plus)’ is on a dispositional basis.

Simply put, this answer to the sceptic states that “To mean addition by ‘+’ is to be disposed, when asked for any sum ‘x + y’ to give the sum of x and y as the answer (in particular, to say ‘125’ when queried about ’68 + 57’)” (Kripke 1982, p22-23). Dispositions are almost always considered to be physical properties or relationships in this literature. This is best illustrated by Graham Forbes, who gives a simple example of dispositional states, ie salt is soluble in water but not benzene or petrol, therefore it has a disposition to dissolve in the first but not the second or third liquids. ( Forbes, in Miller & Wright 2002)

It even sounds a bit scientific.

But the dispositional account fails on a number of fronts. It fails to justify sufficiently, the use of addition, as it doesn’t indicate what the justification is for using it rather that quaddition. It can appear to justify, to some extent, the present use of addition, because it can in a sense describe what a speaker is doing at the time. But it fails to meet the vital criterion, “that it should tell me what to do in each new instance.”(Kripke 1982, p24) A major part of this problem is that dispositional accounts ignore the fact that the ‘totality of my dispositions’ are finite. Hence some numbers may be too large for a human mind to comprehend, and therefore add, so we can’t be disposed to give a correct answer. A most serious problem, is that of error. Even with more everyday sized numbers we are not always disposed to give the correct answer. To counter this some of Kripke’s opponents (Such as Goldfarb 1985) proposed a further disposition to make mistakes which interferes with the disposition to give the correct answer. The problem is that no appeal to the correct answer can be made without being caught in a circularity: “(But )a disposition to make a mistake (says Kripke) is simply a disposition to give an answer other than the one that accords with the function I meant” (Kripke 1982, p30) To know what the mistake was, is to know what was meant, (by a process of elimination if nothing else) – and that is exactly what we don’t know. Even though this was a simple example, almost all dispositional accounts of meaning fail in a similar way. Thus the dispositional account does not answer the sceptic

Since all the straight solutions appear to fail, ie that there isn’t any fact in virtue of which we mean plus not quus, Kripke concludes in dramatic fashion that “There can be no such thing as meaning anything by any word”(Kripke 1982, p54)

Relevance and Application – The Problem
So how does this effect the interpretation of policy?
The most obvious example of this is any case where it is argued that the definition of a word is fixed and determinate. (This is as much about making the legislation as interpreting it ).The position of our current Federal Government as well as that in the US seems to be that only hetero-sexual couples can be married, because that is what the word ‘Marriage’ means. 1 man, 1 woman, no other options. They argue that to use the word in any other way is to use it the wrong way, no matter how many people disagree. If Kripke is at all right, then arguments of this form necessarily fail. If there is no fact that determines that the word ‘marriage’ applies to one sort of couple rather than another(or indeed to couples or even people at all), how can you justify interpreting the law one way or the other? (Or indeed making the law in the first place?). It would seem that you can’t.

Daniel Goldberg and Justice Scalia
At a more sophisticated level there is a problem with certain forms of judicial interpretation.
Daniel Goldberg makes a clear argument that Meaning Scepticism undermines very specific kinds of legal theory. Going by the title of this article: “I do not Think it Means what you Think it Means: How Kripke and Wittgenstein’s Analysis on Rule Following Undermines Justice Scalia’s Textualism and Originalism” ( Forthcoming in the Cleveland State Law Review, ) it isn’t hard too guess what (and who) his target is. Textualism and Originalism, as I understand them in this context are principles that constrain how laws and statutes can be interpreted by the judiciary. Originalism claims that the correct interpretation is that which is in keeping with the original intent of the legislators, and Textualism claims that the correct interpretation is one which is in keeping with the ‘letter of the text’ . ( I’m not a law student, so don’t be too hard on me!)
Very simply put Goldberg characterises laws, policies and constitutional statutes as rules and the principles of Textualism and Originalism as meta-rules for interpreting these rules. Once this is in place the argument just about leaps off the page. – we can’t use rule to interpret a a rule! For todays purposes it is enough to jump straight to Goldberg’s conclusion: That the application of Textualism or Originalism can’t determine whether the Constitution grants certain rights, because there is no fact about a judge’s past history that allows the judge to conclude that deciding one way vs. the other is consistent with the judge’s prior applications of Textualism and Originalism. Goldberg offers no alternative solution. Maybe he didn’t get to the 3rd chapter of Kripke’s Book.

Being a Program Officer
I accepted Goldberg’s lack of a solution and smugly mocked the Justice Scalia and others like him. “Stupid Judges” I thought, “ AS if you would think about rules that way”. I resolved to craft some devastatingly anti-conservative solution to this problem at a later date. And that was that. But then recently I discovered I had a problem. As some of you know I’m not only a research student here at the University, I’m also a member of general staff. I have a very modest administrative job as a Program Officer. To cut a long story short, the point is that as part this role I have to interpret policy created by the Academic Senate and Faculty Board. I reflected on how I do this and was alarmed by what I found: I began to suspect that I was a Textualist! Why? Well – I regularly have conversations with students and staff (both Academic and Otherwise) of the general form, “The policy states if and only if A, then B. so if you want to do B, then you should do A or if not then at least ask the Pro Vice Chancellor for approval”. “Stick to the letter of the text, I would say to them”. Textualism in action. All along I had been using a rule to interpret a rule!
So this was a problem not only for legislators and judges, it was a problem for me as well.
To see what we can salvage of these positions, we first have to come to grips with the solution that Kripke proposes to Meaning Scepticism.

The Sceptical Solution
So, there is no such thing as meaning anything by any word.
But people still use the word ‘meaning’ and still have sense that their words ‘mean’ something. Kripke like Wittgenstein, doesn’t want us to change how we speak : “We do not wish to doubt or deny that when people speak of themselves and others as meaning something by their words, as following rules, that they might do so with a perfect right” (Kripke 1982, p69) Kripke therefore offers his ‘Sceptical Solution’

It is important to understand the difference between what are considered to be ‘straight’ and ‘sceptical’ solutions. For a solution to this paradox to be considered ‘straight’, it must satisfy two criteria: “it must give an account of what that it is (about my mental state) that constitutes my meaning plus, not quus.” And “It must in some sense show how I am justified in giving the answer ‘125’ to ’68 +57’. (Kripke 1982, pp 11-12) More generally, Kripke defines a straight solution as one that shows the scepticism to be unwarranted. Examples of this would be a priori accounts justifying inductive reasoning or genuine causal relations as solutions to Hume’s sceptical problems of induction and causation(Kripke 1982, p66). Kripke contends that the assumption that meaningful sentences necessarily purport to correspond to facts makes solving the problem in this way impossible, as no such facts exist.
So what is this Sceptical Solution?

The sceptical solution that Kripke proposes accepts that there are not any facts about meaning, but that we do mean things. The core of this argument rests on Kripke’s interpretation of Wittgenstein, who proposes an account of language that is grounded in assertability-conditions, rather than truth-conditions. Because we can’t solve problems of meaning scepticism by looking for these facts, we should look for something else that does at least most of what we want. And turning to the conditions under which a meaning declarative statement is assertable, rather than looking in vain for the conditions under which it is true, does exactly this.
So “To mean something is not constituted by a correspondence to truth conditions or some sort of fact, but by conditions of assertability” (Fitch 2004, p165)

A community setting is central to how this account explains the normative aspect of meaning. In specific terms: a speaker ‘S’ is provisionally, and subject to the correction of others in their linguistic community, entitled to say that they mean ‘Plus’ by ‘+’ (plus sign) whenever they have the feeling of confidence in their answer.

Similarly in new cases, and under the same conditions of potential correction, ‘S’ can judge their own responses to be correct. What it important here is that any other speaker is not automatically obliged to accept their authority on this correctness of use. They will judge speaker S as being correct if they give the same answer, or at least as following the same procedure, that they themselves are inclined to.

A lot more needs to be done to elaborate on what these assertability positions are, and how they work. But at least we can be fairly sure that they exist.

The Solution as Applied to the Judicial Examples
So what does this mean for the examples of policy and judicial interpretation?

There are some things that the Sceptical Solution can salvage, and there are some things it can’t. One of the things it can’t save is objectivity of meaning. You simply can’t claim that there is one exclusively right way to define a word (eg marriage), because the definition can and will change as the assertability conditions change. This isn’t to say that governments can’t legislate in this way, but it is authority (as Bix 2003 notes) and power relations that give this law it’s weight, not any objective truth about its meaning.

Now we have seen that Justice Scalia’s interpretation of policy is not constrained by Originalism and Textualism in the objective sense. If I’m at all right, how Justice Scalia interprets statutes and laws, is regardless of his claims, due to assertability conditions. So can we salvage anything of his position?

At this stage I’d like to point out that even if I’m completely right about Scalia’s use of meta-rules, that this doesn’t automatically invalidate his judgements. Wittgenstein didn’t think there was anything wrong with normal language, only philosophy. And philosophy is what Justice Scalia, or anyone else who makes these sort of claims, is doing when they argue in this way. His claims about what constitutes the correct rule for interpreting another rule are metaphysical claims. And he simply cannot substantiate them.

But the thought occurred to me that the principles of Originalism and Textualism could be two of a long list of assertability conditions. Could this save Scalia’s position? If so, it would certainly help mine. When I’m interpreting university or faculty policy, maybe I can feel safe in my appeal to Textualism, because it isn’t a truth-condition, it’s an assertability condition.

So how would the Justice and I defend our choice of assertability conditions?

For example, I might deem that an assertability condition for the application of a rule is that it has to be consistent with other assertability conditions that are accepted. As soon as I got to this stage of my thinking I began to wonder if I wasn’t in real trouble, and here is why: There is a rule X. I will interpret this rule in a certain way, on the basis of Textualism for example. But what if this is a contested area? Why Textualism, rather than Quextualism, or more sensibly Progressivism? As soon as I asked myself that question I knew that I had put the cart before the horse, so to speak.

My interpretation of a rule isn’t assertable as correct in virtue of Textualism. Rather my appeal to Textualism is assertable because of the existing and ongoing conditions under which I can assert : ‘I am using Textualism’.

Principles such as this and Originalism are not themselves assertability conditions, they are at best a reflection of the assertability conditions that are currently in use. My feeling is that they can sometimes be useful in mapping the relationships that give rise to these conditions. But it is also my suspicion, that the more hotly contested an area, the less likely it is that a principle is a faithful reflection of the assertability conditions being used.

So where does this leave those wishing to interpret policy in a certain way?
It seems that in and of themselves appealing to these principles can do nothing to insulate a particular position from the potential correction of the linguistic community. Textualism and Originalism can, at best, attach some intellectual authority to our interpretation, but only if our peers allow us to do so.

So what about my interpretation of policy? I think that searching for rationalisation sometimes obscures what is really going on. I still feel secure in interpreting policy in a certain way and the best answer to why is the simplest: Because neither my boss, nor theirs, nor the PVC nor the Senate has corrected me ( on this at least), and make no mistake, I am subject to their correction. If any one of these changed their mind about what they considered to be the right way to interpret policy, the reality is that I would no longer be able to assert that I’m interpreting it in the right way. (The same would probably go for Justice Scalia). This leads me to think that assertability conditions, whatever they are, cannot be just that the simple majority of people agree, I don’t think that this could explain the complexity of what actually occurs. It has to in some way account for relations of power, ideally at both a micro and macro level.

And that, with regard to this problem, is about as far as I have gotten. I’d like to leave you today with a final point on what I think we can take from all of this.

Kripke talks about speakers being ‘subject to correction by those in their linguistic community’ What he should have said (more clearly) was – ‘subject to correction by those in their linguistic community with sufficient authority’ . So when interpreting policy, the trick is to have the right people agree with your interpretation. And if they don’t you had better set about convincing them, because there is literally nothing else that will truly make your argumentative position a viable one.

Bix, Brian H, “Can Theories of Meaning and reference Solve the Problem of Legal Determinacy?”, Ratio Juris, Vol 16, No 3. (September 2003), pp 281 – 295).

Fitch G.W., Saul Kripke, Chesham, UK: Acumen Publishing, 2004.

Goldberg, Daniel, “I do not Think it Means what you Think it Means: How Kripke and Wittgenstein’s Analysis on Rule Following Undermines Justice Scalia’s Textualism and Originalism” . Cleveland State Law Review, Forthcoming. Available at Social Science Research Network:

Kripke, Saul, Wittgenstein On Rules and Private Language: an elementary exposition, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982.

Miller, A. & Wright, C. (eds), Rule Following and Meaning, Chesham: Acumen, 2002.


22 Responses to “Meaning Scepticism and its Implications for the Interpretation of Policy”

  1. Sam D-

    Your assertion that such a skeptic is a bizarre skeptic is about to be refuted.

    If we add 3 ideas to 4 ideas, how many ideas might be the sum?

    You have missed the point entirely, and I am going to suggest you read my work, “An Illustrated Philosophy Primer for Young Readers” (we are all young readers when it comes to philosophy) wherein I expose not only mathematics but also broad expanse of all empirical thought that blights the landscape.

    These are all merely belief systems, and I expose them as faulty belief systems that do not stand under their own tenets, let alone the tenets of human truth. Both mathematics and empiricism, of which the practicioners would claim amorality despite each clearly giving humanity immoral results; both mathematics and empiricism are more akin to witchcraft than they are to human truth.

    So. After you’ve considered my arguments, you will note re-reading your post, you’ve made a mistake in calling such skepticism “bizarre”.

    You make the very same mistake common to our culture. When we say, That does not make sense, we mean something doesn’t make sense empirically, and yet, empiricism is a self contradictory and even world-destructive belief system.

    Is that human truth?

    The moral imperative is to live a life that detracts not at all from the lives available to those who will follow us into this world. That is human truth. It is derived from the cogito.

    Furthermore, Robertson’s Law states:

    No matter the problem, no matter the solution, if it’s an exclusively empirical solution applied to the real world, the resulting biproducts of the processes of empirical reason will give rise to problems tenfold that of the original problem.

    The reason for Robertson’s Law is that empiricism entirely misses the human truth of the moral imperative, which because it is an imperative, must be given as the first step and every step in between for every step in any empirical process.

    Enjoy, but don’t trash the place in the process.

    Don Robertson, The American Philosopher
    Limestone, Maine

    An Illustrated Philosophy Primer for Young Readers
    Precious Life – Empirical Knowledge
    The Grand Unifying Theory & The Theory of Time

  2. Sam D said

    Hi Don, thanks for the comments.

    In some ways I agree that the ‘skeptic’ should not be considered ‘bizzare’. Only Saul Kripke can really say why he described him as such. It could be that he wished to distinguish this distinctly ontological brand of scepticism from it’s more common epistemological cousin. I suspect that it may be an arumentative ploy to make the sceptical position seem more extreme, all the better to get us to accept his solution.

    Did I miss the point entirely? I hope not. What I want to ask, and please don’t take offence at this, is did you?

    So the sceptic isn’t bizarre? So What? If demolishing Kripke’s argument was that easy we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

    Looking for a fact in virtue of which I mean X by Y or what ever makes no empirical sense as no such a fact exists, and yet we still mean things. At a glance I don’t think this is particularly incompatible with your ideas.

    You make a common mistake in our culture, to think that sitting around thinking deep thoughts with no regard for academic rigor and intellectual integrity can result in anything resembling philosophy. I have briefly read your ideas on you site, and I have to say the steps you take in ‘deriving’ your ‘truth’ has more flaws than you can poke a stick at, if you are a philosopher. If you are a mystic and don’t care about logic or rationality, then what you say makes perfect sense. Wishing that something was true never made it so, and that is what I think you are doing.

    I have just paused for some investigation and I wonder why I’m bothering to reply to you at all. Are you interested in debate or is this just shameless self promotion? I prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt, so unlike pretty much every other blog you have posted comments on, I won’t delete your comment. I will give anyone the ime of day, but if you are going to continue to comment here, I will ask that you don’t promote your book and PLEASE don’t call youself “The American Philosopher”, because your’re not. Any further comments containing either will be edited or deleted.

  3. Okay Doug, no more shameless promotion. And I won’t refer to myself as The American Philosopher, until and only if you at some point refer to me that way, okay?

    First of all, here’s a picture of me:

    I’m 56, 57 in January. I’ve been married thirty-six years, my wife is often mistaken for my daughter. I’ve raised two sons, 26 & 28. I never obtained a college degree of any sort, and never felt the need for one. Both my parents graduated form U.of M., and my eldest son graduated a National Merit Scholar Finalist with his high school class of 31. I’m one of five siblings, four are still living, the one missing died of a heroin overdose 20 years ago. I’m just interested in what you can teach me about philosophy, even if it’s a decent book reference, and, conversely what I might be able to offer you. So now you pretty much have a bio and a mental image of me, if you bothered to look at the picture, (I’m the one without the pointy ears, the heavier, less handsome one), so you can relate, versus envisioning some Barnum & Bailey type of huckster. Still, I am flattered.

    So let’s keep it simple, okay? We’ll set some simple rules.

    Obviously you’ve already conceded I’m at a huge disadvantage by claiming you can poke holes in my arguments with a stick. So get out your stick.

    I’m neither a theist or a mystic, and never have been, and certainly never will be.


    Let’s talk. I noticed from my site statistics you were put off by the brash young American’s puffing, so much so that you didn’t pour yourself into what I have written, and finish it in one sitting. So let’s start with everyone’s favorite apodictic truth, mathematics. You know… The interior angles of a triangle equal 180 degrees? That sort of mathematics.

    The rules, if you agree:

    Our discussion of the bizarre apodictic truth of mathematics will likely take some time, going one step at a time, so eventually I will ask you to concede the first round, and we’ll proceed to some empirical science, or, on your call, you may simply ask me to concede, and I will then concede not wishing to simply be contentious, and I will admit defeat without any necessity for a second round, where upon you will not have to continue with the conversation, and should you decide, as this is your site, you can delete all the posts.

    So, Let me start. I’ll play Socrates and ask the questions, alright? Wind that stick up now, I want to see you hit this one right out of the park!

    Give me two things that are alike enough so that when we say, 1+1 that this equals 2, and we have described reality concerning these things we are talking about.

    I say you cannot, that there are no two things alike enough in this world that can be added 1+1 and when we come up with, as expected, 2, that we have said anything about reality, (other than some vaguely correlative system specific generalization, not wholly unlike religion) but I certainly defer to your greater education and allow you the opportunity to show me wrong, if you will allow me the opportunity to rebut, and point out where you have not given me such two things. Name them, these two things. I can think of none.

    (Don’t worry. I’ll settle down. I’m just excited. Neither of my two sons has read my book either, and my wife says she’s lived with me for 36 years, so she doesn’t have to read it.)


  4. Well, you’re either too busy, or you’ve a mind so clear you’ve already conceded the first step of the first round. I’ll assume the latter, but defer to you if you eventually do come up with those two thing mathemtics refers to when it says with utter apodictic truth, that 1+1=2.

    Now, I’ll ask yet another question concerning mathematics, the a priori of all a priori, the mother of a priori.

    How many fractional numbers are there between the two (ordinal or cardinal) digits, say, 0 and 1?

    Of course, not to throw you off or lay a trap for you, I’ll give you my answer before you give me yours. I’m fair, or at least I try to be.

    There are infinitely more fractional numbers between 0 and 1 than there are real things in the entire Universe, PLUS, all the possible combinations and relationships of those real things in the entire Universe, squared, and then cubed, and then taken to the power of ten-million, twice or three times, or how ever many times might meet your requirements to show you that mathmetics is not only infinitely too small to define for us the reality of 1+1=2, but also infinitely too large to define the grand immensity of whole Universe streched upon all time as well? Okay?

    Speak to me, Doug. I’m not losing you already am I?

    -Don Robertson

  5. Sam D said

    Cheeky bugger, you haven’t “lost” me, I’ve been (and still am) at work, where my screen is in direct view of where my boss sits. I’m just about to head home for the day, so I will deal with you shortly.

  6. Ah good! I’m glad I’ve caught you at a disadvantage, unable to respond.

    So now that we’ve settled, or I’ve settled, that mathematics is both too small to define any real 1+1=2 meaningfully, and that mathematics is also infinitely to large, being significantly larger than all the things and their combinations in the Universe (of course you can take me to task on this at your infrequent leisure as you might), let me also assert that there are likely more different kinds of mathematical schemes, methods or what ever you might want to call the different varieties of mathematics, algebra, calculus, trigonometry etc, than there are, again, real things in the entire Universe, PLUS, all the possible combinations and relationships of those real things in the entire Universe, squared, and then cubed, and then taken to the power of ten-million, twice or three times, or how ever many times might meet your requirements to show you that mathematics can hardly be apodictic, or a priori asis the contention of Kant and so many others since the Enlightenment… Especially since mathematics is a system of thought puzzles that only require a meager thread-like proof, without ever considering all the implications, and absolutely never considering any of the wrong answers to all those mathematical puzzles that don’t succinctly relate to reality anyway.

    I suppose it would be a fair bet, were I a betting man, to say that if there was a mathmatical statement possible, one that actually did say something apodictic about reality, that it might be more likely to be a wrongly answered mathematic puzzle, since there are certainly more wrong answers in mathematics than there are right answers, which again too coincidentally to be mere fun, is very unlike reality, where there are no “wrong” answers, just questions with no answers.

    Good night, Mate! I’ll awake knowing you’ve solved all these puzzlements for me.

    Apodictic, indeed.

    In fact, mathematics is only a toy.


  7. Sam D said

    Ok, one thing at a time!

    First the 1+1 thing: I am on your side, I don’t think that mathematics is an ‘apodictic’ truth. In fact, unless I’m very much mistaken, I’m arguing just the opposite, but for a different reason than you are.

    The simplest way I can state my position is this: We don’t say that 1 + 1 = 2 is true because of some magical fact about the rule. Rather we say that we use a rule because we all agree that 1 + 1 = 2.

    From what I understand of it your argument is a different one.

    In your first comment “Give me two things that are alike enough so that when we say, 1+1 that this equals 2,” and so on you try to set me up to do what in some ways seems impossible. If any physical object is truly unique then I can’t have two of anything can I? But this line of reasoning comes unstuck twice.

    First, I still have two objects (or two things that seem like objects if you are feeling sceptical). Now I know that this isn’t very helpful, but it is a start.

    Secondly: What if the names we give things, being a kind of way we use words and meaning, isn’t dependant on some absolute fact about the objects, but rather the agreement of our community on what we call these things? It doesn’t matter how far off the mark we are with regard to reality, so long as we were all wrong in the same way. If I hold up two oranges, so long as the community agrees that they are both oranges, and on how the plus function should be used, I can say “This orange plus that orange equals two oranges”. Everyone is happy, and we all get to have oranges (as long as there are only a few of us there).

    This leads me to you challenge about the number of fractional numbers between two cardinal numbers.
    Now we both know that the answer is that there are an infinite number of these. (See how few words that took). This is fine, it is you next step that is flawed.

    Maths would be too small to describe this, if we were looking for rules that described it in absolute terms, but as I’ve already shown, that’s not what tells us how to do maths. Maths teachers tell us how to do maths.

    As for Mathematics being too large, that’s not the case. Physical things have size, and numbers, for example, only have physical size in virtue of how they are represented, on paper, on my hard-drive, in my brain (perhaps) etc. Now writing down an infinitely large number might present a problem if we run out of space in the universe. But an un-written and un-thought-of number has no size, so how can it be too big? I’d argue that the same goes for all of mathematics, so long as we can keep the number of maths teachers at a safe level.

    That said, even though I think that you fail to establish it, I get the point. Maths is very large (in a non spacial way) – infinitely so, and the number of times we have computed any function in it is necessarily finte, so how can it be apodictic? Well it can’t, but I never claimed that it was. Reality just doesn’t come into it.

    So maths isn’t a priori true. Big deal. If you think I’m going to run around crying like some sort of neo-classical realist, you are mistaken. We are both on the same side of the fence, but I think ‘m more clear on why than you are.

    If you are looking for a couple of good introductory books on philosophy I’d recommend An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis, by John Hospers, and Philosophy Gym, by Stephen Law.

    Thanks for not taking offence at my more personal attacks, I admire a person with thick skin.

  8. We agree to disagree even as we agree. I’ll come back to that.

    As the foundation of all empirical science, mathematics, the unreal aspects of it we both can recognize regardless of the to be expected differences in how we recognize it, knowing mathematics this way is one key, but only one key to our freedom from the drudgery of our common mistakes. Knowing these faults as well as we can is not some transcendentally a priori truth, it merely says, Hey! I’m as stupid as the next guy, only he doesn’t care to know it. He is blinded (or conversely enlightened) by his belief, like the religious. I see no better than he does, I just know that by shutting my eyes I can blot our common blindness.

    Mathematics is correlative to reality exactly, if not specifically, as is religion or witchcraft, it allows us to propound a quasi truth tentative to our belief systems. Of course quasi truth is all there is.

    Mathematics is correlative giving us a non-specific knowledge set with which we can dabble in the real world, shake the world as if it were a fine watch inside a box shake it. We hear the clock breaking up in that box as we shake it ever harder, and so, we have a set of ideas about the nature of the thing in itself given to us by mathematics, and likewise with all the empirical sciences that rely upon mathematics, or the much more spurious implications of the workings of mathematics upon which the empirical social sciences deal, the political science is my favorite whipping-boy here, universal suffrage, the rights of man, inalienable rights and the great experiment of democracy.

    Getting back on track…

    True to the empirical methods of trial and error, these shake the box tests that affirm these non-specific sets of empirical knowledge are by and large destructive tests. And neither do these knowledge sets entirely overlap, because the fine watch inside the box is really different from the thing in itself and specific to every test and most often biased towards the results we want to achieve, even if they all have mathematics in common, mathematics which is of course suspect enough in the scheme of determining anything about the thing in itself.

    We’re making great progress, so we must be careful to doubt.

    I return to our disagreements then.

    You say, “Maths teachers tell us how to do maths.”

    Ah…! Here we have a difference as to how communication works. While in theory, math teachers are supposed to teach us math, and when we sit in math class, we see their lips moving at the front of the room, and when we are paying close enough attention sounds seem to emanate from the inner reaches of their major facial hole, none of what comes out of their mouths really means anything we haven’t taught ourselves ad hoc since childhood though. Some struggle with it, and others are thoruoughly enchanted by the math teacher’s shaman like incantations.

    This is where Kant mistook mathematics for being a priori. We each had to have some natural affinity for mathematics in order for there to be any chance to grasp later what the math teacher was mumbling at us. And yes, we do have such an affinity, but that affinity is to falsely assume categories by falsely constructing in our minds universal forms and ideas.

    Now, these universal forms and ideas, these are what our minds require to think much more than they are represented by the thing in itself as we individually perceive it. (The evidence for this is that is the long history of discovering where we put so many things in categories where they later were determined not to belong.) We cannot think in terms of the thing in itself because we have no direct means to access it. We cannot think in terms of sensory data, because it doesn’t fit into our minds in a directly manageable way, and sensory data must be first changed by the process of perceiving into universal forms and ideas for our minds to cogitate
    the now second hand data supplied to us by sensory data during
    the process of perceiving.

    This is all old hat. You will agree thus far, or perhaps I should say YOU WILL agree thus far!

    Which brings me to my point here today.

    The math teacher only hopes a vain hope to teach us mathematics. He/she has a religious-like belief that if he stands before a group of eager young students and wobbles the vocal cords in his larynx with air expelled from his lungs forming words, and writing numbers and symbols on a squeaky chalkboard that he will succeed in teaching some of his students, geometry.

    But of course he is wrong.

    All he is capable of, due to the limits of language, meaning and knownledge, universal forms and ideas, and the hideous restaint of not being actually able to shape and form the synapse connections in another’s brain… All the math teacher is capable of is, to be enchanting enough to inspire some of his students to figure mathematics out on their own however they will.

    Enchantment is how all universal forms and ideas arise within every individual’s knowledge set. And there is no common knowledge set, just arguments about what it might be.

    Enchantment is, (oh god! Doug is going to wretch and gag when he hears this) Hold on Doug, we’re almost there! You might want to pull a wastepaper backet over near to where your sitting.

    This enchantment, the only communication that can occur between individuals, and how every individual absorbs virtually the entirety his or her personal knowledge set, is an emotional process.

    There, I said it.

    So, at the root of all our loosely empirical knowledge, the very cause of the categories of universal forms and ideas, and the universal forms and ideas themselves, and all the correlative sense we can attempt to make with the thing in itself, through mathematics or religion, or witchcraft or whatever, at the root, again, is some very spongy emotional enchantment that cause us to make it all up for ourselves.

    You were saying or quoting something about bizarre skepticism?

    If you’re with me thus far, I’ll bring you to the moral imperative. It’s simple enough.


  9. Doug-

    You must excuse me for my excitement and my overbearing approach. My whole life I’ve been a know-it-all, and I’m not going to cease and desist now, nor be ashamed of being right, when I know it’s only a “right” in the sense that it works in my own cranium.

    On to the moral imperative… Perhaps prematurely, but, only fools rush in…

    I admire Descartes’ contribution, the cogito.

    I see it as a philosophic barrier that has stood for centuries, and which most since have noted, but then proceeded to scoot around it for want of a better measure of its importance.

    With that one statement, I think, therefore, I am, Descartes defined what was closer to apodictic truth than anyone had ever come before or since. It’s still not a priori as there is no such thing, but it is very close to being apodictic.

    I muse in my book that Socrates might have asked Descartes, You think? But it’s a compliment to Descartes that Socrates in my mind would even address him.

    So we think we are. It’s a fair assumption. It’s certainly enchanting. But, the question arises, Have we always thought? And were we always? No. Not unless we’re amnesiatic and don’t remember before we were at an early age.

    The next question arises, Will we always think? Well, again, by our observations, with which we might be fooled, but we can let that assumption slide, and say, apparently life is finite. We see others coming in and going out. That we might follow the same path is within the realm of possibility. It’s not a critical notion to the moral imperative.

    Now. What do we think? We think emotions. We’re enchanted by those around us, as well as by those who have taken the time and written to us from the past.

    We’re also enchanted by the world we create in our minds. If we’re lucky enough the world in our minds is a pretty neat place, even enjoyable, despite the horror of Schopenhauer and Sartre with this more clear-headed observation.

    The world certainly could be a lot less enjoyable. It is even conceivable it could be more enjoyable, though I doubt to the extent that the Utilitarians employ, the best for the most.

    The point is as we look around the grand world we have gone to such great pains to create for ourselves, we would be remiss not to say, Hey, don’t trash the place!

    There’s been enough trshing of the place already. As an American I’m particularly impressed with what was here before the Europeans invaded this land. There was no lack of sustainability then. There could not have been a betterment of the world by what the Europeans did to the North American continent. The diversity of experience that has been destroyed by the European invasion of the North American continent has given me as an American a debt to the world I know cannot be repaid.

    As I have somewhat luckily stumbled upon it, the moral imperative of life is, to live a life that detracts not at all from the experience others will have when they come into this world to replace us.

    The beauty of the statement stand upon its own.

    You let me know what you think.

    I’ve had some say, you cannot live without detracting from the world, but I rebut, No. You can live and actually make the world a better place.

    One way to make the world a better place is terrifying to some who are so anxious to see where it is headed.

    Slow it down.

    I’ll await your response. Enjoy the weekend.


  10. blackthumb said

    Sam – don’t bother, mate. This guy won’t give up and he won’t read the Hospers either. I think he’s just interested in promoting his own rather odd, amateurish ‘philosophy’. You can read my exchange with him at my site – see the ‘Irrealist Moral Cognitivism’ entry.

    Your research project sounds interesting to me: I am particularly interested in the theories of meaning you are working on as I am doing my PhD on Habermas (you may be familiar with his idea of ‘validity claims’). Perhaps we can strike up a virtual exchange of ideas?

  11. Sam, er, Doug, er, Sam-

    Yes. By all means.

    If you do not wish to continue, as I stated here, and for Black thumb, as well, then that choice is yours. I prefer it that way.

    If that’s your inclination, I don’t want to waste anyone’s time, and, I won’t be offended in any way should we cease our discussion.


  12. Sam D said

    Hi Blackthumb – I have to agree with your assesment somewhat. Strange how similar the exchanges have been. I’m not really familiar with Habermas (I ditched sociology in 1st year), but I’m always up for anything that actually resembles an exchange of ideas. I’ll try to work through your site over the next few days to get a feel for what you are doing, and in the meantime, feel free to comment on anything you find here.

    Don: Where to start? And how to do it without being impolite? I think we can both agree that the exchange we have been having is fairly useless, though you will think so for reasons that I assert as approaching delusional in nature. I feel compelled to try to explain to you where you have gone wrong, but (despite your requests for help) this has all been done before, I’m sure of it. Do you get satisfaction from being told to go away? I’m not going to do that, but I am going to put my foot down in this case: This particular thread is for discussing my work, not yours. So unless you can actually add a substantive criticsism or comment that actually relates to what I originally posted, don’t post anything at all! If you want to discuss your own work (which obviously you do, lets face it) then set up your own forum (or direct me to it if it already exists) and we can have the discussion you are trying to have here, there.

  13. Sam-

    First off, you have a “What it important” typo within the text.

    “But the thought occurred to me that the principles of Originalism and Textualism could be two of a long list of assertability conditions.” seems the crux of your great discovery here, but you also seemed to have missed the actual discovery.

    Within the position of Originalism there is an unavoidably similar problem within the framework of an existent Textualism scribed within any text relating to the original intention. And, you thus again, have an unavoidable infinite regression, especially in law.

    You said this at least three times on your way down the page on your own, but I still don’t think you understand your own words.

    (This is why The Supreme Court issues clarifying statements within the body of any decision, neither to render a referee’s judgement, nor to provide a firm rule or definition, but to give new body to some question left always unanswered to some door-open degree, and only rarely to answer any given question. Brown v Board of Education is a good eample, but there are many.)

    Those who are the best administrators strive to write in a perfected vague Textualism that leaves the answer open to interpretation, because they know full well words have no immediate meaning whether when read or when written, philology.

    So, I could go on here, but certainly not as well as you. You’re perfecting it, I see. You academics certainly have a lot of time on your hands, thanks.

    I’m off to conquer the world and dethrone empiricism and logic from the usurped title of truth.

    You’ve got my email address, should you ever have the need.

    -Just “Don” I guess, Sam. Sorry to let you down. Best! And you too, Black thumb.


  14. Sam D said

    Now if you’d just done that in the first place!

    The congratulations over with I think it only fair to respond that I’m aware of the danger of ‘infinite regression’, and that the reason I concluded that these principles couldn’t be assertability conditions was consistent with that. In fact my conclusion was specifically the opposite to how you have interpreted it! Never mind. I will get over it one day. And I don’t have time on my hands, I’m working to put myself through this PhD thanks.

  15. blackthumb said

    And all the best to you, Don. Keep up the philosophizing! (I do recommend you read the Hospers, though!)

  16. Black thumb-

    Yes, on Hospers. If I find the time.

    I have a preference for dated works, as I’ve found in more current texts of any genre a tendency to be fooled right along with the author. Sam didn’t give me any reason to read the book, just that it was a good introduction to philosophy. I’ve read Matson, Durant, and Russell as well as several others in part, but whose authors slip my mind as un-notables. The older they were though, I found them better for me to read as I like context, and I can over look obvious errors. (Durant repeatedly talks about “corn” in Greece in classical times, and mistakes Philip of Macedon for Alexander who met Diogenes.)

    Right now I’m reading Ludwig von Mises, “Human Action”, recommended to me by a Libertarian economist. I wouldn’t recommend it to an economist, or to a Libertarian, let alone a philosopher, but I’m determined to finish it. I’m staring the Dictatorship of the Marketplace right in the face, and he’s flinching to the point where it’s starting to look like he’s got a nervous twitch.

    I’m beginning to think in the history of the planet there has never been an economist who either could or ever had run a business. I’ve always run my own businesses, and from my perspective these economists are a silly lot.

    Best of luck with your Ph.D. Sam.

    Oh. If either of you has the time and you want a good overview you haven’t brushed up against in American history, I just read Sam Morison’s (one “r” is correct) “History of the American People”, 1965.

    It’s a fair expose of quite a few myths, and it read well after about 200 pages at which point I got used to Morison’s inability to form a paragraaph in convention terms.

    In terms of philosophy, read Mark Twain’s “Following the Equator” It’s such an enjoyable read, it’s like eating potato chips, you’ll want to read more.

    Just cruising through.


  17. Sam D said

    Please Don, no more! If you were one of my students this is where I’d politely ask you to be quiet.

  18. Matthew said

    Hey Sam D,

    I’m Matthew, formerly a philosophy student at Sydney Uni, of late a law student (therefore, really time and meaning poor (not in the skeptical sense thankfully)). Anyway, I’ve done a fair bit of Wittgenstein, and I was directed to your page by a mutual friend (Martin) to give an opinion. I’m not very familiar with Kripke (well in a second year survey-course sort of way), but skepticism’s Wittgenstein’s bread and butter so… I want to recommend an essay to you, but I can’t really do that based on your trust for my taste in philosophy, because you don’t know who I am and have no reason to trust me.

    The essay is in Stanley Cavell’s ‘Condition’s Handsome and Unhandsome: The Constitution of Emersonian Perfectionism’. The essay is called ‘The Argument of the Ordinary: Scenes of Instruction in Kripke and Wittgenstein’.

    Reasons to read this essay:
    1) It’s on topic: It’s about Kripke’s skepticism and whether there is a solution to it.
    2) It takes a different approach: Stanley Cavell’s approach is not to come up with a ‘straight solution’. Essentially Cavell compares Kripke’s Wittgenstein and his own work interpreting Wittgenstein, and tries to unearth what the skeptical problem meant to *Wittgenstein*, and what Wittgenstein would have to say about Kripke’s Wittgenstein’s skepticism, and how the Kripke-Wittgenstein and the Cavell-Wittgenstein are similar and different. But as I say, that’s the *approach*, the *subject matter* is directly on your topic.
    3) It will contribute to your discussion: again, because of its distinctive approach, and its argument that there is no ‘straight solution’.
    4) It’s not smart arse: This essay does not smugly assume that Kripke’s problem is just waiting for some more brilliant philosopher to come up with a neat and final answer (because everyone before was just not *quite* smart enough – right?).
    5) It’s not going to asphyxiate you by comprehensively dealing with your topic: It’s a short essay, it’s not comprehensive, it indicates a general approach to the topic, it’s still going to let you do your own thing, it’s just another (valuable) voice (don’t you hate finding something that totally says everything you wanted to say?)
    6) It’s by someone you should be referring to (at least for completeness) if you’re talking about something Wittgenstein related: Cavell. I don’t know if you’re familiar with him. In case you’re not: Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Harvard. Made a huge mark in the 70s by massively critiquing all previous schools of interpretation of Wittgenstein and powerfully exposing him in ‘The Claim of Reason’. From what I can gather, world leading authority on Wittgenstein (at least the non-metaphysical Wittgenstein). He also writes very well.

    I’m sure you’ll see my biases in what I’ve written, but everyone is biased. I think it’s a good essay and helpful. I think you’ve got a rich topic. Good luck.


  19. Sam D said

    Hi Matt. Thanks for the suggestion. I’d follow up on anything that was Kripke/Wittgenstein related, but this sounds like it might be better than some of the material I routinely wade through. Having said that I am very cautious of anyone that seems to be an ‘authority’ on Wittgenstein.

  20. Matthew said


    Regarding Cavell’s ‘authority’ – as I said, I have my biases 🙂 In calling him an authority I betray the fact I am a fan of his; I consider him the world authority. Certainly Cavell himself does not claim to be an authority, he would probably claim to be a respectful and interested reader, he often remarks that there are as many Wittgensteins as there are readers, and his Wittgenstein is just one.


  21. […] is up at A brood comb. Don’t miss Philosophical Insults (Frances), way down at the bottom. Very fun. […]

  22. To Sam D.,

    I am intrigued by your concluding remarks where you said,

    “…Kripke talks about speakers being ‘subject to correction by those in their linguistic community’ What he should have said (more clearly) was – ‘subject to correction by those in their linguistic community with sufficient authority’ . So when interpreting policy, the trick is to have the right people agree with your interpretation. And if they don’t you had better set about convincing them, because there is literally nothing else that will truly make your argumentative position a viable one.”

    I am persuaded that you are close to being right in your account of the importance of Kripke’s argument. The interpretation of what we should be doing or allowed to do in this linguistic community, say the United States, is determined by those with the power or authority to correct the rest of us.

    I take it that an example ripped from the headlines of some newspaper, or in the following case, a political blog, can illustrate just how your point hits the road.

    This is from a current post by political blogger Glenn Greenwald who argues that the President now supports an “ideology of lawlessness” that was previously developed in part for the Bush Presidency:

    “…To advance this defense, Bush lawyers hailed what they called “the President’s role as sole organ for the Nation in foreign affairs”; said the President’s war power inherently as “Commander-in-Chief” under Article II “includes all that is necessary and proper for carrying these powers into execution”; favorably cited an argument made by Attorney General Black during the Civil War that statutes restricting the President’s actions relating to war “could probably be read as simply providing ‘a recommendation’ that the President could decline to follow at his discretion”; and, as a result of all that, Congress “was pressing or even exceeding constitutional limits” when it attempted to regulate how the President could eavesdrop on Americans. As a result, the Bush memo argued, the President had the power to ignore the law because FISA, to the extent it purported to restrict the President’s war powers, “would be unconstitutional as applied in the context of this Congressionally authorized armed conflict.”

    That claim — that the President and he alone possesses all powers relating to war under the “Commander-in-Chief” clause of Article II — became the cornerstone of Bush’s “ideology of lawlessness.” In a post that same month defining that ideology, I argued that this lawlessness was grounded in the September 25, 2001, War Powers memo by John Yoo, which infamously concluded as follows:

    ‘In both the War Powers Resolution and the Joint Resolution, Congress has recognized the President’s authority to use force in circumstances such as those created by the September 11 incidents. Neither statute, however, can place any limits on the President’s determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing, and nature of the response. These decisions, under our Constitution, are for the President alone to make.’

    That was the heart and soul of Bush lawlessness: no “statute can place any limits on the President’s determinations” as “these decisions, under our Constitution, are for the President alone to make.”

    I take it that the Unitary Presidency is a byproduct of thinking that our words need to be interpreted, words like those of the law, and that it is those with the authority and power who must interprete them for the rest of us, and there is no other principle which can stand against such interpretations made by the powerful, except, perhaps, competing powers.

    Isn’t this the rationale for the bullies and what they do?

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