The Grice Club


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Monday, March 14, 2016

Griceian Facts


The first usages of 'fact' in English -- a borrowing from Latin -- refers to actions. The very first occurrence seems to be

1487, J. Skelton tr. Diodorus Siculus, "Bibliotheca Historica". Skelton writes: 
"And in the main season he said how among their chronicless wherin the Parsians were accustumed by studious diligence their yearly facts and acts to register of record, he found out writing of old memorial historious and brought it over unto the Griceians."
-- where we can assume that Diodorus is referring to the Parsians's _actions_ ("facts and acts").
In the next century, we find all usages of fact restricted to the sphere of human actions:
Thus, in 1513, in H. Bradshaw "The Life St. Radegunde", he writes:
"By her fact and deed," by the saint's fact and deed, "she gave examplary/unto her subjects and all the familee.
Slightly later, in 1545, in G. Joye, "Exposition of Daniel" we read:
"Let emperors and kings follow this godly king's fact."
i.e. action.
By the end of the century, in 1592, we find in W. West "Symbolæographia": 
"Right is the chiefest cause of obligations, the fact of man the remote cause."
Here W. West waxes philosophical: there is causation, and the close cause of obligation is the concept of right; the remote cause of obligation if the fact of man, i.e. the action of man.
In the next century, in 1605, P. Woodhouse, writes in "Flea":
"The mind does make the fact, or good or ill."
i.e. the mind (or Popper's w2 if you will) makes the action -- either good or ill.
In 1626, in Bacon "Sylva Sylvarum", we find: 
"As they are not to mistake the causes of these operations; so, much less, they are to mistake the fact, or effect."
where fact = action.
In 1643, W. Prynne writes in "Soveraigne Power":
"The fact of him who acts the guardian is imputed to the co-gurdians."
-- the implicature seems to be that this is wrong, but the meaning of 'fact' here is the etymological one: action.
In the next century, in 1711, in Swift in his "Sentiments Church of Eng.-man" we read of a publication entitlted,
"A history of facts done a Thousand Years ago."
--- 'facts done' implicate actions, since it's not, primarily a fact done that, to echo Tarski, snow is white.
In 1745, P. Thomas, in "True Journal of a Voyage to the South-Seas", he writes: 
"At length he committed a fact that completed the destruction of himself and all his family."
Poor fellow, if I may add so. But it happened long ago and far away.
In the next century, the romantic century, we find in 1816, J. Austen (not to be confused with the philosopher J. Austin), in "Emma", a novel, writing: 
"Gracious in fact if not in word."
i.e. in deed or action if not in his illocutionary acts, to use Austin's parlance.
In 1818, the poet S. T. Coleridge, in his drier Notebooks, writes:
"The mutual defustation of these rabious polemics — dapsile in dicts but feeble in facts.
The opposition is the same as Austen's Emma: the dicts are not facts. Words are not deeds, _contra_ Austin ("How to do things with words"). Coleridge is not really contrasting Austin's discovery (that words CAN be deeds, but that dicts tend to be dapsile, while facts -- actions -- are feeble, with the inviting implicature that it would be better if the contrary applied -- but then we would not have rabious polemics, would we?
By the end of the romantic century, in 1891, we find D. Murray write in "Law relating to Prop. Married Persons" a conditional: 
"If a married woman grants an obligation ad factum praestandum, e.g. to exhibit titles, and generally to perform facts which are in her own power, and cannot validly be performed but by herself..." things tend to get wrong. Note that the married woman is to perform facts -- surely I (not a woman, but disregard that) cannot perform the fact that snow is white. If I am a magician, perhaps I could, but married persons, not magicians, that Murray is lecturing about.
In the twentieth century, in 1917, E. Severn writes in "Psychol. Behaviour": 
"Any idea, feeling, or sentiment recognised as arising from within, which does not take form in action, which does not express itself in fact or deed, is certain to react upon the mental organism to its serious detriment."
This looks like a law of psychology. Severn's disjunction, "fact or deed", may be confusing at first, but not at second.
In 1985, we read in "Linguistics and Lang. Behaviour" Abstr.
"Conditional relations between denoted or performed facts or acts are involved."
That snow is white cannot be a performed fact, and this is 1885, YEARS before Tarski wrote his semantic account of truth.
In 2005, D. Milch, in J. P. Vest, "Wire, Deadwood, Homicide and NYPD Blue" writes:
"Obscenity in word or fact or action is an offense against God and man and will not be depicted."
The disjunction 'or' may confuse at first but not at second, obscenity in word or deed is meant -- and will not be depicted.

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