Practically Strange [Book Review]

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 56 (1):203 (1996)
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Abstract

In Eli Hirsch’s clever and careful Dividing Reality he asks us to consider several strange languages. For example, in the Gricular language there is no word that applies to all and only green things and none that applies to all and only circular things, but there are the three words “gricular,” which applies to anything that is either green or circular, “grincular,” which applies to anything that is either green or not circular, and “ngricular,” which applies to anything that is either circular or not green. Griculese is but one of the strange languages Hirsch explores, but they are all alike in having the same descriptive content as English—anything that can be said in English can be said in the strange languages, and vice versa. For instance, to say that something is green, we can say “it is both gricular and grincular.” Our strong intuition is that these languages are strange—irrational or worse. The challenge is to ground this intuition in some particular feature of the language that makes it defective. The problem is that there seems no good response to this challenge. Hirsch examines many proposals, and rejects every one. Thus he finds himself reaching a conclusion even he finds it difficult to accept. The disturbing conclusion, division relativism by title, is that our strong intuition is misguided—the “strange” languages are just as reasonable as English.

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Mark Heller
Syracuse University

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