Conditionals (was,Re: Grice . . .)

From: John Baima (
Date: Mon Sep 21 1998 - 11:09:13 EDT

At 12:07 AM 9/21/1998 EDT, wrote:
>According to John Baima the gloss "except" or "but" for EI MH is
>only correct if the unnegated protasis is true according to the author and is
>exclusively true. In many passages (Matt 11:27; 13:57; John 3:13) the EI MH
>clause is preeminently true, not exclusively true, so the rendering of
>"except" or "but" changes the meaning of the passage.
>Charles Powell

Well, I'm listening to the President and not really working much so perhaps
I'll add my two cents to the discussion of conditionals since my name has
been invoked. First, I do not have my thesis easily at hand, and even if it
was, I probably wouldn't want to disturb the accumulated dust.

My basic point is that there are a number of ways in which a conditional
clause can be translated. Part of the thesis was to explore one possibility
that is not often considered, namely, that the sentence "If A then B" is
logically identical to "If not B then not A". If you play that in your mind
a little, you will see that it is true and it is taught in the first week
of a course in formal logic. However, there is more to language then just
logic. The rhetorical effect of the two sentences will not be the same.
People also often use language in a casual way and formal logic is not
always appropriate to apply.

For example, in my thesis I give an example from a legal papyri in which a
lawyer says something like, "If my client were guilty then . . ." The
argument will try to disprove the apodosis and therefore, by inference, the
protasis is false (and the client is not guilty). The same argument can be
stated as "If (or Since) . . . then (or therefore) my client is not guilty"
but this does not have the same rhetorical force. The way the lawyer
constructed his argument lends itself to statements such as "the facts
speak for themselves" and the reader/listener makes an inference to come to
the conclusion. In the second statement, the conclusion is bluntly stated.

EI MH as "except" is one possible translation. However, when one changes
the surface structure of the translation in such a significant way, care
must be taken to preserve the meaning of the author. What I gave in this
regard (if I remember correctly) was intended to be some helpful guidelines
as to when "except" is an acceptable translation.

BTW, one of the things that got me going on all this is the assertion that
some conditionals "assume the protasis false for the sake of argument."
This is a nonsensical statement since no inference can be made from a
negative protasis. Inferences can only be made from a positive protasis or
a false apodosis.

John Baima
Silver Mountain Software 1029 Tanglewood Dr, Cedar Hill TX 75104-3019
Fax 972 293-6641 Voice 972 293-2920

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