Re: Greek conditionals

From: Kimmo Huovila (
Date: Sat Apr 01 2000 - 01:55:41 EST

"Harold R. Holmyard III" wrote:
> Dear Kimmo,
> You write:
> "To me it seems that in 1st class conditions there is hardly any
> discernible assertion made even for the sake of argument. If it asserted,
> or even presupposed, something for the sake of argument, the
> expression of opposite cases with first class conditions would hardly have
> textual fit (e.g. Matt.12:27-28)."
> I must not be following you, because I do not see any problem with
> regarding both "if" clauses in Matt 12:27-28 as assertions made for the
> sake of argument. Jesus presents one condition, and its implication (v.
> 27). Having suggested the falseness of that condition, He offers the
> alternative condition, with its implication (v. 28).
> Yours,
> Harold Holmyard

Well, isn't it the nature of all conditionals to present a condition and
its implication? But that does not assert anything about the
truthfulness of the protasis. Sometimes the truthfulness or falsity of
the protasis may be presupposed (like 'If cows could fly' could implying
they cannot (cf. 'if cows can fly') - Greek 2nd class conditions seem to
function pretty similarly to the English conditional with past tense).
But here in Matt. 12:27-28 when both alternatives are presented side by
side with the same conditional, there is hardly any basis for claiming
that either conditional presupposes anything about the fulfillment of
the protasis.

I take the proponents of the 'assertion for the sake of argument' theory
(sometimes with different names, but eg. Robertson is a proponent with a
host of other grammarians) to mean that the protasis asserts something
(of course, we all would agree that the whole sentence,
protasis+apodosis asserts something).

Apparently the theory 'assertion for the sake of argument' is different
from a neutral condition. But in these cases the assertion (if there is
any) seems to be diluted to such a degree that I wonder if it still can
be called any assertion, even for the sake of argument. Would it not
make more sense to view the protasis to be neutral in terms of
presupposing its truthfulness or falsity.

Perhaps we see 'assertion for the sake of argument' somewhat
differently. I take it to mean that the speaker wants to presuppose the
protasis to be true for the sake of argument, ie. as the basis of
discussion (my English dictionary defines the term that way), to take on
the opponent's view to see its implications, without committing oneself
to the truth of the claim. So, this way the opponent is more open to
seeing the implication when something is admitted for the sake of

I am not a native speaker of English, and I do not claim that my
understanding of the term is perfect, and as a grammar term its meaning
may still be different from normal English use. But it does seem to
differ from 'neutral'. The 1st class conditions look pretty neutral to
me. This is whence my question arose. How do you see assertion for the
sake of argument to differ from neutral?

I hope this somehow clarifies my question.


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