Childrens' book philosophy 11: Mick Inkpen on the use/mention distinction

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[This is from a story about a doll left behind when a family moves house; the "little thing" is the doll]

Suddenly the glare of a torch beam stung the little thing's eyes.

"What have we got here?" said a voice.

"Oh, it's nothing," said another. "Let the new people get rid of it."

"So that's my name," thought the little thing, "Nothing!"

Then, in the quiet, he heard the patter of feet and a mouse came running towards him.

"New People always try to get rid of you," it said, without introducing itself. It looked at him. "Seen you under the rug. What are you?"

"Nothing," replied Nothing.

"Well, nothing or not, you can't stay here, not with New People coming," said the mouse.


- from Mick Inkpen, "Nothing," in The Mick Inkpen Treasury

(Compare Odysseus' cunning trick against the Cyclops, described here.)

Peter Adamson on 2 February 2014

Actually on further

Actually on further reflection I don't think this exemplifies the use/mention distinction (which would be like the difference between saying "giraffes are animals" and "'giraffe' is a noun") but rather just a case of ambiguity - "nothing" used in its normal sense or asa proper name. Still, I think it's a nice little philosophical example.

Phil on 15 February 2017

I don't think this is an

I don't think this is an example of the use-mention. 'Nothing' is just being used in two different ways—as a name and as an abstract noun.

It reminds me of this passage from Alice Through the Looking Glass:

"I see nobody on the road," said Alice.

"I only wish I had such eyes," the King remarked in a fretful tone. "To be able to see Nobody! And at that distance, too! Why, it's as much as I can do to see real people, by this light!"

In reply to by Phil

Peter Adamson on 15 February 2017

I like the Alice quote,

I like the Alice quote, thanks! I guess whether my example counts as use/mention depends whether you think treating a word as a name is "mentioning" the word. Upon reflection maybe you're right that it isn't.

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