Childrens' book philosophy 6: Theory of naming in "Alice Through the Looking Glass"

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'You are sad,' the Knight said in an anxious tone: 'let me sing you a song to comfort you.'

'Is it very long?' Alice asked, for she had heard a good deal of poetry that day.

'It's long,' said the Knight, 'but it's very, very beautiful. Everybody that hears me sing it -- either it brings the tears into their eyes, or else --'

'Or else what?' said Alice, for the Knight had made a sudden pause.

'Or else it doesn't, you know. The name of the song is called "Haddocks' Eyes".'

'Oh, that's the name of the song, is it?' Alice said, trying to feel interested.

'No, you don't understand,' the Knight said, looking a little vexed. 'That's what the name is called. The name really is "The Aged Aged Man".'

'Then I ought to have said "That's what the song is called"?' Alice corrected herself.

'No, you oughtn't: that's quite another thing! The song is called "Ways and Means": but that's only what it's called, you know!'

'Well, what is the song, then?' said Alice, who was by this time completely bewildered.

'I was coming to that,' the Knight said. 'The song really is "A-sitting On a Gate": and the tune's my own invention.'

Brian Weatherson on 8 December 2013

Even before we get to the bit

Even before we get to the bit about names, names of names, and callings, there's a sly joke about intuitionist logic. The triviality of the Knight's statement (either it brings tears to their eyes, or it doesn't) is I think a poke at intuitionists who think instances of excluded middle can be substantive.

I believe Ramsey cites this somewhere as a problem for intuitonists, though I think it's only in work he didn't intend to publish, and he seems to know he's being a bit facetious.

These posts are really great - thank you for doing them!

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