14 May 2011

Thoughts on Geach

In his celebrated article ‘Good and Evil,’ P. T. Geach argues that the adjectives good and evil or bad are ‘logically attributive,’ meaning (roughly) that in predications of the form ‘a is a good/bad B’ the sense of ‘good/bad’ depends upon what common noun or noun-phrase fills the role of B.  For example, ‘good’ has different senses in ‘a is a good wicket,’ ‘a is a good argument’ and ‘a is a good typist,’ and these differences in sense arise from the differences between wickets, arguments, and typists.

Thought I: I don't know if it's discussed anywhere in the literature, but an obvious point in favour of Geach's proposal (hereafter Geach's Thesis) that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ or ‘bad’ are logically attributive is that it helps us to make sense of what otherwise would appear patently contradictory statements, such as ‘Aristotle is a good philosopher but not a good stylist.’  If ‘good’ were used univocally in the sentence, then the proposition expressed by the sentence would be necessarily false, which it obviously is not.  Geach's Thesis looks as if it would resolve this problem fairly easily.

Thought II: Geach's theory of relative identity is superficially similar in structure to Geach's Thesis: both claim that attributions of X (identity in one case, good and evil in the other) to a cannot be made simpliciter, but rather always require reference to a kind to which a belongs.  Again, I don't know commonality if this is discussed in the literature.

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