Skeptical Linguistic Essays

By Paul M. Postal | Go to book overview

13
Junk Reasoning 2
'(Virtually) Conceptually Necessary'

1. A bit of sarcasm

A good move internal to junk linguistics if you want to advance a proposal P about some NL or NL in general but have no genuine evidence or factual argument for P is to say that it is (virtually) conceptually necessary for P to hold. First of all, this is pretty deep-sounding, the more so since nobody can be sure what 'conceptually necessary' means and it makes it seem like you really have a good reason to assume P. Second, once you have said P is necessary, even modifying it with the modifier 'conceptually', the likelihood is high of bluffing many readers since a lot of people are going to be reluctant to argue with P. After all, who wants to put themselves in the position of arguing against something that is necessary?1 Hedging with 'virtually' is also a fine idea because it covers you in case someone suggests that the relevant NL or all of NL is such that P doesn't hold. Most likely, no one is going to care that, given the meaning of virtually (see chapter 12), a claim that P is 'virtually conceptually necessary' admits that it is not conceptually necessary. But if some negative and malevolent person, not lacking in our profession, does attack you, an excellent defense is thereby always available: You can simply observe that since you yourself said it was only virtually necessary, of course a small-minded, petty individual could waste people's time by focusing on the trivial aspect in which it isn't.

To address any feeling that the preceding paragraph is unfair sarcasm, in what follows, I analyze three actual claims of 'conceptual necessity'. The discussion will show, I hope, that, while admittedly sarcastic, the initial remarks are anything but unfair. Talk of 'conceptual necessity' can be seen as a terminology whose junk lin-

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