Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Austin on cricket balls

Continuing my attempt to collect cricket references in the philosophical literature, here is another cricketing example from JL Austin's Sense and Sensibilia, Chapter X, page 129 (Oxford University Press reprint of 1962 edition):
What are we to make, then, of the idea that sentences about sense-data are as such precise, while sentences about 'material things' are intrinsically vague? The second part of this doctrine is intelligible in a way. What Ayer seems to have in mind is that being a cricket-ball, for instance, does not entail being looked at rather than felt, looked at in any special light or from any particular distance or angle, felt with the hand rather than the foot, &c...This of course is perfectly true; and the only comment required is it constitutes no ground at all for saying that 'That is a cricket-ball' is vague. Why should we say that it is vague 'in its application to phenomena'? The expression is surely not meant to 'apply to phenomena'. It is meant to identify a particular kind of ball--a kind which is, in fact, quite precisely defined--and this it does perfectly satisfactorily. What would the speaker make of a request to be more precise? Incidentally, as has been pointed out before, it would be a mistake to assume that greater precision is always an improvement; for it is, in general, more dificult to be more precise; and the more precise a vocabulary is, the less easily adaptable it is to the demands of novel situations.

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