POLL 4 on a very simple argument especially designed for Sarkus

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by Speakpigeon, Jan 26, 2019.

?

Is the argument valid?

Poll closed Feb 25, 2019.
  1. No

    16.7%
  2. Yes

    50.0%
  3. I don't know

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  4. The argument doesn't make sense

    33.3%
  1. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    5,599
    If you click on Speakpigeon's name on each of his posts, you get a grey box that says that he's a male in Paris, France, EU. So I'm guessing that English might be (or may be) a second language for him. (If so, he was taught well. His English is very good.) But maybe he was taught the might/may distinction in a way that sounds peculiar and a bit off to native English-speakers' ears. It may (or might) be a bit disconcerting for him to learn that native Anglophones of the Californian (me) and Australian (you) variety don't use these words in quite the way he could have (eek!) conceivably learned was correct.

    I'm inclined to think that regardless of the subtleties of English usage and when it might sound better to the ear to use one or the other, 'may', 'might', 'could be' and 'could have' can all be symbolized in formal logic by the modal possibility operator.
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2019
  2. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement



    to hide all adverts.
  3. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    Messages:
    37,107
    Yazata:

    If his own English is not up to scratch, then he'd probably do better than to make uninformed pronouncements on English usage. I agree that his English appears to be good, in general, so maybe, like me, he just wasn't aware of the subtleties in how these particular words are generally used, or how people think they should be used (which is a separate matter).

    Obviously he picked it up somewhere. A web search on the issue of "may" vs "might" turns up lots of sites - many of which appear to have copied the same original source (unknown, since no acknowledgment is given) - that show that some people think, as Speakpigeon does, that "might" implies a lower level of probability than "may". Many other writers regard this as a distinction that doesn't really exist in the language, since usage is so inconsistent across different writers/speakers. Most authorities do, however, agree that "might" is to be preferred over "may" in the context of past-tense counterfactual examples (i.e. events that could conceivably have happened in the past, but did not in fact occur). Usually, in that context, the word "might" is coupled as "might have".

    I get the impression that there are some differences in usage between writers in Britain and the United States (which are reflected in the OED and MW definitions). It is possible that the "probability" distinction between "might" and "may" is more prevalent in the US than in Britain. It is also likely that a native French speaker who learned English from a US teacher (or using US sources) might end up with more American usages than British ones.

    In Australia, the way English words are used tends, as a general rule, to follow British usage more often than American usage, though there are exceptions and there are also plenty of peculiarly Australian usages (though not in this particular case). I would have liked to consult the Macquarie dictionary along with the others, but it is apparently behind an internet paywall, and I only have hard-copy OEDs at hand.

    As an aside, I also looked at my copy of Mind the Gaffe: The Penguin Guide to Common Errors in English by R.L. Trask, a grammar specialist. Dr Trask was born and grew up in the US (New York state), but obtained his PhD at the University of London, and he lectures (lectured?) at the University of Sussex. His first sentence on the subject is this:

    "In the present tense, either of these is acceptable, though ['may'] perhaps suggests a somewhat greater degree of confidence than ['might']."

    I agree.
     
    Quantum Quack likes this.
  4. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement



    to hide all adverts.
  5. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    9,483
    Being a native speaker of the language in question I can assure you that you can sensibly use either in almost any context where it is appropriate. There are a few guidelines, not rules per se, such as using "may" when asking for permission. E.g. if you're asked of the chances of your team winning, you would tend to say "we might win" rather than "we may win", as the latter could sound as if you will win if you get the necessary permission to do so.
    But most of the time, at least in good ol' Blighty, they are interchangeable, and a matter of what sounds better. It even differs by region: in the north of England they use "might" in more scenarios when in the south they may use "may".

    As has been expressed many times now, though, they both express possibility, irrespective of the level of probability one attaches to the words. So if one's concern is with regard possibility then either is acceptable, and to reject points made that use "might" instead of "may" is simply a red-herring and an attempt to avoid the points.
     
    Quantum Quack likes this.
  6. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement



    to hide all adverts.
  7. Speakpigeon Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    1,123
    Don't go into dictionaries.
    That's all I'm saying.
    EB
     
  8. Speakpigeon Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    1,123
    Derail.
    End of Do you have a relevant point lesson.
    Short, but to the point.
    EB
     
  9. Speakpigeon Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    1,123
    Good, I think I know all I was interested knowing.
    Thanks to all those who contributed, however unwillingly, and I can confirm I did learn something here about human nature and the parochial realities of life.
    EB
     
  10. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    7,652
    Not much to say this time eh?
     
  11. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    7,652
    pathetic.
     
  12. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    5,599
    Yes, the same thing is true here in California too. Around here, in casual situations where things are less formal, one often asks permission by saying "Can I..." rather than "May I...", because the latter sounds affected somehow. If one is a guest, saying "May I..." communicates respect more than familiarity. Relaxing with friends, one would be more likely to say "Can I...".

    It's becoming common usage despite all the English teachers telling kids that it's wrong. It's kind of interesting how kids will start a change in language usage and a few decades later the adults are doing it too (since they used to be the kids).

    That's possibly part of what's driving the drift in favor of 'might'. 'Might' certainly doesn't seem to be associated with past-tense any longer. "Will you be going to the store tomorrow? I might."

    They are effectively interchangeable here in California too. Like you, we go with whatever sounds better, and there might not be any formal rule governing that. It's more a matter of social custom.

    There are regional variations in American English too, but I don't know if they extend to how 'may' and 'might' are used.

    There is a usage that communicates probability with emphasis. "Will you be going to the store tomorrow? I might." The vocal emphasis on the 'might' indicates that it's iffy. One could do the same emphasis thing with 'may', so it isn't the word but rather the emphasis that's doing it.

    That's how it seemed to me.
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2019
    Quantum Quack likes this.
  13. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    30,994
    The only relevance of English usage to the OP argument is in figuring out what the OP poster meant. Once having done that, we see that the poster is not in difficulty due to aberrant English but aberrant logic - poor reasoning.
    See post 26, for example.
    Or post 28.
    Or the comment, in another thread, that this entire schtick of his has a name: the "Modal Fallacy".
    - - - -
    As far as usage, "may" or "might": one go-to authority would be Gardner's "Modern American Usage":
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2019
    Quantum Quack likes this.
  14. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    7,652
    If I may, I might mention that The Kid is given a condition, the verb tenses of "may" and "might" are then subjunctive.

    The question "Might I go outside?" means Th'Kid is expecting a subjunctive response.
    No fool this Kid.

    As "Might I drive your car?" depends on some condition or set of conditions, "May I drive your car?" is dependent.
    A response to either question that goes, "Probably", is incongruent with the whole concept of a subjunctive tense.

    Unless before it, the responder lists a set of conditions, "If you put some gas in the tank, if you have a driver's license, if you have personal liability coverage, . . .
    then probably."

    Latin is specific about the form a subjunctive "takes", English is a big mess thanks to being mashed around with an early Celtic, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Norman French, Danish, and that's only up to the 11th century. English isn't a good choice for framing logical arguments, nor is French or most of the others.

    Hence a symbolic "language" where the symbols can be read as being like connectives, or "if-then-else" constructions; it might have a distinction between, say, implication and material implication. But what it has is what it "needs to have", a concise or precise method, free of linguistic ambiguities.
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2019
    Quantum Quack likes this.

Share This Page