4 Replies to “Language Log”

  1. Re: Learned

    I think you are correct that if A says that “B learned F” and leaves it at that, it’s misleading if A believes F to be false (or suspects that it probably is), because learning implies the learner came to reasonably believe F to be true.

    But it’s just wrong to say that the use of the word “learned” is incorrect unless F is certainly true. We have very little knowledge of this sort and this restriction would proscribe virtually all use of the word “learned.”

    I “learned” Newton’s laws of motion as describing the motion of bodies. This is an appropriate usage even though the laws are known to be false.

  2. I think perhaps Gil is conflating two different usages of “learn”. Frequently “learn” takes as its object something that can be memorized or mastered (like a skill). In that usage, “I learned Newton’s laws of motion as describing the motion of bodies” is true, just in case the speaker memorized that Newton’s laws have that content.

    But, even though that usage can take names of propositions as its object, it cannot take that-clauses as an object. So even if I learned Newton’s laws, and it is part of the laws that there is a strict distinction between space and time, nonetheless “I learned that there is an strict distinction between space and time” is false (according to modern physics).

  3. When one learns Newton’s laws of motion, one learns what they are.

    When one learns that Newton’s laws of motion describe the motion of bodies, one acquires knowledge that they do so. They don’t, so one can’t learn this.

    Gil says “I “learned’‘ [his quotes] them as [my emphasis] describing the motion of bodies’‘. (i) Why the scare-quotes? This seems to give the game away. (ii) Who knows what “learn X as Y’‘ means. Certainly you can see X as Y when X is not Y, as in Anscombe’s famous case of seeing Dad as a deer. `See that p’ is factive. So Gil’s construction does not disprove the factivity of `learn that p’.

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