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  1. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by alexh View Post
    From the point of view of formal logic, your analysis is correct. The ambiguity stems from that fact that most people don't actually interpret language in this way.
    Well, people can interpret language incorrectly in any circumstance, even when the language is unambiguous. That's a problem with people, not the sentence.

    Some natural language conditionals are not adequately represented by material implication, but this one is. You are wilfully interpreting a straightforward conditional as a counterfactual conditional, when nothing in the sentence justifies this.

  2. #19
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    However, there is an interesting point to be made here, which seems to be in your thoughts also: in natural languages, the link between syntax and semantics is inherently weak. Natural languages are neither sound nor complete, and consequently some amount of interpretation is always necessary.

    A natural-language sentence is always open to interpretation, but in some cases the correct interpretation is pretty clear. Nevertheless, if you truly wish to force it, you can always continue to argue for a perverse interpretation.

  3. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gollum View Post
    ...You are wilfully interpreting a straightforward conditional as a counterfactual conditional, when nothing in the sentence justifies this.
    That's exactly the point: I don't think it's entirely a straightforward conditional.

    A simple conditional statement, as treated in formal logic, is something of the form "If A then B". However, what we have here is an instruction of the form: "Do X so that if A happens then B is sure to follow." It's subtle, but I really do think it's a different thing.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gollum View Post
    A natural-language sentence is always open to interpretation, but in some cases the correct interpretation is pretty clear. Nevertheless, if you truly wish to force it, you can always continue to argue for a perverse interpretation.
    No, I'm not trying to be perverse. I'm just trying to figure out how it is that this sentence feels ambiguous to me (and to petert). I think the intended meaning in this context is clear, but the same sentence structure used in a different context could cause problems.

  4. #21
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    So would my proposed rewording help. or not? :-

    9.1.8 the flight of the shuttle shall be upwards from the server's racket to pass over the net so that it does not land outside the receiver's service court (i.e. outside the boundary lines)

    There's not a single 'if' in there...

  5. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by petert1401 View Post
    So would my proposed rewording help. or not?
    It would eliminate the ambiguity that you perceive in the current wording. However, as with any change to the words, it introduces the possibility of other, equally far-fetched interpretations (the receiver hits the shuttle back and it lands "in". So the shuttle DID land outside the service court...).

    Pick whichever ambiguities you prefer; you'll never remove them all. That's language for you. Years of philosophy have taught me that no matter how precisely phrased and seemingly uncontroversial the statement, someone will quarrel with it.

    Personally, I prefer the existing version to yours, but it's a matter of taste.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gollum View Post
    ...other, equally far-fetched interpretations (the receiver hits the shuttle back and it lands "in". So the shuttle DID land outside the service court...)
    But the service didn't...
    Wow! And I thought I was being obtuse!

  7. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by petert1401 View Post
    Wow! And I thought I was being obtuse!
    (I think you might mean abstruse.)

    You call that abstruse? You should meet the people who support the ontological argument, or semantic externalism...

    You're pretty abstruse for an amateur, I'll admit, but the professionals completely outclass you.

  8. #25
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    I think you might be right...
    I concede the argument, I think we've done it to death

    Thanks all....

  9. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by petert1401 View Post
    I think you might be right...
    I concede the argument, I think we've done it to death

    Thanks all....
    Well, I enjoyed it anyway. I don't often get carte blanche to witter on about logic & language; most people glaze over after the first sentence.

    I think you should take up philosophy; you have the requisite mental subtlety.

  10. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gollum View Post
    Well, I enjoyed it anyway. I don't often get carte blanche to witter on about logic & language; most people glaze over after the first sentence.

    I think you should take up philosophy; you have the requisite mental subtlety.
    Me too, and I'm not surprised people glaze over if your opening sentence contains phrases like "first-order predicate logic"

  11. #28
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    I realise I wound up this thread, but I have been trying to rationalise exactly what it is about the law that (for me) isn't quite right. Picture the scenario with me :-

    I'm standing in the right court preparing to serve short to my opponent, who is aggressively threatening the net. I hit the serve but, because my opponent is so intimidating, I underhit it slightly and I know it's going to land short even though it has not yet reached the net.

    Now let's freeze time there for a while and go and read the rulebook.

    Rule 9.1.8, slightly paraphrased for brevity, states that in a correct serve "the shuttle if not intercepted shall land in". However, the thought running through my head at that instant in time is "the shuttle if not intercepted shall land out".

    That is why I perceive a problem with the law as it stands.

    The shuttle has not yet travelled as far as the net but law 9.1.8 has, to my mind, already been broken and a service fault committed. And I still think that if, in the opinion of the umpire, "the shuttle if not intercepted shall land out", he is technically entitled according to the existing wording of the law to call a service fault even before the receiver plays the shuttle.

    QED

    Sad what runs through my head at night innit?
    Last edited by petert1401; 08-15-2009 at 02:25 AM.

  12. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by petert1401 View Post
    I have been trying to rationalise exactly what it is about the law that (for me) isn't quite right. Picture the scenario with me :-

    ...

    I underhit it slightly and I know it's going to land short even though it has not yet reached the net.

    Now let's freeze time there for a while and go and read the rulebook.

    Rule 9.1.8, slightly paraphrased for brevity, states that in a correct serve "the shuttle if not intercepted shall land in". However, the thought running through my head at that instant in time is "the shuttle if not intercepted shall land out".

    What you've just expressed is a perfect illustration of the difference between "normal" (material) and counterfactual conditionals.

    In your head, you are imagining: "what would happen if the receiver were to leave the shuttle? Would it fall out?" This is subjunctive; and once the contrary event comes to pass (the receiver DOES hit the shuttle), it becomes counterfactual ("what would have happened...").

    Note the linguistic difference: "the shuttle, if it is not intercepted, shall land in", vs. "the shuttle, if it were not intercepted, would land in". The former phrase is written in the indicative mood; the latter, in the subjunctive.

    ("if not intercepted" in the Law is shorthand for "if it is not intercepted".)

    Were the law changed by a single word, then your reasoning would be entirely correct:

    In a correct service, the flight of the shuttle shall be upwards from the server’s racket to pass over the net so that, if not intercepted, it would land in the receiver’s service court
    All the difference lies in that one word: "would" instead of "shall". Whole worlds stand or fall on that tiny linguistic difference -- infinitely many worlds, if you're a realist about possible worlds. Some people are even realists about impossible worlds. I don't know what they've been smoking, but I want some of it.

  13. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gollum View Post
    What you've just expressed is a perfect illustration of the difference between "normal" (material) and counterfactual conditionals...
    I think the difficulty, for me, is those commas. The phrase "if not intercepted" looks like a nonessential clause.

    Exhibit A: "The flight of the shuttle shall be upwards from the serverís racket to pass over the net so that, if not intercepted, it shall land in the receiverís service court."

    Exhibit B: "The flight of the shuttle shall be upwards from the serverís racket to pass over the net. If not intercepted, the shuttle shall land in the receiverís service court."

    In exhibit B, it's clear to me that the second sentence is a material conditional, as you explain. But in exhibit A, it's tempting to read the rule as "The flight of the shuttle shall be upwards from the serverís racket to pass over the net so thatit shall land in the receiverís service court (oh, and by the way, it might get intercepted instead)." Therefore it feels natural to interpret it as a counterfactual.

    (I'm not asserting that I'm right on this point, just still trying to grasp this issue of why it all seems to muddy to some of us.)

    (Even clearer is exhibit C: "The flight of the shuttle shall be upwards from the serverís racket to pass over the net. The shuttle shall either be intercepted, or land in the receiverís service court.")

  14. #31
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    Quote Originally Posted by alexh View Post
    I think the difficulty, for me, is those commas. The phrase "if not intercepted" looks like a nonessential clause.
    Ah ha! Now that interpretation does make sense. I see your point: the sentence structure is ambiguous in this respect.

    Your reformulations do seem clearer than the original. I'll volunteer another one:

    In a correct service:
    • The flight of the shuttle must be upwards from the server's racket to pass over the net;
    • If the receiver does not intercept the shuttle, then the shuttle must land within the receiver's service court.
    Last edited by Gollum; 08-15-2009 at 07:51 AM.

  15. #32
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gollum View Post
    Ah ha! Now that interpretation does make sense.
    I'm sorry it took me so long to articulate it clearly! I think it's been a worthwhile exercise; thanks for replying to everything so patiently.

    Quote Originally Posted by Gollum View Post
    Your reformulations do seem clearer than the original. I'll volunteer another one...
    Nice work: a great example of using the active voice rather than the passive :-)

  16. #33
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    Some things you can think about:

    1. if not A then B
    - does this mean "if not (A) then B" or does it mean "if (not A) then B"?
    - if it means the former "if not (A) then B" then what does the instruction "if not" mean?

    2. the use of the word "shall" and its multiple meanings; which one applies here?

    3. the use of commas; would you interpret the following the same way:
    - "...so that, if not intercepted, it shall land..."
    - "...so that if not intercepted it shall land..."
    - "...so that, if not intercepted it shall land..."
    - "...so that if not intercepted, it shall land..."

    4. the use of the word "in" [...states that "in" a correct service]
    - does this mean "A is a subset of B" or "(A is a subset of B) and (B is a subset of A)"?
    - if it means the former is it possible that other elements of the 'correct service' set (set B) include all services that are intercepted?

    5. what is the object (grammatically speaking) in the clause given?
    - is it consistent throughout all parts?

    I would suggest the rule as you've listed is poorly worded but perhaps not for the reasons you've outlined.

  17. #34
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    just answer the question already? ...

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