• Richard Farr

Trump v Mueller in Plato’s footnotes

Two pictures tell a thousand words.

In his recent public appearance, Robert Mueller thought he’d been clear, or as clear as the peculiar legal and constitutional niceties of his situation allowed. But how then to account for an earnest dispute over his meaning (and the implications for the Great Orange Toad’s criminality) between two of our most eminent philosophers?

Nathan Salmon gives a careful and common sense analysis of Mueller’s exact words, and sums up as follows:

Mueller’s unspoken position is this: “I’m not allowed to say that Trump obstructed justice. But if Trump hadn’t obstructed justice, I could say so & I would have. I didn’t. In fact, I explicitly said that I’m not saying that. You do the math.”

But David Chalmers thinks there’s a subtle ambiguity:

i guess it depends on whether or not “finding” creates an intentional context here. if it does, i.e. if “finding sufficient evidence” is like “find that the evidence is sufficient”, then presumably an in-between state is possible. if it doesn’t, i.e. if “finding sufficient evidence” is like “touching sufficient evidence”, then presumably the entailment goes through. so trump has some very narrow breathing room as long as mueller is using “finding” the first way and was genuinely unsure whether the evidence was insufficient or sufficient. who knew that the upshot would turn on excluded middle in intentional contexts?

You can hear the groans of strain – Chalmers is leaning so far over backwards that he’s limbo dancing – but it’s an interesting exercise in trying to get things straight.


I do think Salmon is right – the plausible meaning is Chalmers’ second – and that has even more interesting implications.

Congress? Hello?

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