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Monthly Archives: January 2014

It seems very natural to think of sight as a mode of awareness. For example, it seems natural to think of seeing a cat as a way—one way amongst other possible ways—of being aware of the cat. The natural thought is captured, at least in part, in the following general claim:

(A1) If S sees O, then S is aware of O.

(Since seeing is, at best, one mode of awareness amongst others, the converse claim, A2, is false:

(A2) If S is aware of O, then S sees O.)

However, on seemingly plausible assumptions, (A1) appears to be subject to counterexamples. For, given those plausible assumptions, there appear to be objects of seeing that are not objects of awareness. The assumptions at issue are the following:

(A3) If S is aware of O, then there’s a sentence of the form “S is aware of N” (with “N” useable to refer to O) that can be used to express a truth.

(A4) If “S is aware of N” can be used to express a truth, then “S is aware of N” is a grammatical sentence of English.

It follows from (A3) and (A4) that if there’s no grammatical sentence of the form “S is aware of N” (with “N” useable to refer to O) then it can’t be that S is aware of O.

In order to explain the next assumption, it will be useful consider the following examples:

(1)  Jill saw John run.

(2)  Jill saw John running.

In both (1) and (2), the object of Jill’s seeing is explained by use of small clauses, phrases that lack tense, and so cannot appear alone. Thus, (3) and (4) are ungrammatical:

(3)  *John run.

(4)  *John running.

The important point for our purposes is that the objects of Jill’s seeing in (1) and (2) seem to differ, a difference reflected in the different aspects of the object phrase, simple in (1) and progressive in (2). This can be seen more clearly by appeal to object phrases that specify achievements:

(5)  Jill saw John finish the race.

(6)  Jill saw John finishing the race.

Plausibly, (5) is useable to state a truth if Jill saw John cross the finish line. By contrast, (6) might be used to state a truth if Jill saw John’s finishing the race in progress. For just as John might have been finishing the race when he collapsed and so failed, ultimately, to finish the race, Jill might have seen John finishing the race, even though she then witnessed his collapse and failure to finish the race. One natural characterisation of what is going on here would be the following: the small clause with simple aspect characterises (albeit tenselessly) an event—in this case, an achievement of the goal of finishing the race; by contrast, the small clause with progressive aspect characterises (again, tenselessly) a process—in this case, a process structured by the goal of finishing the race. A natural generalisation of the natural characterisation would include the following two further assumptions:

(A5) Simple aspect small clauses refer only to events and never to processes.

(A6) Progressive aspect small clauses refer only to processes and never to events.

With our assumptions in place, we can now present apparent counterexamples to (A1). For consider that, although (7) appears useable, in propitious circumstances, in order to state a truth, (8) appears ungrammatical and so, given (A4), not to be so useable.

(7)  Jill is aware of John finishing the race.

(8)  *Jill is aware of John finish the race.

(Interestingly (9) seems grammatical, but seems not to provide a way to characterise Jill’s awareness of the object Jill sees according to (5):

(9)  Jill is aware of Jill’s seeing John finish the race.)

Even accepting our assumptions, a response to the apparent counterexample may be available. For it may be that there is an expression “N”—distinct from “John finish the race”—that meets the following conditions: (i) it is useable to refer to the event to which, in (5), “John finish the race” refers; and (ii) it can be substituted for “John finish the race” in (8) in a way that restores grammaticality. Failing such a response, a defender of (A1) would, I think, need to revisit one or another of our other assumptions.

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