Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The pundit's 'for me': a philosophical analysis

It is not clear what the precise force and implications are of the sports pundit’s qualifier ‘for me’ (hereafter: ‘FOR ME’).  It is extremely common in most forms of pundit-discourse but there is no agreed single account of its force.  This is a brief introduction to some of the principal philosophical options.

Consider the following examples:

1.             ‘Rio, for me, is a world class defender.’
2.             ‘For me, that’s a yellow card at worst.’
3.             ‘That was never a foul, for me.’

Note that in natural language the ‘for me’ qualifier can be placed within, before, or after the clause it governs.  We can nevertheless clarify the three examples as follows:

4.             (FOR ME) Rio is a world class defender.
5.             (FOR ME) That’s a yellow card at worst.
6.             (FOR ME) That was never a foul.

A popular line of analysis notes that in many—perhaps the majority of—cases FOR ME is used in evaluative claims.  This analysis then offers a deflationary reading such that FOR ME is either simply redundant or else simply marks what comes next as being an evaluative claim.  FOR ME in that case makes no independent contribution to the meaning of the clause.

Further, some interpreters take FOR ME to be a marker of the expressivist nature of such claims.  This is more plausible in some cases than others.  For example, it is at least prima facie plausible that there is no fact of the matter whether Rio Ferdinand is a world class defender.  In that case it is sensible to understand §6 above as having the force: ‘Hooray for Rio Ferdinand’s defensive skill and ability!’  FOR ME, in this case, is an explicit marker of the fact that the clause it governs is not truth-apt. [1]

Other interpreters find this unsatisfactory since it would render the many hours of TV punditry in reality no more than a group of men in bad suits shouting ‘Boo!’ and ‘Hooray!’ to one another.  (This is known as the ‘TalkSPORT’ objection.)  Attempts to modify the view, such that punditry expressions may nevertheless stand to one another in familiar logical relations, ‘Quasi-Punditry’, remain controversial. [2]

Alternatively, if FOR ME claims do have a truth value then there are further differences of opinion over how best to account for them.  For example, one view begins with the observation that FOR ME claims are almost always offered in contexts of dissent.  So, ‘§6 (FOR ME) That was never a foul’ is most likely to be uttered on the occasion of an official having decided that an offence has occurred.  Assuming something like FIFA-positivism, the official’s blowing his whistle and indicating a foul is just what it is for a foul to have been committed.  So §6 is false.  The view that all such FOR ME locutions are in fact false is sometimes called the ‘Error Theory’ of punditry or, alternatively, ‘Shearerism’.

A more extravagant line, associated with some rather extreme general accounts of punditry, begins from the premise of Pundit Infallibility [3].  Given Pundit Infallibility, if the pundit utters §1 then it must be true (despite appearances) that Rio Ferdinand is indeed a world-class defender.  But what if another pundit, sitting at the same time on the same sofa, should then utter §7 ‘No, for me, he has lost a yard of pace and won’t any more cut it at the highest level’?  We might initially think that §1 and §7 cannot both be true; but this is just what Pundit Infallibility requires.  In this situation, the FOR ME qualifier relativises the claim to the respective pundit.  So FOR LINEKER Rio is a world-class defender and FOR LAWRENSON Rio is not a world-class defender.  Some critics worry about the plausibility of this analysis since (1) it again threatens to make it impossible for there to be genuine agreement or disagreement between pundits; (2) in cases such as §3 above it seems odd to think in any sense that, granted a foul was in fact awarded, it can be true that there was no foul, FOR WHOMEVER.  In response to (1) some critics simply accept this consequence.  In response to (2) some less parsimonious critics posit that there is in fact some private world for each pundit such that they can remain infallible.  In this case FOR LAWRENSON… has roughly the force of IN LAWRENSON’S WORLD… 

[1]  This view is most commonly ascribed to a line of thought inspired by the Scottish Enlightenment pundit, Alan Hansen.

[2]  Quasi-punditry is often associated with pundits connected with Blackburn Rovers, a club where, it is sometimes said, it is possible to ‘have one’s half-time pie and eat it’.

[3] Historically, this view can probably be traced back to the ancient pundit Jimmy Hill and his claim that ‘The pundit is the measure of all things: of fouls that are that they are fouls, of offsides that are not that they are not offsides’.  The interpretation of this claim is, of course, also rather controversial.

1 comment:

Zētētikos said...

I suspect that many pundits are really Punditian skeptics such that *every* statement that the pundit makes tacitly includes a (FOR ME) rider. Explicit inclusion of (FOR ME) in the midst of punditry serves as a reminder of the fact that the pundit is merely reporting the game as it appears to him.

This thesis helps explain many pundit behaviors: for example, the fact that the very same pundit will claim §1 in one week only to turn around and claim §7 the next. If said pundit is confronted with this apparent contradiction, he will, no doubt, throw up his hands and insist that while he can make an equally strong case for both §1 and §7, he cannot do anything about the way things appear to him.

Thus, we should not be surprised if appearances change for the Pundit in His Place and Time.