Learning the meaning of “learned”

Brian Witherspoon at Crooked Timber teaches me a technical term I didn’t know — “factive” — and puts it to good use:

In any version of English I’m familiar with, ‘learned’ is factive. You can’t learn something that’s false. I might come to believe that Sydney is the capital of Australia. I might even come to believe this on the basis of good information. (Or on the basis of a letter from someone offering $18,000,000 if only…) But I can’t learn this unless Sydney really is the capital of Australia.

I think the claim that ‘learned’ is factive should be fairly obvious, but if an argument is needed note that whoever learn something comes to know it, and one can only know what is true.

One of his commentators, Keith DeRose, notes something I had missed: George Tenet’s confiteor contains a crucial misstatment.

Here’s what Tenet said, as he fell on his sword:

“From what we know now, agency officials in the end concurred that the text in the speech was factually correct that the British government report said that Iraq sought uranium from Africa.”

Note his big cheat: changing the falsehood Bush really said (that the Brits had *LEARNED* that…) to a truth (that the Brits *SAID* that…)

Meanwhile, Quiddity at Uggabugga points out that our first president could have learned something to his advantage — though perhaps not to his credit — from our current one.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com