Why “May or May Not”?

No Finnish version for this one.

I don’t have time to write anything sensible, so I thought I’d analyse this silly little thing that came to mind.

I’m under the impression that it’s common in English to say “may or may not.” But that actually does not make sense, because what people mean with it is “may and may not.” It means both things are possible, not that either one is possible or the other is possible. This may sound confusing, because someone might think that I’m now saying it’s possible here for both things to be true at the same time. Well, I’m not. I’m saying in such a case both are possibilities, either can be true. Both can’t be true at the same time since they’re framed as something and its negation, but what is being said is that either one thing is the case or the other is, that both of these options, neither of which involves both possibilities being true, are possible.

So it makes little sense to say “may or may not.” It means the same thing in the end anyway in the sense that the possibly possible is possible, but it adds an unnecessary layer of meaning and emphasis. It would make sense to say “may and may not,” or “may be or not be”. It also makes sense to say “is or isn’t,” but not “is and isn’t,” because then you’re talking about actualities and they really are mutually exclusive. Similarly, it would be wrong to say “may be and not be,” since that would mean it (whatever it is) possibly is and isn’t at the same time.


Two Ways of Valuing the Truth… Actually, Just One

See here for the Finnish version: Kaksi tapaa arvostaa totuutta, paitsi että oikeastaan vain yksi

“One unerring mark of the love of truth is not entertaining any proposition with greater assurance than the proofs it is built upon will warrant.”

-John Locke (at least according to here)

It may be that not everyone always considers the truth to be important. But even when it is considered important, and one is perhaps even passionate about it, this may take two main forms that are exact opposites of each other. I will give them names here: In the investigative approach, one aims to find out the real truth no matter what. In the preserving approach, one tries to protect the already established truth by any means necessary.

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Kaksi tapaa arvostaa totuutta, paitsi että oikeastaan vain yksi

See here for the English version: Two Ways of Valuing the Truth… Actually, Just One

Kaikki ihmiset eivät ehkä aina pidä totuutta kovin tärkeänä asiana. Mutta silloinkin, kun sitä pidetään tärkeänä, ehkä siihen suhtaudutaan jopa intohimoisesti, tämä voi esiintyä kahdella pääasiallisella tavalla, jotka ovat toistensa täydelliset vastakohdat. Annan niille saman tien tässä nimet: Selvittävässä lähestymistavassa pyritään saamaan todellinen totuus selville, vaikka mikä olisi. Säilyttävässä lähestymistavassa pyritään suojelemaan tunnettua totuutta millä keinoin hyvänsä.

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