[FOM] "only in a Pickwickian sense"

Margaret MacDougall Margaret.MacDougall at ed.ac.uk
Mon Mar 5 02:07:41 EST 2012

Dear FOM members

I have come across the expression "only in a Pickwickian sense" on a 
number of occasions where the author has intended to account for the 
presence of seemingly undesirable entities, such as collections, within 
the context of a nominalist theory of mathematics.  I have some 
reservations about the usefulness of this oft-used expression in 
defending the nominalist cause. Would it really help, for example, in 
justifying Russell's portrayal of the theory of RT as a no-class theory 
to assert that he accommodates  the range of significance of a given 
propositional function only in a Pickwickian sense?

In terms of the original meaning of the expression, the following 
definition (source: 
http://labspace.open.ac.uk/mod/resource/view.php?id=430888) may 
facilitate our discussion:
'The phrase "Pickwickian sense" comes from Charles Dickens' novel /The 
Pickwick Papers/ in which Mr Pickwick and his friends trade insults 
without really meaning them. Thus, the phrase has now come to refer to 
something that should not be taken too literally.'

I look forward to learning what others think!

Best wishes


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