Mill, in his essay eulogizing Bentham, writes:
From the same principle in Bentham came the intricate and involved style, which makes his later writings books for the student only, not the general reader. It was from his perpetually aiming at impracticable precision. … in his later years and more advanced studies, he fell into a Latin or German structure of sentence, foreign to the genius of the English language. He could not bear, for the sake of clearness and the reader's ease, to say, as ordinary men are content to do, a little more than the truth in one sentence, and correct it in the next. The whole of the qualifying remarks which he intended to make, he insisted upon embedding as parentheses in the very middle of the sentence itself.
Certainly such a writerly habit does not conduce to readerly pleasure, but it springs, I think, from an admirable source (and I don't call it admirable just because a like reticulation is not always absent from my own productions, when I don't take care to prevent that, and even, at times, when I do; after all, it could simply be for me as it was for Plutarch—"These things coming into my memory as I am writing this story, it would be unnatural for me to omit them")—one doesn't want casually to mislead, or to say something for which the ground has not yet been prepared. It is good to be careful! Often one gets (putative) counterexamples, or worries, tossed off without its being adequately made clear exactly in what respect they are supposed to be counterexamples. This is really only related to Mill's description of Bentham in that going into the details of the instance would have the effect he claims for Bentham's writing; by the time we got through it, we'd be in danger of having lost track of the point in whose service the damn thing was introduced in the first place. But that's a danger worth running, I think; if the alternative is merely being suggestive, that, no doubt, is fine, but being suggestive in criticism can easily shade into spreading FUD, which is not fine.
Here is an example of a case in which it seems that the author surely must be aware that the situation is not nearly as cut and dried as he presents it as being (suggests it to be?). It's from the NDPR review of Rational Causation:
I would add, however, that a more troublesome state-type for him would be ones like "the holding of the French line"—which are not only countable, but exhibit the end-directedness he sees as distinctive of events. While 'X was believing' entails 'X believed' in a way that 'Y was crossing Grand Avenue' does not entail 'Y crossed Grand Avenue' (198), that the French line was holding at noon does not entail that it held.
But surely we might wonder about this on any number of dimensions.
- Are holdings of the French line countable? I'm just not sure what gets counted here, or how. If the French line holds on June 3rd and June 4th, is that two holdings of the line, or one? Does it matter if there's no fighting at night? (If there's no fighting at night, does that mean we have, not two holdings of the French line, but two holdings of French lines?) What if the French line holds at noon and one on June 3rd?
- Is the holding of the French line a state at all? Perhaps (one could suggest) there is really here only the activity of the French in holding the line. The suggestion can be resisted with reference to, say, holdings of knots. (There's only the activity of … the string?) But it is really not clear at all, then, that holdings of knots are countable. (Except in the trivial sense in which you could render any stative claim countable through a grammatical transformation. The knot held? Then there was one holding of the knot (and there couldn't be two, since any other holding would involve a different knot. The wall was red? Then there was one being red of the wall.)
- Is the holding of the French line end-directed? True, what we would express by saying that the French line was holding at noon does not entail what we would express by saying that it held, but that doesn't establish that its holding at a particular time was directed to its holding simpliciter, or even that there is such a thing as its holding simpliciter. Surely—one can conceive a person confidently asserting—to say "the French line held" is to say that it held throughout some period of interest, for instance, that while it was holding at noon, the Belgians penetrated it at four, so it didn't hold all day. "The French line held—but not for long" makes perfect sense to me, and at least suggests that the part of the sentence before the em dash doesn't indicate that it achieved some end.
With regard to the first and the third, we might contrast the holding of the French line with things being in locations in various manners. That the infant was lying in its crib at noon doesn't entail what, in many contexts, would be expressed by "the infant lay in its crib". "What did Little Infant do while we were gone?" is not aptly answered with "LI lay in its crib" if it mostly wasn't doing that, though it would be a fine component of an answer cataloguing the various things that LI did. (Just as it would be perfectly just to say "the French line held" in the course of giving a relatively fine-grained account of the progress of the battle: "the Belgians launched a fierce attack at 11:55, but the French line held. By the early evening, however …".)
The knot case can be extended from the second item to the third. Certainly that the knot held/was holding at noon does not entail what would normally be expressed by "the knot held". But that hardly establishes that the knot's holding is directed at an end. I have an end for the knot, and if I say that it "didn't hold" because halfway through whatever I was doing it came undone, that is too bad for me and the end I was directed at, but that end was no business of the knot's; it isn't going for—what would the end even be? Having held at the end of time? "Holding" strikes me as canonically endless. Even in the case of the apparently metaphorical extension to holding a line: a line is done being held when there is no longer any occasion to hold it, because, say, peace has been negotiated. Holding the line does not itself move toward such an end state (except incidentally—a war of attrition). That is: there is no longer any need for the line, so it's dispersed. But that's something external to the line's holding (couldn't the French line stay there once the Belgians leave the field, after all?), not something toward which it's directed or progresses (in general I think directedness and potential progress move together).
I would not be surprised at all to know that the reviewer has answers to my puzzlement. (I would be surprised if I found the answers satisfactory, but that may simply be a personal problem.) And I will acknowledge that it would probably be out of place to go into all the details about how this problem is supposed actually to be problematic in a relatively brief review. What this suggests to me, though, is that some acknowledgement should be made, either that there seems to be something troublesome in this vicinity, rather than the bald statement actually made, or that the claims that render the example problematic do stand in need of fleshing out, and that that fleshing out is not here done.