Looking for the man you’ve never met… On specifying

Let’s suppose that you’re a detective and that you’re looking for a man you’ve never met before. Let’s suppose further that your initial specification–‘a man I’ve never met before’–is correct: namely, that you are looking for a man (not a woman, an animal, a child, a god, an angel, or a spirit) and that you’ve never met him before.

You’re on a hunt for your quarry, and–let’s say–that you have no idea how to get the hunt underway. Put the question of search aside. Even so, it might occur to you that you will need to specify further in order to make your specification more fine-grained. After all, it will be either too easy to find this man (since, as it stands, it is any man you’ve never met before) or too difficult (the man in particular who’ve never met before). Well, perhaps you’ve been reading up about casuistry and from Jonsen and Toulmin’s The Abuse of Casuistry have gleaned that it would be an excellent idea to add clauses because it dawns on you that these would allow you to zero in on, e.g., who, where, why, how, by what means, to whom, etc. Thus: ‘The man with the scar across his lip who was last seen in the Aston Hotel on the night of the 23rd’ might help you to test whether a possible suspect could be the culprit.

As the clues are discovered (how–in these post again–we do not know but suppose they are found by some means), the specifications would become more fine-grained. Some early suspects will lead you to conclude that, ‘No, that’s not him,’ and some false steps might force you to retrace your steps and loosen one specification here, tighten another specification there. But if you are good enough, persistent enough, intellectually nimble enough, and downright lucky, then you’ll be able to find and recognize this man as being your man: as the one who fits your specifications.

Looking for the man you’ve never met before is rather like embarking on a philosophical inquiry for the first time. Only, the man you’ve never met but hope to recognize is, in the latter case, yourself. The one you see will surprise you.

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