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From footnote 8 on page 205 of Thinking Like a Lawyer by Frederick Schauer:

Supplemented context: There are, of course, controversies about and challenges to these venerable distinctions as well, some but not all of which come from perspectives loosely labeled as “postmodern.” And it is true that many purported descriptions have a normative element to them, with values being smuggled in under the cover of purported neutral description.

Nevertheless, it is sufficiently implausible to insist that there is no difference between “John fired a gun whose bullet entered Mary’s heart and caused her death” and “John ought to go to prison for murdering Mary” that allegedly sophisticated challenges to any of the distinctions in the text need not detain us any further here.

Would someone please explain or unravel? I understand the last (subordinate) clause as comprising these parts:

  • subject: allegedly sophisticated challenges to any of the distinctions in the text
  • verb phrase: need not detain
  • predicate us any further here.

Yet how does the greyed that connect all this to the first subordinate clause “Nevertheless, it . . . for murdering Mary”?

I can endure the meaning of the two clauses, but am confused by the meaning of this entire sentence.

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    Example of hopelessly contorted syntax = Thinking like a lawyer? – Colin Fine Jul 23 '14 at 9:31
  • @ColinFine I think so, but sadly, this is required reading. – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Jul 23 '14 at 9:34
  • Simplified: <A condition> is implausible enough that we can carry on without thinking any more about it. – ElendilTheTall Jul 23 '14 at 9:37
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    “John fired a gun whose bullet entered Mary’s heart and caused her death” means exactly the same as “John ought to go to prison for murdering Mary” ? Rubbish. Moving on, ... – Edwin Ashworth Jul 23 '14 at 10:11
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    The more snippets I read of Frederick Schauer's text, the gladder I am not to have to wade through the rest of his opaque and pompous verbiage. – Erik Kowal Jul 23 '14 at 10:29
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I cannot make a grammatical argument for how the clauses are connected, but I can tell you how I naturally parsed it, and my consequent interpretation of the entire sentence.

The author is saying that the statements "John killed Mary" (fact: "informative") and "John should be punished for killing Mary" (opinion: "normative") are so clearly different that we can (immediately) disregard all arguments which aim to treat them as equivalent.

That is, the difference is so stark and so fundamental, we needn't consider any arguments against it, even if those arguments are marketed as sophisticated or subtle.

Boiled down: identifying crime with punishment is a category error. Nothing can rescue such arguments.

  • In analogy with criminal courts (at least in the US): the jury is charged with determine whether a crime was committed (using the facts). If the jury so finds, the judge is responsible for determining a punishment (using the law). [And these two duties were intentionally separated, even in the kind of body that was chosen to make each determination. ] – Dan Bron Jul 23 '14 at 13:05
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Parsing as follows:

Nevertheless, it is sufficiently [implausible to insist that there is no difference between “John fired a gun whose bullet entered Mary’s heart and caused her death” and “John ought to go to prison for murdering Mary”] that [allegedly sophisticated challenges to any of the distinctions in the text] need not detain us any further here.

Simplified:

Nevertheless, it is sufficiently [implausible] that [challenges] need not detain us any further here.

cf.

It is sufficiently [easy to see] that [binoculars] need not be used.

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To insist that there is no difference between “John fired a gun whose bullet entered Mary’s heart and caused her death” and “John ought to go to prison for murdering Mary

is the logical subject of the main verb is sufficiently implausible,

though it is postposed (probably because it is such a heavy clause) and the formal subject it inserted.

That allegedly sophisticated challenges to any of the distinctions in the text need not detain us any further here

is the complement of sufficiently.

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    To make your last paragraph more clear (I had to read it three times to see what you meant exactly), a complete (and abbreviated) paraphrasing is: “Insisting that there is no difference between X and Y is so (=sufficiently) implausible that challenges to any of the distinctions in the text need not detain us here”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 23 '14 at 9:57

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