Category Archives: Al Capone

My Confidants Will Know What I Am Talking About

In the course of discovering, quite unexpectedly, that I am just one degree of separation away from Barack Obama (this may partially ameriolate my 3-degrees-of-separation connection with Al Capone), I encountered a little fire-fight on the interwebs that I sum up as follows:
 

Person A:  “I was a confidant of Barack Obama when he was an undergraduate.”

Person B:  (Addressing Person A):  “You can’t claim you were a close friend of Barack Obama’s, since you met him only twice.”

Person A:  “I never said I was a close friend of Barack Obama’s; I said I was a confident of his.  The two are not the same.  Someone I meet in an elevator can be my confidant.”

 
Now I have absolutely no intention of going back to the exact wording of the dispute, so please assume, until you have any firm evidence to the contrary,  that any criticism of the arguments of the real people A or B that may seem to be implied here is in fact a straw man.  I am just interested in the narrow question:  Does ‘A was a close friend of Barack Obama’s’ follow from ‘A was a confident of Barack Obama’s’? 
 
I suggest that how much one is a confidant of a person is a measure of how close a friend one is to him.  One might hear, for example:  “I know that you two are close friends, but I don’t know how close, so I am not going to elaborate on this remark I’ve just made because then you might come to know too much.”  One measure of how much one is a confident of a person is how much he is willing to tell you information that he is at pains to withhold from the general public.  Another measure is how long-lasting the relation is and how regularly he confides information to you.  Let’s assume, then, just for the sake of argument, that I am reluctant to divulge to the general public the following items, listed in descending order of the urgency with which i need to keep these things private:
 

1.  My boyfriend is this really cool vampire, but now my love-life has become complicated by this really hot (and I mean really hot) werewolf who has a desperate crush on me … and I am becoming more and more attracted to the werewolf by the minute.

2.  I adore Country Music.

3.  As an undergraduate, I was a fervent adherent to the philosophy of George Berkeley, and I used to argue vehemently, not only that this chair would not exist if no one perceived the chair, but also that sometimes this chair actually does sometimes fall out of existence because, there being no God, God is not around to perceive the chair when no lesser sentient being happens to be around to perceive it.

 
Any one of these three revelations, I believe, would forever dash any presidential aspirations I may have.  Nonetheless, I am much more sanguine about 3) become widely known than I am 2), or, God forbid, 1).  I am not sure how I could live down widespread knowledge of 1). 
 
Now if I meet Philippa Foot once and only once in my lifetime at a philosophy conference, and tell her 3) while we are in the elevator, is Philippa Foot now my confidant?  My own intuition tells ‘well, in a way.  Sort of kind of.’  But I seriously doubt that Philippa Foot’s membership in the set comprising ‘confidants of Cliff Wirt’ is 100%.  Would not the degree of membership be closer to something like 1%?  (Permit me for the moment to use the terminology of fuzzy set theory.)  The urgency with which I want to withhold the information is low.  The relation to my sort-of-kind-of confidant is not a long-lasting one. Nor do I regularly or habitually confide private information to her.
 
Alternatively, should I collar some stranger in the elevator and tell him — outside of any context whatsoever . . . we are not at a conference of Robert Pattinson fans, for example — “My boyfriend is this really cool vampire….”, my intuition is that this is another case in which the membership of this unfortunate person in the set of ‘confidants of Cliff Wirt’ is considerably less than 100%.  The urgency with which I normally withhold this information from the general public is quite high (I don’t know what came over me in the elevator), nonetheless, my sort-of-kind-of confidant is not someone with whom I have a relationship lasting through a significant stretch of time to whom I regularly confide things.
 
But if I confide 1) to someone to whom I regularly confide things and with whom I have associated for a significant amount of time, my intuition is that, yes, this person does have 100% membership in the set comprising ‘confidants of Cliff Wirt.’  But this person also has 100% membership in the set of close friends of Cliff Wirt. 
 
So yes, ‘A was a close friend of Barack Obama’s’ does follow from ‘A was a confident of Barack Obama’s’ when membership in the set of ‘confidants of Barack Obama’ is 100%.  The vagueness of the terms ‘confidant’ and ‘close friend’ might lend support to an evasion of this implication, but at the core (by that I mean ‘at the level of 100% membership in the sets), the implication does hold. 
 
Anyone is welcome to advance differing intuitions here.

Advertisements