A SCOTUS Hermeneutics Exercise for ChatGPT4

Re: “Supreme Betrayal A requiem for Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment” By J. Michael Luttig & Laurence H. Tribe The Atlantic March 15 2025

SH: [Query to ChatGPT4]: Could you please first summarize the following passage to show you have understood it, and then give some arguments to support that “2 + 2 = 4” is false and that “water is not wet” is true. 

“The needless, rushed, and astoundingly stupid decision of the US Supreme Court has made it crystal clear that, in incompetent (and malevolent) hands, interpreting the constitution has become like Microsoft trying to patch obsolescent and increasingly contradictory legacy code when what is really needed is a bottom-up rewrite. Holding back the ocean with sandbags comes to mind too.  And of course, the infinite pliancy of Holy Writ, under the hermeneutics of zealots of any persuasion. Maybe language itself is to blame too. A good exercise for ChatGPT is to give it a true proposition, like “2+2=4” or “water is wet” and ask GPT to find an interpretation under which it is false. Not one, but a countless number of interpretations can always be found that will do the job.(Vice versa works for false propositions too.)”


The passage criticizes the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, suggesting it reflects a lack of competence and possibly malevolence in interpreting the constitution, likening the situation to attempting to update outdated and conflicting software or trying to hold back the ocean with sandbags. It highlights the flexibility with which holy texts can be interpreted by zealots of any persuasion and suggests that language’s inherent ambiguity contributes to these problems. The author proposes a thought experiment for GPT, challenging it to reinterpret universally accepted truths (such as “2+2=4” or “water is wet”) as false, to illustrate the point that language and interpretation can significantly alter perceived truth.

To engage with the exercise proposed:

Arguing that “2 + 2 = 4” is False

In a non-standard mathematical system or under certain interpretations, “2 + 2 = 4” could be considered false. For instance, in modular arithmetic, which deals with remainders after division by a certain number (the modulus), “2 + 2” does not necessarily equal 4. Specifically, in modulo 2 arithmetic, 2 + 2 = 0, because 4 divided by 2 leaves a remainder of 0. This example demonstrates that, depending on the mathematical rules and systems we agree to use, the truth of “2 + 2 = 4” is not absolute but contingent upon those systems.

Arguing that “Water is Not Wet” is True

The statement “water is not wet” can be supported by redefining or closely examining what it means to be “wet.” Wetness is a condition that applies to a solid object when it comes into contact with a liquid, such that the liquid adheres to the object’s surface in a layer. However, water itself is a liquid and does not become wet but instead causes other materials to become wet. From this perspective, saying “water is wet” is akin to saying “water makes water wet,” which is a misunderstanding of the conditions required for wetness. Thus, one could argue that water, in its capacity to induce wetness but not be in the state of wetness itself, is not wet.

SH: Very good. Both arguments are the prima facie ones I expected. Now could you please give one further argument in each case, to show that there’s not just one way to do it?


Certainly, let’s explore an additional argument for each proposition:

Further Argument that “2 + 2 = 4” is False

One might consider the realm of philosophical argumentation, specifically nominalism, which suggests that abstract objects like numbers do not exist outside of our minds. From this viewpoint, “2 + 2 = 4” is an agreement within a human-constructed symbolic system rather than an eternal truth. If one were to argue from a radically different conceptual framework—where the symbols “2”, “+”, and “4” have different meanings or where the concept of “addition” is not defined in the way we commonly understand it—the statement “2 + 2 = 4” could be seen as false. For instance, in a hypothetical culture where quantities are expressed not by exact numbers but by qualitative measures (much, little, enough), the precise operation “2 + 2 = 4” loses its meaning and thus its truth value could be considered as not true within that conceptual framework.

Further Argument that “Water is Not Wet” is True

Exploring the semantics of “wetness” can provide another avenue for arguing that “water is not wet.” One might argue that wetness is a perceptual phenomenon rather than an intrinsic property of substances. That is, an object is perceived as “wet” when it significantly alters our sensory experience of it, particularly through touch. Water itself does not undergo such a change in state; it is always in the same state. Therefore, it does not meet the perceptual criterion for wetness that a dry object does when it comes into contact with water. From this perspective, wetness is an emergent property that arises from the interaction between a liquid and a material that can absorb or be coated by the liquid. Since water itself cannot be coated by or absorb itself, it cannot be considered “wet” according to this definition of wetness as an emergent, perceptual property.

SH: Yes, and it can go on and on like that, with ever more fanciful interpretations, by adding more and more fanciful premises. Demagogues, devious lawyers, sophists, quacks, psychopaths, and theologians are particularly adept at this — and they all have the bottomless resources of language, rhetoric, and now LLMs to draw upon…

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