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Herbert Paul Grice (March 13, 1913, Birmingham, England – August 28, 1988, Berkeley, California),[1] usually publishing under the name H. P. Grice, H. Paul Grice, or Paul Grice, was a British-educated philosopher of language, who spent the final two decades of his career in the United States.

Life[edit | edit source]

Born and raised in the United Kingdom, he was educated at Clifton College and then at Corpus Christi College, Oxford.[1][2] After brief period teaching at Rossall,[2] he went back to Oxford where he taught until 1967. In that year, he moved to the United States to take up a professorship at the University of California, Berkeley, where he taught until his death in 1988. He returned to the UK in 1979 to give the John Locke lectures on Aspects of Reason. He reprinted many of his essays and papers in his valedictory book, Studies in the Way of Words (1989).[1]

He was married and had two children. He and his wife lived in an old Spanish style house in the Berkeley Hills.[citation needed]

Grice on meaning[edit | edit source]

Grice's work is one of the foundations of the modern study of pragmatics.

Grice is remembered mainly for his contributions to the study of speaker meaning, linguistic meaning, and (several of) the interrelations between these two phenomena. He provided, and developed, an analysis of the notion of linguistic meaning in terms of speaker meaning (according to his initial suggestion, 'A meant something by X' is roughly equivalent to 'A uttered X with the intention of inducing a belief by means of the recognition of this intention'). In order to explain how nonliteral utterances can be understood, he further postulated the existence of a general cooperative principle in conversation, as well as of certain special maxims of conversation derived from the cooperative principle. In order to describe certain inferences for which the word "implication" would appear to be inappropriate, he introduced the notion of (several kinds of) implicatures.

The distinction between natural and nonnatural meaning[edit | edit source]

Grice understood "meaning" to refer to two rather different kinds of phenomena. Natural meaning is supposed to capture something similar to the relation between cause and effect as, for example, applied in the sentence "Those spots mean measles". This must be distinguished from what Grice calls nonnatural meaning, as present in "Those three rings on the bell (of the bus) mean that the bus is full". Grice's subsequent suggestion is that the notion of nonnatural meaning should be analysed in terms of speakers' intentions in trying to communicate something to an audience.

Grice's Paradox[edit | edit source]

In his book Studies in the Way of Words, he presents what he calls "Grice's Paradox".[3] In it, he supposes that two chess players, Yog and Zog, play 100 games under the following conditions:

(1) Yog is white nine of ten times.
(2) There are no draws.

And the results are:

(1) Yog, when white, won 80 of 90 games.
(2) Yog, when black, lost ten of ten games.

This implies that:

(i) 8/9 times, if Yog was white, Yog won.
(ii) 1/2 of the time, if Yog lost, Yog was black.
(iii) 9/10 times, either Yog wasn't white or he won.

From these statements, it might appear one could make these deductions by contraposition and conditional disjunction:

([a] from [ii]) If Yog was white, then 1/2 of the time Yog won.
([b] from [iii]) 9/10 times, if Yog was white, then he won.

But both (a) and (b) are untrue -- they contradict (i). In fact, (ii) and (iii) don't provide enough information to use Bayesian reasoning to reach those conclusions. That might be clearer if (i)-(iii) had instead been stated like so:

(i) When Yog was white, Yog won 8/9 times. (No information is given about when Yog was black.)
(ii) When Yog lost, Yog was black 1/2 the time. (No information is given about when Yog won.)
(iii) 9/10 times, either Yog was black and won, Yog was black and lost, or Yog was white and won. (No information is provided on how the 9/10 is divided among those three situations.)

Grice's paradox shows that the exact meaning of statements involving conditionals and probabilities is more complicated than may be obvious on casual examination.

Some distinctions introduced by Grice[edit | edit source]

In the course of his investigation of speaker meaning and linguistic meaning, Grice introduced a number of interesting distinctions. For example, he distinguished between four kinds of content: encoded / non-encoded content and truth-conditional / non-truth-conditional content.[citation needed]

  • Encoded content is the actual meaning attached to certain expressions, arrived at through investigation of definitions and making of literal interpretations.
  • Non-encoded content are those meanings that are understood beyond an analysis of the words themselves, i.e., by looking at the context of speaking, tone of voice, and so on.
  • Truth-conditional content are whatever conditions make an expression true or false.
  • Non-truth-conditional content are whatever conditions that do not affect the truth or falsity of an expression.

Sometimes, expressions do not have a literal interpretation, or they do not have any truth-conditional content, and sometimes expressions can have both truth-conditional content and encoded content.

For Grice, these distinctions can explain at least three different possible varieties of expression:

  • Conventional Implicature - when an expression has encoded content, but doesn't necessarily have any truth-conditions;
  • Conversational Implicature - when an expression does not have encoded content, but does have truth-conditions (for example, in use of irony);
  • Utterances - when an expression has both encoded content and truth-conditions.

Conversational Maxims[edit | edit source]

Main article: Gricean maxims

Maxim of Quality: Truth

  • Do not say what you believe to be false.
  • Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.

Maxim of Quantity: Information

  • Make your contribution as informative as is required for the current purposes of the exchange.
  • Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.

Maxim of Relation: Relevance

  • Be relevant.

Maxim of Manner: Clarity

  • Avoid obscurity of expression. ("Eschew obfuscation")
  • Avoid ambiguity.
  • Be brief ("avoid unnecessary prolixity").
  • Be orderly.

Criticisms and examinations[edit | edit source]

The relevance theory of Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson builds on and also challenges Grice's theory of meaning and his account of pragmatic inference. See Relevance: Communication and Cognition (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986). Grice's work is examined in detail by Stephen Neale, "Paul Grice and the Philosophy of Language", Linguistics and Philosophy 15: 5 (Oct. 1992).

Selected writings[edit | edit source]

  • 1941. "Personal Identity", Mind 50, 330-350; reprinted in J. Perry (ed.), Personal Identity, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1975, pp. 73–95.
  • 1957. "Meaning," The Philosophical Review 66: 377-88.
  • 1961. "The Causal Theory of Perception", Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 35 (suppl.), 121-52.
  • 1968. "Utterer's Meaning, Sentence Meaning and Word Meaning", Foundations of Language 4, 225-242.
  • 1969. "Vacuous Names", in D. Davidson and J. Hintikka (eds.), Words and Objections, D. Reidel, Dordrecht, pp. 118–145.
  • 1969. "Utterer's Meaning and Intention," The Philosophical Review 78: 147-77.
  • 1971. "Intention and Uncertainty", Proceedings of the British Academy, pp. 263–279.
  • 1975. "Method in Philosophical Psychology: From the Banal to the Bizarre", Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association (1975), pp. 23–53.
  • 1975. "Logic and conversation". In Cole, P. and Morgan, J. (eds.) Syntax and semantics, vol 3. New York: Academic Press.
  • 1978. "Further Notes on Logic and Conversation", in P. Cole (ed.), Syntax and Semantics, vol. 9: Pragmatics, Academic Press, New York, pp. 113–128.
  • 1981. "Presupposition and Conversational Implicature", in P. Cole (ed.), Radical Pragmatics, Academic Press, New York, pp. 183–198.
  • 1989. Studies in the Way of Words. Harvard University Press.
  • 1991. The Conception of Value. Oxford University Press. His 1979 John Locke Lectures.
  • 2001. Aspects of Reason (Richard Warner, ed.). Oxford University Press.

Further reading[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Richard Grandy and Richard Warner. Paul Grice. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  2. 2.0 2.1
  3. Paul Grice, Studies in the Way of Words (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), pp. 78-79.

External links[edit | edit source]

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