The Grice Club


The Grice Club

The club for all those whose members have no (other) club.

Is Grice the greatest philosopher that ever lived?

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Grice and the intransitive use of "mean"

Speranza I've been recently considering this, even if I haven't checked all serious sources! At we read about the fascinating history (so different from 'significare') of "mean": "From Middle English menen, from Old English mǣnan (“to mean, signify, consider”), from Proto-Germanic *mainijanan (“to mean, think”), from Proto-Indo-European *mein- (“to think”). Cognate with West Frisian miene (“to deem, think”), Dutch menen (“to believe, think, mean”), German meinen (“to think, mean, believe”). Related to mind and German Minne (“love”)." and we have a short note: "(intransitive) To have intentions of a given kind. [from 14th c.] Don't be angry; she meant well." Of course, significat. As in "Mary signifies" is yet another animal in Latin. Given that 'significare' already incorporates a direct object (sign-i-fy, i.e. to 'make' a sign), it is otiose to regard, "Mary signifies" (Maria significat) as intransitive. Yet, with Mary means. one wonders. Not I, but one. --- The point has to do with things as we review basic Griceian philosophical literature in this or that Latin vernacular (French, Italian, etc.). The idea that 'significare' DOES translate as "mean" seems otiose. --- There seems to be this issue of transitivity at large. If "significare" does translate as "mean", we would have a typical dyadic relation: x means y x signifies y I am reminded of Grice in WoW: "On general grounds of economy, I am inclined to think that if one can avoid saying that the word so-and-so has this sense, that snese, and the other sense, or this meaning and another meaning, if one can allow them to be variants under a single principle, that is the desirable thing to do: don't multiply senses beyond necessity. And it occurs to me that the root idea in the notion of meaning [cfr. Latin 'significatio' -- Speranza], which in one form or adaptation or another would apply to both of these cases ['natural' as in "That rainbow means rain" and otherwise, as in ""Rainbow" means rainbow"] is that if x means that y, then this is equivalent to, or at least contains as a part of what it means, the claim that y is a consequence of x. That is, what the cases of natural and nonnatural meaning have in common is that, on some interpretation of the notion of consequence, y's being the case is a consequence of x". I was VERY amused to see (read, rather) in Hobbes's "Computatio" that while Hobbes sticks to that odious distinction, in Grice's view, between signs being natural or conventional, Hobbes goes on to argue for the idea of 'consequentia' (term used by Hobbes) to cover both cases. Hobbes is relying on Occam, or Ockham, as I prefer -- as per place in Surrey -- whom Grice is by the way alluding to in his famous 'semantic' razor. In any case, back to Mary means. Or as per wiki dictionary: "(intransitive) To have intentions of a given kind. [from 14th c.] Don't be angry; she meant well." We would need to trace all or the main historical references there, in the 14th century. In any case, since "meinen" does mean "think" in German, one wonders about Descartes: I think; therefore, I am. Is it necessary that one should think SOMETHING? But back to "mean": "(intransitive) To have intentions of a given kind. [from 14th c.] Don't be angry; she meant well." "Don't be angry. Mary meant well." Note the otiose, 'well'. As opposed to "ill-meaning". She meant ill. It seems that without the 'well', "May means" sounds as too short an utterance for one to bother to utter. As opposed to Descartes's perhaps similarly otiose, "Cogito". Descartes: "I think." Hobbes: You think. You think _what_? Descartes: No. You miss my point. I think. Therefore, I am. --- Did Descartes mean well? Or more briefly, did he mean? And so on. Cheers.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Griceian Oracle

Speranza At I read, as per below, the review to a specific chapter in book (dedicated to Oedipus) within a mythological series. And the obvious connection is with ... Grice, a favourite author of mine. I seem to recall that M. Warner, formerly of Oxford and later of UWarwick/Coventry analysed 'implicatures' of religious language, alla Christianity: things like: what is the sense of "Our Father, which art in heaven..." -- what sort of _dialogue_ or conversational implicature is implicated (if I may repeat myself) in dialogues with divinities? A similar issue should concern the typical Grecian (not Griceian) oracle, as best illustrated, the authors of this specific Mythologica volume claim, in the Oedipus plot. I seem to recall that a student of U. Eco at Bologna, who studied systematically the history of semiotics as per Graeco-Roman antiquity, suggested that it's 'natural' signs that sprang an interest in 'semeia' in general (Herodotus). I would suggest that oracles possibly played just an important role. Of course, when it comes to LITERARY treatments of oracles (as per Sophocle's tragedy, say) we have further factors to consider, which in some way, alter, for the worse, the simpler, pure, Griceian picture. For we have to consider issues like 'tragical irony', i.e. the fact that an oracle, o, may SAY "x", but "implicates" "y", where "y" is supposed to be KNOWN to the spectator of, say, the tragedy where the oracle is reported (even if the recipient of the oracle manages to miss the 'implicature'), and so on. I suppose analyses of oracles have quoted Grice profusely but I wouldn't know, even if I would learn. The review concerns this chapter in the book, then, entitled, "Il potere della parola: oracoli, enigmi, AMBIGUITÀ" ambiguità" and which covers pp. 146-164. The reviewer writes: "La parola, che sia proferita da Tiresia, dalla Sfinge, da Giocasta o dallo stesso Edipo, fa parte di un linguaggio insondabile, il cui svelamento significa morte, condanna, punizione e vergogna. In questo contesto le domande sono chiare, le RISPOSTE AMBIGUE e gli avvenimenti, che ne derivano, aberranti e disastrosi, procedono in un sentiero parallelo a quello del giusto e del normale senza però mai incrociarlo." At this point one may need to review the Griceian goal in positing his theory of implicature. When we refer to 'ambiguity' as per the passages above, we are reminded of Griceian maxims like, "avoid ambiguity", "be clear", "avoid obscurity of expression, be perspicuous (sic)" -- irony on Grice's part here in formulating the maxim in a self-refuting manner -- and so on. One need indeed not be wedded to the Grice 1967 model since we now know (as per the Grice Papers deposited at the UC/Berkeley) that Grice developed that from previous Oxford lectures (given in 1965) where he speaks of desiderata of candour and clarity, etc. So there should not be a necessity to stick to the standard Griceian formulation of this or that maxim (within this or that principle -- e.g. the cooperative principle). Rather, we should analyse what Grice (if not the Grecians) were up to when developing a theory of 'implicature' -- the idea that a sign may 'say' more that it states, as it were. Grice was particularly interested in NON-LOGICAL 'implications' or 'entailments'. This should relate to oracles. Another point is rigidity as per Kripke. "You will kill your father and marry your mother", the oracle said to Oedipus. It failed to specify (Grice, "be as informative as is required"): "You will kill your father -- not King Polibo, mind -- and marry your mother -- not Queen Merope, mind --; I mean your REAL ones". Without such misunderstanding, the Oedipus tale would never have proceeded. In this case, a vague referential expression, "your father", "your mother", springs an unwanted implicature, as it were (Oedipus leaves Corinto to avoid the fulfillment of the above-mentioned oracle) and so on. And so on. The reviewer continues to make some more general, perhaps deeper points: "L’errore, anche se non voluto e inconsapevole, trascina tre generazioni di uomini alla rovina, all’omicidio e all’estinzione." "Edipo è l’emblema della crisi del linguaggio, testimoniando come la parola, in quanto voce onirica (7) e formula magica, sia foriera di una verità incomprensibile in astratto." And so on. References: Grice, Studies in the Way of Words, Harvard UP, 1989.