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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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Benevolence and Self-Love


R. Hawkins has written:

"There are "increasingly rationally cooperative ways" that we humans could live, but in order to get to them I think we need to deal with some of our embedded, irrationally competitive and combative, group-on-group evolutionary baggage."


This reminds me, yes, you guessed right: Grice. In his earliest "Logic and Conversation" (Oxford, 1965) he speaks of a balance between self-love ('conversational self-love' even!) and benevolence ('conversational benevolence') even, which he later subsumed under his famous "Cooperative Principle" (William James Lectures, 1967). At this point, he wants to know what we mean, 'cooperate'. Do we mean 'help'? He wonders in a note: "Does helpfulness in something we are doing together" equate to 'cooperation'?

In the earlier lectures, Grice argues that 'conversational maxims' (as it were) are constantly to be weighed against two fundamental and sometimes competitive demands. Conversational moves should be aimed towards the agreed current purposes of this 'principle of Conversational Benevolence'. The 'principle of Conversational Self-Love ensures the assumption on the part of co-agents that neither will go to unnecessary trouble in framing their moves).

I always found the topic fascinating, and trace it to research by J. O. Urmson and others on Prichard's influential debate on duty and interest, even!

Grice was enough of a rationalist to think that, again to quote from the earlier lectures, co-agents exhibit a 'certain' degree of helpfulness from others (usually on the understanding that such helpfulness does not get in the way of particular goals. An account of the specific type of helpfulness expected in conversation SHOULD be capable of extension to any collaborative activity. And so on.

For the historical record, then!


"some of our embedded, irrationally competitive and combative, group-on-group evolutionary baggage." I think some of this problem is tackled by so-called 'dialogue ethicists' (like Habermas, and Apel), in the "Continental" rather than the Anglo-American tradition?



Grice, Conversation: The Oxford Lectures.