The Grice Club


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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Epicurean Grice: Πρῶτον μὲν οὖν τὰ ὑποτεταγμένα τοῖς φθόγγοις, ὦ Ἡρόδοτε, δεῖ εἰληφέναι,


Linguistic botany is a metaphor, no doubt, but one that J. L. Austin favoured, and Grice took  SERIOUSLY.

The idea is that the philosopher, as  he is engaged in conceptual analysis, has to start with 'the many' and  proceed  to 'the wise', and 'the many' speak 'ordinary language'.

Thus, J. L. Austin advised we start with 'linguistic botanising'. In Austin and Grice are  following  Epicurus in his letter to Herodotus.

The letter starts transparently enough:

"Greetings!", Epicurus writes.

'Ἐπίκουρος Ἡροδότῳ χαίρειν.

Πρῶτον μὲν οὖν τὰ ὑποτεταγμένα τοῖς φθόγγοις, ὦ Ἡρόδοτε, δεῖ  εἰληφέναι, ὅπως ἂν τὰ δοξαζόμενα ἢ ζητούμενα ἢ ἀπορούμενα ἔχωμεν εἰς  ταῦτα ἀναγαγόντες ἐπικρίνειν, καὶ μὴ ἄκριτα πάντα ἡμῖν ᾖ εἰς ἄπειρον  ἀποδεικνύουσιν ἢ κενοὺς φθόγγους  ἔχωμεν. ἀνάγκη γὰρ τὸ πρῶτον ἐννόημα καθ' ἕκαστον φθόγγον βλέπεσθαι καὶ μηθὲν ἀποδείξεως προσδεῖσθαι, εἴπερ ἕξομεν τὸ  ζητούμενον
ἢ ἀπορούμενον καὶ δοξαζόμενον ἐφ' ὃ ἀνάξομεν.

A loose translation should go:

"In the first place, Herodotus,"

"you must understand WHAT IT IS that  words denote, in order that, by reference to this, we may be in a position to test opinions, inquiries, or problems."

"So that our proofs may not run on untested ad infinitum, nor the terms we use be EMPTY of meaning."

"For the PRIMARY SIGNIFICATION of EVERY term employed must be clearly seen, and ought to need NO PROVING."

"This being necessary, if we are to have  something  to which the point at issue or the problem or the opinion before us can be  referred."

Epicurus goes on:

"There is another thing, Herodotus, which we must consider carefully."

"We must not investigate, say, time in an odd way."

"We must take into account the plain fact itself, in virtue of which WE SPEAK OF TIME as long or short, linking to it in intimate connection this attribute of duration."

"We SHOULD NOT adopt any FRESH, rather than the simple terms of ordinary language as preferable."

"We should always employ the usual expressions about stuff."  "And by 'usual' I mean "ordinary"".

 "Nor need we predicate anything else of time, as if this something else contained the same essence as is contained in the proper meaning of the word “time” (for this also is done by some)."

"For we should not deviate from ordinary language as expressed in ordinary usage."

"We must chiefly reflect upon that to which we attach this peculiar character of time, and by which we measure it. No further proof is required: we have only to reflect that we attach the attribute of time to days and nights and their parts, and likewise to feelings of pleasure and pain and to neutral states, to states of movement and states of rest, conceiving a peculiar accident of these to be this very characteristic which we express by the word “time.”"

Epicurus's parents, Neocles and Chaerestrate, were both Athenian-born,  and his father a citizen, had emigrated to the Athenian settlement on the Aegean  island of Samos about ten years before Epicurus's birth in February 341 BC.As a  boy, he studied philosophy for four years under the Platonist teacher  Pamphilus.

So we can see Epicurus as a member of the Athenian dialectic that Grice  contrasted to the Oxonian dialectic, and let us be reminded that when H. L. A. Hart felt like sending a thank-you note to Morty White in Harvard, and referring  to the forthcoming William James lecturer at Harvard, Grice, Hart
described  Grice as a 'marvellous dialectician, far better than anyone of us here' -- and  he was writing from Oxford!

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