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?

Search This Blog

Saturday, February 27, 2016



Grice was an evolutionist.

Perhaps he not always was. He _evolved_ into one. When? Well, more or less 
by the time he delivered his lecture, "How pirots carulise elatically".

He took his pirots from Carnap. For Grice, a pirot is like a man (or a 
parrot, only different). The study of pirots Grice calls pirotology. Pirots 

Pirots evolve to be rational. This does not mean that there are some 
irrational pirots out there.

Well, it may do to review how Leda Cosmides got attracted to the Wason AD47
test originally.

As Pinker notes, the Wason AD47 selection task was devised by Peter  Wason
in 1966 and published by Penguin, which is coincidentally the  press that's
publishing Pinker "How the mind works". Pinker's précis of the  Wason test
leaves quite a bit to be desired since Pinker formulates the 'if'  utterance (
the "rule", so miscalled, since rules are neither true nor false,  whereas
'if' utterances are) in too specific terms, while Wason uses variables  like
'vowel' and 'odd number' (cfr. Eco, "The Number Zero" -- implicature: Is 
zero a number?)

Why did Wason do this? Well, he was a Londoner, and a Poppperian Londoner 
at that.

Karl Popper had postulated that science is based on hypothetico-deductive 
reasoning, in which the key step is the search for counter-examples, that
is,  for evidence contradicting a given hypothesis.

As if Reichenbach utterered, "Eureka! All ravens are black". And his next 
conversational move be, "Let's look for a white raven now, darling". (He is 
speaking to his wife).

Wason wanted to explore the possibility that learning in ordinary life is 
really science in embryo: the formation of hypotheses and the search for 
evidence to contradict them.

The Wason AD47 selection test therefore evaluates Wason subjects' ability 
to find facts that violate a hypothesis (formulated as an 'if' utterance), 
specifically a conditional hypothesis of the form: if p, q, or as Grice
prefers  p ⊃ q.

In Wason's test, 4 "facts" are presented in the form of cards.

Each card has one piece of information on one side, and another piece of 
information on the other side.

The "conditional hypothesis" to be evaluated has to do with some sort  of
relationship (not necessarily one of inferrability) between the  information
on the two sides of the cards.

The Wason subject is shown the four cards with one side up and the  other
side down.

The AD47 card selection task is to decide which cards should be turned 
over to evaluate the 'if' utterance.

For example: the hypothesis might be

"Assume cards have a letter on one side and a number on the other. If a 
card has D on one side, it must have 3 on the other side."

In thousands of replications over years, it's been shown that most of Wason
subjects are basically quite bad at this AD47 card selection task.

For unfamiliar relations -- like the first case -- less than a quarter of 
the Wason subjects consistently give the correct answer.

The commonest responses are just the "p" card, or the "p" card  combined
with the "q" card.

Few Wason subjects see the relevance of the not "q" card.

By the way, this suggests that scientific reasoning is not much like 
reasoning in everyday life: the basic mode of scientific reasoning seems 
completely alien to most people.

However, for some versions of Wason's task -- involving benefits -- people 
are a lot better: up to 75% correct.

What's the difference between the first case, where people are really bad 
at the task, and the second case, where people are pretty good at the  task?

Several different sorts of answers come to mind.

Most of them were explored by psychologists over the couple of decades 
since Wason first published.

The first problem is abstract, and one that interests Grice, while the 
second one is concrete, and one that interests Griceians (as Elinor Ochs in
"The  universality of conversational implicature" -- she went to Madagascar to 

The first problem is unfamiliar, except if you are Grice or a Griceian, 
while the second is "familiar", even if you are not.

In her PhD dissertation, Leda Cosmides suggests that neither of these -- 
'unfamiliar' v 'familiar' -- is the crucial difference (plus, Grice disliked 
this broad use of 'family'; he was a Sicilian at heart).

Rather, Cosmides argues, the second allegedly 'familiar' case involves  the
detection of "cheating" with respect to a social contract alla Locke, since
McEvoy was mentioning. Only Locke uses 'pact' and 'compact'.

Cosmides does a clever series of experiments, as psychologists are 
supposed to do, to test these hypotheses (and several other hypotheses that she 
found of interest, even Griceian interest).

In one set of experiments, for instance, Cosmides compares four  conditions:

I) An "unfamiliar" situation presented as a "social contract" alla  Locke.

II) An equally unfamiliar situation presented without the Lockeian 
social-contract narrative

III) An abstract "rule" of the type that fascinates Grice -- only he calls 
them 'rule' just to please Gentzen's natural deduction.

IV) a "familiar" situation presented _descriptively_.

An instance of (I):

For instance, a hypothesis about an 'unfamiliar; situation might  be:

"If a man eats cassava root, he has a tattoo on his face."

An instance of (II)

The social-contract narrative about this situation is something like:

"Cassava root is a prized aphrodisiac.
Having a facial tattoo means one is married.
Unmarried men are not permitted to eat cassava root because it might lead 
to licentious behaviour.

An instance of (III):

An abstract hypothesis is one like the case given earlier, involving 
letters and numbers -- like Wason's original test, drawing, one can allege, on 
Grice (or Strawson's Introduction to logical theory, published in the 1950s,
by  London's Methuen, and held to be 'the vademecum' of logic for decades).

An instance of (IV):

A 'familiar' hypothesis is one like

"If one goes from Cambridge to Boston, one takes the subway."

Orders of presentation and so on are counterbalanced across subjects in the
usual way.

Cosmides' results for this experiment were:

Hypothesis type:
Unfamiliar-social contract/Unfamiliar descriptive/Abstract/Familiar 
Percent P&not-Q 75% -- 21% -- 25% -- 46%

Such results suggest that concreteness (vs. abstractness) in itself is no 
help, _pace_ Grice.

'Familiarity' (as Sicilians use the term) is somewhat  helpful.

But it is Lockeian social-contract narratives, even when their content  is
'unfamiliar' and even 'bizarre' (Cosmides's use of this adjective might well
be influenced by Grice's use of it in "Method in philosophical psychology:
from  the banal to the bizarre" that Ned Block was popularising) re a big

In fact, Cosmides argues, the fact that a Lockeian social-contract 
"reasoning" helps Wason subjects to get the logically correct answer  in this case
is completely accidental (where here she is relying on the Greek 
philosopher Aristotle; she would, wouldn't she?)

Wason subjects are not reasoning logically at all, even if broadly we  can
say that they are reasoning. Vide Grice on Aspects of reason, on 'alethic 

Rather Wason subjects are looking for a balance between a  cost and a
benefits in a social exchange

("you give me X, I give you Y")

Or in the calculus of social status

("You're in social category X, so you're entitled to benefit Y").

Wason subjects especially sensitive to cheaters and poseurs: those who take
a benefit without paying the appropriate cost, or having the appropriate

Sometimes this sensitivity to social cheating happens to correspond to 
logical inference, but often it doesn't, as Grice and Strawson should BOTH
agree  (as they don't on the interpretation of 'if', of much more philosophical 

Several Wason selection experiments suggest this result.

One was done by Gigerenzer and Hug, and depends on a shift in perspective.

Subjects are given social-contract rules such as:

If an employee gets a pension, that employee must have worked for the firm 
for at least 10 years.

However, some subjects were told a story in which they are the employer, 
while others are told a story in which they are the employee.

In this case, what counts as cheating depends on one's perspective.

From the point of view of the employer, a pension is a cost, while a decade
or more of work is a benefit.

Fom the point of view of the employee, a pension is a benefit, while a 
decade of work is a cost.

Thus the same event

"The employee gets a pension"

can be viewed as a cost or a benefit, depending on the perspective taken --
unlike in the event,

"Give us a kiss".

The definition of cheating is taking a benefit without paying the cost, 
from both perspectives.

But *applying* this definition (something philosophers usually don't  care
to do, and rightly so, else they would be mere psychologists) depends on 
what is a cost and what is a benefit.

For an employer, cheating is when an employee gets a pension but has not 
worked for at least a decade.

For an employee, cheating is when an employee has worked for a decade but 
does not get a pension.

The schema for the experiment was as follows:

Example of a rule:

if an employee gets a pension (p), that employee must have worked at least 
ten years (q).

pension no pension worked 12 years worked 8  years
P not P Q not Q
Perspective: Percent P & not-Q     Percent  not-P &  Q

In other words, most Wason subjects are hypothesizing a sensible  Lockeian
social contract that is not at all the same as what is actually stated  --
the proposed "rule" in this case does not promise a pension to anyone, and 
working to detect "cheating" based on the definition of costs and benefits
from  the perspective they have been asked to take.

There is some operation of logic, but it is small: about 10-15%, Cosmides 

Cosmides argues that this kind of cheater-detection is something that Wason
people -- like other Wason primates -- are very good at.

And that we are good at it because it is important to us, not only 
individually but also collectively ('cooperatively', here Cosmides might show  some
Griceian influence -- although she probably never heard of  Grice's Oxford
lectures on Logic and conversation on conversational  self-interest and
conversational benevolence) and historically.

It's important because the EVOLUTION (and this is where Cosmides and Grice 
meet, only Grice calls evolution a methodological myth) of a stable
propensity  for altruism requires high-accuracy detection and punishment of

In a society in which individuals are free to choose different strategies 
about Griceian-type co-operation based on past experience, individuals  who
ALWAYS co-operate will tend to be mercilessly fleeced.

On the other Griceian hand, individuals who never cooperate will tend to be
shunned (Grice's example in the Oxford lectures is a man who never helps a
stranger to enter a room by helping keep the door open).

Those who pursue a "tit for tat" strategy will do better than either.

However, this requires telling tits from tats, or tats from tits, as Geary 

Cosmides offers some psychological, not philosophical or conceptual, 
arguments that the "learning" involved here has occured on an EVOLUTIONARY  time
scale, rather than (or at least in addition to) on the scale of each 
individual "pirot"'s life.

What has evolved here, if Cosmides if right, is not a hoof or a horn  or an
eyeball, but a complex and abstract behavioural propensity.

Nevertheless, it has arguably been shaped by selective forces as precisely 
as physical characteristics of the phenotype have.

It is just harder to characterize, because we can only discover its 
properties by doing experiments, rather than by simple dissection of physical 

The term "evolutionary psychology", as used by Cosmides, and 'evoutionary' 
simpliciter as used by Grice and Griceians, refers to the study of
adaptions  like "cheater detection".

Cognitive or behavioral propensities rather than anatomical or 
physiological ones are at play.

Of course all anatomical adaptations have cognitive and behavioral 
correlates, and vice versa, as Darwin knew very well (cfr. the mammary glands in 

It is an odd and interesting fact, then, that the cognitive and behavioural
side of evolution was increasingly neglected after about 1900, especially
with  respect to humans.

The term "evolutionary psychology" was used by Cosmides and her 
collaborators during the late 1980s, and has come into common use in parts of 

During this same period, the outlook of some psychologists and 
neuro-scientists has also been changed, to take a more evolutionary perspective.

The consequence is partly just to ask certain questions.

What species characteristics might lie behind the way humans think, feel 
and behave?

What were/are the selective pressures, and what cognitive and behavioural 
structures did they operate on?

The result of asking these questions may also be a different set of ideas 
about the phenomena to be explained -- about human nature itself.

Wason's research lead some psychologists to the conclusion that "The Wason 
subjects do not naturally think like scientists -- most people are really
bad at  simple logic. Perhaps this is because our minds work mainly by simple
association of positive instances."

The evolutionary-psychology reinterpretation is:

People are naturally good at detecting cheaters, because this is an 
essential adaptation for the reciprocal altruism (of the type Grice was 
emphasising since his 1965 Oxford lectures on "Logic and Conversation" focusing  on
conversational benevolence and conversational self-interest towards a 
conceptual analysis of 'helpfulness') that is at the foundation of hominid  social

People are not nearly as good at general hypothesis testing, because there 
has never been any similar selective urgency.

our ancestors did not compete for mates by solving physics problem  sets.

But there may well be other adaptations for reasoning about other  specific
sorts of things.

The study of the human mind has recently been moved into the natural 
sciences through biology, computer science, and allied disciplines, and the 
result has been the revelation of a wholly new and surprising picture of 
so-called human nature.

Instead of the human mind being a blank slate governed by a few general 
purpose principles of reasoning and learning, it is full of "reasoning 
instincts" and "innate knowledge" (of the type Locke, but not Descartes, 
rejected) -- that is, it resembles a network of dedicated computers each 
specialized to solve a different type of problem, each running under its own  richly
coded, distinctly nonstandard ('deviant', as Haack would calll  it) logic.

The programs that comprise the human mind or psychology (or brain) were 
selected for not because of their generality, but because of their specialised
success in solving the actual array of problems that our ancestors faced
during  their evolution, such as navigating the social world, reasoning about
macro-scopic rigid objects as tools, "computing" or perceiving beauty,
foraging,  understanding the biological world, and so on.

This is a good example of what is sometimes called "mega-phone science," 
that is, scientific popularization by the methods of politics.

As usual with political sloganeering, there is some gross  exaggeration.

For example, it is misleading to call this perspective a wholly new and 
surprising picture of human nature.

The computer metaphors are recent, because computers are recent.

But such metaphors are not specific to this viewpoint.

The idea that the mind has been pre-programmed by past lives goes back at 
least to Plato.

The "blank slate" metaphor for human learning was introduced in the 17th 
century by Oxford philosopher John Locke (after whom the John Locke lectures 
that Grice gave were instituted) precisely because the contrary view was 
prevelent at the time.

19th century "faculty psychology", including phrenology, proposed an 
explicit and detailed picture of a set of "reasoning instincts", along with 
information about the location of each in the brain.

The idea of cognitive and behavioral adaptations, including for humans, is 
most explicit in Darwin and Fitzpatrick (vide "Philsophising on the

More recent related ideas include (human) ethology; sociobiology; Fodor 
(who quotes Grice) and his "modularity of mind;" Dawkin's "extended

Thus arguments on this issue have gone back and forth in western thought  fo
r more than two millenia.

As usual with effective politics, there is also a truth behind the slogans.

In this case, the truth is that social science (and to a large extent 
psychology, philosophy and the humanities) have been dominated during the 20th 
century by various more or less extreme forms of the "blank slate" view.

Even in neuroscience and the more biological end of psychology, there has 
been relatively little emphasis on an evolutionary perspective.

There will come a time when the subject matter of this evolutionary 
psychology will be well known. The reason for its current position is that most 
practitioners do not yet fully appreciate the insights offered by an 
evolutionary perspective.

In part, this has to do with the very history of neuroscience and 

Both fields have been dominated by a belief that associationism is how we 
learn and remember and that most brains can learn anything.

The past 100 years of research do not support this view.

To learn why, we must examine the current cognitive neuroscience enterprise
from an evolutionary perspective.

What are brains for, why were they built the way they are, and, in a 
mechanistic sense, how should we view the relation between neuro-scientific data 
and behaviour?

We have shared these notes because they presents the basic Darwinian, 
genetic and ethological foundations, and a careful survey of the range of human 
cognitive and behavioral characteristics for which an evolutionary analysis
should be enlightening.

Yet both the basic ideas and the specific applications remain controversial
among scientists.

Admitedly, there is a growing consensus that the perspective is a valuable 
one and that its applications will prove to be valid and scientifically 

As Cosmides has pointed out in more measured and carefully reasoned work, 
her viewpoint is strongly at variance with the viewpoint of most respectable
20th-century social scientists, and also most contemporary humanists.

She quote Emil Durkheim, writing in 1895:

Durkheim wrote:

"one would be strangely mistaken about our thought  if he drew the
conclusion that sociology, according to us, must, or even can,  make an abstraction
of man and his faculties. It is clear that the general  characteristics of
human nature participate in the work of elaboration from  which social life
results. But they are not the cause of it, nor do they give it  its special
form; they only make it possible. Collective representations,  emotions, and
tendencies are caused not by certain states of the consciousness  of
individuals but by the conditions in which the social group, in its totality,  is
placed. Such actions can, of course, materialize only if the individual 
natures are not resistant to them; but these individual natures are merely the 
indeterminate material that the social factor molds and transforms. Their 
contribution consists exclusively in very general attitudes, in vague and 
consequently plastic predispositions which, by themselves, if other agents did
not intervene, could not take on the definite and complex forms which 
characterize social phenomena."

Cosmides refers to this as the "standard social science model," and sketch 
its logic as follows:

Rapid historical change and spontaneous "cross-fostering experiments" 
dispose of the racist notion that inter-group behavioural differences are 

Infants everywhere have the same developmental potential.

Although infants are everywhere the same, adults everywhere differ 
profoundly in their behavioural and mental organization.

Therefore, "human nature" (the evolved structure of the human mind) cannot 
be the cause of the mental organization of adult humans, their social
systems,  their culture, etc.

Complexly organized adult behaviors are absent from infants.

Whatever "innate" (as Descartes and Chomksy in his "Cartesian linguistics" 
has it) equipment infants are born with must therefore be viewed as highly 
rudimentary -- an unorganized set of crude urges or drives, along with a
general  ability to learn.

Infants must acquire adult mental organization from some external source in
the course of development.

The external source is obvious.

This organization is manifestly present in the behavior and the public 
representations of other members of the local group.

Cultural phenomena are in no respect hereditary but are characteristically 
and without exception acquired.

Undirected by culture patterns -- organized systems of significant symbols 
-- man's behavior would be virtually ungovernable, a mere chaos of
pointless  acts and exploding emotions, his experience virtually shapeless.

This establishes that the social world is the cause of the mental 
organization of adults.

The cultural and social elements that mold the individual precede the 
individual and are external to the individual.

The mind did not create these elements; these elements created the mind.

They are given, and the individual finds them already current in the 
community when he is born.

The causal flow is overwhelmingly or entirely in one direction: the 
individual is the acted upon and the socio-cultural world is the actor.

Therefore, what complexly organizes and richly shapes the substance of 
human life -- what is interesting and distinctive and worthy of study -- is the
variable pool of stuff that is referred to as culture.

But what creates culture?

Culture is not created by the biological properties of individual  humans
-- human nature.

Rather, culture is created by some set of emergent processes whose 
determinants are realized at the group level.

The socio-cultural level is a distinct, autonomous and self-caused realm.

Culture is a thing "sui generis" which can be explained only in terms of 

Omnis cultura ex cultura.

Alfred Kroeber noted that the only antecedents of historical phenomena are 
historical phenomena.

Emil Durkheim similarly noted that the determining cause of a social fact 
should be sought among the social facts preceding it and not among the
states of  individual consciousness.

Geertz added that our ideas, our values, our acts, even our emotions, are, 
like our nervous system itself, cultural products -- products manufactured,
indeed, out of tendencies, capacities, and dispositions with which we were
born,  but manufactured nonetheless.

Therefore, this denies that "human nature" -- the evolved architecture of 
the human mind -- can play any notable role as a generator of significant 
organization in human life.

In so doing, it removes from the concept of human nature all substantive 
content, and relegates the architecture of the human mind to the narrowly 
delimited role of embodying the capacity for culture.

As Cosmides points out, the first thing to say is that arguments  against
the racist anthropology of the late 19th century -- or of the Nazis in  the
20th -- seem not only ethically but also scientifically correct.

During the 19th century, the nature and origins of the world's cultures 
were increasingly interesting to Europeans.

Most investigations assumed a linear conception of history progress, with 
human societies evolving from savagery through barbarism and finally to 

Many further assumed that different cultural patterns at a given stage 
reflected racial as well as environmental and historical influences, and there 
was a great deal of interest in national character.

The Darwinian concept of evolution, as well as Darwin's simultaneously 
empirical and generalising perspective, fit well with this endeavor, and became
central to it as the century passed.

It's easy to caricature its practitioners as imperialist boors.

But in fact many of them were intelligent, observant and sensitive as  well
as adventurous, and they often identified more strongly with the far-away 
peoples they studied than with their own societies.

Wilhelm von Humboldt and Sir Richard Burton are good examples.

Nevertheless, some certainly were indeed imperialist boors, and there is a 
web of connections between this work and Nazi pseudoscientific racism.

Many aspects of anthropology, developed around 1990 in an explicit 
opposition to this tradition.

Thus Cosmides, in one way, is not really suggesting a totally new 

Rather, she is turning the clock back to 1900 and taking a different  path.

In fact Cosmides puts it this way herself.

After a century, it is time to reconsider this model in the light of the 
new knowledge and new understanding that has been achieved in evolutionary 
biology, development, and cognitive science since it was first formulated.

Cosmides identifies three major defects here:

(a) Naive and erroneous theories of development (viz. teeth, breasts, which
are not present at birth but are not purely ex cultura either). Faulty
analysis  of nature-nurture issues: the phenotype cannot be partitioned into
genetic and  environmental traits.

(b) The fact of cultural variation is consistent with a genetic  substrate.

(c) Wrong (and probably nonsensical, impossible) psychology.

A psychological architecture that consisted of nothing but  equi-potential,
general-purpose, content-independent or content-free mechanisms  could not
successfully perform the tasks the human mind is known to perform or  solve
the adaptive problems humans evolved to solve." It cannot account for the 
behavior observed, and it is not a type of design that could have evolved.

Cosmides argues that characteristic practices of 20th-century social 
scientists are designed to reinforce the standard model by extra-scientific 
means, and that this warps the empirical work of social scientists and 
especially the modes of analysis based on it:

Whenever it is suggested that something is innate or biological, the 
anthropologist or sociologist riffles through the ethnographic literature to 
find a report of a culture where the behaviour varies.

Because of the  moral appeal of anti-nativism, the process of discrediting
claims about a  universal human nature has been strongly motivated.

Anthropologists, by each new claim of discovered variability, felt they 
were expanding the boundaries of their discipline (and, as they thought, of 
human possibility itself) and liberating the social sciences from
biologically  deterministic accounts of how we are inflexibly constrained to live as we

This has elevated particularism and the celebration of variability to 
central values inside of anthropology, strongly asserted and fiercely  defended.

The most scientifically damaging aspect of this dynamic has not been the 
consequent rhetorical emphasis most anthropologists have placed on the 

As Bloch puts it, it is the professional malpractice of anthropologists to 
exaggerate the exotic character of other cultures.

Nor is the most damaging aspect of this dynamic the professionally 
cultivated credulousness about claims of wonders in remote parts of the world, 
which has led anthropologists routinely to embrace, perpetuate, and defend not 
only gross errors but also obvious hoaxes.

The most scientifically damaging aspect of this value system has been that 
it leads anthropologists to actively reject conceptual frameworks that
identify  meaningful dimensions of cross-cultural uniformity in favor of
alternative  vantage points from which cultures appear maximally differentiated.

In general, there is no question that the intellectual pendulum is swinging
towards some version of the evolutionary-psychology point of view, with
large  potential effects in the social sciences and the humanities.

One natural question to ask is what the political implications will be.

This is not to say that all science is politics, just that broad questions 
about human nature and its relationship to culture are likely to have a 
political dimension.

For example, the leaders in establishing the standard social science model 
in the early 20th century, such as Franz Boas, had a very clear idea that
their  scientific conclusions were connected to their (liberal,
cultural-relativist,  anti-racist) politics.

Does a return to a more biological view of culture and cognition presage a 
return to racist science, or to scientific justifications for imperial 

Not necessarily.

In Noam Chomsky (who quotes Grice in his 1966 "Aspects of the theory  of
syntax" and further in his own John Locke lectures -- dubbing him  wrongly a
behaviourist, alas) in his review of Skinner's "Beyond Freedom  and Dignity",
he presents an interesting argument that Lockeian "tabula rasa"  views of
the human mind might be used as justification for totalitarian mind  control,
and suggests that scientific ideologies are sometimes a sort of  Rorschach
blot onto which a wide variety of political viewpoints and interests  can be

In any case, the movement in the direction of an evolutionary (and 
therefore biological) approach to human nature has so far not accumulated any 
particular political baggage, unless we are still somehow too close to it to see
what is happening.


Grice, Aspects of Reason
Pears, Motivated Irrationality.
digest on/off), visit

No comments:

Post a Comment