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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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Anna Wintour's Implicature


There are few people (never mind philosophers) who are good at aphorisms. One was Sir Karl Popper ("Falsify that!"). Another was H. P. Grice ("Disimplicate that!"). Another is Anna Wintour. When leaving college (she would not use 'leave', but I will) she uttered (to her father, the famous Mr. Wintour -- pronounced like one of the four seasons, the cold one):

i. Either you know fashion or you don't.

Her implicature was obvious: a refudiation of Popper. Popper was against Ryle, and Ryle held that there were two types of 'know': 'know that' and 'know how'. Wintour is using

ii. know fashion

in a neutral fashion to implicate both:

iii. Either you know that fashion is something, or you don't.

Witters would claim that Wintour is _not_ making a statement about the world. Yet Mr. Wintour would disagree, and found Ms. Wintour's utterance (carrying the lovely Griceian implicature) very convincing.

Grice would wonder if Wintour's utterance can be DISIMPLICATED.

Recall: you implicate when you mean more than you say; you disimplicate when you mean less.

Could it be that Anna Wintour is meaning less than she says? Don't think so. In a way, Wintour's implicature-laden utterance ("All utterances are implicature-laden to the point that the jargon 'utterance-laden' becomes very Griceianly otiose" -- McEvoy) compares to what Grice learned from Cook Wilson.

Cook Wilson was a pretentious Oxonian don. His surname was plain Wilson, but since his mother was a Cook, he kept her maiden name as his own middle name. Note that "Wilson" etymologically means, "a son of the will", in this case, the cook's son of the will". Wilson said to Grice:

iv. What we know we know.

Grice was the soccer captain at Corpus Christi when he heard Professor Wilson utter that, and was impressed. In the locker room he said to his mates:

v. GRICE: Today, I learned from Professor Wilson one stoic truth.
    GRICE'S CLASSMATE: And what was that?
   GRICE: He said, "What we know we know."
   GRICE'S CLASSMATE: And what was his implicature?
   GRICE: His _what_?

At this point, Grice had not yet coined the noun.

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