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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Monday, July 18, 2016

Herbert Paul Grice and Howard Raiffa: The Haggle of Conversation


Grice thought that conversations were NOT zero-sum games. In symbols, the intersection of

GA -- where that represents the goal of one conversationalist


GB -- the goal of the co-conversationalist

was not the empty set.

Howard Raiffa is an economics professor whose mathematical formulas for decision making are applied to the search for a missing nuclear bomb and the siting of an airport, and are even suggested as a way to resolve a strike by professional hockey players.

Professor Raiffa is (unlike Grice) a co-founder of "The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard" (now "The Harvard Kennedy School" -- or "The Harvard Kennedy", as Nancy Mitford prefers. She shays it's 'uncool' to add 'school' to schools) and a member of the university faculty for a number of years, pioneers what has become known as decision science (after Hampshire's and Hart's essay on deciding, also D. F. Pears's — an academic discipline that encompasses negotiating techniques, conflict resolution, risk analysis and game theory.


Grice and Raiffa were innovative and often abstruse theoreticians, but both applied their postulates (Grice preferred 'desiderata' in his 1964 Oxford lectures on "Logic and Conversation" delivered some time later at Harvard) to real-world cases of conflict, cooperation and compromise in planning curriculums, publishing guidebooks and making videos.

Raiffa (but not Grice) was also the founding director of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, a joint American-Soviet research organization that explored energy, pollution and other issues as a cooperative venture during the Cold War ("Brrr...," said Grice).

Raiffa recalls:

"I learned a lot about the theory and practice of many-party negotiations in the presence of extreme cultural differences."

And then he should.

In an interview, Prof. David E. Bell of the Harvard Business School said:

"Many academics cross t’s and dot i’s."

Grice and Raiffa came up with brand-new theories that helped us understand how we should make decisions in a wide variety of circumstances.

These were practical approaches, not ivory tower constructs.

Professor Raiffa was headed for a career as an actuary when, he once said:

I decided that I really wanted to study something more cerebral — something more theoretical.

The same happened to Grice. His father, Herbert, wanted Grice to become a concert cellist. But Grice was brain AND BRAWN: once into "The House" at Oxford he became the captain of the football team (i.e. soccer) and would later join the Oxfordshire Cricket Club. In fact, THE TIMES once called him, "Professional philosopher and amateur cricketer."

Raiffa became an applied mathematician and statistician and, after conducting a primitive multiple-value analysis of 10 variables involved in competing job offers, went to Harvard.

Don't say uni, varsity, university, or college! It's implicated!

Raiffa held the Frank Plumpton Ramsey professorship of managerial economics at the Harvard Business School and the Kennedy School until his retirement.

On the other hand, Grice played with RAMSIFIED NAMING and RAMSIFIED DEFINITION in his presidential address (Pacific Division, if you must) of the APA -- that's the American Philosophical Association.

Among his Raiffa's essays are:

“Games and Decisions: Introduction and Critical Survey” (with R. Duncan Luce)
“Applied Statistical Decision Theory” (with Robert Schlaifer)
“The Art and Science of Negotiation: How to Resolve Conflicts and Get the Best Out of Bargaining” and two more accessible volumes:
“Decision Analysis: Introductory Lectures on Choices Under Uncertainty” and
“Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions” (with John S. Hammond and Ralph L. Keeney).

The best practical advice, Professor Raiffa (and Grice) thought, is to maximize your expected pay-off, which is the sum of all pay-offs multiplied by probabilities, if you get my drift.

Raiffa and Grice explained that the art of compromise centers on the willingness to give up something in order to get something else in return.

Successful artists, such as Köepcke, since McEvoy was mentioning him in connection with Popper's TOO COMPLEX theory of contradiction, get more than they give up.

While Grice and Raiffa’s major intellectual contributions were highly conceptual and theoretical, they devoted his later career to practical subjects.

In helping a country's government decide where to build an airport, Raiffa (not Grice -- he did not like flying) assisted in weighing variables like safety (one possible location required planes to make a steep descent over mountains), noise pollution and convenience.

Raiffa (not Grice) delivered a lecture on handicapping horse racing that helped Navy scientists search for a hydrogen bomb lost after a B-52 crash.

(Granted, Grice was a captain with the ROYAL Navy).

The formula by Raiffa (not Grice) describes so-called Bayesian (after Bayes, a man) methods of probability, which involve quantifying knowledge or belief.

Grice disliked quantifying over belief, but he had to. He preferred to use subscripts:

i. Columbus believed-1 that the earth was round.

As it happens, the earth IS round.


ii. The Ancient Greeks believed that the earth was flat.

Since we are using 'believe' confusingly, Grice proposes

iii. The Ancient Greeks believed-2 that the earth was flat.

(vide his section on Propositional Attitudes in the MIT compilation on "Vacuous Names" -- Grice's essay was originally published by Reidel).

In 1994, in an Op-Ed article in The New York Times, Prof. James K. Sebenius and his colleague Prof. Michael A. Wheeler invoke an earlier suggestion from Raiffa and David Lax to settle a hockey strike.

Grice avoided Oxonian strikes -- and then he moved to UC/Berkeley.

Revenue would flow into an escrow account, and neither the players nor the owners would be paid until they resolved their differences.

The suggestion was, as a matter of fact, not adopted (But Raifa's solution is still part of Popper's w3 of objective knowledge -- "the third realm").

Howard Raiffa was born in the Bronx on Jan. 24, 1924.

Herbert Paul Grice was born in England.

Raiffa was the son of Jacob Raiffa, who sold wool products, and the former Hilda Kaplan.

Grice was the son of Herbert Grice ("a dreadful businessman, but he was a fine musician," his son recalled) and Mabel Fulton.

Raiffa graduated from Evander Childs, where he was captain of the basketball team.

Grice graduated from Clifton, where he played cricket and for his last year there, played Ravel at the end of year party. His mother was so proud!

Math was Raiffa's (not Grice's) best subject -- Grice's was Greek -- but Raiffa dreamed of being a basketball player or coach.

Grice got away with it, and would play football first at The House and later cricket becoming a member of the Oxfordshire Cricket Club.

Raiffa (not Grice) was attending City College when he enlisted in the Army Air Corps.

Grice was attending The House when he enlisted in the Royal Navy.

In the Army Air Corps, Raiffa where was a radar specialist.

In the Royal Navy, Grice was a crossword puzzle specialist -- but he was involved in action in the North Atlantic, and later transferred to the Admiralty.

Raiffa (not Grice) earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics.

Grice earned a BA in Lit. Hum.

Raiffa later earned a master’s in statistics.

Grice "earned" a MA in Lit Hum.

Raiffa (not Grice) later earned a doctorate in mathematics.

Grice never earned a doctorate since an Oxonian don was never required to earn one -- it was thought almost improper -- "a bit too much".

All of Raifa's degrees were awarded from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

All of Grice's degrees (his BA and his MA) were given by Oxford (-- "the uni, not to town!").

In 1945, Raiffa married Estelle Schwartz.

Grice married the daughter of a naval engineer, whose brother (the daughter's brother) was a co-student with Grice at Merton for a while).

Like Grice, Raiffa had daughter and a son.

In fact, Grice would experiment with his children with things like:

"Nothing can be green and red all over." ("Can a sweater be green and red all over?")

Rather than his children, Grice would experiment with his children's playmates at Oxford. Grice was interested in how they would react to synthetic a priori statements ("No stripes allowed")

After teaching at Columbia Raiffa joined the faculty of the business school at Harvard.

After getting his MA, Grice taught classics for a year in Lancashire but got bored.

At Harvard, Raiffa, with Graham T. Allison Jr., Francis M. Bator, Ernest May, Frederick Mosteller, Richard E. Neustadt, and Thomas C. Schelling (if you've heard of him -- Lewis quotes him along with Grice in his essay on Convention, as does S. R. Schiffer), he was a founder of the Kennedy School, which evolved from the Graduate School of Public Administration and was renamed later.

Negotiation analysis soon became the most popular course at the Kennedy -- especially after Grice delivered his "Logic and Conversation" lectures positing a "co-operative principle" along Kantian lines (He had revised entirely his earlier Oxford lectures where he spoke of desiderata, and the principles of candour and clarity, and how conversational benevolence should be balanced with conversational self-interest; all in the goal of attaining 'helpfulness' for the purpose of getting your implicature across).

Grice's and Raiffa’s thrust was not simply "how to win," although Grice makes specific references to "conversational moves" in the "conversational game" (and yes, he played cricket, which IS a zero-sum game).

Rather, Grice's and Raiffa's  thrust was strongly directed toward the question of how to create joint value.

Grice will go on to deliver the Paul Carus lectures on The Conception of Value.

If both participants in a conversation learned his lessons effectively, they would both be better off.

Grice's and Raiffa's students engaged in sometimes cut-throat simulated negotiations and conversations, which prompted The Harvard Crimson to ask Raiffa (Grice was in Berkeley where he had found a beautiful villa by the bay), whether the curriculum taught students to lie in actual business dealings.

Raiffa, almost like Grice, replied in a clever way, by citing a letter about the former president of the University of Chicago.

Raffia told The Crimson (we don't say "The Harvard Crimson"):

"When, in the 1950 he was hauled before a congressional committee and asked if it was true that Chicago taught communism, Robert Hutchins replied in the affirmative."

Hutchins's memorable answer went:

"Yes. And in the medical school we teach cancer."

As if quoting Grice on implicature (Grice loved the Greek concept of analogy, since it should be balanced with deduction), Raiffa notes:

"It is a valid analogy.

"To deal with a problem, we have to teach about it."

Meanwhile, Grice was providing a conceptual analysis of Benjamin Franklin's motto:

iv. Honesty is the best policy.

The Crimson said that Raiffa (not Grice) concluded his course with this wish:

"When we see we could improve our profit or further maximize our desired result, we might ask, Is this a ‘dirty dollar’ or a ‘clean one’ that we could earn here? What would happen if everybody did this? Would we be able to sleep at night if we did this? How would we feel if we had to explain this to our families? I hope that in answering these questions, you will favor the course of action embracing a higher moral standard."

On the other hand, Grice concluded his course by leaving the room -- even if later he became obsessed with Kant, in joint lectures with Judith Baker.

Stalnaker, of MIT, not far from Harvard, sure, tries to reconcile a utilitarian approach to Grice and concludes that Bentham won't do. To deal with Grice you need both Aristotle's concept of 'phronesis' and Kant's theory of the imperatives.

That's why when Jonathan Bennett reviewed Grice's festschrift for the Times Literary Supplement, he entitled, "In the tradition of Kantotle"!

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