The Grice Club


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Is Grice the greatest philosopher that ever lived?

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Sunday, January 8, 2017

Griceian akrasia


I haven't been a thread on CHORA, which I admit I have not been following too closely. But I am reminded of L. Weir's original:

"It struck me that attributing agency to a non-living organism
was somewhat unusual. Since questions of agency, and
indeed free will, are philosophical almost by definition, I
wondered what other people might think about this."

I have enjoyed all contributions to the thread, and Weir's commentary motivated me to search for the source she mentions -- a quick google and I got it's -- sorry I'm using hypertext here --

"Alcohol use disorders"

by R. Barnett, as published indeed in "The Lancet". The abstract, for what it's worth (I love an abstract) runs:

"Physicians have been arguing over alcohol, and the meaning of
moderation and excess, for more than two millennia. In
the classical tradition wine was held in high regard, embodying
the heat and moisture characteristic of living things. Like
any medicine, though, it was only beneficial in the correct proportions.
In excess it could dry the body by provoking urination, and its
vapours could rise to the head and fog the faculty of reason.
Medical attitudes began to shift most radically after the 18th-century
Gin Craze, as mainstream opinion turned against intoxication
in its most potent forms."

-- which, as abstracts go, seems like a excellent one!


The references to Bartlett's essay seem brief, to wit:

Berridge, V, Herring, R, and Thom, B. Binge drinking: a confused concept and its contemporary history. Soc Hist Med., vol. 22.
Nicholls, J. The politics of alcohol: a history of the drink question in England. Manchester University Press, Manchester.
Valverde, M. “Slavery from within“: the invention of alcoholism and the question of free will. Soc Hist. vol 22.

While I appreciate Weir's way of formulating the question, as per the header, along with her words cited, above, it may do to revise the passage she selects for quotation:

"Rush was not the first to describe what would now
be called chronic alcoholism, but his Inquiry also
exercised a profound influence over temperance
campaigners looking for medical evidence to back
up their position. By the early 19th century, both
medical attitudes to alcohol and the meaning of
drunkenness were changing rapidly. For Enlightenment
physicians, the decision to drink oneself into
a stupor was a free choice, one for which the
drunkard could be held entirely responsible. But
for 19th-century doctors, thinkers, and drinkers the
issue became more ambiguous. Alcohol itself had
acquired some agency: it was, to use a word t
hat acquired its modern meaning at the time they
were writing, addictive."

Alla J. L. Austin (as G. J. Warnock complains in "Saturday mornings", in his "Language and Morality," Blackwell) we should (or not) proceed sentence by sentence! 

I have thus, below, provide them, slightly adapted, and turning, for mere Austinian 'perlocutionary' effect, molecular propositions into atomic, and past tense into present:

i. Rush was NOT the first to describe what would
now be called chronic alcoholism.

(Cfr. Grice on the implicatures of "not" -- "I'm not having an affair with the Prince.")

ii. But Rush's Inquiry exercises a
profound influence over temperance
campaigners looking for medical evidence to back up their position.

(Cfr. Grice on the conventional implicature of 'but' and Frege on 'colour'!)

iii. By the early 19th century, medical attitudes
to alcohol and the MEANING of drunkenness are changing rapidly.

iv. For earlier Enlightenment physicians, the
decision to drink oneself into a stupor is a free choice,
one for which the drunkard SHOULD be held entirely responsible.

v. But for 19th-century doctors, thinkers,
and drinkers the issue becomes more ambiguous.
(Or shall we say, with Grice, 'aequi-vocal'?).

I what follows I follow Weir in italicising again for good Austinian perlocutionary effect -- the crucial final two utterances by Barnett:

vi. Alcohol itself acquires some agency.

vi. Alcohol is, to use a word that acquired
its modern meaning at the time [19th century doctors,
thinkers, and drinkers]
are writing [the 19th-century, that is] "addictive".

Note that the VERY crucial utterance, (vi), that Weir rightly italicises for perlocutionary effect, is complexly quantificational in logical form -- that tricky 'some'!

"SOME agency" (Sorry for the scream).

So, the utterer (yes, as Grice would call Barnett here) seems to be implicating OTHER than what Barnett is saying. Barnett is clearly, as per the previous utterances, contrasting Enlightment physicians to 19th-century doctors. And the fact that Barnett uses 'ambiguous' would have fascinated Grice! -- even if Grice would have objected to its application to 'issue'!

Note incidentally the previously openily semantic phrasing on the "meaning" of 'drunknness" and the implicatures that 'drunkard' has, but 'drinker' don't [sic].  

When considering issues of 'free will' -- and it is interesting that the KEYWORD 'freewill' features in the title of one of the publications Barnett refers to: "the invention of alcoholism and the question of free will"), Grice, since I'm quoting him, in fact starts with some linguistic botanising, and notes that 'free' can (or may, if not just merely does) occur in phrases like "free fall" (Grice, "Actions and Events," Pacific Philosophical Quarterly -- oddly, he notes that 'free' oddly occurs in phrases like 'alcohol-free'!).

(Cfr. Sherwood on 'demon alcohol" -- and its interpretation, as I read it, as a trope, by Hawkins)

By pointing to the use of 'free' in "free fall" (which may compare to Barnett's use of 'agency' as applied to alcohol), Grice seems to be DISIMPLICATING that, as per English usage is concerned, this is a Kantian fiully-fledged (if I may be metaphorical) type of 'freedom' -- Grice's point is that 'free' is NOT 'ambiguous'.

(I enjoyed the commentary on Cartwright on 'capacity, by Julian Newman, by the way -- very much to the point -- and cfr. R. Harre's metaphysics of 'powers' and causations -- and I am glad Newman is writing from Grice's country -- he was Harborne-born and bred).

So, back to Barnett's little historiography, for the Enlightment physicians, it is, plainly, the drinker who DISPLAYS (is that the verb?) agency -- the abstract expands on the pre-Enlightment tradition (that Barnett calls 'classical').

For "19th-century doctors," on the other hand, usually the wrong one, it is now ALCOHOL -- I guess Kantotle would call it a 'cause' -- that then 'acquires' "SOME" agency, which is then LOST on the drinker (As a classicist, I won't use 'drunkard'!).

Grice would perhaps analyse this controversy -- or paradigm shift, if you wish --, i.e. the position the 19th-century doctors's positions versus the earlier Enlightment physicians -- in terms of practical akrasia (His favourite was alethic akrasia: "It is raining but I don't believe it").

As (iv) puts it clearly, "the decision," for these very "Enlightened" types, to "drink oneself into a stupor" is a Kantian "free choice" (cfr. again, "the invention of alcoholism and the question of free will" -- but does the author of this essay recognize that 'free', as applied to 'will' was metaphorical, and first used as a transposition from a literal use where it applied to a person -- 'a freeman' versus a 'slave'?

(Cfr. the classical idea of 'semi-freedom of the will').

But now, the 19th-century doctors want (or will) responsibility and free choice to be a 'trait' or 'capacity' that 'alcohol' itself (qua Lockeian natural kind?) acquires -- for good measure! (And the drinker, now a 'drunkard' (mind the scare quotes) becomes an 'addict.'

The issues are so complex that they scare me!

My favourite implicature, incidentally, possibly due to Atlas, is that the utterance

vii. May I offer you a drink?

usually DISIMPLICATES water. (Grice thought that the keyword in 21st-century philosophy should be DISIMPLICATURE).

And the topic is pretty complex in that, to use L. Weir's phrasing, it is 'almost philosophical by definition', and may need some further keywords -- AKRASIA, FREEDOM, and a few others -- such as CAUSATION.

After all, if Hume detested the idea of 'cause', it was because he thought (and rightly) that it was connected with 'will' ("to cause" = "to will" -- cfr. Grice on 'aitia' in "Actions and Events" and his funny, if macabre, example: "The decapitation of Charles I willed the death of Charles I").

And while we are into the further keyword "PHILOSOPHY OF ADDICTIVE BEHAVIOUR", perhaps we should enlarge the type of substances involved (or natural kinds) (realizing that not all addictive behaviour REQUIRES a substance qua cause). What about tobacco? Grice died of emphysema and dropsy, so the issue is of special philosophical relevance to Griceians. 

Yet, in his last days, he would NOT even TOUCH his last packet of cigarettes -- which was left unopened -- and Navy's, too -- (Some attribute this trait in Grice to Grice's mother, who, perhaps because she was fond of Sir (as he then wasn't) Noel Coward, thought that holding a cigarette made Grice look VERY SOPHISTICATE! (It did, alas!).

In the case of the chain-smoker, it would not be, literally (since Hawkins was mentioning tropes) tobacco that HAS (or displays) 'agency', but tobacco interacts with, say, Grice's ability to quit smoking.

When he did Grice quit smoking, perhaps it was too late (say, he never finished "From Genesis To Revelations"). But then, you can't have your cake, and eat it too.

Now, Danny, if you are going to comment, be kind! (I hope you do [+>comment, since I assume you'll BE kind]  if only to [kindly] disimplicate me!)

Cheers [pun intended -- it literally means 'bring some more chairs']

for The Grice Club, etc.


Grice, H. P. "Actions and Events".
-- "Way of Words" [WoW -- for the "Charles I" example].
-- Unpublications, The Bancroft Library.

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