The Grice Club


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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Herbert Paul Grice and Derek Antony Parfit


Parfitiana; or, Herbert Paul Grice and Derek Antony Parfit.

Derek Antony Parfit is a philosopher, yes, whose, er, "philosophizing", on (at least) three areas, to wit:

(a) personal identity (cf. Grice, "Personal Identity," Mind 1941)

(b) the nature of reasons (cf. Grice, "Aspects of Reason") and

(c) the objectivity of morality (cf. Grice, "The Conception of Value")

re-establishes ethics (rather than metaphysics, as Grice would prefer, or epistemology, as Popper would) as a central concern for other philosophers, and sets some of the  terms (even if a few Griceianisms) for philosophic inquiry.

Popper should be fascinated! (Never mind Grice!)

Parfit, of All Souls, rises, as a matter of philosophical history, to pre-eminence with the publication of his first essay, “Personal Identity."

Oddly, this is the very title of Grice's first essay, too.

Or, as Grice would say, 'publication.'

(Grice's first 'unpublication' was on "Negation", predating "Personal Identity" for a term or two!)

In "Personal Identity", Parfit  (not Grice -- Parfit's "Personal Identity" should never be confused with Grice's "Personal Identity") develops a theory of identity (not taking into account the Grice-Myro theory of relative identity -- vide Myro in P. G. R. I. C. E., philosophical grounds of rationality, intentions, categories, ends) that "downgrades" the notion of what Parfit rather pretentiously calls the Cartesian cogito (Grice would prefer the Cartesian 'ego' _simpliciter_), and the importance, of an irreducible self — the "deep further fact," as Parfit calls it — in terms not dissimilar to Buddhism (Grice was no Buddhist but he liked to meditate)

Grice would agree, and indeed Parfit quotes Grice in both his (i.e. Parfit's) "Personal Identity" and "Reasons and Persons".

Parfit argues that we (he means his self -- "but we can generalize, can't we --" Queen Victoria) continue to exist over time by virtue of certain relations among mental states at different times, such as

-- the relation between an experience and the memory of it (Grice's main focus -- following Locke's criterion, and dealing with Read's paradox, etc.), or

-- the formation of a desire and the satisfaction of it.

“It is a revolutionary essay,  Parfit's "Personal Identity" is, and it made Parfit a philosophic celebrity instantly, almost alla Kardashian!," Jeffrey McMahan, of Oxford and one of Parfit’s tutees, says --.

It _is_ a revolutionary essay. 

But I would think Grice's Personal Identity was perhaps even MORE revolutionary!

But should we take 'revolutionary' seriously (as McMahan seems to do)?

(Cfr. Rorty on the linguistic turn as a "minor revolution" in philosophy).

(Grice, being a philosopher's philosopher, as Platts hatefully calls him) deals with very standard authors in that essay, though, as Perry is well aware -- such as Broad, and others -- Parfit is less of a philosophical historian, there!)

As a matter of philosophical history, too, Parfit's essay “Reasons and Persons" was greeted as the most important work of moral philosophy since Henry Sidgwick’s “The Method of Ethics." -- This was in The Guardian.

In "Reasons and Persons", Parfit elaborates his ideas on the (Griceian) concept of personal identity (that Grice had set to analyse in 1941 (well, 1941 is the year of publication; Grice finished it much earlier! -- vide Perry on Grice on personal identity in P. G. R. I. C. E., philosophical grounds of rationality: intentions, categories, ends).

But Parfit also explores issues in moral choice that reanimates the field of ethics, which to some had descended into abstruse technical conceptual analyses (and linguistic botanising) of moral terms like “ought,” “good” and “right.”

Grice would make fun of this:

"Ought" is Hare's word; "should" is Hampshire's word, "My word is "must"" (Grice, Aspects of Reason).

"Good" was rightly analysed, for Grice, by Philippa Foot, and 'right' is like 'ought', only different.

(Grice deals with the 'conversational implicatures' of "good" in the "Prolegomena" to "Logic and Conversation," now in "Way of Words"). ("To say 'x is good' is to commend x" -- an implicature if ever there was one!)

“A whole generation of moral philosophers was inspired by the questions Parfit asks in "Reasons and Persons", the *way* he asks them and the methods (alla Sedgwick) he employs to answer them,” Mark Schroeder, of Los Angeles, notes in The Notre Dame Philosophical Review, if you've read him!

(Smith misquotes "Reasons and Persons" as "Persons and Reasons" -- but Grice retorted, "Surely that's an implicature, "p AND q" is logically equivalent to "q AND p"!")

Parfit's "On What Matters" deals with the theory of reasons and morality.

Parfit argues for the existence of objective truth in ethics (vide and cfr. Grice's Carus Lectures on The Conception of Value for a similar treatment -- Grice is responding to Mackie, though).

In one grand flourish, which Parfit calls "the triple theory," -- which Popper would distinguish from "three different hypotheses" --, Parfit tries to reconcile three competing theories of morality:

(A) CONTRACTUALISM -- one based on the idea of a hypothetical contract -- cfr. Grice's contractualism or quasi-contractualism in "Logic and Conversation, II" and Geoffrey Russell Grice's contractualism -- full-fledged!

(B) -- another based entirely on the consequences of action (TELEOLOGY) and

(C) -- yet another based on Kant’s conception of duty (DEONTOLOGY) -- this was eventually Grice's favourite one, as "Aspects of Reason" shows and the PILES of papers by Grice on Kant, in the Grice Papers (Bancroft Library).

Philosophers of all three "schools," -- as they are not -- Parfit argues, are actually “climbing different sides of the same mountain.”

He fails to mention what mountain that is (perhaps a mount or a hill, rather?) -- which reminds me of Grice's Marmaduke Bloggs, who climbed Mt Everest on hands and knees ("Vacuous Names").

Parfit's essay includes articles by OTHER philosophers criticising (typically) Parfit’s ideas -- after Dancy's excellent work on this -- if you can call it work! -- along with his replies to them. 

It was a format that echoes a good part of Parfit’s Socratic (diagogic, as Grice prefers) philosophical activity -- but then he WAS Oxonian (vide Grice on Oxonian vs. Athenian dialectic, in the Retrospective Epilogue of WoW, Way of Words).

Parfit, like Grice, is renowned as a commentator, offering extensive, detailed critiques of work sent to him in manuscript (as Davidson recollects of the treatment Grice gave to his (i.e. Davidson's) draft on "Intending"!)

In the introduction to his essay “The Rejection of Consequentialism: A Philosophical Investigation of the Considerations Underlying Rival Moral Conceptions,” Samuel Scheffler indeed notes, as per implicature, that Parfit’s notes on the work in progress were "longer" than the book itself.

The implicature is that Scheffler should have extended his essay -- as he called it -- although the title is extended enough if you axes me!

“With no other philosopher have I had such a clear sense of someone who had already thought of every objection I could make, of the best replies to them, of further objections that I might then make, and of replies to them too,” Peter Singer notes in The Daily Nous.

This reminds me of Judith Baker when writing her dissertation "under Grice" (metaphorically).

Baker realized that nobody could understand her better than Grice. And Grice's conceptual analysis of 'meaning' is referred to by B. J. Harrison as having received more counterexamples than rule-utilitarianism!

The fun thing is that Grice managed to reply to EACH counterexample in "Logic and Conversation V". -- his favourite counter-exemplarist was of course S. R. Schiffer, of Arizona, and formerly Atlantic City.

* * * * *

Derek Antony Parfit was born in Chengdu, China. 

Herbert Paul Grice, on the other hand, usually the right one, was born in what he calls "the heart of England" -- the affluent suburb of Harborne.

Parfit's father, Norman, and his mother, Jessie Browne, were doctors teaching preventive medicine at Christian missions. 

On the other hand, usually the right one, Grice's father, also called Herbert, was a 'dreadful businessman, but a fine (piano) musician', and his mother, Mabel Fenton, ran a preppy school in the Grice residence ("upstairs") -- her favourite pupil was her own son!

The Parfits (not the Grices) returned to England when Derek was still an infant (metaphorically, -- could not speak) and settled in Oxford, where Derek attended the Dragon.

Grice went through more standard channels: from affluent Harborne, to Clifton, and THEN the dreaming Spires (Corpus -- or "The House," as Grice calls it)

After graduating from Eton, Parfit spent a year in New York visiting his sister, Theodora (or "Theo," as he would fondly call her), and working briefly as a researcher at The New Yorker. 

Grice didn't. But he refers to New York while in Harvard:

* * * * *
A: Smith does not seem to be having a girlfriend these days.
B: He's paying a lots of visits to New York recently.

* * * * *

-- Note that Parfit visited stuff other than her sister -- e.g. Central Park, etc. She lived in the Upper East Side, rightly. "The New Yorker" was one of Grice's favourite publications -- when at the dentist's!

Parift enrolls in Balliol and earns a degree in modern history -- "1066 and all that"). This would have provoked Grice who was a pure MA Lit Hum! -- no modern history about it!

While on a Harkness Fellowship at Harvard and Columbia after graduation, Parfit begins attending lectures on philosophy and changes course. (Some attribute this to the influence of Theo, or Theodora).

O. T. O. H., usually the right one, Grice never changed course.

“What interests me the most are those metaphysical questions whose answers seem to be relevant — or to make a difference — to what we have reason to care about and to do, and to our moral beliefs,” Parfit tells the journal Cogito

(Oddly, Parfit was a critique of the cogito -- vide Grice on Descartes in WoW -- Way of Words).

"What interests me the most is cricket," Grice once said -- but then he was a member of the Oxfordshire Cricket Club!

Parfit was elected to a prize fellowship at All Souls, and became a research fellow. 

Grice passed from Corpus to Merton and eventually became a fellow of Oxford's best 'college' (Nancy Mitford says it's non-U to add 'college'): St. John's.

For years, Parfit was a visiting lecturer at Harvard, Rutgers and New York.

Grice was a visiting lecturer at Harvard -- indeed the William James Lecturer for 1967 (the lectures were instituted in philosophy and psychology in memory of the psychologist and philosopher after which the lectures are named) -- and to almost every other uni in the New World. He would settle actually in Berkeley and return to Oxford (as per to deliver the John Locke lectures) as a 'furriner', almost!

Parfit was awarded the Rolf Schock Prize by the Royal Swedish Academy, philosophy’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize -- which was recently given, incidentally to Bob Dylan.

Grice could not speak Swedish -- but could IMPLICATE in Swedish!  

Like Grice, Parfit publishes seldom, but to great effect -- or 'perlocutionary' effect, in the words of J. L. Austin.

Parfit's two major works are compendious and staggeringly ambitious.

“Reasons and Persons” is four essays in one. 

The first part deals with morality and rationality.

The second part deals with a theory of individual rationality and rejects the idea that self-interest requires people to be equally concerned about all parts of their future. 

In the third part, Parfit expands his ideas about personal identity -- citing Grice.

In the fourth part, Parfit devotes his focus to moral thinking about future generations and the morality of bringing other humans into existence, offering a number of Grice-type paradoxes and puzzles challenging traditional moral thinking. 

In so doing, Parfit tangentially opens up a new field of inquiry, population ethics -- C. A. B. Peacocke, on the other hand, usually the right one, had opened the new field of population pragmatics when he expands on Grice in Evans/McDowell, "Truth and Meaning" (Oxford):

"The word 'dog' means dog in population P iff..."

“On What Matters,” much of it based on the Tanner Lectures that Parfit delivers at the University of California, Berkeley (or Grice's varsity,
as Grice called it -- Moses Hall) is similarly wide ranging, with multiple sections, and sub-sections (almost alla Witters) each worthy of its own volume, and concluding with a magisterial monograph on meta-ethics, alla Grice.

Oxford University Press plans to publish a third volume of “On What Matters.” 

Or, rather, the people working at OUP do -- Presses don't plan -- vide Parfit on population ethics and Grice on population pragmatics. Clarendon CAN plan, because he is a man!

This third volume consists, in part, of responses to criticism of Parfit's work by leading philosophers, which will appear in a companion volume, edited by Singer, titled “Does Anything Really Matter?” (the attending implicature being: "???")

On the other hand, when Grice was asked by Grandy and Warner to provide a response to EACH of the many contributions to PGRICE (Philosophical Grounds of Rationality: Intentions, Categories, Ends), he said, "Are yous crazy?"

Instead, Grice ended just providing ONE (indeed charming) response to Richard Grandy and Richard Warner ("Repy to Richards" -- "I use "Richards" as a short for "Richard Warner and Richard Grandy," Grice says -- the implicature being obvious -- if implicit or unsaid, as some prefer) (Part of this response he had already written under the title, "Prejudices and predilections, which become the life and opinions of Paul Grice, written by Paul Grice."

On Daily Nous, Singer offers a snippet from Parfit’s new work:

“Life can be wonderful as well as terrible, and we shall increasingly have the power to make life good. Since human history may be only just beginning, we can expect that future humans, or supra-humans, may achieve some great goods that we cannot now even imagine.

“In Nietzsche’s words, there has never been such a new dawn and clear horizon, and such an open sea.”

On the other hand, there are LOADS of snippets from the Grice Papers -- my favourite must be his quote from "From Genesis to Revelations" -- or not!



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