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Sunday, January 8, 2017

Herbert Paul Grice and Derek Antony Parfit


I haven't been following ALL the tributes to the late philosopher, Derek Antony Parfit -- I love that the 't' is not a 'th' there! -- but it was perhaps reading the obit in "The New York Times" (of all publications) that motivated me to comment -- and of course, connect ("Only connect," said Forster) -- in this case the connection then reads:

"Herbert Paul Grice and Derek Antony Parfit".

"The New York Times" has a style of titling its obituaries in a grand form, and I was delighted to see that, as it happens, "The Daily Nous" just chose the *title* of "The New York Times" obituary as the quoted excerpt.

To me, an obituary (like a poem) does *not* actually start with its title.

So I will proceed to revisit the utterances theirselves [sic].

Derek Antony Parfit is, as The New York Times has it, 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.

(The New York Times, incidentally, uses the past tense, but, following Parfit's ideas on personal identity and survival, I will stick with the present one!) -- Popper should be fascinated! (Never mind Grice!).

Parfit, as The New York Times goes on, of All Souls, as a matter of philosophical history, rises to pre-eminence with the publication of his very 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,' as a matter of philosophical history again, was on "Negation", predating "Personal Identity" for a term or two!).

As "The New York Times" notes, in "Personal Identity", Parfit  (not Grice -- Parfit's "Personal Identity" should never be confused with Grice's "Personal Identity" -- sorry about that) develops a theory of identity (not initially taking into account the Grice-Myro theory of relative identity -- vide Myro in P. G. R. I. C. E., "Philosophical Grounds of Rationality: Itentions, Categories, Ends") that "downgrades" the notion of what Parfit rather pretentiously (to some) calls, I think, the Cartesian cogito (Grice would prefer the Cartesian 'ego', rather _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 did liked to meditate -- especially in his Volkswagen parked outside his 'palace' -- or was it 'villa'? -- up the Berkeley hills).

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 --" to echo Queen Victoria) continue to exist over time  -- cfr. the Grice-Myro -- if not Geachian -- theory of time-relative identity) by virtue of certain relations among mental states at different times, such as:


(a) 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. -- and the beautiful treatment of this in Perry's classical compilation -- and his contribution on Grice's Personal Identity to P. G. R. I. C. E.), or


the formation of a desire and the satisfaction of it.


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

(Well, the Kardashian bit was my addition, but what philosopher *needs* celebrity? Just kidding).  

Parfit's "Personal Identity", we'll grant McMahan, _is_ a revolutionary essay. But some (and not just Griceians like Parfit) would think Grice's "Personal Identity" was perhaps even MORE revolutionary!

A fascinating thing about Grice is that one of his unpublications, unpublished AGES after his 1941 "Personal Identity" is entitled, "Personal identity as a logical construction" -- and there's also his "Vagaries of personal identity" co-written with Haugeland.

But should we take McMahan's 'revolutionary' seriously (as McMahan seems to do)? Why not?

(Cfr. on this Rorty on the linguistic turn as a "minor revolution" in philosophy, as Grice qualifies it in his "Prejudices and predilections, which become the life and opinions of Paul Grice").

There ARE differences between Grice's "Personal Identity" and Parfit's "Personal Identity": Grice, being a philosopher's philosopher (as Platts hatefully calls him in his review of P. G. R. I. C. E. in "Mind") deals with very standard authors in his essay, though, as Perry is well aware.

My favourite of Grice's choices is: Broad.

But there are others (Gallie, Locke, and such). 

Parfit is perhaps less of a philosophical historian, there!?)

As a matter of philosophical history, too, and as "The New York Times" goes on, Parfit's essay “Reasons and Persons" was ALSO greeted as the most important work of moral philosophy since Henry Sidgwick’s “The Method of Ethics."

Mind: this was in NOT The Guardian!

In "Reasons and Persons", "The New York Times" has it, Parfit elaborates his ideas on the (Griceian) concept of personal identity (that Grice had set to analyse back 1941 (well, before that since one of the examples of "I" Grice uses is "I shall be fighting soon", and by 1941, Grice was already fighting).

But Parfit also explores issues in moral choice that reanimates the field of ethics, which, to some, "The New York Times" has it, had

"descended into abstruse technical [conceptual] analyses"

(never mind linguistic botanising) of moral terms like “ought,” “good” and “right.”

Grice would make healthy fun of this:

"Ought" is, of course's Hare's (deontological) word; "should" is Hampshire's word; "Mine is "must"" -- Grice seems to be saying in Aspects of Reason -- for "must" only expresses the necessity the ethicist needs). 

"Good" was rightly analysed, for Grice, by Philippa Foot, and 'right' is like 'ought', only different (It's Hare's favourite TELEOLOGICAL word).

Grice tangentially deals with  "good" and its 'conversational implicatures' in his "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!

"The New York Times " goes on to quote from Schroeder:

"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!

(I add this colloquial biscuit conditional, because it seems tangential to quote the Notre Dame in The New York Times!)

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

Parfit's "On What Matters" deals, The New York Times sums it up, with the theory of reasons and morality.

Parfit argues plainly 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 J. L. Mackie's Penguin paperback, "Inventing right and wrong," though).

"In one grand flourish,", as The New York Times nicely puts it, which Parfit calls "the triple theory," -- which Popper perhaps would distinguish from "three different hypotheses" --, Parfit tries to reconcile three competing theories of morality.

Is "The New York Times"'s implicature that if Parfit TRIES, he does not succeed?

Don't think so!


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


(Hypothesis II)
Another based entirely on the consequences of action (TELEOLOGY -- and act-utilitarianism) and


(Hypothesis III)
Yet another based on Kant’s complex concept of duty (DEONTOLOGY). This was eventually Grice's favourite, as "Aspects of Reason" shows -- plus the PILES of papers by Grice on Kant (some written in collaboration with Judith Baker) in the Grice Papers (Bancroft Library).

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

Parfit fails to mention what mountain that is (perhaps a mount or a hill, rather? -- cfr. "The Englishman who went up a hill but came down a mountain") -- which reminds me of Grice's Marmaduke Bloggs, who climbed Mt. Everest on hands and knees (in "Vacuous Names", in Davidson/Hintikka, "Words and objections").

Parfit's big essay includes other essays by OTHER philosophers criticising (typically) Parfit’s ideas -- following the manner of Dancy's seminal and excellent work on this -- if you can call it work! --, "Reading Parfit" -- along with his replies to them. 

It was a format, "The New York Times" goes, 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 brilliant "Retrospective Epilogue" to "WoW," or "Way of Words").

Parfit, like Grice, is renowned as a commentator, offering extensive, detailed critiques of work sent to him in manuscript.

Grice would prefer the oral format, as Davidson recollects 'pretty rough handling' his views on "Intending" received from Grice -- and which motivated Grice to revise some of his views in "Intention and Uncertainty."

As an illustration, "The New York Times" mentions that in "The Rejection of Consequentialism: A Philosophical Investigation of the Considerations Underlying Rival Moral Conceptions," Samuel Scheffler indeed notes in the "Introduction" as per implicature, that Parfit’s notes on the work in progress were "longer" than Scheffler's own essay itself!

The implicature by Parfit perhaps being that Scheffler should have extended his essay -- as he called it -- although the title is extended enough if you axes [sic] me!

The world is circular, and it's good to see "The New York Times" quoting from "The Daily Nous", which now quotes from "The New York Times." "The New York Times" quotes verbatim from Peter Singer in "The Daily Nous":

“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."

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 ihere s that Grice cares to reply to as many counterexamples as he can in "Logic and Conversation V".

His favourite counter-exemplarist was of course his tutee S. R. Schiffer, of Arizona, and formerly Atlantic City.

* * * * *

It's customary of The New York Times, unlike Wikipedia, to leave biographical material for the middle section of an obituary:

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 -- reason why Grice went by "Paul"! -- was a 'dreadful businessman, but a fine violinist', and his mother, Mabel Fenton, ran a preppy school in the Grice residence ("upstairs") -- her favourite pupil being her own son!

The Parfits (not the Grices) returned to England when Derek was still an infant (metaphorically -- could not speak, but he could, 'mean,' to use Grice's favourite verb) and settled in Oxford, where Derek attended the Dragon -- if you've been there (or even if you haven't).

Grice went through all the 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, The New York Times informs us, 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 Grice refers to New York while in Harvard in a controversial example of a conversational implicature:

* * * * *

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

(M. Dascal expands on how indeterminate the implicature here is -- 'who needs a girlfriend in New York', 'he's too busy for a girlfriend', etc.)

* * * * *

Note that Parfit visited stuff other than her sister -- e.g. Central Park, etc. She perhaps lived in the Upper East Side, rightly.

Incidentally, "The New Yorker" was one of Grice's favourite publications -- when at the dentist's!

Eventually, Parift enrolls in Balliol and earns a degree in modern history -- "1066 and all that". T

his would have provoked Grice, who was a thoroughbred MA Lit Hum! -- no modern history about it!

On the other hand, this diversity in background admittedly makes Parfit who he is.

It is only while on a Harkness Fellowship at Harvard and Columbia after graduation, "The New York Times" has it, that Parfit begins attending lectures on philosophy and changes course.

Some attribute this to the influence of Theo, or Theodora -- but I wouldn't be too sure -- one may need a list of the actual philosophers who gave those lectures.

O. T. O. H., usually the right one, Grice never changed course -- but then he was also a careful R. N. Capt.

"The New York Times" goes on to quote Parfit verbatim:


“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." It is slightly ironic that Parfit is conversing with "Cogito" when he was so critical of the cogito -- vide for contrast 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. 

O. T. O. H., 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' but Kant help it here): St. John's.

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

O. T. O. H., Grice was a visiting lecturer at Harvard -- indeed the William James Lecturer for 1967.

Curiously, these lectures were instituted in philosophy "and psychology ", to be held bi-annually, in memory of the psychologist and philosopher after which the lectures are named) -- and at almost every other uni in the New World you can think of. 

Grice would eventually settle actually in Berkeley and return to Oxford (to deliver the John Locke lectures as a 'furriner', almost! -- you have to be non-Oxonian associated to be elected a John Locke lecturer).

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 -- the Nobel, not the Schock.

Sorry about this, but "The New York Times" can be slightly patronising on occasion.

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, indeed, The New York Times instructs us, "four essays in one."

The first deals with morality and rationality.

The second 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, Parfit expands his ideas about personal identity -- citing Grice.

In the fourth, 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.

O. T. O. H. -- usually the right one -- C. A. B. Peacocke, in his contribution to Evans/McDowell, "Truth and meaning" (Oxford) had opened the new field of population pragmatics, expanding on Grice:

"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, to be specific)
is similarly wide ranging, with multiple sections, and sub-sections (almost alla Witters in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus) 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 do not plan -- vide Parfit on population ethics and Grice on population pragmatics.

Clarendon CAN plan, but then he is literally a man!

This third volume consists, in part, of responses to criticism of Parfit's work by "leading" (as "The New York Times" qualifies this) philosophers, which will appear in a companion volume, edited by Singer, titled “Does Anything Really Matter?” (the attending implicature being: "???" -- and cfr. Singer's use of what Austin, "with artless sexism," Grice puts it, calls a 'trouser word': "really".

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 (or perhaps implicated) "Are yous crazy?" Instead, Grice ends by just providing ONE (indeed charming)  pretty long response to Richard Grandy and Richard Warner ("Repy to Richards")

"I use "Richards" as short for "Richard Warner and Richard Grandy," Grice says -- the implicature being obvious -- if implicit or unsaid, as some prefer) (Part of this response Grice had already volunteered under the title, "Prejudices and predilections, which become the life and opinions of Paul Grice, written by Paul Grice.")

You know a "New York Times" obituary is about to end when you find a final rhetorical flourish. And here we have one.

On "The Daily Nous", Singer offers a snippet from Parfit’s unpublished work:

“Life can be wonderful as well as terrible, a
nd 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 s
ome 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 voluminous Grice Papers -- my favourite must be his quote from "From Genesis to Revelations" -- or not!


-- for the Grice Club, etc.


Dancy, J. "Reading Parfit."
Grandy, Richard and Richard Warner, "PGRICE", being "Philosophical Grounds of Rationality: Intentions, Categories, Ends" (Apparently, Clarendon said that a book with _Grice_ in the title would not sell!)
Grice, H. P. "Personal Identity", Mind.
-- "Studies in the Way of Words" [WoW for short]
-- "Aspects of Reason," Clarendon.
-- The Grice Papers, The Bancroft Library
Parfit, D. A. "Personal Identity".
Perry, in PGRICE (vide Grandy)

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