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, February 8, 2017

Herbert Paul Grice and Marcus William Dick


The main motivation behind my my earlier reference to Marcus Dick in The Grice Club is due, I must confess, to him being referred to by P. M. S. Hacker (of St. John's, like Grice!) in his essay on Wittgenstein. 

It was a rare occasion to see the surnames of those philosophers attending the 'Play Group' -- not a compleat list, alas! -- led by J. L. Austin, as ordered alphabetically! 

The list compiled by Hacker -- which I have shared with the Club -- read something like: 

"Dick, Grice, ...". 

Of course, it should read, "M. W. Dick, H. P. Grice, ..." 

(:) -- But I suppose Dick never went, as Grice did, by initials!).

Any Griceian worth of his name should have an interest in this group, because when Austin died, Grice succeeded him as the leader of it! (That Owens notes in his obituary of Gilbert Ryle for the Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. Admittedly, Owens is merely trying to contrast the degree of reverence that Austin had attained in the Oxford of his day as being much bigger than that that Ryle would have ever desired! -- he led his own lowkey 'group').

A Griceian should be MORE interested because, while Grice keeps referring to it as "The Play Group" ("never in Austin's presence," he adds -- such was the respect that Austin projected), the play group is best referred to as "The NEW Play Group"; the "OLD Play Group" being the one that Austin participated in, at All Souls, on Thursday evenings, with Hart, Hampshire, Berlin, Ayer, McNabb, and a few others, but AGES before! 

(Grice confesses he never was invited to this 'old' play group -- although he was already a student at Corpus Christi and Merton by then) because he 'had been born on the wrong side of the tracks'. 

Historically, the 'old' play group is important because Berlin has dwelt on the methodological similarities between both groups! (Well, both were sort of led by Austin, so what can a Griceian expect?)
But Dick was brilliant.

In Morton White's biographical essay there is a citation from a letter that Isaiah Berlin sent to White soon after Austin had passed away, where Berlin refers to the fact that Marcus Dick was to write a letter to "The Times" (as a sequel to Ryle's obituary of Austin published in the Times -- 'certainly by Ryle', Berlin writes unphilosophically -- because obits in The Times are anonymous! so how _certain_ can one be?). 

In any case, in this letter, Marcus Dick would recollect his experiences as Austin's 'pupil' (if that's the correct Oxonian word -- I prefer 'tutee'!). 

And we know that, before Oxford, Dick had attended Winchester -- where he was a 'pupil' alright!

Granted, Hacker does not SAY, and I'm writing as a member of the Grice club, that Grice and Dick ever MET -- because Hacker is cautiously saying that the group 'included at various times' (if I recall the quote correctly) Dick and Grice. 

These "Saturday mornings" took place at various colleges, if we must use the non-U word (Nancy Mitford says that it's U to say, "Grice, of St. John's" -- but "Grice, of St. John's college" sounds UTTERLY non-U!).

By reading G. J. Warnock's "Saturday Mornings" (originally an essay commissioned by Berlin for his Berlin et al, but also repr. in Warnock's own collection of essays) one learns that Austin's favourite meeting place was Grice's college, St. John's -- (they felt like big businessmen as they were not) but I wouldn't be surprised if Austin enjoyed the meetings at Balliol -- Dick's college --, too! 

(There were a few requirements to participate in these meetings which were 'by invitation' only -- by Austin, "Sat. Morn."): you had to be younger than Austin ("If they don't want me to lead them, who WILL?"), and you had to be a tutor -- or don -- never a full professor or anything so grand. 

So Grice and Dick perfectly qualified (Grice, b. 1913; Austin, b. 1911; Dick a student of Austin's).

There was a recollection beloved by Balliolians, of B. A. O. Williams 'impersonating' Marcus Dick interacting with a 'shady undergraduate'! So I suppose this says something about Dick's style! (if not about the shady undergraduate!)

I suppose it would be good to compare timelines:

Grice left Oxford by 1967.

Interestingly, there is ANOTHER Grice associated with UEA to which Marcus Dick moved: the Welsh philosopher Geoffrey Russell Grice -- not to be confused! (Although H. P. Grice would have loved a philosopher named "Russell Grice" -- vide H. P. Grice, "Definite descriptions in Russell and in the vernacular"!)
My input then would be that, as far as the history of 20th century philosophy (Oxonian, if you must), Marcus Dick's place is well established (as Hacker's essay testifies) as a member of MY FAVOURITE group ('Austin's kindergarten', some referred to as) that ever existed -- ALMOST!

One last bit that interested me.

When Grice left for UC/Berkeley, he (although St. John's always had TWO philosophy tutors -- Mabbott and Grice, in Grice's day) he was replaced by G. Baker and P. M. S. Hacker. 

So the fact that It is HACKER "his self" (as my Southern friend would put it) who makes the "Dick, Grice" listing makes it even more valuable, I hope!


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