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 earlier reference -- THIS CLUB -- to Marcus Dick in The Grice Club is due, I must confess, to him being referred to by P. M. S. Hacker (of all people, and of St. John's, like Grice!) in his essay on Wittgenstein. (Yes, unlike Grice, Baker and Hacker, both of St. John's, became followers of Witters -- cfr. Grice, "Some like Witters, but Moore's MY man!"). 

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! (Gardiner is not there, and a few others are missing, too! -- at least it does not contain members who were never so -- as Grice would recollect: "Dummett never attended; nor Murdoch!"). 

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

"Dick, Grice, ..."

which has a nice ring to it.

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

(:) -- But I suppose Dick never went, as Grice did, by initials!). (Grice HAD to go by initials because he had a strange relation with his father, whose first name was "Herbert" -- but it seems the 98% of philosophers of Grice's generation went by INITIALS -- I think it's a public school thing, almost ("Grice, come here!" -- but "H. P. Grice" in any programme as issued by Grice's alma mater, Clifton).

Any Griceian worth his name should have an interest in Austin's Play Group, because when Austin died, Grice succeeded him as the leader of it! (It was then re-named Grice's Play Group) (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 low-key 'group' -- oddly Woozley was a member of it, but he also attended Austin's Saturday mornings -- is this legal?).

A class-conscious Griceian should be also MORE interested because, while Grice keeps referring to it as "The Play Group" ("never in Austin's presence," he adds, with due reverence -- 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 (much 'classier' time, if you axes me), with Hart, Hampshire, Berlin, Ayer, McNabb, and a few others -- but AGES before! (During the swinging 1930s, if you must). 

(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' -- and All Souls tended to be a bit on the snobby side.

Historically, the 'old' play group is important (to Berlin, who attended) 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?)

Mainly, both groups were involved in LINGUISTIC BOTANISING, as Grice calls it, but which I prefer to call merely linguistic botany!

But Dick was brilliant.

In Morton White's biographical essay there is an interesting citation from a letter straight from the pen of Isaiah Berlin that Berlin sent to White soon after Austin had passed away, and where Berlin refers to the fact that Marcus Dick was to write a letter to "The (London) Times" -- I hate to add the parentheses but I have a friend who works for the New York Times as HE refers to THAT as "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? Perhaps Ryle 'contributed' merely!). 

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! (His father, for the record was Dr. Reid Dick -- can something be more Scots than that?)

Granted, Hacker does not SAY, and I am writing as a member of the Grice club, that Grice and Dick ever MET *face to face* -- because Hacker is cautiously saying that the group 'included at various times' (if I recall the quote correctly) Dick and Grice -- and there may be space-time DIScontinuity at play (perhaps Grice was playing cricket for the Oxfordshire Cricket Club when Dick attended, or something). 

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 -- not Grice's office, which was so small it hurt -- but a big one on the ground floor -- 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."), and this may be of interest to the Grice and Dick scholar: you had to be younger than Austin ("If they don't want me to lead them, who WILL?"), and you had to be a (merely) full-time tutor -- or don -- never a full professor or anything so grand. (And of course, not a student!) 

So Grice and Dick perfectly qualified (Grice, b. 1913; Austin, b. 1911; Dick a student of Austin's -- but by then a tutor at Balliol -- of 'tutor in philosophy' if you have to be specific -- Grice's official title was "Tutorial Fellow in Philosophy, St. John's, and University Lecturer").

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"!)

Part of 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) 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!


  1. Thanks!

    For the record, I must say I dropped two other posts on Dick in two different blogs!

    One in "Carnap's Corner".

    The other in "Eternal Truth".

    Dick was a Commonwealth Fellow at Harvard -- an interesting fellow altogether -- in both the sense and the implicature of this lovely English word (cf. "For he's a jolly good fellow.")

    Dick was added to the annals of "Carnap's Corner", well, because his name (Dick's) appears in "Dear Carnap, Dear Van", the volume of their correspondence.

    Quine enjoyed Dick's company, and he recalls how they would enjoy drinking beer in the Balliol garden.

    The fact that Dick was a Wykehamist adds to his charms, of course!

    And Dick's name was added to the annals of "Eternal Truth" because, I suppose once he is in the annals of the Grice Club and in the annals of Carnap's Corner, that gives him a place in "Eternal Truth," too.

    That he was tutored by J. L. Austin would also be a great accomplishment for any philosopher worth his name, I would think!


  2. ... and of course you will have noticed my follow up to your post in Carnap's Corner?

  3. Indeed! Thanks! Excellent quotation straight from Carnap, too!