The Grice Club


The Grice Club

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

To mock a mockingbird: Herbert Paul Grice and Raymond Merrill Smullyan


Or Smullyaniana.

Grice used to say that he left Oxford for the 'new world,' as he called it (he meant the continent named after the old-world sailor Amerigo Vespucci) because there weren't many logicians in Oxford.

This is odd, coming from Grice, seeing that Grice was at Oxford and that indeed P. F. Strawson in his wrong masterpiece (I mean, it's a masterpiece of an essay, if anti-Griceian in nature -- "Introduction to Logical Theory," often misquoted as "An introduction to logical theory," but Sir Peter hated indefinites) credits in the "Acknowledgments" his (Sir Peter's, that is) debt to "Mr. H. P. Grice, from whom I have never ceased to learn about logic" since he (Grice) was his (Strawson's) tutor at St. John's -- even if he (Sir Peter) got a second at PPE (Grice got a first at Lit. Hum. -- but nobody compares to Grice).

So Grice was understandably happy when  he arrived in the new world to find Raymond Merrill Smullyan!

(This is evident in the acknowledgment section of one of the first essays he wrote in the new world, "Vacuous Names") (By 'vacuous names', Grice means "Marmaduke Bloggs," and others).

In what follows I use what grammarians call the 'historical present'.

They Keywords remain:

Herbert Paul Grice and Raymond Merrill Smullyan.

Raymond Smullyan is a Puzzle-Creating Logician, so-called.
Raymond Smullyan teaches philosophy at Lehman in the Bronx, which was named after Lehman (Lehman, not the Bronx -- The Bronx was named after the Bronx). 

There is a nice photograph of him by Eddie (Edward) Hausner. 

Raymond Smullyan's merry, agile mind led him to be a philosopher, a musician, a magician, a mathematician and, most cunningly, a puzzle-creating philosophical logician.

(No, there is no repetition, or flout of a Griceian maxim, by saying Smullyan was a philosopher and a philosophical logician -- as every Griceian should know -- for one can be neither!)

He (Smullyan, not Grice) lives in Hudson, N.Y. -- which is a nice place to live. 

Incidentally, Hudson was named after Hudson (literally, the son of Hud, whoever he was -- no, not a sailor).

Smullyan is a serious philosopher, with the publications and the doctorate to prove it. 

"Serious," of course, should not be taken too seriouslys, seeing that for Grice the first requirement of philosophy is that it should be fun ("Prejudices and Predilections"). "To laugh at philosophy is not to laugh WITH other philosophers," he added for effect.

But Smullyan's greatest legacy allegedly is the devilishly clever logic puzzles that he devised, presenting them in numerous essays or just in casual conversation, alla Grice!

He says the first puzzle was presented to him on Fool's Day by his older brother (of all people) (Smullyan had the 'flu, and the puzzle is too complicated in terms of implicature). 

Sometimes Smullyan's puzzles were one-offs.

Othertimes, Smullyan's puzzles were embedded in longer narratives to explain philosophico-logical concepts, such as Boolean logic, as he does in "The Magic Garden of George B and Other Logic Puzzles," or retrograde analysis, as he explores in the "The Chess Mysteries of the Arabian Knights." (Vide below for a partial list of Smullyan's -- not Grice's -- publications).

Smullyan was also a character -- if not of a Shakespeareian play.

With his long hair and beard (Grice didn't have one) Smullyan resembles Ian McKellen’s wizard, Gandalf, from the “Lord of the Rings” film series, if you've seen it (and even if you haven't). 

Smullyan is lanky, hates exercise (unlike Grice, whose obituary reads, "Professional philosopher and amateur cricketer" -- Grice was also football captain at Corpus Christi) and loves steak and eggs. 

Smullyan studied Eastern religion. Grice didn't. This caused a retort from the Dutch philosopher and orientalist J. L. Staal to Grice: "You should." 

(Grice accepted that the longitudinal and latitudinal unities of philosophy possibly held both in the West and the East -- "Reply to Richards").

Smullyan tells corny jokes and performs close-up magic to anyone near him. 

Like Grice, Smullyan plays the piano with passion and talent. (This is recorded in a film named, "This film needs no title" -- it was not nominated for best documentary, as it ain't). 

(Musically, Grice's father played the violin, and his younger brother Derek played the cello -- they went by "The Grices").

A career in music, in Smullyan's case, had been derailed by tendinitis. A career in music for Grice was pursued briefly while at Clifton -- where he would play Ravel's Pavane on graduation. And he kept a piano all his life, like Smullyan did.

And Smullyan is fond of his philosophical, if silly, sayings, such as, 

"Why should I worry about dying? It’s not going to happen in my lifetime!”

This was to prove Witters wrong.

Note that, strictly, this contrasts with:

"Why should I worry about death?". Death and dying ain't the same thing, you know.

Melvin Fitting, of New York, a philosopher, recalls Smullyan’s demeanour as his thesis advisor at Yeshiva, while Fitting was pursuing his doctorate.

“Smullyan would be smiling in anticipation of the many beautiful things he was going to show you,” the Fitting fittingly says. 

Smullyan sees beauty in the puzzles that he creates, seemingly non-stop, and views them as tools to spread the gospel of philosophical logic, as Grice did! (In fact, Grice is having Smullyan in mind when he refers at the beginning of his second William James lecture on logic and conversation, that it is a 'commonplace' in philosophical logic that there is a divergence between the formal devices (~, &, V, -->, (x), (Ex) and ix) and their vernacular counterparts ("not", "and", "or", "if", "all", "some (at least one)", and "the"). Vide Smullyan on this Griceian point in "First-order logic". 

In his essay, "The Lady or the Tiger? And Other Logic Puzzles,” Smullyan writes about the greater popularity that Euclid’s "Elements" would have achieved had the Greek mathematician framed it as a puzzle book -- "and in English, rather than Greek."

Smullyan writes: 


"Given a triangle with two equal sides, are two of the angles necessarily equal?"

"Why, or why not?"

The "Why not?" Smullyan takes from Humpty Dumpty. 

Smullyan's puzzles are so much a part of Smullyan's identity that he posed one on his first date with his future wife, Blanche de Grab, a Belgian.

What Smullyan posed to de Grab was, strictly, a Goedelian statement that, in the way Smullyan framed it, could only result in a Goedelian kiss from her. 

Reminiscing about it, Smullyan notes:

"Pretty sneaky way of winning a kiss, right?"

The "right" is rhetorical, in Griceian terms.

Jason Rosenhouse, of James Madison, who edited a compilation celebrating Smullyan (written with Smullyan -- Rosenhouse said: "I could not possibly have written this compilation on my own") says the clarity of Smullyan's puzzles can unveil the beauty of philosophical logic to those who, not having met Grice, could not previously grasp it.

Rosenhouse goes simile-oriented: "It is like fooling a kid into eating his vegetables," -- by 'kid' meaning 'child,' rather than the non-human animal. 

Rosenhouse adds: 

"Smullyan takes something like Gödel’s incompleteness theorems and uses a string of logic puzzles as a device for presenting them."

-- Goedel would be amused!

Martin Gardner, himself a renowned math puzzler, compares Smullyan to the Oxford logician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who also was an author better known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll (indeed "Charles Lutwidge" Latinised and inverted!)

Smullyan pays tribute to Carroll in his essay "Alice in Puzzle-Land: A Carrollian Tale for Children Under Eighty" and "More Alice in Puzzle-Land" (with an intro by Martin Gardner). 

In one chapter, Smullyan writes, Alice thinks (to herself) about how confusing, yet remarkably logical, Humpty Dumpty is.

“I wonder,” Alice says, “how Humpty Dumpty manages to be both confusing and logical?”

There was no answer.

There is, it would seem, some confusing logic in the zig-zagging path of Smullyan’s life.

Raymond Merrill Smullyan was born in Far Rockaway, Queens, which is a nice place to be born in, if you ask me. It is far away, and rocky (hence the name). "Queens" is named after a queen.

Smullyan's father, Isidore, is a businessman. 

His mother, Rosina Freedman, is a homemaker -- not an architect, but you know what I mean. Architects can only be house-makers, never home ones!

Smullyan's education is peripatetic and eclectic. 

Smullyan attends both Pacific and Reed in Oregon, and then studies mathematics and philosophical logic on his own. (Reed was named after Reed). Smullyan hears of Grice (the logician of the Oxford school of ordinary language philosophy, as it was never called!)

Smullyan also learns magic. ("Because I am a magician, people often ask me whether I have ever sawn yet a woman in half. I reply, "Oh yes, I've sawn over seventy women in HALF of my lifetime. Now I'm the learning the second half of the trick.")

Smullyan creates chess puzzles (alla Sherlock Holmes, as Martin Gardnes notes) that are more concerned about moves that had been made than the ones that should be made.

Oddly, Smullyan shared this passion for paradoxes (vide Grice's paradox in "William James Lecture, V) and chess with Grice. Grice would play chess on the phone for HOURS with George Myro!

Actually, Smullyan puts together a magic act, and performs under the stage name "Five-Ace Merrill" (Smullyan was perhaps too ethnic?) at nightclubs like "The Pump Room" in Chicago, where he works for tips -- if you find him.

Smullyan goes on to get his B. A. in mathematics from Chicago and, as if this were not enough, a Ph.D. from Princeton (strictly, "Prince's town"). (Chicago is Native American). 

Smullyan teaches at Princeton, Yeshiva, Lehman, and Indiana -- if you must list all his affiliations. He also teaches at Hudson where he lives.

Smullyan's philosophy of teaching is a little puzzling. 

"My policy," he explained to the President at Princeton, "is to teach the student as much as possible and to require from him or her as little as possible." The quotation comes from Donald Albers and Gerald Alexanderson, the authors of “Mathematical People: Profiles and Interviews."

But, Smullyan adds, the impact of his only apparent lenience is that ALL of his students work harder in his course than in any other ever offered at Princeton (Smullyan knows that Princeton is like Oxford: "Only the poor learn at Oxford," Arnold says). 

Smullyan has a stepson, Jack Kotik.

Smullyan also has six step-grandchildren; and, if you believe it (even if you don't), sixteen step-great-grandchildren. 

Smullyan's wife Blanche de Grab, also a pianist (if not a first-order predicate logician) and music educator, died in 2006. 

Smullyan's first marriage ended in divorce -- or rather his divorce started with his first marriage.

Kotik recalls being with his wife at the Smullyans’ lovely cottage in Elka Park (named after Elka, and Park), N.Y., and listening to a radio report about the high salaries of some athletes. 

Then Kotik's mother, Blanche de Grab, says slightly out of the blue that these salaries are excessive.

Smullyan says that to be paid so much was, even, unfair (quoting Rawls, "On fairness and unfairness").

Kotik goes on:

"I said, ‘Raymond, is not it true that you are more intelligent than most people?’"

""Yes,’ Smullyan says."

"So I say, ‘I think that is ALSO unfair."
"We should take out part of your BRAIN and distribute it to people who could use it."

"I was trying to implicate something alla Grice, you know."

Kotik goes on:

“Smullyan was silent for a minute, and finally Smullyan says, ‘I can not give you any reason, but I would not do it.’ ”

"I think he disimplicated my implicature."

Puzzles are an essential part of Smullyan’s patois — a logician’s way of greeting and testing people.

When Smullyan met his editor, Rochelle Kronzek, he asked her to solve some puzzles.

“It intimidated me at first," Kronzek reminisces, "but I came up with creative answers." "Luckily."

Kronzek, the executive editor of World Scientific Publishing, says, "And more than once Smullyan smiled because he liked the way I was thinking." "Funny, right?".

"The bottom line is that Smullyan got a lot of joy out of seeing how other people thought."

Some Smullyan quotes:

When asked why he doesn't believe in astrology, Smullyan responds that he's a Gemini and Geminis never believe in astrology.

This is an enthymeme, almost.

Smullyan also states:

"Some people are always critical of vague statements. I tend rather to be critical of precise statements; they are the only ones which can correctly be labelled 'wrong'."

A recurring puzzle in Smullyan is an ISLAND were each habitant is either a liar or a truthteller. Here is an example:

"You come across two inhabitants of the island."

"Let's call them A and B."

"A says, "We are both telling the truth.""

"B says, "A is lying"."

Smullyan asks:

"Can you tell who is a liar and who is a truthteller?"

Another much quoted quote, which some call silly but I don't, goes:

"Why should I be worried about dying? It's not going to happen in my lifetime!"

or in my favourite version:

"Why worry about death? It's not going to happen in my life-time!"

Another, more convoluted, perhaps:

"I believe that either Jupiter has life or it doesn't."

"But I neither believe that it does, nor do I believe that it doesn't."


"Of course the falsity of the fact that you believe the pillar box is blue implies that you don't believe that it is blue."

"But this does not mean that you believe it is NOT blue!"

This one should amuse Doyle -- if not Sartre!: 

"I have free will, but not of my own choice."

"I have never freely chosen to have free will. I have to have free will, whether I like it or not!" 

(For Flew, a student, indeed the FIRST student of Grice's, the 'free will' problem can be resolved by way of the Paradigm Case Argument).

The unpublications by Smullyan are many and varied. 

So are his publications. In no particular order (this is paradoxical: surely this IS a particular order):

We may name a few:

-- "What is the name of this book? the riddle of Dracula and other logical puzzles."

-- "Musical Memories."

-- "Some interesting memories: a paradoxical life."

-- "A beginner's guide to mathematical logic" -- if you need it.

-- "Reflections: the magic, music, and mathematics of Raymond Smullyan."
World Scientific. 

-- "Four lives: a celebration of Raymond Smullyan," edited by Raymond Smullyan (in collaboration with Jason Rosenhouse).

-- "The chess mysteries of Sherlock Holmes."

-- "Logical labyrinths."

-- "The lady or the tiger? and other logical puzzles."

-- "The magic garden of George B, and other logical puzzles."
-- B is Boole of course, but Smullyan thinks it would be anti-Griceian to flout, "Do not be more informative than is required."

-- "The riddle of Scheherazade and other amazing puzzles -- ancient and modern."

-- "First-order logic" 
(Grice's favourite essay by Smullyan -- vide Grice, "Vacuous Names" -- "Acknowledgments".

-- "The Goedelian puzzle book: puzzles, paradoxes, and proofs."

-- "5000 B. C. and other PHILOSOPHICAL fantasies: puzzles and paradoxes, riddles and reasonings."
(The emphasis on "philosophical" proves Smullyan is, first (+> and foremost) a philosopher, or philosophical logician, if you mustn't).

-- "A mixed bag: jokes, puzzles, and other memorabilia."

-- "To mock a mockingbird, and other logical puzzles."

-- "Set-theory and the continuum problem" (with Melvin Fitting).

-- "A beginner's further guide to mathematical logic." If you need a second one. World Scientific.

-- "Theory of Formal Systems" -- Annals of Mathematics Studies, Princeton. 

-- "Who knows?" -- rhetorical?

-- "King Arthur in search of his dog, and other curious puzzles."

-- "This film needs no title: a portrait of Raymond Smullyan."

-- "Alice in Puzzle-Land: A Carrollian Tale for Children Under Eighty."

-- "Goedel's Incompleteness Theorems."

-- "Satan, Cantor, and Infinity -- and other mind-boggling puzzles."

-- "Alice in Puzzle-Land: more brain-teasers by the most puzzling genius on earth. With an introduction by Martin Gardner."

And so on.

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