Thursday, September 30, 2004


Arnold Zwicky, commenting on six inclusions in Richard Horsey's '101 Key Ideas in Linguistics', writes [see my item on this blog a few weeks ago, for a link to the original Zwicky post - Nick] :

"Ok, here's Horsey's list, in alphabetical order: Leonard Bloomfield, Noam Chomsky, Gottlob Frege, H. Paul Grice, Roman Jakobson, and Ferdinand de Saussure? Frege and Grice are the surprises, of course. Getting the other four is no great feat, but if you got both of these names, then you definitely have a Horsey take on things, and you get a dinner."

Well, I'm afraid I'm busy tonight, and I can think of better people to argue for the inclusion of Frege, but I do think Mr. Zwicky's being a bit of a meany begrudging a mention for Grice. Indeed, it seems to me that Grice's contributions to linguistics (via pragmatics)--not forgetting his contributions to the philosophy of language, and the influence this work has had on modern-day psychology and even cognitive science--make him pretty hard (not to say impossible) to leave out.

I wonder why Grice's importance is over-looked so often. I never met him, but he does seem to have been a fairly diffident chap. Perhaps that somehow lingers in his legacy. His ground-breaking paper 'Meaning', for example, was written in 1948, but Grice didn't deem it worthy of publication. Reliable reports (from Richards Grandy and Warner, two people who worked closely with Grice in his later years) have it that Peter Strawson had the article typed out (9 years later) and then submitted it without his knowledge, only informing him once it had been accepted.

Much of Grice's work was, quite simply, ahead of its time. Philosophers of language and pragmatists continue to build on the foundations he laid (still, perhaps, underestimating the extent of those foundations - more excavation required...). I recall psychologist Alan Leslie revealing at a workshop in Oxford a few years ago that it was 'Meaning' (1948, 1957) that sparked his interest in belief-desire psychology. Many of Grice's ideas on reason and rationality are reflected (not to say retrospectively endorsed) in recent work in cognitive science. Moreover, a forthcoming paper by Michael Tomasello and colleagues suggests that it was 'shared intentionality' and 'cooperation' that were the central factors in the evolution of human cognition. I must say that makes a nice change from cheating, deceiving and outmaneuvering (of which there's enough around at the moment).

Cooperative principle anyone?

(By Tim, despite what it says below.)