Monthly Archives: April 2015

I’ve been thinking, more or less loosely, about various issues to do with the appropriate ways to engage with, or treat, past philosophers. Some of these issues concern the ways in which the work of particular philosophers is highlighted as of especial importance and—what I think is a more or less independent issue—the ways in which the work of other philosophers is largely ignored. (I think that the issues are more or less independent since I think that it’s consistent to think that someone has done especially brilliant work without holding that other work is of lesser, or no, importance.) Connectedly, and of wider significance, are more systematic biases in our patterns of engagement with the past: a general failure to engage with the work of people who are not white, or male, or European. These are all things that I need to think more about, and read more about.

One more specific issue in this broad area, and the topic of this post, concerns how to deal with the fact that many past philosophers gave expression to views that are morally repugnant—for example, views that are racist or sexist. I think it pretty clear that one important part of dealing with that fact is to acknowledge it, and to recognize—and moreover to emphasize—that such views are morally repugnant. But questions remain about how to deal with the work of people who hold such views, especially given that engaging with someone’s work is, in part, a way of engaging with that person. Should one view their work as a whole as tainted? Does it depend upon the extent to which their work is in fact infected by their racism or sexism? Should one perhaps disengage, in the way that one might, in some circumstances, feel the need to disengage from a contemporary who gave expression to such views? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. I don’t even have firm views about them. However, I wanted to post one such view, with which I have some sympathy. The following passage, by Allen Wood—a white, male philosopher—concerns Kant, who at least sometimes expressed views that are racist:

“It is a sometimes uncomfortable fact that the philosophers of the past whose thoughts we study with most profit were not especially fine human beings. The only way to deal with this fact is to face up squarely to the cognitive dissonance it occasions and then to resolve to set it aside as irrelevant to anything that could be of legitimate interest in deciding which philosophers to study. It displays a deplorable misunderstanding of what philosophy is – and what may be gained by studying it – to treat past philosophers as gurus at whose feet we are to sit in order to absorb their wisdom, or alternatively, to find in their unattractive personal traits and characteristics an excuse for not studying them at all. If a past philosopher, Kant for instance, was an admirable person, that still gives us no reason to study his philosophical thoughts if they were unoriginal or mediocre and do not repay our careful investigation and critical reflection. If the philosopher was a thoroughly unattractive character, or even if some of his opinions on morality or politics offend enlightened people today, it may still be true that his contributions to philosophy are indispensable to our understanding of philosophical problems and of the history of people’s reflections on them. If we study the writings of the admirable philosopher in order to honor his virtuous character, then we are merely wasting time and effort that could have been better employed. By the same token, if we refuse to study the writings of the personally repulsive philosopher either because we think our neglect justly punishes him for his misdeeds or his evil opinions, or because we want to avoid being influenced by such a pernicious character, then all we accomplish by this foolish exercise in self-righteousness and closedmindedness is to deprive ourselves of what we might have learned both from attaining to his insights and from exposing his errors. It is always sad to see philosophy students, and sometimes even professional philosophers, missing out on many things they might have learned on account of their moral or political approval or disapproval of the personality or opinions of some long-dead philosopher, who is far beyond their poor power to reward or punish. The only people we punish in this way are ourselves, and also those around us, or in the future, whom we might have influenced for the better if we had educated ourselves more wisely.” (Wood 2006: 20)

As I said, I have a certain amount of sympathy with this line about the very specific question: should one engage with philosophers some of whose views are morally repugnant? However, before attaining any sort of settled opinion, I’d need to read, and engage with, a far wider range of discussions, on a far wider range of issues in this area, including especially work by the marginalized targets of such views.


Allen Wood (2006) “Kant’s Life and Works.” In Graham Bird ed. A Companion to Kant.

In a footnote to ‘A Plea for Excuses,’ J. L. Austin wrote the following:

Plato, I suppose, and after him Aristotle, fastened this confusion upon us [the confusion involved in collapsing succumbing to temptation into losing control of ourselves], as bad in its day as the later, grotesque, confusion of moral weakness with weakness of will. I am very partial to ice cream, and a bombe is served divided into segments corresponding one to one with the persons at High Table: I am tempted to help myself to two segments and do so, thus succumbing to temptation and even conceivably (but why necessarily?) going against my principles. But do I lose control of myself? Do I raven, do I snatch the morsels from the dish and wolf them down, impervious to the consternation of my colleagues? Not a bit of it. We often succumb to temptation with calm and even with finesse. (Austin 1956: 146 (reprint))

Austin appears partly to be motivated here by the idea that losing control of oneself must involve total, or near total loss: failure to govern oneself in accord with one’s views or intentions concerning what is to be done. If one allows that any failure in self-governance, any slack between one’s views about what is to be done and that which one in fact does, counts as a loss of control, then the proposed distinction between succumbing to temptation and losing control becomes less clear. However, Austin seems right to claim that one can act in accord with one’s then operative views about what is to be done, and to that extent count as fully in control of oneself, whilst counting as having succumbed to temptation, due to the fact that one’s then operative views about what is to be done conflict with what is in fact to be done, or with what one’s principles permit. There is, as ever, more to say here. However, I wish instead to consider a distinct case of bombe disposal.

Consider the following case. The bombe has been distributed fairly so that each diner has had a segment, but one segment remains. You desire the segment, and set about deliberating on the question whether to take it. You have the following views:

(V1) You are permitted to take the final segment of ice cream only if you are entitled to the final segment of ice cream.

(V2) No one who would decide to take the final segment of ice cream is entitled to the final segment of ice cream.

According to (V1) and (V2), it would go against one’s principles to take the final segment of ice cream on the basis of having decided to take the final segment of ice cream. By (V2), anyone who decided to take the ice cream would thereby lose their entitlement to take the ice cream; and by (V1), one is permitted to take the segment only if one is entitled. However, in advance of your deciding to take the final segment, (V1) and (V2) seem to leave open that you may take the ice cream. And they thereby seem to leave open that you can decide to take the ice cream. So, can you decide to take the final segment of ice cream? More precisely, can you decide rationally to take the final segment without giving up, or losing track of, your standing commitment to (V1) and (V2)?


J. L. Austin (1956) ‘A Plea for Excuses.’ Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, supp. vol. Reprinted in his Philosophical Papers. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975.

In ‘Pragmatics’, Charles Travis develops an argument against the view that linguistic meaning, which determines locutionary act content, also determines truth-conditional illocutionary act content. (Travis 1997.) The argument is based around cases like the following:

Pia’s Japanese maple is full of russet leaves. Believing that green is colour of leaves, she paints them. [Case 1:] Returning, she reports, ‘That’s better. The leaves are green now.’ She speaks truth. [Case 2:] A botanist friend then phones, seeking green leaves for the study of green-leaf chemistry. ‘The leaves (on my tree) are green,’ Pia says. ‘You can have those.’ But now Pia speaks falsehood. (Travis 1997: 89)

According to Travis, we can suppose that the same words, with the same meanings, are used in both cases. Moreover, we can assume that the operations of indexicals are confined to determining which leaves are being spoken about, and that the same leaves are being spoken about in both cases. Thus, we can assume that the same type of locutionary act, with the same locutionary content, is performed in case 1 and case 2. And since the same leaves, in the same condition, are being spoken about in both cases, if ‘The leaves are green’ were used in both cases to make the same statement and, so, to determine the same truth conditions, then Pia would either state a truth in both cases, or state a falsehood in both cases. Since it is plausible that Pia can state a truth (and no falsehood) in case 1 and that she can state a falsehood (and no truth) in case 2, even though the leaves are in the same condition in both cases, we have that ‘The leaves are green’ is not used in both cases to make the same statement. So, we have that the statement that Pia makes in case 1 is not the same as the statement that she makes in case 2. Finally, if we assume that the statements that Pia makes in both cases are basic illocutionary acts, we have grounds for rejecting the view that locutionary act content determines basic illocutionary act content. For we have that Pia performed locutionary acts with the same contents and basic illocutionary acts with different contents and, moreover, that the difference in illocutionary content was not due to the operation of indexicals. And since n-tuples of cases of this sort can be constructed for most, if not all, substantive expressions, there are grounds for generalizing Travis’ conclusion: most, if not all, substantive expressions function in a similar way to discretionary indexicals.

Travis’ argument depends upon three main assumptions. The first assumption is that the variation in truth conditions exhibited across cases 1 and 2 affects basic illocutionary acts performed in those cases. For if the variance affected only derivative illocutionary acts (e.g. Gricean implicatures), it would be consistent with maintaining that locutionary act content determines basic illocutionary act content. The second assumption is that the variation is not due to ambiguity. For if ‘The leaves are green’ was used with relevantly different meanings across the two cases, the variation in truth conditions might be traced to a difference in locutionary act content. The third assumption is that the variation is not due to the operation of non-discretionary—that is, meaning controlled—indexicality, like that plausibly exhibited by ‘I,’ ‘here,’ and ‘now.’ For if it were due to such non-discretionary indexicality, then the variation in truth conditions might again be due to variation in meaning-controlled locutionary act content. Travis’ second and third assumptions have been subjected to interesting challenges in recent years. In this note, I briefly consider one such challenge.

Christopher Kennedy and Louise McNally have argued that ‘is green’ carries two kinds of meanings, one kind on which it is used to attribute a gradable quantity or quality of perceptible greenness, and another on which it is used to attribute a property that is conventionally correlated with the colour green, for example a biochemical property. They argue moreover that a gradable meaning is operative in case 1, which therefore comes out true because a sufficient quantity of the surface of the leaves is perceptibly green, while the correlational meaning is operative in case 2, which therefore comes out false because the biochemical property conventionally correlated with greenness in leaves—leaves with which property are sought by Pia’s botanist friend—is absent with respect to the painted leaves. Thus, they seek the explain the divergence in truth values across the two cases by appeal to a subtle ambiguity. (Kennedy and McNally 2010.)

One worry about this type of challenge is that an unsupplemented appeal to an n-way ambiguity can explain only n-way variation in truth conditions. If Travis’ argument were based exhaustively on the pair of cases with which we began, then appeal to a two-way ambiguity would suffice. However, it is a straightforward task to multiply cases. For one example amongst very many, we might do so by appeal to cases in which the leaves look green in natural light, but yellow in the artificial light: depending on operative conversational ends—for instance, on whether the leaves will end up indoors or outdoors—it might be reasonable to use, ‘The leaves are green,’ in order to say something true or something false. In order to capture all such variations, we would be forced to appeal to a distinct meaning for each case, and so forced to appeal to a vast—perhaps indefinitely large—variety of distinct meanings for each susceptible expression.

Such an account would be unacceptable. It is, at best, unclear how we could gain facility with such an array of meanings. And even if it were possible to acquire competence with each of the meanings, doing so would supply, at best, very little guidance to what speakers were up to. For, as the number of distinct meanings increases, the task of discerning which meaning a speaker intends to deploy on a particular occasion approximates to the task of discerning the speaker’s basic illocutionary intentions without any guidance at all from the meanings of the words they use. Finally, it is far from clear that if were able to focus attention on one amongst the array of meanings carried by ‘The leaves are green,’ we would thereby have eliminated the sort of variation in truth conditions to which Travis appeals.

In order for a meaning to determine truth conditions in a way that eliminated all such variation, it would have to determine, for all possible variations in prevailing conditions, precisely how those variations would bear on truth-value. For suppose that the meaning failed to determine the bearing of a specific form of variation amongst possible cases—for instance, by failing to determine precisely how much of a leaf would need to look green, for how much of its career, for what reasons, in which viewing conditions, and so forth. There might then be pairs of cases differing in that specific way such that the meaning of the target expression left open whether the expression would be used to say something true on each of those occasions. And in that case, there would be room for speakers’ ends, in addition to the end of according with the meanings of their words, to figure in determining whether what was stated on each occasions was true. It is difficult to understand how the meanings of any expression that we could usefully employ could include sufficient detail to foreclose on speakers’ wider ends playing some role in determining the truth conditions of what they state.

Kennedy and McNally don’t claim that the ambiguity that they posit is the only source of variation in truth conditions, even with respect to colour adjectives. They allow that the applicability of gradable adjectives, including their gradable form of ‘is green,’ depends upon a standard of comparison that isn’t determined by meaning. So, they allow that even if we hold fixed that ‘The leaves are green’ is used with its gradable meaning, and that it is used with respect to the same leaves in the same condition, there can nonetheless be variation in truth value due to variation in the operative standard of comparison. And they allow that the applicability of their correlated property form depends upon the selection of one or another correlated property, again allowing for case-by-case variation in truth value even holding fixed the use of that form. Even if successful, then, their proposal serves not to eradicate, but only to mitigate, the sort of variation on which Travis’ argument is based. Thus, considered on its own, their proposal lacks the resources to save the view that Travis advises us to reject. (Kennedy and McNally suggest that their proposal might be combined with the proposal that some of the variation in truth conditions exhibited in Travis’ cases is to be explained by appeal to non-discretionary indexicality.)

Furthermore, it is far from clear that Kennedy and McNally’s proposal should be accepted. There are two main difficulties.

The first difficulty is that even if we were to confine attention to perceptible greenness, and so to do our best to focus on the gradable meanings, the possible variations in truth-value seem to go beyond what would be predicted by simple appeals to variation in an operative threshold of quantity or quality of colour coverage. For example, suppose that an object were coloured in such a way that it appeared uniformly green only when viewed from certain distances, or certain angles, otherwise appearing yellow. It seems plausible that, depending on the mutually manifest ends of a speaker and their audience, ‘The object is green’ might be used on some occasions to speak truth about the object and on others to speak falsehood. (Suppose, for instance, that what is wanted is a green ornament, and that the agreed location for the ornament will constrain the angle and distance of viewing.) And yet it is far from obvious that such variation must be due to variation in an operative threshold quantity (or quality) of colour coverage. So, it is plausible that the meaning or meanings of ‘is green’ provide even less detailed guidance to truth-conditions than Kennedy and McNally suggest.

The second difficulty is that the evidence to which Kennedy and McNally appeal in support of there being distinct gradable and correlational meanings for ‘is green’ is less clear-cut than they suggest.
With respect to the circumstances of case 1, it would seem perfectly acceptable for Pia to qualify her colour attribution: ‘These leaves are greener than those,’ ‘These leaves are not green enough,’ and so forth. By contrast, with respect to the circumstances of case 2, in which Pia’s overriding interest is supposed to be in the biochemical properties of the leaves, Kennedy and McNally claim that attempts at such qualifications would be unacceptable. Their conclusion is that the difference in acceptability of qualifications of this sort is to be explained by a difference in the operative meaning of ‘is green,’ specifically that such qualifications are acceptable only with respect to the gradable meanings.

One concern here is that the clarity of the contrastive judgment to which Kennedy and McNally appeal seems to depend upon treating case 2 as one on which what matters to Pia is the presence or absence of a biochemical property that is not itself gradable. However, if, say, the quantity and quality of natural greenness were correlated with the quantity and quality of the sought for property, it would be less obvious that Pia couldn’t acceptably qualify what she said to her botanist friend: ‘These leaves are green enough,’ ‘These leaves are less green than those.’ (It might remain true that, as Kennedy and McNally observe, it would not be natural for Pia to explain to her botanist friend why her painted leaves were unsuitable by saying that they were ‘not green enough.’ However, that might plausibly be explained by appeal to the fact that, for those purposes, the painted leaves would not count as green at all, and so it would be misleading to claim that they were insufficiently green.)

A second concern is that it is not obvious why the contrast to which Kennedy and McNally appeal is better explained by appeal to ambiguity than by appeal to what it is possible for Pia to say. We are assuming that, in uttering, ‘The leaves are green,’ Pia aims to be saying something about the leaves’ natural colour, where being so coloured is (let us suppose) not a gradable quality. But if being so coloured is not a gradable quality, then it is not clear what Pia could be saying, or trying to say, about that quality in using the problematic qualifiers. So, it is not obvious that the best way to explain the contrasting applicability of qualifiers is by appeal to meanings rather than by appeal to what it would make sense to say.

In summary, then, it is not obvious that Kennedy and McNally’s proposal, according to which ‘is green’ is ambiguous, should be accepted. Furthermore, even if accepted, the proposal is consistent with Travis’s claim that meaning, and so locutionary act content, serves as a guide to, rather than as a determinant of, the contents of basic illocutionary acts. Their disagreement with Travis concerns only the quantity and quality of guidance that meanings provide. Thus, accepting their proposal is consistent with rejecting the view that linguistic meaning, which determines locutionary act content, also determines truth-conditional illocutionary act content.


Kennedy, C. and L. McNally, 2010. “Color, context, and compositionality.” Synthese 174: 79–98.
Travis, C. 1997. “Pragmatics.” In B. Hale and C. Wright eds. A Companion to the Philosophy of Language. Oxford: Blackwell.

Despite the patronage of Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein, Gottlob Frege’s work had surprisingly little direct impact on British philosophy until around the early 1950s. Even amongst British philosophers who actively engaged with German philosophy from around the same period—for one important example, Gilbert Ryle—Frege’s work seems to have figured mainly indirectly before this time. That changed in the 1950s as translations of Frege’s work began to become widely available, and philosophers like Elizabeth Anscombe, Michael Dummett, and Peter Geach began to engage seriously with it. Two key moments were J. L. Austin’s translation of Die Grundlagen der Arithmetik (1884, translated as The Foundations of Arithmetic), published in 1950, and Peter Geach and Max Black’s Translations from the Philosophical Writings of Gottlob Frege, published in 1952, and including, amongst other important pieces, translations of ‘Über Begriff und Gegenstand’ (‘On Concept and Object’) and ‘Über Sinn und Bedeutung’ (‘On Sense and Reference’). This note concerns the former, Austin’s translation of Frege’s Grundlagen.

According to Geoffrey Warnock (1973), the Grundlagen was one of the texts read by Austin’s ‘Saturday Mornings’ discussion group, and, although Warnock suggests that the book was read in translation after 1950, the opportunity to discuss Frege’s work in the group may have played a role in Austin’s decision to produce the translation. In an encyclopedia entry on Austin’s work, I suggested that Austin’s translation was produced ‘so that it could be set as an exam,’ but I failed to record a source for the remark. The source was Michael Dummett, who records the connection in the following passage:

My fascination with the writings of Frege dates from my reading, as an undergraduate, of the Grundlagen der Arithmetik, unquestionably the most brilliant sustained performance of its length in the entire history of philosophy; and, as I then knew no German, this was made possible by Austin’s translation of that book, which first introduced it to most English-speaking philosophers at a time when there was very little interest in Frege, and was occasioned by its inclusion, I believe at Austin’s suggestion, as one of the of the texts to be studied for an excellent optional paper in the Oxford Philosophy, Politics and Economics Honours School. (Dummett 1978: xxiii–xxiv)

Dummett is clear here that the production of the translation was occasioned by the inclusion of the Grundlagen as an examined text, although he leaves open whether its inclusion as an examined text was also due to Austin and also whether the availability of a translation was a necessary condition of its inclusion. However, Dummett’s claim, together with his admitted inability at that time to read German, makes plausible that the availability of a translation was a necessary condition of reasonable inclusion. Dummett says a bit more in the following two passages:

It just so happened that Austin did a very good thing by inventing an optional paper in P.P.E., which I read, which was called absurdly, ‘Foundations of Modern Epistemology’, and consisted of a number of set texts, starting with the Theaetetus, and finishing with Frege’s Grundlagen. It was for that purpose that Austin translated the Grundlagen. (Dummett 1993: 169)

I’ve always remained an analytic philosopher—but as for logic and philosophy of mathematics, that’s a separate thing. It happened, well again, quite accidentally. I took, the first time it was set, an optional paper in philosophy in my final examination. It was one invented by John Austin and it was called, absurdly, The Origins of Modern Epistemology. What it was was a collection (a rather large collection) of texts, starting with Plato’s Theaetetus and finishing with Frege’s Foundations of Arithmetic. These were texts one wouldn’t normally have come across during the ordinary Philosophy, Politics and Economics course in Oxford, and I worked my way through these. I was very interested in a lot of them but I was absolutely bowled over by the Foundations of Arithmetic, and I thought, I want to read everything this man has written. (Fara and Salles 2006: 2)

Daniel Isaacson adds some further information in the following passage from his obituary for Dummett:

In Finals, in Trinity Term 1950, he took a paper “invented by John Austin” for first examination in that term called “The origins of Modern Epistemology”. Candidates were expected to study four texts from a list of seven, one of which was Frege’s Grundlagen der Arithmetik, newly translated by Austin for this purpose. The examiners’ report records that seven candidates took this paper and that Boole and Frege “attracted the least attention”. One can infer that perhaps only one or two candidates studied Frege for this exam. Nonetheless, there was a class on Frege’s Grundlagen in Hilary Term 1950 that met twice a week, given by Mr. W. Kneale and Mr F. Waismann. Dummett’s ensuing work on Frege has transformed understanding of Frege’s philosophy. Dummett wrote recently of Frege’s Grundlagen der Arithmetik, “I thought, and still think, that it was the most brilliant piece of philosophical writing of its length ever penned.” (Isaacson, ‘In Memoriam: Michael Dummett (1925-2011)’)

This post was occasioned by a question from Michael Kremer. I’m grateful to Michael, and also to Michael Bench-Capon and Aidan McGlynn, for help in assembling sources. Thanks also to Robert May for comments and questions that led to corrections.


Michael Dummett (1978) Truth and Other Enigmas. London: Duckworth.

Michael Dummett (1993) Origins of Analytical Philosophy. London: Duckworth.

Rudolf Fara and Maurice Salles (2006) ‘An Interview with Michael Dummett: From Analytical Philosophy to Voting Analysis and Beyond.’ [Online]. London: LSE Research Online.

Geoffrey Warnock (1973) ‘Saturday Mornings.’ In Isaiah Berlin ed. Essays on J. L. Austin. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Paul Grice published “Meaning” in 1957, having drafted the piece in 1948. In it, he presented an important positive proposal about the basis of linguistic meaning, making appeal to a distinctive range of intentions with which speakers act, and he supported the proposal by providing fruitful arguments against a range of alternative views. This work immediately generated a cottage industry of specific engagements and now forms the background for almost all work on the topics it treated. It has recently been suggested by some scholars that Grice was beaten to the punch, and that a lesser known but important Swiss philosopher, Anton Marty, developed a version of Grice’s proposal as early as 1908. The suggestion raises two questions. (1) To what extent does Marty’s early proposal converge with Grice’s? (2) To what extent could Marty’s work have exerted an influence on Grice’s? At a recent conference on Marty’s work, I raised the second question in passing, and Kevin Mulligan sketched a positive answer. In this note, I want to record the basis of his answer, as it struck me. Mulligan should be held responsible for whatever truth there is in the account offered here; for the rest, responsibility is mine. (As to the first question, the issues are delicate, but my view is that Marty’s proposal is more similar to one of the views that Grice aims to demolish than it is to Grice’s own positive proposal.)

Mulligan’s answer takes off from the central role played in early 20th Century thinking about language by The Meaning of Meaning: A Study of the Influence of Language upon Thought and of the Science of Symbolism (1923) by C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards. Ogden and Richards’ book had an enormous impact on philosophy and linguistics from its publication until at least the mid-50s. Although Grice never cites the book, it is enormously likely that he read it. (Grice tends against full citation, though does a reasonable job of mentioning individual influences. However, more evidence would be needed before we could be absolutely sure that Grice read carefully this text.) Moreover, Ogden and Richards include proposals relevantly similar to Marty’s, and relevantly similar to proposals discussed in “Meaning”. Let’s assume that Grice read their book, and that it had an influence on his discussion in “Meaning”. The question now is whether Ogden and Richards’ book served as a conduit for Marty’s earlier work.

Initial inspection is disappointing. Odgen and Richards include no reference to Marty in their index. However, as Mulligan notes, they discuss positively other work relevantly similar to Grice’s, in particular work by the archaeologist Alan Gardiner. They quote the following:

Is the meaning of a sentence that which is in the mind of the speaker at the moment of utterance or that which is in the mind of the listener at the moment of audition? Neither, I think. Certainly not that which is in the mind of the listener, for he may utterly misconstrue the speaker’s purpose. But also not that which is in the mind of the speaker, for he may intentionally veil in his utterance the thoughts which are in his brain, and this, of course, he could not do if the meaning of the utterance were precisely that which he held in his brain. I think the following formulation will meet the case: The meaning of any sentence is what the speaker intends to be understood from it by the listener. (Gardiner, 1922: 361)

Gardiner’s proposal is strikingly similar to—though not identical with—Grice’s positive proposal, and is taken very seriously by Ogden and Richards. That is of some independent interest. But does it aid our search for a line back to Marty? Specifically, can we trace a line of influence from Marty to Gardiner?

We can. Gardiner cites Marty (1908) in a very positive way:

Most writers on Languge have, of course, been more or less alive to this standpoint [roughly, the standpoint of attending to speakers’ purposes in theorizing about language, GL], but Marty alone, so far as my reading goes, is entirely impregnated with it. His statement of the purpose of Language agrees closely with my own definition, which runs: Language is the name given to any system of articulate symbols having reference to the facts of experience, whereby speakers seek to influence the minds of listeners in given directions. (Gardiner, 1922: 354.)

So, Gardiner provides us with the remaining portion of our path back to Marty. Disappointingly, as the quote indicates, Gardiner finds in Marty a more or less generic appeal to speakers’ intentions and, more specifically, their intentions to influence listeners’ minds. Thus, Gardiner’s own view is closer to Grice’s than the view he admits to finding in Marty. Insofar, then, as the path of possible influence that we have traced from Marty, through Gardiner and Ogden and Richards, to Grice is the only, or main, line of influence, the most we can say is this. Marty’s work, so transmitted, may have suggested to Grice, or supported his standing interest in, the idea that speakers’ intentions to influence the minds of listeners are important determinants of what speakers mean by what they say. Given the specificity of Grice’s positive proposal, and his objections to other views that also attend to speakers’ intentions, that is less than some Marty enthusiasts might have hoped for. Nonetheless, it seems reasonable, in light of Mulligan’s suggestion, to hold that Marty’s work exerted at least an indirect influence on Grice’s.


A. Gardiner (1922) “The definition of the word and the sentence.” British Journal of Psychology, XII, 4: 352–361.

P. Grice (1957) “Meaning.” The Philosophical Review, 66: 377–88. Reprinted in his Studies in the Way of Words. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

K. Ogden and I. A. Richards (1923) The Meaning of Meaning: A Study of the Influence of Language upon Thought and of the Science of Symbolism. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.

A. Marty (1908) Untersuchungen zur Grundlegung der allgemeinen Grammatik und Sprachphilosophie. Vol. I. Halle a. S.: Max Niemeyer.

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