Connecting Grice and Marty

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.

  1. One way in which Grice may have heard of Marty is by reading Ryle, who briefly refers to his work on the philosophy of language in his 1946 “Review of Marvin Farber: The Foundations of Phenomenology” Philosophy, 21, 263-269 (reprinted in Collected Papers: Critical Essays (Vol. 1). London: Hutchinson, pp. 215-224. According to Ryle:

    “It is of historical interest to note that at the time that Russell was working out his salvation by his (and Frege’s) doctrine of ‘incomplete symbols’, Brentano and Marty were operating with what was in effect the same weapon. They found that Meinong’s grotesque conclusions derived from the assumption that all grammatical nominatives are the names of authentic terms, and are, in the old parlance ‘categorematic’ or, as they put it ‘autosemantic’ expressions. Instead, they argued, many such nominatives share at least part of the expressive functions of ‘syncategorematic’ or
    ‘synsemantic’ expressions. They ‘mean’ not by denoting objects but by contributing to the expression of integral propositions. They belong to what is left in skeleton-sentences, after names have been struck out of them; or what they signify is part of what is common to formally similar propositions about different Terms. They belong not to the directories but to the work-sheets of thought.” (pp. 225-226)

  2. Thanks! It’s a definite possibility, I think, and worth following up. Ideally, what one hopes for is connections specifically with Marty’s views about the role of intention or purpose in determining meaning, but it’s useful to have evidence that Ryle definitely knew of Marty’s work, so that this provides a possible route through to Grice.

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