[lit-ideas] Re: Donnellaniana

  • From: "" <dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> (Redacted sender "Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx" for DMARC)
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 23 Feb 2015 07:48:15 -0500

There are many contributions by Donnellan to  philosophy, and notably, 
philosophy of language. Oxford had the good judgement  of publishing a 
selection 
of his most famous essays, along with a companion  volume of essays by 
other philosophers discussing his work.

Perhaps the  interface between Keith Sedgwick Donnellan (of Sage, Cornell, 
&c) and  Herbert Paul Grice (visiting Sage, Cornell, &c) may be summed up by 
one  word: 'the'.

We know that Grice lectured on conversational implicature  while Donnellan 
was teaching logic at Sage, Cornell. In "Logic and  Conversation", Grice 
lists the 'formal devices', including 

the iota  operator

and its vernacular counterpart

'the'.

There are  definite descriptions that can be expressed by expressions or 
operators other  than 'the', but the keyword SHOULD be 'the'.

Grice argues for the  identity thesis -- the monosemy thesis -- 'the' has 
just ONE 'sense'. Therefore,  while we can distinguish between identificatory 
and non-identificatory uses of  'the', these come up as 'conversational 
implicatures'. (Donnellan prefers to  speak of 'referential' for Grice's 
identificatory and 'attributive' for Grice's  non-identificatory.

If the Grice is right, as many think he is, then both  formalists (like 
Russell -- whom Grice later call modernists) and informalists  (like Strawson 
-- whom Grice later call neo-traditionalists) commit "a common  mistake" 
which amounts to just ignoring the implicatures.

Alas, there are  only three references to Grice in the Donnellan Oxford 
volume, and not much more  in the companion volume by other philosophers, but 
much research has been done  on that. My favourite thread is one initiated by 
T. E. Patton who criticised  Kripke's application of Grice to REFUTE 
Donnellan! We agree with Patton that  Kripke was perhaps rushing to pay Paul by 
robbing Peter!

Both Donnellan's  "Reference and Definite Descriptions" (in full) and the 
segment on "Definite  Descriptions" in Grice's "Vacuous Names" are now 
reprinted in "Definite  Descriptions: a reader", ed. by Ostertag, MIT, and 
there 
is a good study  entitled "Definite Descriptions" (Oxford) by Paul Elbourne 
who, alas, while NOT  discussing Donnellan, focuses on Grice's various 
attempts at 'the'. (I loved  Elbourne's discussion of "The king of France is 
not a 
king" and the odd  implicatures it triggers). 

One tends to think that while Donnellan is  criticising both Russell (On 
denoting) and Strawson (On referring) on this,  Grice is criticising Strawson 
and defending Russell; but the issue is slightly  more complex. Only armed 
with the idea of conversational implicature can we  posit the monosemy thesis 
("Do not multiply senses [of 'the'] beyond necessity"  -- Grice's modified 
Occam's razor), and it's by recognising the realm of  implicature that we 
can see that not only Strawson is wrong (by arguing that  'the' and the iota 
operator DIFFER IN SENSE) but also Lord Russell ("Mr.  Strawson on 
referring"): as a philosopher of ordinary language (of what else, if  not?) H. 
P. 
Grice realises that what Strawson discovered are good things: there  ARE 
divergences between the iota operator and 'the', but they do not belong in  the 
logical form or 'sense' of the expressions in question (Grice learned about  
the logical form of 'the' utterances from, of all people, Hans Sluga) but in 
the  realm of the implicature and the disimplicature.  

Cheers,

Speranza

Refs.:

Donnellan, "Reference and  Definite Descriptions"
Grice, "Definite Descriptions in Russell and in the  Vernacular."  

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