[lit-ideas] Re: Popper and Grice on the conceptual analysis of 'science'
- From: "Donal McEvoy" <dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> (Redacted sender "donalmcevoyuk" for DMARC)
- To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Tue, 12 Apr 2016 19:57:35 +0000 (UTC)
I fail to understand 'hand-and-hand'.>
Come now. Did it not occur to you that it was a rushed attempt at
'hand-in-hand', given the context?
Though, for all you know, it was because these two terms are sound-a-likes and
my voice decoder mistook my Irish accent when I first spoke the phrase from my
On Tuesday, 12 April 2016, 18:06, "dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx"
Apparently, it all goes back to when Popper's father tried to define him
(Popper's son, that is, our Popper) 'science'. "You see, son, science is..."
In a message dated 4/12/2016 12:02:37 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, McEvoy
"Bingo. It goes back to late childhood/early adolescence. As Popper
relates in "Unended Quest", he then got into various interesting conversations
with adults on a range of topics but couldn't see any substance to the
argument when based on 'definitions'. He never recovered."
On the other hand, there was this British author who collected definitions
of "life" ("Life is a cabaret", "Life is _just_ a bowl of cherries"). Cfr.
the profuse definitions of happiness ("Happiness is a warm gun.")
"Amazing as it may seem, he was also right - and his attitude only
hardened as he got older and heard more and more philosophers and other
waste everybody's time with definitional piffle."
Perhaps he failed to disimplicate. I'm sure that (while Popper does not
explicitly explicate this), his father's intention was not ill-meant. He was
trying to define 'science' for him. "There's science in this, son."
""Science?" -- Popper junior had never heard that word before -- recall we're
Vienna and it's a longer thing: wissenschaft. "Yes, son, 'wissenschaft'. A
formation ending in -schaft, and cognate with 'wissen', as when you say, "I
know"". "I know," Popper junior responded.
What Popper junior failed to see was that his father was _challenging_
him, inviting the implicature: "unless you have a better definition, of
But then Carroll was never popular in Vienna. For Humpty Dumpty, glory is
defined as a knock-down argument. Alice is happy with this. When he later
says, "Impenetrability", Alice smells a rat (figuratively). "And how do you
define that?" "I define 'impenetrability' as 'let's change the topic,
"Some of [Popper's] objections to definitional arguments are simple e.g. a
definition must always either (a) use undefined terms (whose definition in
turn must create an infinite regress) or (b) the infinite regress is
avoided by circularity (but the circle cannot therefore explain the meaning).
This means a definition can solve nothing but only give the illusion it is a
solution - for a circular solution, or one that only shifts the problem,
cannot be a satisfactory or genuine solution."
This does NOT seem to be the implicature behind Popper senior:
'wissenschaft' has to do with 'wissen', to know. So we REDUCE 'science' to the
concept of 'wissen', and, you know, it's easier that way. 'Wissen' is then
reduced to a justified true belief. We have to wait for Gettier to
challenge THAT definition.
"Popper also saw clearly that while philosophers were trapped in
definitional talk and often never got beyond definitional preliminaries, the
sciences had progressed by avoiding getting bogged down in definitions - as
all areas of knowledge that had made important progress. In the light of his
later philosophy of W3, it is clear that Popper would argue
language-acquisition is W3-dependent and not definition-dependent: the
illusion that we
have clarified things by definition is really because we have instead
clarified the relevant sense in W3 terms, and grasp of W3 'meaning' is not via
definitions rather definitions make sense to us because we grasp relevant W3
Well, this is a convoluted point, and I'm not sure Cicero would agree.
Rhetoricians of old spent volumes defining 'definitions', but VERY FEW gave a
hoot ('hootus,' Cicero calls it) to "W3". But I take McEvoy's point.
McEvoy's talk of illusion reminds me of Hacker. Hacker (who sat on the same
chair Grice did, up in that small office at St. John's) used to say he had
two favourite words:
One was illusion.
The other was insight.
"the illusion we have clarified things by definition"
is a good one. It reminds me of Lewis, who said,
"clarity is not enough" -- subtitled: essays in the criticism of linguistic
A linguistic philosopher does more than 'define', under an illusion or not.
He sets the definition in terms of 'analysans' and 'analysandum', which do
not necessarily involve a 'vicious circle'. The idea of 'infinite regress'
can be easily refudiated by that of self-reference. Thus, Grice's
conceptual analytic definition of meaning relies on self-reference:
U means that p by uttering x iff
a. U intends addressee A to think that U believes/desires p
b. U intends (a) to proceed via A's recognition of (b)
c. U intends that (a)-(c) should be all in the open: no sneaky intentions
"If I'm very secretive about my trying to convey that p, I cannot be
claimed to have MEANT that p." (cfr. Holdcroft, "Forms of indirect
"Popper is right about that too, as the following story illustrates.
Consider the following question of 'meaning': Rudy last week was walking back
with me to the car, from visiting a theme park, when we came upon a set of
signs which included a sign in the following format: 'red circle with a line
across' (which means what is symbolised within the cirlce is not allowed)
and within the circle a black stick-person figure (representing an adult) and
a smaller black stick-person figure (representing a child) with the
figures' arms overlapping at the point where their hands would be (indicating
they were hand-in-hand). Rudy had never seen such a sign before (and I don't
recall seeing one either) but correctly deduced the sign prohibited
something in relation to adult and child - but he did not deduce that the sign
saying 'No walking of adults and children on this pathway'. Instead he
asked me, who was holding his hand: "Are we not allowed to hold hands?"
Definitions played no more role in clarifying the actual meaning of that sign
they play in language-acquisition generally."
This reminds me of Grice who once sat on the tub for hours devising what he
called the new Highway Code. He realised "that it probably will have no
meaning other than to me, but who cares. I still _mean_ by it."
McEvoy goes on to provide the moral of his charming story:
"Rudy quickly understood its actual meaning because he quickly grasped the
problem-situation (that the pathway was dangerous because of oncoming
vehicles) and could see the meaning as a solution to the problem-situation,
because like most children he can use symbolic representation as a
(flexible) means to decode relevant W3 content. He didn't make any pointless
definitional criticisms of the sign - for example, that it should be showing
adult and child both hand-and-hand and not hand-in-hand, as both possibilities
would be dangerous. Only the most foolish lawyer (or philosopher) would try
to argue the sign was flawed for this 'definitional' reason or that we
needed this definitional amplification to get its meaning."
I fail to understand 'hand-and-hand'.
But Grice gave a lecture on Peirce, so I should know.
This for Peirce is a 'sign' (not a symbol, or an index).
The fact that red is used is obvious. RED means Prohibition/Danger,
Dangerous behaviour. Round shape; black pictogram on white background; red
and diagonal line; red part to be at least 35% of the area of the sign.
I'm sure there is a strict definition of what the sign means. For Peirce
'meaning' is a triadic relation. There is always an interpretant, in this
Grice once used 'interpretant', in his publications, without quoting
Peirce. This gave a Peirce scholar the clue that Grice had been reading Peirce.
And indeed he had, and given lectures on him which are now deposited at the
Bancroft Library (Grice criticises Peirce).
There are definitions and definitions.
The above sign may be said to be 'ambiguous' in that two 'definitions' (at
least) are possible:
(a) cfr. Rudy -- "Are we not allowed to hold hands?" -- the sign means that
an adult and a child should not hold hand.
(b) No walking of adults and children on this pathway.
It may be implicated that
(c) No walking of children on this pathway.
is also involved, as an entailment of (b) -- but not
(d) No walking of adults on this pathway.
This talk of 'pathway', etc., requires explicit definitions from the
relevant Department, since very serious safety is involved.
The fact that Rudy arrived at the right interpretation via a
problem-solving approach is in part to be credited to the designer of the
(Grice's "utterer"). This utterer was having in mind the idea of a natural
representation, iconic -- and 'icon' is a key term in Peirce's semiotics. It
would be odd that the sign should represent, say, an elephant next to an
uncrossed angel (which may mean "elephants allowed to walk here, but not
if they are too afraid to tread') but used to mean "no walking of adults
and children on this pathway'. The designer of the pictogram was following
the idea that a natural sign is a good thing, and that if he was paid to
design a non-natural (to use Grice's parlance) sign, this should not deter him
from relying on the natural-sign relation.
All this is so full of definitions, which are not necessarily circular,
that one wonders about Grice's protreptic/exhibitive.
Grice coined this distinction to deal with signs like the one meaning "no
walking of adults and children on this pathway."
"Under an exhibitive reading of the sign, the utterer's intention may well
be that the intended addressee comes to realise that it is the utterer's
intention [not to allow an adult and a child to walk on this pathway -- due
to the potential danger caused by incoming vehicles]. But under a stronger
protreptic reading, surely the utterer also intends that his intended
addresee will himself FORM the intention NOT [to walk on this pathway, due to
potential danger caused by incoming vehicles]."
It may all be different with Popper and science.
He possibly relied on _implicit_ definitions. And he kept changing them.
How else do you explain that, before lecturing at Darwin College (oops, I
said, 'college', contra Nancy Mitford -- but lecturing at Darwin sounds rude),
he thought that evolution theory was not 'scientific', and _minutes_
before giving that lecture (so to say) he came to 'define' (implicitly, of
course) 'science' in such a way that evolution theory was okay?
Was it a letter he received from a prestigious evolutionary theorist who
made Popper changed his mind about how to define 'science' via conceptual
analysis? Or was just the weather?
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