[lit-ideas] Re: Rationality: Popper vs. Grice

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  • Date: Mon, 9 Feb 2015 08:31:48 -0500

We are discussing Popper's idea that rationality cannot be self-justifying; 
 a view that did not trouble Grice. Perhaps what both had in common is the 
idea  that rationality (as we know it) evolved from a 'pre-rational' state.
We are dating this and that. Can we speak of an early Popper and, to echo  
Geary, 'a late Grice'?

In a message dated 2/9/2015 5:56:10 A.M. Eastern Standard Time,  
donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx writes in "The Worlds of Sir Karl Popper" in reply to 
query by O. K."
"Is it "early"? Maybe or maybe not: OSE was published,  iirc, c.1945, ten 
years after LdF - i.e. some ten years after P's most noted  "early" work. But 
OSE might yet be termed "early" given the length of Popper's  publishing 
career: Popper's 'Obj Knowl' was published c.1970 and TSAIB was  published 
c.1977, and the 3 volume 'Postscript' to LdF (though based on O.S.  from the 
late 50s) was only finally published in 1982. And there have been  several 
books since then, such as "The Myth of the Framework", though these are  
usually based on writings that are not recent to their publication."
This of course should NOT be confusing. Recall that Grice's first book was  
posthumous ("as opposed to pre-humous", as Geary humoristically  recalls).


"Afair, I did not claim that OSE was an early  work but merely that certain 
points - like the above - do not belong to Popper's  "mature" philosophy. 
(But more on this below: for Popper's revision does not  amount to an 
outright repudiation of what is written in OSE). Publication dates  are not 
the most reliable guide to classifying the time-periods in which  thinking 
developed: on the point raised above, afaik, Popper revised his OSE  approach 
to rationalism in the light of William Bartley's criticism. This  revision 
occurred in the 1960s."
In the case of Grice, his revision occurred in 1979, when he was invited to 
 give the John Locke lectures at Oxford on "rationality". He said to 
himself:  "What should I lecture these pompous Oxonians on?" (To give the John 
Locke  Lectures you have NOT to belong to Oxford, as Grice then didn't). So, he 
 recalled that two years ago he had given the Kant lectures on rationality 
at  Stanford, and hoped those pompous Oxonians wouldn't notice. They didn't. 

"The nub of Bartley's elaborate criticism is that it does  not matter so 
much whether adopting a rational attitude is a product of a  rational or 
non-rational process or 'commitment', or even an irrational  'commitment': what 
matters is that adopting a rational attitude (or the rational  attitude so 
adopted) can be defended on rational grounds - rather than merely on  
non-rational or irrational ones."
Or 'pre-rational' ones. If pre-posthumous is otiose, 'pre-rational' is not. 
 For rationality originates from the same psychological attitudes that 
originate,  say, 'akrasia', which is irrational and comes in two varieties.
Grice: "Most philosophers focus on practical akrasia: "This is what I  
should rationally do; but I won't do it". My favourite topic of akrasia is  
theoretical akrasia: "This is the truth of the matter, but I'll reject  it".

"A most important point is that this defence does not depend  on justifying 
'rationalism', in the traditional way of philosophy, but it is  sufficient 
if 'rationalism' itself withstands rational criticism. If rationalism  can 
be so defended, then it is "comprehensive" in that it owes no debt to  
non-rationalism or irrationalism in terms of its defence."
Which may leave unanswered the question that rationality owes a BIG debt to 
 pre-rationality. E.g. monkeys, Chomsky says, are 'irrational' (hence the 
famous  adage, "Socrates is a man; therefore rational"). But monkeys and Man 
share TOO  MANY THINGS to deny that man's rationality is NOT based on a 
pre-rational basis  that we find in monkeys ("and other animals", as Durrell 
would add -- he lived  in a zoo, as Ritchie may recall).


"In some ways Bartley's pov is implicit in Popper's early work where  that 
early work accounts for the rationality of science not in terms of the  
'rational production' of scientific theories (in contrast to inductive accounts 
which pretend to do so) but in the application of a rational/critical 
methods to  testing theories (irrespective of whether their production is, or 
not, part  of a 'rational' process). In this light, Popper's position in OSE 
might seem  surprising - as it might seem to fail to keep apart the issues 
of the production  of a 'rational attitude' and issues of whether a 
'rational attitude' is itself  rationally defensible (paralleling the 
between issues as to whether  the production of scientific theories is 
'rational' and issues as to whether  such theories are rationally defensible)."
Well, here is where Grice's mixed metaphor of entrenchment may play a role. 
 Or self-entrenchment, rather. Rationality originates in pre-rational  
behaviour, and this is the context of the genesis. And Rationality gets  
self-entrenched or self-justified -- By what means: by what Grice calls the  
Bootstrap principle, or how to pull yourself rationality by your own 
"Perhaps Popper was being too generous in OSE in conceding a kind of  
priority to the non-rational or the irrational: but there is more to it, for  
there is a core of important truth to the concessions made in OSE - namely, 
that  reason cannot be used to compel anyone to adopt an attitude of  
Perhaps he was too influenced by Plato, as Grice never was. Recall that for 
 Plato, it is the non-rational part of the soul (there are three of them) 
that  MOVES the man. Grice's approach to rationality is more Aristotelian in 
nature,  and while 'akrasia' was a topic that fascinated Aristotle, he knew 
the way out  of it!
McEvoy: "Popper's concessions were not part of a philosophy hung-up on  
trying to compel the unreasonable to be reasonable - rather he was indicating  
why, rationally speaking, they are a lost cause. OSE was after all part of   
Popper's "war work" and he takes a clear line - as the title indicates - 
between  the friends and the enemies of the OS: the book is addressed to its 
friends and  potential friends and does not seek to convert its enemies 
(though it of course  had a powerful effect on many one-time enemies of the 
This is what perhaps makes Popper a Continental philosopher, since his  
audience included enemies to the OS. Meanwhile, an "Anglo-American" (or Allies) 
 philosopher was just fighting the war as a Royal navy captain.  


"Another aspect of Popper's OSE treatment is that he is  against forms of 
'rationalism' that are excessive, both because they are false  and also 
likely self-defeating - for example, he makes clear that his form of  
'rationalism' is not based on the assumption that people are entirely or mostly 
'rational' or that 'rationalism' is an easy attitude to practice. In this he is 
advocating a 'rationalism' that withstands rational criticism - and opposing  
forms of 'rationalism' (or pseudo-rationalism) that do not withstand 
rational  criticism."
Perhaps this is best summed up in Grice's title for the John Locke  
lectures: "ASPECTS of reason -- and reasoning". Surely we don't demand the same 
criteria for rational moral behaviour as we demand of rational 'alethic'  
behaviour. Different psychological attitudes are involved. And rational moral  
behaviour may end up being 'ceteris paribus', 'defeasible', and, let's say, 
more  problematic. (Grice is refuting views by Philippa Foot, which Grice saw 
as a too  naturalistic approach to morality). 


"So whether the OSE is "early" or not, in Popper's  "mature" philosophy 
Bartley's criticism is acknowledged and there is no needless  concession that 
there is a priority of irrationalism or non-rationalism in terms  of the 
defence of rationalism."
Perhaps the keyword should be commitment. Grice never used the phrase --  
less so 'rational commitment'. He would at most give a nod to what Quine had  
said about ONTOLOGICAL commitment -- what is rationally justifiable to 
count as  'existing': his example: "Pegasus flies." An irrational thing to say, 
as Dodds  ("The Greeks and the Irrational") would agree.
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