Grice, Herbert Paul
Grice was born in 1913 and died in 1988. He held positions at Oxford University and, after 1967, at the University of California, Berkeley. Grice is best known for his work in the philosophy of language, in particular, his analysis of speaker's meaning, his conception of conversational implicature, and his project of intention-based semantics.

Herbert Paul Grice was born in 1913 and died in 1988. From the late 1930's until 1967 he held positions at Oxford University. During the war years he served in the Royal Navy. In 1967 he moved to the University of California, Berkeley. He retired in 1979 but continued to teach until 1986. Grice is best known for his analysis of speaker's meaning, his conception of conversational implicature, and his project of intention-based semantics. Largely as a result of these ideas, the focus of the philosophical debate over the nature of meaning shifted during the 1970's and 1980's from linguistic representation to mental representation.
Grice's most important ideas may be found in his William James lectures presented at Harvard in 1967. Several lectures from that series were published in the form of journal articles, and for many years the lectures circulated in their entirety in mimeograph. They were finally published (in revised form) in 1989 in Grice's collection of essays, Studies in the Way of Words. (This was published under the name "Paul Grice". Prior to that, Grice had been known to the world at large as "H. P. Grice".
I. The Analysis of Speaker's Meaning.
In his seminal paper, "Meaning", first published in 1957, Grice drew a distinction between what he called natural meaning and what he called non-natural meaning. Natural meaning is the kind of meaning that we are speaking of when we say something like, "Those spots mean measles" or "A shiny coat in a dog means health". Non-natural meaning is the kind of meaning we speak of when we say "Those three rings on the bell (of the bus) mean that the bus is full" or "By saying that the child looked guilty, he meant that the child was in fact guilty".
 Further, Grice offered a three-part analysis of non-natural meaning: A (an agent) meant something (non-naturally) by x (an utterance or gesture) if and only if A intended the utterance or gesture x to produce some effect in an audience by means of the recognition of this intention. In other work, Grice contemplated a variety of refinements. The preliminary analysis that he offers in "Utterer's Meaning, Sentence Meaning, and Word-Meaning" (1968) for what he calls the occasion-meaning of indicative-type utterances may be represented as follows (this is not a quotation):
By uttering x, U meant that p if and only if for some audience A, U uttered x intending (i) that A should believe that U believes that p, (ii) that A should believe that U intended (i), and (iii) that (i) should be achieved by means of achieving (ii).
Speaker's (or utterer's) meaning, so defined, has to be strictly distinguished from what might be called the conventional meaning of a speaker's words. The place of conventional meaning in Grice's conception of language appears to be that it constitutes a feature of words that speaker's might exploit in realizing the intentions referred to in the analysis of speaker's meaning. This emerges in "Utterer's Meaning and Intentions" (1969), where Grice considers a variety of purported counter examples to his analysis of speaker's meaning and as a result produces a much more complex analysis. Particularly important is the conclusion that when an utterer means that p by utterance x the utterer must suppose that x has some feature f that the audience is to think of as correlated in a certain way with the response that the utterer intends to produce in the audience. In view of the account of so-called timeless meaning in "Utterer's Meaning, Sentence Meaning, and Word-Meaning", Grice's thought would appear to be that this feature is often the timeless meaning of the utterance. Grice's conception of timeless meaning will be further discussed in section III below.
II. Conversational Implicature
We commonly draw a distinction between what a person's words literally mean and what a person means by his or her words over and above what his or her words literally mean. In "Logic and Conversation" (1975) Grice offered a theory of the latter sort of meaning, which he called conversational implicature.
Grice's explanation of conversational implicature begins with his articulation of a Cooperative Principle, which calls on a speaker to "make your conversational contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged" (1989, p. 26). The Cooperative Principle subsumes a number of submaxims, such as "Make your contribution as informative as is required", "Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence", "Be relevant", and "Avoid obscurity".
In terms of the Cooperative Principle, conversational implicature can be defined as follows (not a quotation, but see 1989, p. 30-31): A speaker conversationally implicates that q by saying that p if and only if (1) he or she is conforming to the Cooperative Principle in saying that p, and (2) the explanation of his or her conformity to the Cooperative Principle is that he or she thinks that q, and (3) he or she thinks that the hearer will recognize that it is his or her thinking that q that explains his or her conformity to the Cooperative Principle.
For example, suppose A says to B, "I'm out of petrol", and B replies, "There is a garage around the corner". Then B may be taken to have conversationally implicated that the garage is open and has gas to sell, for apart from those assumptions, B's response to A would be irrelevant. For another example, suppose A says to B, "Where does C live?" and B replies, "Somewhere in the South of France". B may be taken to have conversationally implicated that he or she does not know more precisely where C lives since B may be presumed to conveying as much relevant information as he or she has evidence for.
III. Intention-Based Semantics
As we have seen, Grice's conception of speaker's meaning rests ultimately on a conception of conventional meaning or, in Grice's terminology, timeless meaning. That a certain form of words has a timeless meaning is normally necessary if a speaker is to reasonably expect that an utterance of that form of words will produce the intended effect. Grice's view was that that timeless meaning could in turn be explained in terms of speakers' intentions.
In "Utterer's Meaning, Sentence Meaning, and Word-Meaning" (1968), Grice's basic idea was that the timeless meaning of a form of words may be defined in terms of what speakers of the language have it in their "repertoire" to do by means of that form of words. For instance, someone might have it in his or her repertoire to execute a certain hand wave if he or she intends someone to recognize that he or she thinks that he or she knows the route (on the basis of the hearer's recognition of that intention).
On Grice's theory, an indicative utterance-type means that p for a group of people just in case the members of the group have it in their repertoire to utter that form of words when they intend other members of the group to recognize that they believe that p (on the basis of their recognition of their intention), where retention of that procedure is conditional on the assumption that other members of the group have that procedure in their repertoires. This definition is part of a series of definitions that Grice thinks of as culminating in a definition of timeless meaning, but he does not actually produce a definition of this. So the most one can maintain is that Grice wished to define timeless meaning somehow in terms of what speakers have it in their repertoire to do. The project became especially complicated and fragile as Grice attempted to explain how the meanings of complex expressions could be a product of the meanings of their subsentential parts.
IV. The Shift from Language to Mind
Grice's philosophy of language appears to belong to a long tradition in philosophy that treats linguistic communication as primarily a matter of a speaker's using words to enable hearers to recognize the content of their thoughts. An important episode in the history of this tradition was John Locke's Essay on Human Understanding ([1690] 1975). In his early writings, it is not evident that Grice thinks of himself as part of this tradition. He does not represent himself as offering a theory of linguistic communication at all. Furthermore, although Grice's explanations of the semantic properties of words are full of references to beliefs and intentions, Grice's early writings do not reveal any particular conception of the nature of these underlying entities.
Nonetheless, Grice's ideas have been latched onto by some who have explicitly wished to promote a conception of linguistic communication and mind consonant with that of Locke. Foremost among these is Jerry A. Fodor, whose book The Language of Thought (1975) represents a milestone in contemporary philosophy of mind. Largely as a result of that book, philosophers tended to turn their attention away from the problem of explicating the meanings of spoken words to the problem of explicating the contentfulness of mental representations, on the assumption that the meaningfulness of words somehow derived from the contentfulness of mental representations.
That Grice did, or ultimately came to think of his view as part of the tradition stemming from Locke becomes evident in his later essay "Meaning Revisited" (1982) (although Locke is not mentioned). In that essay, Grice speculates that language may have evolved in order to facilitate correspondences in psychological state between one creature and another.
V. The Reception of Grice's Philosophy of Language
It is fair to say that Grice's work has had as much impact on contemporary work on language as that of any other theorist. Grice's conception of speaker's meaning and conversational implicature rank in importance alongside Gottlob Frege's distinction between sense and reference ([1892] 1952) and Alfred Tarski's model-theoretic approach to logic ([1935] 1956).
Below is a partial list of books and articles that explicitly develop theories of language inspired by Grice:
  • Bach, Kent and Harnish, Robert, 1979, Linguistic Communication and Speech Acts, MIT Press.
  • Bennett, Jonathan, 1976, Linguistic Behavior, Cambridge University Press.
    Lewis, David, 1969, Convention, Harvard University Press.
  • Lewis, David, 1975, "Languages and Language" in Keith Gunderson, ed., Language, Mind and Knowledge, University of Minnesota Press, pp. 3-35. Reprinted in Martinich 1996 and Harnish 1994.
  • Neale, Stephen, 1990, Descriptions, MIT Press.
  • Schiffer, Stephen, 1972, Meaning, Oxford University Press.
  • Sperber, Dan and Deirdre Wilson, 1995, Relevance: Communication and Cognition, 2nd edition, Blackwell Publishers.
Below is a partial list of books and articles that have explicitly undertaken to criticize one or another aspect of Grice's conception of language:
  • Avramides, Anita, 1989, Meaning and Mind, MIT Press.
  • Biro, John, 1979, "Intentionalism in the Theory of Meaning", The Monist 62: 238-57.
  • Gauker, Christopher, 1992, "The Lockean Theory of Communication", Noûs 26: 303-24.
  • Gauker, Christopher, 1994, Thinking Out Loud: An Essay on the Relation between Thought and Language, Princeton University Press.
  • Millikan, Ruth, 1984, Language, Thought and Other Biological Categories, MIT Press.
  • Schiffer, Stephen, 1987, Remnants of Meaning, MIT Press.
  • von Savigny, Eike, 1988, The Social Foundations of Meaning, Springer-Verlag.
Christopher Gauker