Aspects of Reason (review)

Journal of the History of Philosophy 40 (2):273-274 (2002)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Journal of the History of Philosophy 40.2 (2002) 273-274 [Access article in PDF] Book Review Aspects of Reason Paul Grice. Aspects of Reason. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. Pp. xxxviii + 136. Cloth, $29.95. H. P. Grice made it clear in some of his best works that he was a friend of reason. In "Logic and Conversation," he suggested that it was plausible that the general principles regulating conversation are instantiations of principles of reason. His friendship with reason is central to Aspects of Reason, a revision of the John Locke Lectures given at Harvard. Unfortunately, not far into reading Aspects of Reason, Wittgenstein's quip, "A philosophical problem has the form: 'I don't know my way about'" (Philosophical Investigations, paragraph 123) came to mind and it did not leave me for the rest of the book. (See Grice's own admission on page 4.)As best I can tell, Grice has two main goals. The first is to show that theoretical (or alethic) reasoning and practical reasoning are at bottom the same. Aristotle and Kant held the same thing, as Grice notes more than once. Pace many philosophers who hold that 'ought' does not mean the same thing in the sentences 'She ought to repay the loan' and 'He ought to be home by this time,' Grice holds that it does. That is, the practical 'ought' and the alethic 'ought' have the same sense or senses. While the thesis is clear enough, Grice's path to proving it is not sufficiently clear. He claims that the same general sense of 'rational acceptability' is involved in each sentence. This claim is not informative because the idea of acceptability is no clearer than the claim roughly that 'ought' has the same sense in both its alethic and practical uses. (The editor Richard Warner recognizes this, and tries to shore up Grice's view; see xvi-xvii.)The second of Grice's main goals is to prove that modals in both alethic and practical sentences are conditional. In effect, sentences that say something ought to be the case or ought to be done are conditioned on some premises from which the sentence is or may be logically derived. (Nonetheless, he thinks some sentences with modals are a priori and underived.)There are too many promissory and subjunctive gestures like this: "I suspect that such a reply could be constructed, but I do not have it at my fingertips (or tongue-tip), so I shall not try to produce it." And too many prepositional phrases, under the shared command of abstract nouns and verbs in the passive voice, march single file through the pages, e.g.: "a brief consideration of what modifications might be required or convenient for the employment of mode-markers in the representation of the content of thought (or acceptance)" (70). Some of the few substantive results seem to me to be prolix: Let us suppose it to be a fundamental psychological law that, ceteris paribus, for a creature x (of a sufficiently developed kind), no matter what A and B are, if x wills A and judges that if A, A only as a result of B, then x wills B. This I take to be a proper representation of "he who wills the end, wills the indispensable means"; and in calling it a fundamental law I mean that it is the law, or one of the laws, from which 'willing'... (94-5) and so on.A large part of the problem, I think, is that Grice does not pay much attention to the ordinary uses in which 'reason' or some cognate might be used nor to the ordinary circumstances [End Page 273] in which people are reasoning even if none of them uses the word 'reason' or its cognates. His brief excursion into uses of 'reason' are dominated by such stilted expressions as 'The fact that p was reason for thinking that q,' 'That p was reason to think that q," and 'He had reason to think that p but he seemed unaware of the fact' (39).The editor Richard...

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