The Skilful Heretic

  • Siobhan Chapman


In 1986 Oxford University Press published a volume of essays drawing on the work of the philosopher Paul Grice, who was then 73. It was not formally described as a Festschrift, but Grice’s name was concealed as an acronym of the title, Philosophical Grounds of Rationality: Intentions, Categories, Ends, and many of those who contributed to the volume took the opportunity of paying tribute to his work and influence. Among these, Gordon Baker revealed that what he admired most was Grice’s ‘skilful advocacy of heresies’.1 In a similar vein, Grice’s colleague Richard Grandy once introduced him to an audience with the comment that he could always be relied on to rally to ‘the defence of the underdogma’.2 Given Grice’s conventional academic career together with his current status in philosophy and, particularly, in linguistics, these accolades may seem surprising. His entire working life was spent in the prestigious universities of Oxford and Berkeley, making him very much an establishment figure. Much of his philosophy of language, particularly his theory of conversational implicature, has for a number of decades played a central role in debates about the relationship between semantics and pragmatics, or meaning as a formal linguistic property and meaning as a process taking place in contexts and involving speakers and hearers. But the canonical status of Grice’s ideas masks their unconventional and even controversial beginnings. As Baker himself observes, Grice’s heresies have tended to be transformed by success into orthodoxies.


Conversational Implicature Philosophical Inquiry Canonical Status Natural Language Expression Skilful Advocacy 
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© Siobhan Chapman 2005

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  • Siobhan Chapman

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