[hist-analytic] Out of Context

Jlsperanza at aol.com Jlsperanza at aol.com
Mon Nov 16 19:24:04 EST 2009

"Context" in analytic philosophy
Perhaps this should be called 'out of context' (as in title of Balderston's 
 book on Borges)
R. B. Jones and S. R. Bayne are engaged in a discussion on the nature of  
'proposition'. Jones threw in 'context', and Bayne, colloquially, replied 
that  context is a 'mess'. 
This is good! It reminded me of some extravagant note on 'context' that S.  
R. Chapman unburied from those 13 cardboard boxes at the UC/Berkeley (the 
Grice  Papers).
(It may relate, I hope, to Bayne's interesting mention of the Montagovian  
conception of context as 'indexing'. And cfr. Grice on 'presupposition' and  
conversational implicature, WoW, on 'contextualising' of things like 'the' 
king  of France is bald).
Grice wrote more general about context in what I want to believe was a  
general polemic with people like J. L. Austin and linguists like Firth or  
Gardiner, or Entwistle.
"Philosophers," Grice writes, "often say
that context is VERY IMPORTANT."
(I like that -- He is being amused by a state of affairs
that would have Bayne saying that it is a 'mess', rather!)
Grice continues:

"Let us take this remark seriously."
     [i.e. that context is very important.]
"Surely, if we do, we shall want
to consider this remark not merely
in its relation to this or that problem,
i.e. in context, but also in itself, i.e.
_out of context_."
Waggish Grice at his best.
"If we are to take THIS seriously,
we must be systematic, that is
thorough and orderly."
--- This is a 'lecture' by Grice, hence the slightly patronising tone,  
jocular mode, by Grice -- hey, you cannot patronise an _Oxford_ student!
"If we are to be orderly we must
start with what is relatively SIMPLE."
"_Here_, though not of course everywhere,
to be simple is to be as ABSTRACT as
possibly; by this I mean merely that we want,
to begin with, to have as few cards on the table
as we can."
    -- I thought it was only a limited amount in  poker.
       Or is the metaphor with _bridge_  -- that he championed?
"Orderliness will then consist in
seeing first what we can do with the
cards we have; and when we think that
we have exhausted this investigation, we
put another card on the table, and see
what that enables us to do."
     (Grice, "The general theory of context',
           a lecture, The  Grice Papers, cited by Chapman, p. 97).
Grice goes on, Chapman notes, to argue that "thinking seriously about  
context" -- these are Chapman's words -- "means thinking about  conversation."
--- The metaphor is then that of a 'hand'. As Chapman notes, "[Grice's]  
method of limiting HIS HAND was to result in certain highly artificial  
simplifications, but he made these simplifications deliberately and knowingly.  
For instance, the RELEVANT CONTEXT was to be assumed to be limited to what he  
called the 'LINGUISTIC ENVIRONMENT': to the content of the conversation 
Not too illuminating. But perhaps the indexing would play a role in his  
later lecture then, "Presupposition and Conversational Implicature". I found 
his  comments on 
         the table
-- vis a vis -- the king of France
charming. Grice writes of a phi operator that SHOULD appeal to Jones. All  
very familiar stuff, but interesting I find, in setting the job of indexing 
with  some care. Grice writes:
Grice's example (adapted):

the book on the table ... is rather boring.
"As there are, obviously, MANY BOOKS on TABLES in the
world, if we [were] to treat such a 'sentence' [or proposition,
to echo Jones. JLS] as being of the form,
     The F is G
and as being, on that account, ripe for Russellian
expansion, we might do WELL to treat it as 
exemplifying the MORE SPECIFIC form
     The F which is phi is G
where "phi" represents 
      _an epithet to be identified
      in a particular context of
[When one hears lecturers lecturing on Jason Stanley's new contextualism -- 
 e.g. Keith DeRose -- as if he (Jason) had invented the thing!, one wants 
them  all to remind them of this charming epithet mentioned by Grice way back 
in  1970!]
Grice continues:
""phi" being a sort of QUASI-DEMONSTRATIVE"
-- in perhaps a courtesy to Kaplan!
"Standardly," Grice goes on, "to identify the
REFERENCE of 'phi' for a particular utterance
     the book on the table is ... very boring
a [addresee] would proceed via the
identification of a 
     _particular_ book
as being a good _candidate_ for being the
book _meant_, and would identify the
reference of "phi" by FINDING in the
candidate a feature, for example, that of
    'being in this room'
which could be used to yield a
    COMPOSITE epithet
which would, in turn, fill the bill of being
an epithet which the [utterer] had in mind
as being UNIQUELY satisfied by the book
selected as a candidate. If the [addresee]
FAILS to find a suitable reference 
for "phi" in relation to the selected
candidate, then he would, normally,
seek another candidate."
Grice goes on to mention how we
arrive at the _contextual_ expansion of
       'the book on the table'
then as uniquely referring to a particular book.
Some corollary on the alleged polysemy of 'certain'.

Grice writes:
"So, determining the reference of "phi" would
standardly involve determining what feature the 
[utterer] MIGHT have in mind as being
UNIQUELY instantiated y an ACTUAL OBJECT,
and this in turn would standardly involve
satisfying oneself that some PARTICULAR
FEATURE atually is uniquely satisfied by a
PARTICULAR actual object -- e.g. a particular
book --. So, utterances both of 'the book on the
table ... is [boring]' ... would imply (in one way
or another) the existence of a PARTICULAR
book on a table."
My, some orderliness!
But what about indefinite reference? Of course I'm not posing this as a  
problem for Grice, for he would lecture me on 'phi's in indefinite cases of  
I am amused by the alleged polysemy of 'certain'. Ayer, who never really  
understood the nature of 'knowledge', played with 'certain' (certainty) --  
Witters too, an in book form too!
    I am certain that p.
But what about 
   "A certain book on the table ... is boring."
It strikes me I'm not sure if to derive the meaning of 'certain' (as used  
by Ayer) from 'certain' adj. or vice versa. 
   I suppose the Romans ('certanus'?) were never so  uncertain!
What irritates me (slightly -- along the bad weather) about 'context' is  
what I call the intrusive 'n'. Shouldn't it be just plain 'co-text'. Or is 
the  idea that there is "Text" and things which are "cum" (i.e. _with_ text). 
Grice plays very seriously with 'context' in the ending remarks of  
''Meaning". Surely he KNEW that a general theory of context need NOT be just the  
LINGUISTIC (or verbal) environment!
In a way that parallels his looking for 'analogues' to the four  
conversational categories (informativeness, trustworthiness, relevance, and  
perspicuity) in non-conversational instances (WoW, ii), he plays with the  'analogue' 
of 'context' in non-verbal situations:
In Chapman's wording, "The [addresee] may sometimes look
to specific CONTEXT to determine the precise INTENTION
behind an utterance; he may consider, for instance,
which of two possible interpretations would be the most
relevant to what has gone before, or would most obviously
fit the [utterer's] purpose."
"Grice notes," Chapman adds, and 'unsurprisingly' _I_ add, "that such
criteria are NOT confined to linguistic examples." But it was the charm of  
Grice to provide the _right_ examples!

Grice: "Context IS a criterion in
    settling the question of WHY a man
    who has just put a cigarette in his
    mouth has put his hand in his pocket."
    ("Relevance to an obvious end
      is a criterion in settling why a man
      is running away from a bull.")
   "Context IS a criterion in  
settling the question of WHY a man
    who has just put a cigarette in his
    mouth has put his hand in his pocket."

Or as Stanley Jason would contextualise,
    "Context is a criterion in
     settling the question of THE REASON
     why a man who has just put an UNLIT
     cigarette in the SURROUNDING LIPS
     to his mouth has put his RIGHT hand
     in the POCKET of his JACKET."
JL Speranza 
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