[hist-analytic] Grice´s Highway Code

jlsperanza at aol.com jlsperanza at aol.com
Sat Jan 9 17:33:33 EST 2010

-----Original Message-----
From: steve bayne <baynesrb at yahoo.com>
To: hist-analytic at simplelists.co.uk
Sent: Sat, Jan 9, 2010 3:45 pm
Subject: Re: The arbitrariness of convention: revisited
Yes, you are absolutely right. I was unclear on what you meant
exactly but your point is well taken.
It may be a non-arbitrary decision whether to have traffic
rules, or conventions, but it is arbitrary as to _which_
conventions to adopt. This is the fundamental difference
between convention for Lewis and contract. In social contract
there are no alternatives; that is, there is only the state of
nature or the social contract, unlike the case of traffic laws.
Take a look at Lewis _Convention_ p. 96 for the point your

Thanks for the reference. A note on my Deutero-Esperanto, too. I title 
this Grice´s Highway Code, since I´m taking very seriously your ref., 
which I missed on first reading your post, to the traffic rules, and my 

If a native of this land where the fishing poles _have_ to be ´red´ 
tells us that there is a ¨reason¨ for it, I think we would feel 
uncomfortable to find this ´conventional´ then. It wouldn´t be 
arbitrary enough.

Grice considers, funnily, himself laying in his bathtub and composing a 
new Highway Code -- in Deutero-Esperanto, I would imagine. This in WoW, 
lecture 6 -- I think ALL of Grice´s output originated as lecture. Odd 
that, but a nice colloquial ring to all he writes --.

He is considering ´procedures´ and finds it otiose to refer to actual 
(vs. potential) regularities. So he has himself inventing the new 
highway code (cfr. Bayne´s ref. to traffic rules above) as involving a 
procedure or set of procedures that a would-be agent would abide by. I 
found that very funny always.

I learned to drive, and got my license, too, while in the USA. I THINK 
the driving instructor told me that ´red´ -- we spent so much time 
together that he became a Gricean of sorts -- is not ARBITRARILY the 
sign for ´stop´-It naturally means, to echo Grice, ´danger´. I´m less 
sure about yellow. In fact, L. J. Kramer, who lives in NY, told me that 
originally yellow was not even there.

I think what you say is very true. I don´t know about the times of 
Hobbes -- horse-driven carriages I assume -- and before that, the state 
of nature -- but once you have automobiles, some rules or agreed-on 
´code´or what you may call it, seems, pace the Italians -- hey I´m one! 
-- sort of necessary!

I recall discussing this, oddly, with T. Wharton -- he credits me in 
his "Pragmatics and Non-Verbal Communication¨, fresh from CUP -- and 
his offense at the word ´code´. But there was Grice calling his thing a 
¨new Highway Code¨. So perhaps ´code´ is a good word, after all, for 
this kind of agreed-on procedures.

Of course a highway code is not _moral_ so we may assume that it may 
include a rule (so-called) that applies only to the monarch, the 
sovereign individual, or an ambulance.

When we get to contracts that matter, I´m not sure about your ´no 
choice´ about the ´state of nature´. There seems to be an essentialism 
involved, if I understood your exegesis aright, that man is a ´social´ 
animal (zoon politikon of Aristotle). So that a man who does not engage 
in some kind of ´political´involvement is not yet human enough. But 
Guariglia, my teacher in ethics, always got irritated by Aristotle on 
slavery on this -- and he even has some nasty things to say about 
illegal Greeks, living in Athens!

But in any case, one would need to consider the Robinson-Crusoe 
scenarios familar with philosophers. The man who does not renew his 
´social contract´ and finds that it´s thanks God it´s Friday!

Are there good philosophical essays on Robinson-Crusoe. I think DeFoe 
was a genius that invented him! (I mean, other than private-language 
arguments I´ve seen).

I forget who the editor for the Oxford Readings in Philosophy´s volume 
for Political Philosophy is. But what a great subject that is, and what 
a long, even Oxonian, philosophical tradition, about it! Sometimes I 
wish Grice would have been more involved in that, rather than his 
cursory ref. to Oxonian ´pinko politics´! (or his reference to Wilson 
and Heath in WoW, iv -- vide Chapman for Grice´s updating the names of 
the candidates for prime-ministers, _Grice_, Macmillan, for this).


J. L. Speranza
    for the Grice Club

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