Philosophy Paul Grice
Matthew A. Benton
  • LAST REVIEWED: 03 May 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 July 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0257


Herbert Paul Grice (b. 1913–d. 1988) was a British philosopher and linguist, and one of the pivotal figures in philosophy during the 20th century. He wrote in many areas of philosophy, including the metaphysics of personal identity, logical paradoxes, the analytic/synthetic distinction, the philosophy of perception, philosophical psychology, and ethics. He also wrote on historical figures such as Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, and Kant. But his most significant contributions came in philosophy of language and mind, on meaning, intention, presupposition, conversation, and the theory of communication. Grice argued for an intention-based theory of meaning, and he was the first to illustrate the distinction between what came to be called semantic and pragmatic meaning, that is, between what a speaker’s utterance (or its utterance “type”) means in the abstract, and what else a speaker can mean by uttering it in a particular context. Grice highlighted this by an appeal to his framework of the Cooperative Principle and its Conversational Maxims, which are plausibly assumed by conversational participants and provide mechanisms for the ways in which speakers can “conversationally implicate” something beyond the literal meaning of what they say, and for how hearers can recover those “implicatures.’” Grice’s enduring influence on these topics helped found the burgeoning discipline in philosophy of language and linguistics now known as “pragmatics” (compare the Oxford Bibliographies in Philosophy article on “Pragmatics”).

General Overviews

While Chapman 2009 is the only book-length overview of Grice’s life and work, several articles and chapter-length treatments are available: Bach 2011 is succinct and accessible to students, as is Grandy 1989; Neale 1992 is a lengthy, in-depth treatment, particularly of some technical issues; Grandy and Warner 1986 provides an opening introduction of Grice’s work for a festschrift. Grandy and Warner 2017 is also an encyclopedia entry useful for students and nonspecialists. Two selective pieces written by Grice near the end of his life are Grice 1986 and Grice 1989.

  • Bach, Kent. “Paul Grice.” In Philosophy of Language: The Key Thinkers. Edited by Barry Lee, 179–198. London: Continuum, 2011.

    Introduces and explains Grice’s most influential contributions on speaker meaning and conversational implicature, including common misunderstandings of his views. Also offers recommendations for further reading related to Grice’s work.

  • Chapman, Siobhan. Paul Grice: Philosopher and Linguist. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

    Comprehensive and accessible monograph of Grice’s life and philosophy, the only one of its kind. Draws on Grice’s archives, and provides in-depth discussion of his ideas and their development, situated within the context of the alternative views and methods of his contemporaries. Closes with a chapter on Grice’s ongoing influence in linguistics.

  • Grandy, Richard E. “On Grice on Language.” Journal of Philosophy 86.10 (1989): 514–525.

    DOI: 10.5840/jphil1989861021

    Useful exposition of Grice’s fundamental contributions to philosophy of language.

  • Grandy, Richard E., and Richard Warner. “Paul Grice: A View of His Work.” In Philosophical Grounds of Rationality: Intentions, Categories, Ends. Edited by Richard E. Grandy and Richard Warner, 1–44. Oxford: Clarendon, 1986.

    Discusses the systematic nature of Grice’s work, much of which at the time was unpublished. Focuses on Grice’s accounts of meaning, reasoning, psychological explanation, metaphysics, and ethics, topics with which other essays in the volume are concerned.

  • Grandy, Richard E., and Richard Warner. “Paul Grice.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2017.

    Encyclopedia entry that treats every area of Grice’s work: offers succinct descriptions of Grice’s main ideas and their development, accessible to students and nonspecialists. Also contains a helpful bibliography of secondary sources.

  • Grice, Paul. “Reply to Richards.” In Philosophical Grounds of Rationality: Intentions, Categories, Ends. Edited by Richard E. Grandy and Richard Warner, 45–106. Oxford: Clarendon, 1986.

    Grice provides background from his personal life and the development of his philosophical views, and he summarizes his opinions on a variety of topics. Also comments specifically on the themes discussed in Grandy and Warner’s overview earlier in the volume.

  • Grice, Paul. “Retrospective Epilogue.” In Studies in the Way of Words. By Paul Grice, 339–385. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989.

    Grice reflects on the aspects that unify his philosophical ideas and his methodological approach. Includes strands devoted to the philosophy of perception, the analytic/synthetic distinction, the distinctions between conventional and nonconventional meaning and between assertive and nonassertive meaning, parallels between linguistic communication and other rational activities, traditional versus modern logic, and reference.

  • Neale, Stephen. “Paul Grice and the Philosophy of Language.” Linguistics and Philosophy 15.5 (1992): 509–559.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF00630629

    Provides a lengthy and detailed walk through Grice’s most important work in philosophy of language, using his Studies in the Way of Words (Grice 1989, cited under Works by Grice) as the guide. Along the way, Neale situates the discussion in the context of other views on meaning, reference, intention, implicature, and communication.

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