Before meaning: Creature construction, sea-sponges, lizards and Humean projection

Tim Wharton, Louis Cornell

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapterpeer-review


This chapter retraces Grice’s thought experiment on ‘creature construction’ (Grice 1975a), which attempts to show how complex psychological processes can be shown to emerge from less complex behaviours. Beginning with simple organisms, Grice’s experiment explores examines how an organism’s psychological processes work to construct representations of the surrounding environment in such a way that those representations can be utilised for survival. The more complex the organism, the more nuanced are the processes that have developed to aid it in this task. Our goal in retracing the experiment is to shed light on those elements of psychological experience and communication which, in keeping with the subject of this volume, might be said to exist beyond meaning. In particular, we refer to the experience and communication of non-propositional phenomena such as emotions, sensations and feelings. This is a topic of which much has recently been made in pragmatics, particularly in relevance theory (Sperber and Wilson 1986/1995, 2015; Wilson and Carston 2019; de Saussure and Wharton 2019; Wharton and Strey 2019), and we claim insights from Gricean creature construction are illuminating.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBeyond Meaning
PublisherJohn Benjamins
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9789027259592
ISBN (Print)9789027209269
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2021

Publication series

NamePragmatics & beyond
PublisherJohn Benjamins
ISSN (Print)0922-842X


  • Amygdala
  • complexity
  • creature construction
  • meta-representation
  • philosophical psychology
  • sensorium
  • valancing
  • vigilance


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