You are on page 1of 25


The aim of Logic and Conversation

Formalist maintain that there are divergences between formal logical rules that govern inference and their natural language counterparts. They maintain that the formal logical rules are superior and that natural language suffers from certain defects that make it unsuitable for the purposes of constructing an ideal language for science.

Informalist disagree, and argue that the use of inference in science is not the only metric for assessing natural language constructions, and that while formal languages are suitable for science, natural language inferences functions perfectly well for some non-scientific uses.
Grice will challenge the assumption in the debate that there actually exists divergences between formal languages and natural languages. That is he will investigate the possibility of developing a formal account of some natural language inferences that are not treated by classical logic.

Logical inference

In propositional logic (2) follows from (1): 1.) The U.S. will invade Korea only if the U.K. will support the war effort. 2.) If it is not the case that the U.K. will support the war effort, then it is not the case that the U.S. will invade Korea.

The inference above is a clear instance of the rule of contraposition from the strict definition for the material conditional.

Example of the Basic Phenomenon

A: Will you join the math club? B: I am already in the philosophy club. Although B did not directly answer the question posed by A we have the intuition that B implied something like the following:

I cannot or do not want to join the math club because I am already in the philosophy club.

How might we understand the kind of implication that is at play in the case above?

Conversational Implicature

Grice wants to introduce a notion of implication. The notion he wants to introduce can be captured as follows:

A implied that P by uttering S. Where A is a person, S a sentence, and P the proposition implied.

What is important about this notion is the following:

A implied that P is not equivalent to A said S.

What one says by uttering a sentence is closely linked to the literal or conventional meaning of the sentence. What one implied by saying S is governed by a set of constraints that go beyond what the person literally says. Conversational implicature is distinct from conventional implicature, and is a species of non-conventional implicature.

The Cooperative Principle

Make your conversational contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged. The cooperative principle is defended by the following view of conversation:

Conversations are not a set of disconnected remarks. Participants recognize a common purpose or set of purposes. There is a direction, that is either fixed in the beginning or evolves over the course of the conversation.

At each stage what conversational moves are appropriate is limited by the purpose or direction. Nothing instantiates being a conversation if any utterance can count as an appropriate continuation of it.

The Categories and Maxims

Given the Cooperative Principle: 4 general categories governing conversation can be distinguished, and under each one further specific maxims can be articulated. Quantity: concerns what is said Quality: Concerns what is said Relation: Concerns what is said Manner: Concerns how things are said



Make your contribution as informative as is required for the current purposes of the exchange. Do not make your contribution more informative than is required
Example: If you are assisting me in mending a car, I expect your contribution to be neither more nor less than is required; if, for example at a particular stage I need four screws, I expect you to hand me four rather than two or six.



Try to make your contribution one that is true Do not say what your believe to be false Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence
Example: I expect your contribution to be genuine and not spurious. If I need sugar as an ingredient in the cake you are assisting me to make, I do not expect you to hand me salt; if I need a spoon, I do not expect a trick spoon made of rubber.


Be Relevant Make your conversational contribution one that is relevant to the purpose and direction of the conversation.

Example: I expect a partners contribution to be appropriate to immediate needs at each stage of the transaction; if I am mixing ingredients for a cake, I do not expect to be handed a good book, or even an oven cloth (though this might be an appropriate contribution at a later stage).


2. 3. 4.

Be perspicuous Avoid obscurity of expression Avoid ambiguity Be brief (avoid unnecessary prolixity) Be orderly
I expect a partner to make it clear what contribution he is making, and to execute his performance with reasonable dispatch.

Questions about the maxims

Does the analogy with other purpose driven cooperative enterprises, such as a group baking a cake or fixing a car, really line up with conversation? Are these maxims exhaustive? Are these maxims possibly culturally relative?

The Rational Basis of the Cooperative Principle

Why is obeying the cooperative principle rational?

Contract Approach: One answer is that it follows from a contract that speakers tacitly make with one another when they engage in conversation. Although Grice offers the contract as a possible explanation of the cooperative principle, he thinks it cannot cover all of the cases in which conversation occurs, and as a consequence disregards it. Instrumental Approach: One can defend the rationality of the cooperative principle through instrumental reasoning. If one desires to receive the goals of the purpose of conversation, and following the cooperative principle facilitates that goal, then one has reason to follow the cooperative principle in so far as it facilitates the goals of the conversation.

Cooperative Principles, Maxims, and Conversational Implication

Conversational implication can be modeled as a function of three things.

The assumption that a participant is obeying the cooperative principle and the maxims.

The fact that what the person says bears some relation to the cooperative principle and the maxims.
The fact that if a maxim is exploited in some way, a conversational implication follows from what is said.

Ways of Failing to obey a maxim

Violate: one violates a maxim by failing to do what it requires, such as failing to obey the maxim to not say what one believes to be false. Opt out: one opts out of obeying the cooperative principle and the maxims all together by explicitly indicating refusal to follow the cooperative principle.

Clash: ones conversational contribution clashes with a maxim when they fail to fulfill two or more maxims because in the specific situation fulfilling two or more maxims conflicts.
Flout: one flouts a maxim when they blatantly fail to fulfill it in a conversation where it is presupposed by the members of the party that the maxim can be fulfilled without clashing with any of the other maxims.

The Conversational Problem

The conversational problem: If a participant in a conversation assumes that the other participant(s) in the conversation are following the cooperative principle, are able to fulfill all the other maxims without clashing, and they are not opting out, in view of a blatant violation of a maxim, the participant must reconcile what is said with the apparent violation of the maxim.

Conversational Implication Characterized

S conversationally implicates P if and only if S implicates P when (i) (Cooperation): S is presumed to be observing the Cooperative Principle. (ii) (Determinacy): The supposition that S believes that P is required to make Ss utterance consistent with the cooperative principle. (iii) (Mutual Knowledge): S believes (or knows), and expects H to believe that S believes that H is able to determine that (ii) is true.

Working out a Conversational Implicature II

Calculability assumption: although conversational implications can be intuitively grasped, they must be able to be worked out. To work out conversational implication a hearer will generally rely on the following: The conventional meaning of the words used together with the identity of any references that may be involved.


3. 4. 5.

The cooperative principles and its maxims.

The context, linguistic or otherwise, of utterance. Other items of background knowledge. The fact or supposed fact that all relevant items falling under 1- 4 are available to both participants and both participants know or assume this to be the case.

Working out a conversational implication II

The general pattern for working out a conversational implication is the following:

A has said that P; there is no reason to suppose that he is not observing the maxims, or at least the Cooperative Principle; he could not be doing this unless he thought that Q; he knows (and I know that I know that he knows) that I can see that the supposition that he thinks that Q is required; he has done nothing to stop me thinking that Q; he intends me to think, or is at least willing to allow me to think, that Q; and so he has implicated that Q.

Examples: Group A

Cases in which no maxim is violated or at least it is not clear that any maxim has been violated. A: I am out of petrol. B: There is a garage around the corner. Gloss: B would be infringing the maxim Be relevant unless he thinks or thinks it possible, that the garage is open, and has petrol to sell; so he implicates that the garage is, or at least may be open, etc.

Examples: Group B

Cases in which a maxim is violated, but its violation is to be explained by the supposition of a clash with another maxim:

Context: A is planning with B an itinerary for a holiday in France. Both know that A wants to see his friend C, if to do so would not involve too great a prolongation of his journey.

A: Where does C live?

B: Somewhere in the south of France.

Gloss: There is no reason to suppose that B is opting out; his answer is, as he well knows, less informative than is required to meet As needs. The infringement of Quantity can only be explained by the supposition that B is aware that to be more informative would be to say something that infringed Quality, Dont say what you lacked evidence for, so B implicates that he does not know in which town C lives.

Examples: Group C

Cases in which one exploits a procedure by which a maxim is flouted for purpose of getting in a conversational implicature by means of something of the nature of a figure of speech. In cases such as these, though some maxim is violated at the level of what is said, the hearer is entitled to assume that the maxim, or at least the overall Cooperative Principle, is observed at the level of what is implicated.

Violating the first maxim of Quantity: Women are Women War is War

General Features of Conversational Implication

A conversational implication can be cancelled in a particular case on the assumption that it is possible to opt out of observing the cooperative principle. Cancellation can occur explicitly, as in when one says they are opting out, or implicitly by saying something that against the backdrop of what has been said implies that they are opting out of the cooperative principle.
(a) Kathy: Are the roses fresh? (b) Bill: The are in the fridge. (c) Bill: They are not fresh? The implication after (b) is that there are fresh roses in the fridge since a fridge keeps things fresh. However, at (c) Bill has cancelled that implication.

General Features of Conversational Implication

Indeterminacy In some cases it may be determinate that something is being conversationally implied, but because of the various ways in which one could calculate or explain what is possibly going wrong it will be indeterminate what one has implied.


Generative Assumption: Conversational implicatures exist because of the fact that the cooperative presumption, determinacy, and mutual knowledge conditions hold.

Grices Razor: Other things equal, it is preferable to postulate conversational implicatures rather than multiple senses of words, conventional semantic implicatures, or semantic presuppositions because conversational implicatures can be derived from independently motivated psycho-social principles.