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Grice’s Theory Of Implicature Essay

2036 words - 8 pages

Grice’s theory of implicature centers on what he has named the “Cooperative Principle,” and how it relates directly to conversational implications that occur in our daily speech. In the implicature section of his essay “Logic and Conversation,” Grice explains that there are common goals of conversation that we try to achieve within our discussions. For example, some of these common goals are that there is a shared aim of the conversation, each person’s contributions to the conversation should be dependent upon each other, and the conversation continues until it is mutually agreed that it is over. In order to preserve these goals, we find it easiest, as cooperative human beings, to stick to the Cooperative Principle, and along with it, the maxims that Grice lays out. Based on an assumption that we do not generally deviate from this Cooperative Principle without good reason, we can find out things that are implicitly stated. Implicature is the part of our spoken language when these maxims are broken purposefully, and it involves the implicitly understood form of communication: things that are implied or suggested. While Grice’s theory of implicature is a very careful assessment of implied statements, there are some faults that are found within his argument. Because of these issues, Grice’s theory neither offers a solution to the formalist and infomalist problems, nor provides an infallible method of evaluating implicature in everyday conversation.
Grice writes that because we are, for the most part, a group of coherent and cooperative human beings, “our talk exchanges do not normally consist of a succession of disconnected remarks, and would not be rational if they did” (“Logic and Conversation” pg. 44). That is, the conversations that we take part in are generally governed by a set of unspoken standards that allow for a common conversational goal to be fulfilled. These standards, known to Grice as the Cooperation Principle, are further expanded and broken up into four main categories to form a set of maxims that we assume that everyone automatically adheres to: (1) Quantity, (2) Quality, (3) Relation, and (4) Manner. These categories, which are the focus of Grice’s theory of implicature, lay out formally the “rules” of cooperative conversation that we already follow in order to have successful discussions in daily life. Grice believes that during normal conversation, it is to some extent an underlying belief that everyone involved is already abiding by said rules. He says that those who care about the purpose of conversation “must be expected to have an interest in participation in talk exchanges that will be profitable only on the assumption that they are conducted in general accordance with the CP and the maxims” (“Logic and Conversation” pg. 49). Therefore, we can in general assume that people follow these maxims without realizing it because they are interested in conducting a logical and two-way conversation with another person.
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