Thursday, August 27, 2020

Evening Note for Thursday, August 27

Thought for the Evening: Implicature

H. P. Grice coined the term 'implicature' to indicate aspects of meaning which seem practically to follow from what is said, and which we might colloquially say are 'implied', but are not logically implied. (This is sometimes put in terms of a distinction between 'speaker meaning' and 'sentence meaning', but, as I've argued occasionally here, I think this is a false distinction -- 'sentence meaning' is just 'usual speaker meaning', and is thus much fuzzier than most people assume.) This is understood in pragmatic terms; that is, it builds on the fact that linguistic expressions are for a practical end. Grice then proposed what is called the Cooperative Principle as characterizing the basic means-end structure:

Cooperative Principle: Contribute what is required for the purpose of the conversation.

He then suggested four maxims that clarify the 'required' element of the Cooperative Principle, which could be expressed in the following ways:

Maxim of Quality: Convey what is true and justified.

Maxim of Quantity: Convey no more and no less than what informs.

Maxim of Relation: Convey what is relevant.

Maxim of Manner: Convey what would be perspicuous.

We recognize what is implicated by a sentence when we recognize that that something has to be the case, beyond what the sentence says or logically implies, for these maxims to be preserved. For instance, if John asks Mary out for drinks, and Mary says, "I have to wash my hair", we would assume that this means that Mary is not going to go out for drinks with John, because otherwise washing hair wouldn't be relevant to going out for drinks.

There are other, and often controversial, aspects of Grice's theory, but this is enough for a beginning. It's worth nothing that, while Griceans usually focus on language, the character of the theory means that it's actually just an account of the linguistic forms of cases of means and ends. Practical actions can, in only a slightly broader sense, be said to have implicatures as well. For instance, if I walk into your room and you are at your computer, you might not think much of it -- I'm working or doing something like that. But if, when you walk into the room, I suddenly scramble to hide the screen, you will understand this in light of some broader versions of the maxims of Quantity and Relation: you're doing a lot of work that would be more than is required for the assumed end, and it is presumably relevant to your intended end, so you'll conclude that I'm doing something that I don't want you to know about.

This is an important element to the theory of meaning that I think is often missing, namely, that human actions can have a meaning even if they are not specifically communicative.

Various Links of Interest

* An interesting breakthrough that makes solar-cell windows potentially viable.

* KPM Music has a large collection of production music.

* Robert Talisse, Democracy's Burden

* gives you the spatial dimensions of just about anything you could want.

* Matthew Wills discusses isinglass in Isinglass; or, The Many Miracles of Fish Glue.

* Ed Simon, In Defense of Kitsch

* Orson Welles's 1973 adaptation of the Allegory of the Cave. I often show this in my Ethics classes.

* Aaron Preston, Redefining “Racism”: Against Activist Lexicography

* The truth about Pheidippides.

* Thony Christie reviews John Farrell's The Clock and the Camshaft. I currently have this book sitting on my to-read pile.

* Ed Feser discusses wokeness and Plato's Republic.

* How much heavy water do you have to drink before it poisons you?

* Richard Marshall interviews John Schwenkler at 3:16.

* Photorealistic renditions of the Roman emperors.

* Academic urban legends.

Currently Reading

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Return of Sherlock Holmes
Yuri Slezkine, The House of Government
Henri Grenier, Thomistic Philosophy, Volume I
C. S. Lewis, Spirits in Bondage