H. P. Grice: Logic and Conversation (A Retrospective Epilogue)

Term Paper, 2000

12 Pages, Grade: 1,0 (A)


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1 Introduction

2 Logic and Conversation
2.1. The Four Maxims
2.2. Infringements
2.3. Retrospective Epilogue

3 Conclusion

4 Literature

1 Introduction

In his theory about speech acts, Grice introduces four maxims of conversation as guidelines for efficiency of the use of language in conversation. These maxims all follow a co-operative principle. In this work, the four maxims as well as the co-operative principle will be described and explained - also by the use of adequate examples. As every rule can be violated, there are also infringements of Grice’s maxims with which this essay will also deal further on.

It must be said that Grice himself is very critical concerning his own theory; therefore he gives an overview of advantages and disadvantages of his maxims and of the layout in which these maxims have to operate in a special chapter called „Retrospective Epilogue“. This overview helps to take a closer look on Grice’s theory in practise, analyses if this concept can work without limitation and under no matter what conditions and tries to find out if some „refinement in our apparatus is called for“[1].

This Retrospective Epilogue will be analysed in a most explicit way for it is the main topic of this essay, but cannot do without the introducing parts (2.1. and 2.2.) concerning the theory as such.

In the end, this work should be an overview of Grice’s theory with a stress on the problems it includes.

2 Logic and Conversation

A condition to understand Grice’s theory about the conversational maxims and their use is that some central terms are explained, for example the one of „implicature“.

He devides into two different types of implicature, namely the conventional implicature which results from the literal meaning of the uttered sentence, and the conversational implicature, which demands more than the understanding of the literal meaning. The deeper meaning must be found in the context.

„...for a full identification of what the speaker had said, one would need to know (a) the identity of x[2], (b) the time of utterance, and © the meaning, on the particular occasion of utterance, of the phrase...[3]

Here it can happen that two different meanings are possible. To choose what decision is to be made, Grice offers a special system with which implicatures can be related to different maxims.

Another important term is the one of „ Co-operative principle“. Grice defines it as follows: “...make your conversational contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose of direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged[4] “. The maxims that he presents should operate in the frame of this Co-operative Principle.

2.1. The Four Maxims

The four maxims are the one of Quantity, Quality, Relation and Manner.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Concerning the maxim of Quantity, it can be said that overinformativeness is not a sin but that it can influence the hearer in the way that he might think this overinformativeness to be important for the topic - although it is not. So it could happen that to him the essence of what is said is a totally different one than the speaker wanted to express.

Looking closer at the maxim of Relation there are several questions arising, for example „what different kinds and focuses of relevance there may be, how these shift in the course of a talk exchange, how to allow for the fact that subjects of conversation are legitimately changed, and so on.[5] “This question will also be discussed later in the „Retrospective Epilogue“ (2.3.). The last maxim, the one of Manner, does not deal with the things that are said but with the way in which they should be said.

2.2. Infringements

The four maxims can be infringed in several ways. They can for example be violated, which means that the speaker lies. Here, the maxim of Quality is infringed: do not say what you believe to be false. But there is a difference between violation and irony (which would also mean that what is said is not true), but here the hearer knows that what is said is false.

Example 1:

Jenny: „How do you like my new hair cut?“

Thomas: „It looks as if you had put a finger into the socket.“

Jenny: „Wow, are you charming today.“

Secondly, you can opt out as well of the maxims as of the Co-operative Principle. This would mean that the speaker expresses explicitly that he will not cooperate according to any of the maxims. This case appears often in an interview.

Example 2:

Reporter: „ Mr. President, what can you say about the result of the discussion?“

President: „ My lips are sealed.“

In the given example, there is no co-operation as the maxims require but there is a co-operation in so far as there is a reaction from speaker2 (President) on speaker1 (reporter).

Thirdly, the speaker can be confronted with a clash, which means that he, fulfilling one of the maxims, violates another.

Example 3:

Jenny: „In which city did Paul work?“

Thomas: „ Somewhere in Spain.“

In the given example, Thomas cannot answer the question Jenny was asking him. To tell her the exact name of the city, which would mean to fulfil the maxim of Quantity, namely to be as informative as was required, he would have to infringe the maxim of Quality, because he has no evidence for it and can neither exclude his answer as being false.

The fourth infringement is flouting a maxim, which means to exploit a maxim in order to get in a conversational implicature, if the speaker wants to give a specific information, for example.

2.3. A Retrospective Epilogue

This chapter deals with the problems that Grice has with his own theory. He wanted to present an „overall super-principle[6] “ on which the maxims are dependent. The problem with this super-principle, which is aversion of the Co-operative Principle, are at first, that „browbeating disputation and conversational sharp practise are far too common to be offences against the fundamental dictates of conversational practise[7] “and at second that „much of our talk exchange is too haphazard to be directed toward any end co-operative or otherwise[8] “. Grice seeks for some refinement of the apparatus he presented, because, firstly, only some specific aspects of our conversational practise are of use for an evaluation (those being crucial to its rationality not to its suitability) and secondly, the same principle determines the rationality of its conduct if a result is aimed at or if it is not. He finally also introduces Conversational Enterprises, which are for example solitary or concerted. Solitary enterprises, which means monologues, are free from a speaker’s intention whereas concerted enterprises often include „a high degree of reserve, hostility, and chicanery and with a high degree of diversity[9].“ Other cases are cross-examination where even common objectives are spurious, and the joint enterprise which simulates even the most minimal conversational co-operation. This distinction between the several examples for

Conversational Enterprises are important for the decision whether a specific enterprise wants to achieve a specific conversational result or whether „its central character more generously conceived as having no special connection with communication, the same principles will determine the rationality of its conduct.[10]

Further on, Grice gives a summary concerning conversational implicature, which includes five points.

I) The observance of the four Conversational maxims support conversational rationality, whereas violation achieves the contrary effect.

II) The fact that the maxims are dependant on the single supreme Conversational Principle (cooperativeness) prevents them from being just some other conversational obligations without being linked to each other.

III) Rationality is manifested either by conformity to the maxims or simulation of it.

IV) An implicatum is the content of the speaker’s psychological state or attitude, which leads to different results:

(a) The violation of a conversational maxim can be justified at least in the speaker’s eyes.
(b) The violation is only apparent , so the spirit of the maxim is respected.

V) Conversational implicature is just to justify a speaker in regarding his lower-order speech-acts as being rationalised by them being related to a conversationally indexed higher-order speech-act.

Grice also wonders if his version of the Co-operative Principle is the right selection for the position of a supreme Conversational Principle. It is also in question if the maxims do really act as distinct pegs from each other, because each of them includes a large multitude of fully specific conversational directives. So it could have happened that he has wrongly identified these directives as the maxims, but he can neither give other alternatives that work in the given layout in a better way. So he supposes the layout to be the problem and not the maxims. Concerning the layout, Grice discovered four different problems.

I) „The maxims do not seem to be co-ordinate.[11] “ For this theses he offers the maxim of Quality as an example. In this case it does not matter if something is true or false as the maxim prescribes it. It is more the question of something being or not being. False information is in his eyes not an inferior kind of information , it just is NOT information. This can be quite well explained looking at the following example.

Example 4:

Jenny: „Hi Thomas, I’m out of gas.“

Thomas: „There is a gas-station at the next crossing.“

(This gas-station is closed, what Thomas does not tell Jenny, because he wants to take revenge for some former trick that Jenny has played on him)

In this situation, the information that a gas-station is at the next crossing is of no use for Jenny because she needs an open one. If Thomas had said nothing at all, it would have had the same effect, namely the one that Jenny is still out of gas.

II) The given layout requires mutual independence, but the given maxims are not independent of one another. The judging about over- and undersupplyment of information is based on the fact that a person must be aware of the identity of the topics to which specific information relates. This means that there must be a focus of relevance; if there is not one, it is impossible to make an assessment. The different focuses may also shift during a conversation, or there may even be several different kinds of focuses of relevance.

III) „Though the specification of a direction of relevance is necessary for assessment of the adequacy of a given supply of information, it is by no means sufficient to enable an assessment to be made.“[12] If no assessment is made, it might again be the case, as already mentioned in 2.1., that the focus of topic shifts in a totally different direction. So it could happen that an unrelevant fact - concerning the topic - is assessed as important. Therefore information is needed to find out about the degree of concern which is extended toward a topic and about opportunity or lack of opportunity for a remedial action.

IV) It is not difficult to imagine what influence on implicature a real or apparent undersupplyment of information would have. Oversupplyment seems more to be the problem when we look at II) and III).

Grice concludes this chapter that stresses the problems of his apparatus with two remarks on the two remaining maxims. Firstly, the way in which the Principle of Relevance works is not really

independent of the maxim of Quantity, which means that they might come into conflict with each other, maybe cause a clash. Secondly, that the maxim of Manner may quite well be a form of conversational propriety but cannot be a good generator of implicature.

3 Conclusion

Finally, Grice’s theory - the maxims and the apparatus in which the act - are introduced in a short overview. As Grice himself is very critical concerning his own work, he already includes possible infringements and problems in the presentation of his apparatus. So it is very difficult to decide between the four maxims because they all seem to somehow depend on each other or to the super-principle of co-operation. But when one knows about the faults from the beginning, one can calculate with them and look deeper into the function of the apparatus. Therefore the chapter „Retrospective Epilogue“ is very important. During the presentation of his maxims Grice already mentions what could become a problem later, but in this explicit chapter about the problems we get a clearer summary that also explains the difficulties in the relations of the different factors in a bigger framework.

4 Literature

Grice, H. Paul, Logic and Conversation. S. 145- 180.

( Reader: G 4 Pragmatics, Anita Fetzer)

Note: 1,0

Comment: Your presentation is very well researched and very well structured. The introduction to the topic is extremely good, there are flashes of original thinking.

Your discussion of the relevant research shows a high degree of proficiency and your critical analysis of the interdependence of the CP, MAXIMS and IMPLICATURE is absolutely outstanding.

Your present piece of work, your multifarious examples and illustrations and your conclusions display flashes of original thinking.


[1] Grice, H.P. , Retrospective Epilogue. S. 56.

[2] As example given: He (x) is in the grip of a vice.

[3] H.P. Grice, Logic and Conversation, S. 148.

[4] derselbe, S. 148f.

[5] derselbe, S. 149.

[6] derselbe, S. 177.

[7] ebenda

[8] ebenda

[9] derselbe, S. 178.

[10] ebenda

[11] derselbe, S. 179

[12] derselbe, S. 180.

12 of 12 pages


H. P. Grice: Logic and Conversation (A Retrospective Epilogue)
University of Stuttgart
G 4 Pragmatics
1,0 (A)
Catalog Number
File size
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Grice, Logic, Conversation, Retrospective, Epilogue), Pragmatics
Quote paper
Anonymous, 2000, H. P. Grice: Logic and Conversation (A Retrospective Epilogue) , Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/107690


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