About Grice’s notion of sentence-meaning and how it contrasts with speaker-meaning

A short overview

Term Paper, 2020

13 Pages, Grade: 1,7



Grice’s theory

Use-theories of meaning

Truth-condition theories


Literature disclosure:



When we ask ourselves what sentences are, we conclude that they are types of signs and sounds. So-to-say individual signs and sounds that are executed by people indifferent situations for a specific purpose, usually for communication.1

According to Grice, we express our opinion, a wish or intention with the goal of the desired reaction. Therefore, he believes that the meaning of the sentence is rooted int he mental and suggests that it needs to be explained in terms of the psychological states of the individual human being. This might be no less than the reduction of linguistic meaning to psychology.2 For that in terms of describing Grice’s reductive project, the focus is on the explication of sentence meaning in psychological terms. According to him, it proceeds in two importantly different stages: In the first stage, Grice attempts to reduce sentence meaning to speaker-meaning. The second stage contains, his try to reduce speaker-meaning to a complex of psychological states, concentrating on a type of intention.3

In contrast to Grice, there are two kinds of well-known “use” theories: The Wittgensteinian view and Wilfrid Sellars’ Inferentialism. According to these languages and linguistic expressions are neither bloodless abstract objects nor do they have lives on their own. Wittgenstein argued that “words and sentences are more like game pieces or tokens, used to make moves in rule-governed conventional social practices” and Sellars view centralizes the complexity of patterns of inference.4

Moreover, there are truth-condition theories as well, which try to analyse a sentence’s meaning by knowing “the conditions under which that sentence would be true, rather than to know how to tell whether the sentence is true”.5

Already with this short overview, it has become clear in which manifold theories try to explain theoretically how the meaning of languages comes about. Therefore, the following elaboration is divided into various sub-areas. First Grice’s second stage theory, the speaker-meaning, will be explained in detail, before sentence-meaning, as the first stage theory, will be associated. Contrasts will be evinced, before use theories come into play, also by their distinction to Grice’s theory. The last investigation will be if either Grice’s theory or a use theory of meaning can be squared with truth-conditional semantics. After I have explained why I see a stronger connection between Grice’s theory and the truth-conditional semantics, I will conclude the elaboration with a summary.

Grice’s theory

As mentioned, I will first refer to the second stage of Grice’s theory. Even if it seems confusing at first glance, I will explain later why I do so. The plausible approach of speaker-meaning has its being in intentions, intended future beliefs and states ofrecognition.6 Not by being an expression, which “expresses” a proposition, but more actually and verbatim by the expression of a concrete intention or idea of the person who uses it, a linguistic expression has meaning according to Grice. The idea of speaker-meaning or “utterer’s meaning” as introduced by Grice consists of what the speaker intends to convey to a listener, of his communicative intention, when pronouncing a particular sentence on a particular occasion. By the fact that speakers do not always mean what their sentences linguistically mean by default, Grice makes a distinction between the sentence’s standard meaning and the outlined speaker-meaning. That is the reason why I start the dissection with speaker-meaning, respectively the second stage theory. What Grice here offers is a detailed analysis concerning the speakers’ beliefs, intentions, and other psychological phases, refined altogether with a bunch of objections. There is some kind of agreement that certain aspects of the analysis must be correct.7

To specify the theoretical aspect of Grice’s second stage analysis, the focus is on the explanation of statements of the form “By uttering x, S meant that P,” as in “By uttering“ I want to go do bed early.”, I meant that I don’t want to drink coffee”. It’s to be analysed the following way:

G1: S uttered x intending that A form the belief that P where A is S’s hearer or audience.

G2: S further intended that A recognizes S’s original intention as described in G1.

G3: S still further intended that A form the belief that P at least partly based on recognizing that original intention.

Thus, in the Coffee example, by uttering “I want to go to bed early” I mean that I don’t want a coffee, because I uttered it intending that you form the belief that I don’t want a coffee at least partly due to your recognizing that caffeine would keep me awake.

It can be summarized, that a linguistic expression, according to speaker-meaning, always contains an expression of a proposition, what stands for the semantic sentence-meaning, and an intention of the person uttering, so-to-say a communicative intention. Those complex intentions may seem implausible, by the fact, that much less have them with every single statement. But Grice doesn’t suppose that these communicative intentions are always conscious, indeed, they are way more often only tacit. Speakers are only occasionally aware of their intended beliefs, why we often speaker-mean things that we are unaware of.8

However, the discourse of Grice's theory of meaning also contains some objections. While some of them can simply be invalidated, others require more catchy consideration. For the sake of simplicity, a common objection is presented in the following, which can be easily be refuted by Grice.

One of the main objections is the consideration of a person soliloquizing. It is a common thing that we talk aloud from time to time to ourselves concerning, for example, a problem or so. By doing that we do not only intend no effect on any audience, we’re doing this also by the conviction that nobody else is listening. Though Grice’s analysis requires beneath an audience the speaker’s specific intention related to that audience. To solve this implausibility Grice urges a clarification regarding a counterfactual or hypothetical audience. He points out that a speaker should pretend to have a fictitious counterpart listening, by intending that person to form the expected belief. Is this necessary to intend this as a speaker? Maybe, but as long as I speak even to my person, I need to consider that my expression would make sense to someone listening.9

Just as important as the previous is that Grice also presents an analysis of standard sentence-meaning concerning the previously explained speaker-meaning. Even though there are several ways in which the sentence stubbornly refuses to cooperate with the speaker-meaning, Grice has a way of overcoming several obstacles.10


1 Lycan; Language; 2008; p. 86

2 Lycan; Language; 2008; p. 87

3 Lycan; Language; 2008; p. 87

4 Lycan; Language; 2008; p. 76

5 Lycan; Language; 2008; p. 110

6 Lycan; Language; 2008; p. 87

7 Lycan; Language; 2008; p. 86

8 Lycan; Language; 2008; p. 88

9 Lycan; Language; 2008; p. 89

10 Lycan; Language; 2008; p. 86

Excerpt out of 13 pages


About Grice’s notion of sentence-meaning and how it contrasts with speaker-meaning
A short overview
University of Bristol  (Philosophy)
Philosophy of Language
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Footnotes are placed as endnotes.
Meaning, Sprachphilosophie, Philosophy of Language, Grice, Sentence-meaning, Speaker-meaning
Quote paper
Inken Bräger (Author), 2020, About Grice’s notion of sentence-meaning and how it contrasts with speaker-meaning, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/535377


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