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[entry, MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences]


Kent Bach

GRICE, H. PAUL (1913-1988), English philosopher, is best known for

his contributions to the theory of meaning and communication. This work

(collected in Grice 1989) has had lasting importance for philosophy and

linguistics, with implications for cognitive science generally. His

three most influential contributions concern the nature of communication,

the distinction betwen speaker's meaning and linguistic meaning, and the

phenomenon of conversational implicature.

Grice's concept of speaker's meaning was an ingenious refinement of the

crude idea that communication is a matter of intentionally affecting

another person's psychological states. He discovered that there is a

distinctive, rational means by which the effect is achieved: by way of

getting one's audience to recognize one's intention to achieve it. The

intention includes, as part of its content, that the audience recognize

this very intention by taking into account the fact that they are intended

to recognize it. A communicative intention is thus a self-referential, or

reflexive, intention. It does not involve a series of nested intentions

--the speaker does not have an intention to convey something and a

further intention that the first be recognized, for then this further

intention would require a still further intention that it be recognized,

and so on ad infinitum. Confusing reflexive with iterated intentions,

to which even Grice himself was prone, led to an extensive literature

replete with counterexamples to ever more elaborate characterizations of

the intentions required for genuine communication (see, e.g., Strawson

1964 and Schiffer 1972), and to the spurious objection that it involves

an infinite regress (see Sperber and Wilson 1986, whose own "RELEVANCE"

theory neglects the reflexivity of communicative intentions). Although

the idea of reflexive intentions raises subtle issues (see the exchange

between Recanati 1986 and Bach 1987), it clearly accounts for the

essentially overt character of communicative intentions, namely, that

their fulfillment consists their recognition (by the intended audience).

This idea forms the core of a Gricean approach to the theory of speech

acts, including nonliteral and indirect speech acts (Bach and Harnish

1979). Different types of speech acts (statements, requests, apologies,

etc.) may be distinguished by the type of propositional attitude (belief,

desire, regret etc.) being expressed by the speaker.

Grice's distinction between speaker's and linguistic MEANING reflects the

fact that what a speaker means in uttering a sentence freque diverges

from what the sentence itself means. A speaker can mean something other

than what the sentence means, as in "Nature abhors a vacuum," or

something more, as in "Is there a doctor in the house?" Grice invoked

this distinction for two reasons. First, he thought linguistic meaning

could be reduced to (standardized) speaker's meaning. This reductive

view has not gained wide acceptance, because of its extreme complexity

(see Grice 1989, ch. 14 and ch. 6, and Schiffer 1972) and because it

requires the controversial assumption that language is essentially a

vehicle for communicating thoughts and not a medium of thought itself.

Still, many philosophers would at least concede that mental content is a

more fundamental notion than linguistic meaning, and perhaps even that


Grice's other reason for invoking the distinction between speaker's and

linguistic meaning was to combat extravagant claims, made by so-called

"ordinary language" philosophers, about various important philosophical

terms, such as 'believes' or 'looks.' For example, it was sometimes

suggested that believing implies not knowing, because to say, e.g., "I

believe that alcohol is dangerous" is to imply that one does not know

this, or to say "The sky looks blue" is to imply that the sky might not

actually be blue. However, as Grice pointed out, what carries such

implications is not what one is saying but that one is saying it (as opposed

to the stronger 'I know that alcohol is dangerous" or "The sky is

blue). Grice also objected to certain ambiguity claims, e.g., that 'or' has

an exclusive as well as inclusive sense, as in "I would like an apple or

an orange," by pointing out that the use of 'or,' not the word itself, that

carries the implication of exclusivity. Grice's Modified Occam's Razor

("Senses are not to be multiplied beyond necessity") cut back on a

growing conflation of (linguistic) meaning with use, and has since

helped linguists appreciate the importance of separating, so far as

possible, the domains of semantics and PRAGMATICS.

Conversational IMPLICATURE is a case in point. What a speaker implicates

is distinct from what he says and from what his words imply. Saying of

an expensive dinner, "It was edible," implicates that it was mediocre at

best. This simple example illustrates a general phenomenon: a speaker

can say one thing and manage to mean something else or something more

by exploiting the fact that he may be presumed to be cooperative, in

particular, to be speaking truthfully, informatively, relevantly, and

otherwise appropriately. The listener relies on this presumption to make

a contextually driven inference from what the speaker says to what she

means. If taking the utterance at face value is incompatible with this

presumption, one may suppose that she intends one to figure out what she

does mean by searching for an explanation of why she said what she said.

Although Grice's distinction between what is said and what is implicated

is not exhaustive (for what it omits see Bach 1994), the theoretical

strategy derived from it aims to reduce the burden on semantics and to

explain a wide range of nonsemantic phenomena at an appropriate level of

generality. This strategy has had lasting application to a wide range of

problems in philosophy of language as well as other areas of philosophy,

such as epistemology and ethics, and to various areas of research in

linguistics and computer science, such as the LEXICON, ANAPHORA,

DISCOURSE, and PLANNING. Economy and plausibility of theory require

heeding Grice's distinction between speaker's and linguistic meaning,

and the correlative distinction between speaker's and linguistic

REFERENCE. Rather than overly attribute features to specific linguistic

items, one can proceed on the default assumption that uses of language

can be explained in terms of a core of linguistic meaning together with

general facts about rational communication.


Bach, K., 1987, 'On communicative intentions: A reply to Recanati.'

Mind & Language 2: 141-154.

Bach, K., 1994, 'Conversational impliciture.' Mind & Language 9:


Bach, K. and R. M. Harnish, 1979, *Linguistic Communication and

Speech Acts*. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Grice, P., 1989, *Studies in the Way of Words*. Cambridge, Mass.,

Harvard University Press.

Recanati, F., 1987, 'On defining communicative intentions.' *Mind

& Language* 1: 213-42.

Schiffer, S., 1972, *Meaning*. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sperber, D. and D. Wilson, 1986, *Relevance*. Cambridge, Mass:

Harvard University Press.

Strawson, P. F., 1964, 'Intention and convention in speech acts.'

*Philosophical Review* 73: 439-60.

Further Readings

Carston, R., 1988, 'Implicature, explicature, and truth-theoretic

semantics.' In *Mental Representations: The Interface between Language

and Reality*, R. Kempson, ed. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University

Press. Reprinted in Davis, ed. (1991), pp. 33-51.

Davis, S., ed., 1991, *Pragmatics: A Reader*. Oxford: Oxford University


Grandy, R. and R. Warner, eds., 1986, *Philosophical Grounds of Rationality:

Intentions, Categories, Ends*. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Harnish, R. M., 1976, 'Logical form and implicature.' In *An Integrated

Theory of Linguistic Ability*, T. Bever, J. Katz, and T. Langendoen,

eds., New York: Crowell. Reprinted in Davis, ed. (1991), pp. 316-364.

Horn, L., 1984, 'Toward a new taxonomy for pragmatic inference: Q-based

and R-based implicature.' In *Meaning, Form, and Use in Context*,

D. Schiffrin, ed. Washington: Georgetown University Press, pp. 11-42.

Levinson, S., forthcoming, *Default Meanings: The Theory of Generalized

Conversational Implicature*.

Lewis, D., 1979. 'Scorekeeping in a language game.' *Journal of

Philosophical Logic* 8: 339-359.

Neale, S. 1992, 'Paul Grice and the philosophy of language.' *Linguistics

and Philosophy* 15: 509-59.

Recanati, F., 1989, 'The pragmatics of what is said.' *Mind & Language*

4: 295-328. Reprinted in Davis, ed. (1991), pp. 97-120.