Grice’s co-operative principle

Quoted from a fellow PhD candidate, Scott Mitchell:

“Quantity determines that the speaker should only be as informative as required; Quality that they should be truthful; Relevance that “be relevant” (Grice 1967/1989: 27) and Manner that they should be brief.”

This was the seed for Relevance Theory, which says that the other three can be derived from the one about relevance.

How does this work in the context of conference presentations? This theory was designed for conversations. These certainly hold when thinking about academic discourse – what will be accepted and what won’t, what’s held in high regard, etc. There’s a formal process for throwing out anything that violates any one of these maxims, too, which is interesting – precisely these are policed.

At a talk, though, that’s working somewhat over the head of the actual interaction, which is interesting. The conversation, to the speaker, is with an idealised audience, the mathematical community as a whole. The actual audience might be a mixed bunch though and much of the content may be irrelevant to them, uninformative, etc. But that’s fine, that’s tolerated. I suppose they choose to be there and so it’s their own lookout, if it is violated. The discourse is between speaker and canon, as represented by a few fleshy delegates.

There are all sorts of examples of people assuring others of the relevance of what they’re saying. That would be interesting to pick out.

Grice distinguishes natural from non-natural meaning – deer tracks as opposed to a drawing of a deer and an arrow, for example. This may become somewhat interesting when it comes to mathematics because it’s going to drift into philosophical territory. Mathematics often professes only to point to existing properties of things, at least in the way that it tends to be phrased. There’s always the intention to make something known, though, which is the important part. (It’s knowing that the intention is there that makes it possible to decode a sketched diagram)

“Sperber and Wilson (1995: 39) state that “a fact is manifest to an individual at a given time if and only if he is capable at that time of representing it mentally and accepting its representation as true or probably true”. [..] This marks the point at which an act in totality can be said to be meaningful, in addition to the meaningfulness of its components.”

This is important! The capability aspect, and meaningfulness. How can the components be meaningful if it is true that the audience isn’t always expected to understand?

ostensive stimulus, the informative intention and the communicative intention (Wilson and Sperber 2004: 611)

It’s only the informative intention that isn’t fulfilled if something isn’t made manifest.

‘a cognitive effect is an alteration to an individual’s cognitive context caused by the addition of new information, not including the addition of that information’ (adapted from Sperber and Wilson 1995:117).

“human cognition tends to be geared towards the maximization of relevance” (2004: 610).

That’s very interesting, and a different slant. How do we make our perceptions of the world the most relevant to us?


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