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cooperative principle


cooperative principle

Studies in the Way of Words by Paul Grice (Harvard University Press, 1989)


The assumption that participants in a conversation normally attempt to be informative, truthful, relevant, and clear.

The concept was introduced by philosopher H. Paul Grice in his article "Logic and Conversation" (Syntax and Semantics, 1975). See Examples and Observations, below.

See also:


  • "We might then formulate a rough general principle which participants will be expected (ceteris paribus) to observe, namely: Make your conversational contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged. One might label this the Cooperative Principle."
    (Paul Grice, "Logic and Conversation," 1975. Reprinted in Studies in the Way of Words. Harvard Univ. Press, 1989)

  • Grice's Conversational Maxims
    "Grice fleshed out the cooperative principle in four conversational 'maxims,' which are commandments that people tacitly follow (or should follow) to further the conversation efficiently:
    • Say no less than the conversation requires.
    • Say no more than the conversation requires.
    • Don't say what you believe to be false.
    • Don't say things for which you lack evidence.
    • Don't be obscure.
    • Don't be ambiguous.
    • Be brief.
    • Be orderly.
    • Be relevant.
    . . . People undoubtedly can be tight-lipped, long-winded, mendacious, cavalier, obscure, ambiguous, verbose, rambling, or off-topic. But on closer examination they are far less so than they could be, given the possibilities. . . . Because human hearers can count on some degree of adherence to the maxims, they can read between the lines, weed out unintended ambiguities, and connect the dots when they listen and read."
    (Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought. Viking, 2007)
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