August 23, 2010


From Scott Soames, Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century: Volume 2, The Age of Meaning (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2003):

"Grice's theoretical insight is that there are certain natural principles which guide the efficient and rational exchange of information by cooperative language users, and that speakers relying on these principle my use sentences to convey information that goes well beyond the information given by the meanings of the sentence uttered, or the propositions they semantically express. He introduces the idea of a principle of rational and cooperative exchange of information. . . . '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'."

"[Grice] breaks down the general idea expressed by the Cooperative Principle into four sets of conversational maxims.
'1. Make your conversational contribution as informative as is required (by current conversational purposes). In other words, don't say too little.
'2. Don't make your conversational contribution more informative than is required. Don't say too much.
'1. Don't say what you believe to be false.
'2. Don't say that for which you lack adequate evidence.
'Make your conversational contribution relevant to the purpose of the conversation--i.e., be relevant.
'1. Avoid obscurity of expression.
'2. Avoid ambiguity.
'3. Be brief.
'4. Be orderly.'"

. at 200-201 (citations and formatting omitted).

The passage above, in which Soames summarizes the contributions of the philosopher Paul Grice, struck me (a recovering law teacher) by its implications were at least the spirit of the various maxims adhered to by law teachers, law students, and lawyers in their daily conversations generally and conversations about law in particular. Thoughtful persons in law will not need for me to make explicit those implications.

For those of you with a philosophical bent, or at least an interest in the history of ideas (here ideas in philosophy), I recommend not only the aforementioned second volume,
The Age of Meaning, but also the first volume. Scott Soames, Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century: Volume 1, The Dawn of Analysis (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2003).