On the culture-bound or ethnocentric nature of Grice's maxims, it should be noted that not all pragmaticians agree that they are culture-bound. Levinson (1983) was an early defender of the universality of the maxims, and continues to defend it in Levinson (2000: 423n96). More recently still, Horn (2004) has offered a spirited attack on the accusation of ethnocentrism and defended Grice's project, on the grounds that many linguists continue to misunderstand what Grice was trying to do. What he calls "Exhibit A" in this misunderstanding is in fact a humorous passing critique of Grice in Jeremy Campbell's The Liar's Tale (Norton, 2001):
Horn rightly points out, this is way off-base: Grice doesn't lay down the maxims
as laws governing conversation; he certainly doesn't expect people to be "impeccably
polite maxim observers." He expects people to flout, violate, infringe, and
opt out of the maximsand, more important, to use the maxims as a foundation
for the interpretation of implicit messages. Horn argues correctly that "conversational
implicature operates through the mechanism of exploitation. Unlike syntactic and
semantic rules, pragmatic principles and conventions do as much work when they
are apparently violatedwhen speaker S counts on hearer H to recognize the
apparent violation and to perform the appropriate contextual adjustmentas
when they are observed or ostentatiously violated."
then he insists: "But it is not just the laity who are at fault; professional
linguists and ethnographers, following Keenan (1976), have at times concluded
that Grice's maxims are trivial, na ve to the point of simple-mindedness, and/or
culture-dependent (if not downright ethnocentric), and that they fail to apply
to phatic and other non-information-based exchanges." Here he seems to skate
out onto thinner ice. Is he really arguing that Grice's maxims do apply
to phatic and other non-information-based exchanges? There is absolutely no sign
in "Logic and Conversation" that Grice has given the most passing consideration
to anything but information-based exchanges. Every case of implicature
he considers bears implicit information; nowhere does he raise the possibility
that language might be used to do anything other than convey information, explicitly
or implicitly. Altieri's concept of expressive implicature and my concepts of
illocutionary, perlocutionary, and metalocutionary implicature have had to be
added to Grice.
As for the maxims not being culture-bound, I confess that I can't quite figure out how Horn's reasoning works here:
settings," "mutual awareness," "shared by speech participants"how,
exactly, do these definitions of the maxims exempt them from ethnocentrism? The
argument against the universality of Grice's maxims is precisely that they aren't
default settings in all cultures; that speech participants in all cultures do
not share mutual awareness of these precise four maxims. And that makes
Horn's "if only" proviso a major assault on the functionality of Grice's
maxims: if there is even one culture where speakers and hearers do not operate
with Grice's maxims of quality, quantity, manner, and relation, then no speaker
can ever expect any hearer to recognize the apparent violation of those particular
maxims as a source of contextual inference.
way out of this quandary, I suggest, is that we assume that some maxims act as
default settings in every culturethe culture of any group, even one as small
as a single person (as I show in the chapter with the On Golden Pond example)but
that those maxims can never be spelled out analytically in advance. Maxims are
interpretive fictions constructed ex post implicatura by speech participants
as rough formulations of what assumptions and expectations are functioning as
default settings in the current conversation. This leaves Grice's basic claim
intactthat we interpret implicit communication by reference to some shared
assumption or another that the implicature is apparently violatingwithout
forcing us to assume that every culture has the exact same expectations governing
All we lose by this strategy is formal elegance: there is something theoretically satisfying about just four maxims, based on Kant's categories, and just as universal as Kant's categories, intended to work precisely in the same way as Kant's categories, as a built-in template for the understanding, a default operating system for the analysis of the world (in this case, of implicature). And Griceans who feel a strong attachment to that formal elegance will no doubt continue to protest the proliferation of culture-specific maxims in the work of Grice's critics. Grice's original model is far tidier than the ungainly messes more realistic theorists (including me) keep offering.
1. Here the main thing is to get the students to think through their own experiences of men's and women's conversational behavior as fully and complexly as possibleeven, if they come up with lots of good suggestions for different maxims, to write them on the board and sort through them, figure out a whole set of Gricean maxims for men and for women.
2. Constative pragmaticians have tried to insist on a firm foundation for understanding because that's what their intellectual paradigm requires. There is obviously a long scholarly history behind this requirement, a long intellectual tradition behind the assumption that perfect rule-governed understanding is "normal" and misunderstanding is "deviant." It goes back to Plato, and to Christian adaptations of Plato, and scientistic adaptations of Christian theology, as explained in Chapter 2. In a Platonic/Christian/scientistic conceptual framework, in fact, the foundational assumption is not that rule-governed understanding is normal in ordinary conversation, but that rule-governed understanding is normal period. Rule-governed understanding in the abstract is normal; and when natural conversation leads to misunderstanding, or when understanding in natural conversation seems not to be based on a firm foundation of rules, that's just evidence of the "fallenness" of ordinary human beings and a good reason to ignore actual conversation altogether. Hence the very late development of constative pragmatics, the last of all "branches" of linguistic study to be theorized: it is the part of the constative study of language that is the "most human" and thus (in Christian terms) the most "fallen," and thus hardest to reduce to a machine. From a constative point of view, it makes much more sense to ignore pragmatics, because that is the realm of the human, and thus the realm that is least likely to succumb to constative abstractions. A constative pragmatics, as I have said elsewhere in the book, faces the enormous task of analyzing what people do with words without either people or doingwith only the words.
Special maxims probably don't exist for verbal and physical context; it's difficult
to imagine what a "physical maxim" would be, and all maxims in some
sense apply to verbal context. The difference between the levels on which we construct
maxims and contexts is that in constructing maxims the main thing is the size
of the group and in constructing contexts it is the channels through which contextual
cues come to us. "Verbal" and "physical" are channels, but
they are not groups; they are irrelevant to the construction of maxims.
It's interesting to speculate, though, on imaginary maxims. These would have to be hypothetical maxims for possible conversations with imaginary beings, or perhaps with people who are quite real but whom the imaginer is unlikely to meet, like the Queen of England or Tom Cruise. "If you talk to a major movie star, don't gush about how much you loved their last picture; don't suck up; be as casual as you can, like you've known them for a long time, like they're just ordinary people." That would be an imaginary maxim of manner.
b. She's fascinating because she's unpredictable, volatile, full of surprises; she's frustrating because she's unpredictable, erratic, unreliable. With someone who doesn't share the maxims of "ordinary people" (whatever those maxims are for your particular group of ordinary people) you never know how to construct a meaningful utterance, or how to figure out what she means. This lends a certain freshness to interaction with her; but it also thwarts easy understanding, and sometimes even hard-working understanding. It's not just that she has different maxims; she does everything differently, brings an entirely unique pragmatics to conversation: performs different speech acts, constructs context differently, structures conversations differently, and so on.
a. The interesting thing about "pretending" is that it tends to have
the performative power to transform our actual beliefs, and that that transformation
is often insidious, in the sense of being hard to detect in yourself (let alone
in others). If Sunny herself pretends that her mother is not a dopeobeys
the maximit's still clear that she believes her mother is a dope, so for
her the maxim about pretending would mean "Don't speak of your mother as
a dope (but think of her that way privately)." But she can't tell about her
father and sister. Do they really believe their own pretense? If so, then the
family maxim has downshifted for them into a much deeper mode: "Don't even
think about her as a dope."
for obvious psychological reasons, this sort of speculative distinction would
be extremely difficult (perhaps impossible) for Sunny to verify. Not only would
the maxim itself tend to make Sunny's father and sister deny thinking about their
wife and mother as a dope, should Sunny ask them (and the maxim would tend to
make her reluctant to ask); they might not even know. The maxim of pretending
might have soaked down so deeply and thoroughly into their thinking that they
have no idea whether they think of her as a dope. Not only that: the maxim itself
(if in fact they do share it, especially if they take it to mean "don't think
about her as a dope") would tend to make them deny its very existenceeither
outwardly, making it impossible for Sunny to verify its existence or its import,
or inwardly, making it possible that the maxim is just Sunny's fantasy.
This casts a fascinating sidelight on Grice's idea of the maxims: if it's impossible to determine whether a certain group does share a certain maxim, and if so just what it would mean to obey it (would obeying the maxim mean being cynical about your wife's or mother's intelligence or actually believing it yourself?), and thus what would constitute flouting or violating it, in what sense can any maxim serve as a foundation for interpretation? In the ongoing arguments among Griceans over whether the maxims as Grice formulated them are universal or ethnocentric, how could you ever know? What would constitute hard-and-fast evidence for either side? How could the universalists, like Levinson and Horn, ever hope to prove that every human being who has ever lived has shared exactly the four maxims that Grice formulatedor, well, since that is a reductio ad absurdum, how could they even hope to prove that a single other human being (excluding themselves) shared them? And how could the anti-universalists, from Elinor Ochs (Keenan) in 1976 to me right this instant, ever hope to prove that Grice's maxims are ethnocentric, believed and obeyed/flouted/violated/etc. only by traditional white middle-class well-educated males of European descent in the twentieth century? How could we even hope to prove that Grice believed and obeyed or flouted or violated them?
If he means the praise sincerely, he is either violating Sunny's cynical version
of the maxim, refusing to maintain the duplicitous split between speaking of his
wife as intelligent but thinking of her as a dope, or obeying his own more propagandistic
version of it. If he means his praise ironically, he is in one sense obeying Sunny's
cynical version of the maxim; but in another, more complex sense, he is also simultaneously
flouting it. If he is praising his wife ironically, he is aiming his pretense
one way at his wifely audience, making sure that she doesn't know he thinks she's
a dope, and another way at his daughterly audience, making sure that Elizabeth
and Sunny do know he thinks she's a dope. If he really is directing an ironic
implicature at his daughters, then in an important sense he is speaking of his
wife as a dope, just implicitly, and therefore flouting the maxim of pretending
in order to implicate his true feelings.
But this gets very complex: if the maxim is about implicaturehow to implicate to those in the know that you actually think of your wife/mother as a dope without letting her know that you think that waythen how do you flout it? Perhaps flouting it would involve violating it ironicallyridiculing your wife's dopiness openly but campily in order to implicate to her that you really think she's smart while at the same time still signalling to your daughters that you know she's an idiot?
If we take Elizabeth to be implicating something like "Stop bragging, any
fool can make two no-trump," then our interpretation assigns to the mother
the illocutionary implicature of bragging and to Elizabeth herself the illocutionary
implicature of unmasking a boast. If this reading of Elizabeth's remark is right,
she is violating the family maxim requiring the pretense that their mother is
a dopebut doing it implicitly, something that Grice insists can only be
done through flouting. Violating blocks understanding; flouting ensures it. Elizabeth's
remark seems somehow stranded between flouting and violating, not quite sure whether
it wants to unmask the boast or not.
Note for example that the mother insists that it's difficult to make two no-trump "especially if you are playing with the partner I had"but in bridge if you win the bridge, your partner lays down her cards and becomes the dummy, and you play both her cards and your own. Insisting that "playing with the partner I had" made it difficult for her to make two no-trump is another obvious sign of her idiocyto anyone who has ever played bridge, that is, which Sunny hasn't. Apparently Elizabeth (like Parker) has, but she doesn't follow up on her original remark and point out that any intelligent bridge-player would know that her partner becomes the dummy when she wins the bidmore maxim straddling.
3. a. "Being defensive" typically means "not being utterly and repentantly submissive to the authority of the person doing the accusing," and Dr. Fletcher seems to be applying something like that conception of defensiveness to Kathryn as well. Anything she says in her own defense is performed by Dr. Fletcher as "defensive." Any attempt she makes to converse with Dr. Fletcher on an equal basis is branded "defensive." Even fairly submissive protests like "I didn't think I was being defensive" are "defensive," because she isn't submitting 100% to her superior.
b. In "This isn't an inquisition" Dr. Fletcher seems to be implicating that Kathryn should just relax and not worry about the power differentials between accuser and accused, because no punishment will be meted out for her "bad judgment." In fact, he may even be trying to implicate that there are no power differentials between accuser and accused: that he isn't accusing her and she shouldn't feel accused. These would be the "strong" and "weak" interpretations of his implicature: "We aren't accusing you of anything, we're just having a discussion among equals, so relax and stop being so defensive" (strong) and "These accusations don't carry any punitive weight, all we want to do is establish what you did wrong so it won't happen again, so relax and stop being so defensive" (weak). But whichever of these implicatures Dr. Fletcher intends, it's pretty clear that they are intended to conceal the extent to which this is an inquisition and nothing short of Kathryn's full-scale submissionrecantation and repentancewill be tolerated. Kathryn, in short, would be a fool to trust Dr. Fletcher's idealized implicature.
c. It should be pretty obvious that Dr. Fletcher reserves for himself the right to choose topics of conversation and expects Kathryn to give the topics he chooses her full attention, and does not consider himself obliged to give any topics she should choose any attention at all. "The boss decides what everyone will talk about; the underlings talk about the boss's topics and do not attempt to change the subject. If an underling is so foolhardy as to try, the boss simply ignores what the underling is trying to say."
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