In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Cooperative Principle

  • Introduction
  • Foundational Works

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Linguistics Cooperative Principle
Laurence Horn
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 June 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 June 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0192


The basis of Gricean pragmatics is the cooperative principle (CP): “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” (Grice 1989, cited under Foundational Works, p. 26). This general principle is instantiated by a set of Maxims of Conversation that govern rational interchange (see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article on Maxims of Conversation) and bridge the gap between what is said and what is meant. The CP and the maxims represent not sociological generalizations or prescriptions for proper conversational etiquette but baseline presumptions that, by their observance or their apparent violation, generate conversational implicatures. In saying p and implicating q, S[peaker] counts on H[earer]’s disposition to work out what was meant by S’s uttering p at a given point in the interaction, based on what was said, on how it was said, and on the interlocutors’ shared assumption that they are rational agents interacting cooperatively to reach a joint (or partially joint) goal. In particular, S assumes H will assume that S’s conversational contribution is truthful, informative, relevant, and perspicuous, even when that assumption cannot be directly sustained at the surface of the utterance. While implicature is an aspect of speaker meaning and not of utterance interpretation, it is S’s assumption that H will draw the appropriate inference based on taking CP as a touchstone that makes implicature recovery a rational expectation. (Implicature is used in this article to stand for Grice’s conversational implicature; his notion of conventional implicature, which in many ways traces back to ideas of Frege’s, cannot be discussed here because of space limitations and because by definition it is entirely independent of CP.)

Foundational Works

As Chris Potts remarked in his 2006 review of Chapman 2005 (cited under Assessments and Overviews, Mind 115: 743–747), “within current pragmatic theory, just about every position is in some sense defined by its relationship to Grice’s William James lectures” (p. 745). These lectures, delivered at Harvard in 1967 and circulated thereafter in samizdat form, had an immediate impact on the philosophy of language and launched the field of linguistic pragmatics but were not available in full until the posthumous publication of Grice 1989. It is in the second of those lectures, “Logic and Conversation,” that Grice first proposed and developed the CP, the Maxims of Conversation, and their role in the generation of conversational implicature. Both that lecture and its immediate successor were published in important collections within the Syntax and Semantics series (Cole and Morgan 1975, Cole 1978), both containing related works by other linguists and philosophers. The first excerpt from the James lectures that actually appeared in print was Grice 1968, which reflects later material in the series of talks; it includes a definition of conversational and conventional implicature and their relation to speaker meaning but does not refer directly to CP or the maxims.

  • Cole, Peter, ed. 1978. Syntax and semantics. Vol. 9, Pragmatics. New York: Academic.

    Grice’s follow-up essay “Further Notes on Logic and Conversation” proposes criteria for implicature; examines disjunction, stress, and irony; and motivates the influential “Modified Occam’s Razor” (“Senses are not to be multiplied beyond necessity”). Other contents include McCawley on implicature and the lexicon, Morgan on short-circuited implicature, and Sadock on diagnostics for implicature.

  • Cole, Peter, and Jerry Morgan, eds. 1975. Syntax and semantics. Vol. 3, Speech acts. New York: Academic.

    Contains (for the first time in print) “Logic and Conversation,” the most influential single writing of Grice on CP, the Maxims of Conversation, and implicature, his second William James lecture. Other papers in the volume by Searle, Fraser, Schmerling, Garner, and Wright directly address aspects and implications of Gricean pragmatics.

  • Grice, H. P. 1968. Utterer’s meaning, sentence-meaning, and word-meaning. Foundations of Language 4:225–242.

    The first published reference to conventional and conversational implicature by name, appearing one year after it was presented as one of the William James lectures (see Grice 1989, chapter 6). Introduces the distinction between what is said (“in a certain favoured, and maybe in some degree artificial, sense of ‘said’”; p. 225) and what is implicated and relates the former to conventional meaning.

  • Grice, H. P. 1989. Studies in the way of words. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    The central scripture on CP and conversational (and conventional) implicature. Chapters 1 through 7 contain the full text of the seminal William James lectures on Logic and Conversation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967) and circulated as samizdat afterward. Other important writings by Grice include a Retrospective Epilogue whose Strand Six (pp. 368–372) revisits conversational implicature.

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