Scalar implicature and contrastive explanation

Synthese 161 (1):47 - 66 (2008)
I argue for a subsumption of any version of Grice’s first quantity maxim posited to underlie scalar implicature, by developing the idea of implicature recovery as a kind of explanatory inference, as e.g. in science. I take the applicable model to be contrastive explanation, while following van Fraassen’s analysis of explanation as an answer to a why-question. A scalar implicature is embedded in such an answer, one that meets two probabilistic constraints: the probability of the answer, and ‘favoring’. I argue that besides having application at large, outside of linguistic interpretation, these constraints largely account not only for implicatures based on strength order, logical and otherwise, but also for unordered cases. I thus suggest that Grice’s maxim and its descendants are expressions of general explanatory constraints, as they happen to be manifested in this particular explanatory task. I conclude by briefly discussing how I accordingly view Grice’s system outside of scalar implicature.
Keywords Contrastive explanation  Explanation  Scalar implicature  Implicature  Why-questions
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DOI 10.2307/27653679
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