Rehabilitating Austin, Reassessing Grice: The Case of Cancellability

Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 100 (4):470-491 (2018)
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This paper assesses Grice’s work on conversational implicature in the light of one of its early targets: Austin’s claim that we cannot isolate the meaning of an expression from the context in which it is used. Grice argues that we can separate the literal meaning of many utterances from their pragmatic implicatures through the mechanism of explicit cancellation. However, Grice’s conception of cancellation does not account for the fact that an explicit cancellation must be uttered, and that its utterance involves further implicatures that undermine the attempted cancellation. What Grice calls explicit cancellations are better understood as utterances that resolve ambiguities, and hence apply only in cases where there exists an ambiguity that needs resolving. If Grice’s work does not undermine Austin, we are in a position to reassess an Austinian form of philosophical criticism that emphasizes the ordinary usage of expressions deployed in philosophical arguments.



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David Egan
Hunter College (CUNY)

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