Presuppositions and Relevance

In Zoltan Gendler Szabo (ed.), Semantics Versus Pragmatics. Oxford University Press. pp. 329--255 (2005)
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Abstract

Recall Grice’s well-worn example from Logic and Conversation about Smith, his girlfriend, and his trips to New York: (1) A: Smith doesn’t seem to have a girlfriend these days. B: He has been paying a lot of visits to NY recently. Grice says that in this dialogue, B implicates that Smith has, or may have, a girlfriend in New York. But in saying this, Grice under-describes his own example. For this proposition alone does not suffice to satisfy the requirements of Relation, the maxim presumed to be operative in this case. Grice says that “[B] implicates that which he must be assumed to believe in order to preserve the assumption that he is observing the maxim of Relation.” But the assumption that B thinks that Smith might have a girlfriend in NY is not in itself sufficient to render B’s utterance relevant. An additional assumption is required, one which explicitly links the issue of having girlfriends to the issue of travel to NY: perhaps, the proposition that a person who has a girlfriend somewhere travels there frequently; or that many people have long-distance relationships, and these involve frequent trips to the same place. If A can work out that B is making this supposition, then she can immediately see the relevance of B’s response to her remark. Without it, relevance cannot be established. So this general background assumption must be implicated by the utterance.1 Now, this background assumption is not enough by itself to guarantee relevance. Suppose that B believes the background assumption, but does not believe that Smith might be traveling to NY to visit a girlfriend. Then his utterance is still in violation of Relation. B should invoke the background assumption only if it is relevant itself

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Mandy Simons
Carnegie Mellon University

Citations of this work

Conversational Exculpature.Daniel Hoek - 2018 - Philosophical Review 127 (2):151-196.
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