2. Classical Pragmatics

2.1 Far-side Pragmatics: Beyond Saying

Our initial focus will be on the traditions in pragmatics inaugurated by the J.L. Austin and H.P. Grice. Both of these philosophers were interested in the area of pragmatics we call ‘beyond saying.’ In the classic period, these phenomena were studied on the premise — a premise increasingly undermined by developments in pragmatics itself — that a fairly clear distinction could be made between what is said, the output of the realm of semantics, and what is conveyed or accomplished in particular linguistic and social context in or by saying something, the realm of pragmatics. What is said is sort of a boundary; semantics is on the near side, and those parts of pragmatics that were the focus of the classic period are on the far side.
2.1.1 Austin, Searle, and Speech Acts

The British philosopher John Langshaw Austin (b. 1911–d. 1960) was intrigued by the way that we can use words to do different things. Whether one asserts or merely suggests, promises or merely indicates an intention, persuades or merely argues, depends not only on the literal meaning of one's words, but what one intends to do with them, and the institutional and social setting in which the linguistic activity occurs. One thing a speaker might intend to do, and be taken to do, in saying "I'll be there to pick you up at six," is to promise to pick his listener up at that time. The ability to promise and to intend to promise arguably depends on the existence of a social practice or set of conventions about what a promise is and what constitutes promising. Austin especially emphasized the importance of social fact and conventions in doing things with words, in particular with respect to the class of speech acts known as illocutionary acts.
Austin began by distinguishing between what he called ‘constatives’ and ‘performatives.’ A constative is simply saying something true or false. A performative is doing something by speaking; paradigmatically, one can get married by saying "I do" (Austin, 1961). Constatives are true or false, depending on their correspondence (or not) with the facts; performatives are actions and, as such, are not true or false, but ‘felicitous’ or ‘infelicitous,’ depending on whether or not they successfully perform the action in question. In particular, performative utterances to be felicitous must invoke an existing convention and be invoked in the right circumstances.
However, a clear delimitation between performatives and constatives proved to be difficult to establish. There are explicit performatives; a verb used in a certain way makes explicit the action being performed: "I bet that there is a dangerous animal there," "I guarantee that there is a dangerous animal there," "I warn you that there is a dangerous animal there." But the same action could be performed implicitly: "There is a dangerous animal there," where both issues of (in)felicities and issues of truth/falsity are simultaneously present. Instead of pursuing the distinction between performatives and constatives, Austin (1962a) proposed a new three-fold distinction.
According to this trichotomy, a speech act is, first of all, a locutionary act, that is, an act of saying something. Saying something can also be viewed from three different perspectives: (i) as a phonetic act: uttering certain noises; (ii) as a phatic act: uttering words "belonging to and as belonging to, a certain vocabulary, conforming to and as conforming to a certain grammar"; and (iii) as a rhetic act: uttering words "with a certain more-or-less definite sense and reference" (Austin, 1962a, 95). Now, to perform a locutionary act is also in general to perform an illocutionary act; in performing a locutionary act, we perform an act with a certain force: ordering, warning, assuring, promising, expressing an intention, and so on. And by doing that, we will normally produce "certain consequential effects upon the feelings, thoughts or actions of the audience, or of the speaker, or of other persons" (ibidem, 101) that Austin calls perlocutionary. At the point of his untimely death, Austin's work on speech act theory was far from complete. His main work, How to do things with words was published posthumously, based on lecture notes of Austin and his students.
Austin's student, John R. Searle (1969) developed speech act theory as a theory of the constitutive rules for performing illocutionary acts, i.e., the rules that tell what performing (successfully) an illocutionary act (with certain illocutionary force and certain propositional content) consists in. The rules are classified as (i) propositional content rules, which put conditions on the propositional content of some illocutionary acts; (ii) preparatory rules, which tell what the speaker will imply in the performance of the illocutionary acts; (iii) sincerity rules, that tell what psychological state the speaker expresses to be in; and (iv) essential rules, which tell us what the action consists in essentially.
Let's return to our case of promising. According to Searle's analysis, for an utterance by S to H to count as a promise must meet the following conditions:

  • The propositional content represents some future action A by S;
  • H prefers S's doing A to her not doing it, and S believes that to be so; and it is not obvious both to S and H that S will do A in the normal course of events;
  • S intends to do A; and
  • Promising counts as the undertaking of an obligation of S to do A.

If someone, then, wants to make a (felicitous) promise she must meet these conventional conditions. The study of the these conventional conditions for illocutionary acts, together with the study of the their correct taxonomy constitutes the core of speech act theory.
Based on their essential conditions, and attending to the minimal purpose or intention of the speaker in performing an illocutionary act, Searle (1975a) proposes a taxonomy of illocutionary acts into five mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive classes:

  • Representative or assertive. The speaker becomes committed to the truth of the propositional content; for example, asserting: "It's raining."
  • Directive. The speaker tries to get the hearer to act in such a way as to fulfill what is represented by the propositional content; for example, commanding: "Close the door!"
  • Commissive. The speaker becomes committed to act in the way represented by the propositional content; for example, promising: "I'll finish the paper by tomorrow."
  • Expressive. The speaker simply expresses the sincerity condition of the illocutionary act: "I'm glad it's raining!"
  • Declarative. The speaker performs an action just representing herself as performing that action: "I name this ship the Queen Elizabeth."

Speech act theory, then, adopts a social or institutional view of linguistic meaning. This is sometimes opposed to the intentionalist view favored by Grice (1957) and Strawson (1964), but there need be no inconsistency. (For an interesting discussion on the relationship between intentionalist and social, institutional and intersubjective views on meaning and communication by Searle, Bennett, Habermas and Appel, see part I of Lepore & Van Gulick 1991.)
2.1.2 Grice and Conversational Implicatures

Herbert Paul Grice (b. 1913-d. 1988) emphasized the distinction Voltaire makes, in our opening quotation, between what words mean, what the speaker literally says when using them, and what the speaker means or intends to communicate by using those words, which often goes considerably beyond what is said. I ask you to lunch and you reply, "I have a one o'clock class I'm not prepared for." You have conveyed to me that you will not be coming to lunch, although you haven't literally said so. You intend for me to figure out that by indicating a reason for not coming to lunch (the need to prepare your class) you intend to convey that you are not coming to lunch for that reason. The study of such conversational implicatures is the core of Grice's influential theory.
Grice's so-called theory of conversation starts with a sharp distinction between what someone says and what someone ‘implicates’ by uttering a sentence. What someone says is determined by the conventional meaning of the sentence uttered and contextual processes of disambiguation and reference fixing; what she implicates is associated with the existence to some rational principles and maxims governing conversation (setting aside "conventional implicatures" which we discuss below). What is said has been widely identified with the literal content of the utterance; what is implicated, the implicature, with the non-literal, what it is (intentionally) communicated, but not said, by the speaker. Consider his initial example:
A and B are talking about a mutual friend, C, who is now working in a bank. A asks B how C is getting on in his job, and B replies: Oh quite well, I think; he likes his colleagues, and he hasn't been to prison yet. (Grice 1967a/1989, 24.)
What did B say by uttering "he hasn't been to prison yet"? Roughly, all he literally said of C was that he hasn't been to prison up to the time of utterance. This is what the conventional sentence meaning plus contextual processes of disambiguation, precisification of vague expressions and reference fixing provide.
But, normally, B would have implicated more than this: that C is the sort of person likely to yield to the temptation provided by his occupation. According to Grice, the ‘calculation’ of conversational implicatures is grounded on common knowledge of what the speaker has said (or better, the fact that he has said it), the linguistic and extra linguistic context of the utterance, general background information, and the consideration of what Grice dubs 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 in which you are engaged. (Grice 1967a/1989, 26.)
The maxims
According to Grice, the CP is implemented, in the plans of speakers and understanding of hearers, by following ‘maxims:’

  • Quantity
    • Make your contribution as informative as is required (for the current purposes of the exchange).
    • Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.

  • Quality
    • (Supermaxim): Try to make your contribution one that is true.
    • (Submaxims):
      • Do not say what you believe to be false.
      • Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.

  • Relation
    • Be relevant.

  • Manner
    • (Supermaxim): Be perspicuous.
    • (Submaxims):
      • Avoid obscurity of expression.
      • Avoid ambiguity.
      • Be brief (avoid unnecessary prolixity).
      • Be orderly.
      • Frame whatever you say in the form most suitable for any reply that would be regarded as appropriate; or, facilitate in your form of expression the appropriate reply (added by Grice 1981/1989, 273).

Grice sees the principles governing conversation as derived from general principles governing human rational cooperative action. There has been much discussion about the CP and the maxims. Are all of them necessary? Do we need more? Are they normative or descriptive? What's their exact role in the theory of implicatures: Are they principles that speakers and hearers are assumed to observe in rational communication, or simply theorist's tools for rational reconstruction? Does the CP require from speaker and hearer further cooperation towards a common goal beyond that of understanding and being understood? What is clear is that Grice attributes to these principles an essential role for the definition and the interpretation of conversational implicatures.


The paradigmatic kind of reasoning on the part of the hearer for the determination of implicatures, according to Grice, follows this pattern:
He has said that p; there is no reason to suppose that he is not observing the maxims, or at least the CP; he could not be doing this unless he thought that q; he knows (and knows that I know that he knows) that I can see that the supposition that he thinks that q is required; he has done nothing to stop me thinking that q; he intends me to think, or is at least willing to allow me to think, that q; and so he has implicated that q. (Grice, 1967a/1989, 31.)
Applied to the earlier example, about the banker, A would reason in the following way:
B has said that C has not been to prison yet (p); he is apparently flouting the maxim of manner, but I have no reason to suppose that he is opting out CP; his violation of the maxim would only be apparent if he is thinking that C is potentially dishonest (q); B knows (and knows that I know that he knows) that I can figure out he is thinking that q; …; so he has implicated that q.
Conversational implicatures have the following characteristics:

  1. They are cancelable:
    … a putative conversational implicature that p is explicitly cancelable if, to the form of words the utterance of which putatively implicates that p, it is admissible to add but not p, or I do not mean to imply that p, and it is contextually cancelable if one can find situations in which the utterance of the form of words would simply not carry the implicature. (Grice, 1967b/1989, 44.)
  2. They are non-detachable:
    … it will not be possible to find another way of saying the same thing, which simply lacks the implicature in question, except where some special feature of the substituted version is itself relevant to the determination of an implicature (in virtue of one of the maxims of Manner). (Grice 1967a, 1989, 39.)
  3. They are calculable:
    The presence of a conversational implicature must be capable of being worked out; for even if it can in fact be intuitively grasped, unless the intuition is replaceable by an argument, the implicature (if present at all) will not count as a conversational implicature. (Grice 1967a, 1989, 31.)

This last property is what Grice considers crucial for distinguishing between conversational and conventional implicatures. Conventional implicatures are generated by the meaning of certain particles like ‘but’ or ‘therefore.’ Consider the difference between (1) and (2):

  1. He is an Englishman, therefore he is brave.
  2. He is an Englishman, and he is brave.
  3. His being brave follows from his being English.

According to Grice, a speaker has said the same with (1) as with (2). The difference is that with (1) he implicates (3). This is a conventional implicature. It is the conventional meaning of ‘therefore,’ and not maxims of cooperation, that carry us beyond what is said.
Grice's concept of conventional implicatures (which has antecedents in Frege; see Bach 1999b) is the most controversial part of his theory of conversation for many followers, for several reasons. According to some, its application to particular examples runs against common intuitions. By using the word ‘therefore’ is the speaker not saying that there is some causal connection between being brave and being English? Isn't he saying and bot merely implying that one's being brave follows from one's being English. Moreover, the category of conventional implicatures blurs the distinction between what is said, usually conceived as determined by the semantic conventions of language, and what is implicated, usually thought of as a matter of inference as to a speaker's intentions in saying what he or she does. Conventional sentence meaning contributes crucially to what is said, which is considered essentially different from implicatures; but now we have the result that some elements of conventional meaning do not contribute to what is said but to implicatures (albeit conventional). Finally, it places the study of the conventional meaning of some expressions within the realm of pragmatics (study of implicatures), rather than semantics, usually conceived as the home of conventional meaning.
Among conversational implicatures, Grice distinguished between ‘particularized’ and ‘generalized.’ The former are the implicatures that are generated by saying something in virtue of some particular features of the context, "cases in which there is no room for the idea that an implicature of this sort is normally carried by saying that p." (Grice 1967a/1989, 37) The above example of conversational implicature is, then, a case of particularized conversational implicature. A generalized conversational implicature occurs where "the use of a certain forms of words in an utterance would normally (in the absence of special circumstances) carry such-and-such an implicature or type of implicature." (Ibid.). Grice's first example is a sentence of the form "X is meeting a woman this evening." Anyone who utters this sentence, in absence of special circumstances, would be taken to implicate that the woman in question was someone other than X's "wife, mother, sister, or perhaps even close platonic friend" (Ibid.) Being an implicature, it could be cancelled, either implicitly, in appropriate circumstances, or explicitly, adding some clause that implies its denial.
Particularized conversational implicatures have a wide range of applications that Grice himself illustrates: the informative use of tautologies, irony, metaphor, hyperbole, meiosis and, in principle, any kind of non-literal use that relies in special circumstances of the utterance can be explained in terms of them. But generalized conversational implicatures apply to philosophically more important issues, in particular, to what, according to the introduction to Logic and Conversation, was Grice's most important motivation: the issue of the difference of meaning between logical constants of formal languages and their counterparts in natural languages, or the alleged meanings of verbs like ‘to look like,’ ‘to believe’ or ‘to know.’ Generalized conversational implicatures are also at the heart of Grice's Modified Occam's Razor ("Senses are not to be multiplied beyond necessity," Grice 1967b/1989, 47), which has served as a criterion for distinguishing semantic issues from pragmatic uses and for preferring, in general, an explanation in terms of implicatures rather than a semantic one that postulates ambiguity.
Grice is probably best known in the philosophy of language for his theory of implicatures. It is surely his most influential body of work for those parts of linguistics, psychology, cognitive science and computer science that share philosophy's interest in language. His theory of meaning, however, is indispensable for understanding his overall philosophical vision and his ‘big picture’ of language and communication. We will not explain this project, which consists in part of ultimately reducing all semantic notions to psychological ones. But we will say a bit about its central concept of ‘M-intentions,’ in order to develop an important aspect of his pragmatic theory, the concept of a communicative intention.

Communicative intentions

Grice conceived that semantic notions like word and sentence meaning were ultimately based on speaker's meaning, and this on speaker's intention, what he called M-intentions. What he conceived as a study of the ontology of semantic notions has been received, however, as a characterization of communicative intentions, the mental causes of communicative acts, and those that the hearer has to understand for the communicative act to be successful.
So conceived, communicative intentions have these characteristic properties:

  • They are always oriented towards some other agent — the addressee.
  • They are overt, that is, they are intended to be recognized by the addressee.
  • Their satisfaction consists precisely in being recognized by the addressee.

These properties are already pointed out in the first version of Grice's M-intentions:
"A meant something by x" is (roughly) equivalent to "A intended the utterance of x to produce some effect in an audience by means of the recognition of this intention." (Grice 1957/1989, 220.)
Grice later reformulated this definition, giving rise to a hot debate about the precise characterization of communicative intentions, mainly about two points:

  1. Communicative intentions are intentions to produce some response on the part of the addressee, but what kind of response, exactly, should this be? Suppose I tell you, "It's raining." This act may have many results: perhaps you will hear the words, understand their meaning, come to believe that it is raining, search for your umbrella, fail to find it and grow angry, and finally become so angry you chew the rug. I may have planned all of this, but more typically I will have had in mind that you be prepared for the weather. But my communicative intention seems to be directed at a crucial subgoal. If I get you to believe it is raining, your own rationality will take over and you will get prepared. What I seem to aim at is changing your beliefs. It was this sort of response that Grice took to be typical in his early work on meaning. But it is really more in line with the spirit of his proposal that the crucial subgoal be to get the audience to believe that the speaker believes that it is raining. That's really the change that language can bring about; having gotten the audience that far, the speaker needs to hope that the audience trusts his weather-knowledge, will take the steps to themselves believing in rain, and then prepare adequately for the weather. But even this rather modest subgoal may be too much to require for the success of the communicative action qua communicative action. Suppose I say that it is raining, and you hear me and understand the meaning of my words. But you don't think I am being sincere; you don't believe that I believe what I said. But still, I have said it. My overall plan to help insure that you don't get wet and catch cold may fail, but I do seem to have succeeded in saying what I set out to say. It seems that the only new mental state needed is the audience's recognition of the speaker's communicative intention; his understanding of the speaker's utterance. This is what has been called ‘illocutionary uptake’:
    In the case of illocutionary acts we succeed in doing what we are trying to do by getting our audience to recognize what we are trying to do. But the ‘effect’ on the hearer is not a belief or a response, it consists simply in the hearer understanding the utterance of the speaker. (Searle 1969, 47.)
    So the most common answer has been to follow Searle on this point and exclude perlocutionary results, beyond uptake of this sort, from the content of communicative intentions.
  2. Communicative intentions must be wholly overt:
    The understanding of the force of an utterance in all cases involves recognizing what may be called broadly an audience-directed intention and recognizing it as wholly overt, as intended to be recognized. (Strawson 1964, 459.)
    The exact formulation of this requirement has been a subject of intense debate, some arguing for a reflexive (self-referential) definition, others for a potentially infinite but practically finite number of clauses in the definition, with conceptual, logical or psychological arguments. What seems to be a matter of consensus is that every covert or even neutral (with respect to its intended recognition by the addressee) aspect of the speaker's intention must be left out of the definition of communicative intentions.
    A short but comprehensive way of concluding would be to say that the fulfillment of communicative intentions consists precisely in being recognized by the addressee. (For this debate, see Searle 1969; Schiffer 1972; Harman 1974; Blackburn 1984; Sperber and Wilson 1986; Recanati 1986; Bach 1987 or Neale 1992.)

2.1.3 Bach, Harnish, and a Unified Theory

After the founding work made in parallel by Austin-Searle, on the one side, and by Grice, on the other, Kent Bach and Robert Harnish (Linguistic Communication and Speech Acts (1979)) made an important attempt to integrate the founders' insights in a unified theory.
On the whole, if choosing the appropriate label for their theory between either ‘neo-Gricean’ or ‘neo-Austinian/Searlean,’ the first seem the most appropriate: their theory might be taken to lean toward the Gricean conception of inferential understanding of the speaker's communicative intentions rather than to the Austin-Searle view of speech acts as performed according to some conventional or ‘constitutive’ rules. To obtain a unified theory they developed their own conceptual framework, based on the ideas of Grice, Austin and Searle but including many important innovations of their own. Here it is a brief description of some of them:
Locutionary acts
Like Austin, but unlike Searle, Bach and Harnish argue for the concept of locutionary acts: acts of using sentences with "a more or less definite ‘sense’ and a more or less definite ‘reference,’" in Austin's words. They are more explicit than Austin, and argue that determining what someone has (locutionarily) said by uttering a sentence amounts to determining

  1. the operative meaning of the sentence uttered
  2. the referents for the referring expressions
  3. the properties and relations being ascribed
  4. the times specified

With this information the hearer identifies what a speaker has said, at the locutionary level. From a contemporary perspective, the most remarkable point here is, in our opinion, that they see the determination of the locutionary act by the hearer, not as a matter of merely decoding the conventional meaning of the sentence uttered, but as a matter of inference that has to be based on linguistic meaning plus contextual information concerning the speaker's intentions. Grice did not claim that what a speaker said was determinable without consideration of the speaker's intentions; quite the contrary. But he was not particularly explicit about the way it was done, and the received view, anyway, has been that inference was exclusive to the ‘calculation’ of implicatures.
The distinction between locutionary and illocutionary acts of saying also offers Bach and Harnish a useful conceptual tool for treating potentially problematic cases of discordance between utterance content and speaker's intentions, such as slips of the tongue, false referential beliefs, and irony.
To go from the locutionary to the illocutionary content, if there is any, the hearer has to infer the communicative intention of the speaker, and to do that, the hearer needs more information. Among other things, the hearer will have to make use of the Communicative Presumption (CP) that they state as follows:
The mutual belief in the linguistic community CL to the effect that whenever a member S says something in L to another member H, he is doing so with some recognizable illocutionary intent. (Bach and Harnish 1979, 61.)
The taxonomy of illocutionary acts

Bach and Harnish accept most of Searle's (1975a) critiques of Austin's taxonomy as well as his criteria for grouping illocutionary acts in terms of basic illocutionary intentions and expression of mental attitudes; but they make some amendments. To begin with, they discard Searle's class of declarative illocutionary acts (basically covering Austin's explicit performatives), because they take them to be basically assertives or constatives (see Searle 1989, Bach and Harnish 1992 for a further discussion of this issue). Then, the communicative illocutionary acts are (Bach and Harnish 1979, ch. 3):

  • constatives, that express a speaker's belief and his desire that the hearer forms a similar one.
  • directives, that express some attitude about a possible future action by the hearer and the intention that his utterance be taken as reason for the hearer's action.
  • commissives, that express the speaker's intention to do something and the belief that his utterance obliges him to do it.
  • acknowledgments, that express feelings toward the hearer (or the intention that the utterance will meet some social expectations regarding the expression of feelings).

Bach and Harnish make a distinctions between communicative illocutionary acts, the category to which these four types belong, and the category of conventional illocutionary acts, which they take to be fundamentally different. Communicative acts are acts performed with certain communicative intentions whose recognition by the hearer is necessary for the acts to be successful. In conventional acts, on the other hand, no communicative intention need be involved. Success is a matter of convention, not intention. Conventional acts determine and produce facts of institutional nature, if performed according to conventions that do not require any communicative intention on the part of the speaker and, a fortiori, neither its recognition on the part of any hearer. Among conventional acts, Bach and Harnish (1979, ch. 6) distinguish between two classes:

  • effectives, that when produced by the appropriate person in appropriate circumstances produce a change, a new fact in an institutional context; an example might the President of the United States statement that he vetoes a piece of legislation.
  • verdictives, do not produce facts, but determine facts, natural or institutional, with an official, binding effect in the institutional context; an example is a jury's verdict of guilt; it does not create the fact of guilt, but settles the issue of guilt in a binding way.


The Speech Act Schema (SAS) gives the form of the required inference by the hearer to understand fully the speaker's utterance from the meaning of the sentence used to the perlocutionary act performed, using, besides linguistic information, a system of communicative and conversational presumptions, together with contextual mutual beliefs. Bach and Harnish think that inference is involved, from the beginning, in the determination of the locutionary act. The next step is to infer the literal illocutionary intentions and from here, in the simplest case, go for the (intended) perlocutionary ones, if any. Roughly, an illocutionary act is literal when its propositional content coincides with the content of the locutionary act, and the force of the former is within the constraints imposed by the latter.
But it may happen that the literal illocutionary act cannot be taken as a reasonable thing to have been done by the speaker in some specific circumstances (say, the literal claim is false and obviously so), and the hearer has to search for another non-literal act. Someone speaks non-literally when she does not mean what she says but something else instead.
It can also be the case that the speaker is doing more than merely performing a literal act. She means what she says but she means more. The hearer will have to infer the indirect act being performed. It must be noticed that indirect acts can also be based on non-literal acts. Then the SAS extends to account for the intentional perlocutionary effects of the speech act.
Bach and Harnish's SAS offers a detailed study of the structure of utterance interpretation as an inferential process. Taken as an attempt of unification of the two main roots of pragmatics, it can be considered as the closing of the ‘Classic Pragmatics' period and the transition from ‘philosophical’ pragmatics to linguistic and psychological pragmatics. They can be still located within far-side pragmatics but their clear idea of the role of pragmatic ‘intrusion’ in the determination of what is said is announcing the arrival of near-side pragmatics.

( to be continued...)