What Are Grice’s Maxims for Conversation?

Paul Grice presented rules for conversation that encourage the cooperation that we all desire our communication to be.  After all, when we communicate with someone, we assume that they want the interaction and so are cooperating with us in that endeavor.  Well, Grice presented four Maxims that he felt guided cooperative conversations.

  1. The maxim of quantity – where a conversational partner provides just enough information, without providing more than is needed. The idea is to be informative, but not going beyond what is needed.
  2. The maxim of quality – all information to be given is true to the best of our abilities, and all information can be supported by evidence. Don’t say something that you know to be untrue, or that you really don’t have the proof for.
  3. The maxim of relation – we provide information that is relevant, and pertinent to the conversation at hand. Don’t wander off topic.
  4. The maxim of manner – one attempts to present information in order, clearly, and briefly. We want to avoid being confusing or ambiguous.

These basic maxims for conversation are frequently broken, but as we attempt to use them, we are able to present our thoughts, even when we vigorously disagree on a topic.  In fact, perhaps when we have opposing opinions, the use of these maxims will help us to best present our thoughts and information and refrain from getting drawn into an emotionally fueled argument.  If we could only present our thoughts by following these maxims, we could best present our differences in thoughtful and considerate ways.

While we may have never thought of these maxims, they are most likely conversational rules that we mostly abide by, and when we don’t, we have reasons that impact our communication.  Basic communication can be governed by these rules, and keeping to them, particularly in stressful or tense situations can help us to best present ourselves to others while being honest and truthful.

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