Pragmatics & rationality.

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
Allott, N. E. (2007)
  • Publisher: University of London

This thesis is about the reconciliation of realistic views of rationality with inferential-intentional theories of communication. Grice (1957 1975) argued that working out what a speaker meant by an utterance is a matter of inferring the speaker's intentions on the presumption that she is acting rationally. This is abductive inference: inference to the best explanation for the utterance. Thus an utterance both rationalises and causes the interpretation the hearer constructs. Human rationality is bounded because of our 'finitary predicament': we have limited time and resources for computation (Simon, 1957b Cherniak, 1981). This raises questions about the explanatory status of inferential-intentional pragmatic theories. Gricean derivations of speakers' intentions seem costly, and generally hearers are not aware of performing explicit reasoning. Utterance interpretation is typically fast and automatic. Is utterance interpretation a species of reasoning, or does the hearer merely act as "reasoning Within the framework of cognitive science, mental processing is under stood as transitions between mental representations. I develop a traditional view of rationality as reasoning ability, where this is essentially the ability to make transitions that preserve rational acceptability. Following Grice (2001), I claim that there is a 'hard way' and a 'quick way' of reasoning. Work on bounded rationality suggests that much cognitive work is done by heuristics, processes that exploit environmental structure to solve problems at much lower cost than fully explicit calculations. I look at the properties of heuristics that find solutions to open-ended problems such as abductive inference, particularly sequential search heuristics with aspiration-level stopping rules. I draw on relevance theory's view that the comprehension procedure is a heuristic which exploits environmental regularities due to utterances being offers of information (Sperber & Wilson, 1986). This kind of heuristic, I argue, is the 'quick way' that reasoning proceeds in utterance interpretation.
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