Wilson And Sperber: The Importance Of Human Communication
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There is a lot of stimuli out there, in the world. Our minds, however, are quite limited in their ability to parse every single input present in our environment. This limitation is not necessarily a bad thing, it is perhaps what makes human communication possible. In their Truthfulness and Relevance paper, Wilson & Sperber attempt to theorize how our minds process meaning, both drawing on and rejecting certain fundamental aspects of Grice’s account.
For Wilson and Sperber, as well as Grice, communication is about being informed. For Grice, that means that truthfulness must be central to communication as his supermaxim of quality states: “Try to make your contribution one that is true.”
Indeed, to Grice, (Wilson and Sperber do not reject that view either), false information isn’t merely bad information, it is simply not information. Where Wilson and Sperber disagree is on the importance Grice gives to truthfulness in communication. To them, what hearers expect is relevance, not truth. Similar to the principle of charity, which states that a hearer must consciously interpret a speaker 's statements in the most rational way possible, the relevance principle argues that a human’s communication system will automatically and unconsciously interpret a speaker’s statement as yielding a positive cognitive effect (meaning, adding information to the system). In that sense, to Wilson and Sperber, Grice has it the wrong way around: our expectation for truthfulness in communication is a