IN CONVERSATIONS AND
According to the cooperative principle everything one
says in a conversation has to be not only relevant but also
informative, truthful and perspicuous. This is entailed by the
'supermaxims' of 'relation' (that is, relevancy), 'quantity',
'quality' and 'manner'. It has been suggested that the supermaxims
of quantity, quality and manner are simply 'subordinated
to the general maxim of relevance' and that the whole general
principle of conversation is 'in fact a principle of relevance
rather than a principle of cooperation'.
This suggestion is certainly correct with regard to the supermaxim of
quantity which reads that one should make one's contribution as
informative as is required, and not more informative than is required;
than informational relevance requires, that is.
But the suggestion misses the point of the supermaxim of quality which
reads that one should make one's contribution a true one.
On the surface it is understandable that someone would argue that a
relevant conversational contribution must also be true, and that an untrue
contribution cannot be relevant.
Yet, this reasoning is erroneous, since the entity which is supposed
to be relevant is not the same one as the entity which is
supposed to be true.
Consider, by way of example, someone who says "it's raining" and assume
that this proposition or statement is true at the place and time
'e utters it.
It is then true that it is raining, and false that it is not raining.
Now, assume also that the person's contribution to the conversation
may be called "relevant" at the same place and time. The
'relevance' of the contribution or statement or proposition is
then only a derivative one, because the statement or proposition
derives its relevance from its content in the given context.
Is it then the fact that it is raining itself which is relevant?
No, because if it is, or were, relevant that it rains or rained, it is,
or would be, relevant too that it does or did not rain.
What is relevant is the question whether it is raining or not.
In other words, the distinction between raining and not raining.
A statement making use of this distinction is relevant
at the time and place concerned so far as this distinction is
concerned. If the speaker had said "it's not raining", this
would have been relevant as well, but then it would have been
false and a violation of the principle of truth (or of the
'supermaxim of quality', if preferred).
Consequently, this principle can definitely not be dispensed with, even
not by those who pay all due attention to questions of relevancy.
It has also been argued by certain philosophers of language
that the cooperative principle for conversations is a 'maxim of
simple relevance which would constrain the speaker's choice of
utterance, and the hearer's choice of interpretation, hardly at
all'. They would substitute a maxim of maximal relevance for the
cooperative principle. What they are concerned with is not so
much one relevancy relation which plays a role in one context in
a narrow sense (to be compared with the phenomenologist's domain
of relevance) but rather with a multiplicity of relations to
different goals or topics (to be compared with the phenomenologist's
system of relevance). (See for the schematic representation
of this view figure I.220.127.116.11 again.) The underlying idea
is that a conversation or discourse involves a sequence of
usually many propositions, and never one proposition (or utterance)
in isolation. This idea does not contradict the conception
of 'simple' relevancy. On the contrary, it builds on it and
So far as
discriminational relevancy is concerned we
need not worry about whether people are working with notions of simple
relevancy or with notions of more complex relevancies in
What is far more interesting from this point of
view is that the type of relevancy (in any way pragmatic
relevancy) in questions of conversation and information appears
to be discriminational as well. It is again a distinction which
is relevant or not, and it is the presence of this distinction
in a statement or proposition which can make this statement or
proposition itself relevant. It is not only the presence of
this distinction in a whole sentence, it starts with its
presence or absence in each separate morpheme (such as the presence
of gender in brother and sister and the absence of it in
sib and sibling). Whether the ultimate relevance lies in
the distinction or in the factor is not important, but given the
relevance of the distinction or factor, the relevance of a
morpheme, of a word, of a proposition and of uttering a proposition
derives from it. The same holds for the so-called 'making
of a distinction': making a distinction is relevant because the
distinction is relevant, and not the other way around. Whether a
distinction is drawn or not is not a matter of relevancy but of
truth. Granted that a distinction is relevant, drawing it is
relevant, and granted that it is not relevant, drawing it is not
Pragmatic relevancy in particular is thus nothing else than
a form of discriminational relevancy in the conversational or
What we have been calling "discriminational relevancy" hitherto was
basically the discriminational relevancy of the
ground-world in which
nonpropositional distinctions exist,
and are made, between nonpropositional entities or classes of such
Unlike this form of discriminational relevancy, the role played by
relevancy in questions of conversation and information can solely be
understood against the background of
That is why it is a subject of philosophy of language, of logics, of
philosophy of science and of other disciplines concerned with
communication, thought and valid theorizing.
So it has been noticed that it is not 'of the tradition of science nor of
its spirit to give irrelevant information'.
Scientific information, it is said, must be relevant to the topic, and
science is not just a question of citing all the knowledge one has (even
tho the suggestion is
part of the etymological origin of the word science). But if
all information and conversation has to be both relevant and
true, it violates the principle of relevance itself to exclusively
emphasize that scientific information and conversation
has to be relevant and true. If it did not violate the principle
of relevance, it would imply that nonscientific information and
conversation did not have to be relevant and true.
Science is merely one of at least four typical modes of
thought and verbal communication. While the principles of truth
and relevance are undoubtedly of great importance in science and
—as we have seen— in philosophy, the role of these principles,
or of certain interpretations thereof, may vary considerably
in other fields of thought.
the next chapter the focus of our attention will
be what characterizes the diverse modes of thought, not only philosophy
and science but also literary art (as well as art in general) and