Implicature

The presence of a subtext—another meaning—which makes a statement not quite as simple, or as innocent, as it looks. Examples:

• “What did you think of the singer?” “Well, I liked her dress.”I24

• “We are tackling the problem of global warming.” There is nothing wrong with the statement itself, but it implies that we are on the way to solving the problem; it may also be taken to imply that we can do the job on our own. It sounds reassuring, but it may be telling you that the efforts to tackle global warming are not having much success.

The philosopher Paul Grice, who coined the word, pointed out that implicature is commonplace in conversation, and that it comes in many forms (e.g., Accent, Quibble). Given its potential to mislead, he argued for a code of good conduct in communication, which he called the Cooperative Principle: be as informative as required (but no more), do not say things which you believe to be false or for which you have no evidence, be relevant, avoid obscurity and ambiguity, be brief and orderly . . .

. . . except when you’re not. Lean Logic advocates asides, long-windedness if it comes with a story, frank untruths if there is a reasonable chance that the other person can untangle the irony, broken logic if it reflects the difficulty of explaining things which break your heart or are hard to understand.I25 It does not share the modest self-restraint which we find in Psalm 131:

I do not exercise myself in great matters : which are too high for me.I26

Lean Logic finds that, when dealing with great matters, it can, from time to time, be a good thing if there are cracks and faults in the argument, for the repair of which help is invited. It is a reminder that a conversation is a cooperative affair, not just a series of beautifully-manicured statements.

 

Related entries:

Narrative Truth.

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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was an economist, historian and writer, based in London. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, Lean Logic and Surviving the Future. A film about his perspective and legacy - The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation? - was released in 2019, directed by BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong. For more information, including on Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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