Learn more about philosophy with this collection
Understanding the importance of decision-making
Identifying biases that affect decision-making
Analyzing the potential outcomes of a decision
Notions of conversation as a moving of ideas generally take words to be straightforwardly labels for things in the world and to parse sentences using a correspondence theory of truth that takes true sentences to match or refer to states of affairs that they describe. These expectations are quickly defeated as we can easily assemble a list of meaningful words that do not label individual things in the world in a straightforward manner. Consider: dog, politics, jumping, electron, gravity, centaur, square circle… So our understanding of words and what we do with them must be more complex.
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The conditions of “share-enjoy-accomodate” do sometimes obtain. Granted, people differ in their levels of conversational engagement. Some are taciturn and need to be drawn out, others are prone to logorrhea and hog verbal space. Interest, admiration, and attraction can all facili...
Following Grice’s maxims helps ensure that our utterances convey the meaning we intended. But this is far from guaranteeing conversational success. Not only must the speaker choose her words properly, but her conversant must be open to receiving them. So...
Consider the many different purposes that conversation can serve. Of course, we speak with others – and to ourselves! – to impart information. But we also exchange words to ask questions, forge connections, vent emotions, change attitudes, gain status, urge action, share stories, pass the...
Another British philosopher, H P Grice, noted in 1975 that successful conversation is a cooperative enterprise rather than a series of disconnected remarks. Certain shared expectations are in place greasing the skids of our conversational give and take. In particular, he announced a “coop...
British philosophers from the 18th century, who were fixated on impressions and ideas, would have taken successful conversations to be those that moved the relevant cluster of ideas from one conversant’s head to another’s. This idea, though tempting, turns out to ...
Tannen proposes that women view conversation as an opportunity to network and connect, while men instead talk in order to gain status and put others down. Of course, there are exceptions to this brusque generalisation, but Tannen offers evidence, both real-life examples and cases...
Accounting for such complexities, Anglophone philosophers in the mid-20th century attempted to analyse verbal communication in greater detail. J L Austin’s book How to Do Things with Words (1962) distinguished three different sorts of speech acts, that is, three different ways we...
The cooperative principle is observed by following four maxims: of quantity (be informative), quality (be truthful), relation (be relevant) and manner (be clear). For Grice, we communicate by intending that others recognize our intentions to do so
Obstacles to conversation are not all immediately apparent, as is the case with micro-aggressions. The conflict management specialist Mary Rowe in 2008 introduced a useful companion category, called “micro-affirmations”, those “apparently small acts, which are of...
The context in which utterances are delivered has a crucial bearing on their significance. To borrow a vivid example from Robert Stecker, the exhortation “The bus is coming” can signify radically different things depending on the context. If we are late and the bus is arriving, I...
Grice’s emphasis on cooperation is crucial. Both parties to a conversation must want it to succeed. He posits a structure of mirrored and iterated intentions that facilitate conversational exchange. Working together, conversants can explore a subject matter or perform a ...
Imbalances of power are especially likely to taint these efforts. Power differentials between conversants play a key role in who speaks, who listens. Gender is clearly relevant since power is not equally distributed across this dimension. Deborah Tannen, the linguist and...
This latter class is the most radical. It involves using words to accomplish something specific in the world. Examples include binding yourself to another by uttering “I promise” or becoming married by uttering “I do.”The expected consequences can unfurl only when certain conditi...
One habit threatens to sink cooperation perhaps more than any other: the phenomenon of being talked at. We often defer to experts, acknowledging their greater or special life experience. But being talked at is different: it’s belittling. It treats the listener as an acolyte instead of a c...
Whatever makes for good conversation, we can agree that it should be valued. As such, we should all find ways to enhance our conversational skills. One way to do that is what we’ve done here: to reflect on the features of satisfying, illuminating, thought-provoking, caring, searching, mem...
But not all have seen micro-affirmations as welcome. The philosopher Jill Delston, for instance, argues that they can harm when doled out inequitably and can accord undue influence to those who habitually dispense them. The idea of what makes for a successful conversa...
While some successful speakers seek to build up their conversational partners, others aim to belittle. Different attitudes towards a subject matter, different levels of knowledge, differences in how one’s day is going can all affect conversational flow. Someone who is especially knowledge...
“An idea is something that won’t work unless you do.” - Thomas A. Edison
“Sometimes, the best adventure is simply a conversation.”
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