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How to take the rationality stance in communication: rethinking the non-natural meaning formula of Grice

This paper endorses an interpretation-centred approach to verbal interaction and proposes what I call the principle of interpretive rationality as a basic principle of verbal communication. This approach emphasizes that i) the speaker’s intentions (communicative, reflexive or otherwise) matter in communication only so far as the addressee assume they exist, so that utterances (and acts in general) have a (particular) communicative value only if they come to be regarded as such; that ii) the interpreter’s attribution of mental entities (like beliefs, desires and intentions) to the speaker is an essential part of the process of interpretation of the speaker’s utterances (or acts); and that iii) inferences play a crucial role in interpretation. I argue that interpreting the talk of others is a special case of taking what Daniel Dennett termed the intentional stance towards others, as interpreters assume there is a rational background behind the issuance of the speaker’s utterances. In this view, rationality consists of one’s having beliefs, desires and intentions which conform to consistent patterns of means-end reasoning.

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