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Grice on Irony and Metaphor: Discredited by the Experimental Evidence?

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Recent experimental studies appear to discredit Gricean accounts of irony and metaphor. I argue that appearances are decidedly misleading here and that Gricean accounts of these figures of speech are actually confirmed by the studies in question. However, my primary aim is not so much to defend Gricean accounts of irony and metaphor as it is to motivate two related points: one substantive and one methodological. The substantive point concerns something Grice suggests in his brief remarks on irony: that the interpretation of an ironical (vs. metaphorical) utterance requires two distinct applications of second-order theory of mind (ToM). I argue that such a view has considerable explanatory power. It can explain an intuitive contrast between irony and metaphor, some interesting data on the ToM abilities of patients with schizophrenia, and some intuitive similarities between irony on the one hand and hyperbole and meiosis on the other. The methodological point concerns the relationship between the empirical psychologist’s (or experimental philosopher’s) experimental studies and the armchair philosopher’s thought-experiments. I suggest that the credibility of an experimentally supported claim is enhanced when it captures the reflective judgments captured in the armchair philosopher’s thought-experiments.

Affiliations: 1: University of Arizona at Tucson, USA


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