The scientific reductionism of relevance theory: The lesson from logical positivism

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10 Citations (Scopus)


In the postface to the second edition of their book Relevance: Communication and cognition, Sperber and Wilson describe the intellectual impact which has followed from the first edition of their text: "The book has been translated into several languages, its implications for pragmatic theory have been explored in a growing number of books and articles; it has inspired work in neighbouring disciplines, including linguistics, literary studies, psychology and philosophy." (Sperber and Wilson, 1995: 255) The appeal of relevance theory within certain academic circles is beyond doubt. Its acceptance within pragmatics and related subjects is to be expected given the scientism which pervades cognitive disciplines. The scientism of these disciplines, scientific reductionism, has in recent years come under increasing attack in the form of the philosophical arguments of Hilary Putnam. Putnam's (1981) critique of the logical positivist account of rationality is particularly pertinent to this discussion. In this paper I demonstrate the exact nature of the reductionism within Sperber and Wilson's account of relevance. To this end, I examine their description of (1) the logical or analytic entries of concepts, (2) the deductive device, and (3) the functional concept of confirmation. In each case I will indicate how a reductionist analysis brings about the destruction of the very notions which demand explanation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1998
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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