Thursday, June 5, 2008

Belief and assertion

I've been rereading Kvanvig's paper on assertion and I'm sort of curious about how a view he discusses might be developed. (This is a quicky, btw, I'm on my way to dinner.) Suppose you say that the only rule that governs assertion is the sincerity rule: say only what you think.

I think that this sort of rule is ruled out by Lackey's examples of selfless assertion. Or, if you think the rule is a good one, it shows there's something wrong with some of her examples. Let that pass. Kvanvig notes that this view will seem too weak (correct), but suggests that:
we might say that belief is the fundamental norm of assertion, and that among the norms for belief are the other things that lead one to think that the sincerity requirement alone is too weak. So, for example, if one thinks that good reasons are required for assertion, that would be because it is a norm of belief that you shouldn't believe things without good reasons. Assertion thereby inherits this derivative norm because of the sincerity requirement


The proposal is interesting. Kvanvig doesn't endorse it or the view of assertion it's supposed to help. It struck me this afternoon that it might be really difficult to strengthen the belief account of assertion in the way he does. Here's why. Compare assertion to second-order belief. Consider:
we might say that belief is the fundamental norm of second-order belief, and that among the norms for belief are the things that lead one to think that the sincerity requirement alone is too weak as an account of assertion. So, for example, if you think that good reasons are required for assertion, that would be because it is a norm of belief that you shouldn't believe things without good reasons. Like assertion, second-order belief thereby inherits this derivative norm because of the accuracy requirement on second-order belief

But that's not right. Just because you oughtn't believe p without good reasons and oughtn't believe that you believe p unless you have that first-order belief, it doesn't follow that you oughtn't have the second-order belief unless there are good reasons for the first-order belief. The fact that the first-order belief is groundless is no reason to question the epistemic merits of the second-order belief. So, if someone were to say that you oughtn't assert p unless you believed p and oughtn't believe p without good reasons for doing so, I don't see why it follows from this alone that you oughtn't assert without good reason. What else do we need, then, to show that on the belief account of assertion there are derivative requirements governing assertion because of the relation between assertion and belief? I've had a few ideas, but they're bad.

1 comment:

Mike Almeida said...

Suppose someone asks, 'do you believe you are now talking'?, and I shake my head, no. Though I do not believe I am now talking and have no evidence that I am now talking, it is perfectly fine for me to assert that I am now talking. I asserted something I didn't believe. That does not mean that I don't think I should have good reasons for what I believe. I think I can assert things that I don't, but will, believe.

On the other hand, I have excellent reason to believe that I am not now making an assertion. Suppose that believe meets all of the other norms. Still, I obviously cannot assert that.