Wednesday, August 31, 2011

When will we learn that there is more to propriety than truth?

The truth account of assertion states that an assertion is proper iff it is true (Weiner 2005). Did you know that Pelling (here) produced a clever counterexample to the truth account? No? I thought not.

CP asserted:
1. This assertion is improper.

If CP’s assertion is true, we have a counterexample to the truth account. If CP’s assertion is false, we have a counterexample to the truth account. It is very tempting to say that we have a counterexample, one way or the other.

Certainly some assertion must be proper. If proper assertion is not simply true assertion, perhaps we should say that an assertion is proper iff it the speaker knows that it is true (Williamson 2000). If I were to credit CP for his counterexample to the truth account I would assert:
2. I can properly say that that was a proper counterexample.

If (2) is correct, the knowledge account says that I know (2). If I know (2), CP’s assertion gave us our counterexample to the truth account. If CP's assertion gave us our counterexample to the truth account, then either:
3. CP’s assertion was false and proper.

4. CP’s assertion was true but improper.

If (3) is correct, we have a counterexample to the knowledge account. (The knowledge account states that no false assertions are proper.) If (4) is correct, CP might have hit upon a counterexample, but he could not properly assert that he did. (He would have to know (1) and know that (1) is improper to assert.) If he could not properly assert that he had produced a counterexample to the truth account, the knowledge account says that he did not know that he had a counterexample to the truth account. I would credit him for his counterexample if I could know (2), but I cannot. Nobody can. Even if we cannot know (2), might we know that (1) is a proper counterexample to the truth account? You could know (1) was a proper counterexample if you knew (3) or (4). You can know neither (3) nor (4). (Why? Because you cannot know 'This assertion is proper' is false & proper and cannot know 'This assertion is proper' is true & improper.) So, nobody knows that CP produced a clever counterexample to the truth account. If, however, anyone of us can properly credit him for his counterexample by properly asserting (2), he should be credited for discovering the counterexample to the knowledge account.

If knowledge is required for proper assertion, maybe we should not say that CP produced a counterexample to the truth account, but certainly, you might think to yourself, it is proper to believe that he has. If you disagree and think he has not produced the goods, reread the first paragraph. If you think you know that he has produced the goods, reread the second. Adler (2002: 25) says that we cannot believe what we recognize we do not know. This explains why we cannot believe that the number of stars is even or that God understands my atheism. I used to think that was right, but now I disagree. I believe (1) is a counterexample to the truth account. Suppose we are capable of believing what we take ourselves not to know. Huemer (2007: 149) says that we cannot justifiably believe what we take ourselves not to know because we are committed upon reflection to endorsing our beliefs as beliefs that constitute knowledge. I used to think that was right, but now I disagree. I am justified in believing (1) is a counterexample to the truth account.

UPDATE:
Perils of late night blogging! First, "proper" in (1) should've been "improper". Second, there's nothing much new under the sun. See Weatherson's posts (which I must have read and didn't remember):

http://tar.weatherson.org/2010/02/01/paradoxes-and-assertions/

http://tar.weatherson.org/2009/11/19/your-favourite-theory-of-knowledge-is-wrong/)

Alright, thanks to Brian Weatherson and Gabriele Contessa for catching my slip. I'm going to crawl back under the rock I've been hiding under for a while and keep my errors a bit closer to my chest.

5 comments:

Brian Weatherson said...

Is there a 'not' missing in 1. It seems like not a counterexample as it stands.

Having said that, the argument is similar to an argument I made a while ago, isn't it?

http://tar.weatherson.org/2010/02/01/paradoxes-and-assertions/

http://tar.weatherson.org/2009/11/19/your-favourite-theory-of-knowledge-is-wrong/

And those argument picked up on stuff of Tim Maudlin's that is even older.

Clayton said...

Hi Brian,

On the typo, it's been fixed. Thanks for pointing that out.

On the other point, I had forgotten about those posts. I've just added a link. Sorry about that. Took a break from work last night and thought I had a clever point. Seems I'm a few years too late on that one.

André Coelho said...

Clayton, hello. I'm sorry to write in the comments of your post about a subject completely off topic, but I could not find any email address to write to you more properly. I have a blog about Legal Philosophy, it is regularly written in Portuguese, but, since I wrote my last post in English, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to invite you to read one of my posts. You don't need to publish this comment if you don't want to, because propaganda for my blog is not what I want, I juat really want to have your reading (and maybe a comment of yours), because I really respect your blog and your posts and I think you are a skilled and judicious thinker. The link for the post I'm talking about is this: http://aquitemfilosofiasim.blogspot.com/2011/09/legal-process-discourse-institution-and.html

I'd be honored with your reading. Congrats for this great blog you have.

André Coelho said...

Clayton, hello. I'm sorry to write in the comments of your post about a subject completely off topic, but I could not find any email address to write to you more properly. I have a blog about Legal Philosophy, it is regularly written in Portuguese, but, since I wrote my last post in English, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to invite you to read one of my posts. You don't need to publish this comment if you don't want to, because propaganda for my blog is not what I want, I juat really want to have your reading (and maybe a comment of yours), because I really respect your blog and your posts and I think you are a skilled and judicious thinker. The link for the post I'm talking about is this: http://aquitemfilosofiasim.blogspot.com/2011/09/legal-process-discourse-institution-and.html

I'd be honored with your reading. Congrats for this great blog you have.

Tristan Haze said...

Your post was not in vain; please reconsider that rock! As you predicted at the start, I the reader hadn't heard of Pelling's clever idea, and am grateful to you for bringing it to my attention.