Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sincerity, Assertion, and a Case for Common Standards

Another quick post, this time on assertion.  I've been trying to finish off an introductory piece on the norms of assertion and I'm not quite sure what to think about a certain argument.  

Some of us think that there are common epistemic standards that govern assertion and belief. If (<-- assertion="" be="" belief.="" belief="" d="" div="" expect="" following="" if="" is="" it="" knowledge="" nbsp="" norm="" of="" onsider="" or="" say="" that="" the="" then="" thesis.="" we="" would="">
Commonality: If one must not assert p because one lacks sufficient warrant to do so, one must not believe p
Commonality implies that if knowledge is the norm of assertion, it must be the norm of belief. Question. Why should we accept Commonality?

Kvanvig mentions an argument for Commonality in his paper on assertion and lotteries, but I don't think that he endorses the argument. If I recall, he mentions it, sets it aside, and offers an argument that strikes me as being entirely plausible. Forget _that_ argument, though, and consider the one that he sets aside. The argument appeals to a kind of sincerity norm:
Sincerity: One must not assert p unless one believes p.
The argument can be stated as follows:
P1. One must not assert p unless one believes p.  P2. One must not believe p if C obtains.C. One must not assert p if C obtains.
I think I have two worries about the argument.  The first is that I'm not sure the 'must' is the right kind of 'must'.  Commonality, I take it, is about a distinctively epistemic requirement. It's not clear to my mind whether Sincerity is about a distinctively epistemic requirement.  Actually, I wouldn't think that insincerity in assertion is an epistemic failing at all.  So, there's the worry about equivocation here.  Even if that's a worry that we can put to rest, isn't the argument invalid?  Compare it to this one, which I think must be invalid:
P1. One must not apologize for breaking the neighbor’s window unless one breaks the neighbor’s window.
P2. One must not break the neighbor’s window if the neighbor has not given one permission to break it.
C. One must not apologize for breaking the neighbor’s window if the neighbor has not given one permission to break it.

Am I right that these arguments are parallel? Am I right that the second argument is invalid? (It seems the premises are true and the conclusion is false. That's pretty good evidence of invalidity, isn't it?)


Lewis Powell said...

I think you are right about the parallel, and it looks like both arguments hinge on a doubtful principle of deontic transmission, that is bound to run into problems with any contrary-to-duty cases.

Clayton Littlejohn said...

Thanks, Lewis. That's what I suspected. Now the question is whether I can generate trouble without using contrary to duty cases. I don't know if this worry is genuine or not, but I fear arguments for invalidity that turn on intuitions about such cases.

Out of curiosity, did you do much deontic logic at USC?

Lewis Powell said...

I would say I dabbled in it. I sat in on a seminar of Mark Schroeder's on Deontic Logic, and a number of other graduate students were interested in it.

I think I heard that one of them has a forthcoming piece on contrary to duty reasoning, though, if you are interested.