About this topic

Assertion is a kind of speech act which plays a central role in both philosophy of language and epistemology. The main philosophical issues concerning assertion include: How to characterize which utterances of (declarative) sentences count as assertions? What, if any, are the norms governing assertion?  What effects do assertions have on the dynamics of conversation? What is the connection between assertion and the semantic content, meaning, or truth of sentences? What is the connection between what one asserts and what one believes or knows? How can we separate between what is asserted by an utterance and what is conveyed by it in more indirect means – such as presupposition or implicature? Are utterances of conditional sentences a kind of assertion, or a different type of speech act (a conditional assertion)?

These questions help to see why assertion plays such a central role in philosophy: for example, assertion plays a central role in the philosophy of language for anyone who thinks that there is a close connection between what is asserted by an utterance and what its semantic content or meaning is, and plays a central role in epistemology for anyone who thinks that assertions are governed by a norm involving knowledge or belief (e.g. assert only what you know or only what you believe). 

Key works

The classic text on speech acts in general is Austin 1962. For a central discussion on the norms of assertion, and a defence of the knowledge norm of assertion see Williamson 2000. The classic text on the distinction between assertion and presupposition is Strawson 1950, and between assertion and implicature Grice 1967Stalnaker 1978 is the key work on the effects that assertion has on the dynamics of conversation, and how assertion, context, and semantic content interact with each other. For a defence of the claim that utterances of conditionals are not assertions, but rather involve a special kind of speech act see Edgington 1995.

Introductions For general introductions see Pagin 2015 and also the introduction in Brown & Cappelen 2011. For an introduction on the issue of norms of assertion in particular see Weiner 2007.
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  1. No Context, No Content, No Problem.Ethan Nowak - forthcoming - Mind and Language.
    Recently, philosophers have offered compelling reasons to think that demonstratives are best represented as variables, sensitive not to the context of utterance, but to a variable assignment. Variablists typically explain familiar intuitions about demonstratives—intuitions that suggest that what is said by way of a demonstrative sentence varies systematically over contexts—by claiming that contexts initialize a particular assignment of values to variables. I argue that we do not need to link context and the assignment parameter in this way, and that we (...)
  2. Three Epistemic Paralogisms, One Logic of Utterances.Fabien Schang - 2010 - In P.-E. Bour & M. Rebuschi & L. Rollet (ed.), Construction. Festschrift for Gerhard Heinzmann. pp. 407-416.
    Assuming that a paralogism is an unintentionally invalid reasoning, we give an exampli.
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  3. Philosophie des modalités épistémiques (la logique assertorique revisitée).Fabien Schang - 2007 - Dissertation, Nancy Université
    The relevance of any logical analysis lies in its ability to solve paradoxes and trace conceptual troubles back; with this respect, the task of epistemic logic is to handle paradoxes in connection with the concept of knowledge. Epistemic logic is currently introduced as the logical analysis of crucial concepts within epistemology, namely: knowledge, belief, truth, and justification. An alternative approach will be advanced here in order to enlighten such a discourse, as centred upon the word assertion and displayed in terms (...)
  4. Règles de logique, Règles de discours. La pragmatique de la connaissance selon Hintikka.Fabien Schang - 2018 - Klesis 39:92-124.
    L’article qui suit a pour but de présenter un des aspects centraux de la contribution philosophique de Jaakko Hintikka : l’épistémologie formelle. Le thème choisi, le Paradoxe de Moore, permettra d’illustrer le mot d’ordre de la philosophie formelle, celui d’utiliser des outils logiques en vue de la clarification de problèmes philosophiques. Il s’agit également de mettre en évidence la nature pragmatique du discours épistémique, qui transparaît dans les résultats sémantiques de Hintikka et parle en faveur de la logique illocutoire.
  5. Uniformity Motivated.Cameron Domenico Kirk-Giannini - 2018 - Linguistics and Philosophy 41 (6):665-684.
    Can rational communication proceed when interlocutors are uncertain which contents utterances contribute to discourse? An influential negative answer to this question is embodied in the Stalnakerian principle of uniformity, which requires speakers to produce only utterances that express the same content in every possibility treated as live for the purposes of the conversation. The principle of uniformity enjoys considerable intuitive plausibility and, moreover, seems to follow from platitudes about assertion; nevertheless, it has recently proven controversial. In what follows, I defend (...)
  6. Lying and Insincerity.Andreas Stokke - 2018 - Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
    Andreas Stokke presents a comprehensive study of lying and insincere language use. He investigates how lying relates to other forms of insincerity and explores the kinds of attitudes that go with insincere uses of language. -/- Part I develops an account of insincerity as a linguistic phenomenon. Stokke provides a detailed theory of the distinction between lying and speaking insincerely, and accounts for the relationship between lying and deceiving. A novel framework of assertion underpins the analysis of various kinds of (...)
  7. Force, Content and the Varieties of Unity.Michael Schmitz - manuscript
    A strict dichotomy between the force / mode of speech acts and intentional states and their propositional content has been a central feature of analytical philosophy of language and mind since the time of Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell. Recently this dichotomy has been questioned by philosophers such as Peter Hanks (2015, 2016) and Francois Recanati (2016), who argue that we can't account for propositional unity independently of the forceful acts of speakers and propose new ways of responding to the (...)
  8. LITERATURESSAY: Die Vielfalt der Lebensformen und die Einheit der Vernunft.Boris Rähme & Micha H. Werner - 1997 - Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie 45 (3):439-454.
  9. On the Connection Between Semantic Content and the Objects of Assertion.Una Stojnić - 2017 - Philosophical Topics 45 (2):163-179.
    The Rigidity Thesis states that no rigid term can have the same semantic content as a nonrigid one. Drawing on Dummett, Evans, and Lewis, Stanley rejects the thesis since it relies on an illicit identification of compositional semantic content and the content of assertion. I argue that Stanley’s critique of the Rigidity Thesis fails since it places constraints on assertoric content that cannot be satisfied by any plausible notion of content appropriately related to compositional semantic content. For similar reasons, I (...)
  10. Peirce's Account of Assertion.Jaime Alfaro Iglesias - 2016 - Dissertation, University of São Paulo
    One usually makes assertions by means of uttering indicative sentences like “It is raining”. However, not every utterance of an indicative sentence is an assertion. For example, in uttering “I will be back tomorrow”, one might be making a promise. What is to make an assertion? C.S. Peirce held the view that “to assert a proposition is to make oneself responsible for its truth” (CP 5.543). In this thesis, I interpret Peirce’s view of assertion and I evaluate Peirce’s reasons for (...)
  11. No Need for an Intention to Deceive? Challenging the Traditional Definition of Lying.Ronja Rutschmann & Alex Wiegmann - 2017 - Philosophical Psychology 30 (4):438-457.
    According to the traditional definition of lying, somebody lies if he or she makes a believed-false statement with the intention to deceive. The traditional definition has recently been challenged by non-deceptionists who use bald-faced lies to underpin their view that the intention to deceive is no necessary condition for lying. We conducted two experiments to test whether their assertions are true. First, we presented one of five scenarios that consisted of three different kinds of lies. Then we asked participants to (...)
  12. Rascals, Triflers, and Pragmatists: Developing a Peircean Account of Assertion.Kenneth Boyd & Diana Heney - 2017 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 25 (2):1-22.
    While the topic of assertion has recently received a fresh wave of interest from Peirce scholars, to this point no systematic account of Peirce’s view of assertion has been attempted. We think that this is a lacuna that ought to be filled. Doing so will help make better sense of Peirce’s pragmatism; further, what is hidden amongst various fragments is a robust pragmatist theory of assertion with unique characteristics that may have significant contemporary value. Here we aim to uncover this (...)
  13. Set Size, Assertion Form, Thematic Content and Sampling in the Selection Task.Raymond S. Nickerson, Susan F. Butler & Daniel H. Barch - 2017 - Thinking and Reasoning 23 (2):134-157.
    Participants attempted to solve a modified version of Wason's selection task. Variables were: sizes of the sets referenced by a specified assertion, form of the assertion, thematic content of the assertion, and the need for sampling or not. In Experiment 1, participants were given enough information to determine the truth or falsity of the specified assertion with certainty; in Experiment 2, they had to rely on sampling and could not determine the assertion's truth or falsity with certainty. Performance was better (...)
  14. Proposing, Pretending, and Propriety: A Response to Don Fallis.Andreas Stokke - 2017 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 95 (1):178-183.
    This note responds to criticism put forth by Don Fallis of an account of lying in terms of the Stalnakerian view of assertion. According to this account, to lie is to say something one believes to be false and thereby propose that it become common ground. Fallis objects by presenting an example to show that one can lie even though one does not propose to make what one says common ground. It is argued here that this objection does not present (...)
  15. Assertion and False-Belief Attribution.Mark Jary - 2010 - Radical Philosophy Review of Books 18 (1):17-39.
    The ability to attribute false-beliefs to others — the hallmark of a representational theory of mind — has been shown to be reliant on linguistic ability, specifically on competence in sentential complementation after verbs of communication and cognition such as `say that' and `think that'. The reason commonly put forward for this is that these structures provide a representational format which enables the child to think about another's thoughts. The paper offers an alternative explanation. Drawing on the work of the (...)
  16. More Notes on Assertion.Austin Duncan-Jones - 1940 - Analysis 7 (1):51-56.
  17. Geach and Frege's Assertion Sign.N. G. E. Harris - 1967 - Analysis 27 (6):186.
  18. Epistemic Merit, Autonomy, and Testimony.Jesús Vega Encabo - 2008 - Theoria: Revista de Teoría, Historia y Fundamentos de la Ciencia 23 (1):45-56.
    In this paper, it is argued that both the informer and the hearer in a testimonial situation deserve epistemic merit insofar as they contribute to the collaborative achievement of sharing knowledge. The paper introduces a distinction between the ideals of self-sufficiency and epistemic autonomy. The autonomous exerciseof our epistemic agency is very often carried out under strong conditions of epistemic dependence. Testimony exhibits a kind of social dependence that does not threaten the autonomy of the subjects that need to consider (...)
  19. Davidson on Assertion, Convention and Belief.Eva Picardi - 1989 - Grazer Philosophische Studien 36 (1):97-107.
    The attitude of believing or "holding true" fulfils a twofold role in Davidson's theory of meaning: it provides the basic evidence for a theory of radical interpretation and it also constitutes the key notion in terms of which the linguistic act of assertion is to be characterized. It is however doubtful whether the notion of "holding true" can fulfil either of these two roles without presupposing an implicit grasp of the public significance of the practice of making assertions. The lack (...)
  20. Belief and Assertion.Maxwell Corbin - 2014 - Binghamton Journal of Philosophy 2 (1):25-36.
  21. Knowledge, Justification and the Norms of Assertion.Stuart Milne - unknown
  22. Asserting.Robert Brandom - 1980 - Journal of Philosophy 77 (11):766-767.
  23. Les Assertions Bergsoniennes.G. B. & Michel Fenart - 1936 - Journal of Philosophy 33 (20):556.
  24. IX—Assertion and Analogy.Thomas McPherson - 1959 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 60 (1):155-170.
  25. Perceptual Dehumanization of Faces is Activated by Norm Violations and Facilitates Norm Enforcement.Katrina M. Fincher & Philip E. Tetlock - 2016 - Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 145 (2):131-146.
  26. Affirmation and Absurdity.Bernard Reginster - 2016 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 92 (3):785-791.
  27. “Assertion” and Intentionality.Jason Stanley - 2010 - Philosophical Studies 151 (1):87-113.
    Robert Stalnaker argues that his causal-pragmatic account of the problem of intentionality commits him to a coarse-grained conception of the contents of mental states, where propositions are represented as sets of possible worlds. Stalnaker also accepts the "direct reference" theory of names, according to which co-referring names have the same content. Stalnaker's view of content is thus threatened by Frege's Puzzle. Stalnaker's classic paper "Assertion" is intended to provide a response to this threat. In this paper, I evaluate Stalnaker's claim (...)
  28. Truth, Sense and Assertion.G. E. M. Anscombe - 2016 - Philosophy 91 (1):3-14.
  29. Assertion and Conditionals.Anthony Appiah - 2008 - Cambridge University Press.
    This book develops in detail the simple idea that assertion is the expression of belief. In it the author puts forward a version of 'probabilistic semantics' which acknowledges that we are not perfectly rational, and which offers a significant advance in generality on theories of meaning couched in terms of truth conditions. It promises to challenge a number of entrenched and widespread views about the relations of language and mind. Part I presents a functionalist account of belief, worked through a (...)
  30. Rational Responsibility and the Assertoric Character of Bald-Faced Lies.Patrick R. Leland - 2015 - Analysis 75 (4):550-554.
    According to a traditional view, one lies if and only if one asserts what one believes is false and with the intent to deceive one’s audience. Recently, many theorists have challenged the requirement of intent to deceive. The principal reason offered appeals to so-called bald-faced lies wherein one asserts what one believes is false without intent to deceive. I argue that, assuming a reasonable model of assertion, two of the most prominent examples of bald-faced lies fail to be genuinely assertoric. (...)
  31. Moorean Absurdities and Higher Order Beliefs.John N. Williams - unknown
  32. Attention to the Speaker. The Conscious Assessment of Utterance Interpretations in Working Memory.Marco Mazzone - 2013 - Language and Communication 33:106-114.
    The role of conscious attention in language processing has been scarcely considered, despite the wide-spread assumption that verbal utterances manage to attract and manipulate the addressee’s attention. Here I claim that this assumption is to be understood not as a figure of speech but instead in terms of attentional processes proper. This hypothesis can explain a fact that has been noticed by supporters of Relevance Theory in pragmatics: the special role played by speaker-related information in utterance interpretation. I argue that (...)
  33. Essay Eight. Understanding Assertion.Scott Soames - 2009 - In Philosophical Essays, Volume 2: The Philosophical Significance of Language. Princeton University Press. pp. 211-242.
  34. The Gap Between Meaning and Assertion: Why What We Literally Say Often Differs From What Our Words Literally Mean.Scott Soames - 2008 - In Philosophical Essays, Volume 1: Natural Language: What It Means and How We Use It. Princeton University Press. pp. 278-297.
  35. 4. Truth, Assertion, and Belief.Bernard Williams - 2010 - In Truth and Truthfulness: An Essay in Genealogy. Princeton University Press. pp. 63-83.
  36. Assertion Versus Argument. A Few Letters to an Anti-Vivisectionist.Samuel Wilks - 1882
  37. Saying and believing.F. Robert Bohl - 1978 - Logique Et Analyse 21 (82):293.
  38. Practical Implication: Some Problems in the Logic of Assertion.Sue Howard Larson - 1962 - Dissertation, Stanford University
  39. Assertion-Statements.L. J. Cohen & Alonso Church - 1954 - Analysis 15:66.
  40. HARPE, J. De La.-La Logique de l'Assertion Pure. [REVIEW]O. P. Wood - 1951 - Mind 60:291.
  41. Sentential Assertion.William Ernest Oberst - 1976 - Dissertation, The Claremont Graduate University
  42. Crombie's Defense of the Assertion-Status of Religious Claims.William T. Blackstone - 1963 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 44 (2):220.
  43. The Things People Say.Jonathan Sutton - 2002 - ProtoSociology 17:46-58.
    It appears that the objects of belief and the objects of assertion are, often, one and the same. The objects of assertion must be communicable – if an assertion leads to successful communication, the audience grasps what the speaker said. There are good reasons for thinking that beliefs are relations to very fine-grained contents, however, which appear to be unsuitable for reliable transmission from speaker to audience. I consider two accounts of the apparent intersection of the objects of belief and (...)
  44. Reason, Attitude, and Knowledge as Predictors of Assertion Agreement.Jf Voss, R. Finchelkiefer & L. Ney - 1987 - Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society 25 (5):325-325.
  45. Norm-Proposition: Epistemic and Semantic Queries.Tecla Mazzarese - 1991 - Rechtstheorie 22:39-70.
  46. Truth and Assertion.Malgorzata Czarnocka - 1996 - Dialogue and Universalism 6 (1-6):125.
  47. A Hamblin Semantics for Evidentials.Sarah E. Murray - 2011 - In Ed Cormany, Satoshi Ito & David Lutz (eds.), Proceedings From Semantics and Linguistic Theory (SALT) XIX (2009). CLC Publications. pp. 324--341.
    In this paper, I propose that the distinction between what is at-issue and what is not can be modeled as a distinction between two components of assertion. These two components affect the common ground in different ways. The at-issue component of an assertion, which is negotiable, is treated as a proposal to update the common ground. The not-at-issue component of an assertion, which is not negotiable, is added directly to the common ground. Evidence for this proposal comes from evidentials, which (...)
  48. Evidentiality and the Structure of Speech Acts.Sarah E. Murray - 2010 - Dissertation, Rutgers University
    Many languages grammatically mark evidentiality, i.e., the source of information. In assertions, evidentials indicate the source of information of the speaker while in questions they indicate the expected source of information of the addressee. This dissertation examines the semantics and pragmatics of evidentiality and illocutionary mood, set within formal theories of meaning and discourse. The empirical focus is the evidential system of Cheyenne (Algonquian: Montana), which is analyzed based on several years of fieldwork by the author.
  49. Review of Mark Jary: Assertion. [REVIEW]Peter Pagin - forthcoming - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.
  50. Concerning the Impetus of Science in Production-Criticism of the Assertion by the Gang-of-4 That Theory is Useless.Ch Chi - 1978 - Chinese Studies in Philosophy 10 (1):81-92.
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