Bipartite Assertion: A New Account of Assertion, Defined in Terms of Responsibility and Explicit Presentation

Matthew J. Cull
University of Sheffield
Assertion is a speech act that stands at the intersection of the philosophy of language and social epistemology. It is a phenomenon that bears on such wide-ranging topics as testimony, truth, meaning, knowledge and trust. It is thus no surprise that analytic philosophers have devoted innumerable pages to assertion, trying to give the norms that govern it, its role in the transmission of knowledge, and most importantly, what assertion is, or how assertion is to be defined. In this thesis I attempt to show that all previous answers to the question “What is assertion?” are flawed. There are four major traditions in the literature: constitutive norm theories of assertion, accounts that treat assertion as the expression of speaker attitudes, accounts that treat assertion as a proposal to add some proposition to the common ground, and accounts that treat assertion as the taking of responsibility for some claim. Each tradition is explored here, the leading theories within the tradition developed, and then placed under scrutiny to demonstrate flaws within the positions surveyed. I follow the work of G.E. Moore and William P. Alston, whilst drawing on the work of Robert Brandom in order to give a new bipartite theory of assertion. I argue that assertion consists in the explicit presentation of a proposition, along with a taking of responsibility for that proposition. Taking Alston's explicit presentation condition and repairing it in order to deal with problems it faces, whilst combining it with Brandom's responsibility condition, provides, I believe, the best account of assertion.
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