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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-P068-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2017
Retrieved April 29, 2017, from

Article Summary

In the past two to three decades, most of the philosophical attention that has been paid to the speech act of assertion aims to characterize the nature of the act.

A first question that is pursued concerns where the speech act of assertion fits within the domain of assertives (the category speech acts in which a proposition is presented-as-true). Simply put, assertions are those assertive speech acts in which the speaker advances a claim. But what is it to perform this sort of speech act? What is the nature of the act? Philosophers have proposed six main answers. These include the attitude view (which characterizes the nature of the act in terms of its role in expressing belief), the grammatical view (on which assertion is picked out by the vehicles used to make acts of this kind, namely, declarative sentences), the common ground view (where assertion is understood in terms of its essential effect on a conversation’s common ground), the commitment view (where assertion is characterized in terms of the kind of commitment that is engendered or reconfirmed by the performance of acts of this type), the constitutive rule view (according to which assertions are individuated by the distinctive rule that governs acts of this type) and the no-assertion view (which holds that there is no unique, interesting speech act type picked out by ‘assertion’).

Of these six views, the one that has received the most attention (both critical and supportive) is the constitutive rule view. Such a view has been developed (and criticized) at great length. A leading version of the constitutive rule view is the view that the rule in question requires that one assert only what one knows. The main considerations offered in defense of this version of the view include its role in explaining various features of our assertoric practice, including the paradoxicality of assertions of sentences of the form ‘p, but I do not know that p’, its role in explaining why propositions expressed with, for example, ‘My lottery ticket lost’ are not properly assertable on merely probabilistic grounds (even when the odds of one’s winning are arbitrarily small) and its role in explaining why ‘How do you know?’ is a proper response to an assertion (even when the assertion’s explicit content has nothing to do with the speaker’s knowledge). However, many authors have responded to these arguments for the knowledge rule, finding them unconvincing.

Interestingly, a great amount of attention has also been devoted to forging connections between the speech act of assertion and a variety of other topics of philosophical interest. These include topics in philosophy of language (pragmatics, semantics), epistemology (the epistemology of testimony, the epistemology of disagreement, the nature of epistemic authority, the division of epistemic labor), metaphysics (the nature of future contingents, modality), ethics (the ethics of assertion; what we owe to each other as information-sharing creatures) and social and political philosophy (various forms of epistemic injustice, silencing).

Citing this article:
Yang, Guiming and Sanford C. Goldberg. Assertion, 2017, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-P068-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2017 Routledge.

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