Can the Knowledge Norm Co‐Opt the Opt Out?

Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 3 (4):273-282 (2014)
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The Knowledge Norm of Assertion claims that it is proper to assert that p only if one knows that p. Though supported by a wide range of evidence, it appears to generate incorrect verdicts when applied to utterances of “I don't know.” Instead of being an objection to KNA, I argue that this linguistic data shows that “I don't know” does not standardly function as a literal assertion about one's epistemic status; rather, it is an indirect speech act that has the primary illocutionary force of opting out of the speaker's conversational responsibilities. This explanation both reveals that the opt-out is an under-appreciated type of illocutionary act with a wide range of applications, and shows that the initial data in fact supports KNA over its rivals

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Kevin Dorst
Massachusetts Institute of Technology


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