Assertions, Handicaps, and Social Norms

Episteme 8:1-15 (2020)
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Abstract

How should we undertand the role of norms—especially epistemic norms—governing assertive speech acts? Mitchell Green (2009) has argued that these norms play the role of handicaps in the technical sense from the animal signals literature. As handicaps, they then play a large role in explaining the reliability—and so the stability (the continued prevalence)—of assertive speech acts. But though norms of assertion conceived of as social norms do indeed play this stabilizing role, these norms are best understood as deterrents and not as handicaps. This paper explains the stability problem for the maintenance of animal signals, and so human communication, for we are animals too, after all; the mechanics of the handicap principle; the role of deterrents and punishments as an alternative mechanism; and the role of social norms governing assertion for the case of human communication.

Author's Profile

Peter Graham
University of California, Riverside

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