Testimony, pragmatics, and plausible deniability

Episteme 12 (1):29-51 (2015)
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I outline what I call the ‘deniability problem’, explain why it is problematic, and identify the range of utterances to which it applies (using religious discourse as an example). The problem is as follows: To assign content to many utterances audiences must rely on their contextual knowledge. This generates a lot of scope for error. Thus, speakers are able to make assertions and deny responsibility for the proposition asserted, claiming that the audience made a mistake. I outline the problem (a limited version of which Fricker 2012 discusses), before explaining why it is problematic. Firstly it blocks testimonial knowledge according to assurance views. Secondly it prevents epistemic buck passing (the importance of which is emphasized by Goldberg 2006 and McMyler 2013). Finally, it removes a key disincentive to dishonesty. The recent literature on context sensitivity (particularly Cappelen and Lepore 2004) seems to entail that the problem applies to a very wide range of utterances. I consider a series of responses which fail to provide a solution, but which help us narrow down the scope of the problem.

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Andrew Peet
Umeå University


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