A Commitment-Theoretic Account of Moore's Paradox

In An Atlas of Meaning: Current Research in the Semantics/Pragmatics Interface) (forthcoming)
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Moore’s paradox, the infamous felt bizarreness of sincerely uttering something of the form “I believe grass is green, but it ain’t”—has attracted a lot of attention since its original discovery (Moore 1942). It is often taken to be a paradox of belief—in the sense that the locus of the inconsistency is the beliefs of someone who so sincerely utters. This claim has been labeled as the priority thesis: If you have an explanation of why a putative content could not be coherently believed, you thereby have an explanation of why it cannot be coherently asserted. (Shoemaker 1995). The priority thesis, however, is insufficient to give a general explanation of Moore-paradoxical phenomena and, moreover, it’s false. I demonstrate this, then show how to give a commitment-theoretic account of Moore Paradoxicality, drawing on work by Bach and Harnish. The resulting account has the virtue of explaining not only cases of pragmatic incoherence involving assertions, but also cases of cognate incoherence arising for other speech acts, such as promising, guaranteeing, ordering, and the like.

Author's Profile

Jack Woods
University of Canterbury


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