Wednesday, April 21, 2010

More on lying

Suppose I insert into one of my papers a paragraph stolen from a paper by Quine, and I do so without reading the Quine paragraph. I then publish the paper. I have asserted everything in the paper, including the plagiarized paragraph. Suppose that the Quine paragraph contains a sentence that I know to be false—but I don't know that the paragraph contains such a sentence. Have I lied in that sentence? No, even though I have asserted something I know to be false. For imagine another possible world where the Quine paragraph contains only sentences that I know to be true. In that other world, my action (say, of pressing ctrl-c and ctrl-v) might well be exactly the same internally, and surely the difference between lying and not lying should be internal. After all, lying is a violation of sincerity.

If the above is correct, then to assert what one knows to be false is not the same as to lie, because one might not know what one is asserting.


Alexander R Pruss said...

p.s. The inspiration for this post is three plagiarism cases that I've had this semester. But they weren't plagiarizing from Quine.

Marc said...

Dr. Pruss:

Just a minor comment.

It seems to me that an important element of making assertions is that they be intentionally asserted. If you inserted the Quine paragraph without reading it and then proceeded to publish the paper, it seems counterintuitive to say that you asserted everything in the paper. The Quine paragraph didn't receive the explicit consent which the other portions of your paper received.

Suppose I willingly take a drug the consumption of which causes me to utter the proposition Alexander Pruss is from Neptune, and you record this event on video. I made this drug, so I'm aware of its effects. If, after the drug's effects have subsided, you show me the video, I wouldn't want to say that I asserted the proposition since I didn't do so intentionally.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Well, I intentionally inserted the paragraph. It just didn't get explicit consent.

By the way, we normally say that people who are drunk do make assertions.

GavinBrown said...


I agree with your conclusion that asserting something you know to be false is not the same as a lie.

But this does not remove moral responsibility (on the view that one is morally responsible for a lie and other generally immoral actions).

First, you plagiarized. And second, it seems this would be a case of culpable ignorance. You would seem to still be morally responsible for these actions.

(I realize you didn't say anything in the post with respect to moral responsibility)

Heath White said...

It seems the concept under inspection, here, is that of assertion. I can intentionally insert a paragraph, and intentionally publish the paper, but it's dubious whether I assert what's in the paragraph. In any case, I don't know what I've done/asserted, which would ordinarily be grounds for saying I didn't do it intentionally. If we say that this is non-intentional assertion, and that lies must be intentional assertions, does that help?

Andrew said...

Do you intentionally assert the paragraph? You could ask, "Why did you assert that false sentence?" and the plagiarizer could respond, "Oh, I didn't know I asserted THAT." So, I am skeptical as to whether the false sentence was really intentionally asserted.

Even if it was asserted intentionally, can't you intentionally assert something without intending to assert it. (At least I believe this is true for actions...why not assertions). You can intentionally kill people without intending to kill people (say in a tactical bomb raid). At least this is something many philosophers of action hold (i think).

If so, lies could be asserting something you intend to assert which you know to be false. or, something like that.

JP said...

This is just Frege's puzzle in a different context, yes? In which case we can narrowly individuate 'what you asserted' in such a way as to prevent a problem.