Monday, April 10, 2017

Harmony between assertion and mind

Suppose that Gunther thinks that he believes that killing is always wrong, but in fact he believes killing is sometimes permissible. Now, Gunther asserts: “Killing is always wrong.” Is he lying?

On accounts on which to lie is to assert something that one does not believe—or maybe that one disbelieves—to be the case, Gunther has to be lying. But that seems mistaken. Lying is always a form of insincerity. But it seems that a sufficient condition for sincerity in speech is that one be trying one’s best to speak in accord with what one believes. And Gunther could well be doing that.

So maybe lying is asserting contrary to what one thinks one believes? But that seems mistaken. Someone who asserts what she knows is not lying. Suppose Agnieszka knows that caring for her friends is morally important. But her psychiatrist is incompetent and convinces her that she believes that caring for her friends is not morally important. The incompetent psychiatrist’s claims only affects Agnieszka’s second-order beliefs. So, now, Agnieszka asserts: “Caring for my friends is morally important. I wish I could get myself to believe that!” Agnieszka asserts what she knows. Hence, she isn’t lying.

Should we maybe say: To lie is to assert contrary to both what one thinks one believes and what one actually believes? But that seems really gerrymandered. And it also seems that if Agnieszka said: “Caring for my friends is not morally important”, she would be lying.

Maybe what we should do is just say that lying involves a lack of the right kind of harmony between assertion and one’s mind, and leave it as a separate task to figure out what the right kind of harmony should be? (The word “harmony” is one I’m getting from Tollefsen’s book on lying.)


Sam Harper said...

It seems to me that in Gunther's case, when he says, "Killing is always wrong," he's not thinking at that moment of exceptions. If he were thinking of the exceptions at that moment, he would either qualify his statement to account for them or not utter the statement at all. So in his case, we can still say that lying is saying something that you're consciously aware of at the moment of saying it that it is not true. He can know there are exceptions but not be consciously aware of them at the moment of making his statement because he's not thinking of them at that moment or maybe doesn't remember them right then.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think Gunther might be thinking that he thinks there are no exceptions at all.