Friday, October 25, 2019

The present king of Ruritania

Suppose I am a quack and I announce:

  1. These green pills cured the king of Ruritania of lung cancer.

I am lying, of course. The green pills never cured anyone of lung cancer.

But wait. To lie, I have to assert. To assert, there has to be a proposition that is being expressed. But (1) doesn’t express any proposition, because “Ruritania” is a non-referring name.

Maybe, then, (1) is not a lie, but something that is wrong for the same reason that a lie is wrong. For instance, on Jorge Garcia’s account, lying is wrong as it’s a betrayal of the trust solicited by the very same act. If so, then my pretend assertion of (1) might be wrong for exactly the same reason as a lie.

The point can also be made without relying on non-referring proper names. Suppose Jones has lied, cheated, stolen, plagiarized and defenestrated his friends, but reporting doesn’t make his character black enough for my purposes. So I say:

  1. Dr. Jones has lied, cheated, stolen, plagiarized, defenestrated his enemies, and garobulated his friends.

This doesn’t express a proposition. But it’s just as bad as a lie.


Philip Rand said...

Poor, poor, Pruss...

There are two types of people, those that can extrapolate

Heath White said...


The two cases seem technically different, although morally similar. If I say

These green pills cured the king of Ruritania

then if this sentence meant anything at all,it would entail that these green pills cured someone of lung cancer. I am soliciting your trust in *this* proposition, and betraying it.

If I say

Dr. Jones has ... garobulated his friends

you don't know what "garobulated" means, but the implicature (not entailment) is that it is something bad. Again, I am soliciting trust but betraying it in this implicated proposition.

But that puts the wrongness of lying on a par with the wrongness of misleading implicatures. Your dean asks for your candid opinion of your chair, and you answer

Well, he was sober today

and the dean forms a misled negative opinion. We can agree that this is *wrong* but I had the impression that you thought of lying as more strictly wrong than misleading implicatures.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think how far we solicit trust in implicatures may vary according to circumstance. For instance, if I am a lawyer writing a contract, the implicatures don't count. I think implicatures are sometimes just a way to hint while retaining "plausible deniability". The contextual retention of this deniability means that we haven't bound ourselves before the other person to implicate only truth: the other person will recognize that we might have had a reason to implicate falsehoods.

A potential difference between implicature and assertion is that sometimes we may be forced to implicate falsely by circumstances and our integrity, because sometimes the literal truth carries a false implicature, and yet we are required to say the literal truth, but we are not permitted to cancel the false implicature because in doing so we would be revealing a secret we are not permitted to reveal.

For instance, suppose Alice is secretly married to Bob, and because of racist laws it would cause great harm to Bob if this fact were known. Bob, however, is charged with a murder he did not commit and needs an alibi. Alice truthfully testifies that she spent the night with Bob. This carries the implicature of fornication, an implicature Alice cannot permissibly cancel because in doing so she would be revealing the fact of her marriage to Bob.

For a much simpler example, sometimes we're in too much of a hurry to cancel false implicatures.

I think that our norms for language recognize the fact that sometimes we are unable to avoid false implicatures, and hence we do not solicit full trust in our implicatures in the same way we solicit full trust in our assertions.

Philip Rand said...

There is nothing wrong with the language of everyday.

False implications are inescapable with respect to ignorance. However, what you are doing is knowingly conflating assertion/implication. This results in counterfeit knowledge which is an assault on ones character, which is worse than ignorance because it can become addictive.

Heath White said...

OK, what about the famous example of Christians hewing to the "do not lie" protocol:

Soldiers to man in a boat: "Do you know where Athanasius is?"
Athanasius in the boat, escaping from soldiers: "Not far away!"

Athanasius deliberately implicating, of course, that their quarry is not far away *in the direction they are going*.

Alexander R Pruss said...


I don't know what to say about that case, if your analysis of the implicature is correct.

I am coming around to the view -- partly under the influence of a dissertation in progress and partly as a logical consequence of my old "Lying and Speaking Your Interlocutor's Language" piece -- that in certain contexts we are just as bound to truthfulness in implicature as in assertion. I don't have an analysis of what these contexts are.

Philip Rand said...

Heath White

Your rejoinder using a counterfeit knowledge analogy just demonstrates that it's use assualts one's own character and is addictive, i.e. one becomes a slave to it... like a drug addict...

Philip Rand said...

White & Pruss

1/ Men in a boat looking for a man called Athanasius.
2/ Athanasius is a man and is in the boat.
3/ Athanasius is not far away.

Best explanation of Athanasius not being in the boat is that Athanasius is not very far away in the direction they are going.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Garobulated = two-timed?