Morally Speaking: Assertion, Blame, And Conversation

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Moral Assertion
Moral Understanding
Norm of Assertion
Norm og Blame
Ethics and Political Philosophy
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Lewis, Max

What we say impacts what the people around us believe and how they behave. In this dissertation, I look at three speech acts that are essential to our daily lives: assertion, moral assertion, and blame. In particular, I argue that each of these speech acts has an epistemic norm that determines when it is epistemically permissible to perform that speech act. In Chapter 1, I argue that one’s assertion that p is epistemically permissible only if one knows that p. I argue that this knowledge requirement follows from the primary purpose of our practice of making and accepting assertions, i.e., to produce knowledge in audiences. In Chapter 2, I argue that, regardless of what epistemic state one must be in to make an epistemically permissible assertion that p, one must also have the ability to share an epistemic reason for p that makes p beliefworthy for one’s audience given the conversational context in which one asserts. I argue that this requirement follows from the nature of asserting. In particular, I argue that it follows from the fact that in asserting that p one commitments oneself to the beliefworthiness of p for their audience given the conversational context at the time of assertion. In Chapter 3, I argue that the norm of moral assertion is different from that of garden-variety assertion. In particular, I defend what I call The Understanding Why Norm of moral assertion. According to this norm, one’s assertion that p, where p is a moral proposition, is epistemically permissible only if one adequately understands why p. I argue that this norm both explanatorily powerful and supported by numerous theoretical considerations about what the norm of moral assertion should be like. In Chapter 4, I argue that in order to have the practical and epistemic authority to blame someone (in the sense I’m interested in) one must know that their action constitutes a moral failing and one must sufficiently understand how much of a moral failing their action constitutes.

Errol D. Lord
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