Reaffirming the Status of the Knowledge Account of Assertion



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Reaffirming the Status of the Knowledge Account of Assertion

Frank Hindriks and Barteld Kooi

Faculty of Philosophy, University of Groningen

# of words: 2,475


Suppose that someone who asserts a proposition ought to know that proposition. Is this a deep truth that concerns the nature of assertion? Timothy Williamson (1996, 2000) provides a positive answer to this question when he argues that this obligation features in the rule that is constitutive of assertion. Hindriks (2007) criticizes this claim and defends a different understanding of assertion as the linguistic expression of belief to which we refer as ‘the expression account of assertion’. Hindriks does not deny, however, that typically people ought to know that which they assert. He argues that a knowledge rule can be derived from the expression account of assertion together with the claim that belief is governed by a knowledge rule. As a knowledge requirement applies to it only derivatively, the fact that assertion is governed by a knowledge rule does not concern the nature of assertion.

The key claim that Hindriks defends, then, is that the knowledge requirement applies directly to belief and only derivatively to assertion. His argument for this claim entails that the derived knowledge rule of assertion features a knowledge requirement only for situations in which it is impermissible to lie. Brian Ball criticizes the presented derivation – henceforth ‘the Derivation’1 – arguing that Hindriks commits a fallacy of equivocation. The knowledge rule of belief features an epistemic norm, whereas the derived conclusion ‘purports to articulate a moral norm’ (Ball: p.xx; our italics). Ball goes on to claim that ‘[t]his equivocation between two senses of “must” constitutes a serious – indeed devastating – flaw in Hindriks’ attempted derivation’ (ibid.). In this reply, we argue that this charge is mistaken. A mere ambiguity does not constitute a fallacy of equivocation. As Charles Hamblin explains, more needs to be done in order to establish that this fallacy has been committed:


In many contexts the two subsenses of moral words [e.g. moral and legal duty] can be conflated without risk, so that a charge of Equivocation needs to be backed up with a demonstration that the context is one in which the distinction is necessary. (1970, p.15)
Ball does not provide such a demonstration. And we argue that the distinction that Ball makes between moral and epistemic norms does not bear on the soundness of the Derivation presented in Hindriks (2007). The upshot is that it surfaces unscathed from Ball’s critique.


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