The Wrong of Lying and The Good of Language: A Reply to "What's the Good of Language?" (Ethics, forthcoming July 2023)

Sam Berstler has recently argued for a fairness-based moral difference between lying and misleading. According to Berstler, the liar, but not the misleader, unfairly free-rides on the Lewisian conventions which ground public language meaning. Although compelling, the pragmatic and metasemantic backdrop within which this moral reason is located allows for the generation of a vicious explanatory circle. Simply, this backdrop entails that no speaker has ever performed an assertion. As I argue, escaping the circle requires rejecting Berstler's fairness-based reason against lying. The problem is a general one: The wrong of lying cannot be founded on the goods of language.

Works Under Review & In Progress (* Indicates Draft Available)

* Paper on Lying with Expressives (under review)

Orthodoxy within the literature on the lying-misleading distinction takes the distinction to be between "asserting disbelieved information [maybe with an intention to deceive] and conversationally implicating such information by asserting something believed to be true." The main battleground within Orthodoxy is over what account of assertion correctly captures our intuitions on the lying-misleading distinction.

In this paper I argue against Orthodoxy. More specifically, I argue that lying does not require assertion, nor is the relevant attitude disbelief. Speakers can expressively lie when they utter "Ouch!" while not being in acute pain. Expressive lies necessitate a dramatic shift away from the traditional, assertion-based account of lying which dominates the literature and towards a heterodox, expressing-based one. 

*Paper on Lying and Expressivism (under review)

Expressivists have a lying problem. According to expressivism, moral statements are not assertions. But lying requires assertion. Put simply, expressivists have a surprising answer to the question of how speakers can lie about moral matters: They can't. Descriptivists, those who reject expressivism, will see this problem as more grist for their mill in support of their position. Expressivists are in a less comfortable position. In order to allow for lies about moral matters, the expressivist must reject that lying requires assertion. I propose an expressivist friendly analysis of lying that meets this requirement. Not only does expressivism teach us something about lying---that lying does not require assertion---but lying also teaches us something about expressivism.

*Paper on Lying and the Intention to Deceive (under review)

Does lying require an intention to deceive? Deceptionists answer ``Yes," while Non-Deceptionists answer ``No." In this short paper, we offer a new argument for the Non-Deceptionist position by forging a stronger link between the intention and lying literatures. We conclude with a suggestion on how Deceptionists should respond to the possibility of lying without the intent to deceive.

* Paper on Gricean Communication (under review)

Some, including Paul Grice and Kent Bach, take there to be an exclusive distinction between openly and deliberately showing and attempting to communicate, or speaker meaning. Others reject the exclusivity of that distinction. I first presents novel arguments in favor of rejecting the distinction's exclusivity. Next, I motivate a different lesson of the compatibility of showing and speaker meaning than is usually thought. Lastly, I propose a novel, neo-Gricean analysis of speaker meaning in light of that lesson. 

* Grounding Paper (under review)

Some truths are fundamental, while others are derivative, or non-fundamental. This distinction between truths has often been put in terms of ground. Fundamental truths are ungrounded, and derivative, non-fundamental truths are grounded. Although widely assumed, this distinction between fundamental/ungrounded and non-fundamental/grounded truths is untenable. We need to make room for truths of a third type: truths that are inapt to be grounded, and therefore are ungrounded, but are not fundamental. Although this third status is not new, in this paper I provide a new argument for it.

*Grounding Paper with Troy Cross (under review)

Metaphysical grounding is mired in paradox. Grounding is closely bound up with two notions: metaphysical explanation and building. The tie to explanation suggests certain impure rules for the grounds of logically complex truths, while the nature of building independently requires that ground satisfy certain structural features. As others have demonstrated by deriving "puzzles of ground," these impure rules and structuring features are inconsistent. We propose to distinguish explanations of why a fact obtains from explanations of how a fact obtains. This distinction, we argue, is intuitive and philosophically fruitful. We show that each species of explanation respects a consistent rule set and that why-explanation, but not how-explanation is consistent with the structural features required by building. Thus, the puzzles of ground are resolved, and grounding's connections to both metaphysical explanation and building restored.

*Varieties of Silenced Speech

Speech is silenced when it is systematically and negatively interfered with. To understand the phenomenon of silencing, and ultimately help lessen its prevalence, we must understand two things: first, how speech can "go wrong"; and second, which of those speech related failures are systematic. The focus of this paper is the first of these two questions. Using concepts from speech act theory and illocutionary logic, I present a comprehensive and systematic taxonomy of silenced speech. The framework appealed to in this investigation is importantly different from those usually offered in the silencing literature. As I argue, it should also be preferred. I conclude with one practical benefit of a fine-grained taxonomy of ways that speech can be silenced.

*Mill's Proof: A Partial Reconstruction

In the third paragraph of Chapter IV of Utilitarianism, Mill outlines the beginnings of a "proof" that the ultimate ends---the criteria of morality---is happiness. What is Mill's proof? A common answer: It's an irredeemable mess which, for such a short proof---and by such an esteemed philosopher---contains a staggering number of mistakes. This common answer is, I think, often too quickly given. Some of these attributed mistakes arise from a misunderstanding of the premises of the proof, some from misunderstanding the conclusion argued for, and still others from taking the proof to be something which it avowedly is not, namely a deductive proof.  Or, at least, so I will argue. This paper aims to remedy these misunderstandings in such a way that the proof remains philosophically interesting while still being textually well founded---while still having a claim to being Mill's proof. Towards this end, there is a need to provide a naive interpretation of Mill's proof, the problems that impede this interpretation, and a textually well-founded interpretation that avoids these impediments.

What is Deception?

We all have been lied to, mislead, tricked, hoodwinked, and duped, and many of us have done our fair share of each. Deception, in one form or another, permeates our life. But what is deception? Three distinctions each provide a partial picture. First, the distinction between deceiving and causing someone to be in error illustrates that deceiving is an intentional action. Second is the distinction between deception and manipulation. This distinction highlights the importance of the process by which the misleading evidence produced by the deceiver causes the doxastic change in the deceivee. Lastly, the distinction between deceiving and orchestrating the production of a false belief shows that deceivers must be free, deliberate, and informed causers of the doxastic change in the deceivee. 

Lying without Assertion

Everyone agrees that speakers can lie with assertive speech acts (e.g., asserting, testifying, swearing), and not directives (e.g., ordering, commanding). But little discussion has focused on whether speakers can lie with declarations (e.g., "You're fired!"), commisives (e.g., promising), or expressives (e.g., apologizing). If lying does not require assertion, which non-assertive speech acts can be used to lie? As I argue, the key to answering this question comes down to the nature of expression and communicative commitment. When a speaker lies, they communicatively commit themselves to being in a mental state that they are not in. On this conception, speakers can lie in unexpected ways, including with declarations, commisives, and expressives.

Lying and Apologizing

We all have lied. We all have also apologized. But is it possible to lie by apologizing? As I argue, not only are such lies possible, but a speaker can lie by apologizing in two different ways: (1) By apologizing for something they know they haven't done, and (2) By insincerely apologizing---apologizing without feeling regret or shame for the action they apologized for. Both of these ways of lying pose problems for the orthodox view of lying on offer in the literature. According to orthodoxy, to lie is to make a believed false assertion. The possibility of lying by apologizing shows orthodoxy to be doubly wrong. First, a speaker can lie by presupposing---but not asserting---disbelieved information. Second, they can lie by expressing a state (i.e., regret or shame) which they are not in---not by asserting disbelieved information. These lies necessitates a dramatic shift away from the traditional, assertion-based accounts of lying which dominates the literature and towards a heterodox, expressing-based one.

The Problem of Non-Luminous Lies (with John Hawthorne)

According to the orthodox definition of lying, a speaker lies if, and only if, they assert disbelieved information. Although widely accepted, this conception---and those who have adopted it---neglects an important phenomenon: The non-transparency of belief. Put simply, speakers can assert disbelieved information without recognizing it. In such cases, speakers are wrongly judged to have lied by orthodoxy. What must be added to orthodoxy to account for the non-transparency of belief? Three families of solutions suggest themselves: require that the belief is, in some sense, accessible; add that the liar must dissent (or assent to the negation) of what they assert; or require that the liar must have an intention. As we argue, none of these routes are pain free.

Too Much Meaning, Not Enough Use

Sentences, words, and other vehicles of communication mean what they do in virtue of how we use them. But sentences can be meaningful while never having been used. Consider an exceedingly long and complicated sentence---maybe a million-word sentence with clauses within clauses within phrases within clauses and a nauseating amount of cross-references like `the latter,' `the former.' Such a sentence is surely meaningful. But happily for us audiences, it has never been used. This is the problem of Meaning without Use. Many see this problem as stemming from the priority of sentential meaning to sub-sentential meaning. As I argue, this is incorrect. The problem of meaning without use is inescapable. Whatever use we privilege as the one that bestows meaning, meaning will always go beyond it. We must either abandon the dictum that meaning depends on use or greatly constrain our notion of meaning.