Lying by Promising

A Study on Insincere Illocutionary Acts

in International Review of Pragmatics
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This paper is divided into two parts. In the first part, I extend the traditional definition of lying to illocutionary acts executed by means of explicit performatives, focusing on promising. This is achieved in two steps. First, I discuss how the utterance of a sentence containing an explicit performative such as “I promise that Φ” can count as an assertion of its content Φ. Second, I develop a general account of insincerity meant to explain under which conditions a given illocutionary act can be insincere, and show how this applies to promises. I conclude that a promise to Φ is insincere (and consequently a lie) only if the speaker intends not to Φ, or believes that he will not Φ, or both. In the second part, I test the proposed definition of lying by promising against the intuitions of ordinary language speakers. The results show that, unlike alternative accounts, the proposed definition makes the correct predictions in the cases tested. Furthermore, these results challenge the following necessary conditions for telling a lie with content p: that you have to assert p directly; that you have to believe that p be false; that p must be false; that you must aim to deceive the addressee into believing that p.

Lying by Promising

A Study on Insincere Illocutionary Acts

in International Review of Pragmatics

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References

3

Chisholm and Feehan (1977) Simpson (1992) Williams (2002) Faulkner (2007) Meibauer (2005 2014). Most of these authors identify the assertion condition with the intention to deceive condition—they believe that asserting p requires intending that your audience believes that p. For them meeting (i*) entails meeting (iii) so that calling these views ‘assertion-based’ is taxonomically misleading as they hardly depart from the standard view. Moreover these views are highly controversial as the idea that asserting p requires intending your audience to believe that p (or to believe that you believe that p) is nowadays regarded as indefensible (Searle 1969: 42–49; Davis 1999; Alston 2000: 44–50; Green 2007: 75–82; Macfarlane 2011).

6

Hedenius (1963) Lewis (1970) Bach (1975) Ginet (1979) and Bach and Harnish (1979: § 10; 1992) Green (2005).

7

Austin (1962/1975) Harris (1977) Searle and Vanderveken (1985) Searle (1989) Reimer (1995) Jary (2000).

9

See Adler (1997) Saul (2011 2012) Stokke (2013); an exception to this view being Meibauer (2005 2014).

27

Davidson (1971: 50 1978: 91–941980: 83–102) Bratman (1987: 19–2037–39 2009: § 2) Mele (1992: § 8) Holton (2008: 51–55 2009: § 2) Hieronymi (2009: 201–220) Paul (2009: 1–24) Sinhababu (2013).

Figures

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    Figure 1

    Percentage of respondents rating the protagonist’s utterance as a lie in each condition

  • View in gallery
    Figure 2

    Percentage of respondents rating the question as difficult to answer (scale from 0 % to 50 %)

  • View in gallery
    Figure 3

    Pie charts showing the participants’ ratings in each of the four scenarios

  • View in gallery
    Figure 4

    Percentage of respondents rating the protagonist’s utterance as a lie and as deceptive

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