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Lying, Misleading, and Language

Knachel, Matthew (2014) Lying, Misleading, and Language. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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My focus is the everyday distinction between lies and other deceptive speech acts—acts of misleading—which involve saying something truthful with the intention of causing one’s listener to have false beliefs.
The distinction resists straightforward pre-theoretical formulation, but it is closely tied to the concept of saying: if what someone said, strictly speaking, is true, then she did not lie—though she may have misled. Ever since Paul Grice distinguished what a speaker says from what she otherwise communicates (e.g., via implicatures), theorists have attempted to provide a rigorous circumscription of ‘what is said’. I test these theories according to how well they handle our intuitions about the lying/misleading distinction, and find that no extant account can adequately underwrite that distinction—in the process discovering that the boundary in question is even more difficult to draw than initially expected.
Positions in the debate over ‘what is said’ can be characterized as more or less minimal, according to how much pragmatic—as opposed to semantic—content is taken to be a part of what a speaker says. There are different accounts, though, of how to characterize the division of labor between Semantics and Pragmatics, so I turn my attention to those, applying the lessons of my previous investigations. I focus mainly on a prominent recent proposal from Herman Cappelen and Ernest Lepore (“Semantic Minimalism”), according to which semantic content is particularly austere. I argue that their account is deeply flawed. I then briefly examine some alternative views from the literature, expressing guarded skepticism about those. 
Finally, I turn to non-linguistic philosophical questions that arise in connection with my focal concern: How should lying be defined? What is the moral (and legal) significance of the lying/misleading distinction? I argue that the literature on the definition of lying would be enriched by more carefully considering competing accounts of assertion, and that a Robert Brandom-style normative account seems the best option. I conclude that it’s difficult to make the case for a moral difference between lying and misleading, but that a legal distinction can be made with the help of my earlier conclusions.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Knachel, Matthewmek14@pitt.eduMEK14
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee CoChairSetiya, Kierankis23@pitt.eduKIS23
Committee CoChairShaw,
Committee MemberWilson, Markmawilson@pitt.eduMAWILSON
Committee MemberListon,
Date: 29 May 2014
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 3 April 2014
Approval Date: 29 May 2014
Submission Date: 16 April 2014
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 242
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Philosophy
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Philosophy, language, lying, deception
Date Deposited: 29 May 2014 15:59
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:19


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