Philosophy Assertion
by
Matthew Weiner
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0148

Introduction

Assertion is one of the central kinds of speech act, typically carried out by the utterance of a declarative sentence, such as the very sentences you are reading now. It might be defined as a speech act in which a proposition is presented as true or claimed to be true. Two of the central philosophical questions involving assertion concern its nature and its norms. From about the mid-20th century onward, philosophical work on assertion tended to focus on its nature: what it is to make an assertion and what distinguishes assertion from other kinds of speech act. Later work (especially beginning in the 1990s) concentrated more on the question of the norms of assertion: what factors, especially epistemic factors, govern when it is permissible to assert something. This bibliography focuses on those two questions, but it should be noted that many areas of philosophy of language will bear on assertion; discussions of implicature often concern implicatures of assertions, discussions of the content of assertions, and discussions of presupposition and (somewhat less often) the difference between assertion and presupposition.

General Overviews

Pagin 2007 is perhaps the broadest available overview of assertion, situating assertion within speech act theory and connecting it with issues concerning presupposition, implicature, truth, and norms of assertion, among other philosophical problems. MacFarlane 2011 gives an overview of the pros and cons of several different approaches to the question of what it is to make an assertion, considering the respective merits of accounts on which assertion is expressing an attitude, adding information to the conversational context, making a move in a game defined by constitutive rules, and undertaking a commitment. Weiner 2007 surveys different accounts of what the norms of assertion are, though the literature has continued to move rapidly since its publication. The PhilPapers bibliography Assertion is very large and regularly updated, with abstracts generally available on the site. It goes well beyond the scope of the present article, with some papers that bear rather tangentially on assertion and others that have to do with questions other than that of the nature and norms of assertion, but anyone who is interested in any aspect of assertion will find much of value there.

  • Assertion.

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    A bibliography of a wide range of papers having to do with assertion, with abstracts generally available on the site and often with links to online versions. Currently unedited and somewhat unsystematic.

  • MacFarlane, John. “What Is Assertion?” In Assertion: New Philosophical Essays. Edited by Jessica Brown and Herman Cappelen, 79–96. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

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    A survey of the pros and cons of several different kinds of accounts of what an assertion is.

  • Pagin, Peter. “Assertion.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta, 2007.

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    An overview of many issues concerning assertion, including its nature as speech act, its norm, its pragmatic, and its connection to truth. Includes more detailed sidebars (which open as additional web pages) on several other issues.

  • Weiner, Matt. “Norms of Assertion.” Philosophy Compass 2 (2007): 187–195.

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    A slightly dated review article specifically concerning the epistemic/doxastic norms of assertion, with some programmatic remarks about how investigation of those norms should continue. Available online to subscribers.

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