Linguistics and Philosophy

, Volume 39, Issue 1, pp 57–86 | Cite as

Assertion, belief, and ‘I believe’-guarded affirmation

Research Article


According to a widely held view of assertion and belief, they are each governed by a tacitly acknowledged epistemic norm, and the norm on assertion and norm on belief are so related that believing p is epistemically permissible only if asserting it is. I call it the Same Norm View. A very common type of utterance raises a puzzle for this view, viz. utterances in which we say ‘I believe p' to convey somehow guarded affirmation of the proposition that p. For example, one might respond to a query for directions to the station by saying ‘I believe it is down the first street on your left.' Often, when we reply in this way, it would have been pragmatically preferable simply to assert that p, had we been epistemically warranted in doing so. One's guarded reply thus suggests one is not so warranted. Nevertheless, if one believes what one, at face value, says one believes, one believes p. Contrary to what might seem to be suggested by the Same Norm View, one does not seem to portray oneself as irrational or epistemically beyond the pale in replying in this way. The paper develops this puzzle in detail, and examines a variety of options for a resolving it consistently with the Same Norm view. The most promising of these options, I argue, is to see ‘I believe' guarded affirmations as a form merely approximately correct speech. They would, though, be a form of such speech that interestingly differs from paradigm cases of loose use or conventional hyperbole in that speakers would be comparatively unaware of engaging in approximation. I conclude ‘I believe’—guarded affirmations either show the Same Norm View to be false or must be recognised as such an interestingly distinctive form of merely approximately correct speech.


Assertion Norms of assertion Belief Parenthetical verbs Evidentials Epistemic norms 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adler, J. (2002). Belief’s own ethics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bach, K. (2010). Knowledge in and out of context. In J. K. Campbell, M. O’Rourke, & H. S. Silverstein (Eds.), Knowledge and scepticism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  3. Brinton, L. J. (2008). The comment clause in english: Syntactic origins and pragmatic developments. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. DeRose, K. (1998). Simple ‘might’s indicative possibilities, and the open future. Philosophical Quarterly, 48(190), 67–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Douven, I. (2006). Assertion, knowledge, and rational credibility. Philosophical Review, 115(4), 449–485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Fox, C. R., & ÜlkÜmen, G. (2011). Distinguishing two dimensions of uncertainty. In W. Brun, G. Keren, G. Kirkeboen, & H. Montgomery (Eds.), Perspectives on thinking, judging, and decision making. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.Google Scholar
  7. Hawthorne, J. (2004). Knowledge and lotteries. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Ifantidou, E. (2001). Evidentials and relevance. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Kvanvig, J. (2009). Assertion, knowledge, and lotteries. In P. Greenough & D. Prichard (Eds.), Williamson on knowledge. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Lackey, J. (2007). Norms of assertion. Noûs, 41(4), 594–626.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Lewis, D. (1970). General semantics. Synthese, 22, 18–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Lyons, J. (1977). Semantics (Vol. II). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Lyons, K. E., & Ghetti, S. (2011). The development of uncertainty monitoring in early childhood. Child Development, 82, 1778–1787.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Mullan, K. (2010). Expressing opinions in French and Australian discourse: A semantic and interactional analysis. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Owens, D. (2002). Epistemic akrasia. The Monist, 85(33), 381–398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Pagin, P. (2004). Is assertion social? Journal of Pragmatics, 36, 833–859.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Schiffer, S. (2005). Paradox and the A Priori. In T. S. Gendler & J. Hawthorne (Eds.), Oxford studies in epistemology (Vol. I, pp. 273–310). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Simons, M. (2007). ‘Observations on embedding verbs, evidentiality, and presupposition. Lingua, 117(6), 1034–1056.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Slote, M. (1979). Assertion and belief. In J. Dancy (Ed.), Papers on language and logic (pp. 177–190). Keele: Keele University Library.Google Scholar
  20. Stalnaker, R. C. (1970). Pragmatics. Synthese, 22, 272–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Sutton, J. (2005). Stick to what you know. Noûs, 39, 359–396.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Thomsen, D. B. (2015). Ontogenetic paths to the parenthetical construction. In S. Schneider, J. Glikman, & M. Avanzi (Eds.), Parenthetical verbs. Berlin: de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  23. Unger, P. (1975). Ignorance. A case of scepticism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Urmson, J. O. (1952). Parenthetical verbs. Mind, 61(244), 480–496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. van Bogaert, J. (2011). I think and other complement-taking mental predicates: A case of and for constructional grammaticalization. Linguistics, 49(2), 295–332.Google Scholar
  26. Vandenbergen, A.-M. (1998). I think and its Dutch equivalents in parliamentary debates. In S. Johansson & S. Oksefjell (Eds.), Corpora and cross-linguistic research : Theory, method, and case studies. Amsterdam: Rodopi.Google Scholar
  27. Weatherson, B. (2005). Can we do without pragmatic encroachment? Philosophical Perspectives, 19(1), 417–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Wells, J. C. (2006). English intonation. An introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Wesson, C. J., & Pulford, B. D. (2009). Verbal expressions of confidence and doubt. Psychological Reports, 105, 151–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Williamson, T. (2000). Knowledge and its limits. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Wilson, D., & Sperber, D. (2002). Truthfulness and relevance. Mind, 111, 583–632.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CSMN, Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and IdeasUniversity of OsloOsloNorway

Personalised recommendations