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Philosophical Studies

, Volume 165, Issue 3, pp 1117–1138 | Cite as

Moore’s paradox and the priority of belief thesis

  • John N. Williams
Article

Abstract

Moore’s paradox is the fact that assertions or beliefs such as

Bangkok is the capital of Thailand but I do not believe that Bangkok is the capital of Thailand

or

Bangkok is the capital of Thailand but I believe that Bangkok is not the capital of Thailand

are ‘absurd’ yet possibly true. The current orthodoxy is that an explanation of the absurdity should first start with belief, on the assumption that once the absurdity in belief has been explained then this will translate into an explanation of the absurdity in assertion. This assumption gives explanatory priority to belief over assertion. I show that the translation involved is much trickier than might at first appear. It is simplistic to think that Moorean absurdity in assertion is always a subsidiary product of the absurdity in belief, even when the absurdity is conceived as irrationality. Instead we should aim for explanations of Moorean absurdity in assertion and in belief that are independent even if related, while bearing in mind that some forms of irrationality may be forms of absurdity even if not conversely.

Keywords

Moore’s paradox Assertion Belief Absurdity Irrationality Expression Norms 

Notes

Acknowledgments

I am especially indebted to Claudio de Almeida for helpful and incisive criticism. In particular, his point that one should distinguish epistemic from practical rationality helped me to substantially rethink the structure of this paper.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social SciencesSingapore Management UniversitySingaporeSingapore

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