The Trouble with Being Sincere
The Canadian Journal of Philosophy 41(2)
Which mental states of a speaker determine whether or not an assertion is sincere? Until recently the dominant answer has been that a speaker makes an insincere assertion if and only if one does not believe the proposition asserted. There are, however, persuasive counterexamples to this simple account. It has been proposed instead that an insincere assertion that p is one made by a speaker who (a) does not express his belief that p; or (b) does not believe that he believes that p; or (c) does not assent to p. We show that these alternative accounts also face counterexamples. We argue that, because of the disunity and opacity of the self, it is a mistake to identify insincerity with any privileged type of propositional attitude towards p. After diagnosing their failings, we sketch a new account according to which the operative state of mind is the audience-directed motivation of the speaker’s behind the assertion. This motivation may, but need not, be expressed in the speaker’s conscious intention; and sincerity may, but need not, require that one says what one mentally assents to. Thus defining sincerity in theory, as well as complying with the norm of sincerity in practice, both involve more trouble than might be expected.