Moore's Paradox: New Essays on Belief, Rationality, and the First Person

By Mitchell Green; John N. Williams | Go to book overview

1
Introduction

Mitchell Green and John N. Williams


A. INTRODUCING MOORE’S PARADOX

G. E. Moore observed that to say, ‘I went to the pictures last Tuesday but I don’t believe that I did’ would be ‘absurd’ (1942: 543). Over half a century later, such sayings continue to perplex philosophers and other students of language, logic, and cognition. On the one hand, such sayings seem distinct from semantically odd Liar-type sayings such as ‘What I’m now saying is not true’. Unlike Liar-type sentences, what Moore said might be true: One can readily imagine a situation in which Moore went to the pictures last Tuesday but does not believe that he did so. On the other hand, it does seem absurd to assert a proposition while, with no apparent change of mind, or aside to a different audience, going on to deny that one believes it. It seems no less absurd to judge true the following proposition: p and I do not believe that p.

Ludwig Wittgenstein was fascinated by Moore’s example, and the absurdity of Moore’s saying was intensively discussed in the mid-twentieth century. Yet the source of the absurdity has remained elusive, and its recalcitrance has led researchers in recent decades to address it with greater care. Questions of the relation of Moore’s paradox to consciousness, self-knowledge, justification, self-expression, conversation, decision theory, belief, and other topics have accordingly come under increasing scrutiny. In addition, recent research has seen a number of ‘arguments from Moore’s Paradox’, aiming to establish a large philosophical thesis on the basis of this phenomenon. Such arguments have been directed toward functionalism in the philosophy of mind (Heal 1994; Collins 1987; Milgram 1994), self-knowledge (Shoemaker 1988, 1995; Gallois 1996), the existence of ‘blindspots’ or states that are ‘counterprivate’1 (Sorensen 1988; Gombay 1988), evidentialism in epistemology (Adler 1999,

1 A person’s state is counterprivate just in case she alone, when she is in that state, cannot judge that she is.

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