SOPhiA 2022

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Plausible Deniability and Epistemic Authority
(Philosophy of Language, English)

The current literature on (plausible) deniability identifies avoiding criticism and accountability for what was said as the main motivations for strategically communicating in a way that allows for denial (see e.g. Peet 2015, Dinges & Zakkou 2021). In this paper, my aim is to identify a further possible motive for maintaining deniability, namely preserving epistemic authority with regards to the topic of the conversation, and to show the kinds of demands this further motive places on philosophical accounts of deniability.

In the first part of the paper, I demonstrate how plausible deniability can be instrumentalised to maintain epistemic authority by contrasting it with situations in which speakers admit to outright being wrong. Drawing from Langton__s (2018) work on authority presupposing speech acts, I show that in the case of taking back an assertion, a speaker might suffer from a deficit in epistemic authority, while in cases of denying having said something, no such thing happens. Furthermore, I use Maitra's (2012) discussion of authority accommodation to show that not only does the speech act of denial require a sort of authority in order to be appropriate, but that it can also be used to gain this kind of epistemic authority, as long as no interlocutor objects to it.

In the second section of the paper, I draw from my previous discussion to formulate two desiderata for philosophical accounts of (plausible) deniability that have not been recognized in the literature so far: (1) They must provide an adequate analysis of the speech act of denial that incorporates its demand for epistemic authority and explains how interlocuters might block it based on a speaker's lack of authority (2) They need to restrict the phenomenon of deniability to cases in which the speaker does not automatically suffer from a loss of epistemic authority should they decide to deny having meant a specific proposition. While (1) follows relatively straightforwardly from my observations in the previous section, (2) requires a specific methodological aim for which I provide a brief defence.


Dinges, A. & Zakkou, J. (2021): "On Deniability"

Langton, R. (2018): "The Authority of Hate Speech", Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Law Vol. 3, 123-151.

Maitra, I. (2012): "Subordinating Speech", in: Maitra, McGowan: Speech and Harm, 94-120.

Peet, A. (2015): "Testimony, Pragmatics, and Plausible Deniability", Episteme 12/1, 29-51.

Chair: Teresa Flera
Time: 10:00-10:30, 08 September 2022 (Thursday)
Location: SR 1.007

Gabriel Levc 
(University of Vienna, Austria)

Testability and Meaning deco