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Moore’s Paradox is not just another pragmatic paradox

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One version of Moore’s Paradox is the challenge to account for the absurdity of beliefs purportedly expressed by someone who asserts sentences of the form ‘p & I do not believe that p’ (‘Moorean sentences’). The absurdity of these beliefs is philosophically puzzling, given that Moorean sentences (i) are contingent and often true; and (ii) express contents that are unproblematic when presented in the third-person. In this paper I critically examine the most popular proposed solution to these two puzzles, according to which Moorean beliefs are absurd because Moorean sentences are instances of pragmatic paradox; that is to say, the propositions they express are necessarily false-when-believed. My conclusion is that while a Moorean belief is a pragmatic paradox, it is not just another pragmatic paradox, because this diagnosis does not explain all the puzzling features of Moorean beliefs. In particularly, while this analysis is plausible in relation to the puzzle posed by characteristic (i) of Moorean sentences, I argue that it fails to account for (ii). I do so in the course of an attempt to formulate the definition of a pragmatic paradox in more precise formal terms, in order to see whether the definition is satisfied by Moorean sentences, but not by their third-person transpositions. For only an account which can do so could address (ii) adequately. After rejecting a number of attempted formalizations, I arrive at a definition which delivers the right results. The problem with this definition, however, is that it has to be couched in first-person terms, making an essential use of ‘I’. Thus the problem of accounting for first-/third-person asymmetry recurs at a higher order, which shows that the Pragmatic Paradox Resolution fails to identify the source of such asymmetry highlighted by Moore’s Paradox.

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Correspondence to Timothy Chan.

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Chan, T. Moore’s Paradox is not just another pragmatic paradox. Synthese 173, 211–229 (2010).

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  • Moore’s Paradox
  • G. E. Moore
  • Pragmatic paradox
  • Self-refutation
  • I
  • First person
  • Belief