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Moore's Paradox and First-Person Authority

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Abstract:

This paper explores Wittgenstein's attempts to explain the peculiarities of the first-person use of 'believe' that manifest themselves in Moore's paradox, discussed in Philosophical Investigations, Part II, section x. An utterance of the form 'p and I do not believe that p' is a kind of contradiction, for the second conjunct is not, as it might appear, just a description of my mental state, but an expression of my belief that not-p, contradicting the preceding expression of my belief that p. Thus, 'I believe that p' is just a stylistic variant of 'p'; the word 'believe' doesn't seem to have a substantial role to play in such an utterance. Following Wittgenstein, I discuss why there could not be a first-person present-tense use of the word that was more akin to its use in the third person: why it is impossible to describe one's own current beliefs in a detached manner without thereby expressing them. In the final section, I try to develop Wittgenstein's suggestion that the non-epistemic authority we have regarding the contents of our beliefs can be clarified by considering its link with intention and action.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 24, 2006

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