Action and Speech

There is a close connection between the possession of personal integrity and genuine action and truthful speech. People who pretend, lie, or bullshit are usually thought to lack integrity; those who speak their mind and act in accord with their conscience, even (perhaps, especially) when this is in conflict with their own interests, are identified as persons of integrity.

But the question of whether a person’s words or actions are truthful and genuine is not always easy to settle. Sometimes we may find ourselves alienated from our own actions, silenced by cultural or societal expectations, or unsure about our own motives in ways that make us question whether we really mean what we say or do. In such a case the question of whether what is said is a lie, a cliché, an evasion, or the plain truth may be unanswerable. So too the question of whether what is done is done hypocritically, cynically, or wholeheartedly.

Philosophers of language and action – particularly in feminist philosophy of language – have done much to problematize the idea that what a person does or says can be settled authoritatively by the person herself. Austin argued that certain speech acts could only be performed if circumstances were felicitous; uttering the words ‘I do’ gets you married only if the legal and conventional settings are right, something that you yourself may not be able to judge. If what I say and do is sometimes settled by circumstances beyond my ken, what are the implications for our understanding of integrity? Is a woman within a patriarchal society able to speak act with integrity if her words and actions are systematically distorted and misunderstood?

Recognising that questions about what we mean and do are intimately connected to questions about the society and culture in which we live implies that questions about personal integrity are not merely personal. What, then, are the inter-personal contexts and circumstances which encourage, enable, or inhibit authenticity and truthfulness?

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Questions

  1. What is the connection between integrity and genuine action?
  2. What is the connection between integrity and truthfulness (and bullshitting)?
  3. Is hypocrisy a kind of pretence? What kinds of pretence undermine an agent’s integrity?
  4. What is the relation between having integrated ends, having an integrated self, and
    integrity? [see also Ancient Integrity]
  5. What are the inter-personal contexts and circumstances that encourage or undermine, inhibit or prevent the possibility of genuine action and truthful speech? [see also Integrity and Well-being]
  6. What are the institutional, social and political structures that encourage or undermine, inhibit or prevent the possibility of acting authentically and speaking truthfully? [see also Institutions as Enabling and Disabling Integrity]

Suggested readings

  • Elizabeth Anscombe. Intention. Blackwell, 1957.
  • John Austin. How To Do Things With Words, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962.
  • Sissela Bok. Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life, Pantheon Books, 1978.
  • Harry Frankfurt. On Bullshit. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005.
  • Harry Frankfurt. On Truth. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006.
  • Jennifer Hornsby,’Disempowered Speech’, Philosophical Topics, 23 (2): 127–147, 1995.
  • Rae Langton, “Speech Acts and Unspeakable Acts”, Philosophy and Public Affairs, 22 (4): 293–330, 1993.
  • Jennifer Saul, ‘Feminist Philosophy of Language‘, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  • Bernard Williams. Truth and Truthfulness: An Essay in Genealogy. Princeton University Press, 2004.

 

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