Insincerity for Fragmented Minds

A research project on insincere speech, inner speech, and self-deception

Project Team News


Insincere or manipulative speech is an extremely important topic of current research, having implications for political science, sociology, linguistics, as well as philosophy and psychology. This project's major objective is to develop the details of a new and compelling theory of the nature of insincere speech. We hypothesize, contrary to recent work on the topic, that insincerity is not determined by a mismatch between the speaker's conscious attitudes and the attitudes expressed or communicated by an utterance. Rather, insincerity is a nonconsciously or implicitly motivated type of expression, manifested equally in self-talk and in other-directed communication, but these are usually considered separately. The approach is novel in that we develop an original methodology to address questions in the philosophy of language, which we call the theory-invariant approach. We will show that this methodology is superior to standard approaches in the literature. To this end we will bring to bear a great deal of relevant research from other areas of philosophy and other disciplines, none of which has had the impact that it should on this topic. The areas that we will draw on include (a) recent philosophical and cognitive-scientific work on communication and speech acts, (b) recent work in the philosophy of mind and psychology on the fragmentation of human minds, (c) recent work in philosophy and psychology on inner speech, and (d) recent work in the philosophy of science on mechanistic and functionalist explanation. These are all areas in which major progress has recently been made, but nobody has put all of the pieces together. In particular, we will be able to (1) develop a plausible theory of communicative success for the attitude-part of a propositional attitude, (2) combine fragmentationalism and Gricean intentionalism in accounting for inner speech, and (3) show how insincere speech and self-deception use the same or closely related cognitive mechanism. The project’s potential impact is significant and wide-ranging; a robust understanding of insincere speech is crucial to making sense of its role in political and public discourse, especially on social media platforms.