What is it to be Responsible for What You Say?

In this talk Professor Emma Borg explores the liabilities we occur when asserting something to be true.

Part of the Royal Institute of Philosophy’s 2022 London Lectures series, Words and Worlds.

In asserting something I incur certain kinds of liabilities, including a responsibility for the truth of the content I express. If I say “After leaving the EU, the UK will take back control of c.£350 million per week”, or I tell you that “The number 14 bus stops at the British Museum”, I become liable for the truth of these claims. As my audience, you could hold me unreliable or devious if it turns out that what I said is false. Yet this socio-linguistic practice – of acquiring and ascribing ‘linguistic liability’ – is complicated, especially given philosophical distinctions between the various different kinds of contents people may express (am I liable, for instance, for the claim that the number 14 bus will stop at the British Museum today or only usually?). In this talk, I draw apart different kinds of linguistic liability, exploring how each relates to a divergent kind of content and to the intentions of the speaker. I also explore some of the practical repercussions of these different kinds of liability, for instance around the identification of, and legislation about, hate speech

  • Speaker


    Emma Borg is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading and Joint Director of the Reading Centre for Cognition Research. She has published widely in philosophy of language (including two OUP monographs, Minimal Semantics (2004) and Pursuing Meaning (2012), both of which have been translated into Chinese). Her work in philosophy of language deals with the relationship between meaning and context, and the nature of communication. She is currently working on a new book, Compelling Reasons, which looks at debates around rationality and bias, arguing that we are more rational than social psychologists often take us to be.

    Emma also works in business ethics, exploring the so-called ‘social licence’ model as a guide to reshaping relations between the private sector, the state and individuals. As part of this work, she serves as an Independent Advisor to the Professional Standards Committee of His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).