Wittgenstein on Lying – International Conference

May 16, 2024 - May 17, 2024
Archives Henri-Poincaré (AHPReST), University of Lorraine

91, avenue de la Libération
Nancy 54000

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University of Zürich
University of Kent
Université paris 1
Université de Lorraine
University of Reading


Université de Lorraine
Université de Lorraine

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The question of the nature of lying is very present in Wittgenstein’s later texts. Lying is often understood as “speaking against one’s thought with the intention of deceiving”, which presupposes that a person who lies is entirely transparent to themselves and has a unique access to their distinctive mental states. Yet Wittgenstein is well known to precisely challenge this “myth of interiority” (the expression comes from Jacques Bouveresse), i.e. the thesis, sometimes called “mentalist”, that thinking presupposes awareness of meanings that are in the mind, and to which each consciousness then alone has access. Indeed, much of Wittgenstein’s “philosophy of psychology” consisted in analyzing the difficulties encountered by this presupposition of psychological interiority. Then how can we define lying if it cannot consist in speaking against one’s conscious thinking, disguising it in and through what we say?

Wittgenstein says in Philosophical Investigations :

Are we perhaps over-hasty in our assumption that the smile of an unweaned infant is not a pretence?-And on what experience is our assumption based?
(Lying is a language-game that needs to be learned like any other one.) (PI 249)

Why is it difficult to imagine a lying baby? Because lying has to do with the intention to deceive by saying what we believe to be false, but does not have to correspond to a particular impression, but rather to what we know how to do with language. Many of Wittgenstein’s remarks in the Cambridge Courses, 1946-1947 criticize the notion of an “impression of lying”. In the notes taken by A.C. Jackson, Wittgenstein insists that lying does not consist in this impression, but presupposes “a motive, a situation” ([p. 314]) And Wittgenstein is even quoted as saying that, when it comes to lying, this is “the essential thing”! Wittgenstein thus seems to propose that the tools for explaining lying are not internal psychological states or processes, but a particular language game.

The aim of the symposium is twofold. In the first place, we would like to gain a better understanding of what Wittgenstein says about lying (and hence of his philosophy of meaning and psychology). Secondly, we would like to better understand the nature of lying itself, its moral, anthropological and interactional stakes, with Wittgenstein, but also with inputs from other traditions and methods (ethnomethodology in particular).


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May 11, 2024, 9:00am CET

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