Arrogance, silence, and silencing

Sanford C. Goldberg*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Alessandra Tanesini's insightful paper (2016) explores the moral and epistemic harms of arrogance, particularly in conversation. Of special interest to her is the phenomenon of arrogance-induced silencing, whereby one speaker's arrogance either prevents another from speaking altogether or else undermines her capacity to produce certain speech acts such as assertions (Langton 1993, 2009). I am broadly sympathetic to many of Tanesini's claims about the harms associated with this sort of silencing. In this paper I propose to address what I see as a lacuna in her account. I believe (and will argue) that the arrogant speaker can put those he silences in the morally outrageous position in which their own silence contributes to their oppression. While nothing in Tanesini's account would predict or explain this, the wrinkle I propose will aim to do so in a way that is in the spirit of her account. To do so, I will need to expand the focus of discussion: instead of concentrating on (arrogance-induced) silencing, I will consider the phenomenon of (arrogance-induced) silence. When one is silent in the face of a mutually observed assertion (whatever the cause of this silence), one's silence will be interpreted by others. I argue that (1) under certain widespread conditions, a hearer's silence in the face of the arrogant speaker's assertions is likely to be falsely interpreted as indicating her assent to the assertion, and (2) such an interpretation of the hearer's silence will bring new harms in its wake-in particular, harms to the hearer who was silenced, and also harms to the community at large. When we combine these new harms with the ones Tanesini identified in her paper, we reach the further conclusion that (3) the harms of silencing (whether arrogance-induced or otherwise) are potentially far worse than many have imagined.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)93-112
Number of pages20
JournalProceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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