The normativity of context

Philosophical Studies 100 (3):273-303 (2000)
Abstract
This paper attempts to show that context is normative. Perceiving and acting, speaking and understanding, reasoning and evaluating, judging and deciding, doing and not doing, as accomplished by humans, invariably occur within a context. The context dictates, or at least constrains, the proper accomplishment of the act. One may construe this undisputed fact in a naturalistic way: one can think of the context as a positive given, and of the constraints it creates as constituting a natural fact. Whether the act is carried out in conformity with these constraints is then a mere matter of correct functioning of the cognitive system. However, I argue, this is not the only, nor the more plausible way of considering the matter. The context is not a determinate function of situation and task, nor is the outcome of a task a determinate function of a given context: context choice and contextual constraints are irreducibly normative. The norm they obey is sui generis, and goes under the (disreputable) name of intelligence.
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