Contextualism, skepticism, and the Gettier problem

Synthese 139 (3):367 - 386 (2004)
Abstract
The contextualist epistemological theories proposed by David Lewis and othersoffer a view of knowledge which awards a central role to the contexts ofknowledge attributions. Such contexts are held to determine how strong anepistemic position must be in order to count as knowledge. Lewis has suggestedthat contextualism so construed can be used both to ward off the skeptic and tosolve the Gettier problem. A person knows P, he says, just in case her evidenceeliminates every possibility that not-P, where the domain of `every' is determinedby the context. Lewis provides a list of rules that can tell us, for a given context,which not-P possibilities must be eliminated and which can properly be ignored.But his account entails, counterintuitively, that knowledge can truly be attributedeven to a person in a Gettier situation provided only that the attributor is ignorantof the fact that the person is gettiered. It has been criticized on those grounds byS. Cohen. In this paper I shall argue that most other forms of contextualism sufferthe same fate as Lewis's. The allies of contextualism haven't yet shown us whethercontextualism can succeed in maintaining a notion of ordinary knowledge whileresisting the absurdity that knowledge can be a matter of sheer good luck. At theend of the paper I shall suggest a possible solution to the problem by showing howCohen's line of criticism leads to a modified conception of what sort of justificationa belief must have to count as knowledge in ordinary contexts.
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