"Bamboozled by Our Own Words": Semantic Blindness and Some Arguments against Contextualism

The best grounds for accepting contextualism concerning knowledge attributions are to be found in how knowledge-attributing (and knowledge-denying) sentences are used in ordinary, nonphilosophical talk: What ordinary speakers will count as “knowledge” in some non-philosophical contexts they will deny is such in others. Contextualists typically appeal to pairs of cases that forcefully display the variability in the epistemic standards that govern ordinary usage: A “low standards” case (henceforth, “LOW”) in which a speaker seems quite appropriately and truthfully to ascribe knowledge to a subject will be paired with a “high standards” case (“HIGH”) in which another speaker in a quite different and more demanding context seems with equal propriety and truth to say that the same subject (or a similarly positioned subject) does not know. The contextualist argument based on such cases is driven by the premises that the positive attribution of knowledge in LOW is true, and that the denial of knowledge in HIGH is true. And where the contextualist has constructed HIGH and LOW wisely, those premises are in turn powerfully supported by the two mutually reinforcing strands of evidence that both of the claims intuitively seem true, and that both claims are perfectly appropriate. The resulting argument for contextualism is very powerful indeed, but I am on the offensive making that case in another paper: “The Ordinary Language Basis for Contextualism and the New Invariantism.”.
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