Contextualism and skepticism

Philosophical Perspectives 13 (s13):91-114 (1999)
In the good old days, a large part of the debate about skepticism focused on the quality of the reasons we have for believing propositions of various types. Skeptics about knowledge in a given domain argued that our reasons for believing propositions in that domain were not good enough to give us knowledge; opponents of skepticism argued that they were. The different conclusions drawn by skeptics and non-skeptics could come either from differences in their views about the standards or conditions we had to satisfy in order to have knowledge or from differences in their assessments of the quality or character of the reasons we have. In recent years, discussions of skepticism have often focused on three anti-skeptical responses that don't directly address the questions about reasons or evidence that used to be considered fundamental. These anti-skeptical responses are: 1) content externalism, as proposed by Hilary Putnam1; 2) the denial of closure, as proposed by Robert Nozick2; and 3) contextualism about knowledge attributions, as proposed by Stewart Cohen, Keith DeRose, and David Lewis3. I believe that these recent responses to skepticism characteristically avoid the central epistemological issues raised by skepticism and often concede to skeptics far more than is warranted. In this paper I will examine some contextualist responses to skepticism. In Section I I describe the general idea of contextualism and its application to skepticism. In Section II I describe and briefly discuss some particular versions of contextualism. In Section III I argue that even if it is true that sentences attributing knowledge have contextually variable truth conditions, this fact does not provide the basis for a satisfactory response to skepticism. This is because the central issue raised by skepticism is whether we satisfy the standards for knowledge in place in ordinary contexts, not whether we satisfy some allegedly higher standards which, according to contextualists, are in place in some epistemological contexts. In effect, this paper is part of an argument for a return to the good old days.
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DOI 10.1111/0029-4624.33.s13.4
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James Pryor (2004). What's Wrong with Moore's Argument? Philosophical Issues 14 (1):349–378.
Ram Neta (2003). Contextualism and the Problem of the External World. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 66 (1):1–31.

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