Contextualism, skepticism and objectivity

In R. Stainton & C. Viger (eds.), Compositionality. Context, and Semantic Values (2007)
In this paper, I try to make sense of the idea that true knowledge attributions characterize something that is more valuable than true belief and that survives even if, as Contextualism implies, contextual changes make it no longer identifiable by a knowledge attribution. I begin by sketching a familiar, pragmatic picture of assertion that helps us to understand and predict how the words “S knows that P” can be used to draw different epistemic distinctions in different contexts. I then argue that the examples provided by Cohen and DeRose meant to illustrate Contextualism fail to do so, and I construct an example that does. I conclude by considering the response that an objective assessment of skepticism depends, not on what we might use sentences of the form “S knows that P” to say, but on what such sentences themselves say—on their literal, context-invariant meanings. I argue that there is little reason to believe that our words have such context-invariant meanings, and I suggest that the pragmatic picture of assertion can secure a rich enough conception of objectivity to address the skeptic.
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