On Kratzer’s canonical account, modal expressions (like “might” and “must”) are represented semantically as quantifiers over possibilities. Such expressions are themselves neutral; they make a single contribution to determining the propositions expressed across a wide range of uses. What modulates the modality of the proposition expressed—as bouletic, epistemic, deontic, etc.—is context.2 This ain’t the canon for nothing. Its power lies in its ability to figure in a simple and highly unified explanation of a fairly wide range of language use. Recently, (...) though, the canon’s neat story has come under attack. The challenge cases involve the epistemic use of a modal sentence for which no single resolution of the contextual parameter appears capable of accommodating all our intuitions.3 According to these revisionaries, such cases show that the canonical story needs to be amended in some way that makes multiple bodies of information relevant to the assessment of such statements. Here I show that how the right canonical, flexibly contextualist account of modals can accommodate the full range of challenge cases. The key will be to extend Kratzer’s formal semantic account with an account of how context selects values for a modal’s.. (shrink)
According to a recent challenge to Kratzer's canonical contextualist semantics for deontic modal expressions, no contextualist view can make sense of cases in which such a modal must be information-sensitive in some way. Here I show how Kratzer's semantics is compatible with readings of the targeted sentences that fit with the data. I then outline a general account of how contexts select parameter values for modal expressions and show, in terms of that account, how the needed, contextualist-friendly readings might plausibly (...) get selected in the challenge cases. (shrink)
In this paper I argue against one variety of contextualism about aesthetic predicates such as “beautiful.” Contextualist analyses of these and other predicates have been subject to several challenges surrounding disagreement. Focusing on one kind of contextualism— individualized indexical contextualism —I unpack these various challenges and consider the responses available to the contextualist. The three responses I consider are as follows: giving an alternative analysis of the concept of disagreement; claiming that speakers suffer from semantic blindness; and (...) claiming that attributions of beauty carry presuppositions of commonality. I will argue that none of the available strategies gives a response which both (a) satisfactorily explains all of the disagreement-data and (b) is plausible independent of significant evidence in favor of contextualism. I conclude that individualized indexical contextualism about the aesthetic is untenable, although this does not rule out alternative contextualist approaches to the aesthetic. (shrink)
In this paper I develop a version of contextualism that I call interests contextualism. Interests contextualism is the view that the truth-conditions of knowledge ascribing and denying sentences are partly determined by the ascriber’s interests and purposes. It therefore stands in opposition to the usual view on which the truth-conditions are partly determined by the ascriber’s conversational context. I give an argument against one particular implementation of the usual view, differentiate interests contextualism from other prominent versions (...) of contextualism and argue that, unlike those versions, interests contextualism can mitigate against the epistemic descent objection put forward by Duncan Pritchard in his ‘Contextualism, Scepticism, and the Problem of Epistemic Descent’ (the objection is that, on the contextualist view, an ascriber of knowledge cannot, for some subject S and proposition p, properly ascribe knowledge that p to S if that ascriber has previously retracted an earlier ascription of knowledge that p to S). (shrink)
Recently, contextualism about epistemic modals and predicates of taste have come under fire from advocates of assessment relativistic analyses. Contextualism, they have argued, fails to account for what we call "felicitous insensitive assessments". In this paper, we provide one hitherto overlooked way in which contextualists can embrace the phenomenon by slightly modifying an assumption that has remained in the background in most of the debate over contextualism and relativism. Finally, we briefly argue that the resulting contextualist account (...) is at least as plausible as the relativist alternative and should be carefully considered before contextualism is abandoned for relativism. (shrink)
Knowledge ascriptions seem context sensitive. Yet it is widely thought that epistemic contextualism does not have a plausible semantic implementation. We aim to overcome this concern by articulating and defending an explicit contextualist semantics for ‘know,’ which integrates a fairly orthodox contextualist conception of knowledge as the elimination of the relevant alternatives, with a fairly orthodox “Amherst” semantics for A-quantification over a contextually variable domain of situations. Whatever problems epistemic contextualism might face, lack of an orthodox semantic implementation (...) is not among them. (shrink)
In this chapter, I produce counterexamples to Presuppositional Epistemic Contextualism (PEC), a view about the semantics of ‘knowledge’-ascriptions that I have argued for elsewhere. According to PEC, the semantic content of the predicate ‘know’ at a context C is partly determined by the speakers’ pragmatic presuppositions at C. The problem for the view that I shall be concerned with here arises from the fact that pragmatic presuppositions are sometimes known to be true by the speakers who make them: hence (...) the Problem of Known Presuppositions. After discussing several unsuccessful ways to solve the problem, I propose the addition of a new Lewisian rule of proper ignoring to the semantics of PEC--namely, the Rule of Evidence-Based Ignoring. If the proposed account succeeds, the Problem of Known Presuppositions has a straightforward solution within the framework of PEC. (shrink)
In this essay I show how to reconcile epistemic invariantism with the knowledge account of assertion. My basic proposal is that we can comfortably combine invariantism with the knowledge account of assertion by endorsing contextualism about speech acts. My demonstration takes place against the backdrop of recent contextualist attempts to usurp the knowledge account of assertion, most notably Keith DeRose's influential argument that the knowledge account of assertion spells doom for invariantism and enables contextualism's ascendancy.
Conversational contextualism in epistemology is characterized by four main theses: 1. the indexicality of knowledge claims thesis; 2. the attributor contextualism thesis; 3. the conversational contextualism thesis, and 4. the main thesis of contextualism according to which a knowledge claim can be true in one context and false in another context in which more stringent standards for knowledge are operant. It is argued that these theses taken together generate problems for contextualism. In particular, it is (...) shown that there is no context in which the contextualist can truthfully claim to know her theory is true. Since these results were obtained only with principles the contextualist cannot give up—like the principle of epistemic closure and the principle that knowledge implies truth—it seems that contextualism is in need of a thoroughgoing revision if it is to become a successful epistemic theory. (shrink)
In the recent philosophy of language literature there is a debate over whether contextualist accounts of the semantics of various terms can accommodate intuitions of disagreement in certain cases involving those terms. Relativists such as John MacFarlane have claimed that this motivates adopting a form of relativist semantics for these terms because the relativist can account for the same data as contextualists but doesn’t face this problem of disagreement (MacFarlane 2005, 2007 and 2009). In this paper I focus on the (...) case of epistemic predicates and I argue that on a certain assumption about what is involved in assessing an utterance the epistemic contextualist can solve her problem of disagreement. This undercuts a motivation for epistemic relativism. (shrink)
In this paper, I exploit the parallel between epistemic contextualism and metaethical speaker-relativism to argue that a promising way out of two of the primary problems facing contextualism is one already explored in some detail in the ethical case – viz. expressivism. The upshot is an argument for a form of epistemic expressivism modeled on a familiar form of ethical expressivism. This provides a new nondescriptivist option for understanding the meaning of knowledge attributions, which arguably better captures the (...) normative nature of epistemic discourse than descriptivist competitors like invariantism and contextualism. (shrink)
Fallibilism is ubiquitous in contemporary epistemology. I argue that a paradox about knowledge, generated by considerations of truth, shows that fallibilism can only deliver knowledge in lucky circumstances. Specifically, since it is possible that we are brains-in-vats (BIVs), it is possible that all our beliefs are wrong. Thus, the fallibilist can know neither whether or not we have much knowledge about the world nor whether or not we know any specific proposition, and so the warrant of our knowledge-claims is much (...) reduced and second-order skepticism is generated. Since this is the case in both skeptical and everyday contexts, contextualism cannot resolve the paradox. (shrink)
Abstract: This essay explores the relation between feminist epistemology and the problem of philosophical skepticism. Even though feminist epistemology has not typically focused on skepticism as a problem, I argue that a feminist contextualist epistemology may solve many of the difficulties facing recent contextualist responses to skepticism. Philosophical skepticism appears to succeed in casting doubt on the very possibility of knowledge by shifting our attention to abnormal contexts. I argue that this shift in context constitutes an attempt to exercise unearned (...) social and epistemic power and that it should be resisted on epistemic and pragmatic grounds. I conclude that skepticism is a problem that feminists can and should take up as they address the social aspects of traditional epistemological problems. (shrink)
A critique of attempts by Charles Travis and others to read contextualism back into Philosophical Investigations. The central interpretive claim is that this reading is not only unsupported; it gets Wittgenstein's intent, in the parts of the text at issue, precisely backwards. The focus of the chapter is on Wittgenstein's treatment of explanation, understanding, proper names, and family-resemblance concepts.
According to Semantic Minimalism, every use of "Chiara is tall" (fixing the girl and the time) semantically expresses the same proposition, the proposition that Chiara is (just plain) tall. Given standard assumptions, this proposition ought to have an intension (a function from possible worlds to truth values). However, speakers tend to reject questions that presuppose that it does. I suggest that semantic minimalists might address this problem by adopting a form of "nonindexical contextualism," according to which the proposition invariantly (...) expressed by "Chiara is tall" does not have a context-invariant intension. Nonindexical contextualism provides an elegant explanation of what is wrong with "context-shifting arguments" and can be seen as a synthesis of the (partial) insights of semantic minimalists and radical contextualists. (shrink)
Contextualism is a view about meaning, semantic content and truth-conditions, bearing significant consequences for the characterisation of explicit and implicit content, the decoding/inferring distinction and the semantics/pragmatics interface. According to the traditional perspective in semantics (called "literalism" or "semantic minimalism"), it is possible to attribute truth-conditions to a sentence independently of any context of utterance, i.e. in virtue of its meaning alone. We must then distinguish between the proposition literally expressed by a sentence ("what is said" by the sentence, (...) its literal truth-conditions) and the implicit meaning of the sentence ("what is implicated" by a speaker uttering the sentence). Over the past forty years, however, an increasing number of linguists and philosophers have begun to underline the phenomenon of semantic underdetermination: the encoded meaning of the sentence employed by a speaker underdetermines the proposition explicitly expressed by an utterance of that sentence. According to the extreme version of this perspective – labelled "radical contextualism" - no sentence of a natural language expresses a complete proposition, or has fixed truth-conditions, even when unambiguous and devoid of indexicals. A sentence expresses a proposition only when completed and enriched with pragmatic constituents that do not correspond to any syntactic element of the sentence and yet are part of its semantic interpretation. More broadly, "contextualism" may be used to refer to a family of views which includes moderate contextualism (also called "indexicalism"), radical contextualism and non-indexical contextualism – and which contrasts with semantic minimalism. (shrink)
Epistemic contextualism (EC) is primarily a semantic view, viz. the view that ‘knowledge’-ascriptions can change their contents with the conversational context. To be more precise, EC is the view that the predicate ‘know’ has an unstable Kaplan character, i.e. a character that does not map all contexts on the same content. According to EC, ‘know’ is thus an indexical expression. Notwithstanding this purely linguistic characterisation of EC, contextualists have traditionally argued that their views have considerable philosophical impact, this being (...) due to the alleged fact that their linguistic views about ‘know’ provide the resources for a resolution of sceptical puzzles. In this paper I will address an objection to EC claiming that, as a linguistic view about the term ‘know’, EC cannot be of any epistemological significance. (shrink)
The paper critically examines an objection to epistemic contextualism recently developed by Elke Brendel and Peter Baumann, according to which it is impossible for the contextualist to know consistently that his theory is true. I first present an outline of contextualism and its reaction to scepticism. Then the necessary and sufficient conditions for the knowability problem to arise are explored. Finally, it will be argued that contextualism does not fulfil these minimal conditions. It will be shown that (...) the contrary view is based on a misunderstanding of what contextualists are claiming. (shrink)
There are various ways in which context matters in ethics. Most clearly, the context in which an action is performed might determine whether the action is morally right: though it is often wrong not to keep a promise, it might be permissible in certain contexts. More radically, proponents of moral particularism (see particularism) have argued that a reason for an action in one context is not guaranteed to be a reason in a different context: whether it is a reason against (...) an act that it breaks a promise or inflicts pain might depend on the particulars of the situation. In moral epistemology, Timmons (1999: Ch. 5) argues that whether a moral judgment is epistemically responsible depends both on the basic moral outlook of the moral judge and on whether the context of judgment is one of engaged moral thinking, or one of distanced, skeptical reflection. In the former, the judge’s basic moral outlook can serve to justify the judgment; not so in the latter (see epistemology, moral). -/- Our focus here, however, will be on forms of metaethical, and more precisely semantic, contextualism in moral discourse and moral thinking. According to these forms of contextualism (henceforth “metaethical contextualism,” or just “contextualism”), the meaning or truth-conditions of a moral judgment depend not only on the properties of the act it concerns, but also on features of the context in which the judgment is made, such as the standards endorsed by the moral judge or the parties of the conversation. If metaethical contextualism is correct, it might be that when two persons judge that abortions must be banned, one person’s judgment might be true whereas the other person’s is false, because they accept different fundamental norms. This would undermine the idea that there are objectively correct answers to moral questions. -/- Metaethical contextualism is supported from three directions. First, what is expressed by terms such as “good” and “ought” seems to be context-dependent when used outside ethics, being dependent on a variety of interests and concerns. One might therefore expect similar context dependence when these terms are used to express moral judgments, assuming a corresponding variety of interests and concerns in moral contexts. Second, many have thought that deep moral disagree- ments suggest that the interests and concerns behind moral judgments do vary in this way. Finally, contextualism promises to make sense of what seems to be an intrinsic yet defeasible connection between moral judgments and moral motivation, by tying the meaning or truth-conditions of moral judgments closely to interests and concerns of moral judges. At the same time, contextualism faces two broad kinds of problems: to make sense of the seemingly categorical or objective preten- sions of moral claims, and to explain why the parties to deep moral disagreement often behave as if they were disagreeing about substantive issues rather than talking past each other. In the sections that follow, we look closer at both sources of support and problems for contextualism. (shrink)
In his Knowledge and Practical Interests Jason Stanley argues that the view he defends, which he calls interest-relative invariantism, is better supported by certain cases than epistemic contextualism. In this article I argue that a version of epistemic contextualism that emphasizes the role played by the ascriber's practical interests in determining the truth-conditions of her ‘knowledge’ ascriptions – a view that I call interests contextualism – is better supported by Stanley's cases than interest-relative invariantism or other versions (...) of epistemic contextualism. My main aim is to show that interests contextualism is a viable, if often over-looked, alternative to the usual positions in the contemporary debate. (shrink)
Epistemic contextualism is widely believed to be incompatible with the recently popular view that knowledge is the norm of assertion, practical reasoning, or belief. I argue in this article that the problems arising for contextualism from the mentioned normative views are only apparent and can be resolved by acknowledging the fairly widespread phenomenon of non-obvious context-sensitivity (recently embraced by even some of contextualism's most ardent former critics). Building on recent insights about non-obvious context-sensitivity, the article outlines an (...) independently attractive contextualist account of the mentioned epistemic norms and provides a solution to the puzzles they give rise to in a contextualist framework. (shrink)
Abstract: Contextualism in epistemology has been proposed both as a way to avoid skepticism and as an explanation for the variability found in our use of "knows." When we turn to contextualism to perform these two functions, we should ensure that the version we endorse is well suited for these tasks. I compare two versions of epistemic contextualism: attributor contextualism (from Keith DeRose) and methodological contextualism (from Michael Williams). I argue that methodological contextualism is (...) superior both in its response to skepticism and in its mechanism for changing contexts. However, methodological contextualism still faces two challenges: explaining why we are solidly committed to some contexts, and explaining why knowledge within a context is valuable. I propose virtue contextualism as a useful extension of methodological contextualism, focusing on the way that our virtues depend on our social roles. My proposed virtue contextualism retains the benefits of methodological contextualism while explaining both our commitment to particular contexts and the value of knowledge held within those contexts. (shrink)
Abstract MacFarlane distinguishes “context sensitivity” from “indexicality,” and argues that “nonindexical contextualism” has significant advantages over the standard indexical form. MacFarlane’s substantive thesis is that the extension of an expression may depend on an epistemic standard variable even though its content does not. Focusing on ‘knows,’ I will argue against the possibility of extension dependence without content dependence when factors such as meaning, time, and world are held constant, and show that MacFarlane’s nonindexical contextualism provides no advantages over (...) indexical contextualism. The discussion will shed light on the definition of indexicals as well as the meaning of ‘knows,’ and highlight important constraints on the way meaning can be represented in semantics. Content Type Journal Article Pages 1-14 DOI 10.1007/s11098-011-9831-1 Authors Wayne A. Davis, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA Journal Philosophical Studies Online ISSN 1573-0883 Print ISSN 0031-8116. (shrink)
Contextualist theories of knowledge offer a semantic hypothesis to explain the observed contextual variation in what people say they know, and the difficulty people have resolving skeptical paradoxes. Subject or speaker relative versions make the truth conditions of “S knows that p” depend on the standards of either the knower’s context (Hawthorne and Stanley) or those of the speaker’s context (Cohen and DeRose). Speaker contextualism avoids objections to subject contextualism, but is implausible in light of evidence that “know” (...) does not behave like an indexical. I deepen and extend these criticisms in light of recent defenses by contextualists (including Ludlow). Another difficulty is that whether certain standards are salient or intended does not entail that they are the proper standards. A normative form of contextualism on which the truth of a knowledge claim depends on the proper standards for the context is more promising, but still unsatisfactory whether the view is speaker or subject relative. I defend alternative explanations for the observed linguistic and psychological data: a pragmatic account for some cases and a cognitive account for others. 1. (shrink)
Moral contextualism is the view that claims like ‘A ought to X’ are implicitly relative to some (contextually variable) standard. This leads to a problem: what are fundamental moral claims like ‘You ought to maximize happiness’ relative to? If the claim is relative to a utilitarian standard, then its truth conditions are trivial: ‘Relative to utilitarianism, you ought to maximize happiness’. But it certainly doesn’t seem trivial that you ought to maximize happiness (utilitarianism is a highly controversial position). Some (...) people believe this problem is a reason to prefer a realist or error theoretic semantics of morals. I argue two things: first, that plausible versions of all these theories are afflicted by the problem equally, and second, that any solution available to the realist and error theorist is also available to the contextualist. So the problem of triviality does not favour noncontextualist views of moral language. (shrink)
This paper explores how the purpose of the concept of knowledge affects knowledge ascriptions in natural language. I appeal to the idea that the role of the concept of knowledge is to flag reliable informants, and I use this idea to illuminate and support contextualism about ‘knows’. I argue that practical pressures that arise in an epistemic state of nature provide an explanatory basis for a brand of contextualism that I call ‘practical interests contextualism’. I also answer (...) some questions that contextualism leaves open, particularly why the concept of knowledge is valuable, why the word ‘knows’ exhibits context-variability, and why this term enjoys such widespread use. Finally, I show how my contextualist framework accommodates plausible ideas from two rival views: subject-sensitive invariantism and insensitive invariantism. This provides new support for contextualism and develops this view in a way that improves our understanding of the concept of knowledge. (shrink)
According to a view widely held by epistemic contextualists, the truth conditions of a knowledge claim depend on features of the context such as the presuppositions, interests and purposes of the conversational participants. Against this view, I defend an intentionalist account, according to which the truth conditions of a knowledge attribution are determined by the speaker’s intention. I show that an intentionalist version of contextualism has several advantages over its more widely accepted rival account.
Two of the main forms of anti-scepticism in the contemporary literature—namely, neo-Mooreanism and attributer contextualism—share a common claim, which is that we are, contra the sceptic, able to know the denials of sceptical hypotheses. This paper begins by surveying the relative merits of these views when it comes to dealing with the standard closure-based formulation of the sceptical problem that is focussed on the possession of knowledge. It is argued, however, that it is not enough to simply deal with (...) this version of the sceptical challenge, since there is a more fundamental sceptical problem underlying the standard closure-based sceptical argument that can be expressed in terms of the evidential basis of our beliefs. Whilst it is argued that neo-Mooreanism has a slight edge over attributer contextualism when it comes to dealing with the closure-based formulation of the sceptical problem, it is claimed that this view is in an ever stronger dialectical position when it comes to the more pressing evidential formulation of the sceptical problem. It is shown that this is so even if one adapts the attributer contextualist thesis along the lines suggested by Michael Williams and Ram Neta so that it is explicitly designed to deal with the evidential variant of the sceptical problem. (shrink)
I distinguish between Old Contextualism, New Contextualism, and the Multiple Concepts Theory. I argue that Old Contextualism cannot handle the following three problems: (i) the disquotational paradox, (ii) upward pressure resistance, (iii) inability to avoid the acceptance of skeptical conclusions. New Contextualism, in contrast, can avoid these problems. However, since New Contextualism appears to be a semanticized mirror image of MCT, it remains unclear whether it is in fact a genuine version of contextualism.
Contextualism about ‘might’ says that the property that ‘might’ expresses varies from context to context. I argue against contextualism. I focus on problems that contextualism apparently has with attitude ascriptions in which ‘might’ appears in an embedded ‘that’-clause. I argue that contextualists can deal rather easily with many of these problems, but I also argue that serious difficulties remain with collective and quantified says-that ascriptions. Herman Cappelen and John Hawthorne atempt to deal with these remaining problems, but (...) I argue that their attempt fails. (shrink)
In epistemology and in philosophy of language there is fierce debate about the role of context in knowledge, understanding, and meaning. Many contemporary epistemologists take seriously the thesis that epistemic vocabulary is context-sensitive. This thesis is of course a semantic claim, so it has brought epistemologists into contact with work on context in semantics by philosophers of language. This volume brings together the debates, in a set of twelve specially written essays representing the latest work by leading figures in the (...) two fields. All future work on contextualism will start here. Contributors: Kent Bach, Herman Cappelen, Andy Egan, Michael Glanzberg, John Hawthorne, Ernest Lepore, Peter Ludlow, Peter Pagin, Georg Peter, Paul M. Pietroski, Gerhard Preyer, Jonathan Schaffer, Jason Stanley, Brian Weatherson, Timothy Williamson. (shrink)
Many nonanthropocentric environmental ethicists subscribe to a ``principle-ist'''' approach to moral argument, whereby specific natural resource and environmental policy judgments are deduced from the prior articulation of a general moral principle. More often than not, this principle is one requiring the promotion of the intrinsic value of nonhuman nature. Yet there are several problems with this method of moral reasoning, including the short-circuiting of reflective inquiry and the disregard of the complex nature of specific environmental problems and policy arguments. In (...) the present paper, we advance an alternative, pragmatic contextualist approach to environmental ethics, one grounded in the moral theory of John Dewey. We present the results of an empirical study of public environmental ethics and natural resource management attitudes to support our position, and we conclude with a few recommendations for future inquiry in the field of environmental ethics. (shrink)
Epistemic contextualism was originally motivated and supported by the response it provides to skeptical paradox. Although there has been much discussion of the contextualist response to skeptical paradox, not much attention has been paid to the argument from skepticism for contextualism. Contextualists argue that contextualism accounts for the plausibility and apparent inconsistency of a set of paradoxical claims better than any classical invariantist theory. In this paper I focus on and carefully examine the argument from skepticism for (...)contextualism. I argue not only that the prima facie advantage of contextualism is specious, but also that contextualism is in fact at a competitive disadvantage with respect to two classical invariantist views. I also argue that contextualism takes an arbitrary and unsatisfying strategy in its response to skepticism. That contextualism is alone in taking this arbitrary strategy marks a second competitive disadvantage for it. In addition, I argue that the contextualist response to skeptical paradox regenerates a skeptical paradox which contextualism is powerless to solve. Consequently, the argument from skepticism for contextualism fails. Furthermore, this feature of the contextualist response to skeptical paradox completely undermines the motivation and support for contextualism deriving from its treatment of skeptical paradox. I conclude that the argument from skepticism for contextualism fails, and that the contextualist response to skeptical paradox fails to motivate contextualism, pending the success of another argument for the contextualist thesis. (shrink)
If, as I have argued elsewhere, consequentialism is not fundamentally concerned with such staples of moral theory as rightness, duty, obligation, moral requirements, goodness (as applied to actions), and harm, what, if anything, does it have to say about such notions? While such notions have no part to play at the deepest level of the theory, they may nonetheless be of practical significance. By way of explanation I provide a linguistic contextualist account of these notions. A contextualist approach to all (...) these notions makes room for them in ordinary moral discourse, but it also illustrates why there is no room for them at the level of fundamental moral theory. If the truth value of a judgment that an action is right or good varies according to the context in which it is made, then rightness or goodness can no more be properties of actions themselves than thisness or hereness can be properties of things or locations themselves. (shrink)
Abstract: Despite all the critical scrutiny they have received recently, contextualist views in philosophy are still not well understood. Neither contextualists nor their opponents have been entirely clear about what contextualist theses amount to and what they are based on. In this article I show that there are actually two kinds of contextualist view that rest on two very different semantic phenomena, namely, semantic incompleteness and semantic indeterminacy . I explain how contextualist approaches can be used to dissolve certain debates (...) in philosophy. According to such approaches, the same philosophical thesis can be correctly endorsed in some contexts and correctly denied in others: it is thus pointless to seek a context-independent solution to debates about this thesis. My purpose is not to defend particular contextualist views but to lay out the general framework on which they rest: this allows us to see more clearly the similarities and differences among contextualist views defended in various areas of philosophy. (shrink)
According to an influential contextualist solution to skepticism advanced by Keith DeRose, denials of skeptical hypotheses are, in most contexts, strong yet insensitive. The strength of such denials allows for knowledge of them, thus undermining skepticism, while the insensitivity of such denials explains our intuition that we do not know them. In this paper we argue that, under some well-motivated conditions, a negated skeptical hypothesis is strong only if it is sensitive. We also consider how a natural response on behalf (...) of DeRose appears to be equally available to his primary rival (viz., the sensitivity theorist). (shrink)
Contextualism answers skepticism by proposing a variable standard of justification, keyed to the context of utterance. A lawyer's situation with respect to a criminal defendant's factual guilt is a special one. The argument here is that in this special context an especially high standard of epistemic justification applies. The standard is even more exacting than the proof-beyond-reasonable-doubt standard that juries are sworn to follow. The upshot is that criminal defense lawyers normally cannot know that a client is factually guilt.
John Greco has proposed a new sort of contextualism which exhibits a principled grounding in an agent reliabilist virtue epistemology. In this paper I will discuss Grecos two main reasons in favor of virtue contextualism. The first reason is that his account of knowledge can be derived from a more general theory of virtue and credit. The second reason consists in the thesis that a virtue contextualist solution to the lottery problem is superior to standards contextualism. With (...) regard to the first claim, I raise some questions concerning the status and the content of the crucial conditions for Grecos theory of intellectual credit. With regard to the second claim, I try to show that his arguments do not succeed in establishing the superiority of virtue contextualism to standards contextualism. I close with some remarks on the relation among Grecos virtue contextualism, the traditional approach to the theory of knowledge and the proper domain of contextualism. (shrink)
This paper considers ways that experimental design can affect judgments about informally presented context shifting experiments. Reasons are given to think that judgments about informal context shifting experiments are affected by an exclusive reliance on binary truth value judgments and by experimenter bias. Exclusive reliance on binary truth value judgments may produce experimental artifacts by obscuring important differences of degree between the phenomena being investigated. Experimenter bias is an effect generated when, for example, experimenters disclose (even unconsciously) their own beliefs (...) about the outcome of an experiment. Eliminating experimenter bias from context shifting experiments makes it far less obvious what the “intuitive” responses to those experiments are. After it is shown how those different kinds of bias can affect judgments about informal context shifting experiments, those experiments are revised to control for those forms of bias. The upshot of these investigations is that participants in the contextualist debate who employ informal experiments should pay just as much attention to the design of their experiments as those who employ more formal experimental techniques if they want to avoid obscuring the phenomena they aim to uncover. (shrink)
Contextualism is supposed to explain why the following argument for skepticism seems plausible: (1) I don’t know that I am not a bodiless brain-in-a-vat (BIV); (2) If I know I have hands, then I know I am not a bodiless BIV; (3) Therefore, I do not know I have hands. Keith DeRose claims that (1) and (2) are “initially plausible.” I claim that (1) is initially plausible only because of an implicit argument that stands behind it; it is not (...) intuitively plausible. The argument DeRose offers is based on the requirement of sensitivity, that is, on the idea that if you know something then you would not believe it if it were false. I criticize the sensitivity requirement thereby undercutting its support for (1) and the skeptical data that contextualism is meant to explain. While skepticism is not a plausible ground for contextualism, I argue that certain pragmatic considerations are. It’s plausible to think that to know something more evidence is required when more is at stake. The best way to handle skepticism is to criticize the arguments for it. We should not adopt contextualism as a means of accommodating skepticism even if there are other pragmatic reasons for being a contextualist about knowledge. (shrink)
Several philosophers have argued that the factivity of knowledge poses a problem for epistemic contextualism (EC), which they have construed as a knowability problem. On a proposed minimalistic reading of EC’s commitments, Wolfgang Freitag argues that factivity yields no knowability problem for EC. I begin by explaining how factivity is thought to generate a contradiction out of paradigmatic contextualist cases on a certain reading of EC’s commitments. This reductio results in some kind of reflexivity problem for the contextualist when (...) it comes to knowing her theory: either a knowability problem or a statability problem. Next, I set forth Freitag’s minimalistic reading of EC and explain how it avoids the reductio, the knowability problem and the statability problem. I argue that despite successfully evading these problems, Freitag’s minimalistic reading saddles EC with several other serious problems and should be rejected. I conclude by offering my own resolution to the problems. (shrink)
The paper takes as its starting point the observation that people can be led to retract knowledge claims when presented with previously ignored error possibilities, but offers a noncontextualist explanation of the data. Fallibilist epistemologies are committed to the existence of two kinds of Kp -falsifying contingencies: (i) Non-Ignorable contingencies [NI-contingencies] and (ii) Properly-Ignorable contingencies [PI-contingencies]. For S to know that p, S must be in an epistemic position to rule out all NI-contingencies, but she need not be able to (...) rule out the PI-contingencies. What is required vis-à-vis PI-contingencies is that they all be false . In mentioning PI-contingencies, an interlocutor can lead S mistakenly to think that these contingencies are NI-contingencies, when in fact they are not. Since S cannot rule out these newly mentioned contingencies and since she mistakenly takes them to be NI-contingencies , it is quite natural that she retract her earlier knowledge claim. In short, mentioning NI-contingencies creates a distortion effect. It makes S think that the standards for knowledge are higher than they actually are, which in turn explains why she mistakenly thinks she lacks knowledge. Conclusion: The primary linguistic data offered in support of contextualism can be explained without resorting to contextualism. (shrink)
The objective of this paper is to apply the general idea of contextualism, as a theory of knowledge attribution, to the very specific case of testimony and trust characterized as being the procedure of the attribution of knowledge (and sincerity) to the informant. In the first part, I argue in favor of evidentialism, a viewpoint that takes epistemically responsible trust as a matter of evidence. In the second part, I consider the question of how strong an evidential basis has (...) to be for epistemically responsible trust. I have briefly registered two main tendencies in contemporary debates regarding trust and testimony: (i) the non-unitary character of our trust; (ii) and the requirement for a refinement of evidential standards. In short, I argue in favor of the stance that any ‘undiscriminatory generalization’ (both Redian or anti-reductivist and Humean or reductivist) concerning epistemically responsible trust is a kind of inappropriate theoretical idealization, and that a certain theoretical reconciliation has to be offered. Finally, in the third part, I propose trust-contextualism as the viewpoint that optimally harmonizes both our intuitive and theoretical requirements about epistemically responsible trust. (shrink)
It is argued that neither contextualism nor relativism can provide a satisfying semantics of knowledge ascriptions. According to contextualism, the truth conditions of knowledge ascriptions of the form “S knows that p” vary with the epistemic standards operative in the contexts of utterance. These epistemic standards are determined, in particular, by the speaker’s stakes with regard to p or the consideration of error-possibilities. It is shown that the absolute concept of utterance truth together with a knowledge rule of (...) assertion lead to certain unassertable truths in contextualism and to counterintuitive results with regard to certain cross-context knowledge ascriptions. Although utterance truth is relativized to contexts of assessment in relativist accounts of knowledge, relativism still makes inadequate semantic predictions. In particular, relativism runs into problems in cases where the context of assessment is lower than the context of utterance. It is finally argued that invariantist accounts, according to which the truth conditions of knowledge ascriptions do neither vary with the context of utterance nor the context of assessment, but are determined by objective features given in the situation in which the knowledge claim is made, are better suited for modelling the semantics of knowledge ascriptions. Besides the fact that stakes or the consideration of error-possibilities can have an influence on the belief in a proposition, they have no further bearing on the truth conditions of knowledge ascriptions. (shrink)
It's an obvious enough observation that the standards that govern whether ordinary speakers will say that someone knows something vary with context: What we are happy to call "knowledge" in some ("low-standards") contexts we'll deny is "knowledge" in other ("high-standards") contexts. But do these varying standards for when ordinary speakers will attribute knowledge, and for when they are in some important sense warranted in attributing knowledge, reflect varying standards for when it is or would be true for them to attribute (...) knowledge? Or are the standards that govern whether such claims are true always the same? And what are the implications for epistemology if these truth-conditions for knowledge claims shift with context? Contextualism, the view that the epistemic standards a subject must meet in order for a claim attributing "knowledge" to her to be true do vary with context, has been hotly debated in epistemology and philosophy of language during the last few decades. In The Case for Contextualism Keith DeRose offers a sustained state-of-the-art exposition and defense of the contextualist position, presenting and advancing the most powerful arguments in favor of the view and against its "invariantist" rivals, and responding to the most pressing objections facing contextualism. (shrink)
Some object that contextualism makes knowledge elusive in the sense that it comes and goes as the standards for knowledge change. Contextualists have attempted to handle this objection by semantic ascent. Some of the recent refinements that contextualism has undergone create serious problems for this move. Either it makes contextualism unassertible or it makes refuting the skeptic too easy.