Perspectives on possibilities: contextualism, relativism, or what?

In Andy Egan & Brian Weatherson (eds.), Epistemic Modality. Oxford University Press (2009)
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Abstract

Epistemic possibilities are relative to bodies of information, or perspectives. To claim that something is epistemically possible is typically to claim that it is possible relative one’s own current perspective. We generally do this by using bare, unqualified epistemic possibility (EP) sentences, ones that don’t mention our perspective. The fact that epistemic possibilities are relative to perspectives suggests that these bare EP sentences fall short of fully expressing propositions, contrary to what both contextualists and relativists take for granted. Although they rightly reject propositional invariantism, the implausible view that a bare EP sentence expresses the same classical (absolutely true or absolutely false) proposition in any context, they maintain that a change in perspective shifts either the sentence’s propositional content (to a proposition involving a different perspective) or its truth-value (the same perspectivally neutral proposition now evaluated from a different perspective). I deny that the semantic contents of bare EP sentences shift at all. But I also deny that these contents have truth-values. Rather, according to the radical invariantism I defend, these contents are not full-fledged propositions but merely propositional radicals. Only explicitly relativized EP sentences manage fully to express propositions, and these perspective-involving propositions are the only EP propositions there are. Nevertheless, bare EP sentences are perfectly capable of being used to assert EP propositions, because utterances of them implicitly allude to the relevant perspective. Various problem cases challenge radical invariantism to explain pragmatically which perspective is read into the utterance of a given bare EP sentence. Unlike contextualism and relativism, it can do this without having to resort to any semantic bells and whistles..

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Kent Bach
San Francisco State University

Citations of this work

Applying pragmatics to epistemology.Kent Bach - 2008 - Philosophical Issues 18 (1):68-88.
Disagreement Lost and Found.Stephen Finlay - 2017 - In Russ Shafer-Landau (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaethics 12. Oxford University Press. pp. 187-205.
Perspectival objectivity.Peter W. Evans - 2020 - European Journal for Philosophy of Science 10 (2):1-21.
An invariantist theory of 'might' might be right.David Braun - 2012 - Linguistics and Philosophy 35 (6):461-489.

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