Contextualism, relativism, and the semantics of knowledge ascriptions

Philosophical Studies 168 (1):101-117 (2014)
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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



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Elke Brendel
Universität Bonn

References found in this work

Knowledge and its limits.Timothy Williamson - 2000 - New York: Oxford University Press.
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