Contextualism and the meaning-intention problem

The relevant alternatives approach in epistemology1 arose some years ago partly out of the hope to be able to reconcile our ordinary claims of knowledge with our inability to answer the skeptic. It was supposed to give rise to an account of knowledge according to which our ordinary claims of knowledge are true, even though the claims about our lack of knowledge that the skeptics make in one of their more persuasive moments are also true. To know, according to such an account, is to have evidence sufficient to rule out all the relevant alternatives. In ordinary life few alternatives are relevant. For example, whether or not we are brains in a vat is not a relevant alternative that we have to be able to rule out. In the debate with the skeptic it may become relevant, and accordingly we might not know something any more then, even though we have the same evidence as in ordinary life. The skeptics cleverly make more and more alternatives relevant, and that is how they succeed. But their success in the philosophy seminar is no threat to our ordinary claims of knowledge, or so the theory goes.
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