Synthese 192 (3):859-876 (2015)

Benjamin T. Rancourt
North Carolina State University
Semantic blindness is the inability to recognize semantic features of terms one can competently use. A theory that implies semantic blindness incurs a burden to explain how one can competently use a term without realizing how the term works. An argument advanced in favor of epistemic relativism is that its main competitors, contextualism and subject-sensitive invariantism, imply that speakers suffer from semantic blindness regarding ‘knows’ while relativism has no such implication. However, there is evidence that relativism also implies semantic blindness regarding ‘knows,’ apparently crippling the case for relativism. In this paper I argue that the semantic blindness that affects relativism is not a problem at all. First, the blindness is not as widespread as it appears. It does not prevent ordinary speakers from expressing important epistemic truths. Further, I provide an error theory for relativism that has three features that render it unproblematic: there is evidence independent of relativism that people make this error, relativism predicts this error; it is not an ad hoc rescue, the error only occurs in rare and obscure situations. People are fallible and finite, and assuming relativism is true, they make mistakes exactly where we should expect them to
Keywords relativism  semantic blindness  error theory
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DOI 10.1007/s11229-014-0611-2
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