Epistemic relativism and semantic blindness

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

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

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Benjamin T. Rancourt
North Carolina State University

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References found in this work

Demonstratives: An Essay on the Semantics, Logic, Metaphysics and Epistemology of Demonstratives and other Indexicals.David Kaplan - 1989 - In Joseph Almog, John Perry & Howard Wettstein (eds.), Themes From Kaplan. Oxford University Press. pp. 481-563.
Knowledge and Lotteries.John Hawthorne - 2003 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Knowledge and Practical Interests.Jason Stanley - 2005 - Oxford University Press.
Themes From Kaplan.Joseph Almog, John Perry & Howard Wettstein (eds.) - 1989 - Oxford University Press.

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