Epistemic Standards: High Hopes and Low Expectations

In Pedro Schmechtig & Martin Grajner (eds.), Epistemic Reasons, Norms, and Goals. De Gruyter. pp. 185-198 (2016)
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The notion of epistemic standards has gained prominence in the literature on the semantics of knowledge ascriptions. Defenders of Epistemic Contextualism claim that in certain scenarios the truth value of a knowledge-ascribing sentence of the form “S knows p (at t)”—where S is an epistemic subject and p is a proposition S is said to know at time t—can change even if S, p and t are assigned constant values. This sort of variability, contextualists claim, is due to the epistemic standards governing the context in which the knowledge ascription is uttered. While a specific knowledge ascription may be true when uttered in a context with “low” epistemic standards, it may be false when uttered in a context with “high” epistemic standards. The reason for this, as far as contextualists are concerned, is the context sensitivity of the verb “knows”. In standard semantics an expression is said to be context sensitive if and only if it expresses different contents (or intensions) relative to different contexts of utterance. Thus, as epistemic standards influence the content of “knows”, they play a crucial role in contextualist semantics. In this paper, I examine different conceptions of epistemic standards and argue that all but one lead to counterintuitive consequences. The conception which avoids these consequences, however, has the downside of seriously restricting the talk of “high” or “low” standards that is so frequent in discussions on the semantics of knowledge ascriptions.



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Erik Stei
Utrecht University

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