Knowledge, context, and the agent's point of view

In Gerhard Preyer & Georg Peter (eds.), Contextualism in Philosophy: Knowledge, Meaning, and Truth. Oxford University Press. pp. 91--114 (2005)
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Contextualism is relativism tamed. Relativism about truth is usually motivated by the idea of no-fault disagreement. Imagine two parties: one (she) says ‘P’; the other (he) says ‘Not P’.1 Apparently, if P then ‘P’ is true and ‘Not P’ false, so she is right and he is wrong; if not P then ‘P’ is false and ‘Not P’ true, so he is right and she is wrong. In both cases, there is an asymmetry between the two parties. Since P or not P (by the law of excluded middle), there is indeed an asymmetry between them, one way or the other. Yet the two parties may strike a neutral observer as on a par, equally intelligent, informed, perceptive and alert. Relativists about truth strive to dissolve the unpleasant asymmetry: ‘”P” is true for her; “Not P” is true for him’. Trouble starts when we ask what the relativists mean by ‘for’ in the construction ‘true for X’. If to call something true ‘for’ X is just to say that X believes that it is true, then the attempted dissolution amounts to this: ‘She believes that “P” is true; he believes that “Not P” is true’. But that is to add no more than that both parties believe that they are right; it does nothing to undermine the argument for an asymmetry between them. Relativists had better mean something else by ‘true for X’. When asked to explain what else they mean, wild relativists bluster incoherently. Contextualists, by contrast, have a clear answer. A sentence is true for X if and only if it is true as uttered by X, true relative to a context in which X is the speaker. Such relativism is tame because the relativity to context in the truth-value of a sentence allows for absoluteness in the truth-value of what the sentence is used to say in a given context. When she says ‘P’, she speaks truly: not just truly for her, but absolutely truly. When he says ‘Not P’, he too speaks truly: not just truly for him, but absolutely truly. The argument for asymmetry 1 assumes that, when she says ‘P’, she speaks truly if and only if P, and when he says ‘Not P’, he speaks truly if and only if not P..



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