Contextualism has been hotly debated in recent epistemology and philosophy of language. The Case for Contextualism is a state-of-the-art exposition and defense of the contextualist position, presenting and advancing the most powerful arguments in favor of the view and responding to the most pressing objections facing it.
This paper uses the knowledge account of assertion (KAA) in defense of epistemological contextualism. Part 1 explores the main problem afflicting contextualism, what I call the "Generality Objection." Part 2 presents and defends both KAA and a powerful new positive argument that it provides for contextualism. Part 3 uses KAA to answer the Generality Objection, and also casts other shadows over the prospects for anti-contextualism.
I present the features of the ordinary use of 'knows' that make a compelling case for the contextualist account of that verb, and I outline and defend the methodology that takes us from the data to a contextualist conclusion. Along the way, the superiority of contextualism over subject-sensitive invariantism is defended, and, in the final section, I answer some objections to contextualism.
I will here sharply oppose all the phases of the story Schaffer & Knobe tell. In Part 1 we will look at the supposed empirical case against standard contextualism, and in Part 2 we will investigate Schaffer & Knobe’s supposed empirical case for the superiority of contrastivism over standard contextualism.
In epistemology, “contextualism” denotes a wide variety of more-or-less closely related positions according to which the issues of knowledge or justification are somehow relative to context. I will proceed by first explicating the position I call contextualism, and distinguishing that position from some closely related positions in epistemology, some of which sometimes also go by the name of “contextualism”. I’ll then present and answer what seems to many the most pressing of the objections to contextualism as I construe it, and (...) also indicate some of the main positive motivations for accepting the view. Among the epistemologists I’ve spoken with who have an opinion on the matter, I think it’s fair to say a majority reject contextualism. However, the resistance has to this point been largely underground, with little by way of sustained arguments against contextualism appearing in the journals,[i] though I have begun to see various papers in manuscript form which are critical of contextualism. Here, I’ll respond the criticism of contextualism that, in my travels, I have found to be the most pervasive in producing suspicion about the view. (shrink)
What happens to the "conversational score" when speakers in a conversation push the score for a context-sensitive term in different directions? In epistemology, contextualists are often construed as holding that both the skeptic ("You don't know!") and her opponent ("Oh, yes I do!") speak truthfully when they debate. This assumes a "multiple scoreboards" version of contextualism. But contextualists themselves typically opt for "single scoreboard" views on which such apparently competing claims really do conflict. This paper explores several single scoreboard options (...) for contextualists, opting in the end for the "gap view," on which neither of our debaters speaks truthfully. (shrink)
In some lottery situations, the probability that your ticket's a loser can get very close to 1. Suppose, for instance, that yours is one of 20 million tickets, only one of which is a winner. Still, it seems that (1) You don't know yours is a loser and (2) You're in no position to flat-out assert that your ticket is a loser. "It's probably a loser," "It's all but certain that it's a loser," or even, "It's quite certain that it's (...) a loser" seem quite alright to say, but, it seems, you're in no position to declare simply, "It's a loser." (1) and (2) are closely related phenomena. In fact, I'll take it as a working hypothesis that the reason "It's a loser" is unassertable is that (a) You don't seem to know that your ticket's a loser, and (b) In flat-out asserting some proposition, you represent yourself as knowing it.1 This working hypothesis will enable me to address these two phenomena together, moving back and forth freely between them. I leave it to those who reject the hypothesis to sort out those considerations which properly apply to the issue of knowledge from those germane to that of assertability. Things are quite different when you report the results of last night's basketball game. Suppose your only source is your morning newspaper, which did not carry a story about the 1 game, but simply listed the score, "Knicks 83, at Bulls 95," under "Yesterday's Results." Now, it doesn't happen very frequently, but, as we all should suspect, newspapers do misreport scores from time to time. On several occasions, my paper has transposed a result, attributing to each team the score of its opponent. In fact, that your paper's got the present result wrong seems quite a bit more probable than that you've won the lottery of the above paragraph. Still, when asked, "Did the Bulls win yesterday?", "Probably" and "In all likelihood" seem quite unnecessary. "Yes, they did," seems just fine.. (shrink)
The best grounds for accepting contextualism concerning knowledge attributions are to be found in how knowledge-attributing (and knowledge-denying) sentences are used in ordinary, nonphilosophical talk: What ordinary speakers will count as “knowledge” in some non-philosophical contexts they will deny is such in others. Contextualists typically appeal to pairs of cases that forcefully display the variability in the epistemic standards that govern ordinary usage: A “low standards” case (henceforth, “LOW”) in which a speaker seems quite appropriately and truthfully to ascribe knowledge (...) to a subject will be paired with a “high standards” case (“HIGH”) in which another speaker in a quite different and more demanding context seems with equal propriety and truth to say that the same subject (or a similarly positioned subject) does not know. The contextualist argument based on such cases is driven by the premises that the positive attribution of knowledge in LOW is true, and that the denial of knowledge in HIGH is true. And where the contextualist has constructed HIGH and LOW wisely, those premises are in turn powerfully supported by the two mutually reinforcing strands of evidence that both of the claims intuitively seem true, and that both claims are perfectly appropriate. The resulting argument for contextualism is very powerful indeed, but I am on the offensive making that case in another paper: “The Ordinary Language Basis for Contextualism and the New Invariantism.”. (shrink)
Thomas Blackson does not question that my argument in section 2 of “Assertion, Knowledge and Context” establishes the conclusion that the standards that comprise a truth-condition for “I know that P” vary with context, but does claim that this does not suffice to validly demonstrate the truth of contextualism, because this variance in standards can be handled by what we will here call Subject-Sensitive Invariantism (SSI), and so does not demand a contextualist treatment. According to SSI, the varying standards that (...) comprise a truth-condition of “I know that P” are sensitive to factors that attach to the speaker as the putative subject of knowledge, rather than as the speaker of the knowledge attribution. That is, according to SSI, these factors of the subject’s context determine a single set of standards that govern when the subject himself, or any other speaker, including those not engaged in conversation with the subject, can truthfully say that the subject “knows.” Thus, we do not get the result that contextualists insist on: that one speaker can truthfully say the subject “knows,” while another speaker, in a different and more demanding context, can say that the subject does “not know”, even though the two speakers are speaking of the same subject knowing (or not knowing) the same proposition at the same time. Given the possibility of SSI, Blackson concludes that I “either assumed without argument that [SSI] is false or failed to distinguish the different ways the standard for knowledge might be determined.” I indeed have long assumed that SSI can’t be right, and so have taken a different form of invariantism to be the real threat to contextualism. But since SSI, and views like it, now seem to be getting considerable attention, it is worth articulating why I find it unpromising. (shrink)
Recently, new life has been breathed into the ancient philosophical topic of skepticism. The subject of some of the best and most provocative work in contemporary philosophy, skepticism has been addressed not only by top epistemologists but also by several of the world's finest philosophers who are most known for their work in other areas of the discipline. Skepticism: A Contemporary Reader brings together the most important recent contributions to the discussion of skepticism. Covering major approaches to the skeptical problem, (...) it features essays by Anthony Brueckner, Keith DeRose, Fred Dretske, Graeme Forbes, Christopher Hill, David Lewis, Thomas Nagel, Robert Nozick, Hilary Putnam, Ernest Sosa, Gail Stine, Barry Stroud, Peter Unger, and Ted Warfield. The book opens with a thorough introduction that outlines the skeptical problem, explains the dominant responses to skepticism, and discusses the strengths, weaknesses, and unresolved issues of each response, providing undergraduate students and nonphilosophers with the background and context necessary to understand the essays. Skepticism: A Contemporary Reader serves as an ideal text for courses in epistemology and skepticism and will also appeal to professional philosophers and interested general readers. (shrink)
fits our evidence. I will propose some potential counter-examples to test this evidentialist thesis. My main intention in presenting the “counter-examples” is to better understand Feldman’s evidentialism, and evidentialism in general. How are we to understand what our evidence is, how it works, and how are we to understand the phrase “epistemically ought to believe” such that evidentialism might make sense as a plausible thesis in light of the examples? Of course, we may decide that there’s no such way to (...) understand evidentialism -- that it just isn’t a plausible thesis. I must admit that my suspicions lean in that direction. But the potential counter-examples are put forward, not in a refutational spirit (though I have nothing against good refutations in philosophy), but as an invitation to evidentialists and potential evidentialists to refine and/or explain their thesis in light of the at least apparent problems that the examples highlight. (shrink)
Fortunately for those of us who work on the topic, Ernie Sosa has devoted much of his (seemingly inexhaustible) intellectual energy to the problem of philosophical skepticism. And to great effect. With the three exceptions of Peter Unger, whose 1975 Ignorance: A Case for Scepticism is a grossly under-appreciated classic of epistemology; Timothy Williamson, whose 2000 Knowledge and its Limits is, I hope, on its way to being a less underappreciated classic; and Thomas Reid, I have benefitted more from Sosa’s (...) wrestlings with skepticism than from anyone else’s work on the topic. (shrink)
This paper attacks the Implicit Reference Class Theory of gradable adjectives and proposes instead a ?pluralist? approach to the semantics of those terms, according to which they can be governed by a variety of different types of standards, one, but only one, of which is the group-indexed standards utilized by the Implicit Reference Class Theory.
Resistance to contextualism comes in the form of many very different types of objections. My topic here is a certain group or family of related objections to contextualism that I call “Now you know it, now you don’t” objections. I responded to some such objections in my “Contextualism and Knowledge Attributions” a few years back. In what follows here, I will expand on that earlier response in various ways, and, in doing so, I will discuss some aspects of David Lewis’s (...) recent paper, “Elusive Knowledge.”. (shrink)
Practical deliberation often involves conditional judgements about what will happen if certain alternatives are pursued. It is widely assumed that the conditionals useful in deliberation are counterfactual or subjunctive conditionals. Against this, I argue that the conditionals of deliberation are indicatives. Key to the argument is an account of the relation between ‘straightforward’ future-directed conditionals like ‘If the house is not painted, it will soon look quite shabby’ and ‘ “were”ed-up’ FDCs like ‘If the house were not to be painted, (...) it would soon look quite shabby’: an account on which both of these types of FDCs are grouped with the indicatives for semantic treatment and on which, while conditionals of both types are properly used in means/ends deliberations, those of the ‘were’ed-up variety are especially well suited for that purpose. (shrink)
kind of joke to ask what is the case if the antecedent is false—“And where are the biscuits if I don’t want any?”, “And what’s on PBS if I’m not interested?”, “And who shot Kennedy if that’s not what I’m asking?”. With normal indicative conditionals like.
The score was tied in the bottom of the ninth, I was on third base, and there was only one out when Bubba hit a towering fly ball to deep left-center. Although I’m no speed-demon, the ball was hammered so far that I easily could have scored the winning run if I had tagged up. But I didn’t. I got caught up in the excitement and stupidly played it half way, standing between third and home until I saw the center (...) fielder make his spectacular catch, after which I had to return sheepishly to third. The next batter grounded out, and we lost the game in extra innings. (shrink)
This is the text for a presentation I gave at the Eastern Division Meetings of the American Philosophical Association in Washington, D.C. on December 28, 1998. It was written very quickly, and I haven't had time to go back and fix it up, but I probably won't have time to fix it up any time soon, and several people have requested copies, so I don't see any harm in making it available. Please remember that it is a draft, and don't (...) quote it without permission. (shrink)
A few years back, I participated in the Spindell Conference in Memphis, and gave a paper, “How Can We Know That We’re Not Brains in Vats?” (available on-line at: http://pantheon.yale.edu/~kd47/Spindell.htm). The bulk of that paper concerned responses to skepticism. I pursued an unusually radical criticism of the often-criticized “Putnam-style” responses to skepticism. To put it rather enigmatically, I argued that such responses don’t work even if they work! And I compared such responses with the type of response I favor – (...) the “contextualist Moorean” response – to show how these latter responses are of a type that avoids the radical problems that plague Putnam-style responses. But in the final section of the paper, I turned briefly to a different, though related, issue, presenting my proposed solution to what’s often called the “McKinsey problem.”. (shrink)
Virtually all monotheistic religions profess that there is a divine being who is extremely powerful, knowledgeable, and good. The evils of this world present various challenges for such religions. The starkest challenge is directed toward views that posit a being whose power, knowledge, and goodness are not just immense, but are as great as can be: an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good being (for short, an oopg being). For it would seem that such a being would have the power, the (...) knowledge, and the moral disposition to prevent any evil whatsoever, and from this one might readily conclude that if there were such a being, there would be no evil at all. On one version of this challenge, the coexistence of evil with a God defined in this way is claimed to be logically impossible. This has come to be called the logical problem of evil. Another is that the existence of such a God is improbable given the evils of this world, or at least that the existence of these evils significantly lowers the probability that such an oopg God exists. The concern expressed is that these evils provide good evidence against the existence of such a God. This version is known as the evidential problem of evil. (shrink)
I should be clear at the outset about what I'll mean -- and won't mean -- by "universalism." As I'll use it, "universalism" refers to the position that eventually all human beings will be saved and will enjoy everlasting life with Christ. This is compatible with the view that God will punish many people after death, and many universalists accept that there will be divine retribution, although some may not. What universalism does commit one to is that such punishment won't (...) last forever. Universalism is also incompatible with various views according to which some will be annihilated (after or without first receiving punishment). These views can agree with universalism in that, according to them, punishment isn't everlasting, but they diverge from universalism in that they believe some will be denied everlasting life. Some universalists intend their position to apply animals, and some to fallen angels or even to Satan himself, but in my hands, it will be intended to apply only to human beings. In short, then, it's the position that every human being will, eventually at least, make it to the party. (shrink)
exactly as the essay appears in Skepticism. It's pretty close, though. In the version that appears in the book, page references to other essays in Skepticism refer to page numbers in the book, while below page references are, for the most part, to the original place of publication of the essays referred to. Also, I below make one correction (in red) of a factual error..
Direct Realism often emerges as a solution to a certain type of problem. Hume and, especially, Berkeley, wielding some of the most powerful arguments of 18th Century philosophy, forcefully attacked the notion that there could be good inferences from the occurrence of one’s sensations to the existence of external, mind-independent bodies. Given the success of these attacks, and also given the assumption, made by Berkeley and arguably by Hume as well, that our knowledge of and rational belief in the existence (...) of material objects would depend upon there being such good inferences, a problem arises: We cannot know of or rationally believe in the existence of material objects. Reid’s Direct Realism then emerges as the solution to this problem. Reid admits the success of Berkeley’s and Hume’s attacks against the possibility of successfully grounding our material world beliefs on inferences from our sensations, but claims that our belief in the existence of material objects can be perfectly rationally acceptable, and can amount to knowledge, despite the lack of such inferences. Though he did not use the terminology, it seems to be Reid’s position – and it’s this position that I will be referring to as his “Direct Realism” here – that certain perceptual beliefs whose content is such that they imply the existence of material objects are properly basic: they are rationally held, and if true can amount to knowledge, without having to be based on any other beliefs, including, most notably, beliefs about one’s own sensory experiences. (shrink)
Though he’s perhaps best known for his work on vagueness, Timothy Williamson also produced a series of outstanding papers in epistemology in the late 1980's and the 1990's. Knowledge and its Limits brings this work together. The result is, in my opinion, the best book in epistemology to come out since 1975.