Epistemic contextualism is the theory that “knows” is a context sensitive expression. As a linguistic theory, epistemic contextualism is motivated by claims about the linguistic behavior of competent speakers. This chapter reviews evidence in experimental cognitive science for epistemic contextualism in linguistic behavior. This research demonstrates that although some observations that are consistent with epistemic contextualism can be confirmed in linguistic practices, these observations are also equally well explained both by psychological features that do not provide (...) support for contextualism and by rival theories that are inconsistent with contextualism. I conclude that the motivation for epistemic contextualism is underdetermined by existing experimental evidence, yielding little reason to accept it as an account of our actual linguistic practices. (shrink)
In this entry, we provide an overview of some of the methodological debates surrounding contextualism and consider whether they are, in effect, based on an underlying methodological dispute. We consider three modes of motivation of epistemic contextualism including i) the method of cases, ii) the appeal to linguistic analogies and iii) the appeal to conceptual analogies and functional roles. We also consider the methodological debates about contextualism arising from experimental philosophy. We conclude that i) there is no (...) distinctive methodological doctrine or set of methodological doctrines that is centrally invoked by all epistemic contextualists and ii) the substantive dispute about the truth of contextualism very frequently, although not invariably, reflects an underlying methodological dispute. (shrink)
Epistemic Contextualism is the view that “knows that” is semantically context-sensitive and that properly accommodating this fact into our philosophical theory promises to solve various puzzles concerning knowledge. Yet Epistemic Contextualism faces a big—some would say fatal—problem: The Semantic Error Problem. In its prominent form, this runs thus: speakers just don’t seem to recognise that “knows that” is context-sensitive; so, if “knows that” really is context-sensitive then such speakers are systematically in error about what is said by, or (...) how to evaluate, ordinary uses of “S knows that p”; but since it's wildly implausible that ordinary speakers should exhibit such systematic error, the expression “knows that” isn't context-sensitive. We are interested in whether, and in what ways, there is such semantic error; if there is such error, how it arises and is made manifest; and, again, if there is such error to what extent it is a problem for Epistemic Contextualism. The upshot is that some forms of The Semantic Error Problem turn out to be largely unproblematic. Those that remain troublesome have analogue error problems for various competitor conceptions of knowledge. So, if error is any sort of problem, then there is a problem for every extant competitor view. (shrink)
According to some powerful skeptical arguments, we know almost nothing. Contextualist theories of knowledge ascriptions have been developed with an eye toward resisting skepticism. Have the contextualists succeeded? After briefly outlining their view, I will consider whether contextualism about knowledge ascriptions provides a satisfactory response to one of the most popular and influential forms of skepticism. I conclude with some questions for the contextualist. As we’ll see, the effectiveness of the contextualist solution to skepticism is far from settled.
In this paper I argue against one variety of contextualism about aesthetic predicates such as “beautiful.” Contextualist analyses of these and other predicates have been subject to several challenges surrounding disagreement. Focusing on one kind of contextualism— individualized indexical contextualism —I unpack these various challenges and consider the responses available to the contextualist. The three responses I consider are as follows: giving an alternative analysis of the concept of disagreement ; claiming that speakers suffer from semantic blindness; (...) and claiming that attributions of beauty carry presuppositions of commonality. I will argue that none of the available strategies gives a response which both satisfactorily explains all of the disagreement -data and is plausible independent of significant evidence in favor of contextualism. I conclude that individualized indexical contextualism about the aesthetic is untenable, although this does not rule out alternative contextualist approaches to the aesthetic. (shrink)
On Kratzer’s canonical account, modal expressions (like “might” and “must”) are represented semantically as quantifiers over possibilities. Such expressions are themselves neutral; they make a single contribution to determining the propositions expressed across a wide range of uses. What modulates the modality of the proposition expressed—as bouletic, epistemic, deontic, etc.—is context.2 This ain’t the canon for nothing. Its power lies in its ability to figure in a simple and highly unified explanation of a fairly wide range of language use. Recently, (...) though, the canon’s neat story has come under attack. The challenge cases involve the epistemic use of a modal sentence for which no single resolution of the contextual parameter appears capable of accommodating all our intuitions.3 According to these revisionaries, such cases show that the canonical story needs to be amended in some way that makes multiple bodies of information relevant to the assessment of such statements. Here I show that how the right canonical, flexibly contextualist account of modals can accommodate the full range of challenge cases. The key will be to extend Kratzer’s formal semantic account with an account of how context selects values for a modal’s.. (shrink)
We offer a new argument in favour of metanormative contextualism, the thesis that the semantic value of a normative ‘ought’ claim of the form ‘ S ought to Φ’ depends on the value of one or more parameters whose values vary in a way that is determined by the context of utterance. The debate over this contextualist thesis has centred on cases that involve ‘ought’ claims made in the face of uncertainty regarding certain descriptive facts. Contextualists, relativists, and invariantists (...) all have plausible ways of explaining these cases, and one could reasonably judge the debate between these views to be a stalemate. We argue that this stalemate can be broken by shifting focus to a case that involves normative uncertainty rather than descriptive uncertainty. While relativist and invariantist rivals of contextualism can give plausible accounts of the descriptive uncertainty cases, only contextualism can provide a plausible account of the normative uncertainty case. (shrink)
According to a recent challenge to Kratzer's canonical contextualist semantics for deontic modal expressions, no contextualist view can make sense of cases in which such a modal must be information-sensitive in some way. Here I show how Kratzer's semantics is compatible with readings of the targeted sentences that fit with the data. I then outline a general account of how contexts select parameter values for modal expressions and show, in terms of that account, how the needed, contextualist-friendly readings might plausibly (...) get selected in the challenge cases. (shrink)
Contextualists such as Cohen and DeRose claim that the truth conditions of knowledge attributions vary contextually, in particular that the strength of epistemic position required for one to be truly ascribed knowledge depends on features of the attributor's context. Contextualists support their view by appeal to our intuitions about when it's correct (or incorrect) to ascribe knowledge. Someone might argue that some of these intuitions merely reflect when it is conversationally appropriate to ascribe knowledge, not when knowledge is truly ascribed, (...) and so try to accommodate these intuitions even on an invariantist view. DeRose (Blackwell Guide to Epistemology, 1998; Philosophical Review, 2002) argues that any such 'warranted assertibility manoeuvre', or 'WAM', against contextualism is unlikely to succeed. Here, I argue that his objections to a WAM against contextualism are not persuasive and offer a pragmatic account of the data about ascriptions of knowledge. (shrink)
In this essay I show how to reconcile epistemic invariantism with the knowledge account of assertion. My basic proposal is that we can comfortably combine invariantism with the knowledge account of assertion by endorsing contextualism about speech acts. My demonstration takes place against the backdrop of recent contextualist attempts to usurp the knowledge account of assertion, most notably Keith DeRose's influential argument that the knowledge account of assertion spells doom for invariantism and enables contextualism's ascendancy.
In more than one way, context matters in ethics. Uncontroversially, the ethical status of an action might depend on context: though it is typically wrong not to keep a promise, some contexts make it permissible. More controversially, some have suggested that the meaning or truth-conditions of a moral judgment or moral assertion depend not only on the properties of the act it concerns and the context in which it would be performed, but also on features of the context in which (...) the judgment or assertion is made, such as the standards endorsed by the moral judge. If this view—“metaethical contextualism”—is correct, it might be that when two people both judge that abortions must be banned, one judge might be correct whereas the other is mistaken, because they accept different fundamental norms. This would undermine the idea that there are unique correct answers to moral questions. Sections discuss (i) the context-dependence of ‘good’ and ‘ought’, (ii) how such context-dependence might support metaethical contextualism, and (iii) the prospects for a contextualist account of the categoricality of moral judgments, their connection to moral motivation, and disagreement between judges who accept different fundamental norms. (shrink)
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 surveys some ways in which epistemic reasons ascriptions (or ERAs) appear to be context-sensitive, and outlines a framework for thinking about the nature of this context-sensitivity that is intimately related to ERAs' explanatory function.
Knowledge ascriptions seem context sensitive. Yet it is widely thought that epistemic contextualism does not have a plausible semantic implementation. We aim to overcome this concern by articulating and defending an explicit contextualist semantics for ‘know,’ which integrates a fairly orthodox contextualist conception of knowledge as the elimination of the relevant alternatives, with a fairly orthodox “Amherst” semantics for A-quantification over a contextually variable domain of situations. Whatever problems epistemic contextualism might face, lack of an orthodox semantic implementation (...) is not among them. (shrink)
This paper explores how the purpose of the concept of knowledge affects knowledge ascriptions in natural language. I appeal to the idea that the role of the concept of knowledge is to flag reliable informants, and I use this idea to illuminate and support contextualism about ‘knows’. I argue that practical pressures that arise in an epistemic state of nature provide an explanatory basis for a brand of contextualism that I call ‘practical interests contextualism’. I also answer (...) some questions that contextualism leaves open, particularly why the concept of knowledge is valuable, why the word ‘knows’ exhibits context-variability, and why this term enjoys such widespread use. Finally, I show how my contextualist framework accommodates plausible ideas from two rival views: subject-sensitive invariantism and insensitive invariantism. This provides new support for contextualism and develops this view in a way that improves our understanding of the concept of knowledge. (shrink)
According to Semantic Minimalism, every use of "Chiara is tall" (fixing the girl and the time) semantically expresses the same proposition, the proposition that Chiara is (just plain) tall. Given standard assumptions, this proposition ought to have an intension (a function from possible worlds to truth values). However, speakers tend to reject questions that presuppose that it does. I suggest that semantic minimalists might address this problem by adopting a form of "nonindexical contextualism," according to which the proposition invariantly (...) expressed by "Chiara is tall" does not have a context-invariant intension. Nonindexical contextualism provides an elegant explanation of what is wrong with "context-shifting arguments" and can be seen as a synthesis of the (partial) insights of semantic minimalists and radical contextualists. (shrink)
In this paper, I exploit the parallel between epistemic contextualism and metaethical speaker-relativism to argue that a promising way out of two of the primary problems facing contextualism is one already explored in some detail in the ethical case – viz. expressivism. The upshot is an argument for a form of epistemic expressivism modeled on a familiar form of ethical expressivism. This provides a new nondescriptivist option for understanding the meaning of knowledge attributions, which arguably better captures the (...) normative nature of epistemic discourse than descriptivist competitors like invariantism and contextualism. (shrink)
Keith DeRose has argued that ‘the knowledge account of assertion – according to which what one is in a position to assert is what one knows – ... provides a ... powerful positive argument in favor of contextualism’ (2009: 80). The truth is that it yields a powerful argument against contextualism, at least against its most popular, anti-sceptical versions. The following argument shows that, if we conjoin (such versions of) epistemic contextualism with an appropriate meta-linguistic formulation of (...) the knowledge account of assertion, contextualism cannot coherently be stated. (shrink)
In his Knowledge and Practical Interests Jason Stanley argues that the view he defends, which he calls interest-relative invariantism, is better supported by certain cases than epistemic contextualism. In this article I argue that a version of epistemic contextualism that emphasizes the role played by the ascriber's practical interests in determining the truth-conditions of her ‘knowledge’ ascriptions – a view that I call interests contextualism – is better supported by Stanley's cases than interest-relative invariantism or other versions (...) of epistemic contextualism. My main aim is to show that interests contextualism is a viable, if often over-looked, alternative to the usual positions in the contemporary debate. (shrink)
This paper considers ways that experimental design can affect judgments about informally presented context shifting experiments. Reasons are given to think that judgments about informal context shifting experiments are affected by an exclusive reliance on binary truth value judgments and by experimenter bias. Exclusive reliance on binary truth value judgments may produce experimental artifacts by obscuring important differences of degree between the phenomena being investigated. Experimenter bias is an effect generated when, for example, experimenters disclose (even unconsciously) their own beliefs (...) about the outcome of an experiment. Eliminating experimenter bias from context shifting experiments makes it far less obvious what the “intuitive” responses to those experiments are. After it is shown how those different kinds of bias can affect judgments about informal context shifting experiments, those experiments are revised to control for those forms of bias. The upshot of these investigations is that participants in the contextualist debate who employ informal experiments should pay just as much attention to the design of their experiments as those who employ more formal experimental techniques if they want to avoid obscuring the phenomena they aim to uncover. (shrink)
In this chapter, I produce counterexamples to Presuppositional Epistemic Contextualism (PEC), a view about the semantics of ‘knowledge’-ascriptions that I have argued for elsewhere. According to PEC, the semantic content of the predicate ‘know’ at a context C is partly determined by the speakers’ pragmatic presuppositions at C. The problem for the view that I shall be concerned with here arises from the fact that pragmatic presuppositions are sometimes known to be true by the speakers who make them: hence (...) the Problem of Known Presuppositions. After discussing several unsuccessful ways to solve the problem, I propose the addition of a new Lewisian rule of proper ignoring to the semantics of PEC--namely, the Rule of Evidence-Based Ignoring. If the proposed account succeeds, the Problem of Known Presuppositions has a straightforward solution within the framework of PEC. (shrink)
It has been argued that epistemic contextualism faces the so-called factivity problem and hence cannot be stated properly. The basic idea behind this charge is that contextualists supposedly have to say, on the one hand, that knowledge ascribing sentences like “S knows that S has hands” are true when used in ordinary contexts while, on the other hand, they are not true by the standard of their own context. In my paper, I want to show that the argument to (...) the factivity problem fails because it rests on the mistaken premise that contextualists are committed to the truth of particular ordinary knowledge attributions. (shrink)
This paper attempts to show that contextualism cannot adequately handle all versions of ‘The Lottery Paradox.” Although the application of contextualist rules is meant to vindicate the intuitive distinction between cases of knowledge and non-knowledge, it fails to do so when applied to certain versions of “The Lottery Paradox.” In making my argument, I first briefly explain why this issue should be of central importance for contextualism. I then review Lewis’ contextualism before offering my argument that the (...) lottery paradox persists on all contextualist accounts. Although I argue that the contextualist does not fare well, hope nevertheless remains. For, on Lewis’ behalf, I offer what I take to be the best solution for the contextualist and argue that once this solution is adopted, contextualism will be in a better position to handle the lottery paradox than any other substantive epistemological theory. (shrink)
The paper critically examines an objection to epistemic contextualism recently developed by Elke Brendel and Peter Baumann, according to which it is impossible for the contextualist to know consistently that his theory is true. I first present an outline of contextualism and its reaction to scepticism. Then the necessary and sufficient conditions for the knowability problem to arise are explored. Finally, it will be argued that contextualism does not fulfil these minimal conditions. It will be shown that (...) the contrary view is based on a misunderstanding of what contextualists are claiming. (shrink)
It is argued that neither contextualism nor relativism can provide a satisfying semantics of knowledge ascriptions. According to contextualism, the truth conditions of knowledge ascriptions of the form “S knows that p” vary with the epistemic standards operative in the contexts of utterance. These epistemic standards are determined, in particular, by the speaker’s stakes with regard to p or the consideration of error-possibilities. It is shown that the absolute concept of utterance truth together with a knowledge rule of (...) assertion lead to certain unassertable truths in contextualism and to counterintuitive results with regard to certain cross-context knowledge ascriptions. Although utterance truth is relativized to contexts of assessment in relativist accounts of knowledge, relativism still makes inadequate semantic predictions. In particular, relativism runs into problems in cases where the context of assessment is lower than the context of utterance. It is finally argued that invariantist accounts, according to which the truth conditions of knowledge ascriptions do neither vary with the context of utterance nor the context of assessment, but are determined by objective features given in the situation in which the knowledge claim is made, are better suited for modelling the semantics of knowledge ascriptions. Besides the fact that stakes or the consideration of error-possibilities can have an influence on the belief in a proposition, they have no further bearing on the truth conditions of knowledge ascriptions. (shrink)
Conversational contextualism in epistemology is characterized by four main theses: 1. the indexicality of knowledge claims thesis; 2. the attributor contextualism thesis; 3. the conversational contextualism thesis, and 4. the main thesis of contextualism according to which a knowledge claim can be true in one context and false in another context in which more stringent standards for knowledge are operant. It is argued that these theses taken together generate problems for contextualism. In particular, it is (...) shown that there is no context in which the contextualist can truthfully claim to know her theory is true. Since these results were obtained only with principles the contextualist cannot give up—like the principle of epistemic closure and the principle that knowledge implies truth—it seems that contextualism is in need of a thoroughgoing revision if it is to become a successful epistemic theory. (shrink)
In this paper I develop a version of contextualism that I call interests contextualism. Interests contextualism is the view that the truth-conditions of knowledge ascribing and denying sentences are partly determined by the ascriber’s interests and purposes. It therefore stands in opposition to the usual view on which the truth-conditions are partly determined by the ascriber’s conversational context. I give an argument against one particular implementation of the usual view, differentiate interests contextualism from other prominent versions (...) of contextualism and argue that, unlike those versions, interests contextualism can mitigate against the epistemic descent objection put forward by Duncan Pritchard in his ‘Contextualism, Scepticism, and the Problem of Epistemic Descent’ (the objection is that, on the contextualist view, an ascriber of knowledge cannot, for some subject S and proposition p, properly ascribe knowledge that p to S if that ascriber has previously retracted an earlier ascription of knowledge that p to S). (shrink)
Epistemic contextualists think that the extension of the expression ‘knows’ depends on and varies with the context of utterance. In the last 15 years or so this view has faced intense criticism. This paper focuses on two sorts of objections. The first are what I call the ‘linguistic objections’, which purport to show that the best available linguistic evidence suggests that ‘knows’ is not context-sensitive. The second is what I call the ‘disagreement problem’, which concerns the behaviour of ‘knows’ in (...) disagreement reports. These may not be the only objections to epistemic contextualism, but they are probably the most influential. I argue that the best current epistemic contextualist response to the linguistic objection is incomplete, and I show how it can be supplemented to deal with the full range of linguistic objections. I also develop a new solution to the disagreement problem. The upshot is that neither sort of objection gives us any reason to reject epistemic contextualism. This conclusion is, in a sense, negative—no new arguments for epistemic contextualism are advanced—but it’s a vital step towards rehabilitating the view. (shrink)
Several philosophers have argued that the factivity of knowledge poses a problem for epistemic contextualism (EC), which they have construed as a knowability problem. On a proposed minimalistic reading of EC’s commitments, Wolfgang Freitag argues that factivity yields no knowability problem for EC. I begin by explaining how factivity is thought to generate a contradiction out of paradigmatic contextualist cases on a certain reading of EC’s commitments. This reductio results in some kind of reflexivity problem for the contextualist when (...) it comes to knowing her theory: either a knowability problem or a statability problem. Next, I set forth Freitag’s minimalistic reading of EC and explain how it avoids the reductio, the knowability problem and the statability problem. I argue that despite successfully evading these problems, Freitag’s minimalistic reading saddles EC with several other serious problems and should be rejected. I conclude by offering my own resolution to the problems. (shrink)
In the recent philosophy of language literature there is a debate over whether contextualist accounts of the semantics of various terms can accommodate intuitions of disagreement in certain cases involving those terms. Relativists such as John MacFarlane have claimed that this motivates adopting a form of relativist semantics for these terms because the relativist can account for the same data as contextualists but doesn’t face this problem of disagreement (MacFarlane 2005, 2007 and 2009). In this paper I focus on the (...) case of epistemic predicates and I argue that on a certain assumption about what is involved in assessing an utterance the epistemic contextualist can solve her problem of disagreement. This undercuts a motivation for epistemic relativism. (shrink)
The article responds to the objections M.D. Ashfield has raised to my recent attempt at saving epistemic contextualism from the knowability problem. First, it shows that Ashfield’s criticisms of my minimal conception of epistemic contextualism, even if correct, cannot reinstate the knowability problem. Second, it argues that these criticisms are based on a misunderstanding of the commitments of my minimal conception. I conclude that there is still no reason to maintain that epistemic contextualism has the knowability problem.
Some authors have recently claimed that relativism about knowledge sentences accommodates the context sensitivity of our use of such sentences as well as contextualism, while avoiding the counterintuitive consequences of contextualism regarding our inter-contextual judgments, that is, our judgments about knowledge claims made in other contexts. I argue that relativism, like contextualism, involves an error theory regarding a certain class of inter-contextual judgments.
In epistemology and in philosophy of language there is fierce debate about the role of context in knowledge, understanding, and meaning. Many contemporary epistemologists take seriously the thesis that epistemic vocabulary is context-sensitive. This thesis is of course a semantic claim, so it has brought epistemologists into contact with work on context in semantics by philosophers of language. This volume brings together the debates, in a set of twelve specially written essays representing the latest work by leading figures in the (...) two fields. All future work on contextualism will start here. Contributors: Kent Bach, Herman Cappelen, Andy Egan, Michael Glanzberg, John Hawthorne, Ernest Lepore, Peter Ludlow, Peter Pagin, Georg Peter, Paul M. Pietroski, Gerhard Preyer, Jonathan Schaffer, Jason Stanley, Brian Weatherson, Timothy Williamson. (shrink)
Abstract MacFarlane distinguishes “context sensitivity” from “indexicality,” and argues that “nonindexical contextualism” has significant advantages over the standard indexical form. MacFarlane’s substantive thesis is that the extension of an expression may depend on an epistemic standard variable even though its content does not. Focusing on ‘knows,’ I will argue against the possibility of extension dependence without content dependence when factors such as meaning, time, and world are held constant, and show that MacFarlane’s nonindexical contextualism provides no advantages over (...) indexical contextualism. The discussion will shed light on the definition of indexicals as well as the meaning of ‘knows,’ and highlight important constraints on the way meaning can be represented in semantics. Content Type Journal Article Pages 1-14 DOI 10.1007/s11098-011-9831-1 Authors Wayne A. Davis, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA Journal Philosophical Studies Online ISSN 1573-0883 Print ISSN 0031-8116. (shrink)
Timothy Williamson (2000) makes a strong prima facie case for the identification of a subject's total evidence with the subject's total knowledge (E = K). However, as Brian Weatherson (Ms) has observed, there are intuitively problematic consequences of E = K. In this article, I'll offer a contextualist implementation of E = K that provides the resources to respond to Weatherson's argument; the result will be a novel approach to knowledge and evidence that is suggestive of an unexplored contextualist approach (...) to basic knowledge. (shrink)
In his justifiedly famous paper, “Elusive Knowledge” (Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 74:4, 1996), David Lewis presents a contextualist account of knowledge, which, like other contextualist accounts, depicts sceptical claims as involving application of a higher standard of knowledge than is applied in everyday ascriptions of knowledge. On Lewis’ account, the sceptic’s denials and the everyday ascriptions are made in different contexts, which allows them both to be true. His account gives detailed specification of how contexts are to be determined. My (...) paper points out that this view is unattractive to the sceptic, since it makes scepticism, even if true, completely disconnected from and irrelevant to the rest of our cognitive discourse. After arguing that the sceptic’s own ascriptions of knowledge (made outside the philosophy seminar room) can be explained in non-contextualist ways, I expound and criticise Lewis’ analysis of knowledge, taking up in particular a central component of his account, the “Rule of Attention”. In the central part of the paper I argue that the reasons given for the inclusion of the rule are all inadequate, and also that there are positive reasons for rejecting it. The final section of the paper argues that the excision of the Rule of Attention removed would leave Lewis’ account subject to serious counter- examples. (shrink)
Epistemic contextualism is widely believed to be incompatible with the recently popular view that knowledge is the norm of assertion, practical reasoning, or belief. I argue in this article that the problems arising for contextualism from the mentioned normative views are only apparent and can be resolved by acknowledging the fairly widespread phenomenon of non-obvious context-sensitivity (recently embraced by even some of contextualism's most ardent former critics). Building on recent insights about non-obvious context-sensitivity, the article outlines an (...) independently attractive contextualist account of the mentioned epistemic norms and provides a solution to the puzzles they give rise to in a contextualist framework. (shrink)
Many nonanthropocentric environmental ethicists subscribe to a ``principle-ist'''' approach to moral argument, whereby specific natural resource and environmental policy judgments are deduced from the prior articulation of a general moral principle. More often than not, this principle is one requiring the promotion of the intrinsic value of nonhuman nature. Yet there are several problems with this method of moral reasoning, including the short-circuiting of reflective inquiry and the disregard of the complex nature of specific environmental problems and policy arguments. In (...) the present paper, we advance an alternative, pragmatic contextualist approach to environmental ethics, one grounded in the moral theory of John Dewey. We present the results of an empirical study of public environmental ethics and natural resource management attitudes to support our position, and we conclude with a few recommendations for future inquiry in the field of environmental ethics. (shrink)
Contextualist theories of knowledge offer a semantic hypothesis to explain the observed contextual variation in what people say they know, and the difficulty people have resolving skeptical paradoxes. Subject or speaker relative versions make the truth conditions of “S knows that p” depend on the standards of either the knower’s context (Hawthorne and Stanley) or those of the speaker’s context (Cohen and DeRose). Speaker contextualism avoids objections to subject contextualism, but is implausible in light of evidence that “know” (...) does not behave like an indexical. I deepen and extend these criticisms in light of recent defenses by contextualists (including Ludlow). Another difficulty is that whether certain standards are salient or intended does not entail that they are the proper standards. A normative form of contextualism on which the truth of a knowledge claim depends on the proper standards for the context is more promising, but still unsatisfactory whether the view is speaker or subject relative. I defend alternative explanations for the observed linguistic and psychological data: a pragmatic account for some cases and a cognitive account for others. 1. (shrink)
Contextualism is a view about meaning, semantic content and truth-conditions, bearing significant consequences for the characterisation of explicit and implicit content, the decoding/inferring distinction and the semantics/pragmatics interface. According to the traditional perspective in semantics (called "literalism" or "semantic minimalism"), it is possible to attribute truth-conditions to a sentence independently of any context of utterance, i.e. in virtue of its meaning alone. We must then distinguish between the proposition literally expressed by a sentence ("what is said" by the sentence, (...) its literal truth-conditions) and the implicit meaning of the sentence ("what is implicated" by a speaker uttering the sentence). Over the past forty years, however, an increasing number of linguists and philosophers have begun to underline the phenomenon of semantic underdetermination: the encoded meaning of the sentence employed by a speaker underdetermines the proposition explicitly expressed by an utterance of that sentence. According to the extreme version of this perspective – labelled "radical contextualism" - no sentence of a natural language expresses a complete proposition, or has fixed truth-conditions, even when unambiguous and devoid of indexicals. A sentence expresses a proposition only when completed and enriched with pragmatic constituents that do not correspond to any syntactic element of the sentence and yet are part of its semantic interpretation. More broadly, "contextualism" may be used to refer to a family of views which includes moderate contextualism (also called "indexicalism"), radical contextualism and non-indexical contextualism – and which contrasts with semantic minimalism. (shrink)
Moral contextualism is the view that claims like ‘A ought to X’ are implicitly relative to some (contextually variable) standard. This leads to a problem: what are fundamental moral claims like ‘You ought to maximize happiness’ relative to? If this claim is relative to a utilitarian standard, then its truth conditions are trivial: ‘Relative to utilitarianism, you ought to maximize happiness’. But it certainly doesn’t seem trivial that you ought to maximize happiness (utilitarianism is a highly controversial position). Some (...) people believe this problem is a reason to prefer a realist or error theoretic semantics of morals. I argue two things: first, that plausible versions of all these theories are afflicted by the problem equally, and second, that any solution available to the realist and error theorist is also available to the contextualist. So the problem of triviality does not favour noncontextualist views of moral language. (shrink)
Recently, contextualism about epistemic modals and predicates of taste have come under fire from advocates of assessment relativistic analyses. Contextualism, they have argued, fails to account for what we call "felicitous insensitive assessments". In this paper, we provide one hitherto overlooked way in which contextualists can embrace the phenomenon by slightly modifying an assumption that has remained in the background in most of the debate over contextualism and relativism. Finally, we briefly argue that the resulting contextualist account (...) is at least as plausible as the relativist alternative and should be carefully considered before contextualism is abandoned for relativism. (shrink)
: Contextualism in epistemology has been proposed both as a way to avoid skepticism and as an explanation for the variability found in our use of "knows." When we turn to contextualism to perform these two functions, we should ensure that the version we endorse is well suited for these tasks. I compare two versions of epistemic contextualism: attributor contextualism and methodological contextualism. I argue that methodological contextualism is superior both in its response to (...) skepticism and in its mechanism for changing contexts. However, methodological contextualism still faces two challenges: explaining why we are solidly committed to some contexts, and explaining why knowledge within a context is valuable. I propose virtue contextualism as a useful extension of methodological contextualism, focusing on the way that our virtues depend on our social roles. My proposed virtue contextualism retains the benefits of methodological contextualism while explaining both our commitment to particular contexts and the value of knowledge held within those contexts. (shrink)
Contextualism in epistemology has traditionally been understood as the view that “know” functions semantically like an indexical term, encoding different contents in contexts with different epistemic standards. But the indexical hypothesis about “know” faces a range of objections. This article explores an alternative version of contextualism on which “know” is a semantically stable term, and the truth-conditional variability in knowledge claims is a matter of pragmatic enrichment. The central idea is that in contexts with stringent epistemic standards, knowledge (...) claims are narrowed: “know” is used in such contexts to make assertions about particularly demanding types of knowledge. The resulting picture captures all of the intuitive data that motivate contextualism while sidestepping the controversial linguistic thesis at its heart. After developing the view, the article shows in detail how it avoids one influential linguistic objection to traditional contextualism concerning indirect speech reports, and then answers an objection concerning the unavailability of certain types of clarification speeches. (shrink)
It has become more common recently for epistemologists to advocate the pragmatic encroachment on knowledge, the claim that the appropriateness ofknowledge ascriptions is dependent on the relevant practical circumstances. Advocacy of practicalism in epistemology has come at the expense of contextualism, the view that knowledge ascriptions are independent of pragmatic factors and depend alternatively on distinctively epistemological, semantic factors with the result that knowledge ascriptions express different knowledge properties on different occasions of use. Overall, my goal here is to (...) defend a particular version of contextualism drawn from work by Peter Ludlow, called ‘standards contextualism.’ My strategy will be to elaborate on this form of contextualism by defending it from various objections raised by the practicalists Jason Stanley, Jeremy Fantl and Matthew McGrath. In showing how standards contextualism can effectively repel these criticisms I hope to establish that standards contextualism is a viable alternative to practicalism. (shrink)
In this paper, I take up an argument advanced by Keith DeRose (Philosophical Review, 111:167–203, 2002) that suggests that the knowledge account of assertion provides the basis of an argument in favor of contextualism. I discuss the knowledge account as the conjunction of two theses—a thesis claiming that knowledge is sufficient to license assertion KA and one claiming that knowledge is necessary to license assertion AK. Adducing evidence from Stalnaker’s account of assertion, from conversational practice, and from arguments often (...) raised in favor of the knowledge account, I suggest that neither the AK nor the KA theses are plausible. That is, I argue that the knowledge account of assertion to which DeRose appeals is in fact not suitable as an account of assertion. Given that DeRose’s argument stands and falls with the knowledge account, I claim that the argument therefore fails. (shrink)
Contextualist solutions to skeptical puzzles have recently been subjected to various criticisms. In this paper, I will defend contextualism against an objection prominently pressed by Stanley 2000. According to Stanley, contextualism in epistemology advances an empirically implausible hypothesis about the semantics of knowledge ascriptions in natural language. It is empirically implausible because it attributes to knowledge ascriptions a kind of semantic context-sensitivity that is wholly unlike any well- established type of semantic context-sensitivity in natural language.