Philosophy Contextualism
by
Tim Black
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 September 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0159

Introduction

According to contextualism in epistemology, the truth-value of knowledge attributions (“S knows that p”) and knowledge denials (“S does not know that p”) depends in some significant way on the context in which those sentences are uttered. The most prominent form of contextualism has it that certain features of the attributer’s conversational context help to determine the relevant epistemic standards. The standards for knowledge can therefore vary from one context of attribution to another. For a knowledge attribution to be true in a particular context, its subject must meet such standards as have been set in the attributer’s context. In some contexts, the epistemic standards are unusually high and it is difficult, if not impossible, for knowledge attributions to be true. In most contexts, however, the epistemic standards are comparatively low and attributions of knowledge are often true. The primary arguments for epistemological contextualism maintain that it best explains the behavior of knowledge attributions—it best explains why in most contexts we judge such attributions to be true, but why in some contexts we nevertheless judge them to be false. This entry focuses on arguments for and against this brand of contextualism.

General Overviews

Several introductory overviews of epistemological contextualism are available. Some of these are particularly useful in that they are comprehensive and up-to-date. DeRose 1999, whose author is perhaps foremost among epistemological contextualists, provides a partisan introduction to his version of contextualism. His lucidly written piece also discusses contextualism’s precursors and history, its relation to other views in epistemology, and its importance to the problem of skepticism. Two less partisan overviews are available online at no cost: Black 2003 provides a thorough discussion of the earlier literature on contextualism, while Rysiew 2007 is an up-to-date and comprehensive—and extremely helpful—overview of the contextualist literature. Brendel and Jäger 2004 reviews arguments for and against contextualism, as well as contextualism’s treatment of some thorny epistemological issues. Brady and Pritchard 2005 outlines both the contextualist position and some of the main criticisms of the view.

  • Black, T. “Contextualism in Epistemology.” In The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by J. Fieser and B. Dowden. 2003.

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    Offers a detailed overview of the earlier literature on contextualism in epistemology.

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    • Brady, M., and D. Pritchard. “Epistemological Contextualism: Problems and Prospects.” Philosophical Quarterly 55 (2005): 161–171.

      DOI: 10.1111/j.0031-8094.2005.00393.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Outlines the contextualist position in epistemology, as well as some of the primary criticisms of the view.

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      • Brendel, E., and C. Jäger. “Contextualist Approaches to Epistemology: Problems and Prospects.” Erkenntnis 61.2–3 (2004): 143–172.

        DOI: 10.1007/s10670-004-0489-3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

        Surveys arguments for and against various forms of contextualism. Recounts contextualism’s treatment of epistemological problems like the skeptical problem and the lottery paradox.

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        • DeRose, K. “Contextualism: An Explanation and Defense.” In Blackwell Guide to Epistemology. Edited by J. Greco and E. Sosa, 187–205. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999.

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          Explains epistemological contextualism, its precursors and history, its relation to other views in epistemology, and its importance to the problem of skepticism. Defends contextualism against the objection that it is warranted-assertability conditions, rather than truth conditions, which vary with context.

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          • Rysiew, P. “Epistemic Contextualism.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by E. Zalta. 2007.

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            An extremely helpful, comprehensive, and up-to-date overview of the literature on contextualism in epistemology.

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            Precursors to Epistemological Contextualism

            There are several works that helped to inspire contextualism and to provide its theoretical underpinnings. Coming to grips with these foundational works can help us to get a clearer picture of contextualism. The theoretical foundations of contextualist views can be found in Dretske 1970, Dretske 1981, Goldman 1976, and Nozick 1981. The theories found in these works—relevant alternatives accounts of knowledge, and sensitivity accounts—theories that were themselves inspired by the likes of Austin 1961, are reflected in the contextualist views of, for example, Cohen, DeRose, Heller, and Lewis (see Contextualism in Epistemology). Since each distinguish different kinds of knowledge, Castañeda 1980 and Malcolm 1952 have done much to motivate contextualist views in epistemology. Lewis 1979 sets the stage for the contextualism Lewis develops in “Elusive Knowledge” (Lewis 1996, cited under Contextualism in Epistemology).

            • Austin, J. L. “Other Minds.” In Philosophical Papers. Edited by J. O. Urmson and G. J. Warnock, 44–84. Oxford: Clarendon, 1961.

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              A forerunner of the relevant alternatives theory of knowledge and of relevant alternatives contextualisms. Austin suggests that knowing in special cases requires ruling out a wider range of alternatives than does knowing in normal cases.

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              • Castañeda, H. “The Theory of Questions, Epistemic Powers, and the Indexical Theory of Knowledge.” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 5.1 (1980): 193–237.

                DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4975.1980.tb00405.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                Distinguishes several kinds of knowledge. In the case of most of these kinds, whether one knows is determined by contextual or indexical factors.

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                • Dretske, F. “Epistemic Operators.” Journal of Philosophy 67 (1970): 1007–1023.

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                  In rejecting epistemic closure, Dretkse presents a relevant alternatives view of knowledge. In Dretske’s view, the following is possible: given a fixed range of relevant alternatives, one eliminates those alternatives with respect to one proposition but not with respect to another proposition, even when the former entails the latter.

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                  • Dretske, F. “The Pragmatic Dimension of Knowledge.” Philosophical Studies 40.3 (1981): 363–378.

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                    Dretske here argues that knowledge is a relationally absolute concept; knowledge is, in particular, an evidential state in which all relevant alternatives (to what is known) are eliminated.

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                    • Goldman, A. “Discrimination and Perceptual Knowledge.” Journal of Philosophy 73 (1976): 771–791.

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                      Maintains that one knows only if one can, by using reliable causal mechanisms, discriminate the actual situation from relevant counterfactual situations.

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                      • Lewis, D. “Scorekeeping in a Language Game.” Journal of Philosophical Logic 8 (1979): 339–359.

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                        Lewis here anticipates the epistemological contextualism he develops in Lewis 1996 (cited under Contextualism in Epistemology). For Lewis, whether sentences are true or false depends on the conversational score—sets of presuppositions, understood boundaries between permissible and impermissible actions, etc.—at the stage of conversation when they are uttered.

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                        • Malcolm, N. “Knowledge and Belief.” Mind 61 (1952): 178–189.

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                          Malcolm distinguishes a weak sense of “knowledge” from a strong sense. One knows p in the weak sense when one is sufficiently confident that p and has strong enough reasons for p. One knows p in the strong sense when one would accept nothing as evidence of p’s being false.

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                          • Nozick, R. Philosophical Explanations. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981.

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                            Nozick presents a theory of knowledge that includes what has come to be known as a sensitivity condition: one knows p only if one would not believe p if p were false. This condition plays a role in contextualist accounts like the one in DeRose 1995 (cited under Skepticism).

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                            Contextualism in Epistemology

                            Contextualism in its most prominent form maintains that certain features of the attributer’s context help to set the relevant epistemic standards. This form of contextualism has come to be known as attributer contextualism. There are a variety of attributer contextualisms, each of which maintains that a knowledge attribution is true in a particular context only if its subject meets the epistemic standards that are relevant in the attributer’s context. While sharing this common form, each distinct type of attributer contextualism posits a distinct way in which the relevant epistemic standards are set in a conversational context. Cohen 1988 maintains that the attributer’s context sets the relevant standards by determining what constitutes sufficient evidence for knowing p. According to Cohen 1999, the attributer’s context sets the relevant standards by determining to what degree one’s belief that p must be epistemically rational if one is to know p. DeRose 1992 and Derose 2009 argue that features of attributers’ contexts establish whether or not one’s belief must satisfy Nozick’s sensitivity condition to count as knowledge. Heller 1999 argues that the attributer’s context sets the relevant standards by selecting a set of nonactual possible worlds throughout which one’s belief that p must track the truth—that is, throughout which one does not believe that p if p is false—if one is to know p. Lewis 1996 maintains that features of attributers’ contexts establish the range of not-p possibilities that one must eliminate to know p. Rieber 1998 argues that the attributer’s context sets the relevant standards by establishing what counts as an adequate explanation, where one knows p just in case the fact that p explains why one believes that p. Neta 2003 provides a contextualist account of evidence, arguing that features of attributers’ contexts establish what one can truthfully regard as one’s evidence.

                            • Cohen, S. “How to Be a Fallibilist.” Philosophical Perspectives 2 (1988): 91–123.

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                              Cohen defends a contextualism that is based on the relevant alternatives theory of knowledge and that accepts the truth of epistemic closure. Here, Cohen maintains that what constitutes sufficient evidence for knowing p depends on context.

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                              • Cohen, S. “Contextualism, Skepticism, and the Structure of Reasons.” Philosophical Perspectives 13 (1999): 57–90.

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                                Cohen here moves away from his earlier relevant alternatives contextualism, maintaining now that one knows p just in case one’s belief that p is epistemically rational to some contextually determined degree, where epistemic rationality has evidential as well as non-evidential components.

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                                • DeRose, K. “Contextualism and Knowledge Attributions.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 52.4 (1992): 913–929.

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                                  This is the first statement of DeRose’s contextualism, presented here against the background of the well-known Bank Cases.

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                                  • DeRose K. The Case for Contextualism: Knowledge, Skepticism, and Context. Vol. 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

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                                    Offers a thorough and comprehensive defense of DeRose’s contextualism, while responding to some important objections to the view and arguing against competing views.

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                                    • Heller, M. “The Proper Role for Contextualism in an Anti-Luck Epistemology.” Philosophical Perspectives 13 (1999): 115–129.

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                                      Argues for an antiluck theory of knowledge, according to which one knows that p just in case one does not believe that p in any of the selected worlds in which p is false, where which worlds are selected depends on context.

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                                      • Lewis, D. “Elusive Knowledge.” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 74 (1996): 549–567.

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                                        Lewis here gives expression to his contextualism, which has its roots in Lewis 1979 (cited under Precursors to Epistemological Contextualism). For Lewis, one knows p just in case one’s evidence eliminates every possibility in which it is not the case that p, where the range of relevant possibilities is determined by context.

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                                        • Neta, R. “Contextualism and the Problem of the External World.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 66.1 (2003): 1–31.

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                                          Neta proposes a contextualist account of evidence and uses it in solving the skeptical problem.

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                                          • Rieber, S. “Skepticism and Contrastive Explanation.” Noûs 32.2 (1998): 189–204.

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                                            Proposes a contextualism according to which one knows p just in case the fact that p explains why one believes that p, where what counts as an adequate explanation depends on context.

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                                            Other Epistemological Contextualisms

                                            There are a few contextualisms in epistemology that are not attributer contextualisms. Annis 1978 offers a contextualist alternative to foundationalism and to coherentism, theories that, according to Annis, ignore the social nature of justification. On this view, one is justified in believing p only if one can meet certain objections that express real doubts, where it depends on context which objections one must meet. The contextualism found in Williams 1988 and Williams 1991 is the view that independent of certain contextual factors there is no fact of the matter as to what kind of justification a proposition admits of or requires. Williams wields this contextualist view in combating epistemological realism, the view that there is a context-independent fact of the matter as to what kind of justification a proposition admits of or requires.

                                            • Annis, D. “A Contextualist Theory of Epistemic Justification.” American Philosophical Quarterly 15 (1978): 213–219.

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                                              Provides a contextualist alternative to foundationalism and to coherentism, each of which, according to Annis, ignores the social nature of justification. For Annis, one is justified in believing p only if one can meet certain objections that express real doubts, where it depends on context which objections must be met.

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                                              • Williams, M. “Epistemological Realism and the Basis of Scepticism.” Mind 97 (1988): 415–439.

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                                                Williams’ contextualism is the view that, independent of certain contextual factors, there is no fact of the matter as to what kind of justification a proposition admits of or requires. This view stands opposed to epistemological realism, the view that there is such a context-independent fact of the matter.

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                                                • Williams, M. Unnatural Doubts: Epistemological Realism and the Basis of Scepticism. Philosophical Theory. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.

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                                                  A thorough and richly detailed development of the ideas set out in Williams 1988.

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                                                  Skepticism

                                                  One of the early considerations in favor of epistemological contextualism was its treatment of skeptical problems. According to one familiar skeptical argument, we don’t know much—if anything—about the world around us because (1) we cannot eliminate certain skeptical possibilities (e.g., that some all-powerful evil genius is always deceiving us, or that we are deceived brains-in-vats), and (2) we must eliminate such possibilities if we are to know anything about the world around us. Contextualists mean to solve the problems presented by this line of reasoning by saying that in contexts in which the epistemic standards are elevated, we cannot eliminate skeptical possibilities, from which it follows that we know little or nothing about the world around us. They also maintain, though, that in contexts in which the epistemic standards are comparatively low, as they almost always are, we know a great deal about the world around us. Cohen 1988, Cohen 2000, DeRose 1995, and Stine 1976, while arguing from different contextualist perspectives, each provide a response of this sort to the skeptical problem. There are also a variety of criticisms of the contextualist response to skepticism. Feldman 1999 alleges that contextualists aren’t really concerned with whether we meet the epistemic standards that are in place in ordinary contexts. Feldman 2001 argues that contextualists wrongly claim that skeptical arguments can be sound, and that they fail to address the doubts induced by skeptical considerations. Klein 2000 argues that contextualists misdiagnose the disagreement between skeptics and nonskeptics, while Sosa 2000 argues that there are better responses to skepticism than the contextualist’s.

                                                  Assertion

                                                  Williamson 2000 argues for the knowledge account of assertion, which says that one should assert only what one knows. Hambourger 1987 argues in similar fashion that the standards for justifiedly asserting that one knows p are the same as those for justifiedly asserting p. This is different from but akin to the knowledge account of assertion. DeRose 2002 and chapter 3 of DeRose 2009 (cited under Contextualism in Epistemology) argue against Hambourger’s account but embrace Williamson’s knowledge account of assertion. In fact, DeRose argues that the knowledge account, when coupled with the claim that what one should assert depends on context, supports epistemological contextualism. Much has been made of this argument. Brown 2005 contends that DeRose’s argument rules out neither classic invariantism nor subject-sensitive invariantism, and therefore that it does not establish contextualism. Leite 2007 maintains that DeRose’s argument fails because it equivocates on the notion of warranted assertability. Stone 2007 calls the knowledge account into question and argues that a different account of assertion is preferable.

                                                  Semantic Blindness

                                                  Contextualism allows us to say that a knowledge attribution’s being true in one context is compatible with its being false in another. While this serves as the basis for contextualism’s distinctive response to skepticism, it also suggests that contextualism is committed to a kind of error theory. As Conee 2005 maintains, these apparently conflicting knowledge claims seem incompatible even after we learn how, according to contextualism, they are compatible: even after we’ve come to understand contextualism’s claims of compatibility, it seems that certain attributions of knowledge must conflict with certain knowledge denials. Cohen 2005 responds to Conee’s worries, suggesting that the contextualist’s error theory isn’t particularly problematic and, moreover, that it is useful in giving an account of certain linguistic data. Schiffer 1996 was the first work to complain about the plausibility of contextualism’s error theory: Schiffer argues that speakers would not be semantically blind in the way contextualism alleges if certain fundamental contextualist claims were true. Hofweber 1999 lodges a similar complaint. Williamson 2005 maintains that we can give an account of the relevant linguistic data without appealing to contextualism or to the semantic blindness that is a part of its error theory. Neta 2003, responding to complaints about contextualism’s error theory, maintains that speakers don’t even need the sort of self-knowledge contextualists deny them. DeRose 2006 argues that contextualism’s implicating speakers in a kind of semantic blindness does not count against the view, for speakers are semantically blind whether or not contextualism is true.

                                                  • Cohen, S. “‘Contextualism Defended.’” In Contemporary Debates in Epistemology. Edited by M. Steup and E. Sosa, 56–62. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005.

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                                                    Suggests that we sometimes fail to appreciate what is in fact contextualist semantics and uses this thought in explaining why it isn’t contradictory to say one thing in high-stakes cases but another in similar low-stakes cases. Suggests that the contextualist’s error theory isn’t particularly problematic. See also ‘Contextualism Defended Some More,’ pp. 67–71.

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                                                    • Conee, E. “‘Contextualism Contested’” In Contemporary Debates in Epistemology. Edited by M. Steup and E. Sosa, 47–56. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005.

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                                                      Contextualists maintain that sentences uttered in certain contexts seem incompatible but aren’t incompatible with sentences uttered in certain other contexts. The problem for contextualism, Conee maintains, is that these sentences continue to seem incompatible even after we’ve been made aware of contextualism’s claims of compatibility. See also ‘Contextualism Contested Some More,’ pp. 62–66.

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                                                      • DeRose, K. “‘Bamboozled by Our Own Words’: Semantic Blindness and Some Arguments against Contextualism.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 73.2 (2006): 316–338.

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                                                        DeRose argues that contextualism’s implicating speakers in a kind of semantic blindness does not count against the view, for, as he maintains, speakers are semantically blind whether or not contextualism is true.

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                                                        • Hofweber, T. “Contextualism and the Meaning-Intention Problem.” In Cognition, Agency and Rationality: Proceedings of the Fifth International Colloquium on Cognitive Science. Edited by K. Korta, E. Sosa, and X. Arrazola, 93–104. Philosophical Studies Series 79. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer, 1999.

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                                                          Hofweber argues against contextualism on the grounds that its error theory, along with the sort of semantic blindness the view attributes to speakers, is implausible.

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                                                          • Neta, R. “Skepticism, Contextualism, and Semantic Self-Knowledge.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 67.2 (2003): 397–411.

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                                                            Schiffer 1996 complains that contextualism’s error theory, which suggests that speakers suffer from a kind of semantic blindness, is implausible. Neta here responds to this complaint, maintaining that speakers do not need—nor can they have—the sort of self-knowledge contextualists deny them.

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                                                            • Schiffer, S. “Contextualist Solutions to Scepticism.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 96 (1996): 317–333.

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                                                              Schiffer maintains, in the first statement of this sort of worry, that if knowledge sentences were indexical, as contextualists maintain, speakers would know it and so would not be semantically blind in the way contextualism alleges.

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                                                              • Williamson, T. “Knowledge, Context, and the Agent’s Point of View.” In Contextualism in Philosophy: Knowledge, Meaning, and Truth. Edited by G. Preyer and G. Peter, 91–114. Oxford: Clarendon, 2005.

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                                                                If contextualism is true, Williamson charges, epistemic agents are in some cases semantically blind. However, as he goes on to argue, what happens in these cases can be explained without appealing to contextualism or to the semantic blindness that is a part of its error theory.

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                                                                The Ordinary Language Basis for Contextualism

                                                                While early arguments for contextualism highlighted its response to the skeptical problem, recent arguments focus on how contextualism accounts for the use of knowledge claims in ordinary contexts. DeRose 2005 and chapter 2 of DeRose 2009 (cited under Contextualism in Epistemology) argue for contextualism by appealing to features of ordinary uses of “knows” and maintains that appeals of this sort provide the best grounds for contextualism. (Compare DeRose 1999, cited under General Overviews, and the discussion of Cohen’s airport case in Cohen 1999, cited under Contextualism in Epistemology.) Some critics of contextualism argue that we can account for how “know” is used in ordinary contexts in a way that does not commit us to contextualism. Most such critics argue that we can account for the relevant data with the supposition that what varies with context is the warranted-assertability conditions of knowledge claims rather than, as contextualists maintain, their truth-conditions. Rysiew 2001 accounts for the pragmatics of knowledge attributions in terms of their warranted-assertability conditions and argues that this supports an invariantist explanation of the relevant linguistic data. Brown 2006, Black 2008, and Pritchard 2010 argue for invariantist views by appealing to warranted-assertability conditions. Bach 2005 argues that rather than truth-conditions, what varies with context is the strength of the evidence required to attribute knowledge to others. Black and Murphy 2005 argues that the use of knowledge claims in ordinary contexts supports invariantism rather than contextualism. Adler 2006 argues that subjects in high-stakes contexts don’t lack knowledge, as contextualists suggest, but rather simply that their confidence in their beliefs is diminished.

                                                                • Adler, J. “Withdrawal and Contextualism.” Analysis 66.4 (2006): 280–285.

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                                                                  Adler maintains that assertion expresses belief, and so to withdraw a knowledge assertion in a high-stakes context would be to withdraw the corresponding belief. Adler argues, however, that subjects in such contexts don’t withdraw belief. Rather, their confidence is diminished, which, contrary to contextualism, doesn’t imply that they lack knowledge.

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                                                                  • Bach, K. “The Emperor’s New ‘Knows.’” In Contextualism in Philosophy: Knowledge, Meaning, and Truth. Edited by G. Preyer and G. Peter, 51–89. Oxford: Clarendon, 2005.

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                                                                    Bach argues that in contexts in which special concerns arise, it’s not that the standards go up for the truth of knowledge attributions, but rather that we require stronger evidence than in other contexts to attribute knowledge to others.

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                                                                    • Black, T. “A Warranted-Assertability Defense of a Moorean Response to Skepticism.” Acta Analytica 23.3 (2008): 187–205.

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                                                                      Uses a warranted-assertability maneuver in defending a Moorean view on which one can have knowledge even in contexts in which one seems to lack knowledge. Black’s warranted-assertability maneuver makes use of a rule of quantity—“Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.”

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                                                                      • Black, T., and P. Murphy. “Avoiding the Dogmatic Commitments of Contextualism.” Grazer Philosophische Studien 69 (2005): 165–182.

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                                                                        Contextualists offer several everyday cases in support of their view. Murphy and Black argue that these cases fail to support contextualism and that they instead support epistemological invariantism.

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                                                                        • Brown, J. “Contextualism and Warranted Assertibility Manoeuvres.” Philosophical Studies 130.3 (2006): 407–435.

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                                                                          DeRose 1999 (cited under General Overviews) argues that warranted-assertability maneuvers against contextualism are unlikely to succeed. Brown responds to DeRose’s objections and provides a pragmatic explanation of what happens in cases that seem to support contextualism.

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                                                                          • DeRose, K. “The Ordinary Language Basis for Contextualism and the New Invariantism.” Philosophical Quarterly 55 (2005): 172–198.

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                                                                            DeRose here argues for contextualism by appealing to features of ordinary uses of “knows.” He also defends the use of appeals of this sort in arguing for contextualism. (See too DeRose 1999, cited under General Overviews, and the discussion of Cohen’s airport case in Cohen 1999, cited under Contextualism in Epistemology.)

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                                                                            • Pritchard, D. “Contextualism, Skepticism, and Warranted Assertibility Manoeuvres.” In Knowledge and Skepticism. Edited by J. K. Campbell, M. O’Rourke, and H. Silverstein, 85–104. Topics in Contemporary Philosophy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010.

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                                                                              Pritchard argues that our normal response in high-stakes contexts is not to deny knowledge where we once attributed it, but rather simply to be reluctant to continue to attribute knowledge. He argues, too, that the data taken to support contextualism can be explained with an invariantist’s warranted-assertability maneuver.

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                                                                              • Rysiew, P. “The Context-Sensitivity of Knowledge Attributions.” Noûs 35.4 (2001): 477–514.

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                                                                                Rysiew presents an account of the pragmatics of knowledge attributions, which involves a warranted-assertability maneuver and which, he argues, supports an invariantist explanation of the linguistic data offered in support of contextualism.

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                                                                                Other Notable Objections to Contextualism

                                                                                In addition to those covered in other sections, there are some important criticisms of contextualism. Brueckner 1994 argues that contextualism is wrong in maintaining that epistemic standards shift only when attributer factors cause the range of relevant alternatives to shift. Kornblith 2000 argues that contextualist views are largely irrelevant to epistemology and that contextualism fails to address real skeptical concerns. Blackson 2004 argues that certain arguments for contextualism fail to rule out subject-sensitive invariantism, a kind of invariantism that is ably defended by Hawthorne 2004 (cited under Alternatives to Contextualism) and Stanley 2005. Stanley 2004 argues that, despite what contextualists maintain, “know” is not gradable in the way that “flat,” “bald,” and “rich” are. Stanley 2005 maintains that the oddity of concessive knowledge attributions—sentences like “S knows that p, but it might be that q,” where p and q are incompatible—provides no support for contextualism.

                                                                                Alternatives to Contextualism

                                                                                Several alternatives to contextualism have been proposed and defended in the literature. Among these are two kinds of invariantism, classic and subject-sensitive. According to classic invariantism, the standards for knowledge do not depend on context. Skeptical classic invariantism, as defended by Unger 1975, maintains that the context-independent standards for knowledge are high—so high, perhaps, that they can’t be met. Nonskeptical classic invariantism, versions of which are defended by Rysiew 2001 and Black 2008, says that the context-independent standards for knowledge are comparatively low and that they can be met. According to subject-sensitive invariantism, the relevant epistemic standards are fixed by the context of the subject of a knowledge attribution. This sort of view is defended by Hawthorne 2004 and by Stanley 2005. Schaffer 2005 argues for contrastivism, the view that knowledge should be understood as a three-place relation between a subject, a proposition, and a contrast proposition. According to contrastivism, knowledge has the form s knows that p rather than q. Egan, et al. 2005 defends an alternative to a contextualist account of epistemic modals. The authors suggest that relativism, according to which an utterance of “a might be F” can be true relative to one context but false relative to another, provides a better account of epistemic modals.

                                                                                • Black, T. “Defending a Sensitive Neo-Moorean Invariantism.” In New Waves in Epistemology. Edited by V. F. Hendricks and D. Pritchard, 8–27. New Waves in Philosophy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

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                                                                                  Black defends a sensitive neo-Moorean invariantism that reserves a place for a sensitivity condition on knowledge and maintains that the invariant standards for knowledge are comparatively low.

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                                                                                  • Egan, A., J. Hawthorne, and B. Weatherson. “Epistemic Modals in Context.” In Contextualism in Philosophy: Knowledge, Meaning, and Truth. Edited by G. Preyer and G. Peter, 131–168. Oxford: Clarendon, 2005.

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                                                                                    The authors argue that a relativist theory of epistemic modals is superior to a contextualist theory in accounting for the behavior of epistemic modals. According to relativism, an utterance of “a might be F” can be true relative to one context and false relative to another.

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                                                                                    • Hawthorne, J. Knowledge and Lotteries. Oxford: Clarendon, 2004.

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                                                                                      Hawthorne defends subject-sensitive invariantism, according to which the contexts of the subjects of knowledge attributions—rather than, as contextualism would have it, the contexts of the attributers of knowledge—set the relevant epistemic standards.

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                                                                                      • Rysiew, P. “The Context-Sensitivity of Knowledge Attributions.” Noûs 35 (2001): 477–514.

                                                                                        DOI: 10.1111/0029-4624.00349Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                        Rysiew presents an account of the pragmatics of knowledge attributions which involves a warranted-assertability maneuver and which, he argues, supports an invariantist explanation of the linguistic data offered in support of contextualism.

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                                                                                        • Schaffer, J. “Contrastive Knowledge.” In Oxford Studies in Epistemology. Edited by T. Gendler and J. Hawthorne, 235–271. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

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                                                                                          Schaffer argues that knowledge should be understood contrastively, as a three-place relation between a subject, a proposition, and a contrast proposition. Knowledge has the form, s knows that p rather than q.

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                                                                                          • Stanley, J. Knowledge and Practical Interests. Lines of Thought. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

                                                                                            DOI: 10.1093/0199288038.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                            Stanley argues that whether a subject knows p is in part a function of that subject’s practical interests. Stanley’s view is a version of subject-sensitive invariantism, one according to which a subject’s practical interests help to set the relevant epistemic standards.

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                                                                                            • Unger, P. Ignorance: A Case for Scepticism. Oxford: Clarendon, 1975.

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                                                                                              Unger argues for a skeptical classic invariantism, according to which there is a single, invariant epistemic standard, and that standard is so high that it cannot be met.

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