Epistemological Implications of Relativism

Authored by: J. Adam Carter

The Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Contextualism

Print publication date:  March  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138818392
eBook ISBN: 9781315745275
Adobe ISBN: 9781317594697

10.4324/9781315745275.ch23

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Abstract

Relativists about knowledge ascriptions think that whether a particular use of a knowledge-ascribing sentence, e.g., “Keith knows that the bank is open,” is true depends on the epistemic standards at play in the assessor’s context – viz., the context in which the knowledge ascription is being assessed for truth or falsity. Given that the very same knowledge ascription can be assessed for truth or falsity from indefinitely many perspectives, relativism has a striking consequence. When I ascribe knowledge to someone (e.g., when I say that, at a particular time, “Keith knows that the bank is open”), what I’ve said does not get a truth-value absolutely, but only relatively. If this semantic thesis about the word “knows” and its cognates is true, what implications would this have for epistemology, the philosophical theory of knowledge? The present aim will be to engage with this mostly unexplored question, and then to consider how the epistemological conclusions drawn might bear on the plausibility of a relativist semantics for “knows”.

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