Epistemic Contextualism and Linguistic Behavior

Authored by: Wesley Buckwalter

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.ch3

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Abstract

Epistemic contextualism is the linguistic theory that the word “knows” is context-sensitive (Lewis 1996; DeRose 2009; Cohen 2013). The theory states that the standards that are required in order to truthfully say a person knows a proposition are set by and shift according to the contexts in which that statement is made. This view is primarily motivated by claims about the linguistic behavior of competent speakers. More specifically, epistemic contextualism is motivated by the claim that it offers the best explanation of observable facts about the use of “knows” in certain cases. According to this theory, for example, people truthfully say both “I know the bank is open tomorrow” and “I do not know the bank is open tomorrow” when the standards required in order to “know” shift between those contexts. Many things could potentially shift standards between contexts. Two specific contextual features are often discussed. One feature involves practical consequences; for example, whether the stakes associated with the bank being closed for the ascriber are low or high. Another feature involves error salience; for example, whether or not uneliminated possibilities of error are made apparent to the ascriber. Contextualists claim that competent speakers behave in these ways, and that the fact that they do this is “evidence of the very best type that one can have for concluding that any piece of ordinary language is context-sensitive” (DeRose 2005: 172; see also Pynn, this volume).

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