COHEN. Contextualism, Skepticism, And the Structure of Reasons

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<ul><li><p>Contextualism, Skepticism, and the Structure of ReasonsAuthor(s): Stewart CohenReviewed work(s):Source: Nos, Vol. 33, Supplement: Philosophical Perspectives, 13, Epistemology (1999), pp. 57-89Published by: WileyStable URL: .Accessed: 20/02/2013 12:59</p><p>Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms &amp; Conditions of Use, available at .</p><p> .</p><p>JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact</p><p> .</p><p>Wiley is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Nos.</p><p> </p><p>This content downloaded on Wed, 20 Feb 2013 12:59:57 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p></li><li><p>Philosophical Perspectives, 13, Epistemology, 1999 </p><p>CONTEXTUALISM, SKEPTICISM, AND THE STRUCTURE OF REASONS </p><p>Stewart Cohen Arizona State University </p><p>Suppose one speaker says about a subject S and a proposition P, "S knows P." At the very same time, another speaker says of the very same subject and prop- osition, "S does not know P." Must one of the two be speaking falsely? According to the view I will call 'contextualism', both speakers can be speaking the truth. Contextualism is the view that ascriptions of knowledge are context-sensitive- the truth-values of sentences containing the words 'know', and its cognates de- pend on contextually determined standards. Because of this, sentences of the form 'S knows P' can, at one time, have different truth-values in different con- texts. Now when I say 'contexts', I mean 'contexts of ascription'. So the truth- value of a sentence containing the knowledge predicate can vary depending on things like the purposes, intentions, expectations, presuppositions, etc., of the speakers who utter these sentences. </p><p>In what follows, I defend the view that ascriptions of knowledge are context- sensitive. I then argue that a contextualist account of knowledge ascriptions, when combined with a particular view about the structure of reasons, can go a long way toward providing a satisfactory response to skepticism. </p><p>I have previously defended a contextualist treatment of skepticism.1 In recent years, others have proposed contextualist responses to skepticism as well2 In this paper, I revise and further develop my earlier account. I argue that my particular version of contextualism compares favorably with other contextualist accounts. Finally I respond to objections that have been raised against any contextualist response to skepticism. </p><p>(I) Contextualism </p><p>We can begin by considering what I will call 'the entailment principle': </p><p>S knows P on the basis of (reason or evidence) R only if R entails P. </p><p>This content downloaded on Wed, 20 Feb 2013 12:59:57 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>ErnestoResaltado</p><p>ErnestoResaltado</p><p>ErnestoResaltado</p></li><li><p>58 / Stewart Cohen </p><p>As we know, the entailment principle leads to skepticism. Most philosophers reject the entailment principle thereby embracing fallibilism. The motivation for fallibilism stems from the widely held view that what we seek in constructing a theory of knowledge is an account that squares with our strong intuition that we know many things. It is not that skepticism is to be avoided at all costs. But while the entailment principle may look attractive in the abstract, it does not command the kind of assent sufficient to withstand the overwhelming case against it pro- vided by our intuitions concerning what we know. </p><p>Let an alternative to P be any proposition incompatible with P. Then we can define fallibilism as the view that: </p><p>S can know P on the basis of R even if there is some alternative to P, com- patible with R. </p><p>Falliblism allows that we can know on the basis of non-entailing reasons. But how good do the reasons have to be? Reflection on cases show that this can be a difficult question to answer: </p><p>Mary and John are at the L.A. airport contemplating taking a certain flight to New York. They want to know whether the flight has a layover in Chicago. They overhear someone ask a passenger Smith if he knows whether the flight stops in Chicago. Smith looks at the flight itinerary he got from the travel agent and responds,"Yes I know it does stop in Chicago." It turns out that Mary and John have a very important business contact they have to make at the Chicago airport. Mary says, " How reliable is that itinerary? It could contain a misprint. They could have changed the schedule at the last minute." Mary and John agree that Smith doesn't really know that the plane will stop in Chicago. They decide to check with the airline agent. </p><p>What should we say about this case?3 Smith claims to know that the flight stops in Chicago. Mary and John deny that Smith knows this. Mary and John seem to be using a stricter standard than Smith for how good one's reasons have to be in order to know. Whose standard is correct? Let's consider several answers: </p><p>1) Mary and John's stricter standard is too strong, i.e., Smith's standard is correct and so Smith can know the flight stops in Chicago (on the basis of consulting the itinerary). </p><p>Is this a good answer? If we say that contrary to what both Mary and John pre- suppose, the weaker standard is correct, then we would have to say that their use of the word 'know' is incorrect. But then it is hard to see how Mary and John should describe their situation. Certainly they are being prudent in refusing to rely on the itinerary. They have a very important meeting in Chicago. Yet if Smith knows on the basis of the itinerary that the flight stops in Chicago, what should </p><p>This content downloaded on Wed, 20 Feb 2013 12:59:57 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>ErnestoResaltado</p><p>ErnestoResaltado</p><p>ErnestoResaltado</p></li><li><p>Contextualism, Skepticism, and Reasons / 59 </p><p>they have said? "Okay, Smith knows that the flight stops in Chicago, but still, we need to check further." To my ear, it is hard to make sense of that claim. Moreover if what is printed in the itinerary is a good enough reason for Smith to know, then it is a good enough reason for John and Mary to know. Thus John and Mary should have said, "Okay, we know the plane stops in Chicago, but still, we need to check further." Again it is hard to make sense of such a claim. </p><p>Perhaps then the correct answer is: </p><p>2) John and Mary are right and so Smith's standard is too weak. (Smith can not know, but John and Mary can know after checking further with the agent.) </p><p>I think this is a natural response to this case as I have described it. But notice that this contrasts with the standards we typically use for knowledge ascrip- tions. In everyday contexts, we readily ascribe knowledge to someone on the basis of written information contained in things like flight itineraries. If we deny that Smith knows, then we have to deny that we know in many of the everyday cases in which we claim to know. We would have to say that a con- siderable amount of the time in our everyday lives, we speak falsely when we say we know things. </p><p>And it gets worse. We could describe a case where even Mary and John's standard does not seem strict enough: If someone's life were at stake, we might not even be willing to ascribe knowledge on the basis of the testimony of the airline agent. We might insist on checking with the pilot. So it does not look promising to say that Smith's standard is too weak. </p><p>We could, at this point, pursue a third option, viz., all of these standards are too weak. This option leads, of course, to skepticism and presumably, this is a result we want to avoid. (We will return to this option in section III) </p><p>So far we have examined three different answers to the question of whose standard is correct: (1) Smith's is correct and so John and Mary's standard is too strong. (2) John and Mary's standard is correct and so Smith's standard is too weak. (3) Neither Smith's nor John and Mary's standard is correct both are too weak. None of these answers seems satisfactory. So let me say what I take to be the best answer: Neither standard is simply correct or simply incorrect. Rather, context determines which standard is correct. Since the standards for knowledge ascriptions can vary across contexts, each claim, Smith's as well as Mary and John's, can be correct in the context in which it was made. When Smith says, "I know...", what he says is true given the weaker standard operating in that context. When Mary and John say "Smith does not know...", what they say is true given the stricter standard operating in their context. And there is no context independent correct standard. </p><p>So I claim that this case, and others like it, strongly suggests that ascriptions of knowledge are context-sensitive. The standards that determine how good one's reasons have to be in order to know are determined by the context of ascription. </p><p>This content downloaded on Wed, 20 Feb 2013 12:59:57 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>ErnestoResaltadoEL CONOCIMIENTO NO ES ALGO DE TODO O NADA, SINO QUE TAMBIN TIENE GRADOS DE PRECISIN, DEPENDIENDO DEL CAMPO Y DE LAS PRETENSIONES EN CUESTIN, Y DE LOS PROCEDIMIENTOS DE VERIFICACIN REQUERIDOS.</p><p>ErnestoResaltado</p></li><li><p>60 / Stewart Cohen </p><p>This is to assume that the context is determining the truth-conditions for knowledge ascriptions. Ernest Sosa has suggested a different way to view this case.4 According to Sosa, Smith's weaker standard is correct in all contexts. So John and Mary could truly say, "We know the plane stops in Chicago" on the basis of the information contained in the itinerary. The reason it seems wrong for John and Mary to say "We know the plane stops in Chicago" is that saying "I know..." conversationally implicates that there is no need for further investigation. </p><p>As Grice notes, however, conversational implicatures are cancellable- simply by denying the implication.S For example, if I say "Jones is an above- average soccer player", I conversationally implicate that Jones is not a great soccer player. But I can cancel the implication simply by saying, "Jones is an above average player in fact he's a great player". But Sosa's alleged implica- ture is not so cancellable. As I noted, it sounds inconsistent to say, "We know, but we need to investigate further". This suggests that the implication is semantic.6 </p><p>Perhaps we can restate Sosa's objection as a point about speech acts. One might hold that saying "I know P, but I need to investigate further" is pragmati- cally incoherent in a way analogous to saying "P, but I don't believe P" (Moore's paradox). So just as P can be true when I don't believe P, so it can be true that I know P when I need to investigate further. </p><p>The difficulty with this analogy is that Moore's paradox requires the first- person. There is no problem with saying, "P, but John and Mary don't believe P". But there is a problem in saying, "John and Mary know P, but there is a need for John and Mary to investigate further." So the pragmatic incoherence involved in the Moore paradox can not explain the problem in uttering this sentence. </p><p>(II) Semantical Considerations </p><p>Many, if not most, predicates in natural language are such that the truth-value of sentences containing them depends on contextually determined standards, e.g., 'flat', 'bald', 'rich', 'happy', 'sad'.... These are all predicates that can be satisfied to varying degrees and that can also be satisfied simpliciter. So, e.g., we can talk about one surface being flatter than another and we can talk about a surface being flat simpliciter. For predicates of this kind, context will determine the degree to which the predicate must be satisfied in order for the predicate to apply simplic- iter. So the context will determine how flat a surface must be in order to be flat.7 </p><p>Does knowledge come in degrees? Most people say no (though David Lewis says yes)8. But it doesn't really matter. For, on my view, justification, or having good reasons, is a component of knowledge, and justification certainly comes in degrees. So context will determine how justified a belief must be in order to be justified simpliciter. </p><p>This suggests a further argument for the truth of the contextualists claim about knowledge. Since justification is a component of knowledge, an ascription of knowledge involves an ascription of justification. And for the reasons just indicated, ascriptions of justification are context-sensitive.9 </p><p>This content downloaded on Wed, 20 Feb 2013 12:59:57 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>ErnestoResaltadoLA IMPLICATURA CONVERSACIONAL DEL CONOCIMIENTO ALCANZA UNA PROFUNDIDAD SEMNTICA, Y NO PUEDE CANCELARSE TAN SENCILLAMENTE,</p><p>ErnestoResaltado</p><p>ErnestoResaltadoESTA ANALOGA NO SE SOSTIENE: PUEDE HABER CONOCIMIENTO SIN CREENCIA COMO EL ESTUDIANTE QUE SABE LA RESPUESTA ADECUADA PERO NO CREE EN ELLA O DUDA O NECESITA BUSCAR MS INFORMACIN ANTES DE NADA.</p><p>ErnestoResaltado</p><p>ErnestoResaltadoERROR: HAY CONOCIMIENTO SIN JUSTIFICACIN EN EL CASO DE LOS SENTIDOS, LA MEMORIA Y EL DISCURSO TESTIMONIAL.</p></li><li><p>Contextualism, Skepticism, and Reasons / 61 </p><p>How from the view point of formal semantics should we think of this context- sensitivity of knowledge ascriptions? We could think of it as a kind of indexical- ity. On this way of construing the semantics, ascriptions of knowledge involve an indexical reference to standards. So the knowledge predicate will express differ- ent relations (corresponding to different standards) in different contexts. </p><p>But we could instead view the knowledge predicate as expressing the same relation in every context. On this model, we view the context as determining a standard at which the proposition involving the knowledge relation gets evalu- ated. So we could think of knowledge as a three-place relation between a person, a proposition, and a standard.10 </p><p>These semantic issues, as near as I can tell, are irrelevant to the epistemo- logical issues. As long as we allow for contextually determined standards, it doesn't matter how formally we construe the context-sensitivity. </p><p>How precisely do the standards for these predicates get determined in a par- ticular context of ascription? This is a very difficult question to answer. But we can say this much. The standards are determined by some complicated function of speaker intentions, listener expectations, presuppositions of the conversation, salience relations, etc., by what David Lewis calls the conversational score1 1. </p><p>In the case of knowledge ascriptions, salience relations play a central role in determining the standards. In particular, when the chance of error is salient, it can lead knowledge ascribers to intend, expect, presuppose, etc., stricter standards. In the case of John and Mary, it is the importance of the Chicago meeting tha...</p></li></ul>