A noncontextualist account of contextualist linguistic data

Acta Analytica 20 (2):56-79 (2005)
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The paper takes as its starting point the observation that people can be led to retract knowledge claims when presented with previously ignored error possibilities, but offers a noncontextualist explanation of the data. Fallibilist epistemologies are committed to the existence of two kinds of Kp -falsifying contingencies: (i) Non-Ignorable contingencies [NI-contingencies] and (ii) Properly-Ignorable contingencies [PI-contingencies]. For S to know that p, S must be in an epistemic position to rule out all NI-contingencies, but she need not be able to rule out the PI-contingencies. What is required vis-à-vis PI-contingencies is that they all be false . In mentioning PI-contingencies, an interlocutor can lead S mistakenly to think that these contingencies are NI-contingencies, when in fact they are not. Since S cannot rule out these newly mentioned contingencies and since she mistakenly takes them to be NI-contingencies , it is quite natural that she retract her earlier knowledge claim. In short, mentioning NI-contingencies creates a distortion effect. It makes S think that the standards for knowledge are higher than they actually are, which in turn explains why she mistakenly thinks she lacks knowledge. Conclusion: The primary linguistic data offered in support of contextualism can be explained without resorting to contextualism.

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Mylan Engel Jr
Northern Illinois University


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