The Semantic Error Problem for Epistemic Contextualism

In Jonathan Ichikawa (ed.), Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Contextualism. Routledge. pp. 305--320 (2017)
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Epistemic Contextualism is the view that “knows that” is semantically context-sensitive and that properly accommodating this fact into our philosophical theory promises to solve various puzzles concerning knowledge. Yet Epistemic Contextualism faces a big—some would say fatal—problem: The Semantic Error Problem. In its prominent form, this runs thus: speakers just don’t seem to recognise that “knows that” is context-sensitive; so, if “knows that” really is context-sensitive then such speakers are systematically in error about what is said by, or how to evaluate, ordinary uses of “S knows that p”; but since it's wildly implausible that ordinary speakers should exhibit such systematic error, the expression “knows that” isn't context-sensitive. We are interested in whether, and in what ways, there is such semantic error; if there is such error, how it arises and is made manifest; and, again, if there is such error to what extent it is a problem for Epistemic Contextualism. The upshot is that some forms of The Semantic Error Problem turn out to be largely unproblematic. Those that remain troublesome have analogue error problems for various competitor conceptions of knowledge. So, if error is any sort of problem, then there is a problem for every extant competitor view.

Author Profiles

Dirk Kindermann
University of Vienna
Patrick Greenough
University of St. Andrews


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