Third‐person knowledge ascriptions: A crucial experiment for contextualism

Mind and Language (2):1-25 (2018)
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In the past few years there has been a turn towards evaluating the empirical foundation of epistemic contextualism using formal (rather than armchair) experimental methods. By-and-large, the results of these experiments have not supported the original motivation for epistemic contextualism. That is partly because experiments have only uncovered effects of changing context on knowledge ascriptions in limited experimental circumstances (when contrast is present, for example), and partly because existing experiments have not been designed to distinguish between contextualism and one of its main competing theories, subject-sensitive invariantism. In this paper, we discuss how a particular, "third-person", experimental design is needed to provide evidence that would support contextualism over subject-sensitive invariantism. In spite of the theoretical significance of third-person knowledge ascriptions for debates surrounding contextualism, no formal experiments evaluating such ascriptions that assess contextualist claims have previously been conducted. In this paper, we conduct an experiment specifically designed to examine that central gap in contextualism’s empirical foundation. The results of our experiment provide crucial support for epistemic contextualism over subject-sensitive invariantism.

Author Profiles

Jumbly Grindrod
University of Reading
James Andow
University of Manchester
Nat Hansen
University of Reading


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