Epistemic Contextualism and the Sociality of Knowledge

In Jennifer Lackey & Aidan McGlynn (eds.), Oxford Handbook of Social Epistemology. Oxford University Press (2024)
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This chapter has four central aims. First, in §1, I distinguish two ideas within epistemology that sometimes travel under the name ‘contextualism’ — the ‘situational contextualist’ idea that an individual’s context, especially their social context, can make for a difference in what they know, and the ‘linguistic contextualist’ idea that discourse using the word ‘knows’ and its cognates is context-sensitive, expressing dif- ferent contents in different conversational contexts. Second, in §2, I situate contextualism with respect to several influential ideas in feminist epistemology. These ideas are thoroughgoingly contextualist in the situational sense; I’ll explore the prospects for linguistic contextualist analogues or implementations of them. Simple connections between these feminist ideas and linguistic contextualism will prove elusive, but more subtle ones are possible, and sometimes attractive. §3 considers the degree to which contextual epistemic parameters are determined interpersonally, as opposed to individualistically. Should contextualists hold that speakers can individually determine the contextual parameters that influence the truth- conditions of their utterances? Or are they fixed at a broader social level? I’ll rehearse some influential reasons to opt for the latter, more social, form of contextualism. In §4 I discuss the practical and moral significance of speakers’ choices of epistemic parameters, given contextualism. For example, I’ll consider how standards-raising can be used to discredit evidential sources, with an eye towards the social and moral consequences of such moves.

Author's Profile

Jonathan Ichikawa
University of British Columbia


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