Are Knowledge Ascriptions Sensitive to Social Context?

Synthese (forthcoming)
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Plausibly, how much is at stake in some salient practical task can affect how generously or stringently people ascribe knowledge of task-relevant facts. I propose a new psychological account of when and why people’s knowledge ascriptions are sensitive to stakes. My hypothesis is motivated by empirical research on how people’s judgements are sensitive to their social context. Specifically, people’s evaluations are sensitive to their ‘psychological distance’ from the scenarios they are considering. When using ‘fixed-evidence probes’, experimental philosophy has found that what’s at stake for a fictional character in a made-up scenario has little or no effect on how participants ascribe knowledge to them. My hypothesis predicts this finding. (This illustrates a widespread problem with X-phi vignette studies: if people might judge differently in other social contexts, we can’t generalize from the results of these experiments. That is, vignette studies are of doubtful ‘external validity’.) The hypothesis predicts that people do not ascribe knowledge in a way deemed correct by any of the standard philosophical views, namely classical invariantism, interest-relative invariantism, and contextualism. Our knowledge ascriptions shift around in the way that’s most useful for social beings like us, and this pattern in our judgements can only be endorsed by a genuinely relativist metaphysics for knowledge.
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First archival date: 2020-04-30
Latest version: 3 (2021-04-22)
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