Gradability and Knowledge

In Jonathan Ichikawa (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Contextualism. London: Routledge. pp. 348--357 (2017)
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Epistemic contextualism (‘EC’), the view that the truth-values of knowledge attributions may vary with the context of ascription, has a variety of different linguistic implementations. On one of the implementations most popular in the early days of EC, the predicate ‘knows p’ functions semantically similarly to gradable adjectives such as ‘flat’, ‘tall’, or ‘empty’. In recent work Jason Stanley and John Hawthorne have presented powerful arguments against such implementations of EC. In this article I briefly systematize the contextualist analogy to gradable adjectives, present Stanley’s argument against the analogy, and offer a contextualist response that abandons the analogy in favor of modeling the semantics of ‘knows p’ along the lines of quantifier expressions. I then present Hawthorne’s objection to the views presented, and finally conclude by outlining an argument to the effect that ‘knows p’ is an automatic indexical and as such to be expected to function differently from many other indexicals that the term has been compared to in the literature. I finally point out that no analogy should be expected to be perfect, and that no harm is done by postulating some unique behavior of ‘knows p’.
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