Pragmatic Contextualism

Metaphilosophy 46 (1):26-51 (2015)
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Contextualism in epistemology has traditionally been understood as the view that “know” functions semantically like an indexical term, encoding different contents in contexts with different epistemic standards. But the indexical hypothesis about “know” faces a range of objections. This article explores an alternative version of contextualism on which “know” is a semantically stable term, and the truth-conditional variability in knowledge claims is a matter of pragmatic enrichment. The central idea is that in contexts with stringent epistemic standards, knowledge claims are narrowed: “know” is used in such contexts to make assertions about particularly demanding types of knowledge. The resulting picture captures all of the intuitive data that motivate contextualism while sidestepping the controversial linguistic thesis at its heart. After developing the view, the article shows in detail how it avoids one influential linguistic objection to traditional contextualism concerning indirect speech reports, and then answers an objection concerning the unavailability of certain types of clarification speeches.

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Geoffrey Pynn
Northern Illinois University


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