Contextualism and the ambiguity theory of ‘knows’

Episteme 17 (2):209-229 (2020)
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The ambiguity theory of ‘knows’ is the view that ‘knows’ and its cognates have more than one sense, and that which sense of ‘knows’ is used in a knowledge ascription or denial determines, in part, the meaning (and as a result the truth conditions) of that knowledge ascription or denial. In this paper, I argue that the ambiguity theory of ‘knows’ ought to be taken seriously by those drawn to epistemic contextualism. In doing so I first argue that the ambiguity theory of ‘knows’ is a distinct view from epistemic contextualism. Second, I provide independent philosophical and linguistic considerations to motivate the ambiguity theory. Third, I argue that the ambiguity theory has the same central, generally agreed upon virtues ascribed to epistemic contextualism (namely, the ability to solve certain persistent epistemological problems relating to skeptical arguments and the ability to preserve the truth of most of our everyday, ordinary usages of ‘knows’ and its cognates). Finally, I provide an ambiguity-theory-friendly account of why contextualism may be initially appealing, and why this shouldn’t dissuade us from taking the ambiguity theory seriously nonetheless.
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