Epistemic contextualism had recently emerged as hotly debated and controversial topic among many philosophers. Contextualism elaborates a collection of philosophical views suggesting that utterance, action, or expression can only be understood with respect to the context they occur. The scope of the context subject has provided the hub for the controversial argument to many philosophers. This is because “context” does not certainly refer to elements of the putative focus of knowledge or objective condition but rather the elements of the knowledge attributor’s psychology. In other words, some philosophers like Conee believes that what is deemed to vary is the context in which the sentence is applied, and hence called this attributer relativity or attributer context. However, philosophers such as Stewart Cohen prominently advocate on the conversational or semantic contextualism, which has been the most influential form of attributor contextualism. Therefore, in this paper elucidates on the Cohen’s argument on the contextualism as well as a defense for the main criticisms of the Conee’s argument.
Cohen provides a way to solve the controversial debates and argument regarding the contextualism by providing a most appropriate way to resolve the skeptical paradox. In his resolution, Cohen proposes that one has to take the intuitions at the face value. Many philosophers have been mistakenly taking contextualism as a way of rejecting one of the intuitions. However, Cohen argues, “contextualism attempts to explain the way the apparent inconsistency of our intuitions by arguing that they reflect the contextually varying truth-conditions for knowledge ascriptions” (Cohen 57). Therefore, the contextualism implies that knowledge ascriptions are context-sensitive.
Through the conversational contextualism, the ascriptions on rising and lowering of standards vary according to the conversational features. For instance, the truth of sentences such as “S knows P” relies on the contextually changing “standards for how strong one’s epistemic position with respect to P must be in order for one to know P” (Cohen 57). However, this argument has attracted many controversial debates arguing that the contextualism in the knowledge ascription is based on the language rather than the epistemological position that shed light on the nature of the knowledge. To counter this critic, the contextualism takes a position in the philosophy of language that unquestionably covers the issues that are fundamental to the epistemology.
Cohen argues that people should take contextualism as a position that involves two elements. First, (a) the “ascription of knowledge are context-sensitive.” Second, (b) “The context-sensitivity of knowledge ascriptions provides the basis for resolving skeptical paradox” (Cohen 57). However, this has faced strong criticism for Earl Conee. Conee challenges Cohen’s argument by providing the alternative of accounting the intuitions that provide individuals with paradox. He argues that the likelihood that truth conditions for knowledge ascriptions are never changing. However, “the standards for making appropriate, though not strictly speaking true, attributions vary with context” (Cohen 57). Conee provides two main ways in which the contextualism can be misleading. First, on the loose talk argument, he argues that the all the knowledge attributions consist “the same truth conditions, but people apply contextually varying standards for making that attributions” (Conee 52). Second, his strict truth theory suggests that “contextualism about “knows” may be misleading would be by being collect” (Conee 53). The reason for this position is that the correctness of the Epistemic Contextualism has important implication regarding some philosophical issues about knowledge. He suggests that the truth of the epistemic contextualism does not contain such implication. Briefly, Conee attempted to imply that the intuitive date has unsubstantial support for the contextualism over the alternative account.
However, Cohen refuses Conee’s argument by suggesting that the alternative account does not elaborate on the intuitive data and the contextualism. He point out the problem with the Conee’s critics by suggesting, “Competent speakers, under skeptical pressure, tend to deny that we know even the most conspicuous facts of perception, [and] the clearest memories” (Cohen 58). Cohen suggests that according to the contextualist there are different degrees to which competent speakers cannot perceive context-sensitivity in language. The strictness of the standards of skeptics makes the denials true in such contexts. Conee’s alternative mistakenly predict that people should stick on such knowledge ascriptions, even when people encounters skeptical “really and truly challenges.” Conee suggests that this can be identified as the liability of the contextualism.
Cohen aggress with Conee’s argument that when providing context-sensitivity of knowledge ascriptions, there is nothing strictly shadows the standards that are in a particular context. In other words, Conee and Cohen come to a common ground that (a) is logically weaker than (b). Therefore, for an effective contextualist solution “the standards in everyday contexts are low and attainable, and the standards in skeptical contexts are high and unattainable” (Cohen 58). Such results are derived when people consider shifty intuitive judgments, both commonsensical and skeptical, at the face value.
Cohen agrees that contextualist does not have proof that people’s intuitive judgments, both commonsensical and skeptical are correct. The contextualism tries to provide “a non-skeptical way to resolve the skeptical paradox” (Cohen 59). According to Cohen, the contextualism provides an antiseptical resolution that resolve the paradox in a manner that maintains the truth of people’s everyday knowledge ascriptions. In this way, the contextualism provides an explanation of people’s unpredictable inclinations that contributes to the appeal of the skeptical argument. He points out, “Now for all that, contextualism may be false. But the fact that it can do this much shows that there is much to recommend” (Cohen 59). At last, the contextualism can be adopted on conditions compared to other resolutions for resolving the paradox.
Conee provides a resolution for solving the paradox by suggesting the ‘although the standards for knowledge vary across contexts, there is a single standard that is always in effect in philosophical discussion of knowledge” (Cohen 59). In this argument, he provides another possibility that knowledge is context-sensitive, but that claim does not have an implication on significant philosophical issues. According to Cohen, Conee again highlight that there is nothing philosophically important that strictly follows from the claim that ascriptions of knowledge are context-sensitive.
It is thus evident that the “point of the contextualism is to provide an explanation for the intuitive data in a way that can explain the appeal of skepticism while still preserving the truth of our everyday knowledge ascriptions” (Cohen 59). After comparing relative merits of competing accounts, Cohen found out that the Conee’s proposal is merely the plain statement of likelihood that is barely open on whether skepticism is true, and if vice versa, why do people find it appealing. Therefore, even though not accounted in the thesis that knowledge ascriptions are not context sensitive, contextualist description of people’s intuitions has much more to recommend contrary to Conee’s suggestion. Cohen concludes that people should accept the two sides of the contextualism; that is, the “good news” and the “bad news.” The good news reflects on how people seem to have lots of knowledge while many surfaces are flat. The bad news is that flatness and knowledge are not all that they were supposed to be.
In conclusion, despite different arguments between the two philosophers, Cohen and Conee, it is evident that the aim of the contextualism is to explain that the intuitive data by explaining the appeal of skepticism while maintaining the truth of people’s everyday knowledge ascription. In addition, the two philosophers agree that when providing context-sensitivity of knowledge ascriptions, there is nothing strictly shadows the standards that are in a particular context.
Cohen, Stewart. "Contextualism Defended." Is knowledge Contextual (2001): 56-62. Print.
Conee, Earl. "Is Knowledge Contextual? Contextualism Contested." (2001): 47-56. Print.