Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hawthorne against contextualist 'inappropriate'

John Hawthorne gives an argument that contextualists about knowledge face considerable pressure to be contextualists about terms that refer to things widely thought to be linked to knowledge, like 'is epsitemically permitted to assert' or 'relies inappropriately upon in one's practical reasoning'. I'm inclined to agree. He argues, however, that it's not at all plausible to treat words like 'inappropriately' as in the relevant way context-sensitive. Now actually, I'm sort of inclined to agree with that, too, although I'm not at all sure he's right. What I am pretty sure of is that his argument for this conclusion is pretty bad.

Suppose I'm in an everyday context and have pretty good evidence for the true p, such that 'I know that p' is true in my context. Then I go ahead and assert that p and rely on p in my practical reasoning. Now you come along in a more skeptical context where 'Jonathan knows that p' is false. Now you want to say, 'Jonathan ought not to have asserted p' and 'relying on p was inappropriate.' Hawthorne says that a contextualist treatment of this latter is implausible:
Assertability conditions and propriety conditions for practical reasoning just don't seem to vary in that way. The practical reasoning considered above is inappropriate, regardless of what an ascriber is attending to, and parallel remarks apply to the propriety of flat-out assertions of lottery propositions (in the setting envisaged). (90)

I can't read this as anything but a pretty blatant use/mention confusion. The relevant kind of contextualist can explain and predict that “the practical reasoning above is inappropriate, regardless of what an ascriber is attending to” is true. It’s exactly the same reason why, pace Lewis when he’s being sloppy, it’s not a result of contextualism about 'knows' that whether S knows p depends in part on what an ascriber is attending to. That, again, is just the same reason why it’s not true that whether you are female depends on whom I’m talking to. Your gender has nothing to do with me; neither, according to contextualism about ‘knows’, does whether you know p. And neither, according to the hypothetical view under consideration under which ‘inappropriate’ is context-sensitive, does whether your action is inappropriate depend on anything about me.

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