Monday, November 23, 2009

Asserting Kp v p

Keith DeRose accepts something like the knowledge norm of assertion -- although as a contextualist, he can't have it entirely straightforwardly. He at least thinks this much: the assertability conditions for S for 'p' are the same as the truth conditions for 'I know p' in S's mouth. He takes it to be obvious that these are different than the assertability conditions for 'I know p'.

Now I'm one of those weirdos who is actually a bit sympathetic to the KK principle. So I'm interested in his argument. I find it pretty uncompelling. DeRose writes:
Both equations of standards -- (1) those for properly asserting that p with those for properly asserting that one knows that p, and (2) those for properly asserting that one knows that p with those for actually knowing that p -- are mistaken, as I trust the considerations below will show to anyone who has deliberated over close calls about whether one is positioned well enough to claim to know that p or should cool one's heels and only assert that p. (The Case for Contextualism, 103.)

I won't continue with his argument, because I'm already not on board. I'm pretty sure I've never deliberated over a close call about whether I was in a good enough situation to assert that I know p, or whether I should cool my heels and only assert that p. Indeed, that strikes me as a totally bizarre thing to do. DeRose himself says that to assert that p is, in some sense, to represent oneself as knowing p.

I know that there are strong theoretical reasons for denying KK, and for accepting the knowledge norm of assertion, and I see that those two verdicts together predict that there will be cases like these in which one can assert p but not that one knows p. But to take such cases as a clear starting point strikes me as bizarre; this, to me, is a cost that I'll accept if I'm forced to. But it's by no means obvious that this ever happens. "p but I don't know whether I know p" is not good.

Am I off base here? Do you ever consider whether Kp is warrantedly assertable, or whether to just stick with the safer p? I don't. (I know I don't.)


  1. Strikes me as bizarre. Certainly I've deliberated over whether to assert 'p'. But I can't recall a situation in which I deliberated over whether to assert 'I know that p', and yet had no problems flat out asserting p. To be honest, I find it highly questionable that such situations occur.

    Moreover, it seems to me that locutions of the form 'I know that p' are rather rare in natural language discourses. Typically it's just unnecessary to emphasize that one knows that p. And when does, it often seems to serve a particular discursive purpose, which I suspect is irrelevant to the putative difference between asserting p and asserting that one knows that p.

  2. Hi Jonathan,

    I'm a bit late to this post, having read your NDPR review yesterday, and then found my way here. And I know you know (how's that for an iterated KK assertion!) that I tend to side with DeRose on a lot of this... but here's a question for you.

    You said: "I’m pretty sure I’ve never deliberated over a close call about whether I was in a good enough situation to assert that I know p, or whether I should cool my heels and only assert that p. Indeed, that strikes me as a totally bizarre thing to do." Okay; if you find it bizarre, then I wonder whether you tend to treat "p" and "I know that p" as nearly equivalent. If you're sympathetic to KK you'll likely either (i) to maintain that every circumstance in which you're well-enough positioned to assert "p" is one in which you're likewise well-enough positioned to assert "I know that p," or (ii) to conflate them because you don't, in practice, treat the latter as being stronger than the former (and I doubt this is the case: in practice you're careful enough to use other hedges to indicate your epistemic position - case in point is your opening line I quoted above, where, instead of flat-out asserting, you begin with "I"m pretty sure...").

    But if either of (i) or (ii) is true of you, then you may face, I think, the question of why "I know that p" is thought to convey something stronger than the plain "p" (as DeRose, Unger, Austin, et al. have maintained).

  3. I'm with DeRose - I actually find myself in this situation fairly often nowadays. My girlfriend frequently berates me for being more assertive than I should be given my epistemic position; so I've recently been paying fairly close attention to whether I should be saying 'I think that p', 'p', or 'I know that p' in some particular epistemic situation. These three options strike me (and her) as in increasing order of committedness.

    I should add that I've only become sensitive to the distinction in strength between 'p' and 'I know that p' having thought a bit about knowledge norms for assertion, and my application of it needed a bit of explanation to my at-first-sceptical girlfriend. Regardless, it now seems really natural (to both of us) and provides for increased domestic harmony. An example of philosophy having Impact?