Acta Analytica

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 127–137 | Cite as

In Defence of a Minimal Conception of Epistemic Contextualism: A Reply to M. D. Ashfield’s Response

Article

Abstract

The article responds to the objections M.D. Ashfield has raised to my recent attempt at saving epistemic contextualism from the knowability problem. First, it shows that Ashfield’s criticisms of my minimal conception of epistemic contextualism, even if correct, cannot reinstate the knowability problem. Second, it argues that these criticisms are based on a misunderstanding of the commitments of my minimal conception. I conclude that there is still no reason to maintain that epistemic contextualism has the knowability problem.

Keywords

Epistemic Contextualism Minimal Contextualism Knowability Problem Factivity Problem Scepticism 

Recently, a number of authors have argued that epistemic contextualism (EC) faces a serious problem: It cannot be known and hence cannot be knowledgeably stated.1 In Freitag 2011, I defend EC against the charge of having the knowability problem,2 claiming that, properly understood, EC can be known to be true and can hence be knowledgeably stated by its proponents. My defence takes the following line. I first propose a general condition (KP) on the knowability problem according to which a theory cannot be known by S if and only if there is a proposition such that the theory entails it to be true and to be not known by S. I show, secondly, that EC does not meet condition (KP). As a preparation for this second claim, I propose a minimalist conception of epistemic contextualism (MEC), which holds that contextualism is committed only to the possibility of contextualist scenarios, i.e., the possibility of cases in which a knowledge ascription is true according to the standard operative in one context, while it is false according to another. MEC does not meet condition (KP) and hence does not have the knowability problem. But my argument does not depend on a minimal conception of epistemic contextualism, since many positions stronger than MEC also do not meet (KP) and thus do not have the knowability problem either.

In a response to my paper, Michael D. Ashfield (2012) puts forward several objections to the minimal conception of epistemic contextualism and concludes that it has to be abandoned. Amongst other things, he claims, MEC does not allow for actual contextualist scenarios, does not yield the intended contextualist answer to scepticism, and is not even a stable position. Having rejected MEC as the correct conception of epistemic contextualism, Ashfield considers the knowability problem reinstated and goes on to provide an alternative solution.

The present article constitutes my reply to Ashfield’s objections. I show that his arguments are based on misunderstandings of both the contents and the dialectical role of MEC. My foremost task, therefore, is to set the record straight and clarify the situation with a view to Ashfield’s objections. Yet my ambitions are more general. The type or types of misunderstanding informing Ashfield’s charges seem rather common. A discussion of Ashfield’s objections, therefore, not only protects the minimalist conception of contextualism from undeserved criticisms, but it also clarifies the commitments and the aims of the contextualist position.

The article divides into four sections. Section 1 sketches the position of epistemic contextualism and the argument for its having the knowability problem. Section 2 harbours my resolution of the problem with respect to MEC. The description will be brief and the argument elliptic, since the matter has been discussed in detail in Freitag 2011 and in Ashfield’s response. (For the sake of simplicity, I will also slightly deviate from my original formulations.) Section 3 will show that versions of epistemic contextualism much stronger than MEC are not affected by the knowability problem either. As a consequence, Ashfield is not able to reinstate the problem, even if he were successful in showing that MEC does not properly capture EC. In Section 4, finally, I turn to Ashfield’s arguments against MEC and point out that they are based on certain misunderstandings. They do not, I think, affect any of my theses.

One clarification up front: my purpose has been, and still is, to save contextualism from the knowability problem. My purpose has also been, though not primarily, to claim that EC is best understood in terms of MEC. My purpose has never been, however, to claim that EC is true if conceived of as MEC. MEC is a claim about the commitments of contextualism. It does not (necessarily) reflect my own views.

1 Background: Epistemic Contextualism and the Knowability Problem3

Let “Ki(S, P)” (or “S knowsi that P”) stand for “ ‘S knows that P’ is true if uttered in contexts with standard i”.4 S knowsi that P if and only if (a) contexts with standards i demand a certain strength of epistemic position,5 and (b) S’s epistemic position with respect to the proposition P is of that strength. Tom knowsi that he has two hands if and only if Tom is in the epistemic position required by standard i with respect to that proposition. The truth of knowledge ascriptions in certain contexts is in general a contingent matter, because it is a contingent matter whether the subject is in the right epistemic position.6 To illustrate: in worlds in which Tom does not have hands, Tom does of course not knowi that he has hands (given the uncontroversial assumption that knowledgei is factive).

One and the same knowledge-attributing sentence of the form “S knows that P” may have different truth-values when uttered in different contexts if different standards operate in these contexts. This conditional is common ground between epistemic contextualism and epistemic invariantism. The two positions disagree, however, on the (possible) truth of its antecedent: Classical invariantism claims that there are no varying (context-dependent) standards for knowledge attributions, wherefore a given knowledge ascription has the same truth conditions in all contexts; it is therefore either true in all contexts or false in all contexts. Its truth-value depends solely on the strength of the subject’s epistemic position and on the (context-invariant) demands posed by ‘knows’.7 Epistemic contextualism denies classical invariantism. It is committed to the existence of different, context-dependent standards for ‘knows’: “According to contextualist theories of knowledge attributions, how strong an epistemic position S must be in with respect to P for A’s assertion [of “S knows that P”, W.F.] to be true can vary according to features of A’s conversational contexts” (DeRose 1995, 4). Knowledge ascriptions may express different propositions, and have different truth conditions, in different contexts. Restricting ourselves to two possible standards, l (low) and h (high), contextualists hold it to be possible for a subject to have knowledgel of P, but to fail to have knowledgeh of the very same proposition. It may then be possible for Tim to knowl, and fail to knowh, that he has two hands.

The knowability problem derives from considerations of the following sort, which I call the Argument for the Knowability Problem (AKP).8 Let S be the epistemic contextualist, and let ‘hands’ stand for the proposition ‘S has hands’. Assume that knowledge is factive and closed under entailment.9 The allegedly contextualist propositions (1) and (2) and the additional assumption (3) form an inconsistent triad10:
$$ {{\text{K}}_{\text{h}}}\left( {{\text{S}},(1)} \right). $$
(3)

The incompatibility of (1), (2), and (3) is undisputed, given the mentioned principles. What is disputed is only the question what to make of this result.

According to the received view, the argument (AKP) shows that EC cannot be knownh, and hence cannot be knowledgehably stated (see, e.g., Brueckner and Buford 2009, 436). The ensuing debate concerns the consequence of the (alleged) failure of knowingh EC. Baumann rejects the closure principle and thus blocks the conclusion that (1)–(3) form an inconsistent triad. Brendel and Wright reject EC on the grounds of the knowability problem. Brueckner and Buford (and Williamson 2001) think the knowability problem does not have any further effects. According to them, failure of knowledgehably stating contextualism undermines the possibility of asserting the position, but does not touch upon its tenability. Ashfield (2012), finally, in his own attempt to resolve the (allegedly reinstated) knowability problem, claims that knowledgeably stating EC demands only knowledgel of EC, the existence of which does not conflict with (1) and (2) even if (AKP) goes through.

I consider it to be an interesting question whether the impossibility of knowledge(h)ably stating a theory also undermines its tenability. But, in opposition to the received view, I also think that this question does not arise with respect to epistemic contextualism, since EC can consistently be knownh to be true. Or so I argue.

2 The Resolution of the Problem and Minimal Contextualism

In my 2011 paper I prove the following (let S be a subject, and \( \mathfrak{P} \) the set of contingent propositions)11:
  • Thesis. Theory Θ has the knowability problem – i.e., S cannot knowh\( \Theta \) to be true – iff
    $$ \left( {\text{KP}} \right)\:\exists \text{p}\in \mathfrak{P}:\left( {\Theta \Rightarrow \left[ {\text{p}\:\text{is true}\wedge \neg {{\text{K}}_{\text{h}}}\left( {\text{S,p}} \right)} \right]} \right). $$
    12

According to Thesis, a theory Θ cannot be knownh by a subject S if and only if there is some contingent proposition that Θ entails to be true and to be not knownh by S. Let me emphasise that the knowability problem is doubly conditional. Concerning a theory for which (KP) is true, only S is condemned to ignorance and, moreover, only to ignorance in the sense of failure to knowh. Theories with the knowability problem may be knownl by S and knownh by someone else than S.

Given Thesis, we can check for any given theory Θ whether it does or does not have the knowability problem. Condition (KP) yields the right result for our initial case above: A theory stating (1) and (2) has the knowability problem; (1) and (2) cannot be knownh by S. But this result has no bearing on epistemic contextualism unless EC entails both (1) and (2). I claim in my 2011 that EC entails neither. As a direct consequence, (AKP) does not indicate that EC has the knowability problem. But we can obtain a stronger result. I argue that there is no plausible understanding of EC such that (KP) is true for EC. Given Thesis, it follows that EC is demonstrably free of the knowability problem.

To provide a more precise take on EC, I propose the following formulation. Let \( \mathfrak{S} \) be the (non-empty) set of subjects and \( \mathfrak{P} \) the (non-empty) set of contingent propositions. Minimal epistemic contextualism is the following position13:
$$ \left( {\text{MEC}} \right)\;\exists {\text{s}} \in \mathfrak{S}\;\exists {\text{p}} \in \mathfrak{P}:\diamondsuit \left( {{{\text{K}}_1}\left( {{\text{s,p}}} \right) \wedge \neg {{\text{K}}_{\text{h}}}\left( {{\text{s,p}}} \right)} \right). $$
14

According to minimal contextualism, there is a subject and a contingent proposition such that it is possible for that subject to have low-standard knowledge, but to lack high-standard knowledge, of this proposition. Observe that MEC does not entail (1) and (2), whence the original argument for the knowability problem (AKP) is shown irrelevant for epistemic contextualism in the form of MEC. (But isn’t the conjunction of (1) and (2) a contextualist thesis? – Yes and no; the question is ambiguous: proponents of (1) and (2) are committed to contextualism, but proponents of contextualism are not, of course, committed to (1) and (2).) More generally, (KP) is not true for MEC. So the minimal conception liberates epistemic contextualism from the fetters of the knowability problem. MEC can be knownh and knowledgehably stated by its proponents.

I offer three reasons for holding MEC to be the correct formulation of epistemic contextualism. Firstly, MEC covers contextualism as formulated by its major proponents.15 Secondly, the minimal conception serves the contextualists’ intentions. In particular, it allows the rejection of ‘global scepticism’ (the view that knowledge of whatever standard is impossible), even if high-standard scepticism (the claim that knowledgeh is impossible) is maintained. Thus MEC is able to reconcile sceptical intuitions based on, say, brain-in-a-vat scenarios with the (possible) truth of ordinary knowledge ascriptions. Thirdly, and most importantly, MEC is all it takes to deny invariantism; it rejects the invariantist contention that epistemic standards need remain constant throughout all contexts of knowledge attribution. Since contextualism and invariantism are contradictories, MEC has a legitimate claim to correctly formulating the essential commitments of epistemic contextualism.

3 Non-Minimal Versions of EC and the Failure of Ashfield’s General Strategy

Observe that there are formulations of epistemic contextualism that, though much stronger than MEC, do not fall prey to the knowability problem either. Consider the following thesis:
$$ \exists {\text{s}} \in \mathfrak{S} \; \exists {\text{p}} \in \mathfrak{P}:\left( {{{\text{K}}_1}\left( {{\text{s,p}}} \right) \wedge \neg {{\text{K}}_{\text{h}}}\left( {{\text{s,p}}} \right)} \right). $$
(5)

Proposition (5) states that there is a person who, as a matter of actual fact, knowsl, but does not knowh, some proposition. Whoever entertains (5) is a contextualist, claiming there to be an actual contextualist scenario and thus affirming a thesis stronger than MEC. The converse does, I think, not hold. I see no reason why a contextualist should be committed to (5), since the truth of (5) is an utterly contingent matter. But even if I am wrong here, even if contextualists were committed to (5), they would not be in the knowability predicament: (KP) is obviously not true for theory (5).

Not even the following, increasingly stronger, propositions have the knowability problem:
$$ \forall {\text{s}} \in \mathfrak{S} \; \exists {\text{p}} \in \mathfrak{P}:\left( {{{\text{K}}_{{1}}}\left( {{\text{s,p}}} \right) \wedge \neg {{\text{K}}_{\text{h}}}\left( {{\text{s,p}}} \right)} \right);{\text{and}} $$
(6)
$$ \exists {\text{p}} \in \mathfrak{P}\;\forall {\text{s}} \in \mathfrak{S}:\left( {{{\text{K}}_1}\left( {{\text{s,p}}} \right) \wedge \neg {{\text{K}}_{\text{h}}}\left( {{\text{s,p}}} \right)} \right). $$
(7)
It is instructive to also consider the following proposition (where \( {\mathfrak{S}^{ * }} \) is the set of all subjects who are not S and \( {\mathfrak{P}_{\mathfrak{t}}} \) is the set of true propositions):
$$ \forall {\text{s}} \in {\mathfrak{S}^{ * }}\;\forall {\text{p}} \in {\mathfrak{P}_{\text{t}}}:\left( {{{\text{K}}_1}\left( {{\text{s,p}}} \right) \wedge \neg {{\text{K}}_{\text{h}}}\left( {{\text{s,p}}} \right)} \right). $$
(8)

Absurdly strong as (8) is, it does not have the knowability problem either. It is not precluded that S knows (8), since it is not precluded that, e.g., S knowsh every true proposition.

An attack on the core of my argument cannot stop at rejecting MEC. It must defend a conception of epistemic contextualism for which (KP) is true. Ashfield does not do so and is therefore incapable of reinstating the knowability problem for EC. In exclusively focusing on the minimal conception of epistemic contextualism, Ashfield has chosen the wrong target. I will now argue that this wrongly chosen target is also missed and that MEC remains unscathed by Ashfield’s attacks.

4 Replies to Ashfield’s Criticisms

Before Ashfield launches his five objections to MEC, he remarks that

the minimalistic reading of EC represents a retreat to the mere possibility that the contextualist story accurately describes the world; the minimalistic reading of EC leaves the contextualist story a mere possibility rather than an unknowable or unstatable reality. But, the fact that EC can survive only as a mere possibility remains a threat to its plausibility… (Ashfield 2012, Sect. 7)

Some comments are in order. The first concerns not so much the argument but the dialectics presumed to be at work. Ashfield characterises MEC as a “retreat” from some presupposed original formulation of EC. This characterisation is unwarranted unless there is a plausible candidate for an original version of EC that is stronger than MEC. Ashfield does not produce any such candidate, while I have argued at length that MEC16 fully captures the original contextualist position. The minimal conception of epistemic contextualism is therefore not a retreat from a stronger position; EC is, and has always been, identical to MEC.

There is more amiss in the passage from Ashfield. According to Ashfield, minimal contextualism asserts the “mere possibility that the contextualist story accurately describes the world”, from which he concludes that in minimal contextualism “EC survives as a mere possibility”. I am puzzled by the remark, in part because Ashfield does not provide an explicit definition of the term “contextualist story”. Under the most plausible reading, a contextualist story is what I call a “contextualist scenario” in my 2011 paper, namely a situation in which a subject knowsl, but does not knowh, a certain proposition. For the sake of definiteness, assume that (1) and (2) describe Ashfield’s contextualist story and assume further that my minimal contextualism indeed claims the possibility of (1) and (2).17 In the quoted passage, and also later, Ashfield takes that to mean that MEC asserts the contextualist story to be a “mere possibility” and not a “reality”. But this betrays a serious misunderstanding. Being merely committed to p does not entail being committed to mere p. MEC merely claims the possibility of a contextualist story, but it does not claim the mere possibility of such a story. Mere possibility excludes actuality, while MEC of course allows the contextualist story (1) and (2) to be true in the actual world.

After these preliminary clarifications, let me turn to Ashfield’s five objections.

(i)

The first argument attempts to prove that a contextualist cannot, given certain axioms of modal logic, merely claim that the contextualist story (abbreviated as ‘ECS’) is possible, but must claim its actuality. As a consequence, a contextualist must claim more than MEC. Ashfield provides the following derivation:

(P1)

□(ECS → □ECS)

(P2)

◊ECS → ◊□ECS

(P3)

◊□ECS → ECS

(P4)

◊ECS → ECS

(P5)

◊ECS

(C)

ECS

According to this argument, the contextualist assertion of the possibility of ECS, in the form of (P5) (together with some modal principles), commits the contextualist to the stronger claim that ECS is true. Assuming, as seems again the only plausible option, that “ECS” stands for an arbitrary contextualist scenario, this would mean that, since it is possible that the Mafia knowsl, but does not knowh, my PIN number, the Mafia has actually cracked my bank account! But I still sleep safely, since the argument can be shown to be faulty. If “ECS” stands for a contextualist scenario, e.g., (1) and (2), the first premise (P1) is simply false. Surely it is no necessary truth that if S knowsl, say, that she has hands, S knowsl so necessarily. This material conditional is not even a contingent truth!

Ashfield seems to think that giving up (P1) implies abandoning the claim that the (context-relative) standards for ‘knows’ are necessary: “Freitag might deny Premise 1, arguing that the contextualist story is only contingently true – true in virtue of contingent facts about how ‘knows’ works” (Ashfield 2012, Sect. 7). I do indeed deny the first premise – not, however, because of any contingency pertaining to the standards operative for ‘knows’, but because of the contingency of the subject’s epistemic position. The contingency of meeting the required standards makes the contextualist scenario a contingent affair and hence forces us to deny (P1).18

(ii)

Let’s turn to Ashfield’s second objection:

Freitag’s clever move is to define the theory of EC as a thin claim about the mere possibility that the contextualist story is true, but notice that one still cannot know that the contextualist story is actually true: call this the lesser knowability problem. Under these conditions, contextualists who take knowledge to be the norm of assertion will find the contextualist story unassertable: call this the lesser statability problem. Admittedly, this situation is an improvement over the previous knowability and statability problems, but it still leaves EC with little appeal as an epistemic theory. (Ashfield 2012, Sect. 7)

According to this objection, the original knowability problem finds a legitimate heir, namely the problem that the contextualist story [again, assume this to be the conjunction of (1) and (2)] cannot be known to be true and hence cannot be knowledgeably stated. This ties in with Ashfield’s earlier remark that (1) and (2) “generate a contradiction when they are jointly known” (Ashfield 2012, Sect. 6). But, as I have argued, it is only the case that (1) and (2) cannot be knownhby S! So there is no reason to suppose that (1) and (2) preclude their jointly being knownh by a subject distinct from S.19 As a consequence, the claim that actual contextualist scenarios (or stories) cannot be known and hence cannot be knowledgeably stated is without any basis (for more on this issue, see Freitag 2012). The claim that MEC is bound to the unknowability of (1) and (2) is unwarranted.

(iii)

Consider Ashfield’s third objection:

Even if the contextualist were furnished with […] evidence that Invariantism is false, she still could not consistently know the contextualist story to be true. In this respect, EC is most similar to strong versions of scepticism, since strong versions of global scepticism entail that nothing, including the theoretical claims of global scepticism, can be known. (Ashfield 2012, Sect. 7)

Firstly, as I have argued at length, EC in the form of MEC can consistently be knownh: (KP) is not true for MEC. Secondly, as we have just seen, the contextualist story, e.g., (1) and (2), can indeed consistently be knownh to be true (though it cannot be knownh to be true by S).

(iv)

Fourth objection: The “most devastating” argument is that MEC, though blocking the derivation of global scepticism from high-standard scepticism, “still leaves the door open to global scepticism” (Ashfield 2012, Sect. 7). Two answers. Firstly, historically speaking, epistemic contextualism was supposed only to undermine a prominent argument for global scepticism (usually the sceptical argument from ignorance); it was not necessarily designed to deny global scepticism itself. From the mere fact that MEC “leaves the door open to global scepticism” (if it is a fact), it does not follow that MEC has failed to achieve the intended anti-sceptic aims. Secondly, as MEC is formulated, it does conflict with the thesis of global scepticism. Global scepticism says that there cannot be any knowledge of whatever standards, while MEC says that there can be lower-standard knowledge.20 Thus, MEC shuts the door on global scepticism. [In all fairness, I should mention that Ashfield’s claim that MEC allows for global scepticism is motivated by my original characterisation of contextualism as being “silent about (a) the standards for knowledge operative in different contexts and (b) whether these standards are, or can be, fulfilled by epistemic subjects”. Given this original characterisation, contextualism indeed allows for global scepticism. But my original characterisation of epistemic contextualism should not be mixed up with the position MEC, which is under dispute here.21]

(v)

The fifth, and final, objection claims that MEC fails to be “even-handed”, in the sense that it cannot remain neutral between the truth of ordinary knowledge ascriptions and the truth of sceptical knowledge denials:

The minimalistic reading’s similarity to strong versions of global scepticism in their unknowability, its leaving the door open to global scepticism, and its lack of any commitment to low-standards knowledge in concrete cases all point to a decided leaning away from folk epistemology in favour of scepticism. Not only does the minimalistic reading fail to fulfil its distinctive anti-sceptical aims, it also fails to be even-handed. (Ashfield 2012, Sect. 7)

Most of my reply has already been given. Firstly, unlike global scepticism, MEC is not unknowable. Secondly, it does not leave the door open to global scepticism; it contradicts global scepticism. Thirdly, MEC indeed lacks any commitment to low-standard knowledge in actual cases. But this is only due to the fact that an epistemological theory should not be committed to the obtaining of contingent facts concerning a subject’s epistemic position. Such lack of commitment to contingent facts does not constitute favouring scepticism. Finally, even-handedness with respect to the sceptic’s (high-standard) knowledge denials and the ordinary (low-standard) knowledge affirmations does not consist in approving both positions as true, but in granting the possibility of their being jointly true. In this sense, minimal epistemic contextualism surely is even-handed.

5 Conclusion

Once Ashfield’s intertwined arguments are disentangled, no sound objection to a minimal conception of contextualism survives. I still can and do maintain contextualism to be a thesis about the context-dependence of epistemic standards, not a thesis about actual subjects’ actually meeting or not meeting these standards. I still hold that epistemic contextualism should be understood in the form of MEC. But, again, my main thesis does not depend on this conviction. Even if the minimal conception of epistemic contextualism should turn out to be inadequate, this does not mean that contextualism is not knowableh. Any attempt at reinstating the knowability problem must show not only that MEC is false. It must show that Thesis is false or that (KP) is true for epistemic contextualism.

Footnotes

  1. 1.

    Some of the proponents of the knowability problem are Timothy Williamson (2001), Peter Baumann (2008, 2010), Elke Brendel (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009), Anthony Brueckner & Christopher T. Buford (2009), and Crispin Wright (2005).

  2. 2.

    The problem is usually labeled the ‘factivity problem’. I think ‘knowability problem’ is a more adequate description.

  3. 3.

    In my exposition of the problem I follow closely Freitag 2012.

  4. 4.

    For the sake of simplicity, I will omit insertion of a time parameter.

  5. 5.

    I hold that the strength of the subject’s epistemic position with regard to the proposition P depends on the truth of P. If P is false, the strength of the subject’s epistemic position is minimal. Others might wish to separate questions of truth from questions of the strength of the epistemic position; such an alternative view would have no bearing on my argument, though it would influence its exposition.

  6. 6.

    This claim needs modification. If context i defines a standard that is impossible to meet, then knowledgei ascriptions are necessarily false. I ignore this complication henceforth.

  7. 7.

    I simplify by assuming that knowledge claims are about complete propositions and ignore the possible involvement of other indexical terms.

  8. 8.

    See Brueckner and Buford 2009, 431–434; Baumann 2010, 83–84. Similar arguments can be found in Williamson 2001; Brendel 2003, 2005; Brendel et al. 2007; Brendel 2009, and Wright 2005.

  9. 9.

    For a precise formulation of the contextualists’ versions of the factivity and closure principles, see Freitag 2011; Freitag 2012, and Ashfield 2012.

  10. 10.
    Proposition (4) below contradicts (2), but follows, given the mentioned principles, from (3):

    Note that premise (1) is, strictly speaking, superfluous in this argument.

  11. 11.

    The proof assumes factivity and a certain form of closure.

  12. 12.

    Since there is no mention of knowledge of varying standards in Thesis, the issue of the knowability problem can be seen to be independent of questions of contextualism or variantism. I emphasise this point in Freitag 2012.

  13. 13.

    “Minimal epistemic contextualism” functions here more as a name rather than a description. I doubt that (MEC) really is, strictly speaking, minimal (see fn. 21 below), but we need not consider still weaker forms of contextualism here.

  14. 14.

    In my 2011 paper, I call the more general variant of (MEC) “(Compatibility)”. The move from (Compatibility) to the more specific (MEC) does not make for a substantial change here.

  15. 15.
    To be more exact, it seems that universally quantified versions of MEC better represent the original position of contextualists:
    $$ \left( {{\text{MEC}}^*} \right)\;\forall s \in \mathfrak{S}\;\forall {\text{p}} \in \mathfrak{P}:\diamondsuit \left( {{{\text{K}}_1}\left( {s,p} \right) \wedge \neg {K_h}\left( {{\text{s,p}}} \right)} \right)\; .$$
    I think that (MEC*) is unnecessarily strong, but I shall not defend that view here. The decisive feature of minimal contextualism is not the type of quantifier used, but the involvement of the modal operator. Ashfield’s objections are meant to apply to MEC and MEC* indiscriminately. Because of that, I take the liberty to switch back and forth between MEC and MEC* as the right form of minimal contextualism.
  16. 16.

    Or MEC*.

  17. 17.

    MEC* does, and MEC does not, entail the possibility of (1) and (2).

  18. 18.

    Have I misunderstood Ashfield’s notion of a contextualist story? Perhaps “ECS” is meant to stand for MEC? – Then the argument may indeed be cogent, but won’t support Ashfield’s case: the conclusion of such a revised version of the argument is what I have endorsed anyway, namely that contextualism is committed to MEC.

  19. 19.

    Even S herself may knowh (1) and (2) without contradiction, if only she has this knowledge at other times than those when she does not knowh that hands is true.

  20. 20.

    It should be remarked that Ashfield here refers to my more general formulation of the contextualist thesis, (Compatibility). But (Compatibility) claims that knowledge according to some standards is possible; thus it, too, contradicts global scepticism.

  21. 21.

    Let me mention in this connection that some might think MEC to be still too strong as a formulation of EC. As Ashfield correctly points out, one might conceive of a contextualist position that accepts two different knowledge standards, both of which cannot be met. My original characterisation of contextualism allows for this possibility, while MEC does not so allow. So MEC is not really a minimal characterisation of epistemic contextualism.

Notes

Acknowledgements

I wish to thank Christopher von Bülow for his last-minute corrections and Alexandra Zinke for many helpful discussions.

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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyHeidelberg UniversityHeidelbergGermany

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