, Volume 78, Issue 4, pp 899–919 | Cite as

The Practical Origins of Epistemic Contextualism

  • Michael HannonEmail author
Original Article


This paper explores how the purpose of the concept of knowledge affects knowledge ascriptions in natural language. I appeal to the idea that the role of the concept of knowledge is to flag reliable informants, and I use this idea to illuminate and support contextualism about ‘knows’. I argue that practical pressures that arise in an epistemic state of nature provide an explanatory basis for a brand of contextualism that I call ‘practical interests contextualism’. I also answer some questions that contextualism leaves open, particularly why the concept of knowledge is valuable, why the word ‘knows’ exhibits context-variability, and why this term enjoys such widespread use. Finally, I show how my contextualist framework accommodates plausible ideas from two rival views: subject-sensitive invariantism and insensitive invariantism. This provides new support for contextualism and develops this view in a way that improves our understanding of the concept of knowledge.


True Belief Reliable Informant Epistemic Position Knowledge Attribution Epistemic Standard 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I am grateful to Hallvard Lillehammer, Ernest Sosa, Tim Crane, Arif Ahmed, Michael Blome-Tillmann, Mikkel Gerken, Berit Brogaard, Robin McKenna, Jess Kwong, members of the Cambridge Epistemology Group, and members of Ernest Sosa’s Epistemology Group at Rutgers University for helpful advice. This paper was written while I was generously funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.King’s CollegeUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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