Are Knowledge Claims Indexical?

  • Wayne A. Davis


David Lewis, Stewart Cohen, and Keith DeRose have proposed that sentences of the form “S knows P” are indexical, and therefore differ in truth value from one context to another.1 On their indexical contextualism, the truth value of “S knows P” is determined by whether S meets the epistemic standards of the speaker’s context. I will not be concerned with relational forms of contextualism, according to which the truth value of “S knows P” is determined by the standards of the subject S’s context, regardless of the standards applying to the speaker making the knowledge claim. Relational contextualism is a form of normative relativism. Indexical contextualism is a semantic theory. When the subject is the speaker, as when “S” is the first person pronoun “I” the two forms of contextualism coincide. But otherwise, they diverge. I critically examine the principal arguments for indexicalism, detail linguistic evidence against it, and suggest a pragmatic alternative.


Knowledge Claim Indexical Theory Conversational Implicature Philosophical Issue Contextualist Theory 
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.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Annis, D. B.: 1978, ‘A Contextualist Theory of Epistemic Justification’, American Philosophical Quarterly 15, 213–219.Google Scholar
  2. Austin, J. L.: 1961, ‘Other Minds’, in Philosophical Papers, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 76–116.Google Scholar
  3. Cohen, S.: 1986, ‘Knowledge and Context’, Journal of Philosophy 83, 574–583.Google Scholar
  4. Cohen, S.: 1987, ‘Knowledge, Context, and Social Standards’, Synthese 73, 3–26.Google Scholar
  5. Cohen, S.: 1988, ‘How to Be a Fallibilist’, Philosophical Perspectives 2, 581–605.Google Scholar
  6. Cohen, S.: 1999, ‘Contextualism, Skepticism, and the Structure of Reasons’, Philosophical Perspectives 13, 57–89.Google Scholar
  7. Cohen, S.: 2000a, ‘Contextualism and Skepticism’, Philosophical Issues 10, 94–107.Google Scholar
  8. Cohen, S.: 2000b, ‘Replies’, Philosophical Issues 10, 132–139.Google Scholar
  9. Davis, W. A.: 1998, Implicature: Intention, Convention, and Principle in the Failure of Gricean Theory, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  10. Davis, W. A.: 2003, Meaning, Expression, and Thought, Cambridge University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  11. DeRose, K.: 1995, ‘Solving the Skeptical Problem’, Philosophical Review 104, 1–52.Google Scholar
  12. Dretske, F.: 1970, ‘Epistemic Operators’, Journal of Philosophy 67, 1007–1023.Google Scholar
  13. Dretske, F.: 1981, ‘The Pragmatic Dimension of Knowledge’ Philosophical Studies 40, 363–378.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Feldman, F.: 1999, ‘Contextualism and Skepticism’, Philosophical Perspectives 13, 91–114.Google Scholar
  15. Fogelin, R. J.: 2000a, ‘Contextualism and Externalism: Trading in one Form of Skepticism for Another’, Philosophical Issues 10, 43–57.Google Scholar
  16. Fogelin, R. J.: 2000b, ‘Replies’, Philosophical Issues 10, 86–93.Google Scholar
  17. Fumerton, R.: 1987, ‘Nozick’s Epistemology’, in S. Luper-Foy (ed.), The Possibility of Knowledge: Nozick and His Critics, Rowman and Littlefield, Totowa, NJ. 163–181.Google Scholar
  18. Grice, H. P.: 1975, ‘Logic and Conversation’, in P. Cole and J. Morgan (eds), Syntax and Semantics, Vol. 3, Academic Press, New York.Google Scholar
  19. Grice, H. P.: 1978, ‘Further Notes on Logic and Conversation’, in P. Cole (ed.), Syntax and Semantics, Vol. 9, Academic Press, New York, 113–128.Google Scholar
  20. Grice, H. P.: 1981, ‘Presupposition and Conversational Implicature’, in P. Cole (ed.), Radical Pragmatics, Academic Press, New York, 183–198.Google Scholar
  21. Hawthorne, J.: 2000, ‘Reply to Cohen’, Philosophical Issues 10, 117–120.Google Scholar
  22. Heller, M.: 1999, ‘Contextualism and Anti-luck Epistemology’, Philosophical Perspectives 13, 115–129.Google Scholar
  23. Horn, L. R.: 1992, ‘Pragmatics, Implicature and Presupposition’, in W. Bright (ed.), International Encyclopedia of Linguistics, Vol. 2, Oxford University Press, New York, 260–266.Google Scholar
  24. Klein, P.: 2000, ‘Contextualism and Academic Skepticism’, Philosophical Issues 10, 108–116.Google Scholar
  25. Kornblith, H.: 2000, ‘The Contextualist Evasion of Epistemology’, Philosophical Issues 10, 24–32.Google Scholar
  26. Leech, G.: 1983, Principles of Pragmatics, Longmans, London.Google Scholar
  27. Lehrer, K.: 2000, ‘Sensitivity, Indiscernibility, and Knowledge’, Philosophical Issues 10, 33–37.Google Scholar
  28. Levinson, S. C.: 1983, Pragmatics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  29. Lewis, D.: 1979, ‘Scorekeeping in a Language Game’, in R. Bäuerle et al. (eds), Semantics from Different Points of View, Springer, Berlin, 172–187.Google Scholar
  30. Lewis, D.: 1996, ‘Elusive Knowledge’, Australasian Journal of Philosophy 74, 549–567.Google Scholar
  31. Neale, S.: 1990, ‘Descriptive Pronouns and Donkey Anaphora’, Journal of Philosophy 87, 113–150.MathSciNetGoogle Scholar
  32. Neale, S.: 1992, ‘Paul Grice and the Philosophy of Language’, Linguistics and Philosophy 15, 509–559.Google Scholar
  33. Nozick, R.: 1981, Philosophical Explanations, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  34. Rosenberg, J. F.: 2000, ‘Scrutinizing a Trade’, Philosophical Issues 10, 58–66.Google Scholar
  35. Sadock, J. M.: 1978, ‘On Testing for Conversational Implicature’, in P. Cole (ed.), Syntax and Semantics, Vol. 9, Academic Press, New York, 281–297.Google Scholar
  36. Schiffer, S.: 1996, ‘Contextualist Solutions to Scepticism’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 96, 317–333.Google Scholar
  37. Searle, J.: 1975, ‘Indirect Speech Acts’, in P. Cole and J. L. Morgan (eds), Syntax and Semantics, Vol. 3, Academic Press, New York, 59–82.Google Scholar
  38. Sosa, E.: 1988, ‘Knowledge in Context, Skepticism in Doubt: The Virtue of our Faculties’, Philosophical Perspectives 2, 139–155.Google Scholar
  39. Sosa, E.: 2000, ‘Skepticism and Contextualism’, Philosophical Issues 10, 1–18.Google Scholar
  40. Unger, P.: 1975, Ignorance: A Case for Skepticism, Clarendon Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  41. Unger, P.: 1984, Philosophical Relativity, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.Google Scholar
  42. Valdes-Villanueva, L. M.: 2000, ‘Contextualism and Levels of Scrutiny’, Philosophical Issues 10, 72–79.Google Scholar
  43. Vogel, J.: 1999, ‘The New Relevant Alternatives Theory’, Philosophical Perspectives 13, 155–180.Google Scholar
  44. Williams, M. J.: 2000, ‘Is Contextualism Statable?’, Philosophical Issues 10, 80–85.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wayne A. Davis
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyGeorgetown University Washington, New NorthWashington, DCUSA

Personalised recommendations