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Subject Philosophy » Epistemology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405139007.2010.00002.x


Contextualism in epistemology is a view according to which the truth conditions for sentences containing the word “knows” vary from one context to another. A context is the setting or situation in which a sentence is uttered. It is easiest to appreciate the significance of contextualism by first briefly describing the opposing and more traditional view. The traditional, or invariantist, view holds that the truth conditions for sentences containing the word “knows” are fixed. Accordingly, if a person says, “I know that I ate cereal for breakfast this morning,” the person says something true just in case certain conditions are satisfied. What those conditions are is a matter of debate. Nearly all philosophers agree that it must be true that the speaker ate cereal for breakfast and that the person believes that he ate cereal for breakfast. What else is required is more controversial. Some say that the belief must be based on very strong evidence, others say that it must result from a sufficiently reliable belief-forming process, and others propose variations on these themes. But what all the invariantist theories agree on is that these standards do not change from one conversational setting to another. Contextualism in epistemology challenges tradition on this point. It holds that certain features of a context, or a setting or a situation, help to determine the truth conditions for ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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