Thursday, April 24, 2008

Prelude to the problem of ordinary knowledge

Mark Heller was in town and gave a fantastic paper, "Cheap and Ordinary: Two Things Knowledge Isn't" and I'm now interested in the problems of ordinary knowledge and ordinary justification. The problem emerges early in his Phil Perspectives paper, "Contextualism and Anti-Luck Epistemology", but I think it doesn't go by that name. The problem is something like this. Suppose you adopt a relevant alternatives account of knowledge. Whether or not "S knows that p" is true will depend on whether there are ~p worlds in which S believes p. Contextual standards will determine which range of worlds are relevant. We can report on someone's epistemic condition in wholly non-valuative way. We can simply say that given her epistemic condition, she will have eliminated a certain range of possibilities. However, a knowledge attribution is not wholly non-valuative. It says that someone's epistemic condition is good enough. On his view, two evaluators can agree about S's epistemic condition and disagree about whether S has knowledge because, "the two evaluators simply care about different properties". One evaluator might care about the property of eliminating such and such range of possibilities. The other might care about eliminating a wider or more narrow range. The picture, I take it, is that there are gobs and gobs of properties that 'knows' could pick out depending on context and the interests of the evaluators, but no shiny property of 'ordinary knowledge' that an invariantist can say is 'real' knowledge. If the invariantist's account of the truth-conditions of 'S knows p' depends on there being such a candidate (call this 'ordinary knowledge') so much the worse for them.

Or, something like that.

Anyway, I'll likely post something on this soon, but I was wondering if anyone knows something about contextualism and 'permissible', 'obligatory', etc... I know Timmons defends a version of moral contextualism, but his view isn't really the sort of thing I'm interested in for this project. His contexutalism is supposed to reconcile a kind of moral nihilism with the claim that we can correctly say that certain kinds of actions are wrong. What I wonder is whether there is anything on the problem of 'ordinary permissibility'. Anyone?


Alastair Norcross said...

Hi Clayton,
I've published a couple of papers that deal with the kind of moral contextualism you are talking about. "Harming in Context" (Phil Studies 2005) and "Contextualism for Consequentialists" (Acta Analytica 2005). It's also becoming an increasingly large part of the book that, I swear to the Logical Order of the Universe, I will finish this fall when I'm on leave. It's now leaking over from ethics to free will! Also, you might want to look at the last chapter of Unger's Living High and Letting Die.
All the best

Clayton said...

I'm on it!