Cohen an essay on belief and acceptance

However, when we consider certain skeptical possibilities, certain contrasts become salient. In "Contextualism and the Problem of the External World," Ram Neta argues that the standards for knowledge are invariant, and therefore that we should not see the skeptic as being able to raise those standards. We ought instead to understand the skeptic to be restricting what can count as evidence. The skeptic does this, according to Neta, by exploiting the context-sensitivity of our attributions of evidence.

When she brings up the BIV skeptical hypothesis, for example, the skeptic restricts what I can truthfully regard as my evidence to just those mental states that are available to me whether or not I am a BIV. That is, she prevents any of my current mental states from counting as evidence for my beliefs about the external world, thereby creating an unbridgeable in this context, at least epistemic gap between my evidence and my beliefs. In these contexts, my beliefs fail to meet the epistemic standard and therefore fail to count as knowledge.

Still, in contexts in which I am considering no skeptical hypotheses, I can have plenty of evidence for my beliefs about the external world. In such contexts, my beliefs can meet the epistemic standards and can therefore count as knowledge. In this way, Neta's version of contextualism, like the other versions we've considered, is meant to resolve familiar conflicts and to explain why we judge in most contexts that we have knowledge but why we judge in other contexts that we don't.

The last two forms of epistemological contextualism, those belonging to Michael Williams and to David Annis, have few similarities with the forms we've considered so far. In his recent work, Williams argues for contextualism, which is, for him, the view that "independently of all [situational, disciplinary and other contextually variable factors], a proposition has no epistemic status whatsoever.

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There is no fact of the matter as to what kind of justification it either admits of or requires" Williams a, p. His arguments for contextualism also count as arguments against epistemological realism , which is the view that even independently of contextual factors, there is a fact of the matter as to what kind of justification a belief requires. In particular, epistemological realism maintains the truth of the doctrine of epistemic priority or DEP. According to DEP, our beliefs about the external world must be justified by sensory experience if they are to amount to knowledge.

Williams argues that epistemological realism in general and DEP in particular are "contentious and possibly dispensable theoretical ideas about knowledge and justification" Williams b, p. He also argues that skepticism depends essentially on these contentious ideas, and that, being theoretical, they are not forced on us by our ordinary ways of epistemic thinking. This suggests that skepticism is unnatural and thus that the burden of proof belongs to the skeptic. Yet since the skeptic cannot carry this burden, we have, according to Williams, no reason to take skepticism seriously.

Annis' contextualism is meant to be an alternative both to foundationalism and to coherentism. Annis complains that both foundationalism and coherentism ignore the social nature of justification. According to his version of contextualism, then, S is justified in believing that p only if she can meet certain objections that express real doubts. These objections can include, but are not necessarily limited to, those according to which S is not in a position to know that p and those according to which p is false. We might object, for example, that since S is not reliable in situations like this, she is not in a position to know that the book on yonder shelf is brown.

Thus, if S is to be justified in believing that the book is brown, she must be able to meet that objection. The justification of S's belief that p also depends, according to Annis, on who offers certain objections and on the importance of S's being right about p. It matters, for example, that it is S's flight instructors, rather than her teasing friends, who object that she is unreliable when it comes to distinguishing the colors of fairly distant objects.

A theory of justification that includes contextual parameters like these, Annis argues, fares better than either foundationalism or coherentism, both of which overlook the social nature of justification. In this section, we will discuss two leading objections to epistemological contextualism. These are by no means the only criticisms that have been leveled against contextualism, but they introduce themes that have motivated additional objections as well as alternatives to contextualism. A discussion of these objections, then, should provide a center of operations for an exploration of objections to contextualism.

Palle Yourgrau argues that contextualism allows for dialogues such as the following since it claims that the standards for knowledge shift from context to context:. A: Is that a zebra? B: Yes, it is a zebra. A: But can you rule out its merely being a cleverly painted mule? B: No, I can't. A: So you admit you didn't know it was a zebra. B: No, I did know then that it was a zebra.

But after your question, I no longer knew. This dialogue strikes Yourgrau as absurd, for it seems that nothing changes during the course of the conversation that would account for a change in B's epistemic state: B is in just as good an epistemic position at the beginning of the conversation as she is at the end of the conversation, and so it seems that if B knows at the beginning, she should also know at the end. This suggests that, contrary to epistemological contextualism, we cannot affect shifts in the standards for knowledge simply by mentioning certain skeptical possibilities.

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Contextualists see DeRose have replied to this sort of objection by saying that once A introduces a skeptical possibility and thereby raises the standards for knowledge, B can no longer truly say, "I did know then that it was a zebra. Once the standards have been raised, B cannot both attribute knowledge to himself in the past and deny knowledge to himself in the present.

He should now only deny himself knowledge; once the standards have been raised, neither B's past self nor his present self knows that this is a zebra. Stephen Schiffer has leveled a different sort of criticism at epistemological contextualism. Again, contextualism maintains that we attribute knowledge relative to standards that shift from context to context.

This is to say, in effect, that when we say that B knows that this is a zebra, we mean that she knows relative to such-and-such an epistemic standard that this is a zebra. Putting this another way, contextualism maintains that our knowledge attributions are implicitly relative. Schiffer argues, however, that it is a general linguistic truth that speakers do realize that certain attributions are implicitly relative. All this suggests, Schiffer argues, that the contextualist is wrong to think that our knowledge attributions are implicitly relative, and hence wrong to think that the standards for knowledge can shift from context to context.

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Objections like these push people away from epistemological contextualism and toward theories that envisage epistemic standards that remain invariant from context to context. Two such theories present themselves as alternatives to contextualism. The first is skepticism, and the second is Mooreanism.


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Both skeptics and Mooreans maintain that the standards for knowledge do not shift. Yet while the skeptic claims that they are invariantly quite high , the Moorean claims that the standards are invariantly comparatively low. The skeptic contends not only that there are no contexts in which we know that we're not BIVs, but also that there are no contexts in which we know that we have hands see, for example, Unger and Stone This response strikes some as implausible, however, since it does not accord with the thought that there are many contexts in which we can and do know things about the world around us.

The Moorean contends that there are never any insurmountable obstacles to our knowing both that we have hands and that we're not BIVs. He argues instead that knowledge requires safety, according to which S would believe that p only if it were the case that p see Sosa , p. Hence, both beliefs can always count as knowledge. Sosa says that. In the actual world, and for quite a distance away from the actual world, up to quite remote possible worlds, our belief that we are not radically deceived matches the fact as to whether we are or are not radically deceived.

Sosa , p. Nevertheless, this is, according to Sosa, a mere appearance. For, since our belief is safe, we can know across contexts that we're not BIVs and thus adopt a Moorean response to our skeptical puzzles. Tim Black also provides a Moorean response to these puzzles. Employing Nozick's sensitivity requirement for knowledge, Black argues in "A Moorean Response to Brain-in-a-Vat Scepticism" that the only worlds that are relevant to whether or not S knows that p are those in which S's belief is produced by the method that actually produces it.

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An Essay on Belief and Acceptance : L. Jonathan Cohen :

For BIV worlds are worlds in which her belief is produced by a method other than the one that actually produces it. Thus, since BIV worlds are not relevant to whether S know things about the external world, S can know both that she has hands and that she's not a BIV. This, too, suggests a Moorean response to our skeptical puzzles. We have now characterized epistemological contextualism in a way that allows several different theories to count as versions of that position. We have seen in particular that epistemological contextualists maintain that certain features of conversational contexts shape the standards that one must meet in order for one's beliefs to count as knowledge.

Understood in this way, a fairly wide range of views will count as versions of epistemological contextualism. Different versions will disagree over which features of conversational contexts can shape the epistemic standards, and over how the relevant contextual features help to shape those standards. Yet in spite of the differences between versions of epistemological contextualism, each seeks to achieve the valuable ends of explaining our epistemic judgments and solving the puzzles that are generated by skeptical arguments.

Tim Black Email: tim. Contextualism in Epistemology In very general terms, epistemological contextualism maintains that whether one knows is somehow relative to context. Introduction Epistemological contextualism has evolved primarily as a response to views that maintain that we have no knowledge of the world around us. Taking quite seriously the problems presented by skepticism, contextualists seek to resolve the apparent conflict between claims like the following: I know that I have hands.

Subjunctive Conditionals Contextualism Keith DeRose provides an influential brand of epistemological contextualism. It is intended to solve the puzzles generated by groups of statements like the following: I know that I have hands.

Laurence Jonathan Cohen

Essential to this explanation is DeRose's Rule of Sensitivity: When someone asserts that S knows or does not know that P, the standards for knowledge tend to be raised, if need be, to a level such that S's belief that P must be sensitive if it is to count as knowledge. Relevant Alternatives Contextualism and Rejecting Closure Perhaps the main motivation for epistemological contextualism is now the relevant alternatives theory of knowledge. One kind rejects the closure principle, according to which knowledge is closed under known implication: If S knows that p, and knows that p implies q, then S knows that q.

A second kind of relevant alternatives contextualism accepts the closure principle. Dretske's Relevant Alternatives Theory of Knowledge Fred Dretske proposes "to think of knowledge as an evidential state in which all relevant alternatives to what is known are eliminated " Dretske b, p. Relevant Alternatives Contextualism and Accepting Closure Some relevant alternatives contextualisms accept the closure principle. I know that I have hands. Second, there is the internal criterion. According to Cohen, then, there will be no general specification of what constitutes sufficient evidence to deny an alternative in order for it not to be relevant, and as such, no general specification of what constitutes sufficient evidence to know q.

First, he says that it is reasonable for a subject S to believe a proposition q just in case S possesses sufficient evidence in support of q, or q is intrinsically rational. Contextualism and Epistemic Rationality Certain objections have led Cohen to abandon the relevant alternatives contextualism that he presents in "How to be a Fallibilist" and to revise his contextualist solution to radical skeptical paradoxes. Furthermore, Cohen now suggests that S knows that p if and only if her belief that p is epistemically rational to some degree d , where epistemic rationality has both an evidential and a non-evidential component, and where d is determined by context.