For ease of reference, below is an index of my posts on the factivity debate. I commented and analyzed each major paper in the debate.
Category Archives: Factivity
This post concludes coverage of the factivity debate. Brueckner and Buford (2010) fire the last shot. They claim that Baumann’s response, which I covered in post 3, only works because the time-indexing of knowledge-attribution sentences was dropped. Let me explain.
As you may recall, the debate is over premise (3) in the Factivity Problem. The question is: Can Mary know in her demanding context a sentence about Frank’s epistemic status (i.e., that he knows that Mary has hands) is true in Frank’s less demanding context? According to Brueckner and Buford, Mary would have to know that she has hands in order to know whether the sentence about Frank’s epistemic status is true. Given Mary’s evidence and her demanding context, it’s not possible for Mary to know that she has hands; thus, it’s not possible for Mary to know the sentence about Frank’s epistemic status in his context is true.
Baumann claims this response doesn’t work because it requires Mary to have prior knowledge that she has hands independent from, and prior to, her knowing that Frank knows that she has hands. This is false because testimonial knowledge can be given and attained, even within a demanding context. This knowledge allows, for instance, Wiles to know that Fermat’s Last Theorem is true by reading about his results in a newspaper. Wiles had no prior knowledge of the results of Fermat’s Theorem. By analogy, Mary can “read” knowledge of Frank’s epistemic status off Ann’s testimony. Ann has better evidence of the truth of the sentence about what Frank knows about Mary having hands.
Enter: Brueckner and Buford’s final response. The problem stems from a mischaracterization of the time sequence. At time (t) Mary’s evidence about her having hands doesn’t qualify to meet the demands put on knowledge in that context. Baumann loses the time-indexing and proposes another time (t’) at which Mary meets Ann. At (t’) Mary gains testimonial knowledge and comes to know that Ann’s utterance of the sentence ‘“Frank knows that Mary has hands” is true in O’ is true in D. This is because of (X):
- (X) ‘Ann knows that Mary has hands’ is true in D.
However, contrary to Baumann’s insistence, the time shift from (t) to (t’) doesn’t hinge on a principle like (Prior). Mary doesn’t have prior, independent knowledge that the sentence is true. At (t) she has no such knowledge, but at (t’) she does have such knowledge. Brueckner and Buford are fine with this type of gain in testimonial knowledge. Their key point is that Mary’s epistemic state has altered from (t) to (t’). There’s nothing wrong with Mary failing to know that she has hands at (t) and Mary knowing that she has hands at (t’). Focusing on (t) Brueckner and Buford’s response to the Factivity Problem still stands.
Tracking this debate has been interesting. Regarding the debate itself, I would say Brueckner and Buford’s challenge is still on the table. It seems the Factivity Problem is not a problem for Contextualism. The burden of proof is on those who want to apply the problem to contextualism and then fend off the problem. Otherwise, the Factivity problem seems like a pseudo-problem. It dissolves upon closer inspection.
There might be different avenues for the contextualist to pursue in showing the problem is real and that the problem can be handled. The ‘B vs. B&B’ debate focuses around a single premise in the Factivity argument because it is viewed as, “By far the most promising way of attacking the view that there is such a factivity problem for contextualism” (Baumann 2010: 84). Yet, different avenues remain open to the contextualist. She could attack closure, factivity or disquotation principles. I wonder what the prospects are for focusing on the factivity claim in the argument ? Listen to how strongly Baumann expresses the pull of the factivity claim:
It certainly seems weird if not crazy to deny the factivity of knowledge. Whatever knowledge is, it is factive. Nothing is a concept of knowledge in a broad sense if what it is a concept of isn’t factive. The solution to the factivity problem proposed here will therefore not deny factivity (Baumann 2008: 584).
The quote above strikes my ear as argument by brute force. Baumann doesn’t think denying the factivity claim is promising. He doesn’t argue against it because “obviously” knowledge is factive. But, couldn’t a contextualist deny factivity on fallibilist grounds (e.g., Stewart Cohen 1988)? Why does Baumann think attacking factivity is so “obviously” unfruitful? Why must it always be the case that if someone knows something then what they know is the case?
I close on a methodological note. It’s interesting to track a philosophical debate because there’s a narrowing effect that often occurs. For example, the Factivity Problem originally addressed contextualism and SSI. However, SSI dropped out of the picture never to return. I have found this true in my own work. I recently was involved in a debate that focused around a single issue. I kept trying to explain and argue a small point. After failing to make headway I conceded the point to my interlocutor. Ironically, conceding the smaller point allowed me to argue for a larger point more effectively. This is why it’s beneficial to frequently zoom out and locate the contested point in the bigger picture. For the Factivity Debate to continue the discussants need to let go of premise (3) and look at other lines of debate, including forgotten aspects of the bigger picture.
This post continues following the dialectic in the factivity problem for contextualism. Now our attention turns to Baumann (2010) in the journal Analysis.
In post 2 we saw Brueckner and Buford (2009) dissolve the factivity problem. They did this by claiming step (3) in the factivity reductio is false. Step (3) is ‘Mary knows that “Frank knows that Mary has hands” is true in O’ is true in D. Brueckner and Buford claimed Mary can’t know that Frank knows that she has hands. The truth of (3) requires the truth of:
- (6) ‘Mary know that she has hands’ is true in D.
On contextualism (6) is false, and because the truth of (6) requires the truth of (3) this makes (3) false as well. As such, for Brueckner and Buford, the factivity problem doesn’t apply to contextualism. Baumann (2010) tries to locate Brueckner and Buford’s argument for the requirement principle—that the truth of (3) requires the truth of (6). He is not able to find such an argument. Instead Baumann claims that Brueckner and Buford are relying on a stronger principle than the requirement principle. Baumann lists the Priority Principle (Prior) as follows:
- (Prior) If B knows that A knows that p, then B has antecedent knowledge that p independently from and prior to the knowledge that A knows that p (p. 86).
After pinning (Prior) on Brueckner and Buford, Baumann raises a counterexample to (Prior). The counterexample involves Paul reading in a newspaper that Wiles proved that Fermat’s conjecture is true. From doing this Paul could have come to know that Fermat’s conjecture is true. Arriving at this knowledge didn’t require that Paul had prior knowledge that Fermat’s conjecture is true. If this were the case then only mathematicians familiar with the truth of the conjecture could have come to know that the conjecture was true through reading the report that Wiles proved Fermat’s conjecture. Similarly, testimonial knowledge (even in demanding context D) can be given such that Mary could learn from Ann that (1) [i.e., ‘Frank knows that Mary has hands’ is true in O].
Baumann’s counterexample works based on transmission of knowledge within a context that is demanding but not completely skeptical. Baumann takes this a step further and says that, even within context D, Ann might have better evidence than Mary. This evidence might make it true that ‘Ann knows that Mary has hands’ is true in D. As Baumann says, “Mary can thus gain testimonial knowledge about Frank’s epistemic state concerning the proposition that she, Mary, has hands” (p. 86). This would make (3) true [i.e., (3) ‘Mary knows that (1)’, is true in D].
While I’m sympathetic to Baumann’s line of reasoning about transmission of testimonial knowledge I’m not clear how Ann’s evidence escapes the (Prior) principle? I agree that Mary can learn about Frank’s epistemic status from Ann regarding the proposition that she has hands, but how does Ann learn about Frank’s epistemic status from within D without entering into an infinite regress of testimonial justification? At some point, someone must have known that p independently from and prior to the knowledge that S knows that p. But this requires that someone to know that p, which from within context D is false. This is precisely what makes the context demanding: Mary can’t know that she has hands; she can’t directly know that p from within D.
I’m back from a brief hiatus from blogging. In this post I continue writing on the factivity problem for epistemic contextualism and subject sensitive invariantism (SSI). In the first post I outlined the factivity problem for contextualism as articulated by Peter Baumann (2008). I also discussed Baumann’s solution to the problem. Enter Anthony Brueckner and Christopher Buford (2009).
Brueckner and Buford propose an alternative solution to the factivity problem. They extend the factivity problem to SSI. As a result of this extension, their solution to the problem is uniform in that it applies to both contextualism and SSI. According to Brueckner and Buford the factivity problem is only an apparent problem, not a genuine one; whereas, for Baumann the factivity problem is a genuine problem.
Recall that the factivity problem results from combining a factivity claim with a standard closure principle. The factivity claim (F) is:
- (F) ‘S knows that p‘ (as uttered in a context) is true → p
The closure principle (Clos) is:
- (Clos) ['S knows that p' is true in context C and 'S knows that p → q is true in C] → ‘A knows that q‘ is true in C.
The reductio involves Mary and Frank. I will not rehearse the entire reductio here (see the first post for schematic details). However, I will explain the last part of the reductio because it involves the claim around which the controversy centers (i.e., claim 3).
Mary is in a demanding context (D) while Frank is in an ordinary context (O). A contextualist will want truth-value of utterances (sentences) to vary with the context of utterance. If Mary utters ‘Mary knows that she has hands’ in context D this sentence is not true in D. If Frank utters the same sentence in less-demanding context O, then ‘Frank knows that Mary has hands’ is true in O. Mary in context D can learn from Frank and come to utter claim 3:
- (3) ‘Mary knows that “Frank knows that Mary has hands” is true in O’ is true in D.
Using the factivity of knowledge claim (F) we can claim that:
- (4) ‘Frank knows that Mary has hands’ is true in O → Mary has hands.
Because Mary understands the factivity claim this leads to (5):
- (5) ‘Mary knows that (4)’ is true in D.
Combining (Clos), (3) and (5) results in:
- (6) ‘Mary knows that she has hands’ is true in D.
This is a problem for contextualism because it contradicts contextualism’s commitment that truth-value varies with context (i.e., that ‘Mary knows that she has hands’ is not true in D). Brueckner and Buford generate a parallel factivity problem for SSI. According to SSI the truth-value of an utterance in a context varies with the subject’s interests and stakes. For one subject it matters a lot whether φ is the case while for another subject not much depends on whether φ is the case. The SSI version of the reductio contains something like controversial claim (3). Both versions of the factivity problem share this feature: a subject who does not have knowledge that φ can correctly attribute that knowledge to another another subject. Brueckner and Buford dissolve the factivity problem for contextualism and SSI by denying this is the case. As they claim, “the theories are not committed to the possibility of such asymmetrical knowledge attribution” (2009: 434).
Brueckner and Buford hold that (3) is not true. That is, contextualists are not committed to claiming that Mary can know that ‘Frank knows that Mary has hands’. Recall that to know whether ‘Frank knows that Mary has hands’ is true in O Mary must know whether Mary has hands (i.e., must know whether p is the case). However, anyone in D, including Mary, cannot know that they have hands. So, a condition for the truth of ‘Frank knows that Mary has hands’ is true in O fails to be satisfied from within D. The contextualist can, however, claim that the truth of ‘Frank knows that Mary has hands’ is satisfied up to the truth condition. But, in order for ‘Mary knows that “Frank knows that Mary has hands” is true in O’ is true in D to be the case it requires the truth of ‘Mary knows that she has hands’ is true in D. Because the last statement is false for the contextualist, (3) is false as well. So, the factivity problem does not go through. It’s not really a problem for the contextualist. A similar claim is made about the factivity problem for SSI.
This is the first post in a series of posts on a debate regarding contextualism about knowledge attributions. The first paper I’ll look at is Peter Baumann’s paper “Contextualism and the Factivity Problem” in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (2008). Because this paper gets the debate underway I will largely summarize this paper and save my analysis for the exchange pitting Baumann versus Brueckner and Buford.
First, I’ll provide an overview of the “factivity problem.” Imagine two contexts. One context is ordinary (C-O) and the other context is more demanding or skeptical (C-S). The contextualist is committed to the idea that the truth-value of knowledge ascriptions can differ based on the context of utterance. Even if a contextualist found herself in (C-S) she would want to make the following two claims (p. 582):
- (1) O’s utterance of ‘‘S knows that he has hands’’ in context C-O is true
- (2) S’s utterance of ‘‘S knows that he has hands’’ in context C-S is not true.
However, if the contextualist is in (C-S) she cannot say that about the person in the less demanding context (C-O). She could only say, “It’s possible that O’s utterance in (C-O) is true.” This weakens contextualism and makes it not very compelling. If the contextualist cannot say that knowledge attributions made in less demanding contexts are in fact true, then the contextualist does not take her contextualism very seriously. However, if the contextualist knows (1) and (2) are true, even from within (C-S), then (3) would hold (p. 583):
- (3) S’s utterance of ‘‘S knows that (1)’’ in context C-S is true.
At this point Baumann introduces a principle that contains a disquotation element and a factivity element. The disquotation element facilitates the move from the meta-linguistic (quotation) level to the object level (e.g., from “knowledge” to knowledge). The factivity element facilitates the move from knowing that p to it being the case that p. The principle is as follows (p. 583):
- (DF) ‘‘A knows that p’’ (as uttered in some context) is true -> p.
Applying (DF) to (1) results in (p. 584):
- (4) O’s utterance of ‘‘S knows that he has hands’’ in context C-O is true -> S has hands.
This allows for the following assumption (p. 584):
- (5) S’s utterance of ‘‘S knows that (4)’’ in context C-S is true.
A plausible epistemic principle is the closure principle. Adapting the closure principle to this discussion Baumann formulates closure as follows (p. 584):
- (Clos) For all contexts C: [‘‘A knows that p’’ (as uttered in C) is true and ‘‘A knows that (p -> q)’’ (as uttered in C) is true] -> ‘‘A knows that q’’ (as uttered in C) is true.
Finally, (Clos) plus (3) and (5) equals (6), but (6) contradicts (2)–something the contextualist accepts.
- (6) S’s utterance of ‘‘S knows that he has hands’’ in context C-S is true.
- (2) S’s utterance of ‘‘S knows that he has hands’’ in context C-S is not true.
Thus, what started out as variation in the ascription of truth-value across contexts led to a full-blown contradiction. This forces the contextualist to give up on contextualism or give up on a plausible epistemic principle. The dilemma is that most contextualists build factivity into their account of context-sensitivity and, as a result, “Given closure, factivity is the killer; given factivity, it is closure” (p. 585). This is the “factivity problem” for contextualism.
Baumann proposes a solution to the factivity problem. The basic idea is to hold that warrant can differ as contexts differ. The type of warrant associated with demanding contexts is called “knows-high”. The type of warrant associated with less demanding contexts is called “knows-low”. The type of warrant required to be a knower in a context like (C-S) is not the same type of warrant required to be a knower in a context like (C-O). So, (S) might know-high that [O knows-low that p] without S knowing-high that p. For example, even within (C-S), it’s possible to know that “Stephen Hawking knows that after the Big Bang primordial mini black holes were formed” (as uttered in a context) is true without knowing that after the Big Bang primordial mini black holes were formed.
A problem with the factivity problem is that there is a failure of transmission of warrant. As Baumann nicely summarizes, “Knowing-high that someone else knows-low that p does not entail (given closure and factivity) or require that one knows-high that p” (p. 592). Baumann corrects this mistaken assumption in the factivity problem by introducing a warrant principle that doesn’t make this mistake (p. 592):
- (TW2) A has warrant for knowledge-high that B knows-low that p -> A has warrant for knowledge-at-some-level (but not necessarily for knowledge-high) that p.”
Baumann further argues that the contextualist shouldn’t accept (DF). She only needs to accept the following revised version (p. 593):
- (DF*) For all contexts C, D: From ‘‘‘A knows that p’ (as uttered in C) is true’’ one can only infer ‘‘p’’ (in D) if D is not more demanding than C.
Finally, Baumann turns (Clos) into (Clos*):
- (Clos*) For all contexts C there is a context D (not more demanding than C) such that: [‘‘A knows-that p’’ (as uttered in C) is true and ‘‘A knows that (p -> q)’’ (as uttered in C) is true] -> ‘‘A knows that q’’ (as uttered in D) is true.
The upshot of Baumann’s moves is that the factivity problem doesn’t go through. It appears he has solved one of the hardest problems facing contextualism. However, I have a feeling Brueckner and Buford are not satisfied with Baumann’s solution. To be continued…
It’s that time again. I’m going to provide explanation and analysis of a slice of philosophical literature. Previously I reviewed the “Evidence” chapter in Williamson’s The Philosophy of Philosophy, a series of posts I’ll index soon. This time I’m going to play analyst and referee in a debate pitting Peter Baumann vs. Anthony Brueckner and Christopher Buford. Hopefully my review of this literature will serve you by giving you a synopsis of the debate. In addition, this series of posts will help me better understand contexualism and subject-sensitive invariantism–two hot topics in epistemology. This debate might also link-up with my previous post on factivity in a surprising way. We’ll see.
While I cannot guarantee the rate at which I’ll post I can guarantee that I’ll go in order. I discovered the debate by looking at the Brueckner and Buford (2010) paper in the current issue of Analysis. This led me to trace the debate backwards, which started with Baumann’s PPR paper “Contextualism and the Factivity Problem.”