Post 1: Baumann’s Solution to the Factivity Problem

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

whereas

  • (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…

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