Post 2: Brueckner and Buford’s Solution to the Factivity Problem

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.

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