Post 3: Baumann Argues the Factivity Problem is Real

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.

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