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Brains and barns: The role of *context in epistemic attribution

Julie M Petty, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The topic of the dissertation is this: How well does contextualism, in general, fare as an epistemic theory? And the answer comes in three parts. The root of the skeptical problem. I argue that the source of the skeptical problem is neither the underdetermination principle nor the closure principle. Instead, I claim that it is a change in context that generates the problem in the first place. Though I make no explicit argument in favor of contextualism as a solution to skeptical problems, the chapter amounts to a de facto defense of the contextualist solution to skeptical problems. The problem with Gettier. I consider criticisms of contextualism's capacity to resolve Gettier cases. As it stands, Lewis' contextualism can't resolve a wide range of Gettier cases. However, I offer a new rule, the Rule of Special Similarity, as a replacement rule for Lewis' Rule of Resemblance. I then show how the new rule, though not problem-free, can do a much better job of resolving the Gettier problem. Contextualism, then, needn't fail because it can't solve Gettier problems; it can. The ways of context. One goal is to get a clear map of the territory, one that underscores the fact that precisely how context is incorporated into the theory matters epistemically. Another is to make the point that contextualism—the claim that context plays an essential semantic role in knowledge ascriptions—is not just one particular view, but a family of similar views. Also, I offer a new kind of contextualism that avoids many of the substantial criticisms aimed at the others in the family. Though the primary aim of the dissertation is a defense in three parts of the contextualist approach I general, a view emerges from the dissertation. I call the view condexicalism, and the dissertation is, secondarily, a development and defense of that view.

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Recommended Citation

Petty, Julie M, "Brains and barns: The role of *context in epistemic attribution" (2004). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3163696.