There’s a certain understanding as to what contextualists think or say about disputes between skeptics and their opponents that seems to be very widely assumed. And here it pops up again, in Mark Richard’s (very well worth reading) recent article, “Contextualism and Relativism” (Philosophical Studies 119 (2004): 215-242):
Suppose a confrontation between a skeptic with high standards, and Moore, who has low standards. The skeptic says
(1) You don’t know that you have hands.
Contextualism tells us that the content (and thus the extension) of ‘knows’ in the skeptic’s context is determined by the standards that his context provides. Since he, unlike Moore, has high standards, Moore and the claim that he has hands just don’t make the cut. The skeptic’s utterance of (1) is true: that is, Moore doesn’t know that he has hands.
Of course, when Moore utters
(2) I know that I have hands
the standards in his context are the relevant standards, and so, given his low standards, he speaks truly. So Moore knows that he has hands after all. But how can that be? Didn’t the skeptic just establish that Moore doesn’t know that he has hands? Well, says the contextualist, what the skeptic said was true. But since ‘know’ is contextually sensitive, (2) doesn’t say the same thing, when Moore uses it, as does
(3) You know that you have hands
when the skeptic uses it. So there’s nothing contradictory about the skeptic’s being able to use (1) truly while Moore can so use (2).
One feels that something is awry. One wants to say that when the skeptic and Moore argue with each other…
Indeed, something is awry here — something beyond what Richard has in mind: This is not at all what the contextualist says about such confrontations…
At least this contextualist — but also other contextualists I know. Richard here assumes that the contextualist opts for what in my “Single Scoreboard Semantics” (Philosophical Studies 119 (2004): 1-21) I call the “multiple scoreboards” view, on which, in such debates, the truth-conditions of each speaker’s use of ‘know(s)’ is governed by that speaker’s own “personally indicated content.” But I have always thought that, and have written as if, some sort of “single scoreboard” view is instead correct — and I thought the same was true of David Lewis, Peter Unger, and Stewart Cohen. On a single scoreboard view, appropriately enough, there is in such a debate a single scoreboard that governs the truth-conditions for both speakers’ uses of ‘know(s)’. The “score” can be affected by conversational moves made by either speaker, and there are tricky questions to answer about what that single score is in cases where the two speakers are pushing the score in opposite directions, but such a view has the result that the skeptic is denying just what her opponent is affirming — the two really are contradicting one another.
OK, but what then what is that single score in the debates we are considering? Who is speaking truthfully — the skeptic or her opponent?
Well, there are many possible single scoreboard views for the contextualist to choose among, several of which I describe and briefly discuss in the aforementioned “Single Scoreboard Semantics.” This post, in fact, is a shameless advertisement for that paper, about which I’d be grateful to receive comments. Yes, it’s already published, but I’ve continued to think about the issues addressed there in the 2+ years since I actually wrote that paper, and I plan to revisit them very soon. Those with subscriber access to Philosophical Studies can get “SSS” — and Richard’s paper, and several other papers on contextualism from the UMass Contextualism conference — by clicking here, then clicking on “PREVIOUS ISSUES”, then clicking on Vol. 119 “Issue 1-2, May 2004”. For those who do not have such access, the conference web site (click here) has preliminary versions of many of the papers posted, and I have the penultimate draft of “SSS” posted on my web site here (pdf) and here (word).
Note that — as Richard sees well — the issue here is not confined to ‘knows’, but extends to other context-sensitive terms, including many that are obviously context-sensitive. How tall must something or someone be to count as “tall” in a given context, how far out does a given use of “here” reach? There can be debates & disagreements turning on these matters, too, where the parties to the debate sure seem to contradict one another, they intend to contradict one another, and they take themselves to be contradicting one another, though the “personally indicated content” of each seems different. On “single scoreboard” views, they really are contradicting one another, and the various single scoreboard views about ‘know(s)’ I discuss in “SSS” can be applied to these other terms as well.
So, at last, which single scoreboards view is correct, and which party to the dispute is speaking truthfully? On the particular single scoreboard view I opt for, so far from it being the case that both the skeptic and her opponent are speaking the truth, I hold that neither of them speaks truthfully. (And, as I report in the paper, when I asked Stew, he was inclined toward the same answer.) On the “Gap view” I opt for, in such cases of debate, a claim that “S knows that P” is true (and “S doesn’t know that P” is false) iff S meets the personally indicated standards of both parties to the debate; “S knows that P” is false (and “S doesn’t know that P” is true) iff S fails to meet either of the personally indicated standards; and “S knows that P” goes truth-value-less (and so does “S doesn’t know that P”) where S meets the personally indicated standards of one, but not of the other, speaker.
Why do I believe that? See “Single Scoreboard Semantics.” But whether or not you look at that paper, I’ll be happy if, having read this post, you at least now realize that it’s simply wrong to generally say that contextualists deal with cases of dispute by making what both parties say come out true.
If you happen not to like the gap view (I know that many out there are gapophobic), don’t take that out on contextualism. Just tell me how you handle analogous disputes turning on, say, how far out “here” reaches (surely you’re not an invariantist about that!), and I’ll tell you what to say about the dispute between the skeptic and her opponent.