I heard through the grapevine that Jason Stanley is claiming on Facebook that there is an emerging consensus in the experimental literature. The consensus is that there is a robust stakes-effect on knowledge attributions, and the real debate is whether to explain it in terms of semantic contextualism or interest-relative invariantism. I’m not on Facebook and have no plans to ever be, so apologies to Jason if this is not an accurate portrayal of what he wrote. But since it’s generating enough buzz for me to hear about it second- and third-hand, I figured I’d take to the air here and help to correct any misimpression, even if the misimpression is due to people mischaracterizing Jason’s post.
There is no such consensus. How much is at stake, or how important people judge the situation to be, has an anemic and entirely indirect effect on knowledge attributions. Moreover, the stakes/importance-effect on knowledge attributions is entirely mediated by people’s estimation of whether the proposition in question is true and their estimation of the quality of evidence. Consequently, there is very little if anything for contextualism or interest-relative invariantism to explain.
By contrast, people’s judgment about whether an agent should act on a proposition has a direct and robust effect on knowledge attributions. The effect of actionability on knowledge attributions is as large and direct as the effect of truth and evidence.
In short, a practical factor definitely plays a large role in ordinary knowledge attributions and might even be part of the ordinary concept of knowledge. But that factor is not stakes. It is actionability.
For those that are interested, I’ll be presenting some joint work with Wesley Buckwalter at the CPA in St. Catharines, Ontario later this month, where I’ll walk through the relevant findings from some recent, very large behavioral experiments.