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David Lewis' Contextualism

David Lewis' Contextualism

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Published by mackus28397
An overview and critique of David Lewis' account of contextualism as an escape from skeptical hypotheses. We conclude that Lewis' theory offers little in the way of refuting skepticism.
An overview and critique of David Lewis' account of contextualism as an escape from skeptical hypotheses. We conclude that Lewis' theory offers little in the way of refuting skepticism.

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Published by: mackus28397 on Jun 21, 2009
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05/16/2013

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Mike MackusMatthew BentonPhilosophy 220December 2
nd
, 2008Lewis Leaves Us Right Where We StartedDavid Lewis offers us a contextualist approach to knowledge and knowledge attributionsthat is intuitively familiar with the way in which we converse with people everyday. Generally,Lewis argues that one’s knowledge can shift depending on the context of the conversation andsituation. More specifically, Lewis states we do this by means of 
 properly
ignoring possibilitiesthat need not be ruled out, cannot be ruled out, or both. After outlining Lewis’s theory I willdirect attention to what appear to be holes in this version of contextualism, specifically problemswithin the central rules of how one may properly ignore a possibility, as well as focus on themore general implications of Lewis’s contextualism.Lewis begins by stating what he views as the actual crisis of the skeptical problem: if knowledge, by definition, must be infallible then if 
knows that
 p
then he must also not believethat
 p
in all possible scenarios where
 p
does not obtain. Thus if 
cannot eliminate the possibilityof 
~p
in a certain case and admits to this inability then it appears as though
does not actuallyknow that
 p
. Such a knowledge that is fallible, where knowledge can remain despiteuneliminated possibilities, is contradictory to the aims of epistemology. Lewis then asks if thisleaves us to decide between the almost equally terrible options of fallibilism and skepticism.Fallibilism, according to Lewis, is the better option but he states that it’s much better to not haveto choose at all. Thus, he questions the act of epistemology- could the examination of knowledgeforce all ascriptions of knowledge to go false? Given this possibility we must then look at whatepistemology requires for knowledge. Taking what Lewis refers to as the ‘ancient idea’ of  justification, we see that the justification required in certain cases is not enough in other cases;
 
that is, the strength of necessary justification varies according to context. Lewis argues, however,that justification cannot be a good starting point. Imagine the case of the lottery: one might truly believe that he is going to lose but, as long as we assume this is a fair lottery, the odds againsthim, no matter how high, will never count his belief as knowledge; there is no statisticalthreshold that is ever passed that makes the person’s justification in claiming to have a losingticket become knowledge. Thus, Lewis moves away from justification noting that it cannot bethe culprit that destroys knowledge.Without resorting to the necessity of a justificatory argument, Lewis sets up his main principle: it is the case that
knows that
 p
if and only if 
 p
holds in every possibility noteliminated by
’s evidence. This well-worded principle begins the set-up of defense against theskeptical argument. Lewis claims that the word ‘every’ acts just as any other quantifier would; itranges over a specific domain and does not capture ‘every’ in an absolute sense simply because itis within an epistemological definition. ‘Every’ has a certain domain that it pertains to and thescope of the quantification shifts depending on the context and on what is relevant. When afriend comes up to you and exclaims ‘Why didn’t you come to the party? Everyone was there!’,you cannot reply ‘False! Everyone in the whole world was not there.’ ‘Every’ ranges over a particular set of people, probably, in this case, all of you and your friend’s mutual acquaintances.However, this example illustrates that one cannot merely choose what he wishes to be within thedomain of discourse. Thus Lewis argues that the domain is determined in part by what possibilities are
 properly
being ignored at the given moment.Lewis marks three prohibitions outlining the possibilities which cannot be properlyignored under any circumstance. First, there is the rule of actuality: that which actually obtainscannot be properly ignored. Lewis argues that the actual state of affairs must always be a relevantalternative. It follows from the rule that only what is true is known. The rule is externalist in the
 
sense that S is judged by his success of not ignoring the actual state of affairs rather than beingassessed by his attempt at properly ignoring. Second, there is the rule of belief: that which is believed to obtain and that which ought to be believed to obtain cannot be ignored. By ‘ought to believe’ Lewis intends to cover cases where a person is going against what the evidence andarguments seem to logically lead to. He goes on, though, to reformulate this rule in terms of degree given that belief is often a matter of degree: the degree of belief must be sufficiently-high;here, Lewis is forced to allow justification to enter his argument, a problem that we will examinelater. Lastly, there is the rule of resemblance: any possibility that saliently resembles a non-ignorable possibility also cannot be properly ignored. Lewis argues that this captures Gettier-likecases insofar that the subject has no grounds to rule out the actual state of affairs given that isstrikingly similar to that which he believes.Lewis goes on to acknowledge three presumptions necessary given his three prohibitionson properly ignoring. The rule of reliability states that one presumes the cognitive faculties arefunction properly; any possibility where they are not can be properly ignored. While this ruleappears very strong one must remember that it can be beaten out by the rule of actuality or therule of actuality and the rule of resemblance working together: Lewis gives an example of a person living in a world where most people hallucinate and he has only narrowly escaped this possibility, thus the possibility that he is not hallucinating is too close to actuality and cannot be properly ignored. The rule of method allows for two uses of non-deductive inference: induction,where one may take a sample as representative of the whole, and abduction, where one maysuppose that the best explanation of his evidence is the right one. Thus we are allowed to properly ignore possibilities in which these two methods fail us. Finally, the rule of conservatismstates that if those around us generally ignore certain possibilities (and this is expected of us aswell) then we may also properly ignore these possibilities. This rule helps to capture the nature of 

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