Relativism about Knowledge

Abstract

It is, in one sense, a truism that all knowledge is relative. At least, it is not wildly controversial to hold that whether or not a subject knows a given proposition is relative to: some or all of her beliefs (whether she believes the proposition in question); her environment (the presence or absence of fake barns, say); her faith in her own discriminatory abilities; what other people have said to her regarding this proposition. To hold any of these factors to be relevant to determining, for example, whether a proposition concerning morality is true might in some circles be enough for you to be branded a moral relativist; however, taking them to be relevant to whether a proposition is known would not have the same e ect. us to characterize relativism about knowledge we need to be more precise than we might be for other kinds of relativism; we cannot label people as relativists simply because they say that knowledge is relative to the beliefs and circumstances of the knower, since everyone would agree with that. Suppose there are such things as ‘truths about epistemic justi cation’ — that statements about epistemic justi cation express complete, truth-evaluable propositions rather than ‘incomplete’ or underspeci ed propositions, imperatives, or simply the approval or disapproval of the utterer. One important kind of truth about justi cation will concern the epistemic status of particular beliefs for an enquirer, i.e. whether a speci c belief is justi ed by a particular totality of evidence in particular circumstances; another will consist of general truths about justi cation, for example truths about how much evidence of a certain kind counts for or against certain kinds of beliefs. We could then state epistemic relativism — roughly — as the proposal that the obtaining of these truths about justi cation depends not only on the total informational state of the subject, but also on which particular epistemic standard or system is relevant in each case. For the purposes of this paper, I take it that the principal interest of such a theory of justi cation lies in its capacity to motivate a view widespread in the humanities, which I shall call epistemic pluralism: this is the view that di erent societies or communities can have radically di erent ‘knowledges’, all of which are deserving of equal respect, because none can be assessed independently of a
I have no intention to endorse any speci c ‘internalist’ or ‘externalist’ proposal about the nature of justi cation; those with strong views about justi cation are invited to construe subsequent talk of justi cation depending on ‘evidence’ in whatever way best ts their preferred theory of justi cation.

given epistemic system.

us the interesting forms of epistemic relativism will be those

which see justi cation as relative to the epistemic system current across a community; it is not intended that the standards for justi cation might vary between di erent inhabitants of the same community. An epistemic relativist in the current sense is not primarily motivated by the problem of making sense of variations in knowledge-ascription across ‘high-stakes’ and ‘low-stakes’ scenarios within a community; thus the current debate is distinct from the competition between contextualism (DeRose Stanley ), subject-sensitive invariantism (Hawthorne ; ) and relativism (MacFarlane a) within mainstream epistemology, where

the standards to which knowledge and justi cation are ‘relative’ may be said to vary even between speakers in the same conversation. Further, epistemic pluralism in the current sense is not intended to force the recognition of a plurality of equally valid concepts of knowledge, so that which concept is picked out by the word ‘knows’ may vary from one community to the next. Such a suggestion does not adequately capture the view under consideration, for what is intended is that, even employing our concept of knowledge alone, we should recognize radical divergence between communities with regard to what is known. A paradigmatic example is found in Boghossian ( a: - ): the Lakota, a Native American tribe, should be recognized as ‘knowing’ that their ancestors rst entered the Americas from a subterranean spirit world, while we may equally truthfully present ourselves as ‘knowing’ that the Lakota entered the Americas across the Bering Strait. e reason why ‘many archeologists’ are persuaded by such an apparently paradoxical view is that they believe that ( rst-world) science is ‘just one of many ways of knowing the world’ (Boghossian a: ). e epistemic pluralist view at issue, then, is in the rst place a thesis about the possibility of radical diversity with regard to what is known, possibly backed up with a pluralism about possible ways of arriving at knowledge. It does not help us make sense of such a suggestion to imagine that the Lakota have a concept of knowledge radically alien to our own; what is at issue is whether we can make sense of the seemingly paradoxical knowledge-claims made on the Lakota’s behalf by members of our own community, who share our own concept of knowledge (whatever it is). Recent discussion of epistemic relativism in the current sense has addressed the question of how, and whether, the theory can be formulated so as to avoid what I shall call the Acceptance Problem: this is the problem that accepting epistemic relativism would leave us incapable of recognizing the normative force of our own epistemic judgements — that we cannot accept both epistemic relativism and our own epistemic beliefs. On one side of the debate, Boghossian ( a) argues that, when properly formulated, epistemic relativism

on the other side it is alleged that Boghossian’s argument relies on a mistaken account of what the propositional content of statements about justi cation ought to be. my presentation is sympathetic to epistemic relativism. . Even if there is no decisive argument against epistemic relativism. according to the epistemic relativist (Neta . However.’ Boghossian Boghossian . Kalderon ). Boghossian recommends an error-theoretic approach to ordinary assertions about justi cation: faced with a statement of a particular epistemic judgement such as (C) ‘Copernicanism is justi ed by Galileo’s observations’ we must ‘reform our talk so that we no longer speak simply about what is justi ed by the evidence. what is it for an epistemic system to obtain within a community. literally false. there is a strong case against epistemic pluralism. the epistemic relativist is then to answer the question. Boghossian’s Challenge and its Critics Boghossian ( a) poses a version of the Acceptance Problem for epistemic relativism: he claims that the epistemic relativist cannot go on accepting her pre-theoretic epistemic system because she is now committed to treating the epistemic principles that constitute this system as strictly. but only about what is justi ed by the particular epistemic system that we happen to accept. Here I suggest that a proper understanding of the kind of epistemic relativism needed to support epistemic pluralism reveals an incoherence in the latter doctrine. however I shall suggest that e problem for the problem can be avoided by adopting a less na¨ve view of the connection between our ı acceptance of an epistemic system and the obtaining of such a system. even a er the controversy about propositional content has evaporated — a view also defended by Wright ( ). p. . in the closing sections I return to the connection between epistemic relativism and the wider aim of establishing epistemic pluralism. Here I shall argue that an Acceptance Problem remains.has the consequence that all our pre-theoretic judgements about justi cation are strictly. p. literally false. if it is not simply for the system to be accepted by that community? Insofar as I suggest a way to avoid the Acceptance Problem.

A sentence will count as explicitly relativistic i it includes a clause of the form ‘according to current epistemic system ES. But particular epistemic judgements are instances of general epistemic principles. Critics of this argument have emphasized — and Boghossian himself ( b) has been quick to point out — that other formulations of epistemic relativism are possible. But now it seems that accepting the theory leaves us incapable of endorsing even our own epistemic practices. e problem for the epistemic relativist now comes into focus: since accepting epistemic relativism (in Boghossian’s formulation) requires us to accept that only explicitly relativistic judgements can be true. p. because only explicitly relativistic judgements are capable of expressing truth. according to Boghossian: we might state it as the view that only explicitly relativistic epistemic judgements should be endorsed. but rather the thought is that ‘particular epistemic judgements are uniformly false. We should notice two in Boghossian a. us epistemic relativism. Epistemic relativism was introduced to widen the range of acceptable epistemic judgements by allowing for divergence across communities with regard to what counts as justi ed by a given totality of evidence.. and consequently do not commit us to the falsity of our own epistemic system. because no others can express truth.’ us we can make sense of what epistemic relativism amounts to. Sentences about justi cation that fail to include such a clause will be false. and consequently we cannot but reject the epistemic system which is constituted by these principles. because they will attribute absolute justi cation where justi cation is only ever relative to an epistemic system. commits us to counting all our epistemic principles as false. mutatis mutandis. So too. and plausibly any general principle with many false instances is itself false. which do not incorporate an error-theory about ordinary epistemic discourse. in Boghossian’s presentation. for sentences: we should only utter explicitly relativistic sentences about justi cation. and so must be replaced by judgements about what is entailed by the epistemic systems that we happen to accept..’. .is recommended reformation is especially puritanical: we do not abandon our usual discourse about justi cation because it is misleading (although true). and since our pre-theoretic epistemic judgements are not explicitly relativistic. But then there is a direct line from acceptance of epistemic relativism to the rejection of the epistemic system that we do in fact endorse. accepting epistemic relativism commits us to counting all our pretheoretic particular epistemic judgements as false.

using (C). while being true for my epistemic system. the content of the proposition ‘Copernicanism is justi ed by Galileo’s observations’ is. suggests that ordinary sentences and beliefs about justi cation have relativistic content. Although the original tokening of the proposition. the other. Here. . which nds a way to count our pre-theoretic epistemic judgements as true without altering the propositional content expressed. Since (presumably) our current epistemic system applauds Galileo’s reliance on observation rather than scripture to form beliefs about the heavens. which we might call Content-Relativism. However. is has the consequence that two commentators on Galileo’s beliefs could — if they were subject to di erent epistemic systems — exhibit blameless disagreement about one and the same proposition even if their total evidential state was the same: the sentence ‘Copernicanism is justi ed by Galileo’s observations’ could express the same content for both of us. what we said (and what we believe) turns out to be true. So be it: at this point I am not interested in legislating over terminology. According to Content-Relativism. but instead have relativistic truth-conditions. Copernicanism is justi ed by Galileo’s observations’. An alternative account is given by Truth-Condition Relativism. which might be described as Truth-Condition Relativism. and the current epistemic system. the full statement of the propositional content given by (C*) reveals justi cation to be a three-place relation between belief. suggests that ordinary epistemic sentences and beliefs do not have relativistic content.particular: one. one involving a two-place relation between beliefs and evidence. Boghossian ( b) considers and explicitly rejects both of these alternative formulations: Content-Relativism is ruled unacceptable because it is implausible to suppose that users of the reinterpreted sentences ‘intend their remarks to be elliptical for some relational sentences’ ( b: ). yet false for your epistemic system. suggested that justi cation is a two-place relation between belief and evidence. evidence. the truth-condition for this proposition is relativized: we no longer speak of the proposition being true or false simpliciter. as it seems to be. while Truth-Condition Relativism is rejected because it requires us to say that people ose who believe that blameless disagreement of this kind is a distinguishing feature of relativism will deny that my ‘Content-Relativism’ is properly described as relativism. but rather ‘true for an epistemic system’. the suggestion is that there is nothing misleading about our original statement — in fact. our pre-theoretic claim (C) that Copernicanism is justi ed by Galileo’s observations is true. because the content of the proposition would be more perspicuously expressed using the sentence (C*) ‘According to the current epistemic system ES.

p. if the purpose of allowing the intuitions and intentions of ordinary speakers to guide our choice of logical structure was to eliminate the phenomenon of ‘semantic blindness’. namely those theorists who are convinced that the sentences in question do express a relativized content.‘didn’t know what the truth-conditions of their own thoughts were. it is unlikely that she must also reject (D) as Boghossian supposes. they said something false. Boghossian alleges that ascribing relativistic truth-conditions to a proposition p requires us to deny the ordinary disquotational truth-condition. for this last argument applied to debates between contextualism and invariantism. e argument against Truth-Condition Relativism is even less persuasive. that when they stated those truth-conditions simply by disquoting. it may seem strange to credit ordinary speakers with any intentions about the relativity of their judgements at all: while it may be true that users of sentences about justi cation do not intend to express relativized propositions.’ Neither of these arguments should convince us. Moreover. Finally. (D) p is true i p. First. the attempt does not succeed: some language users will continue to exhibit semantic blindness even under the current proposal. When we learn from (D*) Boghossian See DeRose b. (D*) p is true i p relative to F. . Although it seems clear that the Truth-Condition Relativist should endorse (D*). it would prevent us from endorsing Russell’s theory of descriptions (because most speakers do not intended to express an existentially quanti ed content when they use a de nite description). such a requirement is too strong: for example. is is especially so given that the conceptual apparatus necessary to form an intention to express a relativized or unrelativized propositional content may be beyond the reach of the majority of those stating epistemic judgements. in favour of a relativized truth-condition. In most cases it may be that the intentions of users of such sentences do not give us any guidance as to whether statements about justi cation have relativistic content. it is implausible to contend that the logical structure attributed to a propositional content must match the intentions and intuitions of ordinary speakers. it may be equally true that users of such sentences have nothing that could count as an intention to express propositions that are not relativized. where language-users are disconcertingly ignorant of the content of their own utterances. For one thing.

epistemic systems. (D) is true. then what should she say about the truth-conditions of the general principles which make up her own epistemic system? As I have argued. So the epistemic relativist has two viable alternatives to Boghossian’s error-theoretic construal.for a defence of these natural assumptions about the connection between epistemic systems. I shall suggest that a version of the Acceptance Problem threatens even these alternatives — which is to say that endorsing either the Truth-Conditional or Content versions of epistemic relativism leaves us incapable of accepting our own epistemic system. the given belief is justi ed.that the truth-conditions of ‘p’ are the same as those of ‘p relative to F’. to treat them as relative to the epistemic system that we ourselves accept. when relativizing judgements about justi cation. in the circumstances. Finally. these can be applied to general epistemic principles as follows: See Boghossian a. If we think of epistemic principles as encoding a system for deciding whether a given belief is justi ed. . and we are not in a position to impute massive error to anyone who believes (D). it is natural to explain a believer’s propensity to form certain kinds of belief on the basis of certain kinds of evidence by appealing to the believer’s acceptance of a general principle licensing her beliefformation. there are two viable ways to relativize truths about justi cation. . and judgements. principles. Nevertheless. a few points about the prima facie connection between general epistemic principles. it need not be rejected on that count. First. It is natural to think of an epistemic system is as a collection of general epistemic principles — principles about what kinds of evidence justify what kinds of belief. we might explain a creationist’s disregard for evolutionary theory by adverting to his acceptance of an epistemic principle according to which scriptural evidence trumps observation of the fossil record. Since both sides of the biconditional (D) have the same (relativistic) truth-conditions. Since TruthConditional Relativism does not suggest that our ordinary beliefs about truth-conditions are mistaken. then a speci c judgement about the epistemic status of a given belief will be ‘true according to the principles’ because it is a consequence of the principles that. since epistemic systems are collections of general epistemic principles. p. For example. If this is a plausible reconstruction of the epistemic relativist’s views. this is a lesson which applies to both occurences of p in the original disquotation (D). and speci c epistemic judgements. each of which allows her to count ordinary pre-theoretic epistemic judgements as true. us it is also natural. it is natural to suppose that a particular judgement about justi cation is ‘true relative to (or according to) a system’ in the sense that that speci c judgement is entailed by the epistemic principles contained within the system plus the epistemic circumstances that obtain. Further.

instead it is true relative to the epistemic system ES which I accept. Some would argue that preserving genuine disagreement is a desideratum of any acceptable relativization (MacFarlane ). If p is part of epistemic system ES then system ES trivially entails p and consequently p is ‘true according to ES’. Choice between these options will largely be determined by our approach to disagreement: on Content-Relativism adherents to di erent epistemic systems who apparently disagree in their epistemic principles or judgements will not genuinely disagree. whether we believe that the relativity is part of the propositional content of the principle. to be part of an individual’s epistemic system is simply to be a general epistemic principle accepted by that individual. by revealing that there is no genuine disagreement. But what is it for an epistemic principle to be ‘true relative to an epistemic system’? On the natural view outlined above. A second reason for withdrawing from the debate between these two formulations is that discussion can proceed without prejudicing decision between the two: it makes sense to ask how relativization to an epistemic system a ects the conditions under which a statement of epistemic principle counts as true. But on the current account. Truth-Condition Relativism preserves disagreement: when we dispute principle ‘p’ we dispute the same propositional content regardless of which epistemic system is current. Conversely.’ Truth-Condition Relativism: e statement of epistemic principle ‘p’ ex- presses the content ‘p’.Content-Relativism: e statement of epistemic principle ‘p’ expresses the content ‘p relative to the epistemic system ES which I accept. for the relevant epistemic system is written into the content of any proposition they endorse: when a member of community A accepts principle ‘p’ they are really accepting `p relative to community A’s epistemic systeme. For that reason I shall not attempt to arbitrate between Content-Relativist and Truth-Condition Relativist approaches to epistemic relativism. In both cases the suggestion is that a statement of principle ‘p’ will be true i p is true relative to an accepted epistemic system. or should be captured by adding an extra parameter to the evaluation of a non-relativistic content. however for many the attraction of relativism about a certain discourse consists in its promise to make good on the feeling that debate within the discourse is somehow pointless or insubstantial. by trivial self-entailment. but this content is not true or false simpliciter. any epistemic principle contained within a system will be ‘licensed by’ ‘true relative to’ or ‘true according to’ that system simply in virtue of being part of that system. while a member of community B who rejects principle ‘p’ really rejects `p relative to community B’s epistemic systeme. if our epistemic principles are true because .

by Kalderon: ‘[In Boghossian’s discussion] Epistemic judgements are relativized to episWright . She is unconcerned by Boghossian’s original objection. we should not be too hasty to assume that there are no constraints on what epistemic system obtains... then our epistemic principles are true simply in virtue of our acceptance of them. when we apply those suggestions — Content-Relativism and Truth-Condition Relativism — to the epistemic principles to which the assessor appeals to ground her particular epistemic judgements. system goes with their acceptance being e ectively rationally unconstrained. neatly pinpoints that the issue of ‘rationally unconstrained acceptance’ ( : ) of epistemic principles is the central problem for a relativist account of justi cation: if our acceptance of a principle is up to us. p. However.part of our epistemic system. above and beyond our free choice to accept that system: it cannot be assumed that an Acceptance Problem a icts every epistemic relativism worthy of that name. at is to say. and they are part of our system because accepted by us.. my epistemic system gets to be true (for me) simply because I accept it. Wright supposes that this kind of free acceptance of principle is an inevitable corollary of any view according to which epistemic systems might di er between communities: such a view ‘requires that there are general propositions about epistemic . for independent reasons. simply because it a icts epistemic relativism as currently formulated. at is enough to make trouble for the epistemic relativist who has reasoned this far. justi cation. is suggests that the principles in question are in some sense optional — and it is hard to see how a principle or rule can exert authority over us if our acceptance is optional in that sense.. had I not accepted the system. because there are two ways of construing those judgements so as to count them as true. the principles it contains would exert no authority over me. it turns out that the truth of those principles is determined only by her decision to accept them. However. with a characteristically nice turn of phrase. Crispin Wright. we can no longer credit that principle with the kind of normative authority consistent with epistemic judgement. But to understand this is immediately to realize that. Can this version of the Acceptance Problem be avoided by understanding ‘acceptance’ as a community-wide phenomenon rather than a matter of individual choice? is made. that all her pre-theoretic epistemic judgements turned out to be false.’ As I shall argue later. is suggestion . whose basic place in one’s epistemic .

Still it will be the case that if we — the community — had chosen di erently. the problem Kalderon . One is to reject the very idea of an ‘epistemic system’ — to deny that there is such a thing as a set of epistemic principles which all the members of a community share. my opinion counts for something. ree Kinds of Relativity Two other putative solutions to the Acceptance Problem present themselves. we the community have to take collective responsibility for the system we have: there is nothing else to blame other than our free choice. ‘Perhaps not everyone’s judgement counts as much as anyone else’s’ (Kalderon : ).) Nevertheless. Rejecting Epistemic Systems. wouldn’t the more relevant formulation be in terms of epistemic systems that a community agrees upon? It is clear that treating acceptance of an epistemic system as a community-wide phenomenon is an improvement. this suggestion does not enable us to avoid the Acceptance Problem. we need to foreclose on the possibility that standards may vary between individuals in one and the same community. p. Even if I (as a single member of the community) do not have absolute authority over the system that gets accepted. (Indeed. In the context of social constructivism. Notice that we need to do more than simply claim that the ‘shared epistemic system’ is. Treating ‘acceptance’ of an epistemic system as community-wide agreement still leaves us with the problem that the choice of system is ‘up to us’ or ‘optional’. Compare an idealized democracy: no-one has absolute authority to pick a government. but useful for the purposes of theory: as long as the notion of a shared epistemic system plays a central role in a relativist theory of justi cation of the kind under discussion. a di erent epistemic system would have obtained. like the frictionless plane. in this section I outline them and argue that they fail.temic systems that an individual accepts. yet which government is elected depends only on the unconstrained choice of the people. as is clear when we see that even community-wide ‘acceptance’ is determined by the fact that individuals within that community accept the system for themselves. . an idealization not found in nature. for the current suggestion is that epistemic standards vary between communities rather than within them. moreover. one plausible answer to the vexed question of what constitutes a community for the purposes of epistemic relativism is that shared membership of a ‘community’ is determined by shared epistemic system. and again it is hard to see how the principles contained within that system can exert authority over us if our (communal) acceptance of them is optional.

(GO) is true when assessed by us. So rejecting the notion of an epistemic system solves the Acceptance Problem. (GO) Galileo’s astronomical beliefs were justi ed by his observations. and — as I have already suggested — to generate an epistemic relativism consistent with the epistemic pluralist agenda at issue. Rather.will remain that anyone who accepts that theory of justi cation thereby undercuts his allegiance to whatever epistemic principles he has. if not by introducing the notion of a set of epistemic principles which are shared across a community and which constitute an epistemic system? To talk of a community sharing an epistemic background which it fails to share with another community is to represent a community as sharing a way of thinking about justi cation which might not be shared by others. for example. then it no longer makes sense to ask whether. If there are no such things as epistemic systems. See especially MacFarlane b . in line with much current debate on analytic relativism. because we share Galileo’s ‘scienti c’ epistemic system. How else is this to be done. and there does not seem to be a way of capturing how a way of thinking could be ‘the same’ within a group and ‘di erent’ from that of other groups. An alternative suggestion takes a more nuanced approach to the question of whose epistemic system counts when making judgements about justi cation. it is of little help to the epistemic relativist. we need to be able to make sense of the idea that the background against which particular epistemic judgements are made might vary between communities. we need to make sense of the idea that the background against which particular epistemic judgements are made remains constant across members of the same community. an epistemic system. save by introducing the notion of a set of accepted general principles about justi cation — in short. e epistemic relativist suggests that the truth or falsity of a proposition such as (GO) depends in part on the epistemic system at issue. It is indeed plausible that there are no such things as epistemic systems. and how. to avoid the current problem it is necessary to remove the notion of a shared epistemic system from our theory altogether. we should go on accepting our own epistemic system in the face of the epistemic relativist’s revelation that acceptance of that system is up to us. But even if this is true. although See MacFarlane : for a principled attack on Boghossian’s notion of an ‘epistemic system’. To motivate relativism about justi cation. Suppose we have a speci c epistemic judgement concerning an individual. is that what counts in assessment of the truth or falsity of (GO) is the epistemic system of the assessor. at the cost of making the current epistemic relativist proposal unintelligible. But whose epistemic system? A natural suggestion.

which we might call contextualism about justi cation. the central idea is easily grasped: whereas assessorsensitive accounts see the relevant epistemic system to be that to which the assessor belongs. by means of the indexical ‘I’. .g. We should take note of two alternatives in particular. Since contextualist and assessor-sensitive accounts will agree that our own statements of epistemic principle are to be assessed in light of our own epistemic system. e Acceptance Problem is not avoided by adopting contextualism.it is false when assessed by someone — like Cardinal Bellarmine — whose thought operates within an epistemic system according to which scripture trumps astronomical observation when it comes to determining cosmology. One. because contextualism retains the problematic insistence that our own epistemic system is true because we accept it. a view that takes justi cation to be assessor-sensitive is not the only way to construe epistemic relativism. where I discuss the truth or falsity of my own epistemic statements and beliefs). However. It is likely that it is such a view that is at issue in Boghossian ( a). at least that is a plausible reconstruction based on his insistence that any statement of an epistemic judgement should by reformulated to include explicit reference to the person making that judgement. nally (as I shall argue in the closing sections of this paper) it is not the right way for the epistemic pluralist or social constructivist to deal with the sort of relativity needed if knowledge is to turn out to be socially located. is that the epistemic system relevant to assessing any claim about justi cation is the epistemic system selected by the context of use: the system current for the person who tokens that claim. Nevertheless. we still have the worrying result that the principles that comprise our epistemic system get to be true simply by being part of the epistemic system that we accept.g. while the defender of assessor-sensitivity will assess according to her own epistemic system. nor is it obviously what the defenders of epistemic relativism have in mind. It does not seem that endorsing contextualism about justi cation will get us very far with the current problem. they will come apart in cases where we assess a statement about Galileo’s epistemic status which is tokened by some third party: here the contextualist will assess according to the third party’s epistemic system. While these accounts will deliver the same verdict in the case where tokener and assessor are the same (e. contextualist accounts will see the relevant epistemic system to be the one current in the community of the tokener of the claim. by uttering a sentence expressing it. e. is position di ers somewhat from the contextualism about knowledge familiar from the literature: contextualism is more usually invoked to make sense of divergent knowledge-ascriptions between di erent members of the same community. Call this view ‘the assessor-sensitivity of justi cation’.

the contextualist should say that the truth or falsity of that utterance depends on whether Galileo’s beliefs were justi ed according to the standards current in community C.. and that of some third community — call it Community C. it is much less appealing to say that epistemic claims are to be evaluated according to the situation of their tokener where this is a matter of selecting one out of a range of possibly salient complete epistemic systems. According to this way of thinking — which I shall describe as ‘the subject-sensitivity of justi cation’ — what counts when we assess Galileo’s beliefs qua justi cation is not our epistemic system but that of Galileo himself. it makes sense to evaluate according to our own epistemic system. p.. saying that whether someone is justi ed in believing p in light of evidence E depends crucially on their background beliefs and credences. Such a view of justi cation is o en assumed among defenders of epistemic relativism. third view sees justi cation to depend. . A di erent. .’ In each case. My italics. the suggestion is that epistemic relativism is best played out as a view that MacFarlane Kalderon .’ ‘the reason that if it visually seems to Galileo that there are mountains on the moon. and saying that Galileo’s astronomical beliefs were justi ed by his observations. it is possible to make a strong case that contextualism about justi cation does not capture what the epistemic pluralist has in mind. then Galileo is prima facie justi ed in believing that there are mountains on the moon is that. Consider the situation when three epistemic systems are in play: Galileo’s.Moreover. for example by tokening (GO). and it makes sense to evaluate according to Galileo’s epistemic system. but rather on that of the person forming the belief whose justi cation is under debate. Observation is an agreed-upon epistemic principle. But plausibly. My italics. When a member of Community C expresses an epistemic judgement about Galileo. p. but why should a claim about Galileo be evaluated (by us) according to an epistemic system which neither we nor Galileo share? e situation here is markedly di erent from that encountered in standard debates about contextualism: whereas it is plausible that the truth of an epistemic claim is covariant with the situation of the speaker when such variation amounts merely to the di erence between ‘high stakes’ and ‘low stakes’ scenarios within a community. because Galileo is the owner of the belief whose justi cation is at stake. our own. ‘. this is not what the epistemic pluralist intends: when evaluating claims about justi cation of this kind. in Galileo’s community of inquiry. not on the epistemic system of the assessor. a kind of relativism about justi cation. . I o er two illustrative examples. .

en any di erence in epistemic system between two enquirers will entail a di erence in the background of beliefs or accepted propositions against which they must assess their evidence. See Hawthorne ( ) and Stanley ( ) . both theories share the view that what counts is the situation of the enquirer. even given its dubious status as ‘optional’ for the members of that community. Even if these consequences are relatively easy for the subject-sensitive epistemic relativist to live with. and since we can use that system for the purposes of our assessment without having to accept the system for ourselves. namely that it still does not completely avoid the Acceptance Problem. us the suggestion is parallel to ‘subject-sensitive invariantism’ in standard high-stakes/low-stakes cases in epistemology. we nd that Galileo’s belief either was or was not justi ed by the evidence according to that system. not that of whoever happens to be tokening or assessing a proposition about the epistemic status of that enquirer. two issues remain: rst. However. for in assessing the beliefs of someone from a di erent community we assess according to the epistemic system current within that community. And it is not news. deliver absolute truths about justi cation: there is no prospect of securing blameless disagreement about Galileo’s epistemic status. Our judgements about the epistemic status of other people’s beliefs plausibly do not face an Acceptance Problem. there is no prospect of someone from a di erent community overriding the enquirer’s claim to justi cation by imposing an alien epistemic system on the believer. from the point of view of conventional epistemology. Suppose that we adopt the na¨ve ı account according to which an epistemic system is a set of principles accepted or believed by the enquirer. A second problem for subject-sensitive epistemic relativism is that it might not prompt any revision of classical epistemology a er all. because there is only one correct answer to the question ‘was Galileo’s belief justi ed by his observations?’ Once we have factored in the epistemic system within which Galileo was working. a er all. how can we make sense of forming a normative epistemic judgement about someone within a di erent community. One problem for this ‘subject-sensitive’ version of epistemic relativism is that it does. and as it happens. and more generally on the constitution of her total belief-set.connects the justi cation of an enquirer’s beliefs with the background epistemic system that the enquirer himself accepts. there is no problem about how we might accept that system. that di erences in background beliefs can lead to di erences in which beliefs are justi ed by what evidence: Marcia’s justi cation in believing that it is pm when she sees the clock can be a ected by the presence or absence of the belief that the clock is broken. there is a much more serious problem for the position. this epistemic system is the only relevant one — so there is only one right answer to the question.

otherwise there is no yardstick by which the epistemic status of my own beliefs can be measured. say. and for each of them there is a distinct epistemic system. Crucially. if not ultimately plausible. If I judge that I was justi ed by my evidence in believing that p. What is needed is to reject the idea that an epistemic system derives its authority over a community simply from the fact that the community accepts that system. I judge myself using the epistemic system that I accept. A Repair to Epistemic Relativism Nevertheless. the fact that an epistemic system obtains within . and those of other members of the community. on the other. however. and contingent on the circumstances within those communities. is to judge that the subject ought not to have formed it on the basis of the evidence at hand. I still need to accept my epistemic system. and worse. Replacing assessment-sensitive epistemic relativism with its subject-sensitive cousin does not enable us to avoid the Acceptance Problem. and the idea that epistemic standards apply within a society because accepted by that society. yet both are run together by the opponents of epistemic relativism. epistemic relativism can be repaired to the point where it is at least coherent. e former idea is a much weaker thesis than the latter. I shall suggest that a thesis of the former kind is defensible where the latter is not. Consider this relativistic picture: there are many di erent communities. on the one hand. the problem that remains is how the choice between epistemic systems is determined if not by the acclamation of the populace. the Acceptance Problem remains for judgements about our own evidence-based beliefs. Depending on which avour of epistemic relativism you prefer. But how can I go on accepting that system once I absorb the epistemic relativist revelation that the authority of this system consists only in the fact that my community accepts it? Although I do not use my own epistemic system in order to make judgements about the epistemic status of beliefs formed by member of other communities. Such a response to the current problem is suggested by the wide gulf between the claim that epistemic standards are local to communities. but why should an epistemic system which we do not share have any consequences for our judgements about which beliefs someone ought or ought not to have formed? Second.using an epistemic system that we do not share? To class a belief as unjusti ed. these systems will have normative authority either (i) over the epistemic status of beliefs formed by members of the community (subject-sensitive epistemic relativism) or (ii) over the truth-values of statements about justi cation assessed by members of the community (assessor-sensitive epistemic relativism) or (iii) over the truth-value of statements about justi cation tokened by members of the community (‘contextualist epistemic relativism).

pragmatism about justi cation) that brings problems of its own. It is. However.g. is position is clearly a form of epistemic relativism. Another answer is familiar from mainstream debates about contextualism. even more importantly. No Acceptance Problem threatens. and is also suggested by some remarks of Neta ( : ): an epistemic system will be more stringent where it is more important to arrive at the correct answer. Any determinate answer to the latter question will involve endorsing a theory (e. had the relevant epistemic system been a di erent one. if not acceptance. determines that my system obtains in my community. for answers are possible. for it relativizes truth about justi cation to an epistemic system such that. assessor-sensitive and ‘contextualist’ forms of the proposal. possible to make sense of epistemic relativism. until an answer is given epistemic relativism remains merely a promissory note rather than a complete proposal about how we should understand the possibility of divergent truths about justi cation.a given community does not depend on facts about whether or not the community accepts that system. she must be willing to explain what it is for an epistemic system to obtain within a community. now that it is clear that this cannot simply be a matter of the community’s accepting that system. However. . we can say this much in opposition: any proponent of such a view about justi cation owes us a decision between subject-sensitive. since what works will di er between societies. and thereby avoids the most serious problem for formulations of epistemic relativism current in the literature. and your system obtains in your community? is is not a fatal objection. rather than the principles obtaining simply because people decide that they should. however. People will accept epistemic principles because they ascertain that these principles obtain. so will the epistemic system that obtains. the truth about justi cation would have been di erent. Yet a problem remains: what. is is — of course — not to say that there will be no members of the community who accept the system: merely to say that the community’s acceptance of the system is the result of the system’s obtaining for other reasons. then. One would take a pragmatist form: the choice of epistemic system is determined by what works from the point of view of e ective belief formation. because the normative force of the epistemic system that obtains within the community does not depend on the community’s acceptance of the system. it lacks the extraneous commitment to the view that the obtaining of an epistemic system depends only on the community’s acceptance of that system. A community where resources are scarce and danger is rife will be one where the epistemic standards are higher and the epistemic system more exacting.

I shall make no attempt to defend that assumption.Epistemic Relativism and Epistemic Pluralism My discussion so far has suggested that epistemic relativism. although communities only ‘know’ things in a derivative sense: our community ‘knows’ about special relativity in the sense that scientists within our community know about special relativity. First. for holding that knowledge is ‘socially located’ or ‘socially constructed’ in any interesting or controversial sense: how can knowledge depend on the community of the knower if there is no substantial di erence from one community to the next with regard to what is known? My contention will be that the epistemic pluralist must be willing to say both that justi cation is subject-sensitive — that truths about justi cation are relative to the subject whom the proposition is about — while also saying that truth in general is assessor-sensitive. the view that di erent communities can have radically di erent ‘knowledges’ all of which are deserving of equal respect. that all propositional truth is relative to the person who is assessing the proposition for truth or falsity. if not su cient. when talking about justi cation I shall omit explicit reference to evidence: for ‘a is justi ed in believing p’ please understand ‘a is justi ed by her evidence in believing p’. Some form of epistemic pluralism is necessary. My argument depends on the premise that justi cation and truth are necessary for knowledge (even if they are not su cient for it). epistemic pluralism is incoherent. or are willing to use ‘knowledge’ as a term for any rationally-held belief. and consequently my argument will have no relevance for pluralists who deny that knowledge requires truth. further. Where there is a cogent argument against the position. i. I shall talk of ‘communities’ as the knowing subjects.e. I shall also simplify my presentation in two relatively inconsequential ways. narrowly conceived as a thesis about the truth-conditions or content of propositions about justi cation. First. Since (I claim) propositions about justi cation cannot be both subject-sensitive and at the same time assessor-sensitive. it will be one that poses an explanatory challenge to the epistemic relativist: what determines that any particular epistemic system has normative authority over our epistemic judgements. why must justi cation be subject-sensitive? I have already o ered illustrative quotes to suggest that the subject-sensitivity of justi cation is what defenders of epistemic relativism have in mind. Second. if not simply the fact that we happen to accept that system? Nevertheless. I hope nothing important hinges on these shortcuts. there is good reason to suppose that such a view is required if epistemic pluralism is to get o the ground. Notice that if we are to accept that . I think the preceding clari cation of options for the epistemic relativist provides material for a sound argument against epistemic pluralism. is not an obviously self-defeating position.

but rather that of the subject who forms the belief that is to be assessed as justi ed or unjusti ed. indeed in many cases where the epistemic pluralist may want to ascribe knowledge. by hypothesis. at is to say. e second part of my argument is the claim that the epistemic pluralist must endorse a general claim about the assessor-sensitivity of propositional truth. then we should have to accept or reject it on the basis of our epistemic system. Context-sensitivity should be rejected for similar reasons: in cases where we are both tokeners and assessors of (AJ). To establish this it is necessary to look more closely at the scope and aims of epistemic pluralism. another is that there is no sense in which . Instead. which is to say that the truth of (AJ) depends on the epistemic system current for the person deliberating over whether to accept or reject it. the contextualist will select our own epistemic system as the relevant one. which I glossed as the view that the truth of (AJ) depends on the epistemic system current for the person uttering or otherwise tokening (AJ). Since. the requirement of assessing claims to justi cation according to one’s own epistemic system will prevent us from counting a community as having their own special ‘knowledge’ because we shall not be able to assess their belief as justi ed: the belief in question is not justi ed with regard to our epistemic system. treating (AJ) as assessor-sensitive does not guarantee that we will accept (AJ). we accept (AJ) because we realize that belief in p is justi ed according to the epistemic system current in community A. It is clear that neither of these two options will not do here. One is assessor-sensitivity. and that is the one that the assessor-sensitivity of justi cation would require us to employ in assessing such a claim. I suggested three ways of determining the epistemic system to which (AJ) is relative.(AK) Community A knows proposition p we must also accept (AJ) Community A is justi ed in believing proposition p. In previous discussion. Another is context-sensitivity. then. if we want to take seriously the claim that di erent communities have their own distinctive ‘knowledges’. Epistemic pluralism may be seen as incorporating two commitments: one is that di erent communities may know di erent sets of propositions. it will be necessary to treat claims such as (AJ) as relative to the epistemic system current in the believer’s own community. in which case there is no way to recognize a community’s beliefs as justi ed although they are not licensed by our own epistemic system. and accept that what counts from the point of view of assessing justi cation is not the epistemic system of the assessor. If (AJ) is assessor-sensitive. community A is di erent from our own. and may have a radically di erent epistemic system.

nor is it obviously what epistemic pluralists have in mind. First. for then proposition p may be known in one community because justi ed by the standards current in that community. One way of making room for the possibility of radical di erences between di erent ‘knowledges’ is via the subject-sensitive epistemic relativism just outlined. yet neither knowledge-set is ‘better’ than the other. . Instead. Moreover. p. notice that (so long as we retain the normal picture of knowledge as factive) what can be known will still be limited by what is true. e only sense in which ‘knowledges’ can di er between communities is that di erent communities will know di erent subsets of truths. So the conjunction of Variance and Equal Validity is not enough to produce a distinctive epistemic pluralist view. Yet the conjunction of these claims may be true as a matter of empirical fact.). the epistemic pluralist will say that the Lakota ‘know’ that their ancestors came from inside the Earth. while we ‘know’ that the Lakota’s ancestors came from Asia across the Bering Strait ( a: . A second reason for dissatisfaction with the current account of epistemic pluralism is that has no room for the kind of examples that epistemic pluralists endorse. for these commitments as de ning features of constructivism in the humanities.any of these sets of known propositions is ‘better’ than any other. just as we know things which our ancestors did not. Yet this by itself is not enough to deliver a truly radical di erence between communities’ ‘knowledges’. We merely have to imagine a situation in which. depending on their circumstances. without forcing the revision of classical epistemology: it is a truism that di erent communities know di erent things. I suggest that epistemic pluralism should be understood in terms of the hypothesis of radical di erences between communities with regard to what is known. say. the only divergence in ‘knowledges’ between communities will be where some truths are not known in a community because that community is not in a position to form beliefs about those truths which live up to the community’s standards for justi cation. To return to our paradigmatic example from Boghossian. since it is uncontroversial that di erent communities will know di erent amounts of the truths that there are. and the other knows a lot about animal husbandry. Here it is clear that the sense in which knowledge sets may be radically di erent across communities is that di erent See Boghossian a. one community knows a lot about arable farming. it is easy to imagine circumstances in which two communities know di erent propositions. yet fail to be known in another community because not justi ed by the standards current there — even though both communities have the same total evidence. I do not know what shape a mammoth footprint is). but this does not do much to distinguish epistemic pluralism from classical theories of knowledge. and vice versa (for example.

we also should be prepared to accept the pair (BK) Community B knows proposition not-p and (BT) Proposition not-p is true. Notice that if we want to accept (AK) Community A knows proposition p we must also accept (AT) Proposition p is true. but rather the possibility of con icting propositions being known within the knowledge-sets of di erent communities. the possibility of radically di erent ‘knowledges’ cannot so much as get o the ground: if there is no sense in which we can endorse the conjunction (AT) & (BT). It is tempting to say that there is no sense in which we could ever accept the conjunction of (AT) and (BT). If that is so. is the same as accept the contradiction p & not-p. by disquotation. on the grounds that. What is intended by epistemic pluralists in the humanities is not merely knowledge-sets which di er between communities. accepting the conjunction (AT) Proposition p is true & (BT) Proposition not-p is true. then we .knowledge-sets may be incompatible with each other — that my community might know p while at the same time your community knows not-p or some other proposition q that is incompatible with p. e need for the epistemic pluralist to make room for incompatible knowledge-sets enables us to see why epistemic pluralism is committed to the assessor-sensitivity of truth. us it seems that a de ning feature of epistemic pluralism should be the acceptance of incompatible knowledge-sets. And if we mean to endorse the thesis of ‘knowledges’ which are radically di erent in the sense that they are incompatible with each other.

endorse (AK) Community A knows proposition p & (BK) Community B knows proposition not-p because we are able to accept something like the following: (K) p is true (for Community A) and justi ed (according to Community A’s standards). which is to say that the ‘truth’ required for knowledge — the ‘truth’ which is at issue in (AT) and (BT) — is relative. I should note that on some relativist schemes. and hence endorse the claim that community A knows p while community B knows not-p. in which case it is plausible that classical epistemologist and epistemic pluralist are simply talking past one another. I shall suggest that there is an alternative option available to the epistemic pluralist. It seems that (K) enables us to make sense of the possibility of incompatible knowledgesets while maintaining the attractive idea that justi cation and truth are necessary for knowledge. it will suggest that epistemic pluralists must be using the word ‘knowledge’ to indicate some non-factive concept. However. because there is no room for a semantic mechanism according to which we could endorse p is true for community A unless we were also prepared to endorse p is true. then. without giving up the idea that knowledge requires truth. and must be abandoned — along with epistemic pluralism itself. labouring under the misapprehension that their opponent is using the word ‘knowledge’ to talk about the same thing as they are. then there is a sense in which we can endorse that conjunction. e suggestion. while not-p is true (for Community B) and justi ed (according to Community B’s standards). this may be enough to show that the idea of incompatible knowledge-sets is untenable. If the conjunction (AT) & (BT) can be understood as saying that p is true for community A while not-p is true for community B. rather than absolute truth.cannot accept the claim that community (A) and (B) have incompatible knowledge-sets. it is not possible even to accept (K). is this: we can . For others. For many.

and consequently ascribing truth and falsity to propositional contents rather than the sentences used to assess them. for the relativist.).On such a system. However. ‘something is in the cellar’). once and for all. not every proposition has a logical subject (‘It is raining’. What kind of relativity is this? If the relativity in question is to extend to all propositions which might be known within the community. since it relativizes sentential truth-values to contexts of use by allowing the context to determine which proposition is expressed. deriving from the fact that. we are ascribing truth and falsity to their beliefs rather than their utterances. as it is hard to isolate any one circumstance in which the believed content might be said to be ‘used’. then it cannot be subject-sensitivity: for one thing. there is no prospect of talking about how things are ‘for’ people who do not share our own circumstances. First. it is possible to make a persuasive case that. It might be thought that some kind of global contextualism could capture the kind of relativity at issue. for another. but what is intended is that the truth about the Lakota’s ancestors varies between investigating communities. and uses of ‘true’ in the object language are to be explained in terms of the more primitive ‘true for’ (Cappelen and Hawthorne : . claims about the origin of the Lakota’s ancestors would be xed once and for all by the circumstances of the Lakota’s ancestors. because it attempts to combine two incompatible views about what propositions are true relative to. Consider the claim that p is true (for Community A). making truth relative to the circumstances of the subject of a proposition would mean that truth values were xed. Second. within such a framework there is little room for the truth-values of a given propositional content to vary according to context of use. there are notable problems with this approach. But is the epistemic pluralist proposal ultimately coherent? I shall suggest that it is not. that what is ‘true for us’ may di er from what is ‘true for you’. the suggestion would be that p is true relative to Community A because truth is relative to the context of use of p. there is good reason not to impose such a restriction: if we disallow the locution ‘true for’ then there does not seem to be an easy way to state the relativist’s own position. What is needed to preserve the epistemic pluralist theory of radical disagreement between communities is a form of ‘non-indexical contextualism’ (MacFarlane ). but standard contextualism destroys the possibility of genuine disagreement. it is not obvious that we can assign a ‘context of use’ to a belief. in assessing community A’s claims to knowledge. Indeed. ‘true for’ is the fundamental notion. what is intended here is that communities A and B have genuinely incompatible beliefs. Fortunately. according to which truth- . since the necessary variation is already delivered by variation in the content expressed by a use of a sentence on an occasion. by facts about whoever the proposition is about — for example. and Community A in some sense count as the ‘users’ of p.

it should apply no less to propositions about justi cation. See MacFarlane . Moreover. this option delivers the correct verdict with regard to the truth-value of Community A’s beliefs. which avoids the problems consequent on contextualist approaches. count as ‘assessors’ of p just as we do. since they believe that p. and that what counts. p. (PT) ‘What community A believe in believing that p is true’ But since we are uttering (PT). we need to accept both that what counts for determining the truth of a proposition about epistemic justi cation is the situation of the subject of the proposition (subject-sensitivity). consequently there is a sense in which we can agree that p is true for Community A. But since the latter claim is a general one. by assigning truth to the sentence. in order to accept the epistemic pluralist claim that community A might know p while another community knows an incompatible proposition such as not-p. In the following paragraphs I explain and respond to the most signi cant objection to this charge of incoherence. for propositions about justi cation. and that what counts for determining propositional truth in general is the situation of the assessor of the proposition (assessor-sensitivity). Contextualism leaves us incapable of counting Community A’s beliefs as true unless those beliefs also happen to be true for us. is. . Yet even here we are prevented from counting the propositional content of Community A’s beliefs as true: since the notion of truth employed in such a contextualist account is sentential rather than propositional truth. If the only way to endorse the content of Community A’s beliefs is by uttering a sentence claiming that sentence to be true. then there is no way to endorse the content of the beliefs of those in a di erent context. but not propositional content. at is to make truth relative to the context of assessment. and p need not be true according to our context — so there is no guarantee that (PT) will be true either. Although p may be false according to our context of assessment. p. by saying that p is true as assessed by Community A. is incoherent. One option remains. vary according to the context of use. I claim. and Cappelen and Hawthorne . and the truth-conditions of sentences are relative to the context of use. and so is ‘false for us’. is the situation of the subject. the context of use is our context. thus it seems the epistemic pluralist is committed to saying both that what counts. Such an ‘assessment-relative’ conception of truth can apply to propositions just as well as it applies to sentential truth: one proposition can have many di erent assessors as easily as can one sentence. the members of Community A. for similar points. for propositions about justi cation. is the situation of the assessor.conditions. the only way in which we can ascribe truth to the content of a belief is derivatively. So it seems that.

for then we could move from accepting (AT) Proposition p is true (for community A) & (BT) Proposition not-p is true (for community B). . we cannot apply a rule of disquotation of the kind that takes us from (AJ*) to (AJ). but I do not think it works. But surely we can nd an easier way to accept (AJ). which we are now licensed to accept. therefore a claim like (AJ) Community A is justi ed in believing proposition p. we can say that (AJ*) (AJ) is true (for Community A). In that case. Suppose we simply accept the assessor-sensitivity of truth for all propositions. from which it is a simple matter to infer (by disquotation) the original proposition (AJ) Community A is justi ed in believing proposition p. is is an interesting suggestion. we must accept that community A is justi ed in believing that p. not (AJ*). we have to accept (AJ). Indeed. must be subject-sensitive rather than assessor-sensitive. In order to count community A as knowing that p. and the only way we can accept (AJ) is if we hold that the relevant epistemic system for claims about justi cation is not that of the assessor — our own — but rather than of the subject whose justi cation is in question. and count (AJ) as true. for a reason already hinted at: within a relativistic framework. to accepting p & not-p. allowing the move from p is true (for someone or other) to p would result in us endorsing contradictions. and this is something we cannot accept by our standards of justi cation. then anyone in community A who assesses proposition (AJ) will do so with regard to his own epistemic system. simply because what is true for someone or other need not be true for me.One objection to the argument I have just sketched will be especially prominent: doesn’t the whole thing just rest on some unsatisfactory fudging around the issue of disquotation? I have argued thus: to accept that community A knows that p.

So the proposed emendation of epistemic pluralism leaves us committed to the view that there is.A second objection is that there is no incoherence in claiming that propositions about justi cation are both subject-sensitive and assessor-sensitive. and the world — are assessor-sensitive. in a sense. ‘Was Galileo’s belief justi ed by his evidence?’. Perhaps the intention of the epistemic pluralist might be captured more perspicuously by the suggestion that the truths which form the content of the supposedly divergent ‘knowledges’ held by di erent communities — for example. Indeed. but rather subject-sensitive. to accept that truths about justi cation are subject-sensitive is to assert that there is one correct answer to the question. because there is no limit to the number of extra parameters we may introduce to the evaluation of such a proposition. biology. and these communities are likely to disagree in the evaluation they license. us subject-sensitivity suggests that the community whose standards are relevant to evaluation are those of the community to which the subject of the epistemic proposition belongs. truths about human origins. As I noted earlier. ese two claims — subject-sensitivity and assessor-sensitivity — cannot both be upheld. to select the community whose standards. and everyday descriptions of material objects. because then we would in many cases have to select two communities as determining the truth of a proposition about judgement. is is a coherent position. is seems to get things the wrong . any community-speci c factors which make a di erence to the evaluation of a proposition (including. absolute truth about the justi cation of people’s beliefs. but not limited to. yet there is no absolute truth in areas such as science. if relativists are happy to accept that context-sensitivity and assessor-sensitivity may coexist (MacFarlane b: ). the speci c sense in which these ‘standards’ are relevant is that they incorporate an epistemic system according to which the subject is to be judged qua justi cation. since subject-sensitivity holds that there is only one epistemic system (that of the putative knower) that is relevant to the evaluation of any claim about justi cation. but not one that it makes much sense to endorse. experience and values are relevant to the evaluation of the proposition in question. why not accept that subject-sensitivity and assessorsensitivity may coexist in the evaluation of propositions about justi cation? Here the response is that subject-sensitivity and assessor-sensitivity cannot coexist because they are each competing to do one and the same job — namely. A third objection — the last I shall consider here — is that I may be setting up a straw man in attributing to the relativist a view that predicts the assessment-sensitivity of all propositions. while truths about the epistemic status of those beliefs are not assessor-sensitive. the epistemic system at play in the community) should be those belonging to the assessor’s community. science. Yet assessor-sensitivity says that the community relevant to evaluation is that of the assessor.

as it happens. although truth in general is not assessment-sensitive. in which case we no longer have the possibility of radical disagreement. e epistemic pluralist now has two options: one is to adopt the modest proposal that justi cation is subject-sensitive. but rather the result of a backlash against colonial arrogance in imposing ‘civilized’ belief-systems on the weaker party. p. e Lakota do not count as knowing because their epistemic practices do not measure up to our own epistemic standards. it now seems that the incoherence in genuine. . in which case propositions about justi cation will be assessor-sensitive like everything else. is a mask for the interests of power. and the attendant rhetoric of objectivity. any cogent philosophical argument. p. A erword: Reason vs. e same point is found already in Boghossian . although there may be a ‘pluralism’ of truth. there is no way of counting adherents to other epistemic systems as ‘justi ed’.’ See Boghossian a. But then. and the theory no longer captures what the epistemic pluralist intends: it cannot be that the Lakota know that they came from the spirit world. p. Alternatively. we cannot recognize a pluralism of knowledge. for when properly construed these claims are incompatible. for all of our assessments of claims about justi cation (ours and everyone else’s) must be governed by our own parochial epistemic system.’ Kalderon . and of the widespread belief that ‘the authority of reason. are facts about our beliefs. Relativism It is a point well made that the source of many people’s relativistic beliefs about what would otherwise be called ‘matters of fact’ is not. and only one can be known. In that case. since our evaluation of any claim about their epistemic status must be governed by the assessor’s (our) epistemic system. as I have argued. for the same complaint levelled at theories which hold that ‘the only absolute .way round! If there is no absolute truth about the world. why should there be — how could there be — absolute truth about whether or not my beliefs were licensed by my evidence? Although it is possible to challenge the prima facie appearance of incoherence in the epistemic pluralist’s commitment to both the subject-sensitivity of justi cation and the assessment-sensitivity of propositional truth. what can be known within a community will be limited by what is (absolutely) true. facts there are. it is possible to drop the subject-sensitivity of justi cation. In that case. and yet we know that they came across the Bering Strait.

at prejudice is not caused by any philosophical argument — it is. then undermining them would leave relativistic conviction untouched. ‘ us Kalderon suggests that e source of relativistic conviction is relevant to the rhetorical e ectiveness of undermining the arguments advanced in its favour. If the source of relativistic conviction does not lie with the cogency of these arguments. p. us it makes little or no di erence to the value of philosophical argument if there exist people who (for whatever reason) are so stubborn that no argument can unseat their prejudices. the product of my upbringing and of the kind of society I inhabit. plus a healthy dose of what I nd comfortable to believe. Clearly there are such people.If that is so. I may become aware that my prejudice is merely a prejudice. Second. Nevertheless. of getting at the truth) is normative: to establish what we ought to believe. for it does not address the actual causes of relativistic belief. as an allegation about the rhetorical e ectiveness of undermining arguments for relativism. it is na¨ve to adopt a picture of the relationship between relativistic conviction and ı philosophical argument in favour of relativism. . A primary aim of philosophical dispute (apart from the obvious one. Suppose that I have a prejudice in favour of the view that we have Free Will (I do). a cogent argument against a position can retain its e ectiveness even in situations where we recognize that successful demolition of philosophical arguments for that position will be dismissed as an irrelevance by our opponent. philosophical argument is not merely evangelical: it is not the case that engaging in rational debate is to be done only for the purpose of changing the minds of those with whom we disagree. the accusation that relativistic conviction is impermeable to rational argument is a worrying one. and I shall nish by o ering two remarks in defence of the current project of approaching relativism and epistemic pluralism through rational argument. Nevertheless.’ It is strange that Kalderon makes his point in this way. and to that extent nd myself less inclined to hang on to it once I become aware of the strength Kalderon . the cogency of arguments in favour of Free Will can make a di erence to what I believe: if I examine all the rational arguments in favour of Free Will and nd them wanting. Plausibly. when his context is a discussion of the cogency of Boghossian’s argument against epistemic relativism. but that does not make rational debate any less worthwhile. it is possible to make a case that the whole project of responding to relativism by means of rational argument is mistaken. such that the latter can make a di erence to the former only if the latter was the cause of the former. if anything. First.

In Philosophical Review a. Oxford: b. University Press. DeRose. even in a world where the advice of philosophers is References Boghossian a. I suggest. In Philosophy and Phenomenological Research Hawthorne. philosophically unproblematic or even rationally mandated by current theory. H.). there is work to be done in making sense of epistemic relativism and epistemic pluralism. Studies in Epistemology : Society : . In Philosophical Studies . : i)‘a(‘ . Relativism and Monadic Truth.. Bellarmine. b. Fear of Knowledge Against Relativism and Constructivism. MacFarlane. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Oxford: Oxford Clarendon Press. Knowledge and Lotteries. M. Arguments Against Contextualism’.. ‘Epistemic Relativism’. ‘Fear of Relativism?’ In Philosophical Studies : . DeRose. Truth and Realism. and Bayes’. is will be especially so if — as may actually be the case — widespread acceptance of relativism is combined with the widespread misconception that relativistic theses are trivially coherent. J. J. J. ‘Relativism and Disagreement’. and Hawthorne. : .. In Oxford Phenomenological Research . In Philosophy and : . Stanley. ‘ i)‘a(‘ . Oxford: Oxford University Press. Kalderon. Lynch (eds. ‘What is Relativism?’ In P.of the arguments pushing in the other direction. In Episteme : . ‘In Defense of Epistemic Relativism’. . Greenough and M. us. Knowledge and Practical Interests. ‘Nonindexical Contextualism’.. . C. Wright. ‘ ‘‘Bamboozled by Our Own Words”: Semantic Blindness and Some . : . i)‘a(‘ . J. : . R. e Assessment Sensitivity of Knowledge Attributions’. seldom heeded. E. ‘Making Sense of Relative Truth’. K. ‘Contextualism and Knowledge Attributions’. ‘Boghossian. even those whose relativistic conviction was originally produced by factors other than reasoned argument may be a ected by a successful demonstration that the arguments in favour of relativism do not succeed. In Philosophical Studies . . : i)‘a(‘ . . In Proceedings of the Aristotelian . In Synthese Neta. Cappelen. . . Oxford: Oxford University Press. Just so. I suggest. K.

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