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Context-sensitivity and the semantics of epistemic vocabulary in natural languages


The proposed research project develops a novel approach to Epistemic Contextualism, the view that the content of the verb ‘know’ can change with the speaker’s context of utterance. More intuitively, I shall defend the view that there are contexts with high standards for ‘knowledge’, in which it is difficult to ‘know’ something, and contexts with low standards for ‘knowledge’, in which it is considerably easier to obtain ‘knowledge’. The main ideas leading to this position stem (a) from the idea that ‘knowledge’ is sensitive to the speakers’ context and practical situation and (b) from a comprehensive formal account of other context-sensitive expressions. Consider, for instance, the gradable adjectives ‘flat’ and ‘empty’, which function--as I argue--semantically in a similar way to ‘know’: just as what counts as ‘flat’ or ‘empty’ in one context does not necessarily do so in another, who counts as ‘knowing p’ in one context does not necessarily do so in another.

In the second phase of the project the emerging account will be employed in providing innovative solutions to classical philosophical problems, such as the problems of scepticism and induction, and will be located in a broader epistemological framework by relating it to other central epistemological issues concerning epistemic justification, evidence, and testimony. Besides offering solutions to philosophical problems, however, the project will also address the role of knowledge in public policy debates such as debates about climate change. Additionally, the project will be of great importance to any discipline concerned with the generation and administration of knowledge: by shifting focus and looking at the notion of knowledge from a linguistic perspective--namely, by looking at the way in which epistemic terms are used in particular conversational contexts--the project will achieve a deeper understanding of the notion of knowledge that is central to the knowledge society of the 21st century.

Call for proposal

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Trinity Lane The Old Schools
CB2 1TN Cambridge
United Kingdom

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Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Administrative Contact
Renata Schaeffer (Ms.)
EU contribution
€ 231 283,20