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Contribution to Book
Contextualism in Epistemology and the Context Sensitivity of 'Knows'
Knowledge and Skepticism (2010)
  • Robert J. Stainton, University of Western Ontario

The central issue of this paper is whether contextualism in epistemology is genuinely in conflict with recent claims that ‘know’ is not in fact a context sensitive word. To address this question, I’ll first rehearse three key aims of contextualists and the broad strategy they adopt for achieving them. I then introduce two linguistic arguments to the effect that the lexical item ‘know’ is not context sensitive: one from Herman Cappelen & Ernie Lepore, one from Jason Stanley. I find these and related arguments quite compelling. In particular, I think Cappelen & Lepore (2003, 2005a) show pretty definitively that ‘know’ is not like ‘I’/‘here’/‘now’, and Stanley (2004) shows that ‘know’ is not like ‘tall’/‘rich’.2 One could try to find another model for ‘know’. Instead, I consider whether one can rescue “the spirit of contextualism in epistemology” – i.e., achieve its aims by deploying a strategy of appealing to speaker context – even while granting that ‘know’ isn’t a context sensitive word at all. My conclusion, in a nutshell, is this: If there are pragmatic determinants of what is asserted/stated, and contextualism can overcome independent problems not having to do specifically with the context sensitivity of the word ‘know’, then the spirit of contextualism can be salvaged. Even though, for reasons sketched by the aforementioned authors, ‘know’ doesn’t actually belong in the class of context sensitive words.

  • contextualism in epistemology,
  • philosophical skepticism,
  • knowledge
Publication Date
M. O'Rourke and H. Silverstein
MIT Press
Topics in Contemporary Philosophy
Publisher Statement
Uncorrected author's proofs.
Citation Information
Robert J. Stainton. "Contextualism in Epistemology and the Context Sensitivity of 'Knows'" Cambridge, MAKnowledge and Skepticism Vol. 5 (2010)
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