"Contextualism and Closure"

Wednesday, November 14
Nicholas Smith (Lewis & Clark)

Skeptical arguments require that we accept closure under known logical entailment. In other words: If S knows q and S knows that q entails not-h, then S knows not-h. This principle allows the problem of skepticism to present itself, because, on the one hand, we wish to claim to know certain things (e.g. that we have hands), but not others (e.g. that we are not being deceived by an evil demon), but under closure, if we actually know that we have hands, then we know that such knowledge is not possible if we are deceived. Hence, replies to skepticism have generally attempted either to prove that we really do know that we are not being deceived, or else to show that we should not accept the closure principle.

Contextualists, however, have rejected both of these strategies but still claim to have a (partial) reply to skepticism. In this paper, I show that there is a set of perfectly ordinary knowledge claims (claims the contextualist would have to count as knowledge within ordinary contexts) which violate the closure principle. If my argument is correct, the contextualist response to skepticism fails, because it shows that the contextualist must either deny some ordinary knowledge claims (thus abandoning their claim to preserve all such claims by contextualizing the standards that apply to them) or else abandon their acceptance of the closure principle (thus losing their account of why skeptical arguments have the apparent plausibility that requires the contextualist explanation).