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Logos & Episteme

Volume 1, Issue 2, 2010

Lauren J. Leydon-Hardy
Pages 361-369
DOI: 10.5840/logos-episteme20101210

Getting Gettier‘d on Testimony

There are noncontroversial ways in which our words are context dependent. Gradable adjectives like 'flat‘ or 'bald‘, for example. A more controversial proposition is that nouns can be context dependent in a reasonably similar way. If this is true, then it looks like we can develop a positive account of semantic content as sensitive to context. This might be worrying for the epistemology of testimony. That is, how can we garner knowledge from testimony if it‘s the case that, though our syntactic utterances are identical, the semantic content of them may fail to be uniform? What if we mean different things by the same words? I argue that these kinds of semantic divergences provide the groundwork for a new kind of Gettier case. That is, given the likelihood of divergent semantic content, we can see a way to scenarios in which, despite that the semantic content is uniform, we might get justified true beliefs that nevertheless fail as knowledge. This, because it just as likely could have been the case that relevant contexts were dissimilar, and thus relevant semantic content would have been divergent. Lastly, where the phenomenon does occur, we never would have known the difference.