Volume 39, 2008
Philosophy of Language
Claudia Bianchi, Nicla Vassallo
Contextualizing Meaning Through Epistemology
Epistemological contextualism and semantic contextualism are two distinct but closely entangled projects in contemporary philosophy. According to epistemological contextualism, our knowledge attributions are context-sensitive. That is, the truth-conditions of knowledge ascribing sentences – sentences of the form of (1) S knows that p - vary depending on the context in which they are uttered. Contextualism admits the legitimacy of several epistemic standards that vary with the context of use of (1); it might be right to claim – for the same cognitive subject S and the same proposition p – that (1) is true in one context, and false in another. The epistemological contextualist thesis is grounded in a semantic claim about the context-sensitivity of the predicate “know”: the semantic thesis
is that a sentence of the form (1) does not express a complete proposition. Different utterances of (1) can, in different contexts, express different propositions: we must add in information about the context in order to determine the proposition expressed by (1). Many scholars have tried to spell out the semantic contextualist thesis on which epistemological contextualism is grounded. Our general aim in this paper is to evaluate the plausibility of a project that takes the opposite starting point, that is establishing the semantic contextualist thesis on the epistemological one. According to semantic contextualism, virtually no sentences of a natural
language express complete propositions – meaning underdetermines truth conditions. In our paper, instead of assuming the traditional view of meaning in terms of truth conditions, we suggest that a theory of meaning as justification may shed new light on the contextualist approach. We thus show how the notion of justification can be contextualized, arguing that our attempt provides an interesting and quite straightforward way of contextualizing meaning.