Access to the full content is only available to members of institutions that have purchased access. If you belong to such an institution, please log in or find out more about how to order.



Contextualism, epistemological

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-P058-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 16, 2024, from

Article Summary

The idea that norms vary with social setting has long been recognized, but it is only in the late twentieth century that philosophers have developed precise versions of epistemological contextualism, the theory that standards of knowledge and justification vary with context. Ordinary practice seems to support this rather than the ‘invariantist’ view that epistemological standards are uniform.

Suppose, for example, that having seen my children a minute ago, I assert ‘I know my children are in the garden’. My neighbour Harold then says, ‘Good, because an escaped prisoner is seeking hostages nearby’. I may then appropriately claim, ‘On second thoughts, I do not know, I should check carefully’. Standards for knowledge appear to have shifted, since they now require further investigation.

Contextualism’s greatest advantage is its response to scepticism. Sceptics raise radical possibilities, such as that we might be dreaming. The contextualist grants that such doubts are legitimate in the sceptical context, but holds they are illegitimate in everyday situations. Yet contextualism can appear to be an objectionable form of relativism, and may be accused of confusing standards that we apply in practical conversational contexts with the true standards that determine whether someone has knowledge.

Citing this article:
Brower, Bruce W.. Contextualism, epistemological, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-P058-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

Related Articles