First at Fake Barn Country and now in a paper Allan Hazlett has been arguing against the claim that knowledge is factive. Since the paper refers rather generously to my work, it would be churlish to criticise it too strongly. Nevertheless…
Allan has two arguments against factivity. The first is a variant on Sartwell’s argument that knowledge doesn’t require justification. Loosely speaking, Sartwell’s argument is that knowledge is the aim of inquiry, the aim of inquiry is true belief, so knowledge is true belief. Allan’s argument is that knowledge is the aim of inquiry, the aim of inquiry is justified belief, so knowledge is justified belief. (Allan goes on to analyse justified belief as reliable belief.) I’m more interested in Allan’s second argument, so I’ll leave that one to the readers.
The second argument turns on some ‘ordinary’ usages of ‘know’. Here are two examples from Allan, and one from Ian McEwan.
(1) I knew I was going to die, and then I was miraculously rescued.
(2) Before Copernicus, everyone knew that the sun revolved around the earth.
(3) He knew from experience that unless he made a formidable effort, a pattern was waiting to impose itself: a polite enquiry would elicit a polite response and another question … He had asked her about tea making. One more like that, and there would be nothing he could do … Rather than tolerate more silence he settled after all for small talk, and began to ask, ‘Have you lived here long?’ But all in a rush she spoke over him, saying, ‘How do you look without your glasses? Show me please.’
The last example is via one of my favourite ever short papers, Richard Holton’s Some Telling Examples: A Reply to Tsohatzidis. Richard claims that these cases are assertable falsehoods, on the model of (4) (by Billy Bragg)
(4) I saw two shooting stars last night
I wished on them, but they were only satellites
It’s wrong to wish on space hardware
I wish, I wish, I wish you cared
If (4) is true, then two shooting stars have to be satellites, which isn’t the case. But (4) can still be asserted (or at least sung) in the context of telling a story. What is necessary is what Richard calls ‘protagonist projection’. Here is his description of the phenomena.
I suggest that these sentences work by projecting us into the point of view of the protagonist; let us call the phenomenon protagonist projection. In each case the point of view into which we are projected involves a false belief. We describe the false belief using words that the protagonists might use themselves, words that embody their mistake. So we deliberately use words in ways that do not fit the case.
(It’s arguable I suppose that the last sentence is wrong and really (4) is elliptical for something less poetic like “I thought I saw two shooting stars last night…”. If so, (1) (2) and (3) should all be thought to be elliptical as well. I’m sceptical of positing elided material to get out of jams like this, so I’ll stick with Richard’s way of putting it, but I don’t think much here turns on the issue.)
Now it’s striking that in Allan’s case, and in McEwan’s, the natural background to asserting the sentences is that the speaker is trying to get us to see things from the point of view of a protagonist. (Maybe that isn’t quite as true in (2), but I find (2) extremely marginal.) So it’s plausible that in this kind of setting, the norm governing assertion is that the sentence be believed by the protagonist. Hence these cases are not evidence that knowledge is not factive.
Richard’s paper is a defence of one of the neatest little observations in formal semantics, Lauri Karttunen’s and Zeno Vendler’s observation that while ‘tell’ is not normall factive, when ‘tell’ is followed by an embedded question it is factive. To see this, imagine that although the party is in Ithaca, Billy tells Suzy that it is in Syracuse. Then consider the following questions
(5) Did Billy tell Suzy where the party is?
(6) Did Billy tell Suzy that the party is in Syracuse?
The answer to (5) is no, and the answer to (6) is yes. Similarly, (7) is false although (8) is true.
(7) Billy told Suzy where the party is.
(8) Billy told Suzy that the party is in Syracuse.
This is a nice point, and actually one that is of some assistance to the opponent of factivity for knowledge. For it provides a non ad hoc reason for thinking that knowledge-that claims are not factive, even though knowledge-wh claims are factive, and that ‘knows’ means the same thing when followed by a that clause and when followed by an embedded question. Now I don’t think factivity fails, but I think Kartunnen’s and Vendler’s observations show that we can’t argue for factivity from the behaviour of knowledge-wh.
Having said all that, I have one favour to ask readers. Also on Fake Barn Country there is a discussion of whether ‘knows’ is ambiguous. Does anyone know what the best literature on this question is? In his anti-Donnellan paper Kripke attacks Hintikka for holding such a view, but doesn’t actually cite anything by Hintikka to back up this attack. In ‘Knowledge and Belief’ Hintikka writes as if he’s presupposing that ‘knows’ is ambiguous between a strong and a weak sense (and perhaps many senses in between – I think scholars of the history of epistemic contextualism should be looking at this book for possible early traces of contextualism). But I couldn’t find a place where he argues for this. I also seem to recall some contextualists arguing against ambiguity views on the ground that there should be many more than two senses for ‘knows’, but I can’t remember who says that. Any tips for where to look here would be much appreciated!
Posted by Brian Weatherson in Uncategorized