Blome-Tillmann (PDF) also aims to counter an objection Jason Stanley raises to Lewisian contextualism. The objection turns on part of the picture of how so-called ‘quantifier domain restriction’ works that Jason worked out with Zoltán Szabó. Often when we say All Fs are Gs, we really mean All C Fs are Gs, where C is a contextually specified property. So when I say Every student passed, that utterance might express the proposition that Every student in my class passed.
Now there’s a question about what happens when sentences like All Fs are Gs are embedded in various contexts. Quantifier embeddings tend to allow for certain kinds of ambiguity. For instance, when we have a sentence like If p were true, all Fs would be G, that could express either of the following two propositions. (We’re ignoring context sensitivity for now, but we’ll return to it in a second.)
- If p were true, then everything that would be F would also be G.
- If p were true, then everything that’s actually F would be G.
We naturally interpret (1) the first way, and (2) the second way.
(1) If I had won the last Presidential election, everyone who voted for me would regret it by now.
(2) If Hilary Clinton had been the Democratic nominee, everyone who voted for Barack Obama would have voted for her.
Given this, you might expect that we could get a similar ambiguity with C. That is, when you have a quantifier that’s tacitly restricted by C, you might expect that you could interpret a sentence like If p were true, all Fs would be G in either of these two ways. (In each of these interpretations, I’ve left F ambiguous; so these are just partial disambiguations.)
- If p were true, then every F that would be C would also be G.
- If p were true, then every F that is actually C would be G.
Surprisingly, you can’t get the second of these readings. That’s something Jason and Zoltán argue for, and that Jason also argues for in Knowledge and Practical Interests. He also argues that to complete a contextualist explanation of sceptical intuitions, you need the second of these readings.
Blome-Tillmann accepts the second of these premises, i.e. that the contextualist needs both kinds of readings, but thinks the first premise is false, i.e. he thinks both readings are available. He thinks he has examples that show you can get the kind of reading Jason denies is possible. But I don’t think his examples show any such thing. Here are the examples he gives.
(5) If there were no philosophers, then the philosophers doing research in the field of applied ethics would be missed most painfully by the public.
(6) If there were no beer, everybody drinking beer on a regular basis would be much healthier.
(7) If I suddenly were the only person alive, I would miss the Frege scholars most.
These are all sentences of (more or less) the form If p were true, all Fs would be G, and they should all be interpreted a la our disambiguation above. That is, they should be interpreted as quantifying over actual _F_s, not things that would be F if p were true. But the existence of such sentences is completely irrelevant to the issue Jason is raising. The question isn’t whether there is an ambiguity in F, it is whether there is an ambiguity in C. And nothing Blome-Tillmann raises suggests Jason’s claim that there is no ambiguity in that position is wrong. So I don’t think his defence of the contextualist account of embedded knowledge ascriptions works.
I suspect the situation for the contextualist is actually a little worse than the above discussion suggests. I think (though I’m not sure I’ve got the dialectic right at this point) that the contextualist needs a reading of If p were true, all Fs would be G where it means:
- If p were true, every actual C that would be F would also be G.
The reason I think the contextualist needs that is that the contextualist, or at least the contextualist that Blome-Tillmann is defending analyses S knows that p as Every ~p possibility is ruled out by S’s evidence, and then insists that there is a contextual domain restriction on this, so it means something like Every ~p possibility (that I’m not properly ignoring) is ruled out by S’s evidence. They also want to accept that in a context where:
- I’m engaged in sceptical doubts;
- there is beer in the fridge
- I’ve forgotten what’s in the fridge; and
- I’ve got normal vision, so if I check the fridge I’ll see what’s in it
then (3) is still intutively false since we aren’t actually ignoring Cartesian doubts.
(3) If I were to look in the fridge and ignore Cartesian doubts, then I’d know there is beer in the fridge.
But the only way to get that to come out false, and false for the right reasons, is to fix on our actual quantifier domain restriction, but look at worlds that would be ruled out with the counterfactually available evidence. And I don’t see any reason to think that’s a possible disambiguation of embedded quantifiers.
Posted by Brian Weatherson in Uncategorized