Assurance: An Austinian view of Knowledge and Knowledge Claims by Krista Lawlor


4658b04461d7fa9-261x361.jpg Author Krista Lawlor
Isbn 9780199657896
File size 2MB
Year 2013
Pages 240
Language English
File format PDF
Category philosophy


 

Assurance This page intentionally left blank Assurance An Austinian View of Knowledge and Knowledge Claims Krista Lawlor 1 3 Great Clarendon Street, Oxford, ox2 6dp, United Kingdom Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Oxford is a registered trade mark of Oxford University Press in the UK and in certain other countries # Krista Lawlor 2013 The moral rights of the author have been asserted First Edition published in 2013 Impression: 1 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of Oxford University Press, or as expressly permitted by law, by licence or under terms agreed with the appropriate reprographics rights organization. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside the scope of the above should be sent to the Rights Department, Oxford University Press, at the address above You must not circulate this work in any other form and you must impose this same condition on any acquirer British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Data available Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Data available ISBN 978–0–19–965789–6 Printed in Great Britain by MPG Books Group, Bodmin and King’s Lynn Links to third party websites are provided by Oxford in good faith and for information only. Oxford disclaims any responsibility for the materials contained in any third party website referenced in this work. To my son, Ian This page intentionally left blank Contents Introduction 1 1 The speech act of assurance 9 2 Austinian semantics 54 3 Austinian semantics and linguistic data 80 4 Paradox, probability, and inductive knowledge 117 5 Idiosyncrasy, disagreement, and the reasonable person standard 151 6 Assurance and radical skepticism 189 Bibliography Index 219 227 This page intentionally left blank Introduction We are asking ourselves: what do we do with a statement ‘I know . . . ’? . . . And that is how one must decide whether something is knowledge or not. Wittgenstein (1969, }230) There are a great many devices that can be used for making clear . . . what act it is we are performing when we say something—tone of voice, cadence, gesture—and above all we can rely upon the nature of the circumstances, the context in which the utterance used . . . Still, in spite of all these devices there is an unfortunate amount of ambiguity . . . If I say something like ‘I shall be there’, it may not be certain whether it is a promise, or an expression of intention or perhaps even a forecast of my future behavior . . . and it may matter a good deal . . . precisely which of these things it is. And that is why the explicit performative verb is evolved—to make clear exactly which it is, how far it commits me and in what way and so forth. Austin (1979a) Wittgenstein and Austin both advise us to start our study of knowledge with knowledge claims, beginning with what one does when one says ‘I know . . . ’. What is it that one does with such statements? The simple answer is—one claims to know something.1 But claiming to know is more than making a report about one’s epistemic position. In claiming to know, one offers one’s assurance to others. When one claims to know that one’s phone is working again after the outage or that the 1 One can of course say many things with ‘I know’, not all of them involving a claim to know. For instance, one can give encouragement to a listener, or indicate boredom (‘I know, I know . . . ’). I’ll be focusing on cases in which one uses ‘I know’ to give an explicit assurance, and ‘He knows’ to communicate information about who has assurance-giving power. 2 INTRODUCTION meteor shower begins tonight, one offers an assurance to the effect that these things are true. And when one seeks out someone who can answer a question, one seeks someone who knows—one seeks someone who can give sound assurances. What sort of thing is an assurance such that it can express a claim to know? And what sort of thing is knowledge such that it can be claimed by an assurance? In answering these questions, J. L. Austin will be my guide. Austin’s work on language and knowledge has been under a cloud, in part, because developments in the philosophy of language made his methods look questionable. Gricean pragmatics made Austin’s use of so-called ‘ordinary language analysis’ seem simple-minded; this formed the basis of criticisms from important epistemologists, especially Barry Stroud. To make matters worse, Austin himself never produced a connected statement of the way his insights into language and knowledge fit together. So Austin is largely neglected when philosophers try to understand knowledge and knowledge claims.2 I think this neglect of Austin is a mistake. My aim in this work is to articulate the relation Austin sees between knowledge and assurance. Doing so yields a unified view, a view that speaks powerfully to many pressing questions about knowledge and knowledge claims. Questions such as: How do practical interests affect the truth of our knowledge claims? How can one’s claim to know something be true, despite deep disagreement with one’s interlocutors? Austin’s insights about knowledge, speech acts, and the semantics of natural language produce a mutually supporting set of answers to three intertwined questions: What is knowledge?, What is distinctive about the speech act of claiming knowledge (that is, assurance)?, and What is the right semantic account of knowledge claims? Austin himself, of course, does not tell a unified story about knowledge and knowledge claims that addresses these questions. But the elements of such a story are to be found in Austin’s writings. In this work, I offer an account, inspired by Austin, sometimes expanding significantly on what he says, that addresses these three intertwined questions. 2 Happy exceptions include Travis (2008) and Kaplan (2000). On the philosophy of language side, Austinian views have fared better; see, for example, Alston (2000) and Récanati (1988). As this book was going to press, Gustafsson and Sorli (2011) was published, too late, regrettably, to bring to bear on the work here. INTRODUCTION 3 To give a brief overview: first, Austin suggests that when we claim to know a proposition, we perform a distinctive speech act. We don’t simply state a fact—we give our assurance. For example: you: Is the electricity back on yet? me: Yes, it’s on just now. you: Are you sure? me: Yes, I know it is—I’ve got the radio on. The speech act of assurance is not the speech act of assertion. This can be lost to view, in part because they share important features and in part because our assurances can sometimes be expressed with simple declarative sentences. For instance, in our little dialogue, I could be giving my assurance with my first remark, or give it simply by saying emphatically, ‘Yes—I’ve got the radio on’ or ‘Yes, I’m quite sure—the radio’s on.’ The surface grammar is only a rough guide to when one gives an assurance. (For this reason as Austin notes, to be explicit we use ‘I know’ when giving an assurance.) Though easily mistaken, an assurance is not an assertion. With an assurance, one ‘takes a new plunge.’ One does not just vouch for the truth of what one claims, as one does with an assertion of fact. Austin writes: ‘Swear’, ‘guarantee’, ‘give my word’, ‘promise’ all these and similar words cover cases both of ‘knowing’ and of ‘promising’, thus suggesting the two are analogous. Of course they differ subtly from each other; for example, know and promise are in a certain sense ‘unlimited’ expressions, while when I swear, I swear upon something, and when I guarantee I guarantee that, upon some adverse and more or less to be expected circumstance arising, I will take some more or less definite action to nullify it.3 Austin notes that in both cases of claiming to know and promising, the kind of guarantee one offers is somehow ‘unlimited.’ I will argue that for Austin, in the first instance, assurance giving requires being ready with reasons that would satisfy all comers.4 When I assure you the electricity is on, I stand ready with an unlimited guarantee—I’m ready with reasons you should rest assured the electricity is on, no matter what your doubts might be. Nonetheless, Austin himself also notes that knowledge claims are made 3 Austin (1946, p. 173, note). 4 Eventually, we will have to modify this claim to take account of chains of assurance giving. 4 INTRODUCTION with an expectation of reasonableness of one’s interlocutors. Assuring is like promising, as Austin often notes; in each I give a guarantee against all the ways I could fail to deliver, to all comers—but only—and here is a crucial qualification—insofar as they are reasonable. This fact brings us to the second strand of my Austin-inspired story. The second strand concerns not just assurances or knowledge claims, but knowledge itself. Austin advocates what I call a ‘reasonable alternatives theory’ of knowledge. His view is very like the familiar ‘relevant alternatives theory’, on which knowing that p (where p is a proposition) requires being in a position to rule out all the relevant alternatives to p.5 Again, Austin emphasizes what is reasonable to expect from one’s evidence, in terms of its power to rule out alternatives: Enough is enough: it doesn’t mean everything. Enough means enough to show that (within reason, and for present intents and purposes) it ‘can’t’ be anything else, there is no room for an alternative, competing, description of it.6 For Austin, knowing a proposition requires being in a position to rule out all the reasonable alternatives to the proposition. When we view knowledge itself, as Austin does, in terms of having reasons sufficient to rule out all reasonable alternatives, there is a link between assurance giving and knowledge. Knowledge claims are offered with assurances because assurances are the sort of things given against reasonable alternatives. Austin’s emphasis on the role of reasonableness in assurance giving, and in knowledge, will be a theme in the view I will develop. A sound assurance is a true assurance—it is backed by one’s knowledge. But when are assurances true? The third strand of the Austin-inspired story concerns how assurances, or knowledge claims, are true or false. Austin tells us that all utterances are true only with respect to the situation in which they are made.7 An utterance is true if there is a match between (i) what we might call ‘the descriptive content’ of one’s claim and (ii) the situation one is talking about (where situations comprise particular individuals and facts). When we apply this insight to assurances in particular, 5 Dretske (1970, 1981). Relevant alternatives theory has been criticized for vagueness, or for being a kind of useless dogleg, or for not being able to account for inductive knowledge (DeRose 2009; Vogel (1999)) I will try to address these challenges, in articulating an Austinian reasonable alternatives account. 6 Austin (1946, p. 154–5) (my emphasis). 7 See ‘Truth’, in Austin (1979b). INTRODUCTION 5 we get a promising new account of the semantics of knowledge claims that combines the virtues of contextualism and invariantism about the semantics of knowledge claims. These strands in Austin’s work form a unified account of assurances and knowledge. Knitting together the three strands of the Austinian story will be one of my goals. We see the outline already, but just the bare outline. We will come to see in detail the way that the semantic theory, the theory of assurance as a speech act, and the substantive account of knowledge support and inform each other. The central idea running through the whole is that of reasonableness. This is, I believe, one of Austin’s key achievements: unearthing the way in which the concept of reasonableness underwrites our concepts of knowledge and assurance. In what follows, I hope to show how systematic thinking about assurances along Austinian lines helps us to resolve some of the most interesting and difficult puzzles in epistemology. Here is a brief guide to the book. In the first chapter, we look at the distinctive speech act that is assurance. Austin notes that ‘I know’ serves a purpose—the purpose of making clear ‘how far it commits me and in what way and so forth.’ This suggests we should look to the normative dimensions of assurance to see what is distinctive about it. We find that the norms governing assurances as speech acts are distinct from the norms governing assertions. Moreover, we find that assurance givers and receivers have commitments that they can only shoulder by appeal to a standard of reasonableness. So there is a link between knowledge and assurance. When we view knowledge itself, as Austin does, in terms of having reasons sufficient to rule out all reasonable alternatives, and we view assurance as a guarantee against reasonable alternatives, it turns out the link between assurance giving and knowledge is forged by a notion of reasonableness. In the second chapter, we build the notion of reasonable alternatives into the foundation of an Austinian semantic theory for knowledge claims. As we will see, the Austinian semantic account turns out to combine features of both contextualism and invariantism to produce a powerful fusion. The resulting view is a new form of contextualism that helps to resolve some standing problems for contextualists.8 The view rejects one aspect of more familiar forms of contextualism, namely, that the meaning or 8 Contextualism has been defended very ably by Cohen and DeRose among others (Cohen (1986, 1988, 1999, 2000; DeRose 2009). See also Neta (2002, 2003) and Blome-Tillman 6 INTRODUCTION alternatively the semantic contribution of ‘knows’ shifts with context.9 The Austinian maintains invariant meaning of ‘knows’ and invariant semantic content of knowledge claims, while allowing for context sensitivity of the truth values of knowledge claims. The possibility of combining the context sensitivity of truth values with the invariance of semantics of ‘knows’ is an important possibility, not yet explored.10 I will argue that it gives us what we need in order to make sense of some perplexing features of our practice with knowledge claims. In Chapter 3 I consider some linguistic data about our use of ‘knows.’ We will see how Austinian semantics resolves some puzzles that challenge other semantic accounts of knowledge claims. We’ll see more specifically how the Austinian account differs from more standard forms of contextualism, as well as Subject Sensitive Invariantism and Assessment Relativism. My aim in this chapter is not to offer a full-blown evaluation of all the contending views—others have already done that work, and better than I could.11 My aim is to demonstrate the power of the Austinian view, especially for resolving some outstanding problems for contextualists. Chapter 4 looks at some paradoxes in epistemology that can be resolved in light of the Austinian view of assurances. I consider paradoxes owing to Vogel, Cohen, and Hawthorne. Underlying these challenges is a skeptical ‘argument from ignorance’, where our lack of knowledge of merely probable propositions is made to spread.12 The Austinian view of knowledge, with its corresponding semantics, permits an answer to the 2009a,b). In several key respects, contextualists still face difficulties that the Austinian approach can resolve. 9 Semantic Contextualists sometimes differ about whether it is the linguistic meaning of ‘knows’ or the semantic content of knowledge claims that varies with context. (Sometimes it is not clear which it is that a given author thinks varies with context.) I believe the idea that the meaning or the semantic contribution of ‘knows’ is context sensitive should be rejected if we are to account for curious features of our linguistic usage (see Chapters 2 and 3). 10 In fact, it is little understood. Recently, MacFarlane (2009) identifies just such a view and does a lot of work to make it intelligible. See Chapter 2 for brief discussion of the contrast between Austinian contextualism and the non-indexical contextualism MacFarlane identifies. Travis (2008) argues that Austin offers a unique semantics that can be applied to knowledge claims, but leaves the difference between Austin and more standard contextualisms underspecified; Travis also links his semantic story to disjunctivism about perceptual knowledge, which is not a link I believe we need to make in order to develop an Austinian response to skepticism. 11 See especially MacFarlane (2008) and Hawthorne (2004). 12 Unger (1975). INTRODUCTION 7 argument from ignorance. To resolve the skeptical paradoxes, we must focus on how we have knowledge of merely probable propositions, and once again appeal to a standard of reasonableness will be central. Focus on our knowledge of merely probable propositions naturally leads to further questions about the broad category of inductive knowledge. I show that, contrary to what some believe, a reasonable alternatives theory can provide an account of inductive knowledge. In Chapter 5 I turn to explore further the hurdles we face in assurance giving. One constant hurdle we face is ignorance of the needs of our interlocutors. Another less constant hurdle we face is disagreement. Sometimes one receives assurances one cannot accept or, alternatively, one gives assurance but one’s audience cannot be assured. What happens to the truth or falsity of one’s knowledge claims in such cases? We find that the notion of reasonableness again plays a crucial role. The Austinian view, which makes reasonableness fundamental to the notions of knowledge and assurance, explains how what we say can be true or false, despite these hurdles. In contrast to recent ‘practical interests theory’,13 the Austinian holds that there are limits on the extent to which idiosyncratic practical concerns of listeners can affect the truth or falsity of our knowledge claims, and in contrast to some contextualists14 the Austinian holds that disputed claims can be true despite active disagreement between speakers and hearers. In this chapter I also provide a substantive characterization of the reasonable person standard, and describe how it helps to determine the set of reasonable alternatives in a given situation. The notion of reasonableness also lies at the heart of radical skeptical challenges, which is the topic of the sixth and final chapter. Contrary to many readers of Austin, I believe that Austin’s insights into the nature of our practice of making and challenging knowledge claims holds important anti-skeptical power. I want to enter a note about the spirit of the text. This is not a scholarly discussion of Austin’s work: I do not propose alternative interpretations of his work and defend my own with the tools of historical analysis. I beg the reader’s understanding here. My aim is to produce a view that is Austinian, drawing on what I take to be his central claims and extending them as well. 13 Stanley (2005); Fantl and McGrath (2009). 14 See especially DeRose (2009). 8 INTRODUCTION I am very grateful to the anonymous readers of the manuscript and to Peter Momtchiloff for all his work and encouragement. Thanks for helpful comments to Sam Asarnow, Peter Hawke, Dan Halliday, Arezoo Islami, Meica Magnani, Katy Meadows, Grant Rozeboom, Adam Simon, Laurel Scotland-Stewart, Hywote Taye, Greg Taylor, Han van Wietmarschen, and Jessica Williams. Special thanks to Wes Holiday for many helpful and enjoyable discussions. And always I’m grateful to and for David, for everything. Krista Lawlor 1 The speech act of assurance We all feel the very great difference between saying even ‘I’m absolutely sure’ and saying ‘I know’: it is like the difference between saying even ‘I firmly and irrevocably intend’ and ‘I promise’. Austin (1946) Let’s begin with what we do when we say ‘I know . . . ’. Austin thinks one can perform a distinctive speech act with ‘I know . . . ’; to have a name for it, I call this the act of assurance.1 When one claims ‘I know that the phone is working again’ after the outage or ‘I know the meteor shower begins tonight,’ one performs a special sort of act, different in kind than simply asserting ‘the phone is working again’ or ‘the shower begins tonight.’ In the next chapter we will develop Austin’s suggestions about the semantics of the knowledge claim expressed by an act of assurance. And in subsequent chapters, we’ll see how Austin’s view of assurance as a speech act combines with the semantic story to yield a powerfully explanatory view. The task for the present is to begin to understand assurance as a speech act. Admittedly, the individuation of speech acts is a somewhat murky business. We start with the fact that we hear various ways of expressing a proposition as distinct, and we interpolate from our usage the purposes, effects on hearers, and commitments that seem to be characteristic of the distinct speech acts being performed. My first aim in this chapter is to begin to flesh out what makes assurance distinctive. When we look closer, we will find that assurance is distinguished from assertion in its purpose, its effects on hearers, and in the commitments it engenders on the part of both assurance giver and receiver. As we will see, one of the most 1 The term ‘assurance’ has many uses—for instance, game theorists use ‘assurance game’ for a kind of cooperative game known as the ‘Stag Hunt.’ The term also arises in theories of testimony. 10 THE SPEECH ACT OF ASSURANCE important distinctive features of assurance is the role a standard of reasonableness plays in giving and receiving assurances. Seeing exactly how assurance is distinct from assertion is a difficult task, made that much more difficult by the fact that there is little agreement about what assertion is. Moreover, assurance and assertion share important features, and—to make matters worse—our assurances can sometimes be expressed with simple declarative sentences. I give my assurance with ‘I know the meeting is next week’ but in the right circumstances, I can also give an assurance by saying ‘Yes, I’m quite sure—it’s next week’ or in the right circumstances even simply by saying emphatically, ‘Yes—it’s next week.’ Surface grammar is only a rough guide to when one gives an assurance.2 Since I cannot simply help myself to a widely agreed view of assertion, so as to compare assertion and assurance, my strategy will be to start with normative dimensions of assurance, where we ‘feel a difference’ in the speech acts. Austin encourages us to compare assurance and promising. I take this suggestion and show how assurance answers a distinctive interest of ours, and generates distinctive commitments, on the part of both the giver and receiver of assurances. What we will find is that speaker and hearer are only in a position to assume the commitments and obligations of assurance if they can make tacit appeal to a standard of reasonableness. My other aim in this chapter is to show how the Austinian story about assurance that I tell connects with an Austinian story about knowledge. Although Austin tells us about what it takes to know something, he never draws an explicit connection between his view of assurance and his substantive view about knowledge. I believe there is a connection here, and a goal of this chapter is to make the connection explicit. When we view knowledge itself, as I believe Austin does, as requiring reasons sufficient to rule out all reasonable alternatives, and we view assurance as a guarantee against reasonable alternatives, it turns out there is a link between assurance giving and knowledge: what makes for this link is the role of reasonableness in both assurance giving and knowledge. While I cannot hope to address all possible objections to the idea that there is a special link between assurance and knowledge, I will address one possible objection: some would see assertion, instead, as the speech act that is intimately linked to knowledge. Specifically, as some would have it, 2 See Austin (1979a, p. 242) and Saddock (2004). NORMATIVE DIMENSIONS OF ASSURANCE 11 assertion is the speech act governed by a norm of knowledge.3 And if assertion is thus intimately linked to knowledge, what relation to knowledge could assurance have—indeed, why think there is a distinctive speech act of assurance at all? In section 5 I address an argument based on the so-called knowledge account of assertion, to the effect that we should be skeptical about the idea that there is a speech act of assurance, with special connections to knowledge. In response, I will turn this argument on its head: compelling criticisms of the knowledge account of assertion point to the existence of assurance. I should add that I do not aim to give an exhaustive characterization of the speech act of assurance, and still less to settle disputes in the theory of speech acts. The link between assurance and knowledge is a very large topic, covering territory in theory of knowledge as well as the epistemology of testimony. With respect to the latter, we will only begin to see some of the issues emerge from our study, issues which in most cases we will only be able to note in passing.4 My aims are to investigate what makes assurance a distinctive speech act, to understand the role that a notion of reasonableness plays in making that speech act possible, and to investigate the link between knowledge and assurance suggested by Austin. 1.1 Normative dimensions of assurance Austin himself repeatedly encourages us to compare assurances with promises. For instance: When I say ‘S is P’, I imply at least that I believe it, and, if I have been strictly brought up, that I am (quite) sure of it . . . But now, when I say ‘I promise’, a new plunge is taken: I have not merely announced my intention, but, by using this formula (performing this ritual), I have bound myself to others, and staked my reputation, in a new way. Similarly, saying ‘I know’ is taking a new plunge . . . When I say I know, I give others my word: I give others my authority for saying that S is P’.5 Williamson (1996, 2000); DeRose (2002, 2009). For instance, I only give a passing nod to issues about knowledge transmission, and about the relation between speaker and hearer, about which See Moran (2005). Noting the fact that in assertion one vouches for the truth of a claim, Moran is led to call assertions ‘assurances.’ The choice of terminology I favor requires separating assertions from the distinct speech act that I call ‘assurances’, but nothing in my choice of terminology reflects disagreement with Moran’s project. I would enter the same note about the need to distinguish assertion and assurance in other work on testimony (for instance, Fricker (2006) and Weiner (2003)). 5 Austin (1946, p. 171) (my emphasis). 3 4

Author Krista Lawlor Isbn 9780199657896 File size 2MB Year 2013 Pages 240 Language English File format PDF Category Philosophy Book Description: FacebookTwitterGoogle+TumblrDiggMySpaceShare Claiming to know is more than making a report about one’s epistemic position: one also offers one’s assurance to others. What is an assurance? In this book, Krista Lawlor unites J. L. Austin’s insights about the pragmatics of assurance-giving and the semantics of knowledge claims into a systematic whole. The central theme in the Austinian view is that of reasonableness: appeal to a ‘reasonable person’ standard makes the practice of assurance-giving possible, and lets our knowledge claims be true despite differences in practical interests and disagreement among speakers and hearers. Lawlor provides an original account of how the Austinian view addresses a number of difficulties for contextualist semantic theories, resolves closure-based skeptical paradoxes, and helps us to tread the line between acknowledging our fallibility and skepticism.     Download (2MB) Rethinking Epistemology, Volume: 2 Proof Theory of N4-Paraconsistent Logics The Dynamics of Thought Proof-theoretic Semantics Reasons and Intentions in Law and Practical Agency Load more posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *