This chapter is an introduction to how the combination of two views – semantic minimalism and speech act pluralism (‘SM+SAP’, for short) – can be used to explain some aspects of our practice of making knowledge attributions. SM+SAP wasn’t developed to account for issues in epistemology in particular. It was proposed as a solution to a very general linguistic phenomenon – a phenomenon that also happens to be exhibited by sentences containing ‘knows’. The chapter is structured as follows:
I first outline the general linguistic phenomenon/puzzle: how to resolve a tension between inter-contextual stability and variability, and I show how that puzzle arises with respect to sentences containing ‘knows’.
The next section outlines speech act pluralism and the arguments for it.
I then outline semantic minimalism and the arguments for it.
I show how SM+SAP explains the data/puzzle we started with.
The final section outlines how SM+SAP has been used to defend skepticism.
First, a brief overview of where these topics are first discussed and the subsequent literature. There is now an extensive literature on semantic minimalism, speech act pluralism and their combination. Most of the discussion of those views is general, i.e., is not specifically about their application to epistemically relevant terminology. In what follows I focus on the version presented in Cappelen and Lepore (2004). Extensive discussion of the proposal in that book can be found in, e.g., Preyer (2007). A version of semantic minimalism is presented by Borg (2004, 2012). Relativism, e.g., the version advocated by John MacFarlane (2014), is also a version of minimalism, but that won’t be discussed here. 1 A version of speech act pluralism is first advocated by Salmon (1991) and Cappelen and Lepore (1997), and later taken up by Soames (2002). While semantic minimalism is often discussed in connection with efforts to understand the semantic features of ‘knows’, speech act pluralism is less often appealed to, but one such effort is found in Cappelen (2005).
This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge in The Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Contextualism in March 2017, available online: https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315745275