Do stakes impact knowledge ascription? According to a prominent claim in recent epistemology, people are generally less likely to ascribe knowledge to a high stakes subject for whom the practical consequences of error are severe, than to a low stakes subject for whom the practical consequences of error are slight, even when “traditional” epistemic factors like evidence and belief are held fixed (So for example, people are less likely to agree that Sarah knows that she parked her car on the upper level, if an armed robber is lurking on the lower level).
The claim that stakes impact knowledge ascriptions holds intrinsic interest to anyone interested in the psychological basis of knowledge ascriptions. It holds further interest to epistemologists because it features as the lead premise in an abductive argument to the radical claim—defended by Fantl & McGrath (2002), Hawthorne (2004), Stanley (2005)—that knowledge itself is sensitive to stakes. And, it holds a different sort of interest to experimental philosophers as an empirical claim made from the armchair.
Given all of this interest, it is perhaps unsurprisingly that so many different philosophers over the last few years have beugn studying the behavioral role that stakes could be playing in people's knowledge judments. There was a "first wave" of empirical studies—due to Feltz & Zarpentine (2010), May et al (2010), and Buckwalter (2010)—which casted doubt on folk stakes sensitivity. Then, there was a "second wave" of empirical studies—due to Pinillos (2012) and Sripada & Stanley (2012)—said to vindicate it. (And see great posts summarzing the major findings of the second wave experimental philsophers here on xphi and over on certain doubts by N. Angel Pinillos and by Jason Stanley.)
For those interested in the latest on stakes, or are maybe just getting into this debate for the first time, Jonathan Schaffer and I have recently finished a new paper offering an opinionated discussion of the “state of the art” of this research. In our paper, we review the first and second wave results above, as well as present a few new studies of our own. We conclude that the balance of evidence to date still best supports the folk stakes insensitivity thesis--or the claim that all else equal, people are equally likely to ascribe knowledge to a high stakes subject as to a low stakes subject.