Epistemology for the Rest of the World
세계의 나머지 부분에 대한 인식론
दुनिया के बाकी के लिए ज्ञान - मीमांसा
An International Conference on Epistemology, Linguistic Diversity & Cultural Diversity
Since the heyday of ordinary language philosophy, epistemologists have devoted a great deal of attention to the English word ‘know’ and to English sentences used to attribute knowledge. When someone says “S knows that p”, what does the word ‘knows’ mean? What concept does it express? How should that concept be analyzed? More recently, contextualists have argued that the truth conditions for “S knows that p,” or the proposition it expresses, varies depending on the context of the speaker. Invariantists have used sophisticated linguistic arguments to challenge contextualism, and some of them, the subject-sensitive invariantists who embrace the pragmatic encroachment thesis, have gone on to claim that the truth conditions of ‘S knows that p’ are sensitive to factors like how important the truth of p is to S. In all of this literature, hypothetical cases play an important role. A situation is described, almost always in English, and then philosophers judge whether it is true that in that situation, S knows that p, or whether saying “S knows that p” is false, or deviant, or intuitively unacceptable. With the emergence of experimental philosophy, it has become increasingly common to present these scenarios to ordinary English speakers, and ask them to judge whether it’s true that S knows that p.
But English is just one of over 6000 languages spoken around the world. Though it is the third most common language, it is the native language of less than 6% of the world’s population. And when Western epistemology first emerged, in ancient Greece, English did not exist. So why should we think that facts about the English word “know,” the concept it expresses, or subtle semantic properties of “S knows that p” have important implications for epistemology?
One possible answer invokes what might be called the “universality thesis,” which claims that the properties of the English word “know” and the English sentence ‘S knows that p’ that have been studied by epistemologists are shared by the translations of these expressions in most or all languages. If the universality thesis is true, then the Chinese and Japanese and Korean and Hindi translations of ‘know’ all express the same concept. So when we have a good account of the concept expressed by the English verb ‘know’ we will have a good account of the concept of knowledge. And if it is established that contextualism is true for ‘S knows that p,’ then contextualism is true for knowledge attributions in most languages.
If the universality thesis turns out to be true, it will be a remarkable fact that cries out for an explanation. But there is currently very little reason to think that the universality thesis is true, since little or nothing is known about the meaning and use of epistemic terms in languages other than English. What little is known looks to point in the other direction. For example, in Japanese there are two words used to translate ‘know’ in propositional knowledge attributions, ‘Shitte-iru’ and ‘Wakatte-iru’, neither of which has the same extension as ‘know’.
If the universality thesis is false, what are the implications for epistemology? Should epistemologists study knowledge attributions in languages other than English with the same diligence they have shown for the study of English knowledge attributions? If not, why not? Are the concepts expressed by ‘Shitte-iru,’ ‘Wakatte-iru’ and the epistemic terms in other languages as important for epistemology as the concept expressed by ‘know’? If not, why not? If pragmatic encroachment is true for knowledge attributions in English but not for knowledge attributions in Korean, what, if anything, does this tell us about the questions that philosophers interested in epistemology have been asking since the Meno? Would findings like this support Allan Hazlett’s provocative suggestion that epistemologists should “stop looking at linguistic phenomena altogether?”
This conference will be bringing together philosophers, linguists, psychologists and social scientists from Asia and the West to discuss and debate both the empirical and the philosophical questions raised by linguistic and cultural diversity in the epistemic domain. Does the available evidence suggest that the universality thesis is false? If so, in what ways do the concepts expressed by ‘know’ and its counterparts in different languages differ? What do we know, and how can we learn more, about the workings of knowledge attributions in languages quite different from English? And what should philosophers interested in epistemology make of all this?
We strongly encourage participation by philosophers, linguists and psychologists who are knowledgeable about the languages and cultures of non-Western countries, and of Western philosophers who are interested in epistemology for the rest of the world.
Date and Venue:
August 8 and 9, 2013, Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (JAIST) Tokyo Satellite Office, Shinagawa Tokyo, Japan http://www.jaist.ac.jp/satellite/sate/eng/index.html
Stephen Stich, Rutgers University
Masaharu Mizumoto, JAIST
Yukihiro Nobuhara, Tokyo University
Eric McCready, Aoyama Gakuin University
People interested in presenting their work at the conference should send an Abstract to Prof. Masaharu Mizumoto ([email protected]).