Knowing about Sexual Assault, Having Enough Evidence, and the Contextualist Fallacy

Knowing about Sexual Assault, Having Enough Evidence, and the Contextualist Fallacy

This post (very slightly edited) is cross-posted from my personal blog as part of UBC Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Earlier this month I wrote an op-ed in the Vancouver Sun about university sexual assault policies. One of the things I tried to do there was to draw a connection between some of the questions in that area and my own research into knowledge and contextualism. I tried to make the case that a kind of contextualist fallacy lies behind some attitudes about university sexual assault policies. I still think that’s plausible and interesting, although there are certainly competing possible explanations. But one tweet I received in response definitely commits the contextualist fallacy.

The contextualist fallacy is the failure to attend to the context-sensitivity of language, allowing for the construction of a superficially apparently-valid argument that is in fact fallacious. For example, the word ‘now’ is context-sensitive. Sometimes when it is used, it refers to 9:47 am Monday, Jan 18. (In fact, that’s the time that word refers to when I utter it right now.) Here is a true sentence:

1. It is before 10:00 Monday right now.

Actually, although it is before 10:00, it’s not very far before 10:00, when I have to teach. So I’d better come back and finish this post later.

Continue reading “Knowing about Sexual Assault, Having Enough Evidence, and the Contextualist Fallacy”

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