Vector reliability: A new approach to epistemic justification

Synthese 136 (2):237 - 262 (2003)
Critics of reliability theories of epistemic justificationoften claim that the `generality problem' is an insurmountabledifficulty for such theories. The generality problem is theproblem of specifying the level of generality at which abelief-forming process is to be described for the purposeof assessing its reliability. This problem is not asintractable as it seems. There are illuminating solutionsto analogous problems in the ethics literature. Reliabilistsought to attend to utilitarian approaches to choices betweeninfinite utility streams; they also ought to attend towelfarist approaches to social choice situations that donot demand full aggregation of individual welfares.These analogies suggest that the traditional `single number'approach to reliability is misguided. I argue that a newapproach – the `vector reliability' approach – is preferable.Vector reliability theories associate target beliefs withreliability vectors – that is, structured collections ofreliability numbers – and construct criteria of epistemicjustification that appeal to these vectors. The bulk of thetheoretical labor involved in a reliability account of epistemicjustification is thus transferred from picking a uniquereliability number to constructing a plausible criterionof epistemic justification.
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