About this topic
Summary The generality problem for reliabilism is the problem of determining, for any given belief, which belief-forming process type is relevant for justification-determining purposes. According to process reliabilism, a belief is justified just in case its relevant belief-forming process type is reliable, where the stock of belief-forming process types includes inferring, perceiving, and the like. The relevance criterion is important because any given belief belongs to any number of belief-forming process types. For example, my belief that I am currently looking at a computer belongs to the following belief-forming process types: visual perception (V1), visual perception under favorable conditions (V2), visual perception under favorable conditions at this very place and time (V3), and so on. Some belief-forming process types are more general than others. V2 is less general than V1, but more general than V3. And some process types are more reliable than others. V2 is more reliable than V1, but less reliable than V3. Taken together, these observations give rise to the generality problem. To continue the example, it is unclear which (if any) of V1-V3 is relevant for determining whether my belief is reliably produced and hence justified. If it is V1, my belief is moderately justified; if V2, highly justified; and if V3, impeccably justified (assuming V3 yields one and only one true belief). The challenge for process reliabilism (and perhaps other theories of justification) is to provide a principled method for determining, in such cases, which belief-forming process type is relevant, and to ensure that the type picked out as relevant is neither overly broad nor overly narrow. The generality problem has proven difficult to solve, and the verdict is out on which (if any) of the responses offered in the literature is satisfactory.
Key works The earliest statement of the generality problem appears in Goldman 1979. E. Conee & Feldman 1998 remains the most detailed and influential treatment of the generality problem. Attempts to solve the generality problem appear in Alston 1995, Wunderlich 2003, Beebe 2004, Becker 2008, Olsson 2015, and elsewhere. Levin 2002, Comesaña 2006, Bishop 2010, and Tolly 2017 offer parrying responses. 
Introductions A broad introduction appears in section 3 of Goldman 2008.
Related categories

39 found
  1. How to Think About Reliability.William P. Alston - 1995 - Philosophical Topics 23 (1):1-29.
  2. Thinking Twice About Virtue and Vice: Philosophical Situationism and the Vicious Minds Hypothesis.Guy Axtell - 2017 - Logos and Episteme 8 (1):7-39.
    This paper provides an empirical defense of credit theories of knowing against Mark Alfano’s challenges to them based on his theses of inferential cognitive situationism and of epistemic situationism. In order to support the claim that credit theories can treat many cases of cognitive success through heuristic cognitive strategies as credit-conferring, the paper develops the compatibility between virtue epistemologies qua credit theories, and dual-process theories in cognitive psychology. It also a response to Lauren Olin and John Doris’ “vicious minds” thesis, (...)
  3. Epistemic Luck and the Generality Problem.Kelly Becker - 2008 - Philosophical Studies 139 (3):353 - 366.
    Epistemic luck has been the focus of much discussion recently. Perhaps the most general knowledge-precluding type is veritic luck, where a belief is true but might easily have been false. Veritic luck has two sources, and so eliminating it requires two distinct conditions for a theory of knowledge. I argue that, when one sets out those conditions properly, a solution to the generality problem for reliabilism emerges.
  4. Developmental Process Reliabilism: On Justification, Defeat, and Evidence.Matthew S. Bedke - 2010 - Erkenntnis 73 (1):1 - 17.
    Here I present and defend an etiological theory of objective, doxastic justification, and related theories of defeat and evidence. The theory is intended to solve a problem for reliabilist epistemologies— the problem of identifying relevant environments for assessing a process's reliability. It is also intended to go some way to accommodating, neutralizing, or explaining away many internalist-friendly elements in our epistemic thinking.
  5. The Generality Problem, Statistical Relevance and the Tri-Level Hypothesis.James Beebe - 2004 - Noûs 38 (1):177 - 195.
    In this paper I critically examine the Generality Problem and argue that it does not succeed as an objection to reliabilism. Although those who urge the Generality Problem are correct in claiming that any process token can be given indefinitely many descriptions that pick out indefinitely many process types, they are mistaken in thinking that reliabilists have no principled way to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant process types.
  6. Why the Generality Problem is Everybody's Problem.Michael A. Bishop - 2010 - Philosophical Studies 151 (2):285 - 298.
    The generality problem is widely considered to be a devastating objection to reliabilist theories of justification. My goal in this paper is to argue that a version of the generality problem applies to all plausible theories of justification. Assume that any plausible theory must allow for the possibility of reflective justification—S's belief, B, is justified on the basis of S's knowledge that she arrived at B as a result of a highly (but not perfectly) reliable way of reasoning, R. The (...)
  7. What Does the Generality Problem Show?Audre Jean Brokes - 2001 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 82 (2):145–156.
  8. Three Questions About Leplin’s Reliabilism.David Christensen - 2007 - Philosophical Studies 134 (1):43-50.
    This paper raises three critical questions about Jarrett Leplin's version of reliabilism.
  9. A Well-Founded Solution to the Generality Problem.Juan Comesaña - 2006 - Philosophical Studies 129 (1):27-47.
  10. The Specificity of the Generality Problem.Earl Conee - 2013 - Philosophical Studies 163 (3):751-762.
    In “Why the generality problem is everybody’s problem,” Michael Bishop argues that every theory of justification needs a solution to the generality problem. He contends that a solution is needed in order for any theory to be used in giving an acceptable account of the justificatory status of beliefs in certain examples. In response, first I will describe the generality problem that is specific to process reliabilism and two other sorts of problems that are essentially the same. Then I will (...)
  11. Is There a Statistical Solution to the Generality Problem?Julien Dutant & Erik J. Olsson - 2013 - Erkenntnis 78 (6):1347-1365.
    This article is concerned with a statistical proposal due to James R. Beebe for how to solve the generality problem for process reliabilism. The proposal is highlighted by Alvin I. Goldman as an interesting candidate solution. However, Goldman raises the worry that the proposal may not always yield a determinate result. We address this worry by proving a dilemma: either the statistical approach does not yield a determinate result or it leads to trivialization, i.e. reliability collapses into truth (and anti-reliability (...)
  12. The Generality Problem for Reliabilism. E. Conee & R. Feldman - 1998 - Philosophical Studies 89 (1):1-29.
  13. Typing Problems.Richard Feldman & Earl Conee - 2002 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 65 (1):98-105.
    Guided by the work of William Alston, Jonathan Adler and Michael Levin propose a solution to the generality problem for reliabilism. In some respects their proposal improves on those we have discussed. We argue that the problem remains unsolved.
  14. The Generality Problem for Intellectualism.Joshua Habgood‐Coote - 2018 - Mind and Language 33 (3):242-262.
    According to Intellectualism knowing how to V is a matter of knowing a suitable proposition about a way of V-ing. In this paper, I consider the question of which ways of acting might figure in the propositions which Intellectualists claim constitute the object of knowledge-how. I argue that Intellectualists face a version of the Generality Problem – familiar from discussions of Reliabilism – since not all ways of V-ing are such that knowledge about them suffices for knowledge-how. I consider various (...)
  15. The Simple Solution to the Problem of Generality.Mark Heller - 1995 - Noûs 29 (4):501-515.
  16. The Generality Problem.Robert G. Hudson - 2004 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 42 (2):193-211.
  17. Linguistic Convergence in Verbs for Belief-Forming Processes.Martin L. Jönsson - 2015 - Philosophical Psychology 28 (1):114-138.
    This paper has two goals. First, it aims to investigate the empirical assumptions of a recent proposal due to Olsson (forthcoming), according to which the generality problem for process-reliabilism can be approached by recruiting patterns and models from the basic-level research in cognitive psychology. Second, the paper attempts to generalize findings in the basic-level literature pertaining to concrete nouns to the abstract verbs that denote belief-forming processes. I will demonstrate that verbs for belief-forming processes exhibit the kind of linguistic convergence (...)
  18. A Reliabilism Built on Cognitive Convergence: An Empirically Grounded Solution to the Generality Problem.Martin L. Jönsson - 2013 - Episteme 10 (3):241-268.
    Process-reliabilist analyses of justification and knowledge face the generality problem. Recent discussion of this problem turns on certain untested empirical assumptions that this paper investigates. Three experiments are reported: two are free-naming studies that support the existence of a basic level in the previously unexplored domain of names for belief-forming processes; the third demonstrates that reliability judgments for the basic-level belief-forming process types are very strongly correlated with the corresponding justification and knowledge judgments. I argue that these results lend support (...)
  19. A New Statistical Solution to the Generality Problem.Samuel Kampa - 2018 - Episteme 15 (2):228-244.
    The Generality Problem is widely recognized to be a serious problem for reliabilist theories of justification. James R. Beebe's Statistical Solution is one of only a handful of attempted solutions that has garnered serious attention in the literature. In their recent response to Beebe, Julien Dutant and Erik J. Olsson successfully refute Beebe's Statistical Solution. This paper presents a New Statistical Solution that countenances Dutant and Olsson's objections, dodges the serious problems that trouble rival solutions, and retains the theoretical virtues (...)
  20. A Diagnosis and Resolution to the Generality Problem.Klemens Kappel - 2006 - Philosophical Studies 127 (3):525-560.
    The purpose of this paper is to offer a diagnosis and a resolution to generality problem. I state the generality problem and suggest a distinction between criteria of relevance and what I call a theory of determination. The generality problem may concern either of these. While plausible criteria of relevance would be convenient for the externalist, he does not need them. I discuss various theories of determination, and argue that no existing theory of determination is plausible. This provides a case (...)
  21. How to Be A Reliabilist.Christoph Kelp - 2016 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.
    In this paper, I aim to develop a novel virtue reliabilist account of justified belief, which incorporates insights from both process reliabilism and extant versions of virtue reliabilism. Like extant virtue reliabilist accounts of justi- fied belief, the proposed view takes it that justified belief is a kind of competent performance and that competent performances require reliable agent abilities. However, unlike extant versions of virtue reliabilism, the view takes abilities to essentially involve reliable processes. In this way, the proposed takes (...)
  22. The Representation of Judgment Heuristics and the Generality Problem.Carole J. Lee - 2007 - Proceedings of the 29th Annual Cognitive Science Society:1211-6.
    In his debates with Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, Gerd Gigerenzer puts forward a stricter standard for the proper representation of judgment heuristics. I argue that Gigerenzer’s stricter standard contributes to naturalized epistemology in two ways. First, Gigerenzer’s standard can be used to winnow away cognitive processes that are inappropriately characterized and should not be used in the epistemic evaluation of belief. Second, Gigerenzer’s critique helps to recast the generality problem in naturalized epistemology and cognitive psychology as the methodological problem (...)
  23. In Defense of Reliabilism.Jarrett Leplin - 2007 - Philosophical Studies 134 (1):31 - 42.
    Objections to reliabilist theories of knowledge and justification have looked insuperable. Reliability is a property of the process of belief formation. But the generality problem apparently makes the specification of any such process ambiguous. The externalism of reliability theories clashes with strongly internalist intuitions. The reliability property does not appear closed under truth-preserving inference, whereas closure principles have strong intuitive appeal. And epistemic paradoxes, like the preface and the lottery, seem unavoidable if knowledge or justification depends on the frequency with (...)
  24. How to Make the Generality Problem Work for You.Christopher Lepock - 2009 - Acta Analytica 24 (4):275-286.
    Reliabilist theories of knowledge face the “generality problem”; any token of a belief-forming processes instantiates types of different levels of generality, which can vary in reliability. I argue that we exploit this situation in epistemic evaluation; we appraise beliefs in different ways by adverting to reliability at different levels of generality. We can detect at least two distinct uses of reliability, which underlie different sorts of appraisals of beliefs and believers.
  25. Is the Generality Problem Too General?Michael Levin - 2002 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 65 (1):87 - 97.
    Reliabilism holds that knowledge is true belief reliably caused. Reliabilists should say something about individuating processes; critics deny that the right degree of generality can be specified without arbitrariness. It is argued that this criticism applies as well to processes mentioned in scientific explanations. The gratuitous puzzles created thereby show that the “generality problem” is illusory.
  26. Is There a Well-Founded Solution to the Generality Problem?Jonathan D. Matheson - 2015 - Philosophical Studies 172 (2):459-468.
    The generality problem is perhaps the most notorious problem for process reliabilism. Several recent responses to the generality problem have claimed that the problem has been unfairly leveled against reliabilists. In particular, these responses have claimed that the generality problem is either (i) just as much of a problem for evidentialists, or (ii) if it is not, then a parallel solution is available to reliabilists. Along these lines, Juan Comesaña has recently proposed solution to the generality problem—well-founded reliabilism. According to (...)
  27. Belief‐Independent Processes and the Generality Problem for Reliabilism.Mark Mcevoy - 2005 - Dialectica 59 (1):19-35.
    The Generality Problem for process reliabilism is to outline a procedure for determining when two beliefs are produced by the same process, in such a way as to avoid, on the one hand, individuating process types so narrowly that each type is instantiated only once, or, on the other hand, individuating them so broadly that beliefs that have different epistemic statuses are subsumed under the same process type. In this paper, I offer a solution to the problem which takes belief‐independent (...)
  28. Reliabilism and Relativism.Robin McKenna - 2015 - In Proceedings of the 38th International Wittgenstein Society Conference.
    Process reliabilism says that a belief is justified iff the belief-forming process that produced it is sufficiently reliable. But any token belief-forming process is an instance of a number of different belief-forming process types. The problem of specifying the relevant type is known as the ‘generality problem’ for process reliabilism. This paper proposes a broadly relativist solution to the generality problem. The thought is that the relevant belief-forming process type is relative to the context. While the basic idea behind the (...)
  29. A Generality Problem for Bootstrapping and Sensitivity.Guido Melchior - 2014 - Croatian Journal of Philosophy 14 (1):31-47.
    Vogel argues that sensitivity accounts of knowledge are implausible because they entail that we cannot have any higher-level knowledge that our beliefs are true, not false. Becker and Salerno object that Vogel is mistaken because he does not formalize higher-level beliefs adequately. They claim that if formalized correctly, higher-level beliefs are sensitive, and can therefore constitute knowledge. However, these accounts do not consider the belief-forming method as sensitivity accounts require. If we take bootstrapping as the belief-forming method, as the discussed (...)
  30. The No-Miracles Argument, Reliabilism, and a Methodological Version of the Generality Problem.Mark Newman - 2010 - Synthese 177 (1):111 - 138.
    The No-Miracles Argument (NMA) is often used to support scientific realism. We can formulate this argument as an inference to the best explanation this accusation of circularity by appealing to reliabilism, an externalist epistemology. In this paper I argue that this retreat fails. Reliabilism suffers from a potentially devastating difficulty known as the Generality Problem and attempts to solve this problem require adopting both epistemic and metaphysical assumptions regarding local scientific theories. Although the externalist can happily adopt the former, if (...)
  31. A Naturalistic Approach to the Generality Problem.Erik J. Olsson - unknown
  32. What is Justified Credence?Richard Pettigrew - manuscript
    In this paper, we seek a reliabilist account of justified credence. Reliabilism about justified beliefs comes in two varieties: process reliabilism (Goldman, 1979, 2008) and indicator reliabilism (Alston, 1988, 2005). Existing accounts of reliabilism about justified credence comes in the same two varieties: Jeff Dunn’s is a version of process reliabilism (Dunn, 2015) while Weng Hong Tang offers a version of indicator reliabilism (Tang, 2016). As we will see, both face the same objection. If they are right about what justification (...)
  33. Does Reliabilism Have a Temporality Problem?Jeffrey Tolly - forthcoming - Philosophical Studies:1-18.
    Matthew Frise claims that reliabilist theories of justification have a temporality problem—the problem of providing a principled account of the temporal parameters of a process’s performance that determine whether that process is reliable at a given time. Frise considers a representative sample of principled temporal parameters and argues that there are serious problems with all of them. He concludes that the prospects for solving the temporality problem are bleak. Importantly, Frise argues that the temporality problem constitutes a new reason to (...)
  34. Swampman: A Dilemma For Proper Functionalism.Jeffrey Tolly - forthcoming - Synthese.
    Proper functionalism claims that a belief has epistemic warrant only if it’s formed according to the subject’s truth-aimed cognitive design plan. The most popular putative counter-examples to proper functionalism all involve agents who form beliefs in seemingly warrant-enabling ways that don’t appear to proceed according to any sort of design. The Swampman case is arguably the most famous scenario of this sort. However, some proper functionalists accept that subjects like Swampman have warrant, opting instead to adopt a non-standard account of (...)
  35. A Defense of Parrying Responses to the Generality Problem.Jeffrey Tolly - 2017 - Philosophical Studies 174 (8):1935-1957.
    The generality problem is commonly seen as one of the most pressing issues for process reliabilism. The generality problem starts with the following question: of all the process types exemplified by a given process token, which type is the relevant one for measuring reliability? Defenders of the generality problem claim that process reliabilists have a burden to produce an informative account of process type relevance. As they argue, without such a successful account, the reasonability of process reliabilism is significantly undermined. (...)
  36. Solving the Current Generality Problem.Kevin Wallbridge - 2016 - Logos and Episteme 7 (3):345-350.
    Many current popular views in epistemology require a belief to be the result of a reliable process (aka ‘method of belief formation’ or ‘cognitive capacity’) in order to count as knowledge. This means that the generality problem rears its head, i.e. the kind of process in question has to be spelt out, and this looks difficult to do without being either over or under-general. In response to this problem, I propose that we should adopt a more fine-grained account of the (...)
  37. The Temporal Generality Problem.Brian Weatherson - 2012 - Logos and Episteme 3 (1):117-122.
    The traditional generality problem for process reliabilism concerns the difficulty in identifying each belief forming process with a particular kind of process. Thatidentification is necessary since individual belief forming processes are typically of many kinds, and those kinds may vary in reliability. I raise a new kind of generality problem, one which turns on the difficulty of identifying beliefs with processes by which they were formed. This problem arises because individual beliefs may be the culmination of overlapping processes of distinct (...)
  38. Vector Reliability: A New Approach to Epistemic Justification.Mark E. Wunderlich - 2003 - Synthese 136 (2):237 - 262.
    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 (...)
  39. Inferentialism and Knowledge. Brandom's Arguments Against Reliabilism.José L. Zalabardo - forthcoming - Synthese:1-19.
    I take issue with Robert Brandom's claim that on an analysis of knowledge based on objective probabilities it is not possible to provide a stable answer to the question whether a belief has the status of knowledge. I argue that the version of the problem of generality developed by Brandom doesn't undermine a truth-tracking account of noninferential knowledge that construes truth-tacking in terms of conditional probabilities. I then consider Sherrilyn Roush's claim that an account of knowledge based on probabilistic tracking (...)