A reliabilist solution to the problem of promiscuous bootstrapping

Analysis 69 (2):263-267 (2009)
Hilary Kornblith
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Jonathan Vogel has presented a disturbing problem for reliabilism. 1 Reliabilists claim that knowledge is reliably produced true belief. Reliabilism is, of course, a version of externalism, and on such a view, a knower need have no knowledge, no justified belief, indeed, no conception that his or her belief is reliably produced. It is the fact that the knower's true belief is reliably produced which makes it a case of knowledge, not any appreciation of this fact. But Vogel now argues that reliabilists will, by a process he calls ‘bootstrapping’, far too easily gain knowledge of the reliability of the processes by which their knowledge is produced. For the reliabilist, knowledge which should be difficult to come by is quite easily and trivially attainable, Vogel argues. And this, of course, seems to show a fundamental flaw in the reliabilist conception of knowledge.One solution to this puzzle is offered by van Cleve . Bootstrapping may seem unattractive, van Cleve claims, but only when we fail to consider the alternative. Any epistemological view which does not legitimate bootstrapping, he argues, will inevitably lead to scepticism. And if the choice is between bootstrapping and scepticism, van Cleve will happily accept bootstrapping.It would be nice, certainly, if we could avoid this unpalatable dilemma.Vogel's argument is disturbingly straightforward. Suppose that Roxanne gains knowledge that the gas tank in her car is full by looking at her gas gauge, and let us further suppose that Roxanne has no reason at all to believe that her gas gauge is reliable. As Vogel points out, reliabilists cannot object to these assumptions. Precisely because reliabilism is a version of externalism, reliabilists must allow that there are cases meeting these very conditions. That is, reliabilists must allow that one can gain knowledge by way of a …
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DOI 10.1093/analys/anp012
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References found in this work BETA

Basic Knowledge and the Problem of Easy Knowledge.Stewart Cohen - 2002 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 65 (2):309-329.
Reliabilism Leveled.Jonathan Vogel - 2000 - Journal of Philosophy 97 (11):602-623.
Why Basic Knowledge is Easy Knowledge.Stewart Cohen - 2005 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 70 (2):417 - 430.

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