Chapter

Fallibilism

Jeremy Fantl and Matthew McGrath

in Knowledge in an Uncertain World

Published in print November 2009 | ISBN: 9780199550623
Published online May 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191722684 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199550623.003.0002
Fallibilism

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Fallibilism is the doctrine that it is possible to know that something is the case even though in some sense you could be wrong. This chapter begins by examining a number of senses in which you ‘could be’ wrong. The focus is on the strong epistemic conception: you can know that p even though you do not have epistemic probability 1 for p (or equivalently, there is some epistemic chance for you that not-p). Considerations of hypothetical gambles and of the accumulation of risks in large conjunctions give us reason to think that much knowledge is fallible in this sense. But this raises two serious problems. First, isn't the very statement of such fallible knowing simply mad? Consider ‘I know p but there is some chance that not-p’. Second, how can the fallibilist explain how strong your probability must be in order to know? The thesis that knowledge is compatible with only an insignificant chance of error seems to hold out hope for solving these problems. It is argued that the notion of insignificance needed is to be explained partly in terms of pragmatic factors: an insignificant chance of error for p is one that is idle — that does not stand in the way of p's being a proper basis for belief and action. Finally, a worry is raised concerning this pragmatist sort of fallibilism. If it is true, doesn't it follow that knowledge isn't merely a matter of strength of epistemic position, and so that ‘epistemological purism’ is false? The chapter closes with the suggestion that the fallibilist take seriously the possibility that purism is false, because of pragmatic encroachment.

Keywords: fallibilism; epistemological purism; probability; chance; knowledge; pragmatic encroachment

Chapter.  10697 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Mind

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