Over the past few weeks, I think I have been struggling to form an opinion about defining knowledge. We have looked at so many views of different philosophers that I finally came to terms with the fact that we, as humans, may not know anything. And in this week’s reading by Pritchard, the idea of Reliabilism states, if one has a justified belief that p, if and only if the belief is the result of a reliable process. For example if p=the sky is blue, but that is a factive sense, since the sky exists and is established that it exists through our brain (a sense organ). But then it had occurred to me, what if we went off of what Descartes talked about with A Priori: the evil demon that controls our experiences under the belief that we are making our own choices. This means that our beliefs would be justified. But is this necessarily reliable then? Pritchard defines reliabilism as something that, “holds that knowledge is reliably formed true belief. The idea behind such a position was to use the reliability requirement to capture the intuition that when one has knowledge one does not merely happen upon the truth, but rather one gets to the truth in a way that normally would ensure that one has a true belief” (Pritchard 63). However, we can alter this position by discussing epistemic virtues and cognitive faculties. If we take a conscientious person to determine that the sky is blue, it will be more probable that his/her belief is true, and we trust that her eyes (used to see that the sky is blue) are properly functioning.

However this method has its problem, such as the infamous problem of chicken sexing. Data has shown that the people distinguishing the chicks on what they see and touch is false, which questions the reliability of their claims. Are they using cognitive faculties or is this like Gettier’s situation in which this is purely luck. “The conflict of intuitions in play here relates to whether you think that it is always essential that ‘internal’ factors are involved in the acquisition of bona fide knowledge, such as the agent being in the possession of good reasons for believing what she does” (Pritchard 62). Because her belief is formed based on cognitive faculties, then her epistemic virtue is flawed because the conscientious decision was made based on “blindly” sorting the chicks. “…When it comes to cases like the chicken- sexer – as regards most instances of knowledge where both cognitive faculties and epistemic virtues are involved – they will tend to produce the same verdict.” I also found it interesting that epistemic externalists note that it may be that one can have knowledge while lacking certain grounds as long as they meet the other relevant conditions. What does this all mean? I think that it is important to understand that knowledge is defined differently by different people and the grounds in which a person may have knowledge may differ.

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8 thoughts on “Reliabilism

  1. I appreciate you mentioning that you are struggling with defining knowledge on a personal level. I also find that my perspective on the topic changes based on the different authors we read each week!
    Do you find the theory of reliabilism to be comforting? Personally, I find it an unsatisfying answer to epistemology. The proposition that P is a justified belief “only if the belief is the result of a reliable process” seems to linger in too much subjectivity. What is a “reliable process”? As Moore points out in his attack on skepticism, how can we even be sure what is certain… perhaps nothing is? If nothing is certain, it seems difficult to categorize anything as reliable. Thus, Pritchard (as with most authors in this class) has led me back to your frustrating conclusion that perhaps we do not actually know anything.

    1. Personally, I find the idea of reliabilism to be the opposite of comforting. Reliabilism entails that I rely on my senses for knowledge. Sometimes, I cannot know the evidence that causes me to believe something other than sense/feel/taste/smell and sight. For example, if I see a pen and recognize that it is pink, I am relying on my senses to do that. I have a justified belief that it is pink and that it is a pen based on what I see and feel. Even though I do not know the exact process that goes on in my brain as to how I know these things, I am relying on my senses to understand what is in front of me. This leaves a lot of room for discussion:
      1. Are my senses deceiving me, and how would I find out if they are?
      2. How can I rely on my senses if I do not know the exact processes that are occurring in my brain and body to cause me to have a specific belief?
      I find that there are multiple problems with the theory of reliablism.

    2. I agree that the idea of a reliable process seems to be so subjective and I’m sure some skeptics could turn that around and make every process seem skeptical and unreliable and Moore could then shift the skepticism back on them and it could be just a vicious cycle since it is so vague perhaps. However, I also think that there are so many ways to get knowledge and there may be not be on exact answer on what knowledge is and how it is gained, because for some things, I think the reliable process could really work depending on the person’s reasoning, but for others it may not because what could be considered a reliable source or process may not be so reliable especially when it comes to knowledge through experience or knowledge where there is no hard factual answer, or even if there is a hard factual answer, there are many ways to solve math problems and sometimes even the simplest ones we think we could answer one way, people are coming up with new and more complicated ways to get the same answer, so which one would be considered more reliable and which one not reliable at all to the point where you would be considered not to really know the answer, even if you did. I feel like all of the readings we have seen give a snippet or road to knowledge, but not only one, in my opinion, is the only correct road for everything.

  2. I completely agree with your statement: ” I think that it is important to understand that knowledge is defined differently by different people and the grounds in which a person may have knowledge may differ.” I have gone through this whole year wondering what the common ground is for a 1 true definition of knowledge. I’ve come to realize of late that that’s not going to happen. Knowledge (like a lot of what we talk about in philosophy) is too abstract a concept to define within the limits of our understanding. Rather the understanding of knowledge comes from wisdom. It comes from internal factors that YOU are responsible for. Pritchard argues that there are two types of people who define knowledge differently: epistemic internalists (gaining knowledge through epistemic virtues) and epistemic externalists (gaining knowledge through reliable cognitive faculties) (Pritchard 63). I believe this claim is false. Not that the definitions are false, rather that these are the two categories of people others will have to fit into to satisfy their definitions of knowledge. This is not the case, each individual’s definition of knowledge will be different for that individual, and there are no constraints or categories to confine said individual in. His or her gradual accumulation of wisdom through the years will sculpt out exactly where they stand on the knowledge issue, but it will be a different area they stand in compared to the rest of mankind

  3. Although there seem to be inherent flaws in reliabilism when studying knowledge in epistemology, I am willing to argue that it is actually a valid approach when looking for knowledge. Consider the scientific method, one of the most widely accepted ideas around the world. The scientific method requires a hypothesis. A hypothesis is simply an idea before put to the test of experiments and studies. After testing the hypothesis, one can determine the reliability of that idea. This method is the basis of the the three major fields of science that much of humanity has relied on as knowledge. Of course, there is always the problem of knowledge being a justified true belief; however, if all knowledge can not be justified in a skeptical approach, at least the reliable knowledge holds up to the tests in the real world.

  4. I also find the concept of reliabilism intriguing as a sharp contrast to Moore’s and Bostrom’s ideas of skepticism. As we struggle to define the fact that we truly “know” nothing, reliabilism serves to provide a somewhat coherent process for affirming whether or not we have knowledge in regards to a specific subject. However, like the differing perceptions of knowledge, a process to affirm said knowledge or to conclude a hypothesis can be radically different across different cultures and societies. It is in that vein that I agree with Bradley in the fact that epistemic internalists and epistemic externalists are simply too general to account for all of humanity. Many people may have a knowledge affirmation process that combines aspects of these two schools of thought, or something completely different overall. In conclusion culture has radical effects on someone’s perception, as we have continuously established throughout this class, however, we must also realize that culture radically alters how people study and cultivate and affirm knowledge as well.

    Furthermore, to respond to one of Natalie’s questions: “Are my senses deceiving me, and how would I find out if they are?” Using reliabilism I too cannot find any concrete way of discerning a way to determine the false nature of one’s senses. In the end I can only offer a conclusion similar to Bostrom: My Senses are too difficult to replicate, A “posthuman” society would not be interested in running simulations which would distort the senses of the simulations, or my senses are most certainly being deceived.

  5. In my opinion, reliabilism has both its merits and flaws, although both are quite subjective to every individual. In terms of merits, I feel as if reliabilism is a legitimate tool we can apply to different situations in order to discern whether we know something about the situation or not.
    Equally valid, however, are the arguments against reliabilism. For instance, we know that a process must be reliable in many applicable situations in order to come up with justified beliefs. But, an issue arises when we consider the fact that these so-called ‘applicable’ situations are (for the most part) probably different across cultures and societies, and therefore the playing field is not even. This, in turn, seems to take away some credibility to the theory of reliabilism.

  6. Has anyone considered the role that language plays in all of this? If our belief that the sky is blue is true, that truth is dependent on what is defined as “blue.” If one day, the word blue actually meant green meaning that what we see when we look at the color we’ve labeled as green is suddenly called blue, our belief is now false. The sky is no longer blue, it’s green even though we’re calling it blue. So I would agree that it is possible that we know nothing simply based on the fact that everything we say or think is subject to change based on the way things are labeled linguistically.

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