Mon Jan 30, 2012
Howison Library, 4–6 PM
Wesley Holliday (Stanford University)
Fallibilism and the Limits of Closure
Skeptical arguments in the tradition of Descartes have persuaded many philosophers that if there is to be any knowledge of the world, then there must be some knowledge despite uneliminated possibilities of error. A form of fallibilism must be true. Similar arguments have persuaded some philosophers to reject the idea of full epistemic closure, (roughly) the idea that one must know everything that one knows to be implied by what one knows. Yet others have attempted to maintain fallibilism and closure. Both ways of being a fallibilist, with and without closure, seem to face serious problems. On one hand, there is a Problem of Vacuous Knowledge: according to standard fallibilist views that try to support full closure, one can know that possibilities of error do not obtain—despite finding no mark or test by which to eliminate them—simply in virtue of their irrelevance or remoteness, or thanks to “low epistemic standards.” (According to others, after coming to know a proposition without eliminating some possibilities in which it is false, one can turn right around and use that new knowledge to come to know that those very possibilities do not obtain, thanks to closure.) On the other hand, there is a Problem of Containment: according to standard fallibilist views that do not support full closure, failures of closure spread to even apparently innocuous closure principles, such as the principle that knowing a conjunction requires knowing each conjunct. In this talk, I explore these problems and propose a solution. Guided by formal-epistemological results, I arrive at a fallibilist view in which the skeptic’s dangerous closure principles fail, innocuous closure principles hold, and there is no vacuous empirical knowledge.