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What are the characteristic features of Reliabilism, and how reliable is it?

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Introduction

What are the characteristic features of Reliabilism, and how reliable is it? Reliabilism, a category of theories in the philosophical discipline of epistemology, has been advanced both as a concept of knowledge and of justified belief. There is a short step between the two since knowledge is in itself justified true belief. Epistemological Reliabilism however demands reflection on a wider range of counterfactual situations when assessing the reliability of a process. To clarify this point, I use the example of Johanna looking out a window at the garden. Through her observation she comes to the belief that there is a bird in the garden. Johanna however is unknowingly myopic and if it were a fake bird she would be none the wiser. In this situation, Johanna's belief that there is a bird in front of her is justified since she doesn't realise she's myopic, but since the belief isn't true it can't constitute as knowledge. Here we can see that knowledge requires a process where all the relevant alternatives are accounted for. In this essay I am going to concentrate on Epistemological Reliabilism. I have decided to do this since my explanation of epistemological Reliabilism will include the theory of justified true beliefs, yet it is sounder in its complete formation. ...read more.

Middle

Since for any justified belief or instance of knowledge, one is able to classify numerous different, simultaneously operating processes from which the belief results. For example I form the belief that my computer is in front of me. But in order to justify the process by which I arrived at this belief I could provide a number of descriptions. Firstly I could state that the method of forming this belief was based on looking. Secondly I could say the method of forming the belief about the computer was based on me looking at it in the light. Thirdly I could explain I looked at the computer in the light with my glasses on. Such justification could carry on to the point where the case becomes specific to this instance. By narrowing the method to a single occasion, the process will only be a function of the truth or falsity of the belief. This amounts to nothing more than equating justification with truth and lack of justification with falsity. But if one is too general equally damaging presumptions could be made. For example I form the belief that I see my computer in front of me on the basis of looking, but what if the room was dark and the object that looked like a computer was 20 feet away from me? ...read more.

Conclusion

This is why our intuition leads us to deny Samantha's belief that the president is in New York. It is true to say that if we did inhabit a world where clairvoyance was reliable Samantha's case would be trivial and obvious. Furthermore it would not pose a threat on Reliabilism. Similarly in the case of the Cartesian demon-world, simple Reliabilism indicates that a person being deceived by an evil demon would be unjustified in their beliefs, although instinct tells us the contrary. This is because reasoning in our world includes methods such as sense perception which are generally reliable for acquiring beliefs. Therefore we need not even consider this evil demon world for Reliabilism wasn't designed to work in this hypothetical. Furthermore it is unreasonable to ask an epistemic evaluator to consider this hypothetical evil demon world. For if we require this, surely in order to be thorough we should also consider every possible world we can dream up which is clearly ridiculous. Therefore we should only take into account aspects of the actual world. In conclusion the Reliabilist theory is justified in arriving at its conclusions to the extent that one can claim reliability. For as I mention early on, one cannot find a method that is completely reliable in this world. But the intuitive proposal satisfies our request for generally reliable knowledge. ...read more.

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