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Reliabilism, a category of theories in the philosophical discipline of epistemology, has been advanced as a theory both of justification and of knowledge. Process reliabilism has been used as an argument against philosophical skepticism, such as the brain in a vat thought experiment. [1] Process reliabilism is a form of epistemic externalism. [1] A broadly reliabilist theory of knowledge is roughly as follows:

Philosophy intellectual and/or logical study of general and fundamental problems

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust? Do humans have free will?

Epistemology A branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge.

The theory of justification is a part of epistemology that attempts to understand the justification of propositions and beliefs. Epistemologists are concerned with various epistemic features of belief, which include the ideas of justification, warrant, rationality, and probability. Loosely speaking, justification is the reason that someone (properly) holds a belief.


Reliabilism breaks into four branches. Firstly, Process Reliabilism focuses on the contribution of the truth, mainly the process of producing reliable or certain belief. Secondly, Virtue Reliabilism focuses on the agent’s believing performance and the agent’s rational traits. Thirdly, Anti- luck Reliabilism focuses on the truth of conduciveness of the token-process constructing a certain belief or knowledge. Lastly, Proper Function Reliabilism focuses on the requirement for the purposeful fit between mind and world. The objection of reliabilism is mainly about the difficulties of coming to a proper formulation.

A broadly reliabilist theory of justified belief can be stated as follows:

One has a justified belief that p if, and only if, the belief is the result of a reliable process.

Moreover, a similar account can be given (and an elaborate version of this has been given by Alvin Plantinga) for such notions as 'warranted belief' or 'epistemically rational belief'.

Leading proponents of reliabilist theories of knowledge and justification have included Alvin Goldman, Marshall Swain, Kent Bach and more recently, Alvin Plantinga. Goldman's article "A Causal Theory of Knowing" (Journal of Philosophy, v. 64 (1967), pp. 357–372) is generally credited as being the first full treatment of the theory, though D. M. Armstrong is also regarded as an important source, and (according to Hugh Mellor) Frank Ramsey was the very first to state the theory, albeit in passing.

Alvin Ira Goldman is an American philosopher who is Board of Governors Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science at Rutgers University in New Jersey and a leading figure in epistemology.

Kent Bach is an American philosopher and Professor of Philosophy at San Francisco State University. His primary areas of research include the philosophy of language, linguistics and epistemology. He is the author of three books: Exit-existentialism: A philosophy of self-awareness, Linguistic Communication and Speech Acts, and Thought and Reference published by Wadsworth, the MIT Press, and Oxford University Press, respectively.

Alvin Plantinga American Christian philosopher

Alvin Carl Plantinga is an American analytic philosopher who works primarily in the fields of philosophy of religion, epistemology, and logic.

One classical or traditional analysis of 'knowledge' is justified true belief . In order to have a valid claim of knowledge for any proposition, one must be justified in believing "p" and "p" must be true. Since Gettier [2] proposed his counterexamples the traditional analysis has included the further claim that knowledge must be more than justified true belief. Reliabilist theories of knowledge are sometimes presented as an alternative to that theory: rather than justification, all that is required is that the belief be the product of a reliable process. But reliabilism need not be regarded as an alternative, but instead as a further explication of the traditional analysis. On this view, those who offer reliabilist theories of justification further analyze the 'justification' part of the traditional analysis of 'knowledge' in terms of reliable processes. Not all reliabilists agree with such accounts of justification, but some do.

Philosophical analysis is the techniques typically used by philosophers in the analytic tradition that involve "breaking down" philosophical issues. Arguably the most prominent of these techniques is the analysis of concepts.


Some find reliabilism of justification objectionable because it entails externalism, which is the view that one can have knowledge, or have a justified belief, despite not knowing (having "access" to) the evidence, or other circumstances, that make the belief justified. Most reliabilists maintain that a belief can be justified, or can constitute knowledge, even if the believer does not know about or understand the process that makes the belief reliable. In defending this view, reliabilists (and externalists generally) are apt to point to examples from simple acts of perception: if one sees a bird in the tree outside one's window and thereby gains the belief that there is a bird in that tree, one might not at all understand the cognitive processes that account for one's successful act of perception; nevertheless, it is the fact that the processes worked reliably that accounts for why one's belief is justified. In short, one finds one holds a belief about the bird, and that belief is justified if any is, but one is not acquainted at all with the processes that led to the belief that justified one's having it. Of course, internalists do not let the debate rest there; see externalism (epistemology).

Another of the most common objections to reliabilism, made first to Goldman's reliable process theory of knowledge and later to other reliabilist theories, is the so-called generality problem. [3] For any given justified belief (or instance of knowledge), one can easily identify many different (concurrently operating) "processes" from which the belief results. My belief that there is a bird in the tree outside my window might be accorded a result of the process of forming beliefs on the basis of sense-perception, of visual sense-perception, of visual sense-perception through non-opaque surfaces in daylight, and so forth, down to a variety of different very specifically described processes. Some of these processes might be statistically reliable, while others might not. It would no doubt be better to say, in any case, that we are choosing not which process to say resulted in the belief, but instead how to describe the process, out of the many different levels of generality on which it can be accurately described.

An objection in a similar line was formulated by Stephen Stich in The Fragmentation of Reason. Reliabilism usually considers that for generating justified beliefs a process needs to be reliable in a set of relevant possible scenarios. However, according to Stich, these scenarios are chosen in a culturally biased manner. Stich does not defend any alternative theory of knowledge or justification, but instead argues that all accounts of normative epistemic terms are culturally biased and instead only a pragmatic account can be given.

Stephen Stich American philosopher

Stephen P. Stich is a professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science at Rutgers University, as well as an Honorary Professor in Philosophy at the University of Sheffield. Stich's main philosophical interests are in the philosophy of mind, epistemology, and moral psychology. His 1983 book, From Folk Psychology to Cognitive Science: The Case Against Belief, received much attention as he argued for a form of eliminative materialism about the mind. He changed his mind, in later years, as indicated in his 1996 book Deconstructing the Mind.

Another objection to reliabilism is called the new evil demon problem. [4] The evil demon problem originally motivated skepticism, but can be resuited to object to reliabilist accounts as follows: If our experiences are controlled by an evil demon, it may be the case that we believe ourselves to be doing things that we are not doing. However, these beliefs are clearly justified. Robert Brandom has called for a clarification of the role of belief in reliabilist theories. Brandom is concerned that unless the role of belief is stressed, reliabilism may attribute knowledge to things that would otherwise be considered incapable of possessing it. Brandom gives the example of a parrot that has been trained to consistently respond to red visual stimuli by saying 'that's red'. The proposition is true, the mechanism that produced it is reliable, but Brandom is reluctant to say that the parrot knows it is seeing red because he thinks it cannot believe that it is. For Brandom, beliefs pertain to concepts: without the latter there can be no former. Concepts are products of the 'game of giving and asking for reasons'. Hence, only those entities capable of reasoning, through language in a social context, can for Brandom believe and thus have knowledge. Brandom may be regarded as hybridising externalism and internalism, allowing knowledge to be accounted for by reliable external process so long as a knower possess some internal understanding of why the belief is reliable.

Problem for process Reliabilism The first problem is that some of the statement is too weak to be justified. Weak justification means that the method that is produced and believed by an agent is unreliable or nonsense. This statement of weak and strong justify are made by Goldman as he thinks that mainly there are two type or concepts of justification. He describes a strong justification as a belief or knowledge that is well contribute to a suitable and certain method or procedure and this is called a strong justification as it is more powerful. Thirdly reliabilism had been arguing that it isn’t sufficient and significant enough for justification. The fourth problem is state by Goldman “What Is Justified Belief?”. In order for that belief to justify its solution must be “high-principled” and “decent”. Secondly, it should have a reliability tangibly related to the justification status of that belief. Third, the solution must true and honest to the main purpose of Reliabilism. The fifth problem is what we called “easy knowledge”, is made and motivated by Jonathan Vogel and Stewart Cohen. For instance, a driver who believes everything the gas gauge “says” about the state of the fuel tank, although the driver has no preliminary reasons to believe and justify that it is reliable. The last problem is the “value problem”.

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Foundationalism concerns philosophical theories of knowledge resting upon justified belief, or some secure foundation of certainty such as a conclusion inferred from a basis of sound premises. The main rival of the foundationalist theory of justification is the coherence theory of justification, whereby a body of knowledge, not requiring a secure foundation, can be established by the interlocking strength of its components, like a puzzle solved without prior certainty that each small region was solved correctly.

Internalism and externalism are two opposing ways of explaining various subjects in several areas of philosophy. These include human motivation, knowledge, justification, meaning, and truth. The distinction arises in many areas of debate with similar but distinct meanings.

Edmund L. Gettier III is an American philosopher and Professor Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is best known for his short 1963 article "Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?", which has generated an extensive philosophical literature trying to respond to what became known as the Gettier problem.

The Gettier problem, in the field of epistemology, is a landmark philosophical problem concerning our understanding of descriptive knowledge. Attributed to American philosopher Edmund Gettier, Gettier-type counterexamples challenge the long-held justified true belief (JTB) account of knowledge. The JTB account holds that knowledge is equivalent to justified true belief; if all three conditions are met of a given claim, then we have knowledge of that claim. In his 1963 three-page paper titled "Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?", Gettier attempts to illustrate by means of two counterexamples that there are cases where individuals can have a justified, true belief regarding a claim but still fail to know it because the reasons for the belief, while justified, turn out to be false. Thus, Gettier claims to have shown that the JTB account is inadequate; that it does not account for all of the necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge.

Epistemic minimalism is the epistemological thesis that mere true belief is sufficient for knowledge. That is, the meaning of "Smith knows that it rained today" is accurately and completely analyzed by these two conditions:

  1. Smith believes that it rained today.
  2. It is true that it rained today.

Evidentialism is a thesis in epistemology which states that one is justified to believe something if and only if that person has evidence which supports his or her belief. Evidentialism is therefore a thesis about which beliefs are justified and which are not.

Virtue epistemology is a contemporary philosophical approach to epistemology that stresses the importance of intellectual, and specifically epistemic virtues. A distinguishing factor of virtue theories is that they use for the evaluation of knowledge the properties of the persons who hold beliefs in addition to or instead of the properties of propositions and beliefs. Some advocates of virtue epistemology claim to more closely follow theories of virtue ethics, while others see only a looser analogy between virtue in ethics and virtue in epistemology.

Reformed epistemology

In the philosophy of religion, Reformed epistemology is a school of philosophical thought concerning the nature of knowledge (epistemology) as it applies to religious beliefs. The central proposition of Reformed epistemology is that beliefs can be justified by more than evidence alone, contrary to the positions of evidentialism, which argues that while belief other than through evidence may be beneficial, it violates some epistemic duty. Central to Reformed epistemology is the proposition that belief in God may be "properly basic" and not need to be inferred from other truths to be rationally warranted. William Lane Craig describes Reformed epistemology as "One of the most significant developments in contemporary Religious Epistemology ... which directly assaults the evidentialist construal of rationality."

Naturalized epistemology, coined by W. V. O. Quine, is a collection of philosophic views concerned with the theory of knowledge that emphasize the role of natural scientific methods. This shared emphasis on scientific methods of studying knowledge shifts focus to the empirical processes of knowledge acquisition and away from many traditional philosophical questions. There are noteworthy distinctions within naturalized epistemology. Replacement naturalism maintains that traditional epistemology should be abandoned and replaced with the methodologies of the natural sciences. The general thesis of cooperative naturalism is that traditional epistemology can benefit in its inquiry by using the knowledge we have gained from the cognitive sciences. Substantive naturalism focuses on an asserted equality of facts of knowledge and natural facts.

The argument from a proper basis is an ontological argument for the existence of God related to fideism. Alvin Plantinga argued that belief in God is a properly basic belief, and so no basis for belief in God is necessary.

In epistemology, phenomenal conservatism (PC) holds that it is reasonable to assume that things are as they appear, except when there are positive grounds for doubting this.

Outline of epistemology Overview of and topical guide to epistemology

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to epistemology:

Epistemic closure is a property of some belief systems. It is the principle that if a subject knows , and knows that entails , then can thereby come to know . Most epistemological theories involve a closure principle and many skeptical arguments assume a closure principle.

Epistemology or theory of knowledge is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope (limitations) of knowledge. It addresses the questions "What is knowledge?", "How is knowledge acquired?", "What do people know?", "How do we know what we know?", and "Why do we know what we know?". Much of the debate in this field has focused on analyzing the nature of knowledge and how it relates to similar notions such as truth, belief, and justification. It also deals with the means of production of knowledge, as well as skepticism about different knowledge claims.

Formative epistemology is a collection of philosophic views concerned with the theory of knowledge that emphasize the role of natural scientific methods. According to formative epistemology, knowledge is gained through the imputation of thoughts from one human being to another in the societal setting. Humans are born without intrinsic knowledge and through their evolutionary and developmental processes gain knowledge from other human beings. Thus, according to formative epistemology, all knowledge is completely subjective and truth does not exist.

"A Causal Theory of Knowing" is a philosophical essay written by Alvin Goldman in 1967, published in The Journal of Philosophy. It is based on existing theories of knowledge in the realm of epistemology, the study of philosophy through the scope of knowledge. The essay attempts to define knowledge by connecting facts, beliefs and knowledge through underlying and connective series called causal chains. It provides a causal theory of knowledge.

Jennifer Nagel is a Canadian philosopher in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on epistemology, philosophy of mind, and metacognition. She has also written on 17th century (Western) philosophy, including on John Locke and René Descartes.


  1. 1 2 DeRose, Keith (1999). "Responding to Skepticism". Archived from the original on 14 November 2000.
  2. Gettier, Edmund L. (1963). "Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?". Analysis. 23 (6): 121–123. doi:10.1093/analys/23.6.121. JSTOR   3326922.
  3. Conee, E.; Feldman, R. (1998). "The Generality Problem for Reliabilism". Philosophical Studies. 89 (1): 1–29. JSTOR   4320806.
  4. Comesaña, Juan (2002). "The Diagonal and the Demon" (PDF). Philosophical Studies. 110: 249–266. doi:10.1023/a:1020656411534. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-06-14.