Problems the History of Science Presents for Accepting Counter-Closure


Epistemic counter-closure can be expressed in the slogan, ‘inferential knowledge requires known basis beliefs’ (Audi 2003). Philosophers may adopt epistemic counter-closure due to the intuition that ‘good reasons’ are inferences from true or justified basis beliefs while ‘bad reasons’ are inferences from false or unjustified basis beliefs. Reasoning from a false basis belief may require a great deal of epistemic luck to reason to a true belief. The conclusion is a ‘happy accident’, not one of logical necessity. If epistemic counter-closure is true, deductive inference then can do no more than preserve virtuous properties like knowledge or justification; it cannot create virtuous properties upon exposure to error (e.g. false or unjustified premises). The kernel of the problem facing epistemic counter-closure is as follows: while counter-closure on its own does not appear to be problematic, if it is assumed that justification is factive, then, so long as $S$ solely consults a false basis beliefs or a set of relevant basis beliefs with at least one falsehood, $S$ is not justified in believing that $p$. If there is a problem in jointly accepting counter-closure and that justification is factive, this problem can be illuminated by examining cases from the history of science when scientists prima facie appear to hold justified beliefs about the outcome of experiments based solely on false scientific theories. If there exists cases of justified beliefs based on premises that lack the necessary virtuous properties like truth or justification, this casts doubt on accepting both both counter-closure and the factivity of justification. The less radical horn is, as I argue in my paper, to accept that justification is not necessarily factive. More generally, $S$ is justified in believing that $q$ because they have acted rightly in the formation of the basis belief $p$, even if $p$ is false. However, while $S$ may be justified in believing that $p$, $S$ does not necessarily know that $p$.

Washington and Jefferson College. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

An early version of this talk was presented at the Eastern Pennsylvania Philosophical Association Conference at Misericordia University. Feb 8, 2014. An article about the event is available here.

Another version of this talk was presented at the Thirteenth Annual Student Philosophy Symposium at Georgia State University on Feb 2, 2014. A copy of the program is available here.

At the conference I received the Robert A. Almeder Award for best graduate paper in philosophy.

The earliest version of this talk was entitled ‘Counter-Closure, Factivity and Inferential Knowledge’, and was presented at the First Year Research Seminar at King’s College London, on Sep 24, 2014.