Justification and the growth of error

Philosophical Studies 165 (2):527-551 (2013)
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It is widely accepted that in fallible reasoning potential error necessarily increases with every additional step, whether inferences or premises, because it grows in the same way that the probability of a lengthening conjunction shrinks. As it stands, this is disappointing but, I will argue, not out of keeping with our experience. However, consulting an expert, proof-checking, constructing gap-free proofs, and gathering more evidence for a given conclusion also add more steps, and we think these actions have the potential to improve our reliability or justifiedness. Thus, the received wisdom about the growth of error implies a skepticism about the possibility of improving our reliability and level of justification through effort. Paradoxically, and even more implausibly, taking steps to decrease your potential error necessarily increases it. I will argue that the self-help steps listed here are of a distinctive type, involving composition rather than conjunction. Error grows differently over composition than over conjunction, I argue, and this dissolves the apparent paradox
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