Justification and the growth of error

Philosophical Studies 165 (2):527-551 (2013)
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Abstract
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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Archival date: 2020-06-29
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