Ramsey's Reliabilism

Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming)
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In a short note written in 1929, Frank Ramsey put forward a reliabilist account of knowledge anticipating those given by Armstrong (1973) and Goldman (1967), among others, a few decades later. Some think that the note comprises the bulk of what Ramsey has to say about epistemology. But Ramsey’s ideas about epistemology extend beyond the note. Relatively little attention has been paid to his reliabilist account of reasonable belief. Even less attention has been paid to his reliabilist account of reasonable degree of belief. In this paper, I spell out these aspects of Ramsey’s epistemology in more detail than has been done so far. I argue that Ramsey anticipates contemporary reliabilist accounts of justified belief and justified degree of belief. I also flesh out Ramsey’s reasons for being a reliabilist. This is worth doing if only because Ramsey has one of the earliest arguments for reliabilism, but it has received scarce attention. Also, Ramsey calls his reliabilism “a kind of pragmatism,” and examining the argument will help us clarify Ramsey’s pragmatist commitments and better understand his version of reliabilism. I argue that when viewed through contemporary lenses, Ramsey’s reliabilism contains revisionist elements: he’s not opposed to what we now call “concep- tual engineering.”

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Weng Hong Tang
National University of Singapore


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