A Non-Probabilist Principle of Higher-Order Reasoning

William J. Talbott. “A Non-Probabilist Principle of Higher-Order Reasoning.” Synthèse 193 (2015): 3099-3145. DOI:  10.1007/s11229-015-0922-y.

The author uses a series of examples to illustrate two versions of a new, non-probabilist principle of epistemic rationality, the Special and General Versions of the Metacognitive, Expected Relative Frequency of Truth (MERF) Principle.   These are used to explain the rationality of revisions to an agent’s degrees of confidence in propositions based on evidence of the reliability or unreliability of the cognitive processes responsible for them—especially reductions in confidence assignments to propositions antecedently regarded as certain—including certainty-reductions to instances of the law of excluded middle or the law of noncontradiction in logic or certainty-reductions to the certainties of probabilist epistemology.  The author proposes Special and General versions of the Metacognitive Expected Relative Frequency (MERF) Principle and uses them to explain the examples, including the reasoning that would lead to thoroughgoing fallibilism—that is, to a state of being certain of nothing (not even the MERF principle itself). The author responds to the main defenses of probabilism:  Dutch Book arguments, Joyce’s potential accuracy defense, and the potential calibration defenses of Shimony and van Fraassen by showing that, even though they do not satisfy the probability axioms, degrees of belief that satisfy the MERF principle minimize expected inaccuracy in Joyce’s sense; they can be externally calibrated in Shimony and van Fraassen’s sense; and they can serve as a basis for rational betting, unlike probabilist degrees of belief, which, in many cases, human beings have no rational way of ascertaining.  The author also uses the MERF principle to subsume the various epistemic akrasia principles in the literature.  Finally, the author responds to Titelbaum’s argument that epistemic akrasia principles require that we be certain of some epistemological beliefs, if we are rational.  

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