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Knowing that p requires being able to ‘rule out’ the relevant not-p alternatives. Such is the core claim of the Relevant Alternatives (RA) theorist. Of course, to endorse the core claim is not to have a complete and satisfactory account of knowing: any RA theorist has some explaining to do. Most obviously, anyone who endorses the core claim must ultimately provide an account of ‘ruling out’ and ‘relevance’. And some who‘ve been critical of the whole RA approach have done so because of a scepticism about the prospects of cashing these notions out in a satisfactory way.
By Reid's own account, ‘That the natural faculties, by which we distinguish truth from error, are not fallacious’ (FP#7), has a special place among the First Principles of Contingent Truths. Some have found that claim puzzling, but it is not. Contrary to what's usually assumed, certain FPs preceding FP#7 do not already assert the better part of what FP#7 explicitly states. FP#7 is needed because there is nothing epistemological in the FPs that precede it; and its special place among the FPs is a straightforward consequence of its being both perfectly general and distinctively epistemological.
Jennifer Nagel suggests that Mercier and Sperber’s argumentative theory of reasoning can shed light on “why we commonly think of perceptually and testimonially supported judgments as justified despite feeling worried, on reflection, that only what is internally available can justify”. While I agree that there is indeed a natural path (or paths) from the argumentative theory to this asymmetry, and instability, in our epistemic judgments, I am not sure that it is quite the one that Nagel identifies. Having registered some reservations about Nagel’s account, I make an alternative suggestion as to how the argumentative theory might help to explain the naturalness of the relevant judgments.
Testimony is an indispensable source of information. Yet, contrary to ‘literalism’, speakers rarely mean just what they say; and even when they do, that itself is something the hearer needs to realize. So, understanding instances of testimony requires more than merely reading others' messages off of the words they utter. Further, a very familiar and theoretically well-entrenched approach to how we arrive at such understanding serves to emphasize, not merely how deeply committed we are to testimony as a reliable source of information, but that epistemological questions about testimonial belief are – perhaps even must be – posterior to such a commitment. This result does not itself dictate any particular views on the epistemology of testimony. However, not only does the failure of literalism not support the view that the justificatory basis of testimony-based beliefs is importantly inferential; it in fact undermines a key premise in one important argument for the view that one needs independent, positive reasons for accepting a given testimonial report. More generally, the present paper illustrates how discussions of the epistemology of testimony might usefully interact with an examination of the epistemology of understanding.