Croatian Journal of Philosophy

Volume 14, Issue 1, 2014

Guido Melchior
Pages 31-47

A Generality Problem for Bootstrapping and Sensitivity

Vogel argues that sensitivity accounts of knowledge are implausible because they entail that we cannot have any higher-level knowledge that our beliefs are true, not false. Becker and Salerno object that Vogel is mistaken because he does not formalize higher-level beliefs adequately. They claim that if formalized correctly, higher-level beliefs are sensitive, and can therefore constitute knowledge. However, these accounts do not consider the belief-forming method as sensitivity accounts require. If we take bootstrapping as the belief-forming method, as the discussed cases suggest, then we face a generality problem. Our higher-level beliefs as formalized by Becker and Salerno turn out to be sensitive according to a wide reading of bootstrapping, but insensitive according to a narrow reading. This particular generality problem does not arise for the alternative accounts of process reliabilism and basis-relative safety. Hence, sensitivity accounts not only deliver opposite results given different formalizations of higher-level beliefs, but also for the same formalization, depending on how we interpret bootstrapping. Therefore, sensitivity accounts do not fail because they make higher-level knowledge impossible, as Vogel argues, and they do not succeed in allowing higher-level knowledge, as Becker and Salerno suggest. Rather, their problem is that they deliver far too heterogeneous results.