In an epistemic system, I refer to the rules one decides based on which propositions are true and which are false, either consciously or unconsciously.

We all have a general one that we use for everyday life; it's what makes us believe that the food we will eat at dinner in grandma's home is likely not poisoned and that it's not likely that there are monsters under our bed, and it's also what tells some people that god exists and others that he doesn't. This general system is flawed and the cause of much of humanity's trouble; it is what makes certain people adopt superstitions and beliefs they have no proof of. Although most people improve their epistemic system in certain domains, like adhering to strict logical rules to derive theorems in mathematics, the general system remains nearly untouched.

But the thing is, if we want to improve or change our general epistemic system and make it more rigorous, we face the problem of what is and what is not psychologically possible, for the system runs mostly unconsciously, and any attempt to replace it with a conscious process, like, for example, trying to verify consciously if every judgment you make implicitly or explicitly adheres to some rule, will then be checking if the proposition that biscuits are eatable adheres to the rule and that water exists adheres to it, and this becomes absurd.

I might call this psychological epistemology since it's about what epistemological systems we can substitute our default system with and how

So does anyone have any ideas about how we can create new general systems that are psychologically possible to implement and replace the default one?

  • Yes, and the principle is the same as with disciplining kids or training AI. Subconscious decision-making cannot be replaced or changed by conscious interventions directly, but if one analyzes it consciously from time to time and imposes consequences, positive and negative, eventually improved habits will form. In humans, this is mediated by emotions, like satisfaction and regret, and subconscious mechanisms are well honed to avoid regrets on their own. To dumb it down, when a judgment was sound get yourself an ice cream, when it was biased and/or uninformed, slap yourself.
    – Conifold
    Commented May 18 at 0:07
  • Consider the paradox: You have an epistemic system. It may be flawed. You ask here (etc) about it. X gives you an answer you like; Y gives you an answer you detest. Are these responses objective or filtered through your own current epistemic system?
    – Rushi
    Commented May 18 at 3:19
  • 1
    @Rushi yes I thought a lot of that it's an infinite regress problem where if you want to build a valid epistemic system you will need a valid ground but that itself should be a valid epistemic system Commented May 18 at 20:48

1 Answer 1


Although most people improve their epistemic system in certain domains, like adhering to strict logical rules to derive theorems in mathematics, the general system remains nearly untouched.

I think this distinction you're drawing between "certain domains" and one's "general" epistemic system is flawed - I don't know that there is any clear separation between those things (even if what most people study or do professionally doesn't reframe how they think about things in their daily life).

Or, at least philosophy and psychology can apply to one's thinking generally. The study of logical reasoning, fallacies, cognitive bias, moral philosophy, etc. can reframe how one thinks about pretty much anything.

Many people have studied exactly that, and ended up concluding that a god doesn't exist (or that they don't have a good reason to believe that a particular god exists), that other supernatural forces don't exist, that animals deserve rights, that we should care more about what happens in other countries, that abortion isn't wrong, and whatever else. (No doubt there would also be people saying they reached opposite conclusions through this process.)

You probably aren't going to end up consciously trying to verify every single judgement you make, and I wouldn't recommend it.

But you can come up with general principles, like if someone tells you they did something mundane, you can probably just believe them (but if they then ask you for money, you might apply a bit more skepticism). If they tell you they did something we have no documented accounts of, you may be less inclined to believe them.

If someone tells you "I had breakfast this morning before driving to work", you don't need to consciously consider how likely it is for someone to eat breakfast, and how likely it is for them to own a car, and how likely it is for them to have a job, and how likely it is for them to go to work in the morning, and how likely it is for them to use that car to drive to work, and how likely it is that they'll be honest about these things. You already know all of that, broadly speaking, so you can just accept that in like a split-second.

Improving your epistemology may lead you to noticing flaws in your thinking as you just go about your day-to-day life, even if you aren't consciously on the lookout for such flaws. Although it can also be useful to take a step back and question important things that one may just have taken for granted as being true.

One thing to note is that our conclusions seem to, broadly speaking, be correct (or at least reasonable). If they weren't, we wouldn't be able to function in the world. So one wouldn't expect a "better" epistemology to suddenly broadly change what we conclude about everything. But there may be some important issues that we're wrong about (and other people have already identified a lot of such potential issues, which you can find by looking at topics where there's a lot of disagreement).

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