Are the philosophies of fallibilism, evidentialism and pragmatism mutually exclusive? Can these philosophies be compatible and/or complimentary

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    Why? Most pragmatists are fallibilists, starting with the pragmatism's founder, Peirce, who also coined the term "fallibilism". Pragmatic view of knowledge is not very compatible with possession of infallible truths. – Conifold Jun 11 at 6:10
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    This may be too broad. Is there a text you are reading that might provide context? – Frank Hubeny Jun 11 at 12:05

None of the three terms is crystal clear but let's see what connections we can make - or I, fallibily, can make. The quick answer is that the three views are mutually compatible, and indeed that pragmatism implies fallibilism.


Evidentialism I take to be very roughly the view that no belief is acceptable unless rational and no belief is rational unless supported by evidence - with the rider that the strength of a belief should be proportionate to the strength of the evidence. (Horace Fairlamb, 'Sanctifying evidentialism', Religious Studies, Vol. 46, No. 1 (march 2010), pp. 61-76: 61.)


Fallibilism is the philosophical view that conjoins two apparently obvious claims. On one hand, we are fallible. We make mistakes - sometimes even about the most evident things. But, on the other hand, we also have quite a bit of knowledge. Despite our tendency to get things wrong occasionally, we get it right much more of the time. (Baron Reed, 'How to Think about Fallibilism', Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, Vol. 107, No. 2 (Jan., 2002), pp. 143-157: 143.)


Although textbooks tend to treat pragmatism primarily as a theory of truth (and to identify it with the theory that the true is what is satisfying in the long-run to believe, a theory that not one of the classical pragmatist actually heldl), it is important to remember that the principle that the classical pragmatists actually regarded as basic was Peirce's so-called 'pragmatic maxim' and that the theories of truth that Peirce and James advanced were regarded by them simply as applications of this maxim. Here is the maxim as stated by Peirce himself:

Consider what effects, that might conceivably have practical bearing, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object. In the paragraph that precedes the statement of the pragmatic maxim [5:401], Peirce identifies these 'effects that might have practical bearing' with 'sensible effects'. And his application of the maxim in that paragraph (a criticism of the Catholic doctrine of the 'real presence' of Jesus' flesh and blood in the Eucharist) shows that he takes the pragmatic maxim to imply that there can be no difference in conceptions where there is no difference in the sensible effects that we suppose would obtain if one or the other of those conceptions were to be correct. (Hilary Putnam, 'Pragmatism', Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series, Vol. 95 (1995), pp. 291-306: 291-2.)

Making the connections

Fallibilism is inbuilt into pragmatism in the sense that pragmatism repudiates the foundationalist view that we can and do arrive at basic beliefs, from which all other beliefs receive their warrant, that are immune from error. This view is to be found in Descartes' Meditations, for example. Once such basic beliefs are discarded then we have no immunity from error - and so have to accept fallibilism.

Evidentialism might come into the picture in a variety of ways. Suppose I believe that there is a green pencil eight trillion light years from earth, and you believe that there is no such pencil. Our experience will be exactly the same whether there is such a pencil or not. The belief has therefore no pragmatic interest. Since there is no evidence one way or the other, neither belief is rational and neither can be proportioned to the evidence.

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