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Epistemic Principles

A Primer for the Theory of Knowledge

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Nicholas Rescher

Epistemic Principles: A Primer of the Theory of Knowledge presents a compact account of the basic principles of the theory of knowledge. In doing this, Nicholas Rescher aims to fill the current gap in contemporary philosophical theory of knowledge with a comprehensive analysis of epistemological fundamentals. The book is not a mere inventory of such rules and principles, but rather interweaves them into a continuous exposition of basic issues. Written at a user-friendly and accessible level, Epistemic Principles is an essential addition for both advanced undergraduate and graduate courses in epistemology.
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Chapter 6. Conjecture and the Move from Mere Plausibility and Presumption to Acceptance

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CONJECTURE AND THE MOVE FROM MERE PLAUSIBILITY AND PRESUMPTION TO ACCEPTANCE

Cognition is certainly not a matter of one-size-fits-all: it admits of decidedly different grades of assurance ranging from timid tentativity to confident certainty. Presumption-grounded plausibilities prevail at the bottom of the ladder, and more is at issue here than mere candidacy for acceptance. However, plausible claims become acceptable—at least conjecturally so—when there are no overt indications to the contrary, as evidenced by smooth compatibility with what has already been accepted. But only when the contextual conditions are duly favorable are we entitled to upgrade mere plausibilities into conjectural acceptance. Accordingly, a conjecture is a claim that is accepted cautiously and provisionally, recognizing that its substantiation is comparatively weak.

However, for considerations to carry probative weight against a claim they must address the specific substance of that claim and cannot proceed entirely on general principles. The fact that the players at Musical Chairs cannot all be seated when the music stops does not count against the presumption a given player will be seated. The fact that the author acknowledges in his preface that his treatment doubtless contains errors does not militate against the presumption that any given contention is correct.1 The mere prospect of con-considerations does not unravel plausibilities as such. After all, ← 27 | 28 → plausibilities need not and sometimes will not be consistent overall—(as will become clear in the next chapter’s discussion of paradox).

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