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A Refutation of Cartesian Fallibilism



According to a doctrine that I call “Cartesianism”, knowledge – at least the sort of knowledge that inquirers possess – requires having a reason for belief that is reflectively accessible as such. I show that Cartesianism, in conjunction with some plausible and widely accepted principles, entails the negation of a popular version of Fallibilism. I then defend the resulting Cartesian Infallibilist position against popular objections. My conclusion is that if Cartesianism is true, then Descartes was right about this much: for S to know that p, S must have reasons for believing that p which are such that S can know, by reflection alone, that she has those reasons, and that she could not possibly have those reasons if p is not true. Where Descartes went wrong was in thinking that our ordinary, fallible, non-theologically grounded sources of belief (e.g., perception, memory, testimony), cannot provide us with such reasons.