Epistemic relativists wish to establish that there are no absolute epistemic facts, that is, there are no objective facts as to what beliefs are justified, as to what justifies what. From this, the relativist can conclude that there are equally viable epistemic systems that will yield inconsistent verdicts, each relative to the other, as to the epistemic status of a belief, even when given the same evidence. For, when two communities enter debate about the viability of their respective epistemic systems, a question might follow as to whose epistemic system is correct. If either party answers this question, then that party will have to provide justification for the answer given. However, some will argue that such a dispute cannot be resolved, for each party will, more than likely, resort to their respective epistemic system to provide justification for one system over the other. This is because, without presupposing that there is a fact about epistemic matters such as justification, the parties will have no common “epistemic ground” to stand on and from which one to declare the other epistemically right or wrong; the criteria for knowledge and justification are each established by the respective communities and those criteria establish correct epistemic practices. Paul Boghossian summarizes an argument for establishing the claim that there are no absolute epistemic facts as follows :
(1) If there are absolute epistemic facts, it is possible to arrive at justified beliefs about what they are.
(2) It is not possible to arrive at justified beliefs about what absolute epistemic facts there are.
(3) There are no absolute epistemic facts.
Given the above dialogue on the impossibilities of comparing epistemic systems, we might conclude:
(4) If we were to encounter a fundamental, genuine alternative to our epistemic system, C2, we would not be able to justify C1 over C2, even by our own lights.
Furthermore, the relativist may use (4) to establish (2). Paul Boghossian evaluates (4) to make it as viable as possible for such an encounter. The following is an explication of criteria Boghossian adds to (4) to conclude that it does not support (2) after all. I first want to evaluate the efficacy of this move with regards to evaluating competing epistemic systems, and then I will add additional criteria to see if Boghossian’s case can be strengthened and see if these are sufficient criteria to help establish the correctness of one epistemic system over another, or at least reason to doubt the epistemic system under which an agent is operating . Then we will look at how the revised (4) does not support (2). Finally, we will look at an objection to Boghossian’s move.
I would like to comment on non-epistemic criteria. Very simply, I take non-epistemic criteria to be features of epistemic systems that do not claim anything about knowledge or justification. The weight of the reasons to support (4), given in the introduction, rests on the idea that it is impossible for competing communities to argue for their respective epistemic systems using epistemic criteria from outside their system. Since the epistemic viability of competing systems is what is being scrutinized, it might be to our benefit, and effective, to try and argue our case relying on the non-epistemic features of the respective system. Take note of the two non-epistemic features already established in (4): ‘fundamental’ and ‘genuine’. The alternative epistemic system, as well as our own, must be fundamental, that is, the principles of that system should not rely further on other, more basic principles of the competing system. Furthermore, that system should be genuine, that is, the system yields epistemic verdicts that conflict with those of our system. I think that these features establish descriptive criteria, however Bogossian goes on to illustrate two more non-epistemic criteria that I consider to be both descriptive and evaluative criteria. More importantly, they are evaluative criteria that are also non-epistemic.
First, the competing system should be coherent. Here is a partial explanation by what Boghossian means by coherent. Given a proposition, the competing epistemic system should yield consistent epistemic verdicts about doxastic attitudes taken toward that proposition. In other words, the epistemic system should not conclude that I am justified in believing p and not justified in believing p. Furthermore, that epistemic system should not conclude I am justified in believing a contradiction. Second, it is reasonable for an agent to doubt her epistemic system, given pragmatic fruitfulness of a competing system, which Boghossian refers to as an impressive track record. Boghossian illustrates a hypothetical situation in which we encounter a community with “much more advanced scientific and technological abilities [and] yet they deny fundamental aspects of our epistemic system and employ alternative principle.” Here are some additional criteria that I propose for evaluating an epistemic system. First, a competing epistemic system may offer more explanation as to why some of our beliefs are justified and other are not, that is, it may offer more explanatory power than our own system. For example, it may very well explain why Gettier cases are so problematic, or provide more effective explanations as to what is wrong with skeptical arguments. Finally, and related to the above track record Bohossian refers to, a competing epistemic system may give us reason to doubt our own if it receives more external support than our own, that is there is more non-epistemic evidence that supports the greater effectiveness of their system over ours. For example, as already mentioned, the community has better technologies and better scientific understanding. Perhaps, the community is more peaceful due to a greater comprehension of morality, and they are more flourishing than our community in that they have a more thorough comprehension of economics, or whatever.
With all of the above, we may now revise (4); this is very similar to Boghossian’s revision, but includes my additional criteria:
(4.)* If we were to encounter an actual, coherent, fundamental, genuine alternative to our epistemic system, C2, that offers enough additional explanatory power, receives enough external support, and has a track record impressive enough to make us doubt the correctness of our own system, C1, we would not be able to justify C1 over C2, even by our own lights.
This revision supports that, given such an encounter, we would have legitimate doubts “about the correctness of our ordinary epistemic principles”, and, thus, be unable to form justified beliefs about the correctness of those principles by the light of those principles. This, in turn, is consistent with us being justified in believing that there are other conditions in which we would not be justified in believing some proposition by the light of our own epistemic system. This contradicts (2), as it shows that is possible to arrive at a justified belief regarding what absolute epistemic facts there are. Hence, the relativist’s argument fails.
A substantial objection may be raised against this argument, namely, that a better track record does not entail a better epistemic system. Even if a community has taken on an epistemic system that yields more practical benefit, that is, more scientific insight, better technologies, greater moral understanding, etc., it is still possible for that community to be epistemically wrong. Indeed, in their paper, “Evidentialism,” Feldman and Conee point out that epistemic obligations are independent of moral, and pragmatic, obligations for belief. Moreover, that while taking on unjustified attitudes may even contribute greatly to epistemic goals, such as a scientist believing against her evidence, such behavior is still epistemically wrong. So, even if we encounter Boghossian’s hypothetical community, we still lack justification for doubting our own epistemic system, for, it seems, that our reason for doubting our system is based on, for the most part, non-epistemic reasons. Suppose that the hypothetical community obtains justification for its beliefs by arbitrarily choosing spatio-temporal relations between planets and stars to serve as criteria under which beliefs should be formed. Even if such a community is prosperous in the aforementioned ways, their beliefs do not fit the evidence, and thus they are epistemically wrong (or so might the evidentialist say). So, Boghossian’s argument is ineffective – encountering such a civilization does not give us any reason to doubt the correctness of our own epistemic system.
I am somewhat inclined to accept this objection. However, while perhaps not sufficient standing alone, I am not convinced that non-epistemic criteria are still not useful in evaluating the epistemic system of a competitor. Furthermore, perhaps it does not initially contradict (2) to suppose that there are certain features shared by all epistemic systems that are not absolute epistemic facts. However, this might give “good reasons”, in conjunction with the non-epistemic criteria, for accepting one epistemic system over a competing epistemic system. That, in the end, norm-circularity need not be embraced.
 See Paul Boghossian in, Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism; Clarendon Press, 2006; pages 58-111.
 These criteria are borrowed from Mark Timmons, see “Moral Theory: An Introduction”; Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc; 2002, but I try to apply them to epistemic theory.