Epistemic Justification

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  1. 2. The Classical Analysis of Noninferential Justification
  2. Epistemic Justification
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  5. Epistemic Justification - Oxford Scholarship

Those who have a broader conception of justification see justification as a positive epistemic status, where a positive epistemic status is a good or success understood in terms of promoting true belief and avoiding error. They do not simply see justification as the positive epistemic status entailed by knowledge.

When thinking through any account of justification, the thoughtful reader should ask how the proponent thinks of the connection between justification and knowledge. Inquiry into justification also closely overlaps with discussions of skepticism, for in challenging knowledge, epistemic skeptics are often better seen as challenging justification.

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This entry focuses on the central debates surrounding the nature of epistemic justification in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, focusing where possible on more recent discussions. There are only a few recent general overviews as such. Foley is a clear, concise, and reasonably comprehensive overview of justification. So too is Fumerton Pryor is a partial overview, but goes into more detail than either Foley or Fumerton Alston is a class presentation of various ways one might conceive justification. Alston is a follow-up that indirectly provides an overview of relevant material for theories of justification.

Plantinga provides a useful historical perspective on the theory of justification. Though the connection between justification and being able to justify a belief comes up frequently in the literature, few papers address it directly. Leite discusses the issue directly. Lists all sorts of epistemic properties that epistemologists have argued justification might reduce to.

This paper thereby provides a very informative introduction to possible theories of epistemic justification, though without intending to. It should be read in conjunction with Alston Edited by Edward Craig, — A useful resource for those new to the topic. Edited by Paul K. Oxford University Press, This article presents another taxonomy of theories of justification, which focuses on the connection between justification and truth and the extent to which philosophical theorizing can settle which beliefs are justified and which are not.

Though not an overview of the literature, it discusses the connection between justified belief and the ability to justify a belief. It thereby provides a very useful historical perspective. After all, if P is already justified, the subject does not need to use it to justify P ; and if it is not justified then, in line with the first clause of PIJ, one could not use it to justify P. More plausibly, the anti-foundationalist might reject the presupposition that all justification is linear or one-directional, that it flows from one belief to another, or is inherited by a belief from others.

Each belief is justified by virtue of its coherence with the rest of what one believes—in other words, by virtue of belonging to a coherent set or web of beliefs. One other response is to embrace infinitism and hold that an infinite regress is not necessarily vicious or problematic. Infinitism has a few defenders e. The infinitist accepts the need to be able to supply non-circular justification for believing what we do, but argues that given the complexity of the human mind and its capacity to entertain and justifiably believe an infinite number of propositions, there is nothing vicious about the relevant regresses we face.

There is no reason to suppose that we would be unable to justify every proposition we believe by appeal to some other different proposition which we justifiably believe. Infinitism is a view that should be seriously considered, particularly once one realizes that one not only can but arguably does have an infinite number of justified beliefs e.

Foundationalists are united in their conviction that there must be a kind of justification that does not depend on the having of other justified beliefs They nevertheless disagree radically among themselves as to how to understand noninferential justification. In the latter part of the 20 th century, the rise of externalist epistemologies has generated even more fundamentally different versions of foundationalism.

It will not be possible to survey all of the strikingly different analyses or theories that have been offered of noninferential justification. In what follows we will examine a few of the more prominent versions of classical and contemporary internalist and externalist foundationalism. Descartes is often taken to be the paradigm of a classical foundationalist. Determined to build knowledge on appropriate and secure foundations, he seemed to want to identify foundational knowledge with infallible belief.

Implicitly or explicitly, others seemed to follow his lead by restricting noninferentially justified beliefs to beliefs that cannot be mistaken. As Lehrer and others have pointed out, it is far from clear that this concept of infallible belief has much relevance to an attempt to understand the epistemic concept of noninferential justification.

The first and most striking problem involves necessary truths. Every necessary truth is entailed by every proposition, and thus if I happen to believe a necessary truth, P , that I believe P will entail that P is true. Thus by the above definition my belief that P will be infallible whenever P is a necessary truth even if P is far too complicated for me to prove and I believe it solely on a whim.

Furthermore, a foundation of knowledge and justified belief restricted to infallible beliefs as defined above would arguably be far too flimsy to support any sort of substantial epistemic edifice. There are a few contingent propositions that are entailed by the fact that they are believed. My belief that I exist entails that I exist, that I have at least one belief, that someone has beliefs, that experience broadly construed exists, etc. Noninferential justification is, after all, a kind of justification, and if the impossibility of error is essential to noninferential justification, it may be more plausible to locate the source of infallibility in a special kind of justification available in support of a belief.

The suggestion, then, is that a belief is noninferentially justified only if it is infallibly justified in this sense. We still need to qualify the entailment in some way to circumvent the problem discussed earlier. Whenever I have any justification at all for believing a proposition that turns out to be necessarily true, that justification will entail the necessary truth. But we do not want just any sort of justification to yield infallibly justified belief, even if the object of that belief is a necessary truth.

This problem is notoriously difficult to solve, but intuitively the solution should have something to do with the relation between the fact that would make true the proposition entailed and the fact that would make true the proposition that entails it. This suggestion can be considered at best only preliminary since we will obviously need a more detailed account of facts and their constituents. With some such relation in place, perhaps we can appropriately restrict the class of necessary truths we can be infallibly justified in believing, and still allow contingent truths to be infallibly justified: If such a belief is noninferentially justified, in what does the justification for that belief consist?

What is it that distinguishes this belief from my belief about, say, whether it will rain next week? Some foundationalists want to locate the noninferential justification in the truth-maker for the proposition believed. It is the fact that I have a kind of access to my pain that no one else has that makes my belief noninferentially justified while others must rely on inference in order to discover that I am in this state. This takes us to another classical version of foundationalism, the acquaintance theory. Perhaps the best known proponent of an acquaintance theory is Bertrand Russell —11, ; for more on the acquaintance theory, see entry on knowledge by acquaintance vs.

But it takes little imagination to read the view into most of the British empiricists. Roughly the view is that what justifies S in believing that he is in pain is the fact that S is acquainted with his pain in a way in which he is not acquainted with any contingent facts about other people, the physical world, the future, and so on. Some doubt that acquaintance with some fact is sufficient, on its own, to justify belief in a corresponding proposition. To help see the motivation for this, consider inferential beliefs again.

As already discussed in section 1 , this might lead us to accept the second clause of PIJ. Similarly, some acquaintance theorists argue that acquaintance with some fact cannot provide justification for a belief in the absence of an awareness of or at least an ability to become aware of the relevance of the fact to the truth of the proposition believed. For example, I may be acquainted with a very specific color or shape in my visual field, and also believe correctly that I am experiencing such-and-such a color or shape, but I might actually be really bad at identifying such specific features and my belief might be little more than a lucky guess.

Suppose these theorists also accept a correspondence conception of truth according to which, roughly, a proposition is true just in case it corresponds to the facts or to the way the world is; they might add that to be fully justified in believing a proposition to be true one must be acquainted not only with the fact that makes the proposition true but also with the relation of correspondence that holds between the proposition and the fact. When acquaintance with the fact that P is part of what constitutes my noninferential justification for believing P , there is a trivial sense in which my noninferential justification is infallible.

However, most contemporary foundationalists are fallibilists about foundational justification: It seems plausible that I could be justified in believing, for example, that I am experiencing a mild pain when in fact I am experiencing an itch, or that I could be justified in believing I am experiencing a specific shade of color when I am in fact experiencing a slightly different shade.

2. The Classical Analysis of Noninferential Justification

Even some acquaintance theorists e. Such an acquaintance theory could allow for the possibility of noninferentially justified but false belief that P. Huemer , Poston , and Tucker argue, however, that classical foundationalists have difficulty accommodating fallible foundational beliefs. For some replies, see Fumerton and , and Hasan Not all classical foundationalists require acquaintance with the correspondence or some other similar relation between some thought or proposition and a distinct fact for one to have knowledge by acquaintance.

For example, according to McGrew , , for any object of acquaintance or direct awareness it is possible to form a belief in which a demonstrative concept refers directly to it. By virtue of my acquaintance with a painful experience, I can believe directly of it that it exists, or that the property demonstrated, painfulness, is instantiated. Such demonstratively formed beliefs are guaranteed to be true:.

For what this belief amounts to is that one has a certain experience; and a necessary condition for the formation of the belief itself is that one be having just that experience. Once the received view, classical foundationalism has come under considerable attack in the last few decades. Here we will consider the most prominent objections that target the classical view of foundational beliefs. For some more objections and discussion, see entry on knowledge by acquaintance vs. The objection presupposed a strong form of what we might call access internalism.

The access internalist argues, roughly, that a feature of a belief or epistemic situation that makes a belief noninferentially justified for us must be a feature to which we have actual or potential access. Moreover, we must have access to the fact that the feature in question is relevant to the truth or probability of what we believe. So suppose some foundationalist offers an account of noninferential justification according to which a belief B is noninferentially justified only if it has some characteristic X. BonJour then argues that the mere fact that the belief has X could not justify the believer in holding B.

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The believer would also need access to the fact that B has X and that beliefs of this sort are likely to be true. But according to the strong access requirement BonJour accepts, this requires actual or potential knowledge or justified belief that B has X and that beliefs of this sort are likely to be true. So B would need other justified beliefs for its justification. BonJour presented the objection on the way to developing a coherence theory of empirical justification.

But it ultimately became obvious that the objection to foundationalism, if good, was too strong. Given the structure of the argument it should become evident that the coherence theory and any other theory would be equally vulnerable to the argument. That might suggest to the classical foundationalist that strong access internalism is a view to be avoided. And this will take us again on the road to regress. Alternatively, the internalist might attempt to convince you that the regress that comes with accepting the strong access requirement is not vicious after all see Fales Inspired by Sellars , BonJour , Does the awareness or acquaintance that is the alleged source of noninferential justification involve the acceptance of a proposition or thought, or at least the categorization of some sensory item or the application of some concept to experience?

If, on the one hand, the acquaintance or awareness is propositional or conceptual in this way, then while such acts or episodes of awareness seem capable, in principle, of justifying other beliefs, they would surely need to be justified themselves. The episode of awareness would involve something like the acceptance of a proposition, or the categorization of experience, and such an attitude or act clearly needs justification if it is to justify anything else.

But then, the allegedly foundational belief is not foundational after all. One proposed solution to the dilemma begins by emphasizing that acquaintance with a fact is not by itself an epistemic relation. The acquaintance theorist can argue that one has a noninferentially justified belief that P only when one has the thought that P and one is acquainted with both the fact that P , the thought that P , and the relation of correspondence holding between the thought that P and the fact that P.

Acts of acquaintance, including acquaintance with propositions, do not involve belief, judgment, or concept application, and so do not need justification.

Epistemic Justification

However, if the objects of acquaintance, that with which we are acquainted, can be propositional, then perhaps acquaintance with the rights sorts of items including propositional ones can make a difference to justification. See Fumerton for a reply of this sort. For a reply that is similar in many respects, see BonJour and The relevance of the truth-maker to the proposition believed is transparent and guaranteed by the manner in which the belief is formed: Without facts that are independent of the thoughts and judgments that represent them, one could not make sense of a relation of acquaintance between a person and a fact, a relation that grounds noninferential justification.

A discussion of problems with the correspondence conception and alternatives would take us far afield, however. For more, see the entry on the correspondence theory of truth. Just as some reject the conception of truth underlying classical foundationalist accounts of noninferential justification, so others profess to be bewildered by some of the fundamental concepts employed in defining noninferential justification.

The acquaintance theorist tends to have relatively little to say by way of analyzing what direct acquaintance is. It is tempting to suppose that for a short time the pain was still present but the person with the pain was no longer aware of the fact that the pain exists. This awareness, the acquaintance theorist will argue, is obviously something over and above mere belief in the existence of the pain, as one can believe that one is in a mental state say a subconscious mental state without being aware of that state.

Like most theories foundationalism will, however, ultimately rest its intelligibility on an appeal to a basic or primitive concept, one that defies further analysis. Just as one needs to end epistemic regresses with foundational justification, the foundationalist will argue, so one needs to end conceptual regresses with concepts one grasps without further definition. Although opponents of classical foundationalism are not always eager to admit it, we suspect that the primary dissatisfaction with classical foundationalism lies with the difficulty the view has avoiding radical skepticism.

On infallible belief, infallible justification, or direct acquaintance theories of foundational justification, there is precious little included in the foundations of knowledge. Most classical foundationalists reject the idea that one can have noninferentially justified beliefs about the past, but the present disappears into the past in the blink of an eye. If the second clause of the Principle of Inferential Justification were accepted, the problem is even more serious.

One might be able to convince oneself that one can know noninferentially the principles of deductive reasoning, but deduction will not take one usefully beyond the foundations of knowledge and justified belief. To advance beyond foundations we will inevitably need to employ non-deductive reasoning and according to PIJ that will ultimately require us to have noninferential knowledge of propositions describing probability connections between evidence and conclusions that are not logically implied by the evidence.

It is not absurd on the face of it to suppose that one can have noninferential a priori knowledge of probabilistic connections, but it is perhaps an understatement to suppose that the view is not popular see Russell for an excellent discussion of this issue. We noted above that at least many philosophers are convinced that acceptance of classical foundationalism leads inevitably to an unacceptably radical skepticism. The doxastic conservative takes the mere fact that you find yourself believing some proposition P to be a prima facie justification for believing the proposition in question.

This view does not imply that the mere fact that you believe something renders the belief justified, for it may be that your belief is prima facie justified but not ultima facie justified: In other words, according to doxastic conservatism, if S believes that P then, in the absence of defeaters , S has justification for believing that P. Many worry that the view is vulnerable to counterexamples, for it seems committed to regarding beliefs that clearly have nothing going for them as justified.

One of the better counterexamples involves cases in which one forms a belief in a proposition one has no evidence for or against. Suppose that despite lacking any evidence for or against the belief, S somehow comes to believe that there is an even number of grains of sand on a particular beach Foley Suppose also that S lacks any defeaters for the belief: S has no evidence against the proposition, and is no longer aware of having formed the belief without evidence or in an unreliable way.

Doxastic conservatism yields the counterintuitive result that this belief is rational or justified.

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For an attempt to respond to this and related objections, see McCain In any event, most foundationalists sympathetic to internalism prefer a view according to which a non-belief state provides justification for noninferential belief. These appearances come in various sorts: While those who accept the principle whether in its general form or as restricted to perceptual seemings do thereby hold that some states provide immediate but underminable or defeasible justification, it is possible to accept that some other states provide immediate but underminable justification and deny that perceptual seemings do.

The main motivation for phenomenal conservatism is straightforward. Prima facie , it is plausible to say that I believe these propositions because they seem or appear to be true—because it seems to me that there is a cat on my lap, that I had fish last night, and so on. If I do indeed believe these things on the basis of these seemings or appearances, and they constitute an adequate source of justification, then, in the absence of defeaters, I am justified in so believing. As Huemer has recently put it,. Unless this challenge can be met, we would be wise to place our trust in the appearances….

The distinction between seemings and beliefs is typically introduced with examples. The same holds for various apparent intuitions and apparent memories that we become convinced are false. Huemer and others will claim that seemings cannot be identified with dispositions to believe, inclinations to believe, or impulses to believe, though not everyone will agree about this.

Huemer argues for this on three main grounds First, it is possible to have a persisting seeming or appearance e. Second, it is possible to be inclined to believe that P because, e. Third, appearances can provide non-trivial explanations for what we believe or what we are disposed to believe: I am inclined to believe that there is a bus approaching because it perceptually seems that there is; understanding the latter seeming as an inclination to believe trivializes the explanation.

Proponents of phenomenal conservatism and dogmatism thus generally hold that seemings are distinct from beliefs and inclinations to believe. And they hold that seemings have a distinctive phenomenal character: One interesting disagreement with important implications for epistemology and the philosophy of mind concerns the relationship between seemings and sensations or sensory experiences. According to some e. For more on the relationship between sensations and seemings, see Tucker In this section, we focus on objections commonly raised against phenomenal conservatism and dogmatism, though they arguably apply to other internalist foundationalist views as well.

Perhaps sensations are representational states, and perhaps there is the kind of representational state that Huemer and other phenomenal conservatives call an appearing or a seeming, but as why should we assume that they accurately represent the world around us? Fear is a representational or propositional state, but from the fact that I fear that there are ghosts, it hardly seems to follow that I have a prima facie justification for believing that there are ghosts. For that matter, belief is a representational state and if we doubt that mere belief can provide justification, why should we think another representational state, like a seeming, provides justification?

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While providing no guarantee that the world is as represented, they simply carry with them justification that other representational states are incapable of providing. Since this problem has been raised against both internalist and externalist alternatives to classical foundationalism, we present this problem in section 8 , after discussing externalism. The objection comes in two forms. If I have prior justification to believe that P e. The usual reply here is that the relevant claim is not counterintuitive. I gain no additional justification via the seeming if I have a good reason to suspect that my having the seeming depends on my having the belief; but in the case where I have no such reason, it is not clearly counterintuitive to say that I am justified.

Suppose, for example, that Jill fears that Jack is angry with her, and that upon seeing Jack that fear partly causes it to seem to her that Jack is angry with her Siegel Many find it counterintuitive that Jill could acquire justification for her belief in this way. The natural suggestion is that the etiology of the belief matters to its epistemic justification see, e.

But at least some phenomenal conservatives admit to feeling the pull of the intuition in response to some of the cases, and attempt to account for it by saying that there is something else that is epistemically bad in the situation—e. The epistemic landscape has changed dramatically in the last thirty or forty years with the rise of externalist epistemologies. It is notoriously difficult to define clearly the controversy between internalists and externalists in epistemology.


For a detailed discussion of alternative ways of defining the controversy, see Fumerton See also the entry on internalist and externalist conceptions of epistemic justification. There are at least two common ways of understanding the controversy. It follows on this view that no two individuals can be internally or mentally alike and yet differ in the justification they have for the same beliefs. Others take the controversy to center over the question of whether one requires certain sorts of access for justification.

While some access internalists seem to have held that everything that determines justification must be accessible, as we are about to see, hardly any internalists hold such a strong position. The access externalist need not deny that something relevant to the truth of P is, at least sometimes, accessible to the subject who has justification for P ; but paradigm externalists deny that access is always required for justification. For example, one might take access internalism to be more fundamental, and hold that one can have access only to mental states and internal facts about them, and so accept mentalism as a consequence.

Or one might take the mentalist thesis to be more fundamental, and argue that one has some minimal access to the relevant mental facts, and so accept some form of access internalism as well. But it is possible to accept one form of internalism and reject the other. Some mentalists might deny that we have access to all the mental states or features that make a difference to justification. There are thus stronger and weaker forms of access internalism, and as a result the epistemic landscape is quite complex. Certainly, paradigm externalists would reject the second clause of the PIJ.

They would also reject a parallel principle for noninferential justification: However, externalists typically allow that in principle one could have a foundational belief in the absence of any appearance or seeming. Some epistemologists have combined some modest internal requirements with externalist ones in their accounts of epistemic justification see, for example, Alston and Steup While the externalist defends radically different views than those of classical foundationalists, the structure of knowledge and justification that emerges from such theories is still often a foundationalist structure.

Justified beliefs are reliably produced beliefs. Reliably produced beliefs are beliefs that are the product of a reliable process, and a reliable process is one that yields beliefs that are usually true or would usually be true if enough of them were generated. Goldman initially distinguished two importantly different sorts of justified beliefs—those that result from belief-independent processes and those that result from belief-dependent processes. So, for example, it is possible that we have evolved in such a way that when prompted with certain sensory input we immediately and unreflectively reach conclusions about external objects.

And we may live in a world in which beliefs about the external world produced in this way are usually true or would usually be true if enough of them were generated. Such beliefs will be justified by virtue of being the product of reliable belief-independent processes. Reliabilists generally add to this a condition requiring, in effect, that there be no defeaters available to the subject—e.

Goldman proposes adding the condition that there be no reliable belief-withholding process available to the subject. These foundational beliefs can in turn be taken as input for reliable belief-dependent processes in order to generate still more justified beliefs. The output beliefs of conditionally reliable belief-dependent processes are justified, provided that the input beliefs are justified. But the sketch is enough to bring out the foundationalist structure inherent in a reliabilist account. The reliabilist actually accepts the first clause of PIJ, and avoids the epistemic regress by embracing a kind of justified belief that does not owe its justification to the having of other justified beliefs.

What Is Epistemic Justification?

Any undefeated belief resulting from a reliable belief-independent process is justified. No other beliefs are involved in the justification. So, such beliefs are foundational. In that sense, Goldman remains interested in providing a general and substantive theory of justification. We have illustrated the way in which an externalist account of justified belief can exemplify a foundationalist structure by examining one of the most prominent versions of externalism, reliabilism. But other versions of externalism are also implicitly or explicitly committed to a version of foundationalism, or, at the very least, give an account of justification that would enable one to distinguish noninferential from inferential justification, direct from indirect knowledge.

On such an account one can distinguish causal chains leading to the belief in question that involve intermediate beliefs from those that do not. Using this distinction, one can again define a distinction between foundational and nonfoundational knowledge: Externalist versions of foundationalism are probably attractive to many because they seem to allow at least the possibility of a much expanded foundational base of justified beliefs.

If nature has been co-operative enough to insure the evolution of cognitive agents who respond to their environmental stimuli with mostly true beliefs, then there might be an enormous store of foundational knowledge upon which we can draw in arriving at inferentially justified conclusions. On most externalist accounts of noninferentially justified belief there are literally no a priori constraints on what might end up being noninferentially justified. Any proposition might have been believed as the result of the operation of some conceivable sort of reliable belief-forming process.

Epistemic Justification - Oxford Scholarship

Moreover, many epistemologists hold that justifiers must in some way be truth-conducive or probable, and the requirement of reliability or some other such external condition makes the connection to the truth explicit. In contrast, non-classical internalist foundationalist views like phenomenal conservatism threaten to sever the connection between justification and truth or probability, for it is possible that propositions that seem true are mostly false.

A full evaluation of externalist versions of foundationalism is far beyond the scope of this entry see the entry on internalist and externalist conceptions of epistemic justification. Here we must inevitably be selective, and focus on reliabilism for illustration see entry on reliabilist epistemology. The very ease with which the externalist can potentially broaden the foundational base of knowledge or justified belief is, ironically, one of the primary concerns of those philosophers unhappy with externalist epistemology.

Recall that for the reliabilist a belief is justified if it is the product of a reliable belief-independent process and there are no defeaters for the belief available to the subject. We can imagine that Norman is a highly reliable clairvoyant, that his clairvoyance produces a belief that the President is in New York.