Friday, November 05, 2004

Why justification?

While talking to Marc at lunch today, he gave us a quick account of his theory of knowledge. He called it externalist, and said that it required no component of justification. For fear of misrepresentation, I will not attempt to flesh out his view further here.

It's clear that traditional epistemology has been concerned with, if not focused on, the notion of justification as required for knowledge. Is this really the thing to do? Can we analyze 'knowledge' and 'justification' separately, acknowledging their typical correlation, but admitting that neither is a necessary nor sufficient condition for the other? I know some of you out there are probably foaming at the mouth while reading this, and I want to know why.

This may just sound like the internalist/externalist debate, but I want to assure you that it is not. In fact, Marc also gave us a brief account of his notion of justification, which he claims is internalist. What is at issue here is rather: Is justification (either internalist or externalist) at all relevant to having knowledge?

Something I should point out about myself as a philosopher that concerns both this post and the other that I started. Just because I pose these questions does not imply that I stand on either side of the debate. Rather, I find myself playing devil's advocate. For instance, regarding the 'stubborn epistemologists?' post, I tend to agree with Ed that there is a priori knowledge, regardless of whether or not we are hard-wired to think logically. But while pressuring myself into coming up with an argument for holding that belief I was unable to do so. Hence, I found myself holding the position dogmatically, or as I put it earlier, being stubborn. I just don't want people to think that I'm writing these to cause arguments or undermine the beliefs of others--Oftentimes I'm hoping that you folks can help me justify the beliefs that we already share. :-)


At 11:49 PM, November 05, 2004, Blogger Ed said...

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At 12:05 AM, November 06, 2004, Blogger Ed said...

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At 12:29 AM, November 06, 2004, Blogger Ed said...


I'm too busy putting chocolate ice-cream into my mouth to foam at the mouth. :-)
   Would it be safe to say that you're asking, "Why should any concept of justification be a part of one's conceptual analysis of knowledge?"

At 1:21 AM, November 06, 2004, Blogger Chris said...

Well, we typically think of knowledge as justified true belief. My question is: Why justification? I'm sure there's an argument somewhere in the historical literature for its inclusion, I'd just like to hear what it is.

Ed, I'm glad you were too busy indulging in ice cream to become upset. What a happy coincidence. ;-)

I understand the arguments that Tim typically brings up in class, namely, that this notion of internal justification is what has been occupying the works of philosophers for the past few centuries. I concede this, but I ask: Does this mean it's the right thing to do?

At 7:00 PM, November 06, 2004, Blogger Jonah said...

Chris, my attempted summary of your question: Why believe that justification is at all relevant to having knowledge? At the risk of sounding too simple-minded, I want to respond by saying that we ought to take justification as relevant to the concept of knowledge simply because this is part of what our concept of knowledge entails. That is, part of what we mean in an everyday sense by "knowledge" includes the idea of "justification." Witness the following excerpt from the Theaetetus (Danielle, eat your heart out!):

TH: ...true belief is knowledge
S: ...You will find a whole profession to prove that true belief is not knowledge.
TH: How so? What profession?
S: The profession of those paragons of intellect known as orators and lawyers. There you have men who use their skill to produce conviction, not by instruction, but by making people believe whatever they want them to believe. You can hardly imagine teachers so clever as to be able, in the short time allowed by the clock, to instruct their hearers thoroughly in the true facts of a case of robbery or other violence which those hearers had not witnessed...And when a jury is rightly convinced of facts which can be known only by an eyewitness, then judging by hearsay and accepting a true belief, they are judging without knowledge, although, if they find the right verdict, their conviction is correct?
TH: Certainly.
S: But if true belief and knowledge were the same thing, the best of jurymen could never have a correct belief without knowledge. It now appears that they must be different things.
TH: Yes, Socrates, I have heard someone make the distinction. I had forgotten, but now it comes back to me. He said that true belief with the addition of reason was knowledge, while belief without reason was outside its range. Where no reason could be given of a thing, it was not "knowable"…where it could, it was knowable.
(I have translated “logos” as “reason” here).

Just as Plato does, it seems right to analyze knowledge as a species of true belief. But what distinguishes knowledge from other true beliefs? Socrates answers this question with the help of lawyers. Here is my version: I believe that my wife is driving a car at the moment I write this. Why? No reason, I just believe it. Now, what if this belief is true – then I have a true belief; of course, the point is that we wouldn’t want to say that I have knowledge in this case. But what is different about this particular true belief that distinguishes it from knowledge? I say it is precisely the fact that I have no reason to believe it. Thus, it is most intuitive I think to say that knowledge is reasonable (justified) true belief.

Now, perhaps one can quip with Bertrand Russell that this is just an argument appealing to the silly ways that silly people talk (or however that goes exactly), and I guess that this would work to some extent. Yet, I think that one consequence of the point that I am making here is that for someone to just leave out justification when he / she talks about knowledge would be to talk about something different than what we normally talk about as knowledge.

Justification as reason – or justification in the internalist sense – then seems to be a necessary ingredient for knowledge. Notably, many externalists – the majority I dare say – only have dropped this intuition because they are convinced that the internalist project of old-fashioned strong foundationalism has failed. Yet, the intuition remains and this is why I think that justification remains.

At 12:35 AM, November 07, 2004, Blogger Chris said...

I guess the best thing for me to do would be to refer you to Marc's paper. I was thinking about just paraphrasing it, but he does a really good job of making his point rather without being to verbose or long-winded. So, read the first six sections of this paper if you have time. It shouldn't take more than ten minutes.

At 1:27 PM, November 10, 2004, Blogger xanthippe said...

I think it's important to remember here that although plato does present us with the hypothesis that knowledge is true belief plus logos (jonah translated logos as a reason or an account, which is the common translation), he does (a page or so later) decide that true belief plus an account cannot be knowledge. it is quite possible to have true belief plus an account without having knowledge. plato doesn't quite do a gettier style example here, but his point is the same. we need something more than mere justification. i'm inclined to think that although TJB is a good start, we need something more... to be a true definition of knowledge, logos needs to be more than justification... but what?

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