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I'm wondering if there is a technical distinction I've been missing between 'ground' and 'justification' in philosophy. If I say that my true belief is 'grounded', isn't that the same as saying that my true belief is 'justified'? And if I say my true belief is 'justified', doesn't that mean my true belief is 'grounded'? Also, when I ask someone for the 'grounds' of their belief, presumably I'm asking them for the 'justification' of their belief, for the 'good reasons' behind them, no? Would appreciate it if someone could clarify this for me.

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    Colloquially, the words may be used interchangeably, but they have more technical meaning in philosophy. Grounding is weaker than justification and more narrow, "grounding is understood to be a form of constitutive (as opposed to causal or probabilistic) determination or explanation" SEP, Metaphysical Grounding. In other words, it lays out structural relations that can be used in some forms of (non-causal) justification, the groundwork as it were, but it does not do the justifying itself.
    – Conifold
    Commented Apr 19 at 18:20
  • @Conifold No, these words cannot and should not be used interchangeably: that is the opposite of what is sensible. Indeed, that SEP article itself, despite it is narrower than the present question, still does not support any such reduction. And, in particular, that grounding is non-causal and is not justification is eventually completely wrong. Commented Apr 20 at 2:31
  • A good resource is: Fabrice Correia & Benjamin Schnieder (editor), Metaphysical Grounding: Understanding the Structure of Reality (Cambridge University Press, 2012); see page 37: "A number of philosophers have recently become receptive to the idea that, in addition to scientific or causal explanation, there may be a distinctive kind of metaphysical explanation, in which explanans and explanandum are connected, not through some sort of causal mechanism, but through some constitutive form of determination." Commented Apr 22 at 14:21
  • But is grounding metaphysical or epistemological? If the first, it is not necessarily linked to justification. Commented Apr 22 at 15:33

6 Answers 6

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I'm wondering if there is a technical distinction I've been missing between 'ground' and 'justification' in philosophy.

Not only in philosophy, the meaning of these words transcends philosophy which rather tries to clarify. In fact, a philosophical dictionary might help, but I have no accessible references. In my own words:

"Grounding" is a special case of "justifying", where the justification proceeds from (concrete) evidence.

A "ground" is what something "concretely" stands upon (the ground of an argument, or the ground of a discipline), its value being in this very connection with the concrete reality we are supposedly talking or acting upon. Grounding is synonym with giving substance.

Justification is broader and needn't be connected with issues of concrete/substantial reality, namely, it can be justification of abstract "principles".

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Short answer, hopefully it maketh some sense.

Axioms would count as grounds (the seed).
The move from axioms to theorems is justification (the tree of knowledge issues forth)

For example, physicalism is the grounds from which the nonexistence of an afterlife is justified.

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A similar answer has already been downvoted, but you are getting my thoughts anyway. 'Grounded' is just a type or refinement of 'justification'. Justification means there are some reasons that warrant something. If those reasons, that justification, primarily relies on something 'more fundamental', then it is more descriptive to say that something is grounded on that thing.

I have a justified belief that sun will rise tomorrow, 
given that it has so regularly done so, and for such a long time.

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My belief that the sun will rise tomorrow is grounded on my vast experience.

Note the first one, by describing it as only 'justified', longs for more details. But the second one is saying it is based on something more fundamental, experience and no further details are wanting.

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As with many questions like this, it may be a matter of personal preference when to use one word in preference to another, however, I would make the distinction as follows:

Grounded is the word I would choose when using the correspondence theory of truth. My belief is grounded if I can find some physical, sensory evidence to support it.

Justified is more general and I can use it in place of grounded but I can also use the word when applying the pragmatic theory of truth, such as in Mathematics. My belief that 1+1=2 is justified because it makes sense and does not contradict anything which I already know.

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grounding is understood to be a form of constitutive (as opposed to causal or probabilistic) determination or explanation

Would a justification of our belief not be a "ground" of our knowledge?

I justify my belief that it is raining with the water on the pane, and that justification constitutes my knowledge and has some role (perhaps linked to explanation) in forming it.

the truck drivers are engaged in a labor strike in virtue of picketing

Similarly, I know that it is raining in virtue of the window pane.

I can't say that's exactly what metaphysical grounding means (that it's not just a red herring), given that the concept is not settled. It would account for the closeness (of 'grounded' and 'justified') in our everyday discussions.

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  • i do have no idea, but sounds plausible, that's all
    – andrós
    Commented Apr 27 at 4:26
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Yes there is a technical distinction in philosophy. Here I use the adjective 'technical' to convey a multiplicity of distinctions that are so ill-defined, obscure and disputed that the SEP devotes an entire topic to an account of them.

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  • i think you bneed to seriously do some work in terms of what exactly you mean by "technical", because that is quite a contested term of art around here
    – andrós
    Commented Apr 27 at 9:56

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