This is more or less just a reference request.

Sometimes, when a belief is revealed to be unjustified, we should respond by either giving up that belief or at the very least, yielding a certain amount of confidence in it. For example, I initially thought I had work last Monday, but then when I found out it was President's Day, that undercut my justification and I promptly became skeptical.

But it seems like there are other times when the lack of justification shouldn't bother us. For example, I can't justify my belief in the inductive principle. But when I became aware of this lack of justification, it didn't shake my confidence in induction---not even a little bit. Moreover, it's hard to see why it should have shaken it.

So I am led to the following:

Question. Can you guys please point me to relevant literature by philosophers who take the view that justification is not always essential for beliefs to be acceptable (in some epistemic sense)?

I guess you could argue about whether the above examples really show what I want them to show, or whether my view is wrong for some other reason. But that's not really the purpose of this question. Rather, I'd like to know if there are any competent, respected philosophers who take a view like mine, and how they express it.


EDIT: When I talk about "justification" I may be using the word more broadly than perhaps I should. For instance, Plantinga thinks that some beliefs are basic in the sense that they are not inferred from other beliefs, but nevertheless he thinks that basic beliefs should have warrant, i.e. they should be properly basic. Maybe technically that doesn't count as justification, but it's still the sort of thing that I don't buy. I'd like to find a philosopher or two who agrees that we are within epistemic norms or rights, or something like that, to take certain beliefs on "faith alone," so to speak. Forgive the religious language, but that's the best way I know how to articulate it.

  • I think a relevant view is foundationalism, which takes some beliefs to be 'foundational' and not depend on any other for their justification (which may count as unjustified in the sense you mean): plato.stanford.edu/entries/justep-foundational
    – E...
    Feb 24, 2019 at 19:03
  • @Eliran thank you for the comment. It's my fault for not being clear in the original question, but I think foundationalists aren't really going to be on the same page with me here. I've edited my post to clarify. Sorry!
    – Ben W
    Feb 24, 2019 at 19:18
  • are you essentially asking.which beliefs constitute knowledge.. and which do not? I think.if you.search.the words 'true, justified belief' you'll end up with.the answer you're looking for. Essentially... everyone except scientists are still.arguing about how we justify our beliefs.
    – Richard
    Feb 24, 2019 at 23:38
  • You should probably reconsider your confidence in the "inductive principle", since it is invalid and only generates plausible hypotheses in need of justification. Some philosophers do allow "properly basic beliefs" that "can be justifiably held without the justification of other beliefs". Beliefs in God and elementary arithmetic are often given as examples. In recent times this stance was adopted in the theologically oriented reformed epistemology. Alston, Plantinga and Wolterstorff are the best known proponents
    – Conifold
    Feb 25, 2019 at 5:17
  • Materialists are forced to believe on faith alone and there are many materialist philosophers. They should be able to provide plenty of examples. Then there are all the believers in dualism, scientism, epiphenomenlism and so forth, who must all argue for faith-based positions absent any justification. Looking around at the beliefs of scientists and philosophers I'm not sure many care a whole lot about justification. Most seem to adopt the view that beliefs do not have to be justified to be acceptable. But to paraphrase Feargal Sharkey, a good argument is hard to find....
    – user20253
    Feb 25, 2019 at 10:19

2 Answers 2


The most obvious book that comes to mind is :

Michael Williams, Groundless Belief, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, and Yale University Press, New Haven, 1977.

A useful article is :

Paul Horwich, 'Ungrounded Reason', The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 105, No. 9, Epistemic Norms. Part One (Sep., 2008), pp. 453-471.

Wittgenstein's On Certainty is also relevant : a guide to some key points is to be found in:

Dallas M. High, 'Wittgenstein on Doubting and Groundless Believing', Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 49, No. 2 (Jun., 1981), pp. 249-266.

Or in more detail :

Thomas Morawetz, Wittgenstein and Knowledge: The Importance of On Certainty, ISBN 10: 0855279575 / ISBN 13: 9780855279578. Published by Harvester Press, 1980.


Here is the question:

Can you guys please point me to relevant literature by philosophers who take the view that justification is not always essential for beliefs to be acceptable (in some epistemic sense)?

The "should" question whether beliefs should be justified raises the question of moral obligation. If one should do something or other, including justifying one's beliefs, to whom or what are we obligated to do so? It might be the government. It might be members of one's family or friends. It might be some deity.

If one is a theist, it is easy to identify this Who. It would be the God identified by that theism to Whom one is morally obligated. But if one is not a theist perhaps the largest entity, outside of oneself or one's acquaintances, one might be obligated to would be some government.

G. E. M. Anscombe discusses the theme of moral obligation in her paper, Modern Moral Philosophy. She questions not just a moral obligation to justify one's beliefs, but any moral obligation whatsoever.

Before one asks should one be morally obligated to justify one's beliefs, one needs to identify to whom or what one should be so obligated. Then one needs to question whether one should have such obligations at all especially if acknowledging such moral obligations makes matters worse than they would be without those obligations.

Anscombe, G. E. M. (1958). Modern moral philosophy. Philosophy, 33(124), 1-19. https://www.pitt.edu/~mthompso/readings/mmp.pdf

  • Sorry, I wasn't referring at all to moral obligation. I just meant "should" in the everyday plain English sense.
    – Ben W
    Feb 25, 2019 at 23:18
  • @BenW You might want to ask yourself whether that everyday plain English sense of "should" does not contain moral obligation, guilt, and right or wrong. The "shoulds" I hear people use imply all of these things. It is not just about making a mistake or getting it right nor being talented or not. To bring it closer to your concern of justifying belief - why should one justify belief to others? Why should one label others "irrational" who do not justify their beliefs to our standards? Are they morally blamable for believing whatever they want to believe? If so, what justifies that blame? Feb 26, 2019 at 0:55

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