Follow up to this post. The question here is quite short, what would constitute as justification in regards to justified belief theory? Seems something a bit vague to me.

My main motivation to this post was reading this question

  • 1
    In math a proof, in empirical sciences an experimental data, in religion a sacred text... 2 days ago
  • Excellent question. Keep asking it, and you might have some authority to answer the question after years of study. ; )
    – J D
    2 days ago
  • The answer depends on a particular epistemology adopted. According to the currently popular reliabilist epistemology, a belief is justified when it is produced by a reliable process, i.e. one that produces a high percentage of true beliefs. How high is left to context, as it ought to be. What we would consider justified when deciding which road to the destination is shorter may not cut it in life or death situations.
    – Conifold
  • Didn't I fix the epistemology when I said justified belief theory @Conifold yesterday
  • Of course not, there are scores of those.
    – Conifold

2 Answers 2


The word justification has an extended family of epistemological uses. In no particular order of generality (and not exhaustively), see:

  1. Artemov and Fitting, "Justification Logic."
  2. Hasan and Fumerton, "Foundationalist Theories of Epistemic Justification."
  3. Olsson, "Coherentist Theories of Epistemic Justification."
  4. Russell [not Bertrand!], "A Priori Justification and Knowledge".
  5. Silins, "Perceptual Experience and Perceptual Justification."

Resources outside the SEP (miscellaneous):

  1. Barton, "Forms of Justification in Set Theory."
  2. Peskin, "Beyond the Standard Model."
  3. Henriques, "The Justification Hypothesis."
  4. Anderheiden, "Justification by Reflective Equilibrium in Rawls's More Recent Work."
  5. Hunter and Polberg, "Epistemic Graphs for Representing and Reasoning with Positive and Negative Influences of Arguments."
  6. Mullins, "Infinite Cycles and the Graphical Approach to Epistemic Justification."

Often, when engaging in dialogue with established (the cynic will say "entrenched") theorists of one or another stripe, one will be able to pick up on their sense of justification from their usage in context. But so keep in mind "Sayre's law" and the shifting sands of Internet gatekeepers.

  • How on earth is this is so complicated 2 days ago
  • @HopefulWhitepiller at least in English, the word "justification" as used in philosophy was partly inherited from Christian uses of the word, so around the time of the Reformation, the Reinaissance, and the Enlightenment, they would've had to culturally disentangle the terminology while reading the concept back through other terms (e.g. ratio cognoscendi) and so to Socrates/Plato (in the Theaetetus, most acutely). But it's even more complicated than the given list above, for terms like "evidence" and "proof" are also involved. 2 days ago

Kristian, as usual, is thorough. From a tertiary source:

Justification in the epistemological sense is an essentially contested concept:

The term essentially contested concepts gives a name to a problematic situation that many people recognize: that in certain kinds of talk there is a variety of meanings employed for key terms in an argument, and there is a feeling that dogmatism ("My answer is right and all others are wrong"), skepticism ("All answers are equally true (or false); everyone has a right to his own truth"), and eclecticism ("Each meaning gives a partial view so the more meanings the better") are none of them the appropriate attitude towards that variety of meanings.

You could spend your life surveying various definitions proffered for 'justification'. In the simplest sense, it's a process by which belief can be held to be knowledge (presuming you believe such a thing is possible). For some, it's a path for 'proving' knowledge is objective and irrefutable. For others, it's a means of applying a 'warrant' to a possible or likely conclusion that might experience defeaters down the road. For yet others, it's a political tool and shibboleth for determining who gets to share in the exercise of power. And if you hold all to be true, then to a pluralist, it means different things to different people depending on their metaphilosophical views and each view is a theory (which itself requires justification amusingly enough).

That's why in the above article, multiple theories are given:

  • Foundationalism – Basic beliefs justify other, non-basic beliefs.
  • Epistemic coherentism – Beliefs are justified if they cohere with other beliefs a person holds, each belief is justified if it coheres with the overall system of beliefs.
  • Infinitism – Beliefs are justified by infinite chains of reasons.
  • Foundherentism – Both fallible foundations and coherence are components of justification—proposed by Susan Haack.
  • Internalism and externalism – The believer must be able to justify a belief through internal knowledge (internalism), or outside sources of knowledge can be used to justify a belief (externalism). Reformed epistemology – Beliefs are warranted by proper cognitive function—proposed by Alvin Plantinga.
  • Evidentialism – Beliefs depend solely on the evidence for them.
  • Reliabilism – A belief is justified if it is the result of a reliable process.
  • Infallibilism – Knowledge is incompatible with the possibility of being wrong.
  • Fallibilism – Claims can be accepted even though they cannot be conclusively proven or justified.
  • Non-justificationism – Knowledge is produced by attacking claims and refuting them instead of justifying them.
  • Skepticism – Knowledge is impossible or undecidable.

It is my observation that as one evolves one's views to be logically more coherent and epistemologically more articulate, one's personal theory of justification changes. In a sense, we all move from the faith in our parents and guardians as small children through a societally acceptable common-sense view, ultimately graduating, with diligence to very studious and technical notions of justification. In this way, justification and personal truth are inextricably linked.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .