Notes from “What Is Justified Belief?” by A Goldman

August 21, 2012 — Leave a comment

Goldman is offering here a different account of justification. With regard to Cartesian accounts of justified belief, Goldman denies that justification is necessary for knowing. He proposes here a form of justification which is necessary for knowing. He sets out to construct a set of substantive conditions that specify when a belief is justified.

“I want a theory of justified belief to specify in non-epistemic terms when a belief is justified.” (Goldman, p105)

” […] it is not enough for a theory to state ‘correct’ necessary and sufficient conditions. Its conditions must also be appropriately deep or revelatory.” (p106)

“It is often assumed that whenever a person has a justified belief, he knows that it is justified and knows what the justification is. It is further assumed that the person can state or explain what his justification is. On this view, a justification is an argument, defense, or set of reasons that can be given in support of a belief. Thus, one studies the nature of justified belief by considering what a person might say if asked to defend, or justify, his belief. I make none of these sorts of assumptions here. I leave it an open question whether, when a belief is justified, the believer knows it is justified. I also leave it an open question whether, when a belief is justified, the believer can give or state a justification for it. I do not even assume that when a belief is justified there is something ‘possessed’ by the believer which can be called a ‘justification.’.” (p106)

Epistemic and Non-Epistemic Phrases

The proposition: ‘S‘s belief in p at time t is justified.’

base-clause principles:

1) If S believes p at t, and p is indubitable for S (at t), then S‘s belief in p at t is justified.

If by indubitable this means that S has grounds for believing p, it is inadmissible as Goldman seeks to avoid epistemic terms in antecedents of base clauses. If we took it as S is psychologically incapable of doubting p, this would be acceptable though not revealing or necessarily correct. A cult member may be psychologically incapable of doubting his leader, and his belief absolutely unjustified.

2) If S believes p at t, and p is self evident, then S‘s belief in p at t is justified.

‘evident’ comes across as a synonym for ‘justified’. ‘Self-evident’ would therefore mean ‘intuitively justified’. On this reading ‘self-evident’ is therefore an epistemic phrase. Another reading of ‘self-evident’ might go: “It is impossible to understand p without believing it.” This seems a weak argument for justification. It assumes that people will have an inability to refrain from believing such a proposition and that such an inability somehow justifies belief. Should we take ‘impossible’ to mean ‘impossible in principle’ or ‘logically impossible’? This second principle doesn’t seem to provide much depth or clarity.

3) If p is a self-presenting proposition, and p is true for S at t, and S believes p at t, then S‘s belief in p at t is justified.

‘Self-presentation’ is an approximate synonym of ‘self-intimation’: Proposition p is self-presenting if and only-if; necessarily, for any S and any t, if p is true for S at t, then S believes p at t. This formulation seems more robust but still runs into logic problems. For instance: p = ‘I am awake’ S could believe p whilst in a dream state.

Justification proofs seem to be fallible to real world influence, randomness etc. There will always be a way to weaken a logical, justification system through random events and influences from real world experience; so this must somehow be included in any formulation.


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