Theory of justification is a part of epistemology that attempts to understand the justification of propositions and beliefs. Epistemologists are concerned with various epistemic features of belief, which include the ideas of justification, warrant, rationality, and probability. Of these four terms, the term that has been most widely used and discussed in the past twenty years is "warrant". Loosely speaking, justification is the reason why someone (properly) holds the belief, the explanation as to why the belief is a true one, or an account of how one knows what one knows.
If A makes a claim, and B then casts doubt on it, A's next move would normally be to provide justification. Empiricism (the evidence of the senses), authoritative testimony (the appeal to criteria and authority), and logical deduction are often involved in justification.
Justification based theories of knowledge can be divided into:
- irrationalism, which appeals to irrational criteria and authorities (feelings, faith) and
- panrationalism, which appeals to rational criteria and authorities (observation, intellectual intuition).
Subjects of justification
Many things can be justified: beliefs, actions, emotions, claims, laws, theories and so on. Epistemology focuses on beliefs. This is in part because of the influence of the definition of knowledge as "justified true belief" often associated with a theory discussed near the end of the Socratic dialogue Theaetetus. More generally, theories of justification focus on the justification of statements or propositions.
Justifications and explanations
Justification is the reason why someone properly holds a belief, the explanation as to why the belief is a true one, or an account of how one knows what one knows. In much the same way arguments and explanations may be confused with each other, so too may explanations and justifications. Statements which are justifications of some action take the form of arguments. For example attempts to justify a theft usually explain the motives (e.g., to feed a starving family).
It is important to be aware when an explanation is not a justification. A criminal profiler may offer an explanation of a suspect's behavior (e.g.; the person lost their job, the person got evicted, etc.). Such statements may help us understand why the person committed the crime, however an uncritical listener may believe the speaker is trying to gain sympathy for the person and his or her actions. It does not follow that a person proposing an explanation has any sympathy for the views or actions being explained. This is an important distinction because we need to be able to understand and explain terrible events and behavior in attempting to discourage it.
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