Not only are we in the grip of a staggeringly complex array of cognitive biases and dispositions, but we are generally ignorant of their role in our thinking and decision-making. Combine this ignorance with the conviction of our own epistemic superiority, and you can begin to see the magnitude of the problem. We need, therefore, a systematic way of interrogating our own thinking, our models of rationality, and our own sense of what makes for a good reason. It can be used as a more objective standard for assessing the merit of claims made in the public arena.
One of the clearest ways to understand critical thinking is as applied epistemology. Issues such as the nature of logical inference , why we should accept one line of reasoning over another, and how we understand the nature of evidence and its contribution to decision making, are all decidedly epistemic concerns. The American philosopher Harvey Siegel points out that these questions and others are essential in an education towards thinking critically. By what criteria do we evaluate reasons?
How are those criteria themselves evaluated? What is it for a belief or action to be justified? What is the relationship between justification and truth? To the extent that critical thinking is about analysing and evaluating methods of inquiry and assessing the credibility of resulting claims, it is an epistemic endeavour.
Engaging with deeper issues about the nature of rational persuasion can also help us to make judgements about claims even without specialist knowledge.
Epistemology and critical thinking
In this way, epistemology serves not to adjudicate on the credibility of science, but to better understand its strengths and limitations and hence make scientific knowledge more accessible. One of the enduring legacies of the Enlightenment , the intellectual movement that began in Europe during the 17th century, is a commitment to public reason. In other words, to produce and prosecute an argument. Read more: How to teach all students to think critically. That is your destiny and purpose in the world.
If error is unjustified, the truth is given all justification. Come to this in your longer practice periods in stillness and receptivity. Be grateful today that your errors have been forgiven. Be grateful today that condemnation is not justified. Be grateful today that you have this opportunity to come to Knowledge, which will affirm that which is truest and greatest within you.
Be grateful today that there is no justification in denying this, for without guilt and blame you can only receive that which life has to offer you. Very generally, justification is the right standing of an action, person, or attitude with respect to some standard of evaluation. Some argue that right standing refers to whether the beliefs are more likely to be true.
Others argue that it refers to whether they are more likely to be knowledge. Still others argue that it refers to whether those beliefs were formed or are held in a responsible or virtuous manner. Because of its evaluative role, justification is often used synonymously with rationality. So, while it is intuitive to say a justified belief is a rational belief, it is also intuitive to say that a person is rational for holding a justified belief. This article focuses on theories of epistemic justification and sets aside their relationship to rationality. In addition to being an evaluative concept, many philosophers hold that justification is normative.
Having justified beliefs is better, in some sense, than having unjustified beliefs, and determining whether a belief is justified tells us whether we should, should not, or may believe a proposition. But this normative role is controversial, and some philosophers have rejected it for a more naturalistic, or science-based, role.
Regardless of whether justification refers to right belief or responsible belief, or whether it plays a normative or naturalistic role, it is still predominantly regarded as essential for knowledge. This article introduces some of the questions that motivate theories of epistemic justification, explains the goals that a successful theory must accomplish, and surveys the most widely discussed versions of these theories.
Consider your simplest, most obvious beliefs: the color of the sky, the date of your birth, what chocolate tastes like.
Are these beliefs justified for you? What would explain the rightness or fittingness of these beliefs? One prominent account of justification is that a belief is justified for a person only if she has a good reason for holding it. If you were to ask me why I believe the sky is blue and I were to answer that I am just guessing or that my horoscope told me, you would likely not consider either a good reason. In either case, I am not justified in believing the sky is blue, even if it really is blue.
However, if I were to say, instead, that I remember seeing the sky as blue or that I am currently seeing that it is blue, you would likely think better of my reason. So, having good reasons is a very natural explanation of how our beliefs are justified. Further, the possibility that my belief that the sky is blue is not justified, even if it is true that the sky is blue, suggests that justification is more than simply having a true belief. All of my beliefs may be true, but if I obtained them accidentally or by faulty reasoning, then they are not justified for me; if I am seeking knowledge, I have no right to hold them.
Epistemology and critical thinking
Further still, true belief may not even be necessary for justification. We can imagine this was the situation of many physicists in the late s. If this is right, justification is fallible —it is possible to be justified in believing false propositions.
Though some philosophers have, in the past, rejected fallibilism about justification, it is now widely accepted. Having good reasons, it turns out, does not guarantee having true beliefs. But the idea that justification is a matter of having good reasons faces a serious obstacle. Normally, when we give reasons for a belief, we cite other beliefs.
But does this mean that proposition 3 is epistemically justified for you? Even if the combination of propositions 1 and 2 counts as a good reason to believe 3, proposition 3 is not justified unless both 1 and 2 are also justified. Do we have good reasons for believing 1 and 2? If not, then according to the good reasons account of justification, propositions 1 and 2 are unjustified, which means that 3 is unjustified. If we do have good reasons for believing 1 and 2, do we have good reasons for believing those propositions?
How long does our chain of good reasons have to be before even one belief is justified?
The Analysis of Knowledge
These questions lead to a classic dilemma. Horn A: If there are no good reasons to believe proposition 1, then proposition 1 is unjustified, which means 3 is unjustified. Horn B: If there is a good reason to believe proposition 1, say proposition 1 a , then either 1 a is unjustified or we need another belief, proposition 1 b , to justify 1 a. If this process continues infinitely, then 1 is ultimately unjustified, and, therefore, 3 is unjustified.
Horn A of the dilemma is the problem of skepticism about justification. If our most obvious beliefs are unjustified, then no belief derived from them is justified; and if no belief is justified, we are left with an extreme form of skepticism. Horn B of the dilemma is called the regress problem. If every reason we offer requires a reason that also requires a reason, and so on, infinitely, then no belief is ultimately justified.
Responses to this dilemma typically take one of two forms. On one hand, we might embrace Horn A, which is, in effect, to adopt skepticism and eschew any further attempts to justify our beliefs. This is the classic route of the Pyrrhonian skeptics, such as Sextus Empiricus, and some later Academic skeptics, such as Arcesilaus.
For more on these views, see Ancient Greek Skepticism.
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On the other hand, we might offer an explanation of how beliefs can be justified in spite of the dilemma. In other words, we might offer an account of epistemic justification that resolves the dilemma, either by constructing a third, less problematic option or by showing that Horn B is not as troublesome as philosophers have traditionally supposed. This non-skeptical route is the majority position and the focus of the remainder of this article. Philosophers tend to agree that any adequate account of epistemic justification—that is, an account that resolves the dilemma—must do at least three things: 1 explain how a belief comes to be justified for a person, 2 explain what role justification plays in our belief systems, and 3 explain what makes justification valuable in a way that is not merely practically or aesthetically valuable.
Among those who reject the inferential assumption, some argue that justification is grounded in special beliefs, called basic beliefs, that are either obviously true or supported by non-belief states, such as perceptions foundationalism.