Knowledge, Justification, and the Lost Anxiety over Regress
It’s fascinating to watch Martha Kneale and Allen Phillips Griffiths discussing the analysis of knowledge as justified true belief (JTB) from a completely unexpected angle. The contemporary epistemologist looks at the date of this video, notices it comes ten years after the publication of Gettier’s famous paper against the JTB analysis, and expects Kneale and Griffiths to quarrel about what anti-Gettier condition is the correct one such that, when added to JTB, we get jointly sufficient conditions for knowledge. After all, isn’t that what we’ve all done for at least half of century after Gettier’s paper?
Instead, to my great surprise, as it turns out, the issue discussed is rather the necessity direction of the JTB analysis. Griffiths starts on en force announcing that he is very sceptical about knowledge implying belief, and indeed, firmly convinced that it does not imply justification. The latter, in particular, is the focus of his heated exchange with Kneale.
That knowledge may not imply justification is a pretty extreme idea, even for contemporary epistemologies. Why think so? It turns out that the rationale is a conjunction of a very (very!) old school way to think about the nature of justification, together with great anxiety over the sceptical threat of regress. Kneale and Griffiths disagree about many things in their clever, excellent exchange – including the warrantedness and value of scepticism, the nature of knowledge, the shape of regress stoppers, etc. – but one thing that they definitely both assume without hesitation is a strongly accessibilist, even discursive account of the nature of justification. It turns out that the view of knowledge under discussion is one implying that one has accessible reasons for one’s belief that one can cite in defence thereof. Griffiths thinks this threatens a sceptical regress of reasons, since plausibly one needs to justifiably believe those reasons as well. Kneale disagrees: according to her, true belief about said reasons is enough (strange! on this view, my justified belief that there’s a computer in front of me may turn on wishful thinking or even a lucky coin toss, so long as they deliver a true belief in the reason supporting this belief). One thing the two fantastic interlocutors never disagree about is the nature of justification as accessibilist and discursive, which, for what it’s worth, is probably an even stronger view than Descartes himself assumed. If you still don’t find this as amazing as I do, think only of the fact that reliabilism came just one decade later.
This is telling us how much amazing progress we have made in epistemology. We might have not gotten far on the anti-Gettier analyses, but most of us, no matter what brand of epistemologist we are, definitely do not think about justification in these terms anymore. Indeed, we have now conceptually engineered the term to capture the several importantly different phenomena that we want captured – we have e.g. doxastic justification, propositional justification, discursive justification etc. A view of the doxastic justification involved in knowledge along accessibilist and discursive lines is so foreign to me that, in the beginning, I had a hard time figuring out what Griffiths and Kneale were talking about. Again, it’s amazing how much progress we have made on the nature of epistemic justification, and how we lost our anxiety over regress.
Mona Simion is Professor of Philosophy at the COGITO Epistemology Research Centre, University of Glasgow.
Related videos and essays (all links open in a new window):
- Dostoevsky and Deontology: Bernard Williams debates Kant, utilitarianism and Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment with A. Phillips Griffiths.
Accompanying essay by Christine M. Korsgaard.
- Laws of Nature: R. B. Braithwaite and K. K. Baublys discuss scientific explanation and laws of nature.
Accompanying essay by Anna Alexandrova.