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Berkeley Philosophy Reading Group Message Board › Degree of Justification

Degree of Justification

Phillip w.
user 10392450
Milpitas, CA
Post #: 15
I don 't have time to read the literature on it. I want a brief outline of the argument for why justification comes in degrees. Thanks.
user 5618101
Group Organizer
Berkeley, CA
Post #: 109
I don 't have time to read the literature on it. I want a brief outline of the argument for why justification comes in degrees. Thanks.

I have to say that when we discussed knowledge­ two years ago, this idea seemed natural to those members who were present, simply from our idea of what justification is, and wasn't something that required an argument.

In my description of that meetup, I quoted Susan Haack's book, Evidence and Inquiry, for saying "the concept of justification ... is essentially gradational." Chapter 4 of the book goes into that subject in more detail:­
Paul M. P.
user 7553533
San Francisco, CA
Post #: 34
Phillip - It may be that your intuition that justification cannot admit of degrees is due to thinking about it only in one certain sense: the sense in which a person is justified in believing something, or not. Here, being justified is an absolute attribute in that a person either is justified or is not.

There is, however, a second second sense of justification suggested by the following: we might ask, how much justification is needed for someone to be justified in believing something. Clearly the expression 'how much justification' assumes that justification has a continuous sense: that is, that one can have more or less justification for believing something.

In terms of word use, the occasion of a single notion having a continuous sense and a discrete sense is not unusual. Consider the question: How good at golf must one be to be good at golf? This uses 'good' in the continuous sense first, then in the absolute sense. Also consider: How happy must one be to be happy? How tall must one be to be tall? Compare with: How justified must one be to be justified?

The question remains, however, as to what it means to be justified to one degree as opposed to another, which is your stated question. Below, I give my more or less offhand view on the matter.

A first point is that assuming that justification comes in degrees, one can have some justification for believing something without being justified in believing that something. This is important because it places a check on the (presumably incorrect) sense that one has no justification for believing something unless one is justified in believing it.

Let us now ask what a person has when they are justified in the absolute sense in believing something. To me, this would seem to be evidence (whatever we take evidence to be). It seems to me that justification in the continuous sense is tied to the fact that we can have more or less evidence for something, and that justification in the absolute sense means there is a degree of evidence that warrants the special label of 'being justified'. So, what it it would mean to be justified to one degree as opposed to another would be that there is one amount of evidence opposed to another. That it takes a certain amount of evidence to be justified in the absolute sense is a different consideration. Hope this helps.

Phillip w.
user 10392450
Milpitas, CA
Post #: 18

I think this construct is very ambiguous. It makes intuitive sense to say "S is more justified in hypothesis H, than K at time T1", but why should H be more justified, than K at T1? There are two possible answers:

1. If your answer is that H satisfy some conditions C, while K fails to satisfy C, then you have just proposed a set of necessary, and sufficient conditions( ie C ) for some hypothesis to be justified( or not be justified). If this is the case, then there is no need for a degree of justification.


2. If your answer is that H is more justified than K, because there are more evidence for H, than K. This would mean the agent could update the degree of justification for each hypothesis with additional evidence. This view seems to reduce to some Bayesian view of justification, and Bayesian updating. The similar question would emerge in this new probabilistic framework. We can ask "why the prior probability of H, and K are the way they are?".

Phillip w.
user 10392450
Milpitas, CA
Post #: 19
I think I need to say more about view 2. I don 't know if people understand Bayesian updating. Suppose the hypothesis in question is H, and K. In this view, the justification of a hypothesis P increases by some degrees with additional evidences in support of P. We can imagine a situation where the a priori justification for H is greater than K. We can imagine gaining successive evidences equally in support of both H, and K. After each updating, both hypothesis gain the same amount of degrees. After many updating, we reach the conclusion that H is justified than K at some time t. Is this satisfying? No, because we still have not answer why the a priori justification for H is greater than K.
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