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  • Does Justification Aim at Truth?
  • Peter J. Graham (bio)

Does epistemic justification aim at truth? The vast majority of epistemologists instinctively answer 'Yes'; it's the textbook response. Joseph Cruz and John Pollock surprisingly say no. In 'The Chimerical Appeal of Epistemic Externalism' they argue that justification bears no interesting connection to truth; justification does not even aim at truth. 'Truth is not a very interesting part of our best understanding' of justification (C&P 2004, 137); it has no 'connection to the truth.' A 'truth-aimed ... epistemology is not entitled to carry the day' (C&P 2004, 138, emphasis added).

Pollock and Cruz's argument for this surprising conclusion is of general interest for it is 'out of step with a very common view on the part of epistemologists, both internalist and externalist alike' (C&P 2004, 136), as nearly all 'epistemologists have claimed that truth and falsity play a crucial role in distinguishing between justified and unjustified beliefs [for] believing truths is the ultimate aim of human rational cognition' (C&P 2004, 125; cf. Audi 1988).

I shall show their argument falls short. Though they purport to show that justification does not aim at promoting truth and avoiding error, and in so doing supposedly reveal that externalism's appeal is but 'chimerical,' all they actually show is that one version of externalism won't do. I will even show that a view they are well known for opposing — the view they call 'norm externalism' — is a view they can, and should, embrace. In so doing I shall sketch an account where justification [End Page 51] functions so as to promote truth and avoid error. Justification aims at truth, and they should think so too.

The interest of the present paper lies not simply in the refutation of Pollock and Cruz's argument. For their confidence that justification does not aim at truth derives not only from their rejection of traditional reliabilism, but also from the widely shared conviction that the traditional reliabilist has the upper hand when it comes to connecting justification and truth, a conviction that I shall critically examine. Furthermore, their confidence does not merely derive from this argument, but from the general tenor of Pollock's naturalist epistemology, where epistemology is continuous with the cognitive and evolutionary sciences. Their argument is, in a way, an expression of Pollock and Cruz's inability to find a place for truth in their naturalist research project. If the account I sketch is on the right track, then I shall have found a place for truth in their epistemology. And so my paper has four aims: to undermine Pollock and Cruz's argument; to critically examine the conviction that the traditional reliabilist best connects justification with truth; to sketch an alternative where justification aims at truth; and to find a place for truth in Pollock and Cruz's epistemology.

I

Before turning to their argument, I'll first characterize how Pollock and Cruz understand justification.

For Pollock and Cruz, justification is first and foremost a procedural notion, where a belief is justified iff formed or sustained by rational procedures of belief-formation. Being justified has to do with how beliefs are formed and sustained (Pollock 1999, 385-6; P&C 1999, 14-15). Some beliefs are formed in ways that justify those beliefs; some are not. Justified beliefs result from following the correct rational (or good cognitive) procedures; unjustified beliefs result from incorrect procedures.1 Ordinary deductive or good inductive reasoning provide good examples of beliefs based on rational procedures. Suppose Susan believes P [End Page 52] and if P then Q, and then infers Q on the basis of those beliefs and sensitivity to modus ponens. She formed the belief that Q in a correct or rational way. Paradigmatically, rational belief formation preserves truth. If your premises are true, and you reason in a rational way, then your conclusions are (likely) to be true as well.

Pollock and Cruz — like many other moderate internalist foundationalists — extend this way of seeing justification to perceptual justification. A perceptual representation normally leads to perceptual belief. The normal transition from perception to belief is a rational (or good cognitive) procedure. Pollock and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-0820
Print ISSN
0045-5091
Pages
pp. 51-71
Launched on MUSE
2011-05-25
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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