Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Philosophy for Groups One -- Justification


This term refers to the chain of ideas by which we arrive at a particular belief, and is linked to wider issues of epistemology, a technical word loosely meaning “theory of knowledge.” The kind of justification that most people might be familiar with is scientific or empirical justification. This is essentially a pointing-out of things in the world to back up our beliefs. The scientific method is one formal approach to this, and has been the basis for much technological development.

However, this idea can also be applied purely within the realm of ideas. Some facts are removed from the physical world, and the scientific method itself depends on accepting various kinds of progressions of ideas as being good to use. The most obvious is accepting logical reasoning, but there are also other aspects to this, such as principles of preferring a simple explanation to a complicated one.

Certainly illogical ideas are the easiest ones to reject – someone whose beliefs conflict with each other cannot easily be right on all counts. Sometimes people adopt different beliefs for different contexts, which is pompously called “separate magisteria”, but this is rather different from someone who simply holds a confused set of beliefs about the world.

In order to justify ideas which are not clearly related to physical things, we need another kind of litmus test for working out whether something is worth believing or not.


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