Anti-justificationist criticism

In my paper " Constructing a Comprehensively Anti-justificationist Position" I expound and endorse anti-justificationism. (Elsewhere on this website I briefly characterise anti-justificationism and justificationism.) Criticism is very important in anti-justificationism. Criticising a theory is rarely a mechanical affair; it usually involves a certain amount of flair and original thinking. The following eight questions, when asked of a theory, may suggest areas of weakness where criticism should be directed. The first three can be asked of any type of theory; the remaining five are only relevant when we are trying to criticise an empirical theory. These questions can be found on pp. 124–126 of my paper. The labels used here correspond to those used there.

(i) Is this theory consistent?

If we discover that a theory is inconsistent, then the inconsistency needs to be removed. Although people sometimes work with inconsistent theories, this is just a stop-gap measure until the source of the inconsistency can be located and a more acceptable solution found.

(ii) What problem is this theory intended to solve?

Theories are put forward in order to solve problems and one way to criticise a theory is to show that it does not solve a genuine problem.

(iii) Does this theory successfully solve the problem it was put forward to solve?

Even if a theory is put forward in order to solve a genuine problem, it may be that it does not solve it very well.

(iv) Is this theory consistent with observed facts?

If an empirical theory, together with some initial conditions, entails a prediction which is contradicted by an observation report, then that theory has been falsified, unless we have good reasons to think that either the initial conditions or the observation report are at fault.

(v) Is this theory better than its rivals?

Even if a group of two or more empirical theories are all consistent, have all adequately solved the same problems and none of them have been falsified, it may still be possible to think that one of the theories is better than its rivals. We may decide, for example, to pick the simplest theory.

(vi) Is this theory in conflict with a scientific theory that has survived a lot of criticism?

If there is some sort of conflict with another scientific theory, then either we have to give up or modify the proposed theory or else we have to give up or modify the other theory. In order to decide what to do we would need to subject both theories to further criticism.

(vii) Is this theory in conflict with the methodology of its parent discipline?

If there is a conflict, then either the theory or the methodology has to go, but we would need to submit both to further criticism in order to decide which it is.

(viii) Is this theory in conflict with some element of the dominant cultural worldview?

This method of criticism is analogous to that in which there is a conflict between a newly introduced empirical theory and an old, established empirical theory. In fact, whether the older theory is empirical or metaphysical should not matter. What is important is how well the older theory has stood up to criticism. If the older theory happens to be non-empirical, but it has withstood rational criticism, then a conflict between it and a fledging theory is important. If there is such a conflict, then either the theory or the element of the worldview involved has to give way. To decide which we would have to submit both to further criticism.

Elsewhere on this website I summarise the main features of anti-justificationism and justificationism.


  • Antoni Diller, "Constructing a Comprehensively Anti-justificationist Position", in Ian Jarvie, Karl Milford and David Miller (eds.), Karl Popper: A Centenary Assessment, vol. II, Metaphysics and Epistemology, [London, Ashgate, 2006, ISBN 0-7546-5376-5], pages 119–129. This paper was presented at the Karl Popper 2002 Centenary Congress; a PDF version of it is available on this website

© Antoni Diller (27 March 2014)