In my paper "Constructing a Comprehensively Anti-justificationist Position" I expound and endorse anti-justificationism and contrast it with justificationism. In that paper, on pp. 120–123, I summarise the key components of justificationism in seven theses; an overview of that account is included here.

(1) Knowledge is defined as justified true belief

Bartley takes this standard analysis to be the unique determining feature of justificationism. Justificationists think this real definition of knowledge is important and many of them are seriously troubled by examples which show that it is flawed. (If you are unclear about the difference beween essentialist and abbreviatory definitions, look at my page on real and nominal definitions.)

(2) Knowledge is subjective

The epistemological focus for justificationism is the knowledge that some individual or other has. There is, certainly, knowledge in this sense, but Popper has persuasively argued that it should not be the primary concern of epistemology; that should be objective knowledge.

(3) Knowledge is understood as being certain

This has led many epistemologists to engage in what Popper, following Dewey, calls "the quest for certainty". I write in my paper: "Anti-justificationists can have a lot of fun with any philosopher who claims that a particular class of statements or some specific proposition is certain and, therefore, immune from criticism, because, with a little effort, luck and creativity, it is possible to find a way of criticising any given statement."

(4) Justificationists are much concerned by what counts as a justification

In recent years the idea of justification has become increasingly important in analytical philosophy.

(5) Criticism is fused with justification

Bartley was the first to realise this. He distinguished two ways in which such criticism can operate. In the first a theory is rejected if it cannot be justified from already justified statements and in the second a theory is rejected if it conflicts with justified statements.

(6) Some statements cannot be criticised

A justification has to proceed from a collection of foundational statements that cannot themselves be justified logically. The collection of foundational statements, therefore, has to be thought of as being immune from criticism.

(7) Knowledge grows incrementally

Knowledge is seen as growing in a non-evolutionary and non-revolutionary manner. This is because, if something is granted the status of knowledge, then, as it is certainly true, there is no way that it could turn out to be false. Once something is accepted as knowledge, it remains knowledge forever.

In my paper I also characterise anti-justificationism; if you click here this characterisation will open in a new browser window or tab, so that you can compare the two easily.


  • 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, as is the the original abstract. Note that the title of the abstract is slightly different from that of the published paper.

© Antoni Diller (30 March 2014)