In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Epistemic Justification

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Reference Works
  • The Truth Connection
  • Evidence and Evidentialism
  • Internalism Versus Externalism
  • Epistemic Circularity, Easy Knowledge, and Bootstrapping

Philosophy Epistemic Justification
Peter Graham
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 June 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0060


The theory of epistemic justification is one of the central topics in epistemology, and thus in philosophy. Inquiry into justification often goes hand in hand with inquiry into the nature of propositional knowledge, for traditionally knowledge is thought to entail justified true belief. Many theorists still see the connection between justification and knowledge as fundamental to understanding justification. Others, depending on their conception of justification, separate out justification as an epistemologically interesting property in its own right. Those who have a broader conception of justification see justification as a positive epistemic status, where a positive epistemic status is a good or success understood in terms of promoting true belief and avoiding error. They do not simply see justification as the positive epistemic status entailed by knowledge. When thinking through any account of justification, the thoughtful reader should ask how the proponent thinks of the connection between justification and knowledge. Inquiry into justification also closely overlaps with discussions of skepticism, for in challenging knowledge, epistemic skeptics are often better seen as challenging justification. This entry focuses on the central debates surrounding the nature of epistemic justification in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, focusing where possible on more recent discussions.

General Overviews

There are only a few recent general overviews as such. Most available “overviews” in the theory of justification focus on particular issues within the field, such as coherentism versus foundationalism or reliabilism in epistemology. Foley 1998 is a clear, concise, and reasonably comprehensive overview of justification. So too is Fumerton 2002. Pryor 2001 is a partial overview, but goes into more detail than either Foley 1998 or Fumerton 2002. Alston 1985 is a class presentation of various ways one might conceive justification. Alston 1993 is a follow-up that indirectly provides an overview of relevant material for theories of justification. Alston 2001 further follows up, and provides a useful caution to the overuse of “justification” in thinking about positive epistemic statuses. Graham 2010 provides a useful rival taxonomy to the standard coherentist/foundationalist and internalist/externalist taxonomies. Plantinga 1992 provides a useful historical perspective on the theory of justification. Though the connection between justification and being able to justify a belief comes up frequently in the literature, few papers address it directly. Though it is not necessarily an “overview” issue, one should have the issue in mind when thinking about justification. Leite 2004 discusses the issue directly.

  • Alston, William P. “Concepts of Epistemic Justification.” Monist 68 (1985): 57–89.

    A classic overview of some of the main ways one might conceive of justification.

  • Alston, William P. “Epistemic Desiderata.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 53 (1993): 527–551.

    Lists all sorts of epistemic properties that epistemologists have argued justification might reduce to. This paper thereby provides a very informative introduction to possible theories of epistemic justification, though without intending to.

  • Alston, William P. “Doing Epistemology without Justification.” Philosophical Topics 29 (2001): 1–18.

    A call to arms to drop the use of the term “justification” in the theory of justification on the grounds that the term gets used to refer to too many distinct properties. It provides a corrective to loose uses of “justification” and “justified” when thinking about epistemic statuses, and gives the reader a sense of some of the various topics covered by the so-called theory of justification. It should be read in conjunction with Alston 1993.

  • Foley, Richard. “Justification, Epistemic.” In Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Vol. 5. Edited by Edward Craig, 157–165. London: Routledge, 1998.

    A very clear and concise introduction, including foundationalism/coherentism and internalism/externalism, with connections to other topics, including testimony and social epistemology. A useful resource for those new to the topic.

  • Fumerton, Richard. “Theories of Justification.” In The Oxford Handbook of Epistemology. Edited by Paul K. Moser, 204–233. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

    Focuses on foundationalism/coherentism and internalism/externalism. Clear and concise.

  • Graham, Peter J. “Theorizing Justification.” In Knowledge and Skepticism. Edited by Joseph Keim Campbell, Michael O’Rourke, and Harry S. Silverstein, 45-71. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010.

    Most introductions to overviews of justification focus on the internalism/externalism debate and the foundationalism/coherentism debate. This article presents another taxonomy of theories of justification, which focuses on the connection between justification and truth and the extent to which philosophical theorizing can settle which beliefs are justified and which are not.

  • Leite, Adam. “On Justifying and Being Justified.” Philosophical Issues 14 (2004): 219–253.

    Though not an overview of the literature, it discusses the connection between justified belief and the ability to justify a belief. It provides an engaging defense of the unorthodox view that justified belief turns on the ability to justify one’s belief.

  • Plantinga, Alvin. “Justification in the 20th Century.” Philosophical Issues 2 (1992): 43–77.

    Although not really an overview and in the end mainly an attack on internalist accounts of justification, arguing that internalism depends on a deontological conception of justification, it takes a “long view” in presenting the issues. It thereby provides a very useful historical perspective.

  • Pryor, James. “Highlights of Recent Epistemology.” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 52 (2001): 95–124.

    Anyone who wants to get up to speed quickly on some of the main issues in recent epistemology—especially moderate foundationalism, internalism/externalism, and epistemic normativity—should start here. A partial but very useful overview.

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