Justifications and excuses in epistemology

Noûs 55 (3):517-537 (2019)
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While epistemologists have long debated what it takes for beliefs to be justified, they've devoted much less collective attention to the question of what it takes for beliefs to be excused, and how excuses differ from justifications. This stands in contrast to the state of affairs in legal scholarship, where the contrast between justifications and excuses is a standard topic in introductory criminal law textbooks. My goal in this paper is to extract some lessons from legal theory for epistemologists seeking to distinguish epistemic justifications from epistemic excuses. First, I'll provide a brief overview of appeals to the justification/excuse distinction in epistemology, focusing on the internalism/externalism debate. Then, I'll identify some choice points in legal theory for how to think about the function of the justification/excuse distinction, and will in turn correspond to analogous choice points in epistemology. Ultimately, I'll argue that depending on which way we go at some crucial junctures, we can motivate either a traditional, non‐factive, internalist conception of justification, or a purely factive one where truth is all that's required for a belief to be justified. But there's no clear path, via legal theory, to view that only beliefs that amount to knowledge are justified.

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Daniel Greco
Yale University


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