A justification for excuses: Brown’s discussion of the knowledge view of justification and the excuse manoeuvre

Philosophical Studies 179 (8):2683-2696 (2022)
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In Fallibilism: Evidence and Knowledge, Jessica Brown identifies a number of problems for the so-called knowledge view of justification. According to this view, we cannot justifiably believe what we do not know. Most epistemologists reject this view on the grounds that false beliefs can be justified if, say, supported by the evidence or produced by reliable processes. We think this is a mistake and that many epistemologists are classifying beliefs as justified because they have properties that indicate that something should be excused. Brown thinks that previous attempts to make this case have been unsuccessful. While the difficulties Brown points to are genuine, I think they show that attempts to explain a classificatory judgment haven't been successful. Still, I would argue that the classification is correct. We need a better explanation of this classificatory judgment. I will try to clarify the justification-excuse distinction and explain why it's a mistake to insist that beliefs that violate epistemic norms might be justified. Just as it's possible for a rational agent to act without justification in spite of her best intentions, it's possible that a rational thinker who follows the evidence and meets our expectations might nevertheless believe without sufficient justification. If our justified beliefs are supposed to guide us in deciding what to do, we probably should draw on discussions from morality and the law about the justification/excuse distinction to inform our understanding of the epistemic case.

Author's Profile

Clayton Littlejohn
Australian Catholic University


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