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Fundamentals: Justification and Explanation

Video transcript

(intro music) Hi, I'm Kelley Schiffman. I'm a PHD student at Yale University, and today I want to talk[br]about justification. A large part of thinking critically involves asking oneself whether one's beliefs and actions are justified or not. But what is it for a belief or[br]action to be justified? What counts as a justification? A full answer to this question involves a lot of[br]philosophical complexities. But without going into[br]those, we can at least set out a few useful guidelines. First of all, examining whether[br]one's beliefs or actions are justified involves stepping back, reflecting on them, and[br]examining whether they are good, defensible reasons for taking that action or for holding that belief. Such reasons are drawn[br]from your experience of the world, as well[br]as your other beliefs. Imagine, for example,[br]that I'm contemplating going to bed now rather than staying up for an hour so that I can[br]talk to my mom on the phone as I promised I would. I ask myself whether I have[br]good reason to do this. I recognize that I'm really tired, and I take that to be a[br]consideration in favor of going to bed now. But I also recognize that going to bed now would involve breaking a promise[br]and disappointing my mom, both of which considerations give me even greater reason to stay up. I therefore decide that I[br]don't have sufficient reason, or justification, to go to bed now. In fact, I have decisive reason[br]to stay up for another hour and keep my promise. As second useful thing to bear in mind is that generally when[br]we take someone's belief or action to be justified, we do not criticize her[br]for having that belief or for doing that action. Consider, for example, someone[br]who breaks into a house to steal some jewelry,[br]just for the fun of it. Here, we don't think that the person's joy justifies their doing this activity, so we do criticize them for doing it. Contrast this with someone who's lost in the middle of a snow storm and needs to break into someone's cabin to get food and warmth[br]for her and her family. Otherwise they'll die. Here, the action seems justified. She's got good reason to do that. We might think that she[br]owes the cabin owner compensation, but we[br]therefore won't criticize her for doing what she did. I'll leave you with one final thought regarding the difference between justification and explanation. Imagine I ask you why you[br]believe in, say, karma. You say, "Well, I believe in it "because that's what my parents taught me "to believe in." Now, that's an explanation[br]for your belief. That explains why you have it. But that fact doesn't[br]justify your belief in Karma. It doesn't provide a compelling reason for believing in it. There are thus two ways[br]to understand my question "Why do you believe in Karma?" One way of reading it is to think that I'm asking for an[br]explanation of your belief. Another way, though, is to read it as asking for a justification for the belief. It's this latter sense we[br]have in mind mostly when reflecting critically on our beliefs to see if they're justified or not. Subtitles by the Amara.org community