Is Justification Knowledge?


There are many contemporary debates in epistemology about the nature of epistemic justification. For example, can beliefs be justified through coherence alone; is justified belief responsible belief; is justification ‘internalist’ or ‘externalist’ in nature -- to name but a few. One thing that is common ground, however, is that whatever else might be true of justification, epistemic justification is distinct from knowledge. However, if recent work by Jonathan Sutton is correct, this is deeply mistaken1. Sutton argues for a surprising and unorthodox thesis, namely: justification is knowledge. He claims that there is no concept of epistemic justification distinct from knowledge. Since knowledge is factive, a consequence of Sutton’s view is that there are no false justified beliefs, since only truths can be known.

Following Sutton, I will begin by outlining two types of beliefs that do not constitute knowledge but that seem to be justified. I will then survey the concepts of justification Sutton discusses and his identification of two of them with knowledge. I will then be in a position to critically evaluate Sutton’s four arguments for his position that justification is knowledge, concluding that he fails to establish his bold thesis.

1 See Jonathan Sutton (2005) “Stick To What You Know” in Nous, 39:3, as well as his full-length monograph, Sutton (2007) Without Justification, Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.


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At the time of this conference Brent J C Madison was affiliated with University College London.