Justification: Insights from Corpora

How do we allow ourselves to form beliefs, and how much reason do we need to justify this? By analysing a large body of ordinary language usage to investigate the extent to which ‘justify’ is used to talk about thoughts and beliefs, this work presents a new challenge to the philosophical problem of justification.

A crucial part of all aspects of life is the ability to form correct beliefs about the world – from the profound, to the mundane. By what standard do we allow ourselves to form beliefs and how much good evidence or reason do we need? In philosophy, this is known as the problem of justification. But to what extent is this notion of ‘justification’ reflected in ordinary life and common discourse? This highly original work in experimental philosophy uses digital humanities methods from corpus linguistics to analyse a large corpus of common language use, investigating the extent to which “justify” (and its cognates) are used to talk about thoughts and beliefs.

The findings present a new empirical challenge to previous philosophical approaches to justification, concluding that in fact, these terms are restricted to particular, high register contexts. It concludes by detailing the possible ways in which corpus analyses might be used to further explore the implications of these findings.

This pioneering article introduces new concepts and methods to challenge a fundamental question in epistemology (i.e. philosophical work on knowledge and justification) and is published in the most widely-revered specialist journal for this subject.

Jumbly Grindrod is Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Reading and winner of the University’s 2023 Research Output Prize (Heritage & Creativity theme) for his article in Episteme‘Justification: Insights from Corpora’.

Find out more about this work on Connecting Research.