Self-Knowledge Through Justification

How do you know that you know something? When does a belief or opinion become knowledge? Often an intuitive response to this is – when I can offer justification, proof, for my belief. Justification seems to play a silent but crucial role in our understanding of what counts as knowledge. However, there is more. 

When you justify your opinion you offer insights into your deeper, more fundamental assumptions. What your epistemic values are, what you consider a necessary condition for a good justification, what you are ready to believe under what sort of circumstances and so on. Such thoughts can lead to greater self-knowledge, too. When I think about justification for whatever claim, the truth that I seek to find is already inherent in my mind, that same mind that asked the question and holds the assumption of what the truth should look like. The exercise can be regarded as eliciting that truth from the mind’s deeper layers and grasping it through clear expression.

When we have answered the question “What justification do I have for thinking I know this?” what we learn, as Socrates taught, is something about ourselves. We learn, of course, what the justification happens to be for the particular claim with which the question is concerned. But we also learn, more generally, what the criteria are, if any, in terms of which we believe ourselves justified in counting one thing as an instance of knowing and another thing not. 

Roderick M. Chisholm, The Myth of the Given, 1964

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