If a belief is justified, there is something that justifies it. The thing that justifies a belief can be called its "justifier". If a belief is justified, then it has at least one justifier. An example of a justifier would be an item of evidence. For example, if a woman is aware of the fact that her husband returned from a business trip smelling like perfume, and that his shirt has smudged lipstick on its collar, the perfume and the lipstick can be evidence for her belief that her husband is having an affair. In that case, the justifiers are the woman's awareness of the perfume and the lipstick, and the belief that is justified is her belief that her husband is having an affair.
Not all justifiers have to be what can properly be called "evidence"; there may be some substantially different kinds of justifiers available to us. Regardless, to be justified, a belief has to have a justifier.
But this raises an important question: what sort of thing can be a justifier?
Three things that have been suggested are:
- Beliefs only.
- Beliefs together with other conscious mental states.
- Beliefs, conscious mental states, and other facts about us and our environment (which we may or may not have access to).
At least sometimes, the justifier of a belief is another belief. When, to return to the earlier example, the woman believes that her husband is having an affair, she bases that belief on other beliefs—namely, beliefs about the lipstick and perfume. Strictly speaking, her belief isn't based on the evidence itself—after all, what if she did not believe it? What if she thought that all of that evidence were just a hoax? What if her husband commonly wears perfume and lipstick on business trips? For that matter, what if the evidence existed, but she did not know about it? Then, of course, her belief that her husband is having an affair wouldn't be based on that evidence, because she did not know it was there at all; or, if she thought that the evidence were a hoax, then surely her belief couldn't be based on that evidence.
Consider a belief P. Either P is justified or P is not justified. If P is justified, then another belief Q may be justified by P. If P is not justified, then P cannot be a justifier for any other belief: neither for Q, nor for Q's negation.
For example, suppose someone might believe that there is intelligent life on Mars, and base this belief on a further belief, that there is a feature on the surface of Mars that looks like a face, and that this face could only have been made by intelligent life. So the justifying belief is: that face-like feature on Mars could only have been made by intelligent life. And the justified belief is: there is intelligent life on Mars.
But suppose further that the justifying belief is itself unjustified. It would in no way be one's intellectual right to suppose that this face-like feature on Mars could have only been made by intelligent life; that view would be irresponsible, intellectually speaking. Such a belief would be unjustified. It has a justifier, but the justifier is itself not justified. In fact, more recent observations have shown that the "helmeted face" does not look the same up close, nor when viewed from the side.
Read more about this topic: Theory Of Justification