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"Science of criteria" or "criteriology" is a term, originally neoscholastic, for a theory of knowledge in which judgments are warranted or justified simply by conforming to certain criteria for correct judgment. These criteria are general principles that specify what sorts of considerations ultimately confer warrant on some judgments and that tend (tacitly) to guide self-reflective persons in checking and correcting their judgments. The epistemologist's task is to formulate these principles by reflecting on the considerations present and absent in various judgments we intuitively think of as warranted and unwarranted.

Different criteria may deal with different subject matters, degrees, and sources of warrant (e.g., in perception, memory, inference). Ultimately, there must be warranting considerations other than inferability from other warranted judgments. These must be internally accessible through introspection or reflection without relying on further warranted judgments. They will not be considerations such as whether nature designed us to be reliable judges but ones such as whether we ostensibly see or recall something or intuitively grasp or clearly and distinctly conceive something.

Many epistemologists argue that critical considerations need not guarantee truth or confer certainty, and whatever warrant they confer may be defeated. For instance, if one ostensibly sees something red, one is prima facie or defeasibly warranted in judging that one actually sees something red. The judgment might not be warranted when, despite ostensibly seeing something red, one has evidence that the illumination makes everything look red. We need additional principles specifying what considerations defeat warrant.

However, if criterial considerations do not guarantee truth, what makes a set of principles genuinely warranting? Putative common contingent features such as their overall reliability rest warrant on something beyond mere conformity to these principles and may allow for alternative principles. Criteriologists (e.g., Pollock 1974, 1986) often appeal to controversial, nonscholastic, views about concepts and truth influenced by Ludwig Wittgenstein. Criteria are internalized norms (rules) about when to make and correct judgments ascribing a concept. They characterize what persons must, in order to have a particular concept, tacitly know how to do in their judging and reasoning and be tacitly guided by. Criteria individuate our concepts and thus are necessarily correct. Although warranted judgments need not be true, we have no idea of their truth completely divorced from what undefeated criterial considerations warrant. Critics often respond: Surely this norm conformity must have a purpose beyond itself, like accurately representing the world?

See also Epistemology; Wittgenstein, Ludwig Josef Johann.



Coffey, P. Epistemology or the Theory of Knowledge: An Introduction to General Metaphysics. 2 vols. London: Longmans Green, 1917.

Pollock, John. Contemporary Theories of Knowledge. Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Littlefield, 1986; 2nd ed. (with J. Cruz), 1999.

Pollock, John. Knowledge and Justification. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974.

critical discussions

Lycan, W. G. "Non-inductive Evidence: Recent Work on Wittgenstein's 'Criteria.'" American Philosophical Quarterly 8 (1971): 109125.

Millikan, R. "Truth Rules, Hoverflies, and the Kripke-Wittgenstein Paradox." Philosophical Review 99 (1990): 323353.

Plantinga, A. Warrant: The Current Debate. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Wright, C. J. G. "Second Thoughts about Criteria." Synthese 58 (1984): 383405.

Bruce Hunter (1996)

Bibliography updated by Benjamin Fiedor (2005)