(note: The purpose of this short piece is to explain, as clearly as possible, what I call criticalism. Though it will be necessary to read this piece on justificationist first. I am interested in receiving feedback regarding anything part which is unclear and needs improvement. Thank you.)
Criticalism is the presupposition that all knowledge is conjectural, and that no belief can be certified, verified, validated, confirmed or in other way be justified. To the criticalist, knowledge is not justified belief, and might not even be true belief. Instead, knowledge is understood as an evolving process which adapts to the selective pressure of criticism, and the current state of knowledge constitutes those conjectures which have so far most successfully survived criticism and tests. In this context, rationality consists of holding all conjectures, positions, beliefs, methods, habits, values, etc. open to criticism, including criticalism itself.
It is important not to confuse criticalism with anarchism, the difference is subtle but important: both criticalism and anarchism reject the authoritarian's search for justified belief, but criticalism also rejects the presupposition that knowledge must be justified, whereas anarchism does not. In other words, anarchism is justificationist, because even though anarchists deny that any belief can be justified, anarchists agree that justified belief is necessary for knowledge.
For the criticalist, the standard justificationist method of criticism, where any claim to knowledge can be criticised by asking for its justification, loses all force. If there are no justified beliefs, then we cannot choose between competing conjectures for being justified or unjustified. Further, this can be generalised to all expressions of doubt, possible falsity, or insufficient proof, since every conjecture is doubtful, possibly false and insufficiently proven. In other words, to effectively criticise a conjecture, it is necessary to actually form an argument or perform a test, not merely express uncertainty.
In order to conduct criticism, standards must be adopted, but it is important not to confuse standards with authorities: what is rejected is the notion that some authority trumps every other, and that criticism must be conducted relative to that authority, as with the standard method of justificationist criticism. Instead the criticalist tentatively adopts standards, such as a preference for noncontradiction, empirical testability, economisation, or perhaps even agreement with The Bible, but the criticalist holds no standards beyond criticism.
To the criticalist, the purpose of philosophical investigation is a search for truth, and not a search for justified belief. However, if there are no justified beliefs, then there is no criterion by which we can make certain that we have arrived at, or are moving toward, the truth. It follows that the criticalists search for truth is unending, since even should the truth be obtained, there is no criterion which can confirm it. Instead, the criticalist seeks critical preference, where conjectures are provisionally refuted, and a tentative preference formed for those conjectures that have best survived criticism.
In contrast to the authoritarians and anarchists of justificationism, criticalists may be characterised as liberals, in the sense of classical liberalism, or modern day libertarians. it is unfortunate that almost all of western philosophy is dominated by justificationism, to such an extent that few recognise that they are justificationists. The criticalist tradition is marginalised, misunderstood and dismissed as a form of anarchism masquerading as something else, by the great many justificationist academics who dominate the halls of learning.