I. Pre-Reflective Thinking (Levels 1, 2, and 3)

Individuals who reason in a pre-reflective fashion justify their opinions in a simple fashion because they fail to perceive answers to the problem at hand must contain some elements of uncertainty. They often view problems presented in the RJI as having a high degree of certainty and completeness. As a result, individuals may support their position on a topic by saying that:

  1. beliefs do not need to be justified because answers are simply "there;"
  2. answers may be justified by reference to an authority;
  3. if experts disagree that one expert is a fraud, is evil, or misguided while the other is "really" an expert.

A. Summary of Individual Levels

    Table 1: Levels 1-3



View of Knowledge

Concept of Justification



Stage 1

A person knows that she or he has observed. Facts and judgments are not differentiated.

Knowledge is assumed to exist absolutely land concretely. It can be obtained with absolute certainty through direct observation.

Beliefs need no justification since there is assumed to be an absolute correspondence between what is believed and what is true. Alternative beliefs are not recognized.

"I know what I have seen."

Stage 2

Authorities and facts are related. authority figures are sources of fact and, therefore, of truth.

Knowledge is assumed to be absolutely certain or certain but not immediately available. Knowledge can be obtained directly through the senses (as in direct observation) or via authority figures.


Beliefs are unexamined and unjustified or justified by their correspondence with the beliefs of an authority figure (such as a teacher or parent). Most issues are assumed to have a right answer, so there is little or no conflict in making decisions about disputed issues.

"If it is on the news, it has to be true."

Stage 3

Absolute answers are assumed to exist, but to be temporarily inaccessible. In the absence of absolute truth, facts and personal beliefs are seen as equally valid.

Knowledge is assumed to be absolutely certain or temporarily uncertain. In areas of temporary uncertainty, only personal beliefs can be known until absolute knowledge is obtained. In areas of absolute certainty, knowledge is obtained from authorities.

In areas in which certain answers exist, beliefs are justified by reference to authorities' views. In areas in which answers do not exist, beliefs are defended as personal opinion since the link between evidence and beliefs is unclear.

"When there is evidence that people can give to convince everybody one way or another, then it will be knowledge; until then, it's just a guess."