Internalism about Justification

Both Foundationalism and Coherentism are internalist accounts of justification. Both seem to be plagued by problems, in part because they are proposition based accounts of justification. Given this I’ve been tinkering around with some externalist accounts of justification. For those of you who are interested here are some problems with internalist accounts of justification:

  1. It doesn’t allow for “knowledge” among naïve people, novices, or the mentally handicapped (at least in accessibilist accounts of internal justification).

Example: One of the most powerful motivations for externalism is that we correctly attribute knowledge to unsophisticated persons, children, and some animals. These individuals, though, lack internalist justification. So either knowledge doesn’t require justification or justification should be understood externally. Grandma knows that she has hands even though she can not rehearse an argument for that conclusion and can not even think of anything else to defend the claim that she does have hands. Timmy knows that it’s a sunny day and Lassie knows that there’s water in the bowl. In each case it appears that the subject is justified but lacks any internally accessible reason for the belief. Reflection on these cases, and many others like them, supports the externalist central contention that internalism is too strong. Persons can know without possessing internalistic justification. (Ted Poston)

  1. It becomes incredibly easy to justify false beliefs.

Example: One powerful skeptical argument begins with the premise that we lack direct access to facts about the external world. For any experiential justification we have for believing some fact about the external world—for example, there’s a magnolia tree—it’s possible to have that same justification even though there’s no such fact. The experience one has is caused by a state of one’s brain and it is possible that science could develop a method to induce in one that brain state even though there are no magnolia trees for hundreds of miles. The skeptic continues to argue that since we lack direct access to facts about the external world we lack non-inferential knowledge (or justification) for believing those facts. The final step of the skeptic’s argument is that we do lack sufficient evidence for inferential knowledge (or inferential justification) for believing those facts. Here the skeptic argues that the evidence we possess for external world beliefs does not adequately favor commonsense over a skeptical thesis. Any appeal to experiential evidence will not decide the case against the skeptic and the skeptic is happy to enter the fray over whether commonsense beats skepticism with regard to the theoretical virtues, for example, coherence and simplicity. (Ted Poston)

Some Possible Responses:

  1. This only arises under an accesibilist account of justification. If we have another internalist account, maybe a weak accessibilist account (in which the only thing necessary is the possibility of access) or a mentalist account then this isn’t really a problem.
  2. Its fine that we can have the same justification for things that don’t correspond, mainly because we are talking about the justification of propositions, not the justification of beliefs which actually correspond to the external world. (This seems to me to be a version of coherentism.)






Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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