Philosophy 101 (philpapers induced) #5: Epistemic justification: internalism or externalism? • A Tippling Philosopher (2022)

So havingpostedthe Philpapers survey results, the biggest ever survey of philosophers conducted in 2009, several readers were not aware of it (the reason for re-communicating it) and were unsure as to what some of the questions were. I offered to do a series on them, so here it is – Philosophy 101 (Philpapers induced). I will go down the questions in order. I will explain the terms and the question, whilst also giving some context within the discipline of Philosophy of Religion.

This is the fifth post after

#1 – a priori

#2 – Abstract objects – Platonism or nominalism?

#3 –Aesthetic value: objective or subjective

#4 – Analytic-Synthetic Distinction

This post is about a justification of knowledge in philosophy and whether something can be justified internally by the agent or externally. Here are the results, favouring externalism, but still with a sizable internalist camp.

Epistemic justification: internalism or externalism?

Accept or lean toward: externalism398 / 931 (42.7%)
Other287 / 931 (30.8%)
Accept or lean toward: internalism246 / 931 (26.4%)

So, let us start the ball rolling. The first thing to say is that internalism and externalism can be applied to many areas of philosophy, from motivation to truth. However, the question here specifically related to justification of knowledge.

In basic terms, internalism refers to the idea that justification for a particular belief are available to the agent’s mind or consciousness. Externalism posits that factors outside of the agent’s mind can affect the justification of said belief.

Part of the problem, is the distinction between knowledge and belief. Can we have justified belief in something which is wrong?

First, some epistemologists understand externalism as a view that knowledge does not require justification while others think it should be understood as an externalist view of justification. Second,there is an important distinction between having good reasons for one’s belief (that is, propositional justification) and basing one’s belief on the good reasons one possesses (that is, doxastic justification).This distinction matters to the nature of the internalist thesis and consequently the I-E debate itself. Third, there are two different and prominent ways of understanding what isinternalto a person. This bears on the nature of the internalist thesis and externalist arguments against internalism.(Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy – IEP)

So we can distinguish, perhaps, between a true belief (say a superstition that just turns out to be true) and a justified true belief (JTB), which is something which is both true and justified with good reasons. However, Gettier’s famous problems showed that there were issues with the JTB thesis. For example:

Suppose that Smith possesses a good deal of evidence for the belief that someone in his office owns a Ford. Smith’s evidence includes such things as that Smith sees Jones drive a Ford to work every day and that Jones talks about the joys of owning a Ford. It turns out, however, that (unbeknownst to Smith) Jones is deceiving his coworkers into believing he owns a Ford. At the same time, though, someone else in Smith’s office, Brown, does own a Ford. So, Smith’s belief that someone in his office owns a Ford is both justified and true. Yet it seems to most people that Smith’s belief is not an instance of knowledge.

So in order to turn true belief into knowledge, there had to be, externalists posited, some causal or dependency relations between the belief and facts. Of course, this then raised the question as to whether externalists think that knowledge doesn’t require justification or that justification should be seen as external.

One must be careful. For example, I might believe that I may get a job at a company. This could be justified by good reasons, such as that I have the correct qualifications, they liked me in the interview and suchlike. However, I may in actuality just believe I will get the job (in spite of those good reasons) based on wishful thinking. Therefore, is my belief justified adequately or not? I am justified because there are to be accessed good reasons for the belief, but not justified because I base my belief on wishful thinking (some call this the difference between justification and well-foundedness).

Now the internalist believes that every condition which justifies a belief in internal. However, causal relations are generally external. As the IEP continues:

Since basing one’s belief on reasons is a causal relation between one’s belief and one’s reasons, internalists should not claim that every factor that determines doxastic justification is internal (see 1c below for further discussion of this). Accordingly, internalism should be understood as a view about propositional justification. Moreover, given that one cannot know unless one bases one’s belief on good reasons this implies that internalists will understand the justification condition in an account of knowledge as composed of two parts: propositional justification and some causal condition (typically referred to as “the basing relation”). This considerably complicates the I-E debate because there’s not a straightforward disagreement between internalist and externalist views of doxastic justification, since externalists typically avoid dissecting the justification condition. Common forms of externalism build in a causal requirement to justification, for example, one’s belief that p is produced by a reliable method. Nevertheless it is important to get the nature of the internalist thesis straight and only then determine the nature of the externalist objections.

Now there is great scope for making this post unnecessarily complex. Suffice it to say that internalism concerns itself with propositional justification and claims that this relies entirely on one’s “internal states could be one’s bodily states, one’s brain states, one’s mental states (if these are different than brain states), or one’s reflectively accessible states.” (IEP). There is argument over whether internal justification is simply reliant on (past or present?) mental states, or reflexively accessible states (mentalism and acessibilism) but we need not worry ourselves too much about that now. I will include this excerpt from quite a clear online essay to explain further:

Internalism is the thesis that knowledge or justification is gained by having good reasons for one’s true beliefs. Some examples of processes that one can use to form one’s current beliefs are perceptual experience, memory, and previously formed beliefs. It is important to note that a subject S’s reasons for believing a proposition p are not facts about p or p itself. Rather they are that p, or facts about p, are perceived by S in certain ways. For example, S does not form the belief that the tulips in the garden are red because they are red. Rather she/he forms that belief because it appears to her/him that the tulips in the garden are red. This is an internal factor in the knowledge requirement. For internalists, knowledge requires that one has a true belief with good supporting reasons or evidence. The good reasons/evidence requirement here becomes the justification requirement in the classical model of knowledge.

There are two branches of internalism, and they are known as mentalism and access internalism. The most common form of internalism is access internalism, which will be the focus of this essay. Within accessibility there are two branches: actual access and accessibility. Actual access is the idea that for every proposition p that one knows, one is also aware of the knowledge basis, or roots of p. Accessibility is the idea that for every proposition p that one knows, one can become aware of the knowledge basis, or roots of p. The actual access requirement seems to be too strong. It is implausible that one is always aware of where one learned a fact every time one uses it, especially facts learned long ago. In my opinion accessibility seems more plausible and is therefore a stronger claim. If one had to remember the basis for every piece of what we would like to call knowledge, most of our basic vocabularies would not count as knowledge, For example, I do not remember where, when or how I learned what a bus is, as I learned it a long time ago. However, it seems highly counter-intuitive to say that I do not therefore know how to recognise a bus. It would also have the absurd result that I ‘know’ a complicated philosophical concept that I learned about yesterday, more than I ‘know’ what a bus is, because of having memory of where and when I learned about the latter but not the former. Because of this, I will focus on accessibility.

Externalism is the thesis that knowledge does not require internal justification. There are different forms of externalism, but I will focus on process reliabilism, supposedly the most popular form of externalism. All externalists agree that in order to have knowledge, one must have a belief resulting from a process that reliably connects belief to truth. According to externalism, no support from any other beliefs or systems of beliefs is necessary. According to Alston, reliability requires that a process yields a high proportion of truths over a wide range of ordinarily encountered situations. This is known as process reliability. Alston admits that this definition is imprecise and that the already vague boundaries between what a typical and an atypical case is may shift over time. However, something that is intuitively pleasing about process reliabilism is that it rules out skeptical problems, by only focusing on facts that are directly relevant (or close) to the situation that one is actually in, and scepticism is assumed not to be relevant in most situations.

The author concludes:

In conclusion, I believe that internalism can be preferred to externalism on the basis that it rules out forgotten evidence as justification. There are arguments that forgotten evidence still justifies a belief, but I believe that this is only true from an objective basis, not a subjective basis. This is because I believe that a belief held without at least access to its evidence is not justified for the subject. I believe that because externalism seemingly treats justification as a purely objective phenomena, it fails to pick out what is important for human knowledge, which is, in my opinion, that truth be connected with belief not just because the world happens to be like that, but because the subject is aware and has evidence that the world is as it is. I believe that internalism is better able to do this.

Why this argument is important…

I actually think this argument could be important in terms of CS Lewis’ Argument from Reason whereby he claims that naturalists, being dependent upon causal relations of the world, cannot rationally hold to their own worldview, since external sources of epistemic justification cannot properly be rational, according to some.

As the IEP states:

Another issue with respect to naturalism in epistemology is its connection to naturalism in the philosophy of mind. The naturalist aims to understand the mind as a physical system. Since physical systems can be explained without invoking mental concepts a naturalist in epistemology is weary of using questionable mental concepts to elucidate the nature of epistemic concepts. Internalism in epistemology is not necessarily at odds with naturalism as a metaphysical view but the internalist’s preferred concepts tend to come from commonsense psychology rather than the natural sciences. Externalists, by contrast, tend to stress natural concepts like causation, reliability, and tracking because these set up better for a naturalist view in the philosophy of mind.

I haven’t done a particularly good job of explaining this because it just gets very confusing and intricate and its not a particularly fun (in my humble opinion) area of philosophy, though it is pretty fundamental to knowledge claims. For further reading, follow the links


#1 – a priori

#2 – Abstract objects – Platonism or nominalism?

#3 –Aesthetic value: objective or subjective

#4 – Analytic-Synthetic Distinction

#5 – Epistemic justification: internalism or externalism?

#6 – External world: idealism, skepticism, or non-skeptical realism?

#7 –Free will: compatibilism, libertarianism, or no free will?

#8 – Belief in God: theism or atheism?


What is an Externalist approach to epistemic justification? ›

Externalism with respect to the concept of epistemic justification would be the thesis that this concept is to be analyzed in terms other than special duties or responsibilities. 1. Awareness and Access.

What does internalism and Externalism meaning? ›

Internalism is the thesis that no fact about the world can provide reasons for action independently of desires and beliefs. Externalism is the thesis that reasons are to be identified with objective features of the world.

What is internalism in applied ethics? ›

Judgment internalism is the view that moral judgments can be sufficient to motivate actions. Motivation is internal to morality. Externalists, by contrast, hold that the motivation to act morally is supplied by motives that are only contingently related to moral judgments.

What are the three types of Externalist theory? ›

  • Not to be confused with Epistemic externalism, Semantic externalism, or Externalism about moral reasons. ...
  • Learn more. ...
  • Semantic externalism is the first form of externalism which was dubbed so. ...
  • Phenomenal externalism extends the externalist view to phenomenal content.

What is epistemic justification in philosophy? ›

Epistemic justification (from episteme, the Greek word for knowledge) is the right standing of a person's beliefs with respect to knowledge, though there is some disagreement about what that means precisely. Some argue that right standing refers to whether the beliefs are more likely to be true.

Why is epistemic justification important? ›

Understanding epistemic justification might help us to (a) find flaws in skeptical arguments, (b) settle tricky cases about which beliefs to hold when there is substantial disagreement (as in religion, ethics, and politics), and (c) determine what makes knowledge more valuable than true belief.

What is internalism philosophy of mind? ›

Internalism proposes that our contents are individuated by the properties of our bodies (for example, our brains), and these alone. According to this view, our contents locally supervene on the properties of our bodies.

What does externalism mean in the Bible? ›

externalism. / (ɪkˈstɜːnəˌlɪzəm) / noun. exaggerated emphasis on outward form, esp in religious worship. a philosophical doctrine holding that only objects that can be perceived by the senses are real; phenomenalism.

What are externalist theories? ›

Thus, an externalist theory is any theory that maintains that epistemic justifiedness is at least partly a function of states or factors external to the cognizer, i.e., states or factors outside the cognizer's ken.

What is justification of knowledge? ›

Justification and knowledge

Justification is a property of beliefs insofar as they are held blamelessly. In other words, a justified belief is a belief that a person is entitled to hold. Many philosophers from Plato onward have treated "justified true belief" as constituting knowledge.

What is gender Externalism? ›

This could happen in one of two ways: (a) Externalism: Your gender is determined by your society. (b) Internalism: Your gender is determined by yourself.

What is content Externalism? ›

Content externalism is externalism about mental content—the content of mental states. It claims that the contents of at least some mental states are not solely determined by occurrences falling within the biological boundaries of that individual that has them.

Why is philosophy of mind important? ›

The main aim of philosophers working in this area is to determine the nature of the mind and mental states/processes, and how—or even if—minds are affected by and can affect the body.

What is passive Externalism? ›

Content externalism – in its three predominant fla- vors of natural kind, historical and social externalism – is generally understood in terms of passive externalism. Passive externalism is the view that the cognitive system is passive concerning the external factors that co-determine content.

What's the meaning of epistemology? ›

epistemology, the philosophical study of the nature, origin, and limits of human knowledge. The term is derived from the Greek epistēmē (“knowledge”) and logos (“reason”), and accordingly the field is sometimes referred to as the theory of knowledge.

What are the types of justification? ›

In Word, these four justification types are referred to as paragraph alignments. Thus, a paragraph can be left, center, or right aligned.
There are several types of justification:
  • Left-justification. ...
  • Center-justification. ...
  • Right-justification. ...
  • Fill-justification.
Jun 16, 2021

What is an example of justification? ›

The definition of justification is something that proves, explains or supports. An example of justification is an employer bringing evidence to support why they fired an employee. (printing) The adjustment of printed lines by proper spacing.

What is the process of explanation and justification? ›

Many people conflate explanation and justification. An explanation is a theory about why something happened or why we should do one thing rather than another. A justification is a story about why we are right, or probably right, to adopt one theory rather than another or one proposal for action rather than another.

Does truth require justification? ›

In other words, truth and justification are two independent conditions of beliefs. The fact that a belief is true does not tell us whether or not it is justified; that depends on how the belief was arrived at.

What makes a good justification? ›

Justification requires Coherence with previous data and Clarity with regard to language and logic. There can be no Contradiction or strong Counter evidence. TRUE: The knowledge claim is True rather than False.

What makes a justified true belief? ›

According to Adrian Haddock, knowledge is justified true belief where the justification condition is factive (one cannot justifiably believe that p when p is false) and requires moreover that the fact that provides justification is known by the subject.

What does it mean to be an Internalist about justification? ›

The basic idea of internalism is that justification is solely determined by factors that are internal to a person. Externalists deny this, asserting that justification depends on additional factors that are external to a person.

Is Hume an Externalist? ›

to this definition of externalism, Hume counts as an externalist. whom we are judging. These (and other) adjustments enable us to take a "general survey" of his character. From this vantage, we sympathize with him and with those who are affected by his actions.

What is internalism in history? ›

Internalist historiography is the traditional type of historiography. Here the evolution of science is presented as exclusively determined by internal factors, that is, the problems pertaining to the discipline, its methods and research results, which are often systematized into theories.

What is religious Externalism? ›

An important motivation for Plantinga and Alston and other advocates of externalist religious epistemologies is the thought that the religious beliefs of ordinary people who lack sophisticated philosophical arguments for God's existence can, nonetheless, be justified and amount to knowledge.

What is the meaning of Internalist? ›

internalist (comparative more internalist, superlative most internalist) (philosophy) Holding that a particular mental phenomenon, such as motivation or justification, has an internal rather than external basis quotations ▼

What are the 3 types of epistemology? ›

There are three main examples or conditions of epistemology: truth, belief and justification.

What are the 5 sources of knowledge? ›

According to Donald Ary (2010:2-8), there are five major sources of knowledge. Those are experience, authority, deductive reasoning, inductive reasoning and scientific approach. Experience is a familiar and well-used source of knowledge.

What is another word for epistemic? ›

In this page you can discover 13 synonyms, antonyms, idiomatic expressions, and related words for epistemic, like: teleological, epistemological, epistemology, kantian, rationality, intentionality, essentialist, folk-psychology, causality, objectivist and deontological.

What would Appiah think of the suggestion that races are real and correspond to ancestral continental populations? ›

9. What would Appiah think of the suggestion that races are real and correspond to ancestral continental populations? a. He would reject it, because ancestral continental populations are unimportant for explaining moral or intellectual differences between people.

Is justification internal or external to one's own mind? ›

According to the first, justification is internal because we enjoy a special kind of access to J-factors: they are always recognizable on reflection. Hence, assuming certain further premises (which will be mentioned momentarily), justification itself is always recognizable on reflection.

Which philosopher makes a distinction between actions that are externally caused and actions that are internally caused? ›

-> John Hospers was a modern hard determinist, he says there is always something that compels us both externally and internally to perform an action that we would think was a result of free will.

Why are we not brains in a vat? ›

But the problem is that we cannot beg the question by assuming we are speaking in English: if we assume that, then we know in advance of any argument that we are not speaking in Vatese and hence that we are not brains in a vat. But if we do not know which language we are speaking in, then we cannot properly assert (2).

ARE WE brains in a vat? ›

On the brain-in-a-vat hypothesis, a given person is a disembodied brain living in a vat of nutrients. The nerve endings of the brain are connected to a supercomputer, whose program sends electrical impulses that stimulate the brain in the same way that actual brains are stimulated when perceiving external objects.

What is linguistic Externalism? ›

In the philosophy of language, semantic externalism (the opposite of semantic internalism) is the view that the meaning of a term is determined, in whole or in part, by factors external to the speaker.

What is your philosophy in life? ›

The philosophy of life would include things like how you decide what is “good” and “bad”, what “success” means, what your “purpose” in life is (including if you don't think there is a purpose), whether there is a God, how we should treat each other, etc.

How can philosophy help your life? ›

The study of philosophy enhances a person's problem-solving capacities. It helps us to analyze concepts, definitions, arguments, and problems. It contributes to our capacity to organize ideas and issues, to deal with questions of value, and to extract what is essential from large quantities of information.

What type of thought is philosophy? ›

Philosophy is an activity of thought, a type of thinking. Philosophy is critical and comprehensive thought, the most critical and comprehensive manner of thinking which the human species has yet devised. This intellectual process includes both an analytic and synthetic mode of operation.

What is internalism meaning? ›

Internalism definition

The doctrine that a particular mental phenomenon, such as motivation or justification, has an internal rather than external basis. noun.

What is an internist philosophy? ›

Internalism is the view in Epistemology that everything necessary to provide justification for a belief is immediately available in a person's consciousness without having to resort to external factors, or at least that these things are cognitively accessible to a person.

What is knowledge according to Reliabilism? ›

Ramsey (1931) is often credited with the first articulation of a reliabilist account of knowledge. He claimed that knowledge is true belief that is certain and obtained by a reliable process. That idea lay more-or-less dormant until the 1960s, when reliabilist theories emerged in earnest.

What's the meaning of epistemology? ›

epistemology, the philosophical study of the nature, origin, and limits of human knowledge. The term is derived from the Greek epistēmē (“knowledge”) and logos (“reason”), and accordingly the field is sometimes referred to as the theory of knowledge.

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