Saturday, December 11, 2004

Externalist Internalism

I agree with Marc Alspector-Kelly (via Undetached Rabbit Parts) that it's useful to separate the internalism/externalism debate about justification, from the parallel debate about knowledge. It sounds like these are often run together (since people often assume that 'justification' is a conceptual component of 'knowledge'), but I can't go along with that because - like Marc - I'm an internalist about justification but prefer externalism about knowledge.

I take it that justification relates to what we (epistemically) ought to believe, based on the evidence available to us. When put like that, it's practically internalist by definition. Externalism claims that what matters is (partly) external to the agent - not accessible to introspection. But if such properties are not internally "available to us", then we cannot use them as evidence when judging what to believe. So they can play no role in justifying our beliefs. [Though cf. John at FBC.] If they have importance (as they do), it is for something besides justification.

That 'something', I suggest, is knowledge. Internalism doesn't work for knowledge, because knowledge requires a more objective 'truth-connection', that mere internal justification may not provide (see, e.g., Gettier cases). Of course, truth itself is another component of knowledge, but I don't just mean that. Rather, our reasons for belief must be somehow tied to the truth. I won't go into any detail here though; see Marc's paper for a better explanation.

(By the way, my favourite account of knowledge is Keith DeRose's possible-worlds externalism, which I mention in my skepticism overview, and explain in more detail here. For justification, however, I favour coherentism - a belief is justified to the extent that it coheres with our other beliefs.)

Perhaps some epistemologists use the word "justification" stipulatively to simply mean "whatever it is that must be added to true belief to yield knowledge". But then, they're not really talking about justification at all, but some other concept altogether - namely, whatever knowledge has over true belief.

So, I'm wondering, is there any reason not to separate the two debates as I (following Marc) have done here?

7 comments:

  1. I want to respond in some depth, but I'm frankly too busy this week to trust my reasoning abilities too much. (Too much embarrassment at looking at hastily written posts and seeing all the errors)

    I do have a quick question regarding the view of externalism you espouse. Have you read Williamson's The Limits of Knowledge and if so, what do you think?
     

    Posted by Clark

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  2. Whoops, one other quick question. If justification is in terms of evidence, but evidence as opposed to belief is something known, and knowing is partially external, then how can justification be purely internal? It seems as if it can only if the "evidence" for justification isn't really evidence at all, but beliefs. i.e. coherence of beliefs and not evidence.

    You basically say that, so I don't want to seem like I'm criticizing. Just that it seems like you swing between discussing evidence and discussing beliefs, but I think we have to keep those separate.
     

    Posted by Clark

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  3. No, I haven't read any Williamson (shocking, I know - I'm quite ignorant of recent epistemology!)

    And there's nothing wrong with criticizing :)
    You might be right that I need to be more careful here. But must we say that evidence "is something known"? I was thinking of it as merely being a reason to believe one thing over another. That doesn't always require knowledge however. You can have misleading evidence, after all, or false reasons. (e.g. some Gettier cases.)

    So yes, I guess I was assuming that coherence with our other beliefs is simply what constitutes evidence. Is there a problem with this view? 

    Posted by Richard

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  4. But to have misleading evidence you need some evidence you know so as to mislead you. The point is that for it to be evidence there has to be some connection between you and the evidence. Either you embrace a thoroughgoing correspondence theory or you have an externalism of some sort.

    My point is that we must keep separate our evidence and our belief about our evidence. Can beliefs count as evidence (which is how I take your last comment) That's a good question. I suppose if we call them evidence it is very indirect evidence. But I suppose that's basically what the empiricists do. 

    Posted by Clark

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  5. I'm having a bit of trouble following your first paragraph there... could you clarify what you mean by way of an example, perhaps? 

    Posted by Richard

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  6. The best way to understand is to look at it semiotically. To be mislead is to have a sign that signifies a lie. The mislead part is what is signified. But to have this signified you must first have the sign that signifies this.

    i.e.

    sign -> signified

    In other words you can't be mislead without knowing the sign.

    Thus misleading evidence still requires that you know evidence. It isn't unknown evidence. There is always that ground of a sign we act upon and to act upon it we must know it.

    As I said though, empiricists are internalists, and would call sense data evidence. I was thinking more of something like a bloody knife being evidence for a murder. Yet to the empiricist we don't know the knife directly, we merely know all this sense-data stuff. But, not coincidentally, I can't imagine an empiricist being an externalist about knowledge. 

    Posted by Clark

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  7. You just linked to this off of my page, so let me put a few additional comments here.

    For a belief to count as evidence we must know the the belief as a belief. This is basically the luminosity requirement. Now internalists are really big on luminosity since they typically require that what counts as justification be open to our immediate awareness. So for a belief to count as justification most internalists would say we have to know we are in that mental state. Unconscious beliefs don't count. (Not all do, of course, which is why I made the comments I did)

    Thus for coherency to work, one must at least know ones beliefs.  

    Posted by Clark

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