Internalist vs. Externalist Conception of Epistemic Justification

Topics: Knowledge, Truth, Understanding Pages: 7 (2565 words) Published: November 16, 2013
In an essay on Descartes, the British philosopher H.A. Prichard said that, When we know something, we either do or can directly know that we are knowing it, and when we believe something we know or can know that we are believing and not knowing it, and in view of the former fact, we know that in certain instances of its use our intelligence is not defective…(Prichard, 1950. p. 94) Prichard also characterized the point in terms of knowing by reflection: …if there is to be such a thing as knowing that we know something, that knowing can be attained only directly, we in knowing the thing knowing directly, either at the same time or on reflection, that we are knowing it. (Ibid.) Knowing by reflection is knowledge one achieves merely by thinking about the matter at hand. Further, even if one reflects a good deal, Prichard holds that the knowing thereby achieved is direct knowing, presumably because one need make no inferences from one belief to another in the activity of reflecting. Prichard is here endorsing the KK-thesis, i.e., the thesis that knowing implies knowing that one knows. Philosophers who endorse what we can call knowledge internalism accept something akin to what Prichard endorses, though their main focus is slightly different. That is, knowledge internalism concerns not knowing that one knows, as in Prichard, but rather knowing or being aware of that on the basis of which one knows. For example, imagine that you know that a flock of Canada geese has landed in a neighborhood park in your city; and suppose that you came by this piece of knowledge on the basis of and as a result of some testimony from another person who has just returned from that park. Then knowledge internalism would be the view that in knowing that the geese are in the park, one also knows or is aware of that on the basis of which one knows, namely, one is aware of the testimony on the basis of which one has knowledge of the geese. Or, more plausibly, one could become aware merely by reflection of that on the basis of which one knows about the geese. We can use the term ‘knowledge basis’ for that on the basis of which one knows something. A knowledge basis as here understood need not be restricted to other pieces of knowledge or beliefs, but could also include experiences a person has had. Using this terminology, we could say that knowledge internalism is the thesis that a person either is aware or can be become aware of the knowledge basis for each item of knowledge that person may have. It is clear that when one is aware of the knowledge basis, or when one can become aware of the knowledge basis, that one thereby has a kind of access to the knowledge basis. Accessibility, it is often said, is the core idea behind internalism, and it is also usually supposed that the sort of accessibility one has is pretty much what Prichard spoke of, namely a kind of direct awareness that one actually engages in or could engage in merely by reflection. Using these ideas we can characterize two different forms of access knowledge internalism. Actual Access KI:

Whenever one knows some proposition p, then one is also aware of one's knowledge basis for p. Accessibility KI:
Whenever one knows some proposition p, then one can become aware by reflection of one's knowledge basis for p. Here we assume that the awareness spoken of in Actual Access knowledge internalism is the direct sort that Prichard had in mind. It is an awareness that is not brought about by any calculation or reasoning. To illustrate and partly defend Actual Access knowledge internalism, imagine that you look at a tree in the park, and thereby come to know that there is a tree there. We can suppose for these illustrative purposes that your knowledge basis is the visual experience of the tree, and thus that you acquire direct, non-inferential knowledge of the presence of the tree. In this example, when you acquire that knowledge, it seems plausible to also think that you are aware that you are...
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