Richard Feldman and Earl Conee defend the claim that S’s beliefs are justified only by things that are internal to S’s mental life (henceforth, J-internalism) against two types of objections: (1) those that claim that there are some justified beliefs for which there are no internal justifying states, and (2) those that claim that there are insurmountable difficulties in specifying the nature of the connection between beliefs and their corresponding justifying internal states. Feldman and Conee argue that neither class of objections pose an unanswerable challenge to J-internalism.
Step 1: Feldman and Conee begin by distinguishing between two types of J-internalism: accessibilism and mentalism (pp. 1-2*).
Argument: Accessibilism holds that the epistemic justification of S’s beliefs depend solely on factors to which S has reflective access. Mentalism holds that the epistemic justification of S’s beliefs depend solely on factors that are internal to S’s mental life. Accessibilism and mentalism are coextensive only if we assume that S has reflective access to every aspect of her mental life relevant to justification.
Upshot: There are at least two broad kinds of J-internalism: accessibilism and mentalism.
Step 2: Feldman and Conee characterise mentalism in terms of a supervenience and a mental duplicate claim (p. 2).
Argument: The supervenience thesis (S) holds that the justification of S’s beliefs supervene on S’s occurrent and dispositional mental states, events and conditions. The mental duplicates thesis (M) holds that if two individuals, S1 and S2, are exactly alike mentally, then they are exactly alike justificationally. Since the claim that justification supervenes on mental states entails that two individuals with the same mental states have the same justification, (S) entails (M).
Upshot: Mentalism may be characterised in terms of a supervenience thesis and a mental duplicates thesis, where the former entails the latter.
Step 3: Feldman and Conee argue that mentalism is the preferable characterisation of J-internalism (pp. 2-3).
Argument: In the philosophy of mind, internalism is the thesis that the content of S’s attitudes depend solely on factors internal to the cognitive apparatus of the agent. This is meant to exclude social and environmental factors as determiners of the content of a subject’s mental states. In short, mental content supervenes on a subject’s inner states. Likewise, mentalism is meant to exclude plainly external factors as determiners of justification. In short, justification supervenes on a subject’s mental states.
Upshot: Mentalism preserves the parallel between J-internalism and internalism in the philosophy of mind.
Step 4: Feldman and Conee consider five examples in which a change or difference in the mental life of subjects result in a change or difference in justification (pp. 4-5).
Argument: In the first four examples the justificatory standing of an agent changes depending on what items of information are within the subject’s ken. In the fifth example, a purely internal difference decisively determine the subject’s justificatory standing.
Upshot: While the five examples considered do not establish that J-internalism is true, they suggest that J-internalism is consistent with our pre-theoretical intuitions.
Step 5: Feldman and Conee distinguish between two broad classes of objections to J-internalism (p. 5).
Argument: The first class of objections (i.e., those put forward by Alvin Plantinga and Alvin Goldman) claim that there are some justified beliefs for which there are no internal justifying states. The second class of objections (i.e., those put forward by William Alston and Ernest Sosa) claim that there are insurmountable difficulties in specifying the nature of the connection between beliefs and their internal justifying states.
Upshot: The defender of J-internalism must respond to two broad classes of objections if the plausibility of her belief is to be maintained.
Step 6: Feldman and Conee consider Alvin Plantinga’s objections to evidentialist versions of J-internalism; the thesis that an agent is justified by her evidence (pp. 5-6).
Argument: Plantinga maintains that evidence must either be propositional, sensory, or impulsional. Since any type of evidentialism that held that evidence constituted by beliefs (i.e., propositional) or experiences (i.e., sensory) could not account for mathematical knowledge, J-internalism must also include evidence that is constituted by a sense of conviction (i.e., impulsional). However, since a sense of conviction accompanies all beliefs, allowing for impulsional evidence would result in all beliefs being justified.
Upshot: There cannot be a plausible account of evidentialism.
Step 7: Feldman and Conee respond to Plantinga’s objection to evidentialism (pp. 6-7).
Argument: Feldman and Conee point out that: (1) We often believe things we find counterintuitive or implausible and disbelieve things we find intuitive and plausible. So it is not true that all beliefs are accompanied by a sense of conviction (or at impulsional). (2) Even if all beliefs were impulsional, there may still be defeaters that outweigh the impulsional evidence of a given belief, rendering the belief justificationally impotent. (3) According to some plausible views, we have an aprori insight that allows us to grasp simple mathematical propositions. This allows us to say that mathematical beliefs are justified without implying that all beliefs are justified.
Upshot: Plantinga’s objection to evidentialism fails.
Step 8: Feldman and Conee consider Alvin Goldman’s objection to J-internalism (p. 7.
Argument: Goldman argues that internal states cannot account for the justification of stored beliefs. At any given time, there are many things we know that we are not considering. Since we know them, we also believe them, and the belief in question is justified. But given that the belief in question is nonocurrent, it could not be justified by a conscious mental state.
Upshot: J-internalist are stuck with the unacceptable result that stored beliefs are not justified, unless some internal justifier can be found.
Step 9: Feldman and Conee respond to Goldman’s objection to J-internalism (pp. 7-8)
Argument: Feldman and Conee argue that there are occurrent and dispositional senses of justified, just as there are occurrent and dispositional senses of belief. Nonoccurrent beliefs may enjoy dispositional justification. Moreover, there is no reason why the numerous ordinary justified beliefs a subject is not consciously considering could not justify her stored beliefs.
Upshot: Goldman’s objection to J-internalism fails.
Step 10: Feldman and Conee respond to Goldman’s objection to J-internalism based on the possibility of forgotten evidence (pp. 8-10).
Argument: Goldman points out that an agent’s belief may remain justified long after she has forgotten the original source of justification. However, Feldman and Conee point out that: (1) the vivacity (or sense of certainty) that accompanies such a memory belief may provide justification for that belief, and (2) the agent’s justified beliefs about the reliability of her memory, may also provide her with justification for a memory belief even after she has forgotten the original justificatory source of the memory belief.
Upshot: The forgotten evidence objection to J-internalism fails.
Step 11: Feldman and Conee consider William Alston’s objection to J-internalism (p. 11).
Argument: Alston argues that if an agent believes some proposition, P, based on some evidence, E, then E can provide justification for P only if the agent has the higher-order belief that E provides justification for P. However, typically, when we believe some proposition, P, based on some evidence, E, we never actually stop to consider if E justifiers P. Consequently, if we buy into this view, then many of the beliefs we ordinarily take to be justified turn out not to be.
Upshot: Given that J-internalsim requires higher-order beliefs about the justificatory efficacy of our evidence, many beliefs we ordinarily take to be justified turn out not to be.
Step 12: Feldman and Conee respond to Alston’s objection to J-internalism (pp. 11-13)
Argument: According to the evidentialist account favoured by Feldman and Conee, possessing the right evidence by itself secures the justification for the corresponding beliefs, independent of whether or not the agent considers the justificatory efficacy of said evidence.
Upshot: Alston’s objection to J-internalism fails.
Step 13: Feldman and Conee consider Ernest Sosa’s objection to J-internalism (p. 13).
Argument: Although some experiences directly fit the introspective beliefs that describe them (such as my experience of a white triangle against a black background), other experiences do not (such as my experience of a white 25-sided figure against a black background). This poses the question: why does the experience of a triangle justify the introspective belief while the experience of a 23-sided figure does not.
Upshot: If the J-internalist is unable to explain this difference, then it remains unclear how, by their lights, any experience may be said to justify a belief.
Step 14: Feldman and Conee respond to Ernest Sosa’s objection to J-internalism (pp. 13-14).
Argument: Feldman and Conee point out that while we have the ability to perceptually recognise a triangle, we lack the ability to perceptual recognise a 23-sided figure. However, if we imagine an agent who had the ability to perceptually recognise the latter, then that agent’s experience would be able to justify the corresponding introspective belief. However, since such an agent would not be internally identical to us, this does not pose a problem for the claim that agents that are alike internally are alike in terms of justification.
Upshot: Sosa’s objection to J-internalism fails.
Given that J-internalism, broadly construed, suffers from no fatal defects, philosophers may move beyond the debate regarding whether or not J-internalism is feasible to flushing out a specific, detailed account of internalist justification.
*Page numbers based on the American Philosophical Quarterly article (Volume 38, Number 1, January 2001)