Saturday, August 25, 2018

Epistemic Responsibility 008: Evidentialism, Reliabilism, Internalism, Externalism

I am going to bore you with some words that aim to describe some of the basic distinctions in personality.

My writing coach told me to start off with a sentence that grabs the reader's attention, hooks, them, makes them ache to see what comes next, rather than turn away to play a computer game or seek a root canal at the local dentistry. This is the best I can do.

Anyways, if you want to speak epistemologisteese, you will need to know about two sets of distinctions.


According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on epistemology.

In contemporary epistemology, there has been an extensive debate on whether justification is internal or external. Internalists claim that it is internal; externalists deny it.

That's helpful, don't you think?

Don't worry about this. We're going to get here through the other distinction.


Here, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides a much better explanation - one that I do not think that I can top.

Their explanation concerns two people, Tim and Tim*.

Tim is a real person in the real world who is sitting in a coffee house with her favorite coffee, sitting back, reading her favorite philosophy blog on his tablet. Well, he's not a real real person. He's a fictitious real person. But, in the fictitious world, he's a real person.

Tim* is a brain in a vat. Tim* lives in the multiverse as Tim's counterpart in a parallel universe. Tim* has been vatted. That is, a secret cabal kidnapped Tim*, removed his brain, put it in brain-sustaining fluid, and hooked it up to a computer that would feet it neural impulses that would be processed as sights, sounds, and even perceived movements.

While Tim's brain is going through whatever states it would go through as Tim reads his favorite philosophy blog while sipping coffee in a coffee shop, Tim*s brain is going through the same states, making Tim* believe that he is reading his favorite philosophy blog while sipping the same type of coffee in the same type of coffee shop.

Now, let's look at these distinctions.

Is it true that if Tim's belief that he is reading his favorite philosophy blog is justified, then Tim*'s belief that he is reading his favorite philosophy blog is justified. Both people have exactly the same evidence available to them. There is no test that Tim can perform to determine that he is not a brain in a vat, nor is there an experiment that Tim* can perform to determine that he is. They both see, hear, feel, and remember the same things. Their brains are identical. So, how can one have a justified belief and the other not have a justified belief?

Spoiler alert: I think they can't.

That makes me an internalist/evidentialist. All of the evidence that one needs to determine if a belief is justified is inside the brain. That's internalism. Get it? Clever, huh? Everything that is going on in Tim's brain is matched in Tim*'s brain. They both have the same evidence available. If one agent justifies his beliefs, so does the other.

So, thinking that Tim's beliefs are justified when Tim*'s beliefs are justified gives you an example of internalism (everything required for justification is inside the brain) and evidentialism (if the evidence is the same, the justification is the same).

Remember, a justified belief can be false.

The other half of these distinctions is reliabilism/externalism.

Let's take reliabilism first. Reliabilism says that a belief is justified is if is brought about by a reliable source - a source that is likely to produce true results. When it comes to reliability, Tim and Tim* face two different situations. Tim's experiences are reliable. He sees himself in a coffee shop because he is in a coffee shop. He tastes the sweetness of the coffee because he is drinking heavily sweetened coffee. Tim*, on the other hand, has no reliable source of his beliefs. Almost all of his sensations give him false beliefs. Because of this, Tim can have justified beliefs, and Tim* cannot. The reason that Tim* is not getting justified belief is because some aspect of justification is beyond that for which he has evidence. He can't possibly know whether he is a brain in a vat, but that determines whether his beliefs are justified or unjustified anyway.

So, the idea that Tim's beliefs can be justified while Tim*'s beliefs are unjustified gives you an example of reliabilism (the justification of a belief depends on its being grounded on something that is reliably true) and externalism (whether something is reliably true can be external to anything the agent can become aware of).

So, think of coffee-shop Tim and vatted Tim*. If Tim's beliefs are justified if any only if Tim*'s beliefs are justified, chances are you are an internalist and an evidentialist. Everything required for justification is going on inside the brain, and identical evidence means identical justification. If Tim's beliefs can be justified when Tim*'s beliefs are not, this provides an example of externalism and reliabilism. The justification for a belief can depend on something external to what the agent can become aware of, where the reliability of that which provides evidence for a belief counting as one of those possible external factors.

So, if you are trying to understand things in epistemology, this should help.

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