This post will further explore the theories of internal justification, focusing on the ideas of Matthias Steup. In his essay, Steup attempts to defend Internalism from the criticisms of Alvin Goldman in particular.
Steup starts by providing a definition of internal justification: the subject has a justified belief if the reasons for the belief are ‘cognitively accessible’ to the subject at the time the belief is made. To determine if a belief was cognitively accessible, we must consider whether the ‘J-factors’ (Steup’s term for the reasons/evidence used to support a belief) were directly recognizable by the subject, that is, ‘recognizable upon reflection’. This involves a combination of a priori and introspective knowledge. Because reflection involves memory recollection and perceptual state (at a specific time interval), introspection is involved. However, reflection also requires an a priori understanding of general logical principles.
As an example of an unjustified belief, Steup highlights wishful thinking. For a justified belief, Steup suggests a belief obtained via direct perception. Steup also clarifies that a reliable process is not a necessary condition to obtain a justified belief. The subject may have formed a justified belief in their own mind, but have no ability to recognise the process used to obtain that belief. This should not rule out a genuine case of knowledge. A critic of Steup might argue that the ‘direct perception’ might be the result of a hallucination. Can we truly rely on our memory when it gives us a recollection of an event? Internalism does not seem to have any strong response to justified beliefs based on unreliable perception.
Steup next confirms that Internalism is based on a foundation of ‘deontology’. The subject has an epistemological duty to accept beliefs based on evidence available to her, but is not held liable for failing to form a true belief if the evidence was not available to her. This is analogous to ethical responsibility in that we only view someone responsible is they were in a position to understand the results of their actions. If this action could not be anticipated (eg it was the result of a freak accident), we would not blame the moral agent in this case.
Returning to the broader question of how to define knowledge in general (taking us back to the tripartite analysis), Steup believes that the first two generally accepted conditions for knowledge are correct: (1) the subject has a belief, and (2) the belief is true. He proposes adding two further conditions: (3) the subject has an internally justified belief, and (4) the belief is not a case of ‘accidental knowledge’, as per the Gettier cases. Steup accepts that (2) and (4) have to be evaluated externally, whereas (1) and (3) are internal conditions. In fact, if we are to accept the idea that the subject has an epistemic duty – p should be believed if the evidence supports it; p should not be believed if the evidence does not support it – Steup believes we have no choice but to accept the idea of internal justification.
In terms of what is considered good evidence – and is therefore a J-factor – examples include perception, introspection and mathematical / logical knowledge. Steup also stresses that whatever the evidence is, it must be recognizable by the subject on reflection. This does create a problem though in terms of animals and small children, as they lack this ability entirely. Steup gets around this problem by identifying two types of knowledge – animal knowledge and reflective knowledge. It is only reflective knowledge that should form the basis of any theory of knowledge. Animal knowledge does not provide any means to separate a justified from an unjustified belief, so should not be seen as genuine knowledge.
Having defined a framework for internal knowledge, Steup next deals with the specific criticisms of Goldman.
The first criticism is the claim that the evidence for beliefs must be ‘recognizable on reflection’. Critics argue that this does not occur in reality, and Sigmund Freud even proposed that most of our inner life remains hidden from us. We can have a belief but have no ability to reflect on exactly how we came up with that belief. However Steup points out that if you agree that subjects have an epistemic duty, there is no getting around the fact that they have to be able to justify their beliefs. The two requirements cannot be separated.
Steup accepts that this scenario of the critics could happen in three cases: (1) where the subject is ignorant, deliberately chooing not to learn something (2) where the subject has conflicting reasons for belief but is unable to decide, and (3) where the subject is lacking in moral character. To accommodate these exceptions, Steup suggests changing his definition of a justified belief from ‘always recognisable’ to ‘nearly always recognisable’. However, he does not consider this a major impediment to Internalism in general.
Furthermore, Steup does not believe that there are many cases that would satisfy the critics’ demands: genuinely true beliefs that cannot be justified at all. The critic would have to show that a subject has evidence for p without being able to recognise that they have that evidence. While Steup concedes this may occur occasionally, he does not believe it happens sufficiently enough to be a problem for the internalist. If the evidence is not ‘directly recognizable’ then we need to question whether it is good evidence to begin.
According to the second criticism, satisfying one’s epistemic duty isn’t something under our voluntary control. Rather, beliefs are formed without any choice on the subject’s part. Steup agrees that beliefs are not under our direct voluntary control, but draws an analogy with performing a criminal act. Even if the accused reacted automatically (‘without thinking’), the act was still within his voluntary control. He could have not acted in the way he did.
Steup cannot see any reason why we should claim that beliefs are NOT under voluntary control. If we are saying that physical acts are under voluntary control, it would seem obvious to draw a similar conclusion in terms of mental beliefs. Steup asks us to consider an unjustified belief. Surely it is the case that at any point we can note the contradictory evidence, which causes us to change the belief. The critics seem to be suggesting that once we have an unjustified belief, there is nothing we can do to remove that belief. However, this is not the case. We can always overturn a belief if we happen to receive strong evidence to the contrary, which shows that belief formation is under our voluntary control.
The only occasion when belief formation would be involuntary was when the subject was suffering from some form of mental impairment or was under the influence of drugs. In these cases, we would say that physical and mental faculties are not functioning as they should.
The third criticism is that internal justification cannot be conducive to truth. Having a belief in one’s head does not automatically make it objectively true. For instance, a tribe of native people might have an elaborate spiritual ritual, causing them to have beliefs that they consider to be true. On some occasions the beliefs really are true, but we would be reluctant to recognise this as knowledge.
This is where reliabilism seems to resolve the issue, for it requires that any knowledge acquired is the result of a reliable process. Steup agrees that his fourth condition for knowledge (the one that requires no ‘accidental knowledge’ as per Gettier) does contain an element of reliability (described as ‘indicator reliabilism’), and would help to rule out the case of the native people acquiring knowledge via luck. However, he does see any need for justification to have an element of reliability or conduciveness to truth. Justification is purely internal, whereas truth and reliability are external and covered by other conditions.
Overall, Steup concludes that the ideal approach to knowledge is to require: (1) the subject to have a belief, (2) the belief is true, (3) the subject has an internal justification for having that belief, and (4) there is no evidence to suggest we are in a Gettier situation.