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CHISHOLMS INTERNALISM AND ITS CONSEQUENCES

RICHARD FELDMAN
Abstract: Among the important themes in Roderick Chisholms epistemology are
his commitment to internalism, his defense of the independence of epistemology
from empirical science, and his assumption that we do know most of what we
initially think we know. In Roderick Chisholm and the Shaping of American
Epistemology Hilary Kornblith argues that Chisholms views lead to a radical
divorce between the factors that justify beliefs and the factors that cause beliefs,
that Chisholms views have the consequence that there is no connection between
justication and truth, and that Chisholms kind of epistemology is unable to give
epistemic advice. I argue that Chisholms views do not have these consequences.
Keywords: epistemology, internalism, Chisholm, truth connection, epistemic
advice, justication.
Three important themes in Roderick Chisholms epistemology are his
commitment to the internalist idea that the epistemic status of ones beliefs
is a function of ones internal states, his advocacy of a methodology
according to which epistemology can proceed without the aid of the
sciences, and his acceptance of the Moorean assumption that we do know
what we think we know. In Roderick Chisholm and the Shaping of
American Epistemology (included in this collection) Hilary Kornblith
raises a large number of interesting and provocative questions about these
aspects of Chisholms views. Kornblith argues that Chisholms internal-
ism leads to a radical divorce between the factors that justify beliefs and
the factors that cause beliefs, that Chisholms views have the consequence
that there is no connection between justication and truth, and that
Chisholms kind of epistemology is unable to give epistemic advice. I shall
examine these three points here with the aim of defending much, but not
quite all, of what follows from Chisholms claims.
1. Internalism
A. Chisholms Internalist Theses
Chisholm is often regarded as a leading of defender of internalism in
epistemology. In early formulations of his views, such as Chisholm 1966,
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he does not characterize his view as species of internalism. Neither that
term, nor the term for the rival view, externalism, was part of the
jargon. The terms do appear in later editions of the same work, where
Chisholm clearly identies himself as an internalist and raises objections
to some versions of externalism (see Chisholm 1989, chapter 8).
Kornblith identies Chisholms key internalist theses in the following
passages:
C1. We can know what it is, on any occasion, that constitutes our
grounds, or reason, or evidence for thinking that we know.
(Chisholm 1977, 17)
C2. The internalist assumes that, merely by reecting upon his own
conscious state, he can formulate a set of epistemic principles that
will enable him to nd out, with respect to any possible belief he
has, whether he is justied in having that belief. The epistemic
principles that he formulates are principles that one may come
upon and apply merely by sitting in ones armchair, so to speak,
and without calling for any outside assistance. In a word, one need
only consider ones own state of mind. (Chisholm 1989, 76)
Part of what is internalist about these principles is an idea, not made fully
explicit here, that conscious states that are readily available for
introspection are the determinants of justication. These states are
internal states of believers. This, presumably, is what makes it possible
for us to determine, on any occasion, what our grounds or reasons are. In
addition, Chisholm here commits himself to the view that we can
formulate epistemic principlesFprinciples stating the conditions under
which beliefs are justiedFjust by reecting on these internal states. In
particular, we do not need outside help, such as might be provided by
cognitive scientists or experimental psychologists, to formulate these
principles. Thus, the rst two of the Chisholmian themes mentioned
above, internalism and the autonomy of epistemology, are reected in
these principles. The third, the Moorean assumption, will surface later in
this essay.
B. Kornbliths Examples
Central to Kornbliths discussion are examples in which people are
unaware of the actual causes of their beliefs. He does not claim that the
examples are counterexamples to C1 or C2. Rather, discussion of the
examples leads him to question the value and interest in justication as
Chisholm conceives of it.
The examples that raise questions about internalism involve chicken
sexers, people with facial-vison, and people who are able to sort
photographs on the basis of whether the person photographed is happy
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RICHARD FELDMAN 604
or not. The key thing about each example is that people are able to do
their assigned task quite well, but if asked how they do it, they give
answers that are in some ways seriously inaccurate. Kornblith discusses
the last example in the greatest detail, and I shall use it as the basis for my
discussion.
In the photo-sorter example a person looks at a pair of photographs
and tries to determine which photo shows the happier person.
Apparently, people are able to do this quite well. When asked how they
do it, they typically say that the happier people are the ones who appear
to have the corners of their mouths upturned. In fact, however, the
people in the photograph do not differ with respect to the shapes of their
mouths. The difference that actually causes the people to judge as they do
is the size of the pupils of the people in the photographs.
1
One could use this example to formulate an argument against C1 and
C2. I emphasize, however, that Kornblith does not offer this argument.
Nevertheless, it will be instructive to consider such an argument. Imagine
a person who is the subject of the photo-sorting experiment. She looks at
a photo and forms the belief the person in the photo is happy. (For
simplicity I shall assume that the persons belief is that one person is
happy and the other is not, rather than the comparative belief that one is
happier than the other. Nothing turns on this simplication.) We can
make the most trouble for Chisholm if we assume that the photo sorter
does in fact know that the person in a particular photo is happy and thus
that she has a justied belief to this effect. Depending upon the details of
the example, that assumption could be questioned. I shall not do so here.
Further, to make the case most directly applicable to Chisholms
principles, assume that the subject thinks that she knows that the person
in the photo is happy. C1 and C2 both have implications concerning this
case that may seem dubious in light of the facts. C1 implies that
P1. The photo sorter can know what constitutes her grounds or
reasons or evidence for thinking that she knows that the person in
the photo is happy.
(C2) implies that:
P2. By reecting on her own conscious states the photo sorter can
formulate a set of epistemic principles that enables her to
determine whether she is justied in believing that the person in
the photo is happy.
1
As Kornblith acknowledges in a footnote, this experimental setup does not t well with
the claim that people are accurate in their judgments about the relative happiness of the
people in the photos. Since the experimental photos are manipulated versions of the same
photo, the people in the photos are equally happy. Observers who rate them as unequally
happy are therefore always making a mistake. Still, we can grant that people are typically
able to make these sorts of judgments accurately.
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One might argue, however, that P1 and P2 are false. Against P1 one
might argue that the photo sorter does not know what her grounds are.
Her grounds are actually that the person has large pupils. She mistakenly
thinks that her grounds are that the person has an upturned mouth.
Against P2 one might argue that any epistemic principles she would
formulate by reection would be mistaken principles developed in part by
generalizing on her incorrect views about this example. Thus, the example
may appear to cast doubt on both P1 and P2.
As noted, Kornblith does not offer these objections to C1 and C2. He
does not assert that there is anything wrong with P1 and P2. Instead, he
describes what he takes to be the response Chisholm would give to this
example. It is:
[I]f we were to ask our subject why she believed that the photograph shows a
person whose mouth is turned up at its corners, she would no doubt say that
she believes this because it looks that way to her, and this belief, about how the
photograph looks to her, is not false. It does appear to her to have a mouth
that is turned up at the corners. Given its appearance, it is not only no surprise
that she should come to believe that the individual portrayed in the
photograph actually did have the corners of her mouth turned up; our subject
is perfectly well justied in believing this. And if she also is justied in believing
that someone whose mouth is in that position is happier than someone whose
mouth is not in that position, then our subject is also justied in her assessment
of the relative happiness of the individuals portrayed. (p. 585 in this collection)
Thus, Kornblith is willing to concede that the subject can know what her
grounds are. P1 is not undermined by this example. And since she is right
about her grounds in this case, there is no reason to think that the general
principles she would develop would be mistaken. Thus, the example
provides no basis for doubting P2 either.
Kornblith goes on to argue that this defense of P1 and P2 comes at a
cost. The subject is right about her justication but ignorant about the
actual origin of her belief. As he puts it, Chisholms view implies that the
origin of the belief is epistemically irrelevant (585586). Furthermore,
Chisholms view divorces questions about the justication of a belief
from questions about its origin and causal ground (586). This will lead
ultimately to questions about the signicance or value of justication, but
I shall put off discussion of that for a moment to comment on the
argument so far.
C. Details
There are details about Chisholms principles and their application to the
photo-sorter example that merit attention. First, C1 says that people can
know what their grounds are. There are at least two importantly different
readings of this principle. According to one, all C1 requires is that ones
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RICHARD FELDMAN 606
grounds be things that one can know. A more demanding interpretation
of C1 is that one can know that ones grounds are ones grounds.
Chisholm draws a distinction along these lines in one place when he
discusses the possibility that a person has a basis, say, for p, but she
thinks something else is her basis for p (Chisholm 1982, 56). He says that
in such a case a person has knowledge but fails to know that she has
knowledge. He points out that in such a case the persons grounds are still
grounds that the person has. And this seems to be a way to say that the
grounds are still internal states of the believer that the person can know
herself to be in.
Applied to the photo-sorter example, the weaker interpretation of C1
requires only that the relevant facts about the appearance of the eyes are
facts that the subject can know. That is, if the grounds are that the person
appears to have large pupils, then she can know that the person appears to
have large pupils. Presumably, she can know this, even if she has not yet
noticed it. If the grounds are that the persons mouth appears to be
upturned, then she can know this. The stronger interpretation requires that
she can know that the larger pupils, or the upturned mouth, are the
grounds for her belief about who is happier. This may seem more troubling.
Although it is not entirely clear that Chisholm endorsed the stronger
reading of C1, it is plausible to attribute it to him. His endorsement of
C2, which implies that people can formulate epistemic principles, does
suggest that he has the second interpretation of C1 in mind. If people
were wrong about the grounds in various examples, it is hard to see how
they could formulate correct epistemic principles. The principles they
would construct would be generalizations based on incorrect accounts of
specic cases. So, let us take him to be committed to the view that people
always can know that their grounds are their grounds.
Still, neither C1 nor C2 implies that people in general, or the photo
sorter in particular, are invariably correct about the grounds of their
beliefs. C1 only says that people can know their grounds. The example as
described shows only that the photo sorter would pick out as her grounds
things that are not the actual causes of her belief. So it is open to
Chisholm to argue that the actual grounds do have to do with pupil size
(not the appearance of an upturned mouth) and that the subject can
identify these grounds on reection. Of course, the reection that would
enable her to do this would have to differ from the simple sort of
reection involved in casual reection on what one has done in
psychology experiments. It might involve careful reection on a wide
range of examples, some of them involving odd possibilities of various
sorts. Such reection might lead the person to take explicit conscious note
of differences in pupil size in the people photographed. We have been
given no reason to think that she cannot do this.
A similar point applies to P2. Thesis C2 implies that people can, on
reection, formulate a set of epistemic principles. It does not imply that
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CHISHOLMS INTERNALISM AND ITS CONSEQUENCES 607
anyone would in fact come up with them if asked. Chisholm writes that
to be justied in believing, one need not have knowledge of any of those
epistemological principles that formulate the conditions under which one
is justied in believing (Chisholm 1982, 57). As I understand Chisholms
methodology, he thought that by reection on a wide range of examples
one would be able to formulate the relevant set of epistemic principles.
The oddities of the photo sorters thoughts about the current example do
not show that reection on multiple examples cannot yield suitable
results. Chisholm was well aware of the fact that he had on many
occasions proposed mistaken epistemic principles. As anyone familiar
with his work knows, he revised his epistemic principles many times. He
welcomed objections and counterexamples and took pleasure in revising
his views. His claim in C2 that we can formulate epistemic principles is an
expression of faith in our ability, in the philosophical long run, to work
out the principles. It is not an assertion of the rather implausible view
that we already know them or that ordinary people in ordinary cases
know what justies their beliefs.
Thus, there is a way to defend P1 and P2 that does not require
separating grounds from causes in the way Kornblith proposes. The key
idea is that the presence of the word can in his principles leaves Chisholm
a good deal of wriggle room, and he was a wonderful wriggler. His claim
is not that people always know their grounds and the epistemic principles
governing their beliefs but rather that they can gure these things out.
The examples do not show otherwise.
There is another detail about Chisholms principles that is worth
noting. C1 is about subjects grounds for thinking that they have
knowledge. P1 is about the photo sorters grounds for thinking that she
knows that the person in the photo is happy. It is not about her grounds
for thinking that the person in the photo is happy. Even if we accept what
Kornblith says about what the subject in the example thinks, there is no
reason to conclude that she is wrong about the origin of her thought that
she knows. She thinks she knows because she thinks she is believing on
the basis of accurate information about the shape of the mouth.
Presumably, she is entirely right about that. That is why she thinks she
knows. Again, we could resist Kornbliths conclusion by appealing to this
detail of the principles Chisholm formulated.
We should distinguish P1 from another claim about the photo sorter,
namely:
P3. The photo sorter can know what constitutes her grounds or
reasons for thinking that the person in the photo is happy.
Perhaps Chisholm would assert an internalist principle that implies P3
as well. He seems to say as much in the sentence immediately after the
quotation in C1. Moreover, P3 does have a characteristically Chishol-
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mian avor. The general idea would be that you always can know what
your reasons for a belief are. The revised general principle might be:
C3. We can know what it is, on any occasion, that constitutes our
grounds, or reason, or evidence for any belief we have.
This implies P3. I shall assume that Chisholm is committed to C3.
It is understandable that one might think that the photo-sorter example
shows that P3, and thus C3, are false. According to this objection, the
photo sorterss actual grounds for thinking that the person in the photo is
happy have to do with the persons pupil size. But she would not realize
this. She would think that it is an upturned mouth. But, I take it, Kornblith
would not want to raise this objection. Instead, I think, he would argue
that Chisholm can defend P3 by claiming that there is a difference between
causes and grounds. As Kornblith sees it, Chisholm would say that the
grounds for the belief involve the appearance of an upturned mouth. The
photo-sorter does know that those are her grounds. But the actual origin of
her belief involves the pupil size, and she is ignorant of this.
There is an oddity about this account of the example that deserves
notice. Kornblith says that the person in the photo does appear to have
an upturned mouth. I think that he says this so that he can say that this
appearance really is the ground of the belief. Were there no such
appearance, it could not be the ground of the belief. But he denies that
this appearance is a cause of the belief that the person is happy. However,
if the person does appear to have an upturned mouth, I do not see why
this appearance is not part of the cause of that belief. The causal process
would go something like this: the large pupil size causes, perhaps as a
result of background beliefs and expectations, the person to appear to
have an upturned mouth. And this leads to the belief that the person is
happy. So, if there is an appearance of an upturned mouth, as Kornblith
admits, then that appearance is available to do some causal work. I do
not see, in that case, that we have good reason to think that these
examples force Chisholm to separate causes from grounds in the way
Kornblith suggests.
Perhaps Kornblith should not grant that the person in the photo
appears to have an upturned mouth. Perhaps the sorter just thinks that
he does. If there is no such appearance, then of course it cannot be
causally relevant. Perhaps that would sufce to deal with the point just
made.
2
In order to pose the most difcult challenge to Chisholms views
2
And perhaps it would not. As formulated in the text, it is assumed that an appearance
of an upturned mouth is the, or at least a, reason for the belief that the person in the photo is
happy. But some foundationalists, possibly including Chisholm, would take the reason to be
the belief that there is an appearance of an upturned mouth. That belief does exist,
presumably, and is available to be a cause. However, this might just push Kornbliths point
back to the reasons for and causes of this belief. He would say that she would be wrong
about the causes of this belief.
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CHISHOLMS INTERNALISM AND ITS CONSEQUENCES 609
that we can, I shall amend Kornbliths account of the example. I shall
assume that there is no appearance of an upturned mouth. Such an
appearance, then, cannot be a cause of the sorters belief. Yet she thinks
that there is such an appearance. She is wrong about the causes of her
belief. Chisholms principles imply that she is not ignorant of the grounds
for her belief. So there must be some difference between causes and
grounds. Kornbliths conclusion, or some version of it, seems to be
correct.
As I noted, Kornblith says that Chisholms view makes the origins of
beliefs epistemically irrelevant. He also says that Chisholms intern-
alism implies that questions about justication and questions about
causal ground seem to be entirely separate (586). It is not entirely clear
to me what Kornblith means by these claims, but I take him to be arguing
that Chisholm is committed to two troublesome theses:
K1. The reasons or grounds for a belief are epistemically relevant to
the belief, in that they determine the beliefs epistemic status, but
they can fail to be causes of the belief.
K2. Things that are causes of a belief can fail to be epistemically
relevant to the belief, in that they can have no bearing on the
epistemic status of the belief.
I shall argue that K2 is true but unsurprising and causes no trouble for
Chisholm. I think that Chisholm is not committed to K1.
3
D. Causes and Grounds
We are all familiar with the following phenomenon. You look at
something and can tell that it has a certain property or is in a certain
class, though you are unable to say exactly what it is that enables you to
identify that thing. Many cases of recognition are like this. People can
classify things like trees and birds without being very good at identifying
the specic features that enable them to do so. They can say only that a
certain tree looks like a maple or that a certain bird looks like a robin.
The photo-sorter example and the other examples that Kornblith
describes differ from these more familiar examples mainly in that in the
more familiar cases people realize they are not able to describe what
features enable them to identify things, whereas in Kornbliths examples
people have mistaken views about how they do so. What should an
internalist like Chisholm make of such examples?
3
Kornblith does consider one way in which internalists might avoid these results, but he
says that the view he describes is one that internalists must reject. I agree with him about
that and shall not discuss that response here.
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RICHARD FELDMAN 610
In describing the familiar cases I said that a person might be able to
say no more than that the bird looks like a robin. I think that
Chisholm should take such phrases as looks like a robin seriously.
People can tell that a bird is a robin because it looks like a robin. The fact
that it looks like a robin is a reason for thinking that it is a robin, and this
reason is accessible to them. Moreover, it can be a justifying reason.
Perhaps they also need suitable background beliefs to the effect that
things that look this way are robins. Thus, perhaps a more complete
statement of their reason for thinking that the bird is a robin is that
it looks a certain wayFrobinesqueFand things that look that way
are robins.
As I understand Chisholms internalism, then, it implies that the key
epistemically relevant factor that makes a novice bird-watcher justied in
believing that a bird he sees is a robin is the fact that the bird looks like a
robin. Such a person could, presumably, identify that reason. Further-
more, that state is causally relevant to the belief that the bird he sees is a
robin. There are, of course, more detailed descriptions of the look of
robins. People may not be able to provide them. They may not be able to
articulate the distinguishing features of the look of robins. Still, given the
plausible assumption that looking like a robin and appearing to have a
particular more determinate description can both be causes of the belief
that the bird is a robin, the factor the person can identify as a reason is a
also a cause.
The same sort of account plausibly applies to the case of the photo
sorter. To her, the person in the photo looked happy, and that is her
evidence for her belief that the person is happy. There is an appearance
property, looking happy, that the person in the photo actually has; the
photo sorter has noticed this feature, and this is her reason for thinking
that the person is happy. There is a more determinate description of the
appearance in this case. That description would include the property of
appearing to have large pupils. From the fact that the more determinant
property enters into a causal explanation of her belief, it does not follow
that the less determinant property is not part of the cause of her belief.
Thus, Chisholm can say that the reason that justies her belief that the
person is happy is the fact that the person looks happy. What justies the
belief that the person looks happy is, of course, how the person looks plus
whatever background information she has that links that particular look
to looking happy. Presumably, she had to learn to associate that
particular assortment of shapes and other fundamental properties with
conceptually complex looks, such as looking happy. There are hard
questions about how this happens. Still, I see nothing in this example to
warrant the claim that Chisholms internalism requires that there be
justifying reasons for beliefs that are not causes of those beliefs. The
example does not establish that Chisholm is committed to K1, the thesis
that the grounds of a belief can be causally irrelevant to the belief.
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CHISHOLMS INTERNALISM AND ITS CONSEQUENCES 611
My point is not that one always knows all the causal factors
responsible for ones beliefs. Surely no one does. The causal chain will
trace back to earlier events of which the believer is unaware. On typical
views about the relation between mental events and physical events, the
causes will include physical events in the brain of which all typical
believers are ignorant. There are psychological factors involved in the
production of beliefs that we do not know about. There is, then, no
denying that there are causes for beliefs that are not among the reasons of
which we can be aware. I do not think that Chisholm intended to deny
this. Moreover, it is surely true that some of these causal factors have no
bearing at all on the epistemic status of a belief. So Chisholm is
committed to K2, the thesis that some causal factors are epistemically
irrelevant. But K2 is true, and I doubt that anyone one disagrees.
Kornbliths examples do show that people can have remarkably
mistaken beliefs about the way things look. As I have interpreted the
photo-sorter example, the person thinks that she is seeing a photo of a
person who has, and appears to have, an upturned mouth. She is
mistaken about this. The fact that we can be so radically wrong about
this is a striking thing. Perhaps it conicts with some thesis to the effect
that we are infallible about what is occurring in our minds. However,
Chisholm was not committed to any such thesis, and I do not believe that
his internalism requires him to say anything implausible about the
reasons and causes involved in these examples.
E. Varieties of Internalism
What does all this tell us about internalism? That depends on what
internalism is. My own view is that the best version of internalism is a
supervenience thesis to the effect that the epistemic status of beliefs
supervenes on the internal states of the believer (see Conee and Feldman
2001). In other words, necessarily, if two people are internally alike, then
they are epistemically alikeFthey are justied in believing the same
propositions. There are, of course, hard questions about what counts as
being internally alike. I shall not discuss these questions here.
It is possible to construct more restrictive versions of internalism. If
there are internal states that are not accessible to believers, then another
kind of internalism is the view that epistemic facts supervene on just the
accessible internal states. A further claim internalists might make has to
do with how much people must be able to say about how or which
accessible states make specic beliefs justied. From the fact that
epistemic status supervenes on accessible mental states, it does not follow
that people must be able to gure out, or must actually know, which
accessible states contribute to the justication of which beliefs. So
internalists might add these requirements. They might even add the claim
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RICHARD FELDMAN 612
that people are infallible about these matters, that they never have
mistaken beliefs about whether or why their beliefs are justied.
There is, then, a sequence of internalist theses:
INT1: Epistemic status supervenes on internal states.
INT2: Epistemic status supervenes on accessible internal states.
INT3: Epistemic status supervenes on accessible internal states, and
justied believers always can know which accessible internal
states contribute to the justication of any particular belief.
INT4: Epistemic status supervenes on accessible internal states, and
justied believers always know which accessible internal states
contribute to the justication of any particular belief.
INT5: Epistemic status supervenes on accessible internal states, and
justied believers always know which accessible internal states
contribute to the justication of any particular belief, and they
never have false beliefs about what contributes to the
justication of any particular belief.
Examples of the sort considered here refute INT5. I think that these
examples, and many others, refute INT4. This principle requires that all
justied believers know, and thus have accurate beliefs about, what
justies their beliefs. Surely not all do. Many have no thoughts about the
topic at all. Chisholm himself seemed to be committed to something like
INT3. The can in this principle is a potentially important hedge,
making it difcult to assess. Examples such as the photo-sorter example
refute INT3 only if they are examples in which the believer cannot know
what makes the beliefs justied. I do not see any reason to think that this
is the case. And, as I have argued above, there is nothing in these
examples to cast any doubt at all on INT1 or INT2. I conclude that
several versions of internalism, including the one Chisholm advocates,
survive these examples.
2. The Truth Connection
It is widely thought that there is some important connection between
epistemic justication and truth. Kornblith contends that Chisholms
internalism severs the truth connection. In this section I shall argue that
Chisholms view maintains an entirely acceptable connection between
justication and truth.
Kornbliths discussion of the truth connection begins with a contrast
between the Cartesian view and Chisholms view. Descartes held that
justication entailed truth. This would be nice. Our epistemic goal, it is
said, is to have true beliefs. Given that justication entails truth, getting
justied beliefs is a terric way to achieve our goal. Furthermore, if we
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CHISHOLMS INTERNALISM AND ITS CONSEQUENCES 613
are very good or perfect at telling whether a belief is justied, then, given
the ability to regulate our beliefs, we can restrict ourselves to beliefs that
are justied and thus true. This is great, save for the fact that precious
little is justied, given that conception of justication. So, virtually
everyone has abandoned the idea that justication entails truth.
The standard response is to weaken the conditions on justication. It
is a mistake to think that this is a choice, as if we get to pick what
justication allows. A better way to put the point would be to say that we
notice that knowledge-level justication does not entail truth. In any
case, if justication does not entail truth, then a question arises about
what the connection between justication and truth actually is. Kornblith
asks whether it is even likely that internally justied beliefs will be true
(591). He sets aside the claim that it is an a priori truth that justied
beliefs are likely to be true, noting, correctly, that Chisholm would agree
with him about this. Then he says that for all [Chisholm] can show as an
internalist, a policy of having justied beliefs may not be at all likely to
result in true beliefs (592). A few lines later he says that on Chisholms
view, . . . all connection between justication and truth has been severed
(592).
We have gone in this short space from the premise that
1. Justication does not entail truth
to the claim that
2. It cannot be shown that justied beliefs are likely to be true
to the claim that
3. All connection between justication and truth has been severed.
Once this connection is severed, we are left to wonder what reason we
have to care about justied belief (592). I take it that this is meant to
assert that
4. There is no reason to care about justied belief.
As I see it, there are signicant questions about every step in this chain
beyond premise 1.
First, from 3, the proposition that there is no connection between
justication and truth, it is very hard to see how we get to 4, a doubt
about why we should care about justication. Assertions that we should
not care about something are often indirect ways of making some other
point. I suspect that the idea here is that since our goal is to get true
beliefs, unless justied beliefs are a means toward this end, they are not
valuable. But this obscures a host of difcult and controversial issues.
For one, we also have the goal of knowing things. If, as many believe,
knowledge requires justication as well as truth, then justication as well
as truth are independent necessary conditions for achieving this end. So
there is reason to care about justication, even if it is not connected to
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RICHARD FELDMAN 614
truth in the way Kornblith wants it to be. Furthermore, and perhaps as a
result of some sort of excessive or obsessive interest in rationality, some
people may want their beliefs to be justied even when they fall short of
knowledge. Thus, in cases in which ones evidence is too meager to
provide knowledge, one may still want to believe what the evidence
supports. So one can care about justication, independent of the
attainment of knowledge. Thus, I do not see any basis for thinking that
there is no reason to care about justication. I do not think we can
justiably get to 4 from 3.
Second, from 2, the premise that we cannot show that justied beliefs
are likely to be true, it does not follow that, 3, all connection between
justication and truth has been severed. For one thing, from our failure
to be able to show that justied beliefs are likely to be true, it does not
follow that they are not likely to be true. It could be that they are in fact
likely to be true. And unless all connections are limited to particular
sorts of connections, even if justied beliefs are not likely to be true, it
does not follow that all connections between justication and truth have
been severed. There are other, somewhat more complex, connections
possible. Here is one, noted by Chisholm: To say that a person is justied
in believing a proposition is to say that the person is justied in believing
that the proposition is true (see Chisholm 1982, 4). Furthermore, on
Chisholms view, to be justied in believing that a proposition is true is to
have good reasons or evidence that it really is true. So, there is this
connection between justication and truth: If you are justied in believing
a proposition, then you have evidence for the truth of the proposition.
Perhaps this is not the sort of connection Kornblith is seeking. Mere
evidence of truth is not a proper sort of truth connection. It is not clear to
me why.
Third, and nally, the meaning of 2 itself is unclear. It says that we
cannot show that justied beliefs are likely to be true. Show and
likely are troublesome words, so it is not clear to me what it would take
for 2 to be true. Perhaps Kornblith wants an argument to the effect that
most justied beliefs are true. Here is a ridiculously simple attempt to
show that my justied beliefs are mostly true. Consider my current belief
that the lights are on. It is justied and, given all the information I have,
it is true. I am well justied in thinking that this justied belief is true.
Consider next my belief that there are people in the room. That one is
justied, and, so far as I can tell, it too is true. This seems to be another
justied belief that is true. I can continue this process for all my other
currently justied beliefs. I am not limited to consideration of my current
beliefs. I can recall various beliefs I have had in the past. Many of them,
so far as I can tell, were justied. While I do know that a few of them
turned out to be false, this is relatively rare. So, it is reasonable to believe
that my past justied beliefs were also largely true. I am not limited to
thinking about myself either. I have observed other people and often can
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CHISHOLMS INTERNALISM AND ITS CONSEQUENCES 615
gure out which of their beliefs were justied and which ones were true.
When I do that, things look good for the thesis that justied beliefs are
mostly true. So, if what 2 says is that in the actual world we cannot make
a good case for the proposition that most justied beliefs are true, it is
false.
It is, of course, a contingent proposition that most justied beliefs are
true. A person could be in a situation in which most of his justied beliefs
are not true. Possibly such a person would never be able to tell that his
justied beliefs are largely false. That would be unfortunate, but I do not
see what is wrong with a theory of justication that permits it. A person
could be in a position in which he can tell that others, or he himself in the
past, had many justied beliefs that were false. Perhaps, upon realizing
this, there would be changes in what sources that person is justied in
trusting. But, as things actually are, I am not in that position. I have good
reason to believe that most justied beliefs are true. Chisholm did as well.
Still, as Kornblith says, following a policy of having justied beliefs does
not guarantee that most of ones beliefs are true.
These results strike me as virtues of Chisholms theory, not aws.
Some philosophers, of course, will disagree. They want it to be a neces-
sary truth that most justied beliefs are true. However, so far as I can tell,
the best reason for this is the thought that there must be some necessary
connection between justication and truth and that unless it is necessary
that most justied beliefs are true, there is no such connection. But, in
arguing that 3 does not follow from 2, I have responded to this point.
There is another kind of connection between justication and truth:
Justication is evidence for truth.
Thus, I see no good reason to think that for Chisholm the connection
between justication and truth is severed in some objectionable way. It is
not a necessary truth that every justied belief is true, nor is it a necessary
truth that most justied beliefs are true. Chisholms views are, to their
credit, consistent with these facts. But Chisholms theory does allow us to
have good reason to think that in fact most justied beliefs are true.
Furthermore, when a belief is justied, the believer has evidence for its
truth. There is, then, a truth connection.
3. Epistemic Advice
As Kornblith sees it, one goal of epistemological theorizing is to provide
advice concerning epistemic improvement. However, he claims, given
Chisholms concept of justication and his methodological commitments,
epistemology can no longer play a substantial critical role. It is no
longer in a position to provide important corrective advice (600). The
key methodological commitments relevant here are a generalization of
the idea embodied in C2, that we can do epistemology in our armchairs
without the aid of empirical information from the sciences, and the
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RICHARD FELDMAN 616
Moorean idea that we approach epistemology with the working
hypothesis that what we know is pretty much that which, on reection,
we think we know (Chisholm 1977, 16).
Whether it is part of epistemology to give epistemic advice is a
difcult and perhaps unresolvable matter. No doubt there is a tradition
according to which it is. (Sometimes the issue seems to be self-
improvement rather than giving advice to others.) It is equally clear,
however, that some epistemologists focus on understanding funda-
mental questions about knowledge and rationality, not giving advice to
others about how to do a better job in forming their beliefs. I think that
arguing about what epistemology really is about would be pointless,
so I shall simply grant for now that giving advice is part of it. The
question, then, is whether Chisholmian internalists are in a position to
give advice.
Of course, to some extent the answer to the question depends upon
what sort of advice is sought. We might want tips on how to have more
true beliefs or how to know more or how to have more justied beliefs.
We might want tips on how to go about gathering evidence or about what
to believe on the basis of the evidence we already have. There are, then, a
variety of issues about which we might want advice, whether for oneself
or to give to others.
It is undeniable that empirical information would be useful in some, if
not all, of these matters. It is equally undeniable that Chisholmian
internalism would have nothing much to contribute to some aspects of
this endeavor. For example, it may well be that what we eat, how much
we sleep, and how much exercise we get contribute to how well we think.
Maybe taking certain vitamins would help us get more true beliefs. It
would be good to know about such things. It is difcult to imagine
anyone denying the possibility that such factors can affect our cognitive
powers, that learning about such matters would be benecial, or that it
will take empirical science to learn about them.
Furthermore, if one wants to give advice about how to correct the
errors in thinking that people are generally prone to make, then of course
one needs to know what those errors are. Everyday observations of
people provides some guidance about that sort of thing. For example, we
do not need cognitive scientists to tell us that people sometimes cling to
their beliefs even after their evidence for them has been undermined. Still,
it would be foolish to deny that empirical work about human reasoning
would provide more information about common errors and what
techniques might enable people to avoid them.
It is undeniable, then, that empirical informationFmore specically,
scientically sophisticated informationFwill be of value in efforts to help
people to form more true beliefs, more justied beliefs, and to gain more
knowledge. I do not think that Chisholm was committed to any thesis
that implied otherwise. I am condent, however, that Chisholm would
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CHISHOLMS INTERNALISM AND ITS CONSEQUENCES 617
deny that it was any part of philosophy to participate in the sorts of
useful inquiries just mentioned. Taking gingko may improve ones
memory, but Chisholm would deny that it is part of philosophy, or
epistemology, to investigate this matter. It seems to me that it is a good
idea to separate out philosophical questions about the nature of
knowledge and justication from empirical studies of the sort just
mentioned. That Chisholms approach does just that is no defect.
Kornbliths central complaint about Chisholms epistemology is not
that it denies the relevance of empirical information to epistemic
improvement or just that it has an overly narrow conception of what
part of the advice-giving enterprise counts as epistemology. On his
view, Chisholm-style epistemologists are not in a position to give any
advice at all, or at most next to no advice. Kornblith writes that
the Moorean presupposition assures that there will be at most a bit of
minor adjustment around the edges (600). He does not elaborate on this
point, but I think it is central. (For more on the topic, see Kornblith
1999.)
The idea is that if you make the Moorean presupposition that we
know pretty much what we think we know, then, even if reection forces
you to modify some of your initial claims, you will end up thinking that
we know pretty much what you initially thought we know. It is possible,
of course, that the Moorean presupposition will end up being indefensible
on reection and you will end up substantially altering your initial beliefs,
but I shall set that possibility aside for now. I shall grant for the sake of
argument the claim that Chisholms approach almost assures that you
will complete your epistemological reections thinking that you know
pretty much what you thought you knew before you started doing
epistemology. It is, in this respect, a conservative approach. From this
Kornblith concludes that Chisholm is in no position to give epistemic
advice. As he says elsewhere, this is an exercise in self-congratulation in
which we simply endorse our pretheoretical beliefs (see Kornblith 1999,
160). I think that no such conclusion is justied.
Even if epistemological reection is guaranteed to leave us thinking
that we know pretty much what we initially thought we knew, it does not
follow that such reection is unable to yield advice about belief
formation. Reection on ones own beliefs enables one to sort those
beliefs into the those that are pretheoretically categorized as justied (or
known) and those that are not. Reection on the beliefs so categorized
can reveal features present in the one category and absent in the other. It
is entirely consistent with Chisholms methodology that on reection one
thinks that many of ones beliefs are not justied. Chisholm emphatically
does not endorse the view that all, or even most, of ones beliefs are
justied. He endorses only the view that he does know most of the things
that, on reection, he thinks he knows. This is a much more limited
commitment.
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RICHARD FELDMAN 618
Once reection reveals a distinction between justied beliefs and
unjustied beliefs, it is possible to give advice. The advice would be to
form beliefs relevantly like the justied ones.
4
When this is spelled out
and given some substance, it can be genuinely helpful advice. Pointing
out to others, or noticing in oneself, a tendency to believe things on the
basis of emotional factors or weak evidenceFin other words, a tendency
to form unjustied beliefsFis not empty. It can potentially lead to
signicant changes. Chisholm-style epistemology is therefore not
precluded from giving advice.
Furthermore, it is no consequence of Chisholms views that nothing
could lead us to change our views about what we know. Surely Chisholm
would agree that scientic advances could lead us to reject as false
things that we previously thought ourselves to know. Empirical results
could show that some of the beliefs we take as clear examples of
knowledge are in fact false or that they are formed in ways that do not
yield knowledge. It is just that philosophical thought alone will not
have that consequence. Thus, Chisholms views do not amount to
an implausible or objectionable allegiance to the status quo, nor do
they prevent epistemology from offering any advice about how best to
form beliefs. Rather, his view implies that philosophical thought can
lead only to certain sorts of modication of common-sense views
and to advice stemming from the sorting and classifying that such
reection yields. Empirical inquiry can also lead to advice and can, in
principle, lead to the overthrow of widely accepted claims about what
we know.
4. Conclusion
I conclude, then, that Chisholms general approach to epistemology does
not lead to the result that epistemology is incapable of giving advice, does
not sever justication from truth in an unacceptable way, and does not
separate the reasons from the causes of belief in an objectionable way.
Chisholms general internalist view about justication remains a viable
alternative.
Department of Philosophy
University of Rochester
Rochester, NY 14627
USA
feldman@philosophy.rochester.edu
4
Whether forming justied beliefs makes ones life better is another matter. The advice
suggested here is thus advice about how to do better epistemically. It is not advice about
how to achieve other sorts of value.
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CHISHOLMS INTERNALISM AND ITS CONSEQUENCES 619
References
Chisholm, Roderick. 1966. Theory of Knowledge. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:
Prentice Hall.
FFF. 1977. Theory of Knowledge. 2d edition. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:
Prentice Hall.
FFF. 1982. The Foundations of Knowing. Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press.
FFF. 1989. Theory of Knowledge. 3d edition. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:
Prentice Hall.
Conee, Earl, and Richard Feldman. 2001. Internalism Defended. In
Epistemology: Internalism and Externalism, edited by Hilary Korn-
blith, 23160. Oxford and Malden, Mass.: Blackwell.
Kornblith, Hilary. 1999. In Defense of Naturalized Epistemology. In
The Blackwell Guide to Epistemology, edited by John Greco and Ernest
Sosa, 15869. Oxford and Malden, Mass.: Blackwell.
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