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Advantages and disadvantages of Internalism

Sketch out in detail in your own words, the central aspects of either internalism or externalism with respect to justification (pick one or the other, but not both). It would be helpful to provide your reader with an example that can be used to illustrate your chosen position. Critically evaluate your chosen position by presenting to your reader what you think its major advantages are and what its major disadvantages are. Anticipate one key point that a critical reader might present against your position (whichever one you chose) and respond to it.

The Internalism-externalism debate is not new in the philosophy. Internalism can be generally explained in these words: Only internal factors of a person contribute to the justification or in other words, justification is entirely determined by the reasons that are internal to an individual (Pappas, 2014). Another perspective regarding Internalism suggest that knowledge or justification is an internal state of a believer. It is widely believed that first stage of internalism is that an individual have or can have access to the justified belief or basis of knowledge. In other word, individual is or can be aware of this first stage. However, there is another perspective which suggest that internalism is only connected to justified belief. Moreover, it can be extended to knowledge but the main concern is basis for justified belief. Another form of internalism is completely concerned with the sole concept of justification.

Internalism, a view in Epistemology, suggests that only reasons/knowledge available in an individual’s conscience can be used to provide justification. It also suggests that there is no need to look for external factors. In short, all conditions which are source of knowledge are with-in the psychological states of the individual who get knowledge. Internalism has been divided according to different types.

Semantic Internalism suggests that the environment does not affect the concepts available to individuals. Similarly, their relation to the external world also does not affect the concepts of that person. Motivational Internalism is related with the moral psychology and Ethics. It suggests that judgments and moral beliefs are fundamentally motivating. Moreover, there is an essential internal link between an individual’s belief that something must be completed and his inspiration and motivation to perform the job. Therefore, the lack of moral sensibility is unintelligible and even impossible to a motivational internalist. Historiographical Internalism is related with philosophy of science. It suggest that social influences are not affected by science. Moreover, it is possible that if intellectual capacity exist in any society at any time, pure natural science can exist. (Mastin, 2008)

Internalism about justification is a well-researched idea in contemporary epistemology. This concept can be summed up in these words: to justify a belief, all relevant and necessary things must be available immediately is agent’s conscience. Internalism about justification is quite different from internalism about knowledge. Internalism about justification is a widely endorsed view. On the other hand, internalist approach about knowledge is that conditions that differentiate knowledge from mere true belief are linked with personal perspective of an individual or rooted in the mental states of subject. Let’s assume an imaginary example to understand justification. X believes that Yankees will win the game. X has several reasons to support his argument. He thinks Yankees have strong team, concrete defense and perfect combination so Yankees have more chances of winning the game. Y does not have such strong reasons but he still believes Bears will win. This is based on his wishful thinking. So, one can understand that X belief is based on some strong arguments. On the other hand, Y’s belief is based on mere wishful thinking and there are no strong reasons to support his belief. This example tells us different between doxastic and propositional justification.

Internalist claim that every condition which is used to justify a belief is internal but it must be noted that usually causal relations are not internal. Internalists consider that one’s belief are based on reasons which is a causal relation between an individual’s belief and individual’s reasons, so it is not correct to say that every factor which is used to determines doxastic justification is internal. In other words, this claim that only internal factors are used to determine doxastic justification is not true. So, it is better to understand internalism as view point about propositional justification. Furthermore, usually to know about other individual, one is supposed one bases one’s belief on good reasons and this suggests that internalists will think that justification condition consist of two parts: some causal condition and propositional justification.

There are three reasons/aspects of internalism. These reasons are: the appeal to the Socratic/Cartesian project, the appeal to natural judgment about cases, and the appeal to deontology. Socrates and Descartes believed and stressed that it is not rational to believe without having a good reason for believing (Poston, 2008). A common aspect of internalism is that epistemic justification needs having solid reasons to support an individual’s beliefs. In simple words, for any belief, there must be some solid reasons to support that belief. This aspect of internalism suggest that rationality needs solid reasons. The deontological character of justification is considered as prominent source of support for internalism (Plantinga, 1995). This aspect of internalism claims that justification is about fulfilling intellectual abilities of an individual. Moreover, it is internal matter of that individual if he fulfill those abilities or not. This aspect of internalism debates that facts linked with justification are deeply linked with an individual’s obligation, requirements and duties. Descartes suggested that false belief is the result when an individual uses his own will improperly. Third and last strategy to support internalism is the appeal to natural judgment about cases.

There are various advantages of internalism. It is considered that regarding our justified belief or deontological nature of knowledge, internalism supports our intuitions. In other words, it could be said that internalism provides support to our perceptions and intuitions about justified belief. An internalistic approach put us in a better position to consider human beings as epistemically responsible agents. So, if we adopt internalism, we are in better position to regard humans as epistemically responsible agents. Considering this, we can say that internalism has distinct analogue in the ethics. Moreover, if we adopt this approach, it is most likely that we will be inclined to attribute responsibility to cognizant and capable agents according to the actions of these agents. This is supported by saying of Immanuel Kant which says: “Ought implies can” (Jankowiak, 2014). This saying serve as an ethical formula and it means if someone is morally obliged to do a job, he must logically be able to do it. So, if an individual does not act ethically because he does not have that knowledge or he is not aware then our intuitive tendency compels us to ignore or excuse that individual regardless of unfortunate consequences. We can easily understand this argument by considering this example. Let’s just assume that someone’s home gets burned down and no one called fire brigade. Obviously, this is very unfortunate and frustrating situation. If that person come to know that neighbor new about fire in early stages and did not call the fire brigade for any reason, obviously he will not feel good about that neighbor. He will feel that his neighbor is morally culpable. However, if that person came to know that his neighbor was incapable of using any cell phone because of any physical disability then he would feel it is not right to blame his neighbor. So, it is obvious that if an individual is not aware or incapable of ethical responsibility then we will be less inclined to consider him blame worthy.

Another advantage of internalism is that our intuition that knowledge should be reflexive is supported by internalism. Internalism also provides us a straightforward picture of justified belief. It means that if we have to give room to the idea that it is possible that as believers, many aspects of justification could be outside of our awareness. So, in any given case, there is possibility that these conditions could always be subject to alteration or change. Status of justified belief could be affected by the arrival of new facts and awareness from our part is not necessary. In short, as an internalist, either you know completely about the idea you are justified in believing or you do not. Another advantage of internalism is that false beliefs are justified in sceptical scenario. Internalism allows subjects to fulfill their internal duties which is considered as another advantage. Moreover, internalism does not under-intellectualize justification.

There are multiple disadvantages of internalism. Internalism may represent an ideal which seems unachievable. If an individual is required to have all relevant information regarding a belief to be justified then it is possible that we are setting the bar very high. So, internalism may represent an ideal which seems unachievable because of high standards. This objection was indirectly raised by examples of Gettier. However, internalists can response to this objection by saying that it is not necessary to have unlimited knowledge to an epistemic agent. A modified form of internalism is a response to this objection.  So, a methodical, persuasive and principled version of internalism is a rational response to this objection. Another serious issue with internalism is case of agents who possess rudimentary belief system. When we consider scenarios where an agent belief something and he does not possess any awareness or understanding of epistemic conditions or any form of knowledge surrounding his belief. Capable competent doxastic agent’s examples include small children, lower animals and unsophisticated adults.  Another serious issue with internalism is doxastic agent be aware of conditions of that serve to justify his/her belief but simply being aware might not be sufficient. Moreover, critics have also highlighted the issue of infinite regress. In other words, when internalism needs to presuppose   that doxastic agents are supposed to be justified in the belief that the conditions for justification have actually occurred, it leads doxastic agents to an infinite regress.

Advantages and disadvantages of Internalism

Internalism-Externalism debate is not new in contemporary philosophy. Internalism can be explained in these words: justification is completely determined by the reasons and factors that are internal to an individual. In contemporary philosophy, the term internalism comes with the theory of justification. Semantic Internalism, Historiographical Internalism and Motivational Internalism are considered as three type of internalism. There are various advantages and disadvantages of internalism which are explained above.


Jankowiak, T. (2014). Immanuel Kant. Retrieved from Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://www.iep.utm.edu/kantview/

Mastin, L. (2008). The Basics of Philosphy. Retrieved from http://www.philosophybasics.com: http://www.philosophybasics.com/branch_internalism.html

Pappas, G. (2014, August 4). Internalist vs. Externalist Conceptions of Epistemic Justification. In G. Pappas, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/justep-intext/

Plantinga, A. (1995). Warrant: The Current Debate. New York: Oxford University Press.

Poston, T. (2008). Internalism and Externalism in Epistemology. Retrieved from Internet Encyclopedia of Philosphy: http://www.iep.utm.edu/int-ext/#SH1c