Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Depoe on Internalism and the AFR

This is in response to Depoe's recent blog post on the AFR.

I don't have Hasker's book with me at the moment, but Hasker does say that a thoroughgoing externalism would be incompatible with his version of the AFR. Though on my multi-track model Plantinga's argument would be a way to get the argument going if you were an externalist.

Still, the argument is not about general theories of epistemic justification, but is rather about the fact when an atheist uses the argument from evil, or a scientist uses a mathematical equation to support a thesis in math, in order for it to be what the arguer from evil says it is, or in order for it to be the kind of mathematical inference the scientist says it is, there has to be an understanding of the propositions, a perception of a logical rule, and the reaching of the conclusion through a process of inference, the perception of what Lewis calls a ground-consequent relationship. Simply having a "black-box" reliable belief-producing mechanism is not enough to make these processes "as advertised." Internalists are good at these kinds of inferences. What they are not so good at are cases like, well, Steven Nash knowing when to pass the ball to Shawn Marion to get a dunk against the Spurs. :)

I'm not sure I have a general theory of epistemic justification that covers all cases. But reliabilism doesn't cut the mustard in the cases of scientific and philosophical inference. Link



At 2/14/2007 12:38:00 PM , Anonymous steve lovell said...

Dear all,

Thanks for redating this Victor, and moving it to DI2. Apart from the Bulverism post which quickly went off topic, this was the only one I could find on the internalism/externalism debate. It's interesting to note that Hasker thinks that a thoroughgoing externalism would avoid his argument. I agree, I think.

That's not to say that it avoids all versions of the AfR, of course.

I've always vaguely thought that internalism was a good account of justification and rationality, but something along the lines of externalism had to be included to account for knowledge.

For those who aren't already familiar with the internalism and externalism distinction, according the Laurence BonJour offers the following:

"A theory is internalist if and only if it requires that all of the factors needed for a belief to be epistemically justified for a given person be cognitively accessible to that pereson, internal to his cognitive perspective; and externalist if it allows that at least some of the justifying factors need not be thus accessible, so that they can be external to the believer's cognitive perspective, beyond his ken ... [The distinction] has also been applied in a closely related way to accounts of knowledge." (From BonJour's contribution to the "Blackwell Companion to Epistemology".)

The best known version of externalism is Alvin Goldman's reliabilism. According to this view a belief is justified (or gets some sort of positive epistemic evalutation) if the belief is the result of a reliable belief forming process, where by "reliable" we mean "generally leading to true beliefs". There are lots of problems with this view, but lets first notice something that isn't a problem: reliabilism doesn't exclude forming beliefs on the basis of reasoning or inference. If reasoning or inference are suitably reliable then beliefs which result from them may be justified (or what have you).

Now the position Darek and I have been discussing is one that would attempt to avoid the AfR by saying that a belief forming process resulting from natural select could
be reliable without ever involving anything we could call inferences. At this point the dialectic becomes rather confused.

This sort of externalism would seem to be false, as it excludes the possibility of forming beliefs in ways that we do seem to form beliefs: by reasoning. But is that falsity relevant to the dialectic?

Can this view defend against the AfR even if it's false? Could it be one of thse times where the bare possibility of an opposing position is enough to undermine one's argument? I'm not sure.

However, this would very much seem to depend on what form of AfR is in play. If the AfR goes: naturalism cannot allow for knowledge, so naturalism must be rejected, then this form the AfR may falter against this kind of externalism.

Alternatively, if the AfR is supposed to go, naturalism cannot allow for rational inference, so naturalism must be rejected, then this kind of externalism will be relevant but easy to reject as denying the obviously true premise.

Still, either way, it would seem that the defender of the AfR does not need to refute all externalisms for the argument to go through.

I've always tended to think of the AfR in terms of knowledge and reliability, and I still think there is mileage in this. But perhaps the stronger form focuses on the nature of rational inference and the difficulty fitting into a naturalists worldview the possibility that our beliefs could be held on rational grounds, or in Lewis's terms that "the act of inference is the real insight that it claims to be".


At 2/14/2007 05:04:00 PM , Blogger Victor Reppert said...

My paper in response to Keith Parsons from Philosophia Christi that came out in 2001, entitled "Causal Closure, Mechanism, and Rational Inference,," deals with this issue somewhat. The claim I want to make here is that naturalists, in virtue of their commitment to naturalism, don't just believe that they have some epistemically justified beliefs, they also believe that those beliefs are inferred from other beliefs. If they are defenders of the argument from evil they believe that "Probably, God does not exist," follows from (GC) 1) If there is a God, then there is no gratuitous evil and 2) Probably. there is gratuitous evil. If all we have are more or less reliable belief forming processes but there is no rational inference, then it does seem as if it is the end of science and atheistic philosophy as we know it, even if there are still some justified beliefs.

In the versions of the AFR that I have advocated, the central claim is not 1) If naturalism then no justified beliefs but rather 2) if naturalism then no beliefs produced by a process of rational inference.


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