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Internalism Vs Externalism

Essay by review  •  October 27, 2010  •  Essay  •  1,645 Words (7 Pages)  •  1,457 Views

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Internalism vs. Externalism

Knowledge can be achieved either through the justification of a true belief or for the substantive externalist, through a "natural or law like connection between the truth of what is believed and the person's belief" (P.135). Suppose a man named George was implanted with a chip at birth, which causes him to utter the time in a rare Russian dialect. His girlfriend Irina, who happens to speak the same Russian dialect, realizes that every time she taps his shoulder, he tells her the time and he is always right. She knows that he is right because she checks her watch. Because she thinks this is cute, she never tells him what it is that he is saying. One day, Irina's watch breaks but instead of getting it fixed, she just taps George on the shoulder whenever she needs to ask for the time.

We may ask ourselves whether it is appropriate to claim that George has knowledge of the time every time he utters it. The answer is NO. Irina has been amused by his Russian utterances and has thus never told him what the words he says mean in English. So if Irina were to ask George what time it was, in English, he would be unable to tell her without looking at a watch or clock. This is due to the fact that when he speaks the time in Russian, his mind is not really referring to the time. The chip implanted in his brain clearly calculates the time on its own, not requiring the use of any of his bodily functions. The only interaction that the chip would have with George is to cause him to utter the appropriate numbers. So, since his brain is not involved in any calculating processes and all he does is utter the time in a foreign language, it is clear that George does not understand what he is saying. Without understand, it is obvious that he cannot form a belief based on what he are saying. If the requirement for knowledge is a true belief that is either justified or connected by natural law to a factual truth, then in the absence of a belief, there can be no knowledge.

We may also ask ourselves whether Irina knows the time. The answer once again is NO. She believes that she knows the time because whenever she has tapped George on the shoulder, he has given her the correct time. The truth is, that Irina is probably right in her belief that George will not make a mistake because the chip implanted in his brain is really good, but Irina is not justified in her belief because she has no knowledge of the chip's existence.

This situation pertains to David Hume's argument about causal relations. According to Hume, "we cannot prove that every event has a cause nor that the same cause will always have a like affect but we see two events in a constant conjunction and unjustifiably infer a necessary connection" (P.44). Hume argues that our convictions about cause and effect are based solely on experience or custom but those are not sufficient reasons for justification. If, for a substantial length of time, in every instance where Irina has tapped George, he has told her the correct time, she would eventually begin to associate tapping him on the shoulder with getting the correct time. It is natural for her to make this inference but it is not justifiable.

An internalist would surely agree that George has no knowledge of the time. Knowledge for the internalist, is based on valid justification of a true belief. This justification comes in the form of reasons, which can be accessed consciously by the mind. For instance, if I were to claim that I knew Madonna was coming to play a concert in Toronto and someone asked me how I knew this, valid justification would not consist of my saying that she is my favorite musician and I just have a telepathic connection with her so I know what she is up to. Instead, for an internalist account of knowledge, my reasons would have to consist of my having read about her upcoming concert on the internet and the fact that ticket master is selling tickets for her concert.

George not only lacks reasons to support his belief, but he has no belief to begin with. He must have an understanding of what he is saying in order to form a belief and this understanding is crucial to the formation of the reasons, which will support the belief. Since George has no understanding of what he is uttering, he cannot form a belief about the time and if he cannot form a belief, he certainly cannot form reasons for justifying that belief.

Although the externalist does not require justification for knowledge, he does require either a reliable process that arrives at truth in the right way or a natural or law like connection between a belief and a true fact. But both the reliabilist and the substantive naturalist require a belief. For instance, lets say there exists a doctor who is the best doctor in the country at diagnosing illnesses and diseases. If we were to ask this doctor how he does it though, he would not be able to tell us. He does not understand by what process he arrives at correct diagnoses. But even though he does not understand exactly how he does it, he is confident in his mental capabilities and has strong beliefs about the fact that he always gives a correct diagnosis. It is clear that this doctor knows what he doing and knows that he is right when he gives a diagnoses because he has a great performance record. Even though, he does not know what that method is, his belief in his knowledge and his performance record allow for it to be accepted as knowledge. Although George has a great performance

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