Ernest Sosa Externalism Essay Research Paper Ernest

Ernest Sosa: Externalism Essay, Research Paper

Ernest Sosa: Externalism

Ross Goldberg

PHIL 4311

Dr. Stonewald

Ernest Sosa likes externalism. He thinks that it is intuitively correct.

But he must and does agree that it must be clarified in order to avoid certain

problems. So, his mission in this paper is to first define what he calls

“Generic Reliabilism,” then to show how it is susceptible to certain objections,

then to present a modified version of it, and to show that this new version is,

in general, better than its predecessor. Let us look at his argument.

First, we get the usual definition of generic reliabilism: S is

justified in his belief that p at t if the belief is produced by some faculty

that usually produces true beliefs. Then, we get a couple of Alvin Goldman’s

notions of justification with Sosa’s revisions. A belief is strongly justified

iff it is well formed, and by means of a truth conducive process. A belief is

weakly justified iff it is “blameless” (not the result of an intentional

mistake?) but ill-formed, and the believer is not aware that the belief is ill-

formed. A belief is superweakly justified iff the process that produces the

belief is unreliable but the subject did not intentionally come to hold the

belief because it was acquired unreliably. And, finally, a belief has strong

meta-justification iff the subject neither believes that nor can determine if

the belief is ill-formed (hence the “meta-” prefix), and the subject is aware of

the process by which he got the belief and that the process is reliable.

OK, seems reasonable enough. But, Sosa points out, there are a couple of

scenarios (actually, three, but Sosa concentrates mainly on the two listed

below) in which these conceptions of justification just do not work. The “new

evil demon” problem takes a couple of forms in the article, but what it amounts

to is that if a person S attains beliefs through something other than his usual

faculties (e.g. senses, reasoning, etc.) like evil demons or random neurological

stimulators, or whatever, then that person’s beliefs are not attained through a

reliable process (we are assuming that demons are, as usual, not benevolent

bearers of truth). But, we do not want to say, or at least Sosa doesn’t, that

the deceived believer is completely unjustified in his beliefs; so, what level

of justification do we assign to his situation? If, by some amazing coincidence,

the random processes or demons generate a consistent and coherent set of beliefs,

then we can say that the subject is weakly and meta- justified. But, t hat

situation is not very likely, and thus we need the notion of superweak

justification. At this point, the analysis and comparison between normal people

and deceived people stops at superweak justification. Sosa thinks we need more.

Now, Sosa introduces his proposal for a criterion for justification -

virtue (clever word choice, eh?). Notation: E = environment; C = conditions; F =

field of propositions; S = subject; P = specific proposition in question; and X =

arbitrary proposition. Then, S believes P at time t out of intellectual virtue

only if there exists F and C such that: a) P is in F; b) S is in C with respect

to P; and c) S would usually be right in believing an X in F while in C with

respect to X. Whew. One attractive feature of this theory in contrast with

Goldman’s historical reliabilism is that the faculty through which we believe in

our existence (cogito) is immediate, and by Sosa’s definition of virtue, it is,

well, “virtuous” and infallible I guess, and in the historical conception, would

rely on memory, which is fallible. This is a good thing.

Note that since the virtue is a function of E, C, P, and X, there are

several places from which an error could originate. But, all things considered,

Sosa arrives at the conclusion that the amount of virtue sufficient to

internally justify a belief is attained by the following: relative to E, S holds

P, P is in F, S in C with respect to P, and S would not be in C with respect to

an X in F in E without S being likely to believe correctly with regard to P.

Having so defined virtue and its relation to justification, we can see that the

focus has been shifted from a generic reliable mechanism of belief acquisition

to the mechanism of intellectual virtue.

How, then, does this solve our evil demon problem? Sosa says that

relative to our actual environment, our belief acquiring mechanisms (senses,

etc.) are virtuous enough to justify our beliefs. But, in a demonic environment,

our senses are deceived and so forth, so we are not justified. But, a person,

even in a demonic environment, is still justified in his beliefs relative to the

actual environment, assuming that he has sound cognitive traits. For, although

Sosa’s view allows us to say whether or not someone is justified in belief

relative to an environment even if that person is not in that environment. We

have examined the demon problem and ignored the meta-incoherence problem, but

they are formulated and solved in analogous ways.


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