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Science, presuppositionalism and worldviews, part 5

I refer to Van Tillianism presuppositionalism throughout this work as a kind of foundationalism. However, this is not, strictly speaking, accurate(It is arguably no more accurate of Clarkian epistemology). It is better understood, as John Frame argues, as a kind of multiperspectivism. I believe that both systems take for granted the necessity of having foundational theories of knowledge and justification, and in this sense I believe that both systems can be broadly characterized as foundationalist. They both therefore problematize epistemological positions which take strict coherentist theories of justification, for example, on the ground that they lead to an infinite regress. However, both thinkers both likewise believed that Christianity provided an internally consistent alternative to other systems of thought. While many other systems of thought are not necessarily demonstrably inconsistent, many are.

Having briefly surveyed two of the most popular philosophical conceptions of truth, let us turn to the concept of justification. One of the most important elements in presuppositional apologetics, which was an important point of dispute in the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate, has to do with whether or not Nye's argument is sufficiently grounded in a foundational, non-inferential belief. One of the most central components of a presuppositionalist apologetics is foundationalism as a theory of justification. True, with respect to the knowledge of Clark, Clark and Van Til are both coherentists. And, of course, we perhaps cannot properly speak of a theory of 'justification' for God since He does not need to justify His beliefs. His beliefs simply constitute true knowledge of His possession of them. When it comes to the human side of the equation, however, Clark and Van Til are both staunch advocates of a foundationalist theory of justification.

"Foundationalism is a view about the structure of justification or knowledge. The foundationalist's thesis in short is that all knowledge and justified belief rest ultimately on a foundation of noninferential knowledge or justified belief"(Fumerton, 2010)

In order for anything to constitute knowledge, it must be justified, true belief. The necessary element of epistemic justification, for the foundationalist, is that one's beliefs constitute inferences that follow from a basic, foundational structure. If one's beliefs cannot be ultimately traced back to such a structure, or do not follow inferentially from this structure, or from a belief which itself follows inferentially from this structure, then it does not and cannot count as knowledge.

"A little reflection suggests that the vast majority of the propositions we know or justifiably believe have that status only because we know or justifiably believe other different propositions. So, for example, I know or justifiably believe that Caesar was an assassinated Roman leader, but only because I know or justifiably believe (among other things) that various historical texts describe the event. Arguably, my knowledge (justified belief) about Caesar's death also depends on my knowing (justifiably believing) that the texts in question are reliable guides to the past. Foundationalists want to contrast my inferential knowledge (justified belief) about Caesar with a kind of knowledge (justified belief) that doesn't involve the having of other knowledge (justified belief). There is no standard terminology for what we shall henceforth refer to as noninferential knowledge or justification"(Fumerton 2010)

For the presuppositionalist, that non-inferential knowledge is the truth of the word of God and/or the existence of the Triune God who authored it (whether the Being of God takes epistemic priority or instead His word is a point of dispute among different presuppositionalists). From the perspective of academic philosophy, we can therefore characterize presuppositionalism as an extreme form of foundationalism.

Not only is foundationalism a thesis about epistemic justification, but it is also a distinct thesis about the nature of knowledge. Of course, as Fumerton points out, what is true of a foundationalism theory of justification is all the truer of a foundationalist theory of knowledge (It ought to be noted, however, that not everyone accepts this thesis. For example, while the early idealists accepted both a coherence theory of truth and a coherence theory of justification, later thinkers who accepted the coherence theory of justification oftentimes rejected the coherence theory of truth, or sometimes merely ignored the question). Fumerton briefly mentions the controversy:

"On the “classical” analysis of knowledge, the core of the concept of knowledge is justified true belief and the foundational structure of knowledge simply derives from the foundational structure or justification. It should be noted, however, that the presupposition that the structure of knowledge parallels the structure of justification is controversial. Indeed, in a highly influential book, Timothy Williamson (2000) argues that knowledge is unanalyzable and is a concept that should be employed in understanding a host of other interesting epistemic concepts, including the concept of evidence. In short, his view is that our evidence simply consists in everything we know. Justification may have foundations but only because we end a regress of justification with propositions that are known—the evidential foundation on which all justified belief rests is knowledge (186). A discussion of Williamson's view would take us too far afield, however, and in what follows I will continue to suppose that our understanding of knowledge is parasitic upon our understanding of justification, and not vice versa" (Fumerton 2010).

What presuppositionalists are arguing is certainly nothing new. It has quite a venerable history. In fact, the West accepted it as self-evidently true for thousands of years (Fumerton 2010). Only relatively recently has the notion been thrown seriously into question. Presuppositionalists are well-known for casting the secularist's beliefs into doubt by repeatedly asking "how do you know?" One of the points of this strategy is to get the secularist to come to a point where he realizes that, like everyone (even those who do not admit it), he has his own foundationalist epistemic theses, and that these theses are arbitrary and unreliable when it comes to the question of metaphysical or ontolotgical ultimacy.

Some philosophers, of course, deny that they have such an epistemic foundation. Coherentists argue that knowledge is structured like a web, each one of whose beliefs is either arbitrary and revisable, or depends upon a belief that is itself arbitrary or revisable. The presuppositionalist, as a foundationalist, wants to prove that according to such a model, the coherentist cannot have knowledge because he can never be certain of any of his beliefs.

There are two primary "regress" arguments for the foundationalist theory of justification:

1) The "epistemic" regress argument
2) The "conceptual" regress argument

Let us cash out a bit what it means for one to have 'justification' for what one believes. This is more or less a philosophically technical way of saying that one has a good reason for believing what one does. When it comes to the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate, Ham believes that scientific investigation can produce knowledge, but only the Christian worldview is consistent with the sorts of phenomena which scientists want to include within their worldview.

From a Clarkian perspective, however, scientific investigation absolutely never produces knowledge by its very nature, regardless of the worldview-context in which it takes place. The reason for this is that induction is always fallible. Our senses may deceive us through illusion, mirage and hallucination, and future occurrences may always contradict any number of observed regularities. Only conclusions that are the result of formally necessary logical consequences are legitimate candidates for knowledge. Since empirical reasoning such as inductive and abductive reasoning never meet this criteria, it can never constitute knowledge. Clarkians oftentimes cringe when listening to an Answers in Genesis proponent debate creation, since unlike Clarkians, they do accept that empirical reasoning can produce knowledge.

Furthermore, Clarkians reject such a thing as a law of nature, while Van Tillians oftentimes appeal to them. From an epistemological perspective, it is never possible to discover a law of nature, because we would have to use empirical verification, which can always be falsified by future scientific observations. Second, from a metaphysical and theological perspective, each and every occurrence is an instance of God's arbitrary, particular decree. Things happen because God ordains that they happen, not because they happen according to fixed, immaterial laws.

But let us return to the philosophical distinctives of the foundationalist theory of justification, specifically from a presuppositionalist point of view. Suppose we ask an atheist, "how do you know that evolution is true?" They will cite such and such evidence, to which we may respond "but how do you know that this interpretation of fossil evidence is true?" Ultimately, they will likely reveal that they themselves are foundationalists whose claims to knowledge rests on an ultimate foundation which is totally arbitrary and unreliable. If they are coherentists or infinitists, however, they may keep regressing and never come to a foundation from which they are able to infer subsequent beliefs. To summarize, they will either:

1) Land upon a foundation that is unreliable, arbitrary, and, from the perspective specifically of a Van Tillian, presuppose phenomena in accordance with this foundation that is inconsistent with their worldview. For example, they will presuppose certain logical laws which they apply in their interpretation of sense-perception data. These logical laws, according to the Van Tillian, are immaterial and invariant, which is excluded by the materialist metaphysics of the secularist.

2) They will never stop at a foundation and so they will be guilty of the fallacy of infinite regress. Of course, infinitists, who argue that a proper theory of justification actually requires infinite regress, will not be disturbed by this. However, since finite beings cannot comprehend an infinite chain of reasoning, knowledge must terminate upon an ultimate, non-inferential foundation. Apart from this, humans would require an infinitely long chain of reasoning to justify all of our beliefs. Since finite beings cannot comprehend infinite long chains of reasoning, it would follow that we cannot justify anything, and, lacking justification, we therefore cannot know anything.

"The above argument relies on the unacceptability of a vicious epistemic regress. But one might also argue, more fundamentally, that without a concept of noninferential justification, one faces a vicious conceptual regress. What precisely is our understanding of inferential justification? What makes PIJ true? It is at least tempting to answer that PIJ is an analytic truth. Part of what it means to claim that someone has inferential justification for believing some proposition P is that his justification consists in his ability to infer P from some other proposition E1 that is justifiably believed. But if anything like this is a plausible analysis of the concept of inferential justification, we face a potential vicious conceptual regress. The analysis of inferential justification presupposes an understanding of justified belief. We need to introduce a concept of noninferential justification in terms of which we can then recursively define inferential justification.

Consider an analogy. Suppose a philosopher introduces the notion of instrumental goodness (something's being good as a means). That philosopher offers the following crude analysis of what it is for something to be instrumentally good. X is instrumentally good when X leads to something Y which is good. Even if we were to accept this analysis of instrumental goodness, it is clear that we haven't yet located the conceptual source of goodness. Our analysis of instrumental goodness presupposes an understanding of what it is for something to be good. In short we can't understand what it is for something to be instrumentally good until we have some prior (and more fundamental) understanding of what it is for something to be intrinsically good. The conceptual regress argument for foundationalism puts forth the thesis that inferential justification stands to noninferential justification as instrumental goodness stands to intrinsic goodness"(Fumerton 2010).

For the presuppositionalist Gordon Clark, the truth of the Bible is our axiom, and therefore, our non-inferential foundation from which we infer or deduce all subsequent theorems or justified true beliefs. Each one of these things are defined recursively. Unless we have a foundation with reference to which we can recursively define inferential justified beliefs, we cannot define our conceptual beliefs in a non-viciously circular manner, and we therefore cannot have knowledge. I am unaware of Clark explicitly articulating his philosophy in such a manner, although I believe this is a justifiable paraphrase of how his work can be appealed to in order to solve the problem. What is "good," for example, is whatever the Bible says is good, and this concept, as well as its particular instantiations, are defined recursively with reference to God, who is invariant root and ground of all particular good things.

For the presuppositionalist, belief in either the God of the Bible or the truth of the Bible itself, as a form of noninferential justification, is likewise a form of infallible justification. For Clark, since logic is embodied in the person of God, His self-revelation in the scriptures likewise presupposes the basic laws of logic (the law of excluded middle, the law of non-contradiction and the law of identity), and theorems can be deduced from the Bible in the form of exegesis. The formal cause of our acquisition of knowledge from the scriptures is through God's immediate impartation. We are justified in having a belief when it can be deductively inferred from the Bible. The Bible is infallibe, and therefore, deductive inferences made from it are likwise infallible.

This form of noninferential justification likewise holds for belief that God exists. The presuppositionalists note that all know that God exists and suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Belief in the existence of God is a necessary, noninferentially justified belief that is as necessary and noninferentially justified as the knowledge that I exist or the knowledge that I am in pain.

To put it another way, beliefs only count as knowledge for the foundationalist (and therefore, the presuppositionalist) if they are either immediately and necessarily entailed from the noninferential foundational belief, or if they are necessarily entailed by a belief that is itself entailed by either the foundation, or if the chain of beliefs which ultimately entail it can themselves be shown to be linked together back down to its foundation. This is precisely what foundationalism is. Knowledge is structured as a vertical top-down structure, with one item of knowledge necessarily entailing another, like links in a chain.

The question must be asked, however: according to what criteria do we determine what is entailed by what?

"What is the difference between relevant and irrelevant entailment? This is a question notoriously difficult to answer, but intuitively it should have something to do with the fact that would make true the proposition entailed and the fact that would make true the proposition that entails it. More specifically, we could say that P relevantly entails Q only if the fact that would make P true is at least a constituent of the fact that would make Q true. This suggestion can be considered at best only preliminary since we will obviously need a more detailed account of facts and their constituents. That I have grey hair entails that someone has grey hair, but is my having grey hair a constituent of the fact that is someone's having grey hair? There is certainly a sense in which it is something one can point to in answer to the question “What makes it true that someone has grey hair?” One cannot appropriately point to my having grey hair as something that makes it true that two plus two equals four"(Fumerton 2010)

But what aspect of a noninferential, infallible, foundational belief makes it justified?

"Consider again my belief that I'm in pain (when I am). If such a belief is noninferentially justified, in what does the justification for that belief consist. Surely not in the mere fact that the proposition is believed. What is it that distinguishes this belief from my belief about Caesar's assassination. Some foundationalists want to locate the noninferential justification in the truth-maker for the proposition believed. What justifies me in believing that I'm in pain when I am is the mere fact that I'm in pain. But again, what is it about my being in pain as opposed to Caesar's being assassinated which makes it appropriate to claim that my being in pain justifies me in believing that I'm in pain while Caesar's having been assassinated doesn't justify me in believing that Caesar was assassinated"(Fumerton 2010)

I believe that it is the absurdity of the contrary that makes a belief such as "I am in pain" noninferentially justified. It is impossible to falsely believe that I am in pain because pain is so purely subjective an experience that it forces itself upon us by its very nature. The presuppositionalist may likewise argue the same about belief in God. Belief in God is so properly basic a belief, to use the language of Alvin Plantinga, that it is constituted in our very subjectivity. The existence of God constitutes the transcendenta precondition of our intelligibility of anything. Fumerton continues:

"It is tempting to think that the foundationalist is better off appealing to some special relation that I have to my pain which makes it unnecessary to look to other beliefs in order to justify my belief that I'm in pain. It is the fact that I have a kind of access to my pain that no-one else has that makes my belief noninferentially justified while others must rely on inference in order to discover that I am in this state. This takes us to another classical version of foundationalism, the acquaintance theory. Perhaps the best known proponent of an acquaintance theory is Bertrand Russell,[3] but it takes little imagination to read the view into most of the British empiricists. Roughly the view is that what justifies S in believing that he is in pain when he does is the fact that S is directly and immediately acquainted with his pain in a way in which he is not directly and immediately acquainted with any contingent facts about Caesar, the physical world, the future, and so on. On a correspondence conception of truth, one might add that to be fully justified in believing a proposition to be true one must be acquainted not only with the fact that makes the proposition true but the relation of correspondence that holds between the proposition and the fact"(Fumerton 2010)

I believe Fumerton's comment about a "special relation that I have to my pain which makes it unnecessary to look to other beliefs in order to justify my belief that I'm in pain" sums up the theistic position of the presuppositionalists. Just as though belief that I am in pain is justifiable by virtue of a special access which we have to that belief that makes it unnecessary to appeal to other beliefs, to also, humans possess knowledge of God merely by virtue of a special access which we have to the existence of God, by virtue of having been created in his image, and having received his moral law written on our hearts.

Wilfred Sellars famously presented a historically important argument against foundationalism, referred to as the argument against 'givenness.' The argument centers around an objection to what Sellars refers to as the "given," an extremely important concept for the foundationalist. The point of the concept is to ensure that we have access to some piece of knowledge from which we are able to build further foundations. According to Sellars' account, it is important for foundationalists that this 'given,' not result from the application of a concept, since to apply a concept to something implies that it is derivative from some antecedent foundation, and therefore, not foundational. Yet the given must have a truth value, and therefore, must have some sort of conceptual thought applied to it. Sellars' point, with respect to the impossibility of certainty regarding the sort of foundation of which the foundationalist wants to predicate such epistemic certainty, seems similar to the point made by Wittgenstein in remark 178 of his work On Certainty, in which he writes "The wrong use made by Moore of the proposition "I know..." lies in his regarding it as an utterance as little subject to doubt as "I am in pain". And since from "I know it is so" there follows "It is so", then the latter can't be doubted either."

Fumerton explains the standard answer to Sellars' argument:

"If there is a solution to the dilemma presented by Sellars (and others) it is to emphasize that acquaintance is not by itself an epistemic relation. Acquaintance is a relation that other animals might bear to properties and even facts, but it also probably does not give these animals any kind of justification for believing anything, precisely because these other animals probably do not have beliefs. Without thought or propositions entertained there is no truth, and without a bearer of truth value in the picture there is nothing to be justified or unjustified. The acquaintance theorist can argue that one has a noninferentially justified belief that P only when one has the thought that P and one is acquainted with both the fact that P, the thought that P, and the relation of correspondence holding between the thought that P and the fact that P. On such a view no single act of acquaintance yields knowledge or justified belief, but when one has the relevant thought (entertains the relevant proposition), the three acts together constitute noninferential justification. When everything that is constitutive of a thought or a proposition's being true is immediately before consciousness, there is nothing more that one could want or need to justify a belief. The state that constitutes noninferential justification is a state that contains as constituents both the bearer of truth-value and the truth-maker"(Fumerton 2010).

"Once the received view, classical foundationalism has come under considerable attack in the last few decades. We have already considered the very influential objection raised by Sellars to the idea of there being a “given” element in experience. It is crucial that the foundationalist discover a kind of truth that can be known without inference. But there can be no bearers of truth value without judgment and judgment involves the application of concepts. But to apply a concept is to make a judgment about class membership, and to make a judgment about class membership always involves relating the thing about which the judgment is made to other paradigm members of the class. These judgments of relevant similarity will minimally involve beliefs about the past, and thus be inferential in character (assuming that we can have no “direct” access to facts about the past). A reply to this objection would take us far afield indeed. Perhaps it will suffice to observe that the objection relies on a number of highly controversial claims about the nature of judgment, most of which the classical foundationalist should and would reject"(Fumerton 2010)

To summarize the Sellarsian refutation of classical foundationalism:

1) Foundationalist want truth without inference
2) But truth vaue requires judgment
3) Judgment requires the application of concepts
4) Application of concepts involves judgment concerning class membership
5) Judgment concerning class membership requires "relating the thing about which the judgment is made to other paradigm members of the class"(Fumerton 2010)
6) Such comparison and contrast involves, at the very least, judgments about the past
7) Judgments about the past necessarily involves inference
8) All truth value therefore requires inference
9) Foundationalists are therefore mistaken that there is such a thing as noninferential, basic belief

The atheist's rejection of presuppositionalism is formally more or less identical to the Sellarsian rejection of foundationalism. We Christian presuppositionalists insist that all people know that God exists, and that we know that our position is correct. The unbeliever says "how do you know?" We answer, "because God has so constituted us as to have a priori structures which intuitively know His existence and attributes from the creation of the world." The unbeliever says "how do you know?" We answer "because the Bible says it." How do you know? "Because the Bible is true." How do you know? "Because the Bible is the word of God." And so on. The core of the unbeliever's objection has to do with the question "how do you know your inferences are correct? They are not non-inferential. They are inferences. How do you know that your inferences about all of your religious beliefs are not based on mistaken reasoning? Whenever you begin to answer one of my questions about the truth of your religious beliefs, how do you know that the clause beginning with "because" is not a mistaken inference?"

Gordon Clark believed that all knowledge is propositional. Our a priori acquaintaince with God. It is therefore conceptual. The Clarkian presuppositionalist ought to reject the notion that a priori, foundational acquaintance with a piece of knowledge must be non-conceptual in order for it to be basic. To put it another way, we ought to reject the idea that application of concepts to a belief is merely derivative. Belief in God by virtue of our innate, a priori mental structures can be (and for the presuppositionalist, is) both conceptual and basic. Of course, for Clark, the language of "correspondence" has no place in his epistemology. Instead, as one who held to the coherentist theory of truth, a proposition is true if and only if it coheres with a specified set of propositions. That specified set of propositions is the set of propositions in the mind of God. The bearer of the truth is the proposition and the maker of the truth is its coherence with the specified set of propositions which constitutes those propositions in the mind of God. The acquaintance theory-oriented presuppositionalist, therefore can argue that one has a noninferentially justified belief that God exists when one has the thought that God exists by virtue of our a priori structures, which immediately and direct communicate to us the fact that God exists (or in light of the proposition's coherence with the specified set of propositions that exists in the mind of God), which is the truthmaker, and when there is a correspondence between the thought or proposition that God exists and the fact that God exists (or, if one is a Clarkian, again, the coherence of the proposition that God exists with the specified set of propositions in the mind of God).

"We may think of these two definitions of knowledge internalism as partial knowledge basis accounts, for each requires only some form of accessibility to some element or elements of one's knowledge basis. We will confine attention to these two partial knowledge basis accounts" (Pappas 2013)

The two revised definitions are:

"Weak AKI:
Whenever one knows some proposition p, then one can become aware by reflection of what is in fact some essential part of one's knowledge basis for p.
Strong AKI:
Whenever one knows some proposition p, then one can become aware by reflection that some item k is some essential part of one's knowledge basis for p"(Pappas 2013).

With respect to the issue of accessibility, knowledge externalism is largely a negative thesis consisting of the denial of the central theses of knowledge internalism (Pappas 2013). Those who advocate such a position deny that it is always possible to access the our knowledge basis or justification at all (Pappas 2013). Pappas articulates two forms of knowledge externalism with respect to this debate:

Weak access knowledge externalism -

"It is false that whenever one knows some proposition p, one can become aware by reflection that some item or other k is a knowledge basis for p. Weak externalism of this variety is perfectly compatible with one form of accessibility internalism concerning knowledge, namely weak AKI. Defenders of externalism, however, most likely would be interested in going beyond this weak form to an externalist position that is more wide ranging"(Pappas 2013).

Strong access knowledge externalism -

"It is false that, whenever one knows some proposition p, one can become aware by reflection of some essential knowledge basis for p. This position is thus denying that the ability to become aware of an essential knowledge basis is a necessary condition on having knowledge. The proponent of strong AKE can allow that in some cases one might have this ability. Her denial is that one has it in all cases, for each piece of knowledge one happens to possess"(Pappas 2013).

Having laid out the terms of the debate concerning knowledge internalism vs. externalism, which ought the presuppositionalist debate. I believe that the classic form(s) of presuppositionalism, as advocated by Clark and Van Til, tend to commit one to knowledge internalism. This is especially true of Gordon H. Clark, who argues that all knowledge consists of propositions deduced from the Bible. Since propositions are consciously held and deliberately deduced from the Bible, it follows that the knower is aware both of the fact of the knowledge in his or her mind as a proposition, as well as being aware of the basis or ground for having deduced that knowledge. Knowledge of the basis of one's knowledge therefore seems implied in knowledge. One can only have knowledge if one believes that the Bible is the true word of God, and one's deductions from the Bible imply knowledge of this basis.

Some of the most important issues concerning the rationality of religious belief are framed in terms of the distinction between internalism and externalism in epistemology. Philosophers who are internalists with respect to rationality argue that we can tell, from the inside so to speak, if our beliefs are rationally justified. The language used by the classical foundationalist to describe basic beliefs is thoroughly internalist. ‘Self-evident’ and ‘evident to the senses’ are suggestive of beliefs that have a certain inner, compelling and unquestionable luminosity; one can simply inspect one’s beliefs and “see” if they are evident in the appropriate respects. And since deductive inference transfers rational justification from lower levels to higher levels, by carefully checking the inferential relations among one’s beliefs, one can see this luminosity passing from basic to non-basic beliefs. So internalists believe that rationality is something that can be discerned by the mental inspection of one’s own beliefs, items to which one has direct cognitive access (Clark)

It is easy to see from such a description why presuppositionalists would tend naturally to be internalists. The presuppositionalists is able to determine by reflection that he believes in the truth of the Bible as a properly basic belief, and he is able to determine by reflection whether or not his subsequent, non-basic beliefs are deduced or inferred from that properly basic belief. If they are inferred from the Bible, they are true, and if they are not, then they are not true.

In contrast to the internalism typical of presuppositionalists is Alvin Plantinga's externalist approach to religious epistemology. Plantinga rejects the traditionally internalist understanding of epistemic justification among foundationalists, arguing that rational belief ought to be instead understood as "warrant." Plantinga's externalism is a form of what is known as "reliabilism." Plantinga argues that "a belief has warrant for one if and only if that belief is produced by one's properly functioning cognitive faculties in circumstances to which those faculties are designed to apply; in addition, those faculties must be designed for the purpose of producing true belief"(Clark).

For example, if if I believe that I am petting my dog, this belief is only "warranted" if my cognitive and perceptual faculties are functioning properly and these faculties were teleologically designed by God to perceive truth. Evolution by natural selection could not have produced such faculties, since such a process is not teleologically designed to produce truth, but adaptive value. If and only if these conditions are satisfied am I warranted in believing that I am petting my dog (Clark).

Plantinga's epistemology is not internalist. My justification does not come from reflecting upon whether or not I possess the proper conditions of justification. Instead, the question of whether or not my cognitive faculties are functioning properly is conditional upon some external condition. Did a creator teleologically design my mind to perceive truth or not? If yes, then my beliefs are warranted. We do not justify our beliefs, for Plantinga, by asking ourselves "do I possess the conditions according to which such and such a belief may be justified?" Instead, we ask the externalist question "is some antecedent, external condition operative such that I would be warranted in accepting my beliefs are true?"

Note the portions of Plantinga’s definition which are not within one’s internal or direct purview: whether or not one’s faculties are functioning properly, whether or not one’s faculties are designed by God, whether or not one’s faculties are designed for the production of true beliefs, whether or not one is using one’s faculties in the environment intended for their use (one might be seeing a mirage and taking it for real). According to Plantinga’s externalism we cannot acquire warrant simply by attending to our beliefs. Warranted belief (knowledge) depends on circumstances external to the believing agent and so is not entirely up to us. Warrant depends crucially upon whether or not conditions that are not under our direct rational purview or conscious control are satisfied. If externalism is correct, then classical foundationalism has completely misunderstood the nature of epistemic warrant(Clark).

Parallel to the internalist/externalist discussion concerning knowledge, is the internalist/externalist discussion concerning epistemic justification. In the latter case, the internalist will hold that one is justified in holding a belief if and only if one has internal, subjective access to it.

As mentioned before, one of the important elements of internalist understandings of knowledge and justification has to do with the belief that knowledge and justification require fidelity to some sort of duty. Internalism is thus oftentimes linked with a kind of virtue epistemology. But why is this? Pappas argues that "the deontological concept of justification has some internalist component because it seems related to a kind of control over beliefs that the epistemic agent may be thought to have. If one is intellectually obligated to take on a belief given one's evidence, then one must be capable of doing so"(Pappas 2013). Externalists, of course, reject this criteria. For the deontology-oriented internalist, if we can access justifiers by reflection, may follow that the internalist will conclude that there are certain criteria for what constitutes legitimate justifiers. In cases where a belief does not conform to what constitutes a legitimate justifier, we ought to reject a belief. Such a deontological approach to epistemology, of course, presupposes that we can access potential justifiers through reflection. We must have internal access to such justifiers if we are to either accept or reject them. It is in this way that distinctly deontological approaches to epistemology tend to be internalist in their conception of epistemic justification.

Pappas, George, "Internalist vs. Externalist Conceptions of Epistemic Justification", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.

Fumerton, Richard, "Foundationalist Theories of Epistemic Justification", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.

Clark, Kelly James. "Religious Epistemology." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from:

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