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