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Generally speaking, internalist conceptions of epistemic justification require that one’s justification for a belief be internal to the believer in some way. Two main varieties of epistemic internalism about justification are access internalism and ontological internalism. Access internalists require that a believer must have internal access to the justifier(s) of her belief p in order to be justified in believing p. For the access internalist, justification amounts to something like the believer being aware (or capable of being aware) of certain facts that make her belief in p rational, or her being able to give reasons for her belief in p. At minimum, access internalism requires that the believer have some kind of reflective access or awareness to whatever justifies her belief. Ontological internalism is the view that justification for a belief is established by one’s mental states. Ontological internalism can be distinct from access internalism, but the two are often thought to go together since we are generally considered to be capable of having reflective access to mental states.

One popular argument for internalism is known as the ‘new evil demon problem’. The new evil demon problem indirectly supports internalism by challenging externalist views of justification, particularly reliabilism. The argument asks us to imagine a subject with beliefs and experiences identical to ours, but the subject is being systematically deceived by a malicious Cartesian demon so that all their beliefs turn out false. In spite of the subject’s unfortunate deception, the argument goes, we do not think this subject ceases to be rational in taking things to be as they appear as we do. After all, it is possible that we could be radically deceived in the same way, yet we are still justified in holding most of our beliefs in spite of this possibility. Since reliabilism maintains that one’s beliefs are justified via reliable belief-forming processes (where reliable means yielding true beliefs), the subject in the evil demon scenario would not likely have any justified beliefs according to reliabilism because all of their beliefs would be false. Since this result is supposed to clash with our intuitions that the subject is justified in their beliefs in spite of being systematically deceived, some take the new evil demon problem as a reason for rejecting externalist views of justification.[8]


Externalist views of justification emerged in epistemology during the late 20th century. Externalist conceptions of justification assert that facts external to the believer can serve as the justification for a belief. According to the externalist, a believer need not have any internal access or cognitive grasp of any reasons or facts which make her belief justified.[9] The externalist’s assessment of justification can be contrasted with access internalism, which demands that the believer have internal reflective access to reasons or facts which corroborate their belief in order to be justified in holding it. Externalism, on the other hand, maintains that the justification for someone’s belief can come from facts that are entirely external to the agent’s subjective awareness.

Alvin Goldman, one of the most well-known proponents of externalism in epistemology, is known for developing a popular form of externalism called reliabilism. In his paper, “What is Justified Belief?” Goldman characterizes the reliabilist conception of justification as such:

“If S’s believing p at t results from a reliable cognitive belief-forming process (or set of processes), then S’s belief in p at t is justified.”

Goldman notes that a reliable belief-forming process is one which generally produces true beliefs.[10]

A unique consequence of reliabilism (and other forms of externalism) is that one can have a justified belief without knowing one is justified (this is not possible under most forms of epistemic internalism). In addition, we do not yet know which cognitive processes are in fact reliable, so anyone who embraces reliabilism must concede that we do not always know whether some of our beliefs are justified (even though there is a fact of the matter).


The Essential Dialectic of Externalist-Epistemology is:

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The Complete Dialectic of Externalist-Epistemology is:

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