Monday, January 29, 2007

Proper Functionalism as Internalist Evidentialism

I'm cross-posting this from my personal blog because it follows up on this post where I don't think I expressed the idea as clearly as I do here.

The thesis of this post is as follows:

(T) The "internalism/externalism" distinction is not as substantive as most think.

The argument for (T) will involve three premises, one of which I'll defend and the other two I'll assume, though I might make brief comments on their behalf.

Premise 1: If Conee-Feldman mentalist evidentialism is internalist and Plantinga can subscribe to the theory, then (T).
Premise 2: Conee-Feldman mentalist evidentialism is internalist.
Premise 3: Plantinga can subscribe to the theory.

Now Bergmann argues against P2, but I'll save a full defense of that for another day. It is clearly not externalist in a core sense intended by core externalists like Goldman and Plantinga, and it is "internalist" in a sufficiently close way to a sufficiently clear conception founded in discussions of mental and semantic content. At any rate the denial of P2 could probably easily support (T) anyway.

What I want to defend here is P3. First a working definition of evidentialism in the Chisholm-Conee-Feldman tradition.

(EJ) Doxastic attitude D toward proposition p is epistemically justified for S at t if and only if having D toward p fits the evidence S has at t.

Aside: Conee and Feldman like to think of evidentialism as a supervenience thesis, which has the advantage of avoiding the vagueness in evidence "fitting" but I'm going to stick with the core notion here both because I find the notion of supevenience unilluminating in general and uninformative in the present context. Supervenience theses are not so informative unless I know what it is in virtue of which the supervenience relation holds and, in the case of evidentialism, it has to do with evidence "fitting". I accept the difficulties with the notion of evidential fit: that's a research project, but the notion is sufficiently clear to proceed.

Now to mentalist internalism:

S The justificatory status of a person’s doxastic attitudes strongly supervenes on the person’s occurrent and dispositional mental states, events, and conditions.

I'm OK with supervenience here because given a phenomenal theory of evidence together with (EJ) we have an explanation of why the supervenience relation holds.

Now let's return to evidential fit. Note that even for a paradigm access internalist like Chisholm, there's more that goes into the justification than mental states. For Chisholm, the other part of the equation is epistemic principles. You take phenomenal input, run it through some algorithmic type thingy and it tells you the epistemic status of certain beliefs for you. That epistemic principles play a role in calculating justificational status in no way makes Chisholm's access internalism externalist. That would just be an abuse of established language. But then it shouldn't disqualify mentalism either.

Now there's the thing to note at this point: a Chisholm-Conee-Feldman internalist evidentialism can vary with respect to what you hold fixed to pair up doxastic states and epistemic status. For supervenience to hold the role would have to be played by some kind of necessary truth, but as I said I think the core version of evidentialism isn't the supervenience thesis but rather the "fit thesis" expressed in EJ. But then it's not essential to internalist evidentialism that the status-makers be necessary truths. They could be, for example, design plans. Enter Plantinga. If we take out the epistemic-principle-based epistemic status module and replace it with a design-plan-based module, we still have a theory which satisfies (EJ), it's just that status is now fixed by presumably contingent design plans rather than necessary epistemic principles.

This completes the argument for Premise 3 and thus for (T). The upshot, to repeat, is that I have interpreted Plantinga's proper functionalism into a theory of evidential fit, playing the same role in an EJ theory as epistemic principles do in Chisholm's. Thus, a plantingian proper functionalism can be inserted right into an internalist evidentialist theory of justification. And if that's true, then the way we've been thinking about internalism and externalism is not so helpful.