Internalism, Externalism, and Accessibilism

In Sanford Goldberg (ed.), Externalism, Self-knowledge, and Skepticism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 119-141 (2015)
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Feldman and Conee (2001) observed that the term “internalism”, as used in epistemology, is ambiguous. It sometimes denotes the view that justification supervenes on factors within the thinker (“mentalism”), whereas at other times it refers to the view that justification is accessible to the thinker (“accessibilism”). As used in the debate about mental content, “internalism” corresponds to mentalism. Strikingly, however, it is the question of accessibilism that is the target of many internalist and externalist arguments. In this paper I argue that the focus on thinkers’ access to their thoughts is misplaced. The debate between externalism and internalism hinges on the significance of external factors for rational relations between first-order thoughts, not on issues of accessibility. The shift away from issues of accessibility neutralizes both the “incompatibility” objection to externalism and the charge that internalism overestimates first-person access. The revised understanding of the debate supports a broadly Fregean approach to individuating cognitive values. I develop a version of this approach and defend it from a prominent externalist objection. Since this approach individuates cognitive values narrowly, my argument ultimately supports internalism.



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Brie Gertler
University of Virginia

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