Ernest Sosa

Ernest Sosa :

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 if it is well formed and by means of a truth conducive process. A belief is weakly justified if 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 super weakly justified if 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 if 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, that situation is not very likely and thus we need the notion of super weak justification. At this point, the analysis and comparison between normal people and deceived people stops at super weak 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

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

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 mechanisms (senses, etc.) are virtuous enough to justify our beliefs. But, in a demonic environment, our senses are deceived and so forth, so we are not justified. But, a person, even in a demonic environment, is still justified in his beliefs relative to the actual environment, assuming that he has sound cognitive traits. For, although Sosa's view allows us to say whether or not someone is justified in belief relative to an environment even if that person is not in that environment. We have examined the demon problem and ignored the meta-incoherence problem, but they are formulated and solved in analogous ways.

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