Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2012

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Richard Fumerton


Traditional accounts of justification can be characterized as trying to analyze justification in such a way that having a justified belief brings with it assurance of truth. The internalist offers a demanding requirement on justification: one's having a justified belief requires that one see what the belief has going for it. Externalists worry that the internalist's narrow conception of justification will lead to unacceptably radical and implausible skepticism. According to the externalist, one need not know what a belief has going for it in order for that belief to be justified. Externalism, though, comes with its own problems.

Ernest Sosa has attempted to bridge the divide between internalism and externalism by pairing the strengths of internalism (assurance) with the strengths of externalism (an answer to skepticism). Sosa distinguishes two kinds of knowledge: animal knowledge that is essentially externalist in character and reflective knowledge that is intended to capture our best intellectual procedure in regards to knowledge. On Sosa's view, one gains reflective knowledge by building upon (by adding further epistemic components to) animal knowledge. As a result, Sosa's view seems to illustrate a bottom-up approach to the analysis of knowledge (or justification): reflective knowledge is the result of animal knowledge and some other epistemic factor.

My project, in contrast to Sosa's, is to argue that one should start with an account of ideal justification (justification that is paradigmatically internalist) and then proceed by loosening the standards on ideal justification in an effort to develop the possibility of non- ideal kinds of justification. The view that I will develop will adopt Sosa's strategy of distinguishing kinds of knowledge (or justification), but will result in a top-down approach to the analysis of justification. Instead of starting with an undemanding standard and layer levels on top, I will start with an ideal standard and strip layers away.

I will also argue that my view has some important advantages over Sosa's. Not only does Sosa's view seem to run into many of the problems that threaten externalism, but his view is incapable of offering the kind of assurance that the internalist is after. The view I develop will maintain the internalist's interest in assurance while also providing a response to some of the skeptical problems that have plagued internalists.

If my project is successful, then, even if the justification that results in many of the cases I will be exploring is (admittedly) not ideal, we can use these conceptions of justification to help explicate how one might have justified beliefs about a great number of things. The essentially internalist account that I have offered will not only illustrate a serious approach to dealing with skepticism, but it will also capture how many of our commonsensically justified beliefs are in fact justified (albeit in a less than ideal sense).


externalism, internalism, justification, knowledge, skepticism, sosa


iv, 129 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 121-129).


Copyright 2012 Brett Andrew Coppenger

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