Was Goldman a Closet Internalist?

I am teaching a class on epistemology and metaphysics. We are reading the paper where Alvin Goldman first proposed reliabilism, “What is Justified Belief?”. Upon re-reading, there is a part of his discussion that I just find puzzling, and not at all what I expected given the caricature in my head that reliabilism is the prototypical externalist theory.

In section III, Goldman considers a case that I think is quite similar to the clairvoyant case that people tend to bring against reliabilism:

Suppose that Jones is told on fully reliable authority that a certain class of his memory beliefs are almost all mistaken. His parents fabricate a wholly false story that Jonese suffered from amnesia when he was seven but later developed pseudo-memories of that period. Though Jones listens to what his parents say and has excellent reason to trust them, he persists in believing the ostensible memories from his seven-year-old past. Are these memory beliefs justified? Intuitively, they are not justified. But since these beliefs result from genuine memory and original perceptions, which are adequately reliable processes, our theory says that these beliefs are justified.

Goldman then goes on to consider various revisions to account for this unintuitive result. At some point he even admits that the problem raised by this cases suggests a fundamental change to the reliabilist theory is necessary, and sketches one such change.

What puzzles me is not his concession that the result in the case is unintuitive, but his further concession that a fundamental change is necessary. Isn’t the standard externalist response just to bite the bullet? That is, I thought externalists would say simply: yes, although it is unintuitive, in fact there are things we know that we don’t know we know and even things we know that we think we don’t know. So it is strange that Goldman is moved by the example to make a big concession. This fact leads me to think that, at least at the time when he first proposed reliabilism, Goldman might have been a closet internalist.

2 Responses to Was Goldman a Closet Internalist?

  1. Jon S. says:

    Hi Sam,

    Ch. 3 of _Mainstream and Formal Epistemology_ by Vincent Hendricks might be useful for getting a handle on Goldman, as I think Vince traces Goldman’s changing views there. (At least, he told me he’d traced someone’s changing views somewhere during a discussion about reliabilism, and I think it was Goldman, and I think it was there.) A quick glance on Google Books suggests that you will at least discover that “What is Justified Belief?” isn’t the first place Goldman proposed reliabilism.


  2. Shen-yi Liao says:

    Thanks for that, Jon. Yeah, had I first read the SEP entry on reliabilism, written by Goldman himself, I would have also discovered that. Based on the descriptions there, though, I still think “What is Justified Belief?” is a good starting point for reliabilism qua reliabilism, as opposed to reliabilism qua modification-of-causal-account or reliabilism qua modification-of-relevant-alternatives-account. But anyway, nothing better than confessing your ignorance in public to learn more, right?

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