Phenomenal conservatism, classical foundationalism, and internalist justification
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- Hasan, A. Philos Stud (2013) 162: 119. doi:10.1007/s11098-011-9751-0
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In “Compassionate Phenomenal Conservatism” (2007), “Phenomenal Conservatism and the Internalist Intuition” (2006), and Skepticism and the Veil of Perception (2001), Michael Huemer endorses the principle of phenomenal conservatism, according to which appearances or seemings constitute a fundamental source of (defeasible) justification for belief. He claims that those who deny phenomenal conservatism, including classical foundationalists, are in a self-defeating position, for their views cannot be both true and justified; that classical foundationalists have difficulty accommodating false introspective beliefs; and that phenomenal conservatism is most faithful to the central internalist intuition. I argue that Huemer’s self-defeat argument fails, that classical foundationalism is able to accommodate fallible introspective beliefs, and that classical foundationalism has no difficulty accommodating a relatively clear internalist intuition. I also show that the motivation for phenomenal conservatism is less than clear.
KeywordsPhenomenal conservatismClassical foundationalismInternalist justificationFallible foundational beliefsMichael Huemer
Phenomenal conservatism (henceforth, PC)1 and classical foundationalism (henceforth, CF) are alternative, avowedly internalist, foundationalist theories of epistemic justification. According to PC, only appearances or seemings, nondoxastic propositional attitudes of a special sort, constitute a fundamental or foundational source of epistemic justification. According to CF, only direct awareness of or acquaintance with states, properties, or facts relevant to the truth of one’s beliefs, facts simply “given” to us in experience, constitute a fundamental or foundational source of epistemic justification.2 Michael Huemer defends PC in part by arguing against alternative theories of epistemic justification, including CF. He claims that those who reject PC are in a self-defeating position (2001, 2007); that CF has difficulty accommodating false introspective beliefs (2006, 2007); and that PC is the preferred form of internalism, for it is most faithful to the central internalist intuition (2006). My main goal here is to defend CF against these criticisms. In Sect. 1, I briefly introduce PC; in Sect. 2, I show that Huemer’s self-defeat argument fails and that CF can avoid the charge of self-defeat; in Sect. 3, I explain how CF can accommodate false or fallible introspective beliefs; and finally, in Sect. 4, I argue that CF is able to accommodate a central internalist intuition, and that it is difficult to find any clear, positive support for PC.
1 Phenomenal conservatism
A “seeming” or “appearance” is “a kind of propositional attitude, different from belief, of which sensory experience, apparent memory, intuition, and apparent introspective awareness are species” (2007, p. 30). Huemer argues that appearances are not beliefs, for it may seem to one that p without one’s believing that p. For example, it seems to me that this line is longer than that one, but I don’t believe it since I know it’s just a visual illusion; it seems to me that the naïve comprehension axiom is true, but I know of a clear proof that it is false. He also denies that appearances are dispositions or inclinations to believe, on two main grounds. First, it is possible to have a persisting appearance but be so convinced that it is illusory that you have no inclination to believe it. Second, appearances can provide non-trivial explanations for what we believe or what we are disposed to believe. I believe or am disposed to believe that there’s a cat on my lap because there appears to be one. Replacing the appearance with a disposition to believe trivializes the explanation: I believe or am at least disposed to believe that there’s a cat on my lap because I am disposed to believe that there is one.3
According to PC, if it seems to me that p, and I have no evidence against p or reasons to think that this seeming or appearance is unreliable (I have no “defeaters”), then I have some degree of justification for believing that p. By taking appearances, understood as a kind of nondoxastic propositional attitude, to constitute a fundamental source of justification, and holding that we can and typically do base different sorts of beliefs on appearances, the PC-advocate is apparently able to account for the justification of many beliefs in a simple and unified way. For example, I believe that there is a cat on my lap, that I had pizza for dinner last night, that I am thirsty, that I am thinking about getting a glass of water, that I am conscious, that pleasure is good, that circles have no corners, and that 2 + 3 = 5. Prima facie, it is plausible to say that I believe these propositions because they seem or appear to be true—because it seems to me that there is a cat on my lap, that I had pizza last night, and so on. If I do indeed believe because of or on the basis of these seemings or appearances, and they constitute an adequate source of justification, then, in the absence of defeaters, I am justified in believing that there is a cat on my lap, that I had pizza for dinner last night, and so on. Huemer thus intends his theory to be a “compassionate” or “broad-minded” conservatism according to which “epistemic justification is conferred by appearances of all sorts, whether sensory, intellectual, mnemonic, or introspective” (2007, p. 30).
Although Huemer is not always explicit about this, he presumably holds that appearances are not only sufficient (as the above principle states) but also necessary for some degree of defeasible justification. Having an appearance that p may not be necessary for justification of the belief that p, but having some appearance(s) whose propositional contents are relevant to p is necessary (e.g., an appearance that q and an appearance that ifq then p).4
The label ‘phenomenal conservatism’ can be misleading. Huemer’s conservatism is phenomenal in the sense that it pertains to appearances (2001, p. 99), but not appearances in the traditional sense that involves sense-data or qualia. On Huemer’s view, the sensory or qualitative character of an experience is something over and above its propositional or representational content, and is not essential to appearances.5 What is essential is just that the proposition in question seems to be true or strikes me as true. This is not to say that a perceptual or introspective appearance is never also a sensory experience or experience with sensory qualities. A state of being an appearance and a state of being a sensory experience might be token-identical; a state of seeming to be in pain and a state of being in pain might be token-identical (2007, p. 46). But on Huemer’s view, even in the latter cases, the token states justify in virtue of being seemings or appearances, not in virtue of the phenomenal qualities experienced.
2 Huemer’s self-defeat argument defeated6
When we form beliefs, with few exceptions not relevant here, our beliefs are based on the way things seem to us.7
If one’s belief that p is based on something that does not constitute a source of justification for believing that p, then one’s belief that p is unjustified.
Therefore, if seemings or appearances do not constitute a source of justification for us, then our beliefs are generally unjustified (including the belief that PC is false).
Huemer defends the empirical premise that our beliefs are based on appearances by arguing that “the way things appear to oneself is normally the only (proximately) causally relevant factor in one’s belief-formation” (2007, p. 39). Consider for illustration the simple view that the basis of my belief that there is a cat here is just the fact that there is a cat here. First, the fact that there is a cat here would normally cause the belief that there is a cat here only by causing it to appear to me that there is a cat here; the fact would not lead to the belief in the absence of the appearance. Second, “the appearance probabilistically screens off my belief from the external fact” (40); its appearing to me that there is a cat here would cause me to believe that there is, even if there were no cat here. These two points together allegedly establish that the appearance is a better candidate basis than the fact.
Huemer applies the same argument to the classical foundationalist view (CF) that acquaintance with or direct awareness of some appropriate fact is necessary for noninferential or foundational justification. To be direct aware of or acquainted with a fact is to be aware of that fact without the mediation of any thought, representation, or other state of awareness. Direct awareness or acquaintance is infallible or factive: it is impossible to be acquainted with something that does not exist. Huemer focuses for illustration on a simple version of CF according to which S has noninferential justification for believing that p if and only S is acquainted with or direct aware of the fact that p, i.e., directly aware of a fact corresponding to the proposition that p.8 Huemer claims that if one were acquainted with the fact that p, but it did not seem to one that p, then one would not believe that p; that if one were not acquainted with such a fact, but it seemed to one that p, then one would believe that p; and that these claims supports the view that one’s noninferential beliefs are based on how things appear rather than on acquaintance with facts (2007, p. 45).
Suppose we grant that the holding of such subjunctive conditionals provides a good criterion or test for, if not a good analysis of, relative causal proximity. I will now present two objections against the self-defeat argument. First, satisfying Huemer’s test for being the most proximate cause of a belief is not a good criterion for what a belief is based on—at least not in the sense of “being based on” needed to make the second premise of the self-defeat argument true. Second, an account that takes acquaintance or direct awareness as fundamental can plausibly deny that appearances are generally the most proximate causes of belief.
When we form beliefs, with few exceptions not relevant here, our beliefs are based only on the way things seem to us.
If one’s belief that p is based only on something that does not constitute a source of justification for believing that p, then one’s belief that p is unjustified.
Therefore, if seemings or appearances do not constitute a source of justification for us, then our beliefs are generally unjustified (including the belief that PC is false).
The problem for Huemer’s argument is that something’s being the most proximate mental cause is not sufficient for it to be the only basis. Various inferentially justified beliefs provide obvious counterexamples to the claim that a belief is based only on its most proximate mental cause. A father might believe, against the prosecution’s apparent evidence, that his son is innocent on the basis of the belief that he was having dinner with his son at time of the crime, and believe that in turn on the basis of apparent memory. Suppose that the father has no other evidence to think his son is innocent, and that his belief is not sustained by wishful thinking or self-deception. Were he to have the belief that he had dinner but not have the apparent memory of the dinner, he would still believe that his son is innocent; were he to have the apparent memory of the dinner but not believe that they had dinner, he would not believe in his son’s innocence. So by Huemer’s test it is the intermediate belief rather than the apparent memory that is the basis. But this belief is not the only basis, and Huemer himself would presumably regard the apparent memory rather than the intermediate belief to be the ultimate source of justification here.
Given that inferentially justified beliefs provide obvious counterexamples to the claim that a belief is based only on its most proximate mental cause, why should one think that, even when it comes to foundational or noninferentially justified beliefs (beliefs that do not depend for their justification on other empirical beliefs), the beliefs are held only on the basis of their most proximate mental cause? Why couldn’t a belief be based on, say, acquaintance with certain facts, even if there is an intermediary or accompanying seeming? Acquaintance theorists can grant that the appearance that p would lead to the belief that p even if there were no acquaintance with the fact that p, and even grant for the sake of argument that acquaintance with the fact that p would not lead to the belief that p in the absence of an appearance that p, and yet deny that this shows that the appearance that p is the only basis for the belief that p. Acquaintance theorists can coherently, and without self-defeat, deny PC and regard as unjustified all beliefs that are based merely on appearances.
It might seem that the problem can be avoided if we stick with the original version of the premise so that any belief is “based” only on its most proximate cause (or proximate causes, if they are multiple), but insist that whether the proximate cause constitutes a source of justification depends on its properties, and in particular on what that proximate cause is based on, or what its basis is based on, and so on recursively until we get to the ultimate or foundational basis. This amounts to denying that the basing relation is transitive while accepting that distal causes can make a difference to the justification of a belief. However, none of this will help the argument avoid the problem. Those who want to reject PC, like the acquaintance theorist, can agree to this way of talking, i.e., say that a belief is based only on its proximate cause, but deny that the only item relevant to the justificatory status of the belief is the proximate cause. An acquaintance behind the seeming could be a distal cause relevant to the justification of the belief, and so be a “basis” in an extended but relevant sense.10
The second objection to the self-defeat argument is that an account that takes acquaintance or direct awareness as fundamental can plausibly deny that appearances are generally the most proximate mental or psychological causes of belief. Huemer is aware that the proponent of acquaintance or direct awareness is “on stronger ground when it comes to introspective beliefs,” for “[i]t is plausible to maintain that, when I introspectively believe that I am in pain, my belief is directly caused by the pain; it is plausible to deny that any distinct, intermediary state of ‘appearing to be in pain’ is required” (2007, p. 46). Classical accounts capture the intuition that this is plausible quite naturally. They can insist that, normally, were a subject to be directly aware of or acquainted with a phenomenal property like that of pain, then, at least if the subject attends to that property and understands and considers the proposition that she is in pain, she would believe or assent to the proposition. And she would believe this whether or not she has a distinct state of appearing to be in pain. Thus, the self-defeat argument does not show that the appearances are normally the most proximal causes of introspective beliefs. But Huemer denies that this is so when it comes to beliefs about abstract matters (2007, pp. 46–47). Take, for example, philosophers’ belief in the naïve comprehension axiom at the beginning of the twentieth century. The axiom was accepted because it seemed to be true, and not because of any acquaintance with its being true; and even if, per impossibile, the axiom were true, “but the world had otherwise been like the actual world, then presumably philosophers’ belief in the naïve comprehension axiom at the beginning of the twentieth century would still have had the same sort of basis that it actually had” (2007, p. 46). Since this difficulty applies to other abstract beliefs, such as beliefs about the nature of justification, which are crucial to any defense of the acquaintance theory itself and the rejection of PC, the acquaintance theorist cannot accept the acquaintance theory and reject PC without self-defeat.
Now, if the naïve comprehension axiom were true but “the world had otherwise been like the actual world,” then indeed, the basis would not have changed. The axiom would still be held merely because it seemed true. This is because direct awareness or acquaintance with a fact does not emerge merely by the fact’s obtaining. But then, Huemer’s antecedent is irrelevant to a comparison of appearances and acquaintance, and the relevant antecedent does not yield the result he desires. If, per impossibile, the naïve comprehension axiom were true and philosophers were acquainted with its being true, but it did not seem, in Huemer’s sense, to be true, then (the acquaintance theorist could maintain) philosophers would have believed in the naïve comprehension axiom and would not have had the same sort of basis for the belief as they actually had. One might of course balk at our ever being acquainted with or directly aware of abstract entities, but the point is that someone who does hold that we can be acquainted with or directly aware of abstract entities can deny that all abstract or theoretical beliefs are based on appearances. Or, in line with the first objection, he can deny that all such beliefs are based only on appearances. Either way, CF can avoid self-defeat.
3 Classical foundationalism and fallible introspective beliefs
Consider a plausible example of a fallible, justified introspective belief. Suppose that I am experiencing what seems to be a marginal or border-line case of pain, and that I believe it is an experience of pain. But suppose that, as it turns out, my belief is false; the experience is not a pain but, say, an itch. Prima facie, it is plausible that the belief has some degree (perhaps not very much) of justification, the same or very close to the degree of justification I might have in the “good” case in which I correctly believe that I am experiencing pain on the basis of an experience of marginal pain.11 Huemer (2007) argues that CF has difficulty accommodating the intuition that such fallible introspective beliefs are typically justified. In this section, I sketch a version of CF and explain how it can accommodate such beliefs.12
CF is committed to the doctrine of the given, understood roughly as the view that we can be directly or immediately aware of, or acquainted with, states, properties, or facts relevant to the truth of our empirical beliefs. By a “fact” I mean, roughly, an obtaining state of affairs—some entity or entities having certain properties or standing in certain relations. The primary bearers of truth-value are thoughts or propositions; they are true if they correspond to the facts, and false if they fail to correspond. Classical foundationalists deny that direct awareness of or acquaintance with some fact is itself a propositional attitude about that fact.13 This is not to be confused with denying that the object of direct awareness, that of which the subject is directly aware, is ever propositional; classical foundationalists typically accept that we can be directly aware of or acquainted with not only nonpropositional or nonintentional entities—e.g., an experience of pain, or an experience’s being a pain—but also propositional or intentional ones—e.g., one’s thought or occurrent belief that one is in pain (BonJour 2001a, 2003; Fales 1996, Ch. 4; Fumerton 2001). They typically deny, on the basis of the argument from the possibility of hallucination, that we can be directly aware of external-world facts. According to CF, it is only by this direct confrontation with reality itself (albeit mental reality), with the facts themselves, that we are able to end the regress of reasons or justifiers non-arbitrarily. Unlike typical representational or propositional states, direct awareness is infallible; one can have a representational or propositional state that is incorrect or false, but one cannot stand in a relation of direct awareness to some fact that does not exist. As we are about to see, however, the infallibility of direct awareness does not, in general, extend to the infallibility of foundational beliefs.14
As some have argued (e.g., Feldman 2004, pp. 216–218), foundational beliefs regarding features of one’s own experiences require not only direct awareness of these features, but selective attention to them, a focused or selective consciousness of them. I can be conscious of or directly aware of a great many features simultaneously, but can typically attend to only a few features at any one time. Selective attention is that very familiar act of selecting, picking out, or noticing some particular feature or characteristic from among those presented; it is a basic cognitive act that involves more than mere sensation or sensory awareness of some feature, and yet does not depend essentially on the prior possession or application of concepts. I take attention to the object of direct awareness to be required for foundational justification, though I will sometimes omit reference to it to simplify discussion.
Obviously, direct awareness of (and attention to) a fact that entails or makes probable some proposition is not sufficient for justification; the entailment or probability relations might be much too complicated for me to grasp in any way, even in ideal conditions. This applies just as much to inferentially justified belief: justified belief or knowledge of a fact that entails or makes probable some proposition is not sufficient for one to have justification for believing the latter proposition. What more is required? On the sort of view that I favor, for S to be justified in believing that p on the basis of some evidence e, S must have some reason or justification for believing that e makes probable p. Though our focus here is on foundational beliefs, this could be understood as a general principle that applies to foundational and nonfoundational justified beliefs.15 If S’s belief that p depends for its justification on a belief that e obtains, or a belief that e makes probable that p, then S’s belief that p is, strictly speaking, inferentially or nonfoundationally justified. If one of these supporting beliefs is empirically justified, then S’s belief that p is empirically-inferential or empirically-nonfoundational, in the sense that it depends on some other empirical beliefs for its justification. If S’s belief that p does not depend for its justification on any other justified belief, but rather on a direct awareness of e and a direct nondoxastic grasp of e’s making probable that p, then S’s belief that p would be strictly foundational—empirically-foundational anda priori-foundational in the sense that it does not depend on any other a priori beliefs for its justification. Ideally, S would be directly aware of a correspondence or truth-making relation between an object of awareness and a thought or proposition believed; S’s justification would then guarantee the truth of the proposition believed and not merely make it probable (Fumerton 1995, 73ff.). If S’s belief that p depends on some other purely a priori justified belief to the effect that the relevant truth-making or probabilifying relations obtain, then S’s belief that p would still be empirically-foundational, but it would be a priori-nonfoundational. Given that a priori justified beliefs can play a role in the justification of empirical beliefs by inference from other empirical beliefs, there is no clear reason why a priori justified beliefs cannot play the same or a very similar role in the justification of empirical beliefs by (loosely speaking) inference from, or on the basis of, nondoxastic states, and independent of any empirically justified beliefs. It is plausible, for example, that I can be justified in believing, of a red triangular shape in my visual field, that it is not a circle, that it is not green, and that it has less than five angles, in part on the basis of my experiential awareness of there being a red triangle in my visual field, and in part on the basis of an a priori justified belief that no triangles are circles, that red regions are not green, and that 3 < 5 respectively.16
According to CF, any a priori beliefs (and a priori inferences) relied upon must either be foundational—justified by a direct or “clear and distinct” grasp of the nature of certain properties or relations relevant to the proposition believed, perhaps a grasp that depends on a clear or transparent understanding of the concepts involved—or else depend for their justification, ultimately, on foundational a priori beliefs. Thus, for example, my belief that no triangles are circles might be foundationally justified on the basis of a grasp of the relation of exclusion or incompatibility between the property of having angles and the property of being a circle.
If one is directly aware of x’s being F, and G is some property distinct from F, then one thereby has at least some defeasible justification for believing that Gx.
If one is directly aware of x’s being F, and x’s being F renders it probable for one that Gx, then one thereby has at least some defeasible justification for believing that Gx.
If one is directly aware of x’s being F, but one’s awareness seems to oneself to be the awareness that Gx, then one thereby has at least some defeasible justification for believing that Gx.
If one is directly aware of x’s being F, but it seems to oneself that Gx, then one thereby has at least some defeasible justification for believing that Gx.
If one is directly aware of x’s being F, and F is sufficiently similar to G, then one thereby has at least some defeasible justification for believing that Gx.18
These are more or less as Huemer presents them, but there are a couple of differences worth mentioning. First, ‘directly aware of x’s being F’ replaces ‘introspectively aware that Fx’ to make more explicit what the classical account depends on.19 Second, I have changed ‘renders it probable’ in (2) to ‘renders it probable for one.’ This is to signal that, as just discussed, it is not enough for justification that some object of awareness render the relevant proposition probable in some purely logical or external sense. The subject must have justification for believing that x’s being F renders it probable that Gx. And if this justification is to be independent of other empirical beliefs, then the justification S has for believing that x’s being F renders it probable that Gx must either consist of a nondoxastic, direct awareness of this probability relation, or be purely a priori.
Huemer points out that (1) is obviously too permissive. It does not mention any epistemically relevant relation between the object of awareness and the proposition believed. He argues that (2) cannot explain how false introspective beliefs can be justified. For suppose that I am directly aware of an itch, or something that is very similar to an itch, but mistakenly believe it to be a (marginal) case of pain. Principle (2) does not apply: an experience’s being a mere itch does not make it probable that it is a pain, for its being a mere itch rules out its being a pain; and an experience’s being indeterminately either an itch or a pain does not make it probable that it is a pain, for it might just as probably be an itch. Or suppose that I am directly aware of a phenomenally red patch in my visual field, and on the basis of this I form the false belief that it is, say, pink; or that I am directly aware of a determinate shade red32, but I form the false belief that the patch is red33. Again, principle (2) does not apply: something’s being red cannot make it probable that it is pink, for there are many other shades of red; something’s being red32 cannot make it probable that it is red33, for being one determinate shade rules out being the other.20 (5) encounters a parallel difficulty: the fact that one experiences some shade red32 that is similar to red33, even in full knowledge that the shade experienced is similar to red33, does not give one a reason to think that one does indeed experience red33; after all, many other distinct shades are similar to the same degree.21 As for (3) and (4), these are too close to PC to be of use to CF (2007, p. 35).
According to Huemer, since a false foundational belief cannot be justified by a direct awareness of the putative fact the belief represents (for there is no such fact), and since it is difficult to see, after considering candidate principles like the above, what might justify such beliefs other than their merely seeming to the subject to be true, we should conclude that false introspective beliefs are not justified by any sort of direct awareness. I argue that a false foundational belief can be justified by a direct awareness of some fact about one’s own mind, something other than but appropriately related to the putative fact represented. I claim, against Huemer, that something along the lines of (2) is a plausible way for CF to accommodate false empirically-foundational beliefs.
If one is directly aware of x’s seeming to be G (or aware of being inclined to predicate G to x),22 and if x’s seeming to be G renders it probable for one that it is G, then one thereby has at least some defeasible justification for believing that x is G.
This is similar to (3) and (4), but is different in two important respects. First, while the antecedent of (4) refers to its seeming to one that Gx, the antecedent of principle (6) refers to one’s being directly aware of x’s seeming to be G.23 Second, like (2) and unlike both (3) and (4), the antecedent of (6) includes a probability condition: that some direct object of awareness seems to be G renders it probable for one that it is G. In fact, (6) is really just a special case of (2), the result, roughly, of replacing reference to the property of being F with reference to the property of seeming to be G; satisfying the antecedent of (6) is one way of satisfying the antecedent of (2). If I am right that something like (6) is plausible, then Huemer’s rejection of (2) turns out to be a hasty generalization.
Suppose that I am directly aware of a red shape in my visual field, that I attend to the color of the shape, and that I am directly aware of the shape’s seeming to me to be (phenomenally) pink. It is plausible that the shape’s seeming to me to be pink makes it probable for me that it is pink, for it is plausible that the best explanation available to me of the fact that some phenomenal property attended to seems to have some phenomenal character F is that it does have character F. While an experience’s being red is not best explained by its being pink (its being crimson or scarlet would do just as well), and while an experience’s being crimson is not explained by its being pink (since being pink rules out being crimson), an experience’s seeming to be pink, or my being inclined to believe it to be pink, is arguably best explained by its being pink, at least when the seeming pertains to an object of direct and attentive awareness. The fact that I can simultaneously be directly aware of the phenomenal character of my experience and grasp the content of a phenomenal concept puts me in an ideal position to determine whether the phenomenal concept applies to my experience. Indeed, it is plausible that in some cases one can secure a direct awareness of a property’s falling under a concept and be infallibly justified in predicating the concept to the property attended to; the possibility of genuine error in an attentively-formed belief that I am directly aware of dark red, of red, of color, of some sensory or experiential feature, is increasing difficult to explain.24 But as one becomes slightly less attentive, or as the concept applied becomes slightly more complex or specific, it soon becomes possible, though unlikely, to confuse one object of attention with another or be influenced by background cognitive states, and as a result apply a phenomenal concept that does not in fact apply. And so, attending to a patch of uniform color, I could easily be wrong in thinking that the color is, for example, fuchsia.
Similarly, while attending carefully to some part of my visual field, it is difficult to see how I could go wrong in such simple beliefs as that there is at least one speckle in my visual field, at least two, and at least three.25 I could falsely believe that there are seven or nine (perhaps there are eight), for it is more difficult for me to secure a focused, unwavering attention to the property of being seven, eight, or nine in number. If my belief is consciously formed in full awareness of and attention to certain phenomenal features of experience, then the best explanation of my consciously forming or being inclined to form the belief is that my experiences do indeed have the features I am consciously inclined to predicate of them. Its seeming to me that my experience is some way, where this way is other than it actually is, cannot be explained by that of which I am directly aware or my awareness of it. Any error must be due to something else that intervenes, inclining me to believe something that is contrary to or that goes beyond what is strictly given and attended to—e.g., background beliefs that encourage conflation of features, or content switching that goes unnoticed. Such explanations of attentively formed introspective beliefs are bound to be more complex than, and for that reason inferior to, the explanation according to which the belief is true.26
This account does not accept conservatism, for it can consistently deny that the mere fact that it seems that p provides even defeasible justification for p. The subject must be aware of the seeming, something not obviously guaranteed by a seeming. Moreover, the subject must also grasp, in at least some implicit way and without relying on other empirical beliefs (assuming the justified belief is empirically foundational), that its seeming that p makes it probable that p. And, at least in the case in which some feature of experience or consciousness itself seems to be some way, it is plausible that we do have this grasp: the truth of these seemings is a better explanation of their seeming to be true, all things considered, than taking them to be false, unreliable, or products of deception.27
Can something similar to (6) be used to defend the view that external world beliefs could be empirically foundational?28 Perhaps, but unless we can be directly aware of external world objects or their properties, something that classical foundationalists deny, the principle will have to specify some epistemically relevant relation between phenomenal or mental properties we can be directly aware of and non-mental properties of the external world, and this seems bound to introduce more complications and sources of error than in the case of introspection.29 In any case, accepting (6) for introspective beliefs, or something akin to it for perceptual beliefs, would not amount to accepting phenomenal conservatism.
4 Internalist justification
There are at least two different strands of internalism in Huemer’s own work. On the one hand, there is the view we might call ‘access internalism’, according to which (roughly) being justified in believing that p requires that there be something within or at least available to one’s perspective which is relevant to the truth of p. On the other hand, there is the view often called ‘mentalism’, according to which one’s justification supervenes on mental states or states internal to the subject; on this view, two individuals cannot be internally or mentally alike and yet differ in justification for some of their beliefs. CF advocates accept access internalism as the more central thesis. In Skepticism and the Veil of Perception (2001), both access-internalism and mentalism seem to be upheld, though the first figures more prominently.30 However, in more recent work (2006), Huemer endorses a specific version of mentalism as opposed to access internalism, claiming that justification supervenes on seemings or appearances. He claims that this supervenience thesis naturally captures the central internalist intuition, while CF seems to lead to counterintuitive results. In this section, I show that CF seems at least as plausible as a form of internalism as PC, and present some reasons for thinking that the central motivation for PC is relatively unclear.
In Skepticism and the Veil of Perception (2001), Huemer claims that principle PC is “self-evident, once it is seen in its proper light” (103). To see it in its proper light, he says we have to keep in mind that the notion of justification that figures in PC is internal and epistemic. Internalist justification is concerned with what is reasonable or rational to believe given what is available from one’s first-person perspective. Huemer says that “justification from the first person perspective is what matters to us,” for “we have only our own perspective from which to decide what to believe” (2001, p. 22). He seems to accept this at least in part because he holds a deontological or, more precisely perhaps, responsibilist conception of justification: roughly, your belief is justified if and only if you believe responsibly and cannot be blamed for your belief; your belief is unjustified if and only if you believe irresponsibly or can be blamed for your belief. You can’t be held responsible for things that are outside of your perspective, or unavailable to it; you can only be held responsible for what to believe “given” or “in light of” the “available information” (2001, pp. 21–22, and p. 104). So, in order for you to be justified in believing that p, there must be something in your perspective in light of which it is responsible for you to believe that p. The relevant notion of justification is also epistemic or truth-directed rather than, e.g., moral or prudential: “Epistemic justification is the kind of justification assessed from the standpoint of the pursuit of the truth and the aversion to error” (2001, p. 104). You are epistemically justified if you believe in a reasonable or responsible way given the goal of having true beliefs and avoiding false ones.
According to Huemer, this conception of justification as internal and epistemic or truth-directed ought to help us see PC as self-evident. How so? Well, given that my goal is to have true beliefs and avoid false ones, and given that it seems to me that P, accepting or believing that P “will appear to satisfy my epistemic goals of believing truths and avoiding error better than denying P or suspending judgment” (2001, p. 104). Does PC now seem true to you? If p seems true to you then in some sense p is true or likely from your point of view. That is self-evident, but also utterly trivial. It is uncontroversial that appearances can make a psychological difference to the subject’s perspective, or that they can explain why we are inclined to believe certain things, but why should this make an epistemic difference? What Huemer needs is not the triviality that whatever seems to be true seems to be true, but the substantive claim that believing what seems to be true is (absent defeaters) a reasonable or rational way of pursuing truth and avoiding of error, and this claim does not seem at all self-evident.
Moreover, to the extent that Huemer conceives of epistemic justification as a matter of “satisfy[ing] my epistemic goals of believing truth and avoiding error” (2001, p. 104) or of “doing the best one can to pursue truth and eschew error” (2001, p. 115), PC doesn’t look like the appropriate principle. If taking my seemings as my guide is to count as doing my best, shouldn’t it also seem or appear to me that relying on seemings is an effective means to these goals? Now, it is surely possible for the proposition p seem true while the proposition this seeming that p is an effective means to the truth does not. It is possible that I also have no defeating seemings: that it does not seem to me that p is an ineffective means to the truth, and it does not seem to me that ~p. So I can have a seeming that p and be free of defeaters without doing the best that I can to pursue truth and avoid falsehood—indeed, without even aiming at truth and the avoidance of falsehood; I can satisfy PC without being epistemically responsible. In fact, insofar as I believe on the basis of a seeming that p (in the absence of defeaters) even though I do not believe, or it does not even seem to me, that doing so is an effective way to pursue truth and avoid falsity, it would seem that I am being epistemically irresponsible. Thus, the conception of epistemic justification as responsibility in the pursuit of epistemic goals does not support PC, but is rather in tension with it.31
Although I do not agree with Huemer that epistemic justification is fundamentally a matter of epistemic duty or responsibility, I do think that something at least roughly like the following captures the central internalist intuition: you are epistemically justified in believing that p only if there is something available to your first person perspective that provides you with a reason for thinking that p is true.32 The classical account sketched in the previous section straightforwardly satisfies this intuition for foundational beliefs. If the subject is directly aware of some fact, and is directly aware of this fact’s corresponding to or making probable that p, how could that fail to provide at least a defeasible reason to accept the truth or probability of p?33
PC, on the other hand, is in tension with access internalism. If we accept Huemer’s characterization of the internalist intuition given above and its emphasis on what is available to the first person perspective, then PC seems to be false. In order for me to be justified in believing that p, there must be something available to my perspective that makes it reasonable for me to take p to be true. PC’s antecedent condition is just that it seems to S that p, not that it seems to S that it seems to S that p. But if what is in or available to S’s perspective is just what seems to be true, namely the propositional content p, and not its seeming to S that p, then it is not clear why satisfying the antecedent of PC makes it rational for S to regard p as true. If all that S must be aware of or have in her first-person perspective is the propositional content p, why should we think that her perspective is any different than the perspective of someone who has no such appearance but holds a conscious, occurrent belief that p? It’s not enough to say that having an occurrent belief and having a seeming are different; even if they are different, the question is why any difference between them is relevant to the subject’s perspective on the truth of p.34
It might seem that I am guilty of a level confusion here. To justify belief in PC the epistemologist needs to have a reason to think it is true, and hence be aware of, reflect on, or have some thoughts about appearances, justification, and the relation between them. This doesn’t apply to all propositions one might be justified in believing. But pointing this out is no help. The problem is that if PC requires only that it appear or seem to S that p, and if its appearing to S that p does not entail or necessitate the availability to her first-person perspective of the fact that it appears to Sthat p, S can satisfy the antecedent of PC without there being anything in her first person perspective that makes it reasonable or rational for her to accept p.
Faced with this problem, perhaps the phenomenal conservative who remains committed to access-internalism will say that a seeming that p involves a distinctive phenomenology or character, a felt or conscious “pull” or “impulsion” towards the truth of p. For it to seem to me that p is for me to be aware of or have within consciousness the assertive, striking-me-as-true character of my attitude towards p. This idea might be fleshed out in different ways. We might hold that having a seeming that p involves a direct awareness or acquaintance with the distinctive assertive character of the attitude. Alternatively, we might hold that whenever S has a first-order seeming that p, it also seems to S that it seems to her that p, or at least S can readily become aware of its seeming to her that p.35 This may, but perhaps need not, involve a second-order state of seeming. Huemer has claimed that it is plausible to regard a conscious state of pain to involve both being in pain and seeming to be in pain; when it comes to conscious pain, the two state types are token-identical (2007, p. 46). Similarly, perhaps its seeming to one that p and its seeming to one that it seems that p are token-identical. A seeming would then be a kind of self-referential or self-representational state.
Whatever the particular proposal, the following familiar problem arises. Suppose that it seems to me that there is a red table here, and so, I am aware (whether by virtue of a direct awareness, a second-order seeming state, or a self-referential seeming state) of its seeming to me that there is a red table here. Does that improve my perspective on the truth of the proposition? Once we bring the fact that the subject has thus-and-such appearances into the subject’s perspective, perhaps these appearances can provide evidence, but the evidence cuts both ways: various skeptical hypotheses become relevant, and one needs some reason (whether a priori or a posteriori) to think that the actual truth of a proposition accounts for its seeming to be true better than anything else does. I need some reason or evidence to think that the hypothesis that there is a table here accounts for its seeming to me that there is a table, and that it does so better than the hypothesis that I am hallucinating a table. I need some reason or evidence to think that the table’s being red accounts for its seeming to me to be red, and does so better than the hypothesis that it is a white table illuminated by red lights. Huemer (2000, pp. 407–409) seems to agree that once one admits something in as part of one’s evidence for a particular hypothesis, then one needs some independent reason (whether a priori or a posteriori) for rejecting other, incompatible explanations of the evidence. Unless I have some such reason, it is difficult to see why the seeming that p, of which I am aware, provides any reason to accept that p is true. So a mere seeming does not make a difference to the subject’s perspective on the truth.36
In the rest of this section I want to consider Huemer’s more recent work on the topic, “Phenomenal Conservatism and the Internalist Intuition” (2006), where he claims that the central internalist intuition is just that justification supervenes on how things seem or appear to the subject, and not on the reliabilist or classical foundationalist’s preferred basis. Huemer’s argument proceeds by considering pairs of cases in which everything appears to the subject to be the same in all epistemically relevant respects, and yet something else is different: (a) reliability of the subject’s beliefs (in the argument against reliabilism), or (b) what the subject is acquainted with or directly aware of (in the argument against CF). The “epistemically relevant respects” include the clarity and firmness of appearances, how well they cohere with other appearances, the presence or absence of second-order appearances, and appearances with epistemic content—e.g., the appearance that one has a good reason or adequate justification for a doxastic attitude, or that one’s belief is reliable (2006, p. 151).
In both the first case and the second one, it seems to me that I am acquainted with pain, and I seem to have no reason to doubt that I am acquainted with pain or to think that my introspective beliefs are unreliable. But I believe that I am in pain in the first case and not the second, for no apparent reason.
If CF were correct, it would be rational for Sarah to believe that she is acquainted with pain in the first case but not the second, and her report would be a report of a rational state of mind. But it is irrational of Sarah to believe in the one case and not the other “for no apparent reason.” Therefore, CF is not correct.
Huemer uses this sort of case to argue against a simple, infallibilist version of CF, according to which S has non-inferential justification for believing that p if and only if S is directly acquainted with the fact that p. He then considers an attempt to accommodate fallibilism by appeal to one of the principles discussed in Sect. 3 (principle 5). As already discussed, I agree with Huemer that this attempt to accommodate fallisilism will not do. Insofar as the concern with the simple version of CF is that there surely are some cases of fallible foundationally justified belief, I have already argued in the previous section for a way of accommodating such beliefs. If Sarah is actually acquainted with its seeming to her that the phenomenal property attended to is one of pain, and if such a seeming best explains or makes probable for her that she is indeed experiencing pain, then Sarah has some degree of defeasible justification for believing that she is in pain even if in fact she is not. This accommodates fallibility at the foundational level, and is not vulnerable to the “absurd speech” problem.
It’s worth discussing these sorts of cases a bit more, for CF can say something plausible about a range of cases, and I want to point to at least some of the responses available. While I do not require infallibility at the foundational level, I do think there are at least some cases that satisfy infallibilist requirements, and it is not clear to me that the sorts of cases that Huemer gives against the infallibilist are really possible. As mentioned in the previous section, I take acquaintance or the sort of direct awareness required for justification to involve more than a mere sensing or experiencing; something like a selective attention to the features or facts in question is also required. Now, is it possible to be acquainted with painfulness in one case, acquainted with itchiness in another, and yet have them both seem to be pains? I’m not sure it is. It’s important to distinguish this from a case in which I am acquainted with an experience that happens to be a pain, acquainted with an experience that happens to be an itch, and yet have them both seem to be pain-like. In such a case I might be acquainted with two indeterminate pain-like sensations. In many actual cases of this sort that involve very similar sensations or sensations that share some phenomenal features, it may be that we are only acquainted with something rather indeterminate. But insofar as one is acquainted with distinct properties, there is at least one natural sense in which the properties seem to be different. It may help to consider more pronounced differences where there is no question of being acquainted with distinct properties: is it really possible that I be acquainted with redness, acquainted with searing pain, and yet have the objects of acquaintance seem to be searing pain in both cases?
My hesitation to say that these sorts of cases are possible arises from what I take acquaintance or attentive awareness to be, and from the fact that I’m just not sure what “seemings” are. If a “seeming” is, as Huemer claims, an assertive propositional attitude distinct from belief and inclinations to believe, then I honestly don’t have any clear intuitions about whether it’s possible to have a seeming that conflicts with a fact one is acquainted with, but that’s because I’m not really sure whether there are any such attitudes,38 and am only inclined to admit them to the extent that they are very much like inclinations to believe. If we stipulate that the term stands for something more or less like an inclination to believe, then I find I have no trouble making sense of the possibility of a non-veridical “seeming” in the initial Sarah case. But notice that now Sarah’s speech would plausibly be different, and not at all absurd: “Yeah, for some odd reason I have this inclination to believe that I’m experiencing pain, but I’m in fact acquainted with an itch, not a pain.” If we change the case so that Sarah is acquainted only with an indeterminate, itch-like sensation, but it also seems to her that the mental state attended to is one of pain, this can provide some degree of defeasible justification for believing that she is experiencing pain rather than a mere itch.
There is a more general, important lesson here. It is tempting to say, “if everything seems the same to two subjects, then surely there can be no difference in the justification they possess.” But we must be careful. Terms like ‘appears’ and ‘seems’ are used in various ways in ordinary as well as philosophical contexts, and while Huemer does not offer an analysis or definition of the sense of these terms that he takes to be epistemically relevant, he does qualify and constrain this sense in certain ways, e.g., as an assertive but nondoxastic propositional attitude. The claim that justification supervenes on Huemer’s appearances is interesting and controversial, while the claim that justification supervenes on something or other that may plausibly be called a ‘seeming’ or ‘appearance’ is not (at least not among internalists). We should guard against confusing different senses of such terms, lest our judgment regarding the plausibility of the former, stronger claim be influenced by the obvious plausibility of the latter, weaker one, and lest our evaluation of a competing view (like CF) that happens not make heavy use of terms like ‘seeming’ and ‘appearance’ be corrupted by the implausibility of denying that there is some sense of such terms that is justification-conferring. Similar concerns apply, of course, to CF’s use of terms like ‘acquaintance’ or ‘the given’. In comparing and evaluating PC and CF on phenomenological and theoretical grounds, we ought to take care not to let ambiguities in the use of such terms affect our judgment.
I have argued that CF can avoid the charge of self-defeat, accommodate fallible introspective beliefs, and capture a central internalist intuition. We are now in a position to see why CF is right to privilege direct awareness or acquaintance over appearances. It provides a clear reason to think that a subject who satisfies its conditions also satisfies the internalist condition of having something within or available to one’s perspective that provides a good reason or good evidence to think that the proposition believed is true. It can allow appearances or inclinations to believe to play an important, though not fundamental, role in the justification of many of our beliefs, provided that we have good reasons to think that what appears to be true, or what we are inclined to accept, is true or probable. And while rejecting appearances as a fundamental source of justification makes the task of responding to skepticism with regard to the external world more difficult, it helps us better explain why skepticism has bite, why arguments for skepticism are so difficult to defeat, and why so many find the appeal to mere appearances in response to skepticism about the external world to be unsatisfying.
I will sometimes use ‘PC’ to refer to the theory of phenomenal conservatism, and sometimes to refer specifically to the principle of phenomenal conservatism given in the next section. Where it matters, I trust the context will make clear which is the case.
But surely, many beliefs (at least dispositional ones) can be justified without being simultaneously based on any actual appearances. How, then, can Huemer hold that appearances are necessary? Huemer might distinguish between appearances and dispositions to have appearances, and hold that the latter can also provide justification (at least within certain constraints). Alternatively, he might take epistemic justification to be diachronic or historical, so that some beliefs can be justified on the basis of appearances already had. Huemer (1999, 2001, p. 194n3) prefers the latter.
According to Huemer, it is possible, in principle, to have an appearance wholly lacking in qualia. This is plausible for some apparent memories and intuitions, but Huemer claims that one can even have perceptual appearances without sensory qualities (2001, pp. 65–70, 77–79). What is essential to perceptual appearances is their representational or propositional content and the “forcefulness” with which this content is presented, that is, “the fact that, in the experience, it seems to one that something satisfying the content of the experience actually exists, there and now” (2001, p. 79, my emphasis). Huemer (2001, p. 89, n. 30) seems to think that a form of “superblindsight” involving appearances is possible; it is possible to have appearances regarding one’s environment despite a lack of sensory awareness. It is possible, in principle, for it to seem to me that there is a cat on my lap without any of the sensory features of color or texture that normally accompany such seemings. Although I would not experience any sensory qualities, when I consider the proposition that the cat is on my lap, it would strike me as true, or seem to me to be true.
The exceptions include cases of believing as a result of self-deception, leaps of faith, or severe mental disorders, which are not relevant because opponents would not base their rejection of PC on such sources. See Huemer (2007, p. 39, n14).
We will discuss a more sophisticated form of CF in the next section.
One might be justified in believing that p even though p does not appear to be true, and may even appear to be false, provided that p could be inferred from other beliefs that appear to be true. One might justifiably believe that a mathematical theorem is true even though it appears false, for one may have a clear proof all of whose premises seem to be true.
Thanks to an anonymous referee of the journal for pointing to some unnecessary complexities in an earlier presentation of the first objection.
Other cases include the possibility of mistaking degrees of heat, mistaking shade of phenomenal color, mistaking the number of speckles in one’s visual field, mistaking a feeling of regret for a feeling or remorse (see Huemer 2006, p. 154), for a similar case of confusing resentment and indignation), and perhaps mistaking the thought that water might not have been H2O with the thought that watery stuff (roughly, liquids with the secondary qualities of water) might not have been H2O (see Huemer 2007, pp. 34–35).
I believe that fallible a priori foundations can be accommodated in a similar way, though some important differences and qualifications may apply.
Fumerton (1995, 2001) takes acquaintance with a fact to be fundamentally a relation between the self or subject and some entity, property, or fact, while BonJour (2001a, 2003) takes direct awareness to be a special feature that is “constitutive of” and “built into” the state of conscious experience itself. Fumerton thus takes the self’s being aware of something to be primary, and a state of awareness is a state of which the subject is directly aware; BonJour takes a state’s being conscious or involving built-in awareness to be primary, and a self is directly aware of something if it has or undergoes a state with this built-in awareness. I want to leave open here exactly what the appropriate fundamental metaphysical or ontological categorization of this direct awareness might be.
Some of what BonJour (2001a, pp. 25–26; cited in Huemer 2007), Fales (1996, 173ff.), and Fumerton (2010) say seems to suggest an account of fallible foundationally justified belief that is similar to the account provided below, though I am unsure whether they would be satisfied with it.
See Fumerton’s (1995) discussion of the principle of inferential justification, according to which S is inferentially justified in believing that p on the basis of e only if S is justified in believing that e and justified in believing that emakes probablep.
It is tempting to object that the experience of a red triangle cannot provide justification for such beliefs unless I also believe justifiably that the experience is of a (phenomenal) red triangle. But if as foundationalists we accept that the experience of some phenomenal feature attended to can sometimes justify one’s belief that one experiences a red triangle, and do so independently of any prior conceptualization of the experience as an experience of a red triangle, it is not clear why we should require such a conceptualization in the examples just given either. In light of this, the class of beliefs justified independently of any other empirical belief might be larger than it initially seems.
It is much less clear that such beliefs are justified independently of any a priori justification. It is not implausible that many if not all empirically justified beliefs depend at least in part on a basic a priori grasp of some kind.
Huemer says that the “problem applies generally to theories that privilege introspection over perception while recognizing the possibility of false but prima facie justified introspective belief” (2007, p. 35). Perhaps Huemer is right that there is no principled epistemic difference between fallibleintrospective beliefs and perceptual beliefs that would provide a reason for privileging one over the other (though see Fumerton’s comment in n. 29 below). But the acquaintance or direct awareness theorist could, and should, take as more fundamental the privileging of direct awareness over appearances; they should privilege introspection over perception only if andto the extent that beliefs regarding our own minds are more firmly based on direct awareness than beliefs regarding the external world. I am interested in defending a direct awareness view against Huemer’s argument from the possibility of false justified introspective belief, not the view that privileges beliefs about one’s own mind in general over perceptual beliefs.
See Huemer (2007, pp. 33–36). I think these examples capture what Huemer has in mind at least as well, though he focuses on a different sort of example: “It hardly seems that one’s having an intuition with the content that the watery stuff might not have been H2O renders it probable that the intuition in question actually has the content that water might not have been H2O. Indeed, it would seem that the proposition that one’s intuition has the former content rules out that it has the latter content, in so far as those contents are distinct….” (p. 35).
As discussed in the first section, Huemer insists that appearances are distinct from inclinations to believe. The CF-advocate is not in any obvious way committed to affirming or denying this. If, like myself, you find it difficult to see any clear distinction between appearances and conscious or felt inclinations to believe, then for the purposes of this section you can treat them as more or less identical.
This makes (6) closer to (3), at least on one reading of the condition in (3) that “one’s awareness seems to oneself to be the awareness that Gx.”
Chalmers (2002), Fales (1996), McGrew (1995, 1999), Horgan and Kriegel (2007), and Gertler (2001) all offer views according to which there are at least some infallible or epistemically certain introspective beliefs.
It is important to distinguish entertaining the possibility, in the abstract, of going wrong in forming such a belief, and entertaining the possibility of error while attending to the relevant fact. Descartes’s reply to the Cartesian Circle may, on one interpretation at least, provide an interesting precedent. Descartes explicitly distinguishes both in the Meditations and again in the Second Replies between perceiving some truths “clearly and distinctly” while attending to the reasons that support them, and perceiving them in a less transparent, more indirect way, without attending to the reasons that support them. In the latter case, our perceptions or judgments might seem to be true, or we might even recall having shown them to be true, but we could be wrong. On this interpretation, it is the latter apparently clear and distinct perceptions or judgments, and not the former genuinely clear and distinct perceptions, that Descartes thinks we cannot know without prior knowledge that God exists. See Fales (1996, 2ff). for a similar interpretation.
The motivation provided here for principle (6) appeals to the idea of the best explanation available to one. This might suggest that there is a more fundamental principle at work here: If one is directly aware of x’s seeming to be G (or aware of being inclined to predicate G to x), and if the best explanation available to one that x seems to be G is that it is G, then one thereby has at least some defeasible justification for believing that x is G. .
BonJour (2003) defends the view that external-world beliefs can be justified by inference to the best explanation, where the explanatory inference is itself, at a fundamental level, justified purely a priori. I hold it to be at least as plausible that fallible introspective beliefs can be justified in part on the basis of explanatory inferences (loosely speaking, since the “inference” is from non-doxastic states to doxastic ones) that are purely a priori.
See Moser (1989) for a defense of the view that some beliefs about the external world can be justified by virtue of the fact that they best explain the appearances given to us in experience. While I am not sure that Moser’s defense of the view is entirely successful, the position provides a nice example of a view that gives appearances an important role without accepting PC.
As Fumerton (2010) puts it: “I know how to explain the possibility of error in the case of marginal pain while still insisting that the fallible justification I have is direct awareness of my mental state. I can’t come up with any explanation remotely like that in the case of the fallible justification I have for believing propositions about physical objects. In the case of my belief that I am in pain, when I am acquainted with marginal pain, it seems obvious to me that there is nothing other than the mental state itself to which I can plausibly turn in trying to assure myself that I am in pain. In the case of sense experience, it seems equally obvious to me that there is a truth distinct from my claim about the external world which is a plausible candidate for the available evidence from which I can try to infer the relevant truth—the truth describing subjective appearance” (p. 383).
Even if it is granted that it is epistemically justified or rational for us to base our beliefs on appearances, this does not commit one to the view that PC is a true, necessary epistemic principle. The justification could derive from a fundamental principle that one is justified to believe in line with what one has good reasons or evidence to regard as true, together with the contingent fact that we do have good reasons or evidence to think that seemings are generally true. Thus, the fact that it is normally or even always epistemically justified for one to believe on the basis of appearances (absent defeaters) is compatible with denying PC as a necessary epistemic principle.
Similarly, even if the activity of philosophy and dialectic depends on or presupposes a methodology according to which one ought to consider what “seems true” in motivating and evaluating various positions and theses (Huemer 2001, p. 107), it doesn’t follow that those engaging in such an activity presuppose that PC is true. It may be that anyone engaged in such an activity also has good, prima facie reasons to take how things seem to them as true, at least when these seemings are the result of careful attention and reflection, and that one ought to believe what one has good reason to take to be true.
The requirement is often motivated by reflection on cases like BonJour’s case of Norman the clairvoyant (BonJour 1985, p. 41; see Huemer 2006, 149ff. for a similar example). If Norman believes that the President is in New York, but there is nothing available to his perspective that provides a reason to believe that the President is in New York, then he is not justified in believing this; even if his belief is a result of a reliable or truth-conducive clairvoyant ability, if Norman has no reason to think he has such an ability, and no other reason to trust his belief, then, intuitively, he is not justified. After all, there is nothing in Norman’s perspective that distinguishes this belief from a false or accidentally true belief. The central intuition is sometimes expressed in deontological or responsibilist terms (BonJour 1985, pp. 8, 42; Goldman 1999; Huemer 2001) and nondeontological/nonresponsibilist terms (BonJour 2001b; Fumerton 1995).
Bergmann (2006) argues that internalist views like CF are vulnerable to a fatal dilemma (one that is similar to the Sellarsian dilemma pushed forcefully in BonJour 1978, 1985). To be justified in believing something, the subject must either conceive of some direct object of awareness as relevant in some way to the truth of one’s belief, or not. Bergmann argues that the former leads to a vicious regress of increasingly complex beliefs or conceptual acts, while the latter does not satisfy the internalist intuition that the belief must be true or likely from the subject’s perspective. For a reply on behalf of CF, see Hasan (2011).
Notice that it won’t do to merely bring into my perspective some proposition to the effect that that p is true, that p seems true, or that p strikes me as true. For again, it is not clear why this makes the relevant difference to my perspective, whereas my merely thinking or entertaining the proposition p is true, p seems true or p strikes me as true does not.
The reader might be concerned about an infinite regress of representations, or representational states, looming here, but that is not the concern I want to raise, so let’s assume for sake of argument that there is a reasonable way to avoid any vicious regress.
Perhaps some will be tempted to respond on PC’s behalf by appeal to a track-record argument for thinking that these appearances are likely to be true: “It seems to me that there is a table here, and that’s true. It seems to me that 2 + 2 = 4, and that’s true. It seems to me that I exist, and that’s true. When I think about examples like this, it seems to me that…most of them are true” (2007, p. 53). In each case, the claim that “that’s true” is supported by the relevant proposition’s seeming to be true. Huemer appeals to a track-record argument to show “from within the theory of justification in question” that “we are justified in believing that most of the beliefs that are justified according to the theory are true” (2007, p. 53). But in the present context, appealing to such a track-record argument is too little too late. The worry is not that such track-record arguments are circular in some vicious way, or that they cannot transmit any justification—we can grant, for sake of argument at least, that this form of circularity is not vicious. Rather, it is that any such argument can provide one with a reason to believe its conclusion only if one already has a reason to accept its premises, and what we are still looking for is a good reason for a subject to accept its premises.
Compare a classical foundationalist’s version of the track record argument: I’m acquainted with the fact that I am conscious, and that’s true. I’m acquainted with the fact that I’m appeared to redly, and that’s true. I’m acquainted with the fact that 2 + 2 = 4, and that’s true. When we ask whether acquaintance with a fact provides the subject with a reason to think that the corresponding proposition “is true,” the answer is a straightforward yes. After all, in such cases one is acquainted with the truth-makers for the relevant propositions. Or consider more sophisticated classical foundationalist view that require the subject to be directly aware of or acquainted with the correspondence between propositions and the facts that are their truth-makers, or acquainted with some relation of making probable between certain propositions and the facts that are their probability-makers. While one might worry that we don’t have such acquaintances, or don’t have enough of them to justify belief in the external world, there is no puzzle about why a subject who is acquainted with the truth-making or probability-making facts themselves has a good reason to think that the propositions made true or probable by these facts are indeed true or probable.
This is how Huemer puts it initially, when discussing the case against reliabilism (p. 150). He is a bit less explicit about this when arguing against the acquaintance theory (pp. 152–153).
I am grateful to Richard Fumerton, Ted Poston, John DePoe, Sam Taylor, and an anonymous referee of the journal for helpful comments and discussion.