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All the reason in the world

Clayton M Littlejohn, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


What is it that justifies out and out commitment to the truth of a claim? There is at present a division between the internalists who think that normative reasons or justifications for belief are grounded in conditions internal to the individual and the externalists who think that part of what justifies belief is to be found external to the individual and her perspective on the world. This debate, the internalism/externalism debate, strikes many as intractable. I offer a diagnosis as to why this is so. We recognize that certain kinds of error do nothing to undermine one's standing as a rational agent and yet we also recognize that reasons are the sort of thing that are supposed to determine whether something counts as an instance of wrongdoing. Taken together, these claims suggest that justified wrongdoing is both possible and impossible. But this is an intolerable result. So are we to modify our conception of what it is to be rational or what it is for something to be a good reason? I say neither. In order to accommodate the insights of both internalist and externalist writers, we have to examine the implicit assumptions about how the normative appraisals of agents relate to the evaluations of attitudes. I defend a slightly unorthodox picture of normative appraisal and show how this allows us to resolve the tension at the center of the internalism/externalism debate. I go on to show how careful attention to the differences between excuses, justifications, and exemptions allows us to formulate an externalist account of epistemic reasons and explain why it is a mistake to think of theoretical deliberation as governed by norms or rules understood on the model of either strong or weak moral principles. ^

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Littlejohn, Clayton M, "All the reason in the world" (2005). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3186865.