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Fall 2001 · Vol. 30 No. 2 · pp. 162–76 

Modernism, Postmodernism, and the Problem of the Criterion

David S. Faber

The ongoing debate between advocates of modernism and postmodernism is one of the most prominent features of contemporary academic life. In this essay, I will suggest that both modernist and postmodernist worldviews have arisen because of a mistaken epistemology. I will use a traditional problem in epistemology, the problem of the criterion, to illuminate one difference between modernism and postmodernism. Then I will suggest that the problem of the criterion and problems related to modernist and postmodernist worldviews arise because of a commitment to an internalist epistemology. I will describe both internalism and an alternative epistemology, externalism. I will suggest that externalism is a better account of epistemology and that internalism should be rejected. If internalism is rejected, then the problem of the criterion does not arise, and both modernist and postmodernist orientations can be rejected.

In order to be justified in accepting a criterion, we have to be able to distinguish genuine from ersatz knowledge. But we cannot legitimately distinguish genuine from ersatz knowledge without a criterion. Thus we are in a circle.


American philosopher Roderick Chisholm, one of the most significant epistemologists of the late twentieth century, writes that the problem of the criterion seems to him “to be one of the most important and one of the most difficult of all the problems of philosophy.” 1 Further, he says, “I am tempted to say that one has not begun to philosophize until {163} one has faced the problem and has recognized how unappealing, in the end, each of the possible solutions is.” 2 Similarly, Paul Moser writes of the problem of the criterion, “This is one of the most difficult epistemological problems, and a cogent epistemology must provide a defensible solution to it. Contemporary epistemology still lacks a widely accepted reply to this urgent problem.” 3

The problem of the criterion is a fundamental problem in epistemology, the theory of knowledge. The criterion problem concerns knowledge, in particular how one can distinguish genuine knowledge from purported knowledge. The psychoanalyst claims to know that a certain neurotic behavior is caused by some traumatic event in childhood. The exorcist claims to know that the same behavior is caused by demon possession. Who is right? Similarly, Christians claim to know that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God; Muslims, on the other hand, claim that the Koran is the authoritative Word of God. Who is right?

We seem to be asking for a criterion for distinguishing genuine knowledge from ersatz knowledge. In distinguishing genuine diamonds from fake diamonds we have a criterion: Genuine diamonds cut glass. We do not have a legitimate way of distinguishing genuine knowledge from ersatz knowledge unless we have some set of necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge to which we can appeal. The criterion will provide evidence for our claim that P is genuine knowledge while Q is not genuine.

Immediately the question arises, however, about whether or not one has a good criterion. And it would seem that a criterion regarding knowledge is good if it picks out all and only those cases of genuine knowledge. So in order to be justified in accepting a criterion, we have to be able to distinguish genuine from ersatz knowledge. But, as we noted earlier, we cannot legitimately distinguish genuine from ersatz knowledge without a criterion. Thus we are in a circle.

The situation is somewhat like a person whose only possible source of income is winning the lottery. But the only way to win the lottery is to buy a ticket. He needs money to buy the winning ticket. But the only way to get the money to buy the ticket is by winning the lottery.

Chisholm summarizes the problem as follows. 4 There are two questions that need to be answered:

  1. What do we know?


  1. What are the criteria of knowledge? {164}

To be justified in answering (A) we first need an answer to (B). But to be justified in answering (B) we first need an answer to (A).

Although I have presented the problem of the criterion as a problem in epistemology, the same (or at least similar) problems arise in a wide variety of situations. Let me suggest two examples. There is some debate within the natural sciences about the proper place of methodological naturalism. Methodological naturalism is the view that “the proper way to conduct scientific investigation is to focus strictly on naturalistic explanations for phenomena. . . . . . .” 5 This approach eliminates miracles as appropriate scientific explanations. But how do we know that methodological naturalism is true? If we base methodological naturalism on examples of good science, then we have the question of how we know that those were good explanations. Why weren’t miracles included as examples of good explanations?

Similarly, in an essay critical of Piaget’s account of the intellectual development of children, Gareth Matthews writes,

There is another worry. Piaget proposes to validate his claims about developmental stages by finding the same patterns of response in all children. Such a finding is to be considered a guarantee that the thinking of children really does develop in this fashion. The unusual response is discounted as an unreliable indicator of the ways in which children think: “The only valid criteria. . . . .are based on multiplicity of results and on the comparison of individual reactions.” But it is the deviant response that is most likely to be philosophically interesting. The standard response is, in general, an unthinking and un-thought-out product of socialization, whereas the nonconforming response is much more likely to be the fruit of honest reflection. Yet Piaget would have the nonconforming response discounted and eliminated on methodological grounds. 6

Note that the conflict here is between an answer to question (A) by Matthews—we know that the nonconforming answer is more interesting—and an answer to question (B) by Piaget—the method of considering only repeated answers is the best criterion. We could construe this passage as a criticism by Matthews of Piaget’s method. How do you know that method is best? It leaves out interesting answers. We can also imagine that Piaget would reply: “How do you know that the nonconforming answers are the interesting ones? {165}


Chisholm suggests three possible responses to this problem. The first is skepticism. One can respond by saying that since one cannot offer a justified answer to either (A) or (B), we have shown that we cannot make any legitimate claims of having knowledge. In fact we know nothing.

The second possible response is what Chisholm calls “methodism.” The methodist is one who answers question (B). He or she says that in fact we have a criterion for knowledge. Chisholm says that empiricists such as Locke and Hume were methodists. A knowledge claim was genuine only if it was made on the basis of evidence of the senses. On the basis of the answer to (B), the methodist works out an answer to (A). Of course, the answer to (B) need not be empiricism. Other options are available, but empiricism is a familiar example.

The third possible response is what Chisholm calls “particularism.” The particularist says that we have an answer to (A) and then develops an answer to (B) on the basis of his/her answer to (A). Presumably one works somewhat inductively, asking such questions as, “What is it that the things mentioned in my answer to (A) have in common?”

Chisholm adopts particularism. He rejects methodism because, he believes, an answer to (B) is completely arbitrary. 7 To see this, consider the hypothetical criterion which we will call “Angloism.” Angloism is the criterion that all propositions of fact expressed by English sentences between 1957 and 1981 are items of knowledge. Empiricism is no more justified as an answer to (B) than is Angloism. But Angloism is clearly unacceptable as a criterion of knowledge. Since Angloism is as justified as empiricism, to adopt either one is arbitrary.

Chisholm rejects skepticism because he is convinced that we do, in fact, know some things. That is, he rejects skepticism because he believes he has an answer to (A). He acknowledges that he deals with the problem “only by begging the question.” But, he continues, “It seems to me that if we do recognize this part, as we should, then it is unseemly for us to try to pretend that it isn’t so.” 8 Thus, Chisholm holds that particularism also has an unappealing feature: it is question begging. Implicit in this is the contention that skepticism is unappealing simply because it runs so contrary to our ordinary intuitions that we do, in fact, know some things.


Chisholm considers an objection to his solution. He writes,

One may object: “Doesn’t this mean, then, that the skeptic is right after all?” I would answer: “Not at all. His view is only {166} one of the three possibilities and in itself has no more to recommend it than the others do. And in favor of our approach there is that fact that we do know many things, after all.” 9

Chisholm’s response is, roughly, that skepticism, methodism, and particularism are all unappealing: skepticism is counterintuitive, methodism is arbitrary, and particularism is question-begging. Furthermore, their lack of appeal is equal. Thus, no solution is either more or less rational than any other. So it is not unreasonable to be a particularist.

I would like to suggest that Chisholm’s argument is flawed. The three alternatives are not equally unappealing. Methodism and particularism are independently unappealing. That is, their lack of appeal in no way depends upon the other possible solutions. Skepticism, however, is only dependently unappealing. It is counterintuitive only if one has already adopted, at least tacitly, particularism. If one does not think we have an answer to (A), then skepticism is not counterintuitive. On its own skepticism is not unappealing. That is, it makes no unjustified claim.

To digress just briefly, our discussion of the problem of the criterion can help us to understand at least one aspect of the current debate between modernism and postmodernism. Both modernism and postmodernism are terms that are very difficult to define. However, our objection to Chisholm’s solution to the problem of the criterion can help us to characterize a significant difference between modernism and postmodernism. Modernists tend to take the tack of Chisholm and argue that all three solutions are unappealing. But skepticism, they say, is the most unappealing, and so they choose either particularism or methodism.

Postmodernists, on the other hand, seem to embrace the skeptical alternative. According to them, we should give up the pretense of an objective, universal account of knowledge and recognize the arbitrariness of whatever we do. We can believe whatever we want, since we cannot really know anything.

Let us consider a simple (perhaps overly simple) example. The modernist approach to literature (in this sense of modernism) is to identify an established canon of literature that is worthy of being studied. Clearly this is an issue that involves a judgment of value. A particularist approach is to identify some obviously great works—by Shakespeare, John Donne, Jane Austen, etc.—and then identify some characteristics that those works have in common. Other, and newer, works would be tested by those criteria.

A methodist would start with a criterion and then apply that criterion {167} to evaluate works of literature. For instance, in 1976, Frank Gaebelein suggested that good literature would have the characteristics of durability, unity, integrity, and inevitability. 10 If a work of literature exhibits these characteristics, it belongs in the canon; if it does not exhibit these characteristics, it does not belong in the canon.

The postmodernist, on the other hand, challenges the idea of a canon existing at all. There is no proof, for instance, that Shakespeare is better than Danielle Steele. So why should we privilege Shakespeare’s plays and disparage contemporary romance novels? The kind of criteria that Gaebelein produces are arbitrary, so why should we pay any attention to them? We should simply recognize that we cannot defend any aesthetic or literary standards and should stop the pretense of having them. The postmodernist contends that we should embrace the skeptical alternative and simply study what we feel like studying.

Earlier I argued that skepticism is the best response to the problem of the criterion. Here we have seen that postmodernism is largely a skeptical alternative to modernism. And it appears that postmodern reasoning may parallel our critique of Chisholm’s response to the problem of the criterion. Particularism (Jane Austen is better than Danielle Steele) is question begging. Methodism (Gaebelein’s criteria) is arbitrary. Skepticism (the postmodern alternative) is not counterintuitive as long as one does not assume either particularism or methodism.


In this section I want to argue that Chisholm is not really a particularist, but rather that he is, despite his own claims, a methodist. I believe that Chisholm is a methodist because he adopts a criterion for what counts as an “unappealing” solution to the problem of the criterion. His criterion seems to be that an answer is unappealing if one has no justification for it.

More precisely, I can make my point as follows. Consider the following proposition.

  1. Snow is white.

Suppose that Connie claims to know (P) so that a partial answer to (A) is

  1. I know that snow is white.

Chisholm then would ask, “What justification do you have for Q?” And, “What is the criterion on which you base Q?” If Connie says, “I have no {168} criterion,” then (Q) is not justified. It is not a genuine knowledge claim. So Chisholm seems to have in mind a principle like the following:

  1. R is a genuine knowledge claim for a person S if and only if S has justification for R.

Consider, on the other hand,

  1. Empiricism is a correct criterion for knowledge.

Suppose that Connie claims to know S. Then her answer to (B) is:

  1. I know that empiricism is a correct criterion for knowledge.

Chisholm might ask, “What justification do you have for (T)?” If Connie says, “None,” then according to Chisholm T is unjustified and is not a genuine knowledge claim; it is arbitrary. Again Chisholm seems to use something like (D) to reject (T).

I am now in a position to restate the objection made previously. Both particularism and methodism must be rejected by Chisholm because they violate (D). Both make knowledge claims without justification.

Thus, Chisholm, despite his claims to the contrary, is actually a methodist and, further, by the criterion he has chosen, both particularism and methodism must be rejected. However, skepticism makes no knowledge claims and thus, by the criterion Chisholm has chosen, is preferable to both methodism and particularism.


I believe that the problem of the criterion and the orientations of both modernism and postmodernism arise because of an internalist epistemology. And so we now need to make a brief excursion into the world of epistemology. One of the tasks of that discipline is to give an account of the structure of those things that a person believes. An account of the structure of a person’s beliefs ought to include at least three things. 11 First, it will include an account of which beliefs are basic and which ones are nonbasic.

Second, it will give an account of the degree to which one is committed to each belief. That is, some beliefs are held more firmly than others. For instance, I believe both that St. Louis is in Missouri and that Kathmandu is in Nepal. But it would be much easier to shake me from my belief that Kathmandu is in Nepal than it would be to shake me from {169} my belief that St. Louis is in Missouri.

Third, an account of the structure of a person’s beliefs should include an account of how important a person’s beliefs are. Some beliefs can be challenged with very little ripple effect, while other beliefs can be relinquished only with severe repercussions. For instance, if my memory has failed me and my belief that Mickey Stanley was the shortstop for the Detroit Tigers in the 1968 World Series is false, it really will not make much difference to me. But, if I were to come to believe that the resurrection of Christ was a hoax, that would change the way that I look at everything.


From about A.D. 1600 until the mid-twentieth century, internalism was the dominant theoretical epistemology. 12 One of the dominant figures in epistemology is the French philosopher, René Descartes. Consider the beginning of the first of his Meditations on First Philosophy:

Several years have now passed since I first realized how many were the false opinions that in my youth I took to be true, and thus how doubtful were all the things that I subsequently built upon these opinions. From the time I became aware of this, I realized that for once I had to raze everything in my life, down to the very bottom, so as to begin again from the first foundations. 13

Descartes suggests that the relationship between basic and nonbasic beliefs is like a building. Some beliefs are built on other beliefs. If the foundation is sturdy and the methods of building on the foundation are good methods, then the structure of a person’s beliefs is a sturdy structure. A good structure will distinguish between knowledge and true opinion. Traditionally, and intuitively, the difference between knowledge and a true opinion is justification.

For example, if I believe now that Kansas University (KU) will win the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, I may be correct. But, even if I am correct, we would not claim that I know that KU will win the tournament. If I am correct, then it is a lucky guess. On the other hand, if I believe that Duke won the tournament last year, it makes sense to claim that I know that Duke won the tournament because now I can point to evidence that Duke won the tournament. My belief that Duke won last year is justified, but my belief that KU will win this year is unjustified.

Since Descartes in the early seventeenth century, justification has {170} been understood in an internalist way. Internalism involves two theses. The first we can call the accessibility condition. The accessibility condition holds that if a belief is justified for some person, then that person has conscious access to the conditions which make our beliefs justified. Jay Wood explains the accessibility condition this way: “[B]y ‘looking’ inward [people] must be able to discern within themselves the ground and strength of their justified beliefs.” 14 The accessibility condition can thus be stated as follows:

Accessibility Condition: If a person P has justification for believing a proposition S, then P is aware of the grounds and strength of her belief that S.

The second condition of justification (for an internalist) is commonly called the doxastic condition. This name comes from the Greek word doxa which means “belief.” John Pollock writes that the doxastic condition holds that “the justifiability of a belief is exclusively a function of the beliefs that one holds.” 15 We can state the doxastic condition as follows:

Doxastic Condition: If a person P is justified in believing a proposition S, then P’s ground for believing S is a proposition (or propositions) that P believes.

Usually, internalism gets developed in terms of a foundationalist picture. Some beliefs are justified on the basis of other beliefs. So, I believe A because I believe B and I believe B on the basis of C. It seems that this “based on” relationship cannot go on forever. At some point there must be some beliefs which are not based on other beliefs. What is it that justifies these beliefs? The doxastic condition says that it must be beliefs. So these beliefs justify themselves. The accessibility condition says that a person must be aware that these beliefs are self-justifying. So a good deal of epistemology in the internalist tradition has concerned itself with trying to identify the characteristic that one can recognize in self-justifying propositions.

Let us return to a previous example. When I look inward and examine my belief that KU will win the NCAA men’s basketball championship this year, I need to explore whether or not my belief is justified. The accessibility condition holds that if I am justified in my belief, I will be able to discover what justifies my belief by careful introspection. (Internalism does not, it should be noted, require that this process of {171} introspection should be easy.) So, if I am justified in believing that KU will win the NCAA championship this year, I will be able to put together a sound argument defending that conclusion. My argument could look like something like this:

  1. I like Roy Williams.
  2. Roy Williams seems like a really nice guy.
  3. Nice guys deserve to win the NCAA tournament.
  4. So KU will win the NCAA tournament.

The internalist will then question me about this argument. Premises (1) and (2) are examples of self-justifying propositions. I look inside myself, think about the proposition that I like Roy Williams, and I realize that it is true. Premise (3) is not self-justifying. So I need to defend it. If I cannot defend it, then I am not justified in believing it. Furthermore, I am not justified in believing anything that depends on it. So I am not justified in believing that KU will win the NCAA tournament.

On the other hand, my belief that Duke won the NCAA championship last year may be justified. It is justified if I can produce a sound argument defending it. My argument might go something like this:

  1. The NCAA championship game last year ended with Duke having more points than its opponent.
  2. The team with the most points at the end of the NCAA championship game in a given year is the NCAA champion for that year.
  3. Therefore, Duke was the NCAA champion last year.

Premise (5) is something that I observed and is (at least for the sake of argument) a self-justifying proposition. Premise (6) is true by definition, so it is also self-justifying. And (7) follows logically from (5) and (6). Thus, my belief that Duke won the NCAA championship last year is justified.


I contend that the problem of the criterion arises only when one assumes an internalist epistemology. Conversely, if one assumes an externalist epistemology, the problem of the criterion does not arise. As noted earlier, I also believe that both modernism and postmodernism are internalist phenomena. So, let us turn now to externalism.

The externalist agrees with the internalist that some propositions are justified on the basis of other propositions. For these propositions, {172} the appropriate rules of deductive and inductive reasoning apply. That is, these propositions need to follow logically from the supporting propositions.

The externalist disagrees with the internalist about the foundational propositions. Externalism rejects both the accessibility condition and the doxastic condition. By rejecting the accessibility condition, the externalist holds that a person can be justified in believing something even if she is unaware of the grounds that provide the justification. By rejecting the doxastic condition, the externalist holds that foundational beliefs need not be self-justifying. Instead, the externalist is concerned with the mechanism or belief producing faculty that generated the belief in a person.

This last claim needs some explanation. Externalists note that, in many cases at least, we simply find ourselves having certain beliefs. We do not choose to have them. They are simply there. Sometimes we are even surprised to discover that they are there. Suppose, for instance, that you find yourself in the presence of a man wearing a sport coat. I suspect that most people would find themselves having the belief that the man is wearing a sport coat. They do not choose to have that belief. And they cannot get rid of that belief by an act of will. Furthermore, if the man takes his coat off, then people will change their beliefs.

Sometimes, in fact, we find ourselves with certain beliefs even though we know that they are not true. But we cannot help but believe them. For instance, we can sometimes be aware of the presence of an optical illusion but nonetheless have the belief suggested by the illusion. Suppose that you are at a movie. You know that it is a movie and that it is a two dimensional projection. Yet, when an object comes flying toward you, you flinch. This indicates that you believe the object is going to hit you, even though you are also aware that it is only a movie. Neither acquiring nor giving up beliefs is something that is under the control of the will. So, there are some mechanisms or faculties that generate beliefs in us.

The most obvious example of such a faculty is visual perception. When something enters our visual field we tend to acquire some beliefs about it. The externalist holds that a foundational belief is justified for a person if it is generated in that person by a reliable mechanism. Justification is not a feature of the proposition, as the internalist holds; rather, justification is a feature of the way in which the person acquired the belief.

Let us consider our earlier example involving KU, Duke, and the NCAA basketball championship. A person’s belief that KU will win the {173} NCAA basketball championship might actually arise from an argument something like the one noted previously. One might believe the third premise, however, only because one wants it to be true. There may not be any other reason for accepting it. Wanting-something-to-be-true, however, is not a reliable belief-producing mechanism. So, premise (3) is not justified and my conclusion that KU will win the NCAA championship is not justified.

My belief that Duke won the NCAA championship last year is justified. However, it is justified in quite a different way than is suggested by the internalist. I did not go through any sort of reasoning process to acquire the belief. I acquired the belief by asking my daughter who won the NCAA tournament last year. She told me that Duke won and I believed her. Believing the testimony of others is a reliable belief-producing mechanism. So both internalism and externalism can explain why my belief that KU will win the national championship is not justified and why my belief that Duke won the NCAA championship last year is justified.

Now we can move on to see how the distinction between internalism and externalism can help us to solve (or dissolve) the problem of the criterion. It seems to me that the problem of the criterion arises only if one is committed to both the doxastic assumption and the accessibility assumption. Recall principle (D):

  1. R is a genuine knowledge claim for a person S if and only if S has justification for R.

The doxastic condition requires that the justification be a proposition and that we be aware of that proposition. However, if neither the doxastic assumption nor the accessibility assumption is correct (as the externalist holds), then when Chisholm asks Connie, “How do you know that snow is white?” She can respond, “I don’t know how I know that snow is white.” There is justification for her belief that snow is white. But the justification may not be a proposition, and it may be that she is not aware of what the justification is. If the justification is neither a proposition nor something a person is aware of, the justification need not itself be justified.


The debate between internalism and externalism is one of the liveliest debates in contemporary philosophy. It is not the purpose of this article to try to show that externalism is superior to internalism. However, I believe that there are good reasons to accept externalism over {174} internalism. 16 I also believe that avoiding the problem of the criterion is a point in favor of externalism. Nonetheless, I will sketch a few reasons for accepting externalism and rejecting internalism.

First, as we have noted, internalism seems to lead to skepticism. And skepticism seems to be mistaken, for skepticism makes all beliefs equally valuable. But it is not the case that all beliefs are equally valuable. There are some differences in status among our beliefs that need to be noted. For instance, if I claim that human beings have walked on the moon, you would not think me irrational. On the other hand, if I claimed that each night at midnight the Washington Monument briefly levitates, you would, rightly, question that claim. So we need a way of distinguishing appropriate beliefs from inappropriate ones. Since skepticism cannot distinguish appropriate from inappropriate beliefs, and internalism implies skepticism, we need an alternative to internalism.

Second, even if there is a way to show that internalism does not lead to skepticism, internalism has the unfortunate consequence that most beliefs for most people are not justified. In order to be justified, one has to be aware of the grounds that justify the belief. In most cases, people do not stop to ask the question, “What are the grounds for my belief?” So, since they have not even considered the question, they are unable to be justified in their beliefs. It seems really implausible to claim that most people are unjustified in their beliefs.

If I ask my eight-year-old daughter what she is drinking at supper and she says, “I’m drinking milk,” it seems that she is justified in claiming that she is drinking milk. But on the internalist view she is not justified because she has never performed the introspection that is necessary to be aware of the grounds of her belief. Moreover, if I asked her to perform that introspection, I do not think that she would be able to do it according to internalist standards. If I asked her how she knows she is drinking milk, she would probably just show me her cup. She would not identify some feature of the claim that she is drinking milk that makes that claim self-evident, nor would she identify some other proposition that supported her claim. She would just hold her cup out.

Third, internalism seems to be self-refuting. If the accessibility condition is justified for me, then I have direct access to the grounds of the accessibility condition. But the accessibility condition is not self-evident, nor is it proven. So I do not have access to the grounds for the accessibility condition. Hence, I am not justified in believing it.

Fourth, externalism seems to be a more accurate description of the way that we in fact function. Internalism is a normative theory about how we ought to function. And it would be helpful, in many ways, if we {175} could function as the internalist requires. If we did function in the internalist way, human reason, properly employed, would be able to settle almost any dispute. However, for various reasons—not the least of which is that we live in a world distorted by sin—reason does not function in the way that internalists suggest. Nonetheless, we are able to distinguish justified from unjustified beliefs.

These problems with internalism lead us to consider externalism as an alternative epistemology. If we do so, then we can avoid the problem of the criterion, and we can avoid the relativism of postmodernism.


  1. Roderick Chisholm, The Foundations of Knowing (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1982), 61.
  2. Ibid., 61.
  3. Paul Moser, “Epistemology,” Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, ed. Robert Audi (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 238.
  4. Chisholm, 65.
  5. William Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge between Science and Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1999), p. 67.
  6. Gareth Matthews, Philosophy and the Young Child (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982), 38.
  7. Chisholm, 67.
  8. Ibid., 75.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Frank E. Gaebelein, “What Is Truth in Art?” in The Christian Imagination: Essays on Literature and the Arts, ed. Leland Ryken (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1981), 99-109.
  11. This account of the structure of a person’s beliefs is closely modeled on the account of a person’s noetic structure given by Alvin Plantinga, “Reason and Belief in God,” in Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God, eds. Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), 48-52.
  12. Internalism is a term familiar within philosophical circles but may be unfamiliar to readers outside of philosophy. A term that is more familiar is foundationalism. For instance, postmodernism is often regarded as being “anti-foundationalist.” However, the use of {176} foundationalism in literature about postmodernism is, I believe, somewhat misleading. Foundationalism is best understood as referring to the structure of a system of beliefs. For instance, the structure described in the final section of this essay is foundationalist. But both internalist and externalist theories can be foundationalist. I believe that postmodernism is best understood as being anti-internalist-foundationalism. Postmodernism seems to contend that the problem with modernism lies in its foundationalism. My contention in this paper is that the problem with modernism lies in its internalism.
  13. René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, 2d ed., trans. Donald A. Cress (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1979), 13; also in Oeuvres de Descartes, ed. C. Adam and P. Tannery, vol. 7 (Paris: Cerf, 1897-1913), 17.
  14. Jay Wood, Epistemology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998), 126.
  15. John L. Pollock and Joseph Cruz, Contemporary Theories of Knowledge, 2d ed. (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999), 22.
  16. The best account of the objections to internalism is Alvin Plantinga, Warrant: The Current Debate (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993). There is also an excellent account of the debate between internalism and externalism in Linda Zagzebski, Virtues of the Mind: An Inquiry into the Nature of Virtue and the Ethical Foundations of Knowledge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). Zagzebski argues that internalism is similar to deontological ethics and that externalism is similar to consequentialist ethics. She suggests that both a deontological and a consequentialist ethics fail and that, similarly, both internalism and externalism will fail. Thus both ethics and epistemology need a third alternative. She thinks that virtue theory is the alternative and carefully develops both a virtue ethics and a virtue epistemology.
This essay is a modified version of the annual faculty lecture presented at Tabor College, March 2001.
David S. Faber is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas, where he has taught since 1984.

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