Any view claiming that a certain phenomenon can, or must, be analyzed in terms belonging within a certain sphere. In particular, internalism applies to certain analyses of mental notions such as belief and knowledge.
An internalist analysis of believing, thinking of something, and so on, limits itself entirely to what is going on inside the believer’s head; only on those terms could a theory like the identity theory of mind be true (though of course internalists need not hold it).
An internalist view of knowledge says that for a belief to count as knowledge one must at least be aware of and/or able to present an adequate justification for it; it is not enough that one merely stand in certain causal relations to the fact in question.
Various distinctions can be made between strong and weak (and so on) versions of internalism.
Also see: externalism
J Dancy, An Introduction to Contemporary Epistemology (1985)
In contemporary moral philosophy, motivational internalism (or moral internalism) is the view that moral convictions (which are not necessarily beliefs, e.g. feelings of moral approval or disapproval) are intrinsically motivating. That is, the motivational internalist believes that there is an internal, necessary connection between one’s conviction that X ought to be done and one’s motivation to do X. Conversely, the motivational externalist (or moral externalist) claims that there is no necessary internal connection between moral convictions and moral motives. That is, there is no necessary connection between the conviction that X is wrong and the motivational drive not to do X. (The use of these terms has roots in W.D. Falk’s (1947) paper “‘Ought’ and Motivation”).
These views in moral psychology have various implications. In particular, if motivational internalism is true, then an amoralist is unintelligible (and metaphysically impossible). An amoralist is not simply someone who is immoral, rather it is someone who knows what the moral things to do are, yet is not motivated to do them. Such an agent is unintelligible to the motivational internalist, because moral judgments about the right thing to do have built into them corresponding motivations to do those things that are judged by the agent to be the moral things to do. On the other hand, an amoralist is entirely intelligible to the motivational externalist, because the motivational externalist thinks that moral judgments about the right thing to do not necessitate some motivation to do those things that are judged to be the right thing to do; rather, an independent desire—such as the desire to do the right thing—is required (Brink, 2003), (Rosati, 2006).
There is also a distinction in ethics and action theory, largely made popular by Bernard Williams (1979, reprinted in 1981), concerning internal and external reasons for action. An internal reason is, roughly, something that one has in light of one’s own “subjective motivational set”—one’s own commitments, desires (or wants), goals, etc. On the other hand, an external reason is something that one has independent of one’s subjective motivational set. For example, suppose that Sally is going to drink a glass of poison, because she wants to commit suicide and believes that she can do so by drinking the poison. Sally has an internal reason to drink the poison, because she wants to commit suicide. However, one might say that she has an external reason not to drink the poison because, even though she wants to die, one ought not kill oneself no matter what—regardless of whether one wants to die.
Some philosophers embrace the existence of both kinds of reason, while others deny the existence of one or the other. For example, Bernard Williams (1981) argues that there are really only internal reasons for action. Such a view is called internalism about reasons (or reasons internalism). Externalism about reasons (or reasons externalism) is the denial of reasons internalism. It is the view that there are external reasons for action; that is, there are reasons for action that one can have even if the action is not part of one’s subjective motivational set.
Consider the following situation. Suppose that it’s against the moral law to steal from the poor, and Sasha knows this. However, Sasha doesn’t desire to follow the moral law, and there is currently a poor person next to him. Is it intelligible to say that Sasha has a reason to follow the moral law right now (to not steal from the poor person next to him), even though he doesn’t care to do so? The reasons externalist answers in the affirmative (“Yes, Sasha has a reason not to steal from that poor person.”), since he believes that one can have reasons for action even if one does not have the relevant desire. Conversely, the reasons internalist answers the question in the negative (“No, Sasha does not have a reason not to steal from that poor person, though others might.”). The reasons internalist claims that external reasons are unintelligible; one has a reason for action only if one has the relevant desire (that is, only internal reasons can be reasons for action). The reasons internalist claims the following: the moral facts are a reason for Sasha’s action not to steal from the poor person next to him only if he currently wants to follow the moral law (or if not stealing from the poor person is a way to satisfy his other current goals—that is, part of what Williams calls his “subjective motivational set”). In short, the reasoning behind reasons internalism, according to Williams, is that reasons for action must be able to explain one’s action; and only internal reasons can do this.
Generally speaking, internalist conceptions of epistemic justification require that one’s justification for a belief be internal to the believer in some way. Two main varieties of epistemic internalism about justification are access internalism and ontological internalism. Access internalists require that a believer must have internal access to the justifier(s) of her belief p in order to be justified in believing p. For the access internalist, justification amounts to something like the believer being aware (or capable of being aware) of certain facts that make her belief in p rational, or her being able to give reasons for her belief in p. At minimum, access internalism requires that the believer have some kind of reflective access or awareness to whatever justifies her belief. Ontological internalism is the view that justification for a belief is established by one’s mental states. Ontological internalism can be distinct from access internalism, but the two are often thought to go together since we are generally considered to be capable of having reflective access to mental states.
One popular argument for internalism is known as the ‘new evil demon problem’. The new evil demon problem indirectly supports internalism by challenging externalist views of justification, particularly reliabilism. The argument asks us to imagine a subject with beliefs and experiences identical to ours, but the subject is being systematically deceived by a malicious Cartesian demon so that all their beliefs turn out false. In spite of the subject’s unfortunate deception, the argument goes, we do not think this subject ceases to be rational in taking things to be as they appear as we do. After all, it is possible that we could be radically deceived in the same way, yet we are still justified in holding most of our beliefs in spite of this possibility. Since reliabilism maintains that one’s beliefs are justified via reliable belief-forming processes (where reliable means yielding true beliefs), the subject in the evil demon scenario would not likely have any justified beliefs according to reliabilism because all of their beliefs would be false. Since this result is supposed to clash with our intuitions that the subject is justified in their beliefs in spite of being systematically deceived, some take the new evil demon problem as a reason for rejecting externalist views of justification.