Externalism and internalism

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The terms externalism and internalism are philosophical technical terms that have been transferred from the English terms externalism and internalism into German. Depending on the sub-area of ​​philosophy, they have an independent meaning . They are used in ethics , in the philosophy of science , in epistemology , in the philosophy of language or semantics as well as in the philosophy of spirit . The terms appear as a pair, with which opposing philosophical positions are identified. With externalism, the explanation of a fact that is being discussed in each case receives information or an impulse that comes from outside, i.e. does not lie in the fact itself. Conversely, internalism denotes something that lies in the matter or the object of investigation itself.


In moral philosophy, the terms denote various theories of moral motivation. A distinction must be made between the justifying reason and the motivating motive. The reason is the normative question of which ethical objective justification is used. The motive is about the empirical question of what subjective drive I am acting from.

  • Example: In the subway, a homeless person asks for a donation. I give him one euro. When asked why, I can give the reason: "because people in need need help". The motive can be this reason or something else: I want to be left alone, look good in front of my girlfriend or other passengers, etc.

According to internalism (e.g. Aristotle , Kant ), the knowledge of the reasons for moral obligation should motivate me. This does not preclude the reason and motive falling apart. According to Aristotle, there is an external motivation only in morally bad behavior. According to Kant, moral action should take place out of respect for the moral law - otherwise there is mere legality.

According to externalism, there is a "gap" between reason and motive (cf. Frankena ). According to externalism, motivation requires an external motive that is different from the reason (fear of sanctions, feelings of shame or guilt; recognition, self-respect, etc.).

Philosophy of science

In the philosophy of science it is disputed whether there can be theories whose content is based solely on the matter itself (internalism), or whether every theory is determined at least in some factors by culture and social conditions, i.e. interests not lying in the object (externalism) . Well-known examples of the disputes on this topic are the value judgment dispute or the positivism dispute .


In epistemology, a comparison is made as to whether the justification of a statement is based on reasons that are completely inherent in the person who gives this reasoning (internalism), or whether the person regards an authority, their teacher or God, as a sufficient standard that manifest the reason (externalism). The correspondence theory of truth corresponds to an externalism, since there are outside the subject standards for the knowledge of truth. One argument in favor of externalism is the Gettier problem .

Philosophy of language

In the philosophy of language, the term externalism is closely related to the semantic externalism of Hilary Putnam connected. In the essay “The Meaning of 'Meaning') he developed the thesis that meaning is not only created in the head and explained this argument using the thought experiment of a twin earth.

Philosophy of mind

In the philosophy of mind, the pair of opposites has been discussed in recent years under the heading of expanded mind .


  • Marcus Birke: If not in the head, then where ?: Externalism as a problem in the philosophy of mind , Lit, Münster 2001, ISBN 978-3-82584893-4
  • Sandra Dellantonio: The internal dimension of meaning: externalism, internalism and semantic competence , Lang, Frankfurt 2007, ISBN 978-3-63156512-4
  • Hilary Kornblith (Ed.): Epistemology: Internalism and Externalism , Blackwell, Oxford 2001

Internalism and Externalism in Ethics

Web links

Internalism and Externalism in Ethics

  • Nico Scarano: Keyword motivation (PDF; 710 kB) in: Marcus Düwell, Christoph Hübenthal, Micha H. Werner (eds.): Handbuch Ethik. 2nd act. Edition. Metzler, Stuttgart et al. 2006

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Friedo Ricken : General ethics. 5th edition. Stuttgart, Kohlhammer 2013, ISBN 978-3-17-022583-1 , p. 254
  2. ^ Otfried Höffe : Lexicon of Ethics. 7th edition. Munich, Beck 2008, ISBN 978-3-406-56810-7 : reasons and motives
  3. quoted from Friedo Ricken : Allgemeine Ethik. 5th edition. Stuttgart, Kohlhammer 2013, ISBN 978-3-17-022583-1 , p. 254
  4. ^ Otfried Höffe : Lexicon of Ethics. 7th edition. Munich, Beck 2008, ISBN 978-3-406-56810-7 : reasons and motives