Friday, May 11, 2012

Foundationalism v Coherentism

On the whole I am tending more and more towards coherentism and to challenge this position I have been trying to think of any truths that I would regard as foundational.

The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy defines foundationalism as "The foundationalist's thesis in short is that all knowledge and justified belief rest ultimately on a foundation of non-inferential knowledge or justified belief."

One argument for foundationalism is given as the infinite regress of non-inferential belief:
"If all justification were inferential then for someone S to be justified in believing some proposition P, S must be in a position to legitimately infer it from some other proposition E1. But E1 could justify S in believing P only if S were justified in believing E1, and if all justification were inferential the only way for S to do that would be to infer it from some other proposition justifiably believed, E2, a proposition which in turn would have to be inferred from some other proposition E3 which is justifiably believed, and so on, ad infinitum. But finite beings cannot complete an infinitely long chain of reasoning and so if all justification were inferential no-one would be justified in believing anything at all to any extent whatsoever. This most radical of all skepticisms is absurd (it entails that one couldn't even be justified in believing it) and so there must be a kind of justification which is not inferential, i.e., there must be non-inferentially justified beliefs which terminate regresses of justification."

I don't accept this argument. I believe that our way of understanding the world is built up from inference. As we mature, we begin to understand a logical and consistent framework in which we can assess evidence and reason through a test of coherence. We begin to understand language in terms of what we mean by true or probable or tautologous and this is done using coherentism as the key measure, not any foundational beliefs.

I would also support the argument against foundationalism that states that once we get past “self-referential” propositions, propositions whose very subject matter encompasses the fact that they are believed, it is hard to come up with uncontroversial examples of infallible beliefs.
I'm still looking for a convincing argument for foundationalism and would welcome any suggestions.

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