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Foundationalism, Basic Beliefs

Posted Jan 10, '14 at 11:04am

MageGrayWolf

MageGrayWolf

9,798 posts

Knight

I've been trying to dig up more information on basic beliefs aka foundational beliefs. This started with watching a video talking about how presupposition apologetics basicly usurps the concept. (video here)

Here's a bit I was able to find on the subject on wiki.
"Foundationalism holds that all beliefs must be justified in order to be believed. Beliefs therefore fall into two categories:

Beliefs that are properly basic, in that they do not depend upon justification of other beliefs, but on something outside the realm of belief (a "non-doxastic justification")

Beliefs that derive from one or more basic beliefs, and therefore depend on the basic beliefs for their validity

Within this basic framework of foundationalism exist a number of views regarding which types of beliefs qualify as properly basic; that is, what sorts of beliefs can be justifiably held without the justification of other beliefs."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_belief

Overall I find the concept interesting but something about it doesn't quite sit right with me for reasons I can't quite place my finger one.

I did find a sample from a book title "An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge" that gave opposition to foundationalism , with these premises.

"(1) Our nondoxastic experiences are either cognitive or noncognitive states.
(2) If they are cognitive states, then they can justify beliefs, but they themselves must be justified.
(3) If they are noncognitive states, then they do not need to be justified, but also can not give justification.
(4) Therefore our nondoxastic experiences either (a) can not give justification or (b) they must themselves be justified."

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the concept.

 

Posted Jan 10, '14 at 11:24am

Moegreche

Moegreche

3,391 posts

Moderator

Oh, this is such a great topic. And a very nice job setting up the topic. I'm going to reserve my thoughts on this until other post, but I would like to give a few comments on the setup.

There is a staggering variety in the literature regarding different kinds of foundationalism. So an interesting move might be to reject premise (2) of the above argument. These would be cognitive states that can confer justification on beliefs but that they themselves don't need to be justified.

If we think about what foundationalism is trying to do, it might help. The theory is an answer to the regress problem. Suppose you hold some belief P - let's say that this is the belief that Barack Obama is president of the US. Someone might ask you how you know this. In other words, they're asking what your justification is for it. You could give some other belief Q - let's say that you read it in a reliable newspaper. The person could presumably just keep going on and on, like a little kid who keeps asking 'Why?' after every answer you give him.
This is the regress problem. You can't go on forever, because that would imply that you have an infinite number of beliefs. A realistic response to the problem is as follows: there's a point at which you can justifiably say 'It just is' or 'It's obvious'. Something along those lines. These are your foundational or basic or brute beliefs. They don't require justification, but they can justify other beliefs. Or so the story goes.

 

Posted Jan 10, '14 at 1:44pm

FishPreferred

FishPreferred

2,145 posts

This is the regress problem. You can't go on forever, because that would imply that you have an infinite number of beliefs. A realistic response to the problem is as follows: there's a point at which you can justifiably say 'It just is' or 'It's obvious'. Something along those lines. These are your foundational or basic or brute beliefs. They don't require justification, but they can justify other beliefs. Or so the story goes.


This isn't necessarily the case. If I state the belief that A is A, it would not be possible to regress this more than once, because the justification is the definition of A. The same is true of any statement that is true by necessity.
 

Posted Jan 10, '14 at 2:33pm

Kasic

Kasic

5,746 posts

I have no problem with the idea itself. It seems to me that all physical concepts, (ie, what is) can be justified. You can prove something exists, or something reacts a certain way. This would be the goal of the scientific method, proving your belief through a standard process. Likewise, things that are inherently opinions or do not physically exist (morals, for example) cannot be inherently justified in a logical manner.

My question is, why do noncognitive state beliefs need to not be justified? A justification is a rationale for holding a belief - this doesn't imply that a belief on something which doesn't exist or is a mental concept cannot have justification, only that there is no singular or base justification.

Are we using the word "justify" as "prove?" Or are we using the word justify as its definition, to provide a reasonable explanation or cause?

 

Posted Jan 10, '14 at 7:21pm

MageGrayWolf

MageGrayWolf

9,798 posts

Knight

My question is, why do noncognitive state beliefs need to not be justified?


I may be off on this as this is something of a new subject for me but I would wager it's something along the lines of for example "I exist" This is a statement that's not requiring justification as the state of existing generates the justification.
 

Posted Jan 10, '14 at 7:38pm

MageGrayWolf

MageGrayWolf

9,798 posts

Knight

I suppose to further expand on this. If I were to ask for justification that you exist, you wouldn't be able to use your state of existing as justification that you exist. You would have to come up with some other rationale for you existing.

 

Posted Jan 11, '14 at 6:25am

Moegreche

Moegreche

3,391 posts

Moderator

This isn't necessarily the case. If I state the belief that A is A, it would not be possible to regress this more than once, because the justification is the definition of A. The same is true of any statement that is true by necessity.


Well put. This seems to be the sort of brute facts that old school foundationalists were after. But the problem is that these sorts of beliefs have a very hard time justifying things in the actual world. Now, Descartes did provide a means of doing just that, but it involved the existence of God. This project is far beyond the scope of this thread, however.
The bottom line is this. Take the belief that I am looking at a cup of tea in front of me. There seems to be no principled way to go about reducing this belief to beliefs that are necessarily true. And this seems to be the case for all (or nearly all) of our beliefs or knowledge about the external world.

My question is, why do noncognitive state beliefs need to not be justified?


There may be some confusion here in the argument Mage provided, as it involves some rather philosophically 'thick' concepts. Technically, what you just said is a contradiction - or at least, close to one. So let me provide some rough-and-ready definitions.

Doxastic - stuff that has something to do with the notion of belief.
Nondoxastic - stuff that doesn't have anything to do with belief
Cognitive - stuff that has something to do with the notion of cognition (read: thought/thinking)
Noncognitive - stuff that falls outside the realm of cognition

So your question involves noncognitive state beliefs. But beliefs, by definition, are cognitive So let's look at the first line of the argument again:

(1) Our nondoxastic experiences are either cognitive or noncognitive states.

This is saying that our experiences which have nothing to do with belief either have something to do with cognition or they don't. What kind of experience might this be? Emotions are a nice example of this. There are (or used to be, at least) non-cognitivists about moral opinion. In other words, they thought that moral opinions weren't even beliefs, but rather just emotional responses. Something like "Yay for helping an old lady across the street!" or "Boo for microwaving puppies!".

But this is why a foundationlist might reject premise (2), as I suggested above. There might be non-doxastic, cognitive states that need no justification.

Are we using the word "justify" as "prove?" Or are we using the word justify as its definition, to provide a reasonable explanation or cause?


As with most things in philosophy, the notion of justification is a very difficult one to nail down. Different theories of knowledge often hinge on different notions of justification. Ernie Sosa talks about apt belief rather than justified belief. Timothy Williamson (I think?) talks about warranted belief, rather than justified belief.
The cool thing here is that we can defend foundationalism if we have a notion of justification that works for the theory and is at least plausible. This also gives us another line of attack against foundationalism. Maybe the foundationalist just can't provide a consistent and compelling notion of justification that would even get the theory off the ground.

I would wager it's something along the lines of for example "I exist"


This is a nice example of what some may consider to be a brute fact - one that requires no justification. Some may even argue that it's necessarily true - Descartes certainly thought so! But now we're left wondering what on earth this belief could possible justify. How do get from here to the cup of tea on my desk?
 

Posted Jan 11, '14 at 1:35pm

FishPreferred

FishPreferred

2,145 posts

I suppose to further expand on this. If I were to ask for justification that you exist, you wouldn't be able to use your state of existing as justification that you exist. You would have to come up with some other rationale for you existing.


Someone would have to define what the pronoun "you" is being applied to.

Even a solipsist using this term must, by using it, recognize that something is being identified by it. That "something" must exist conceptually, even if not materially. Therefore, I assert that belief in any conceptual entity which can be identified by the self is justified.

I can also assert that if the self exists as a real entity, but interacts with and is influenced by conceptual entities, the conceptual must also exist in reality as real information, even if not as real entities. Is there anything I overlooked?
 

Posted Jan 12, '14 at 8:33am

Moegreche

Moegreche

3,391 posts

Moderator

I can also assert that if the self exists as a real entity, but interacts with and is influenced by conceptual entities, the conceptual must also exist in reality as real information, even if not as real entities. Is there anything I overlooked?


This move is just too quick. I read a paper a few weeks ago that tried to work some philosophy of mind with epistemology in order to show that we can know we're not being radically deceived. It didn't go well. Even that old Cartesian truism that 'I think therefore I am' has been seriously challenged. Of course, Descartes never said that in the Meditations (he did later on) - a better reading is something along the lines of 'I am a thinking thing'. But what is this 'thing' and how does it relate to the external world, if at all?

This is a perennial problem for foundationalists and there are a number of interesting responses to the problem. But the issues here I take to be beyond the scope of this thread.

Maybe a better way to think about the issue, however, is to put foundationalism in its theoretical place. Typically it's contrasted with coherentism. This is a view that states that an epistemic agent has a network of beliefs which support one another. The main charge against this view is that it's circular. Belief P supports belief Q. Belief Q supports belief R, and R supports P. This is clearly circular reasoning and isn't a great epistemic model. Of course, our actual beliefs aren't quite so simple - but I think if one closely examines the argument quoted above there appears to be a coherentist flavour to it.
 

Posted Jan 12, '14 at 10:53am

09philj

09philj

2,687 posts

I think I am thinking therefore I think I am.

 
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