Philosophy Word of the Day – Fallibilism

Karl Popper in 1990.

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“Fallibilism is the view that human knowledge lacks a secure and an infallible foundation. Fallibilism is associated in particular with American scientist and philosopher Charles S. Peirce (1839–1914) and Austrian-born philosopher Karl Popper (1902–1994). In its most comprehensive form the fallibilist maintains that people cannot know anything with certainty. In its more restricted forms uncertainty is attributed to a particular domain of beliefs, such as empirical or religious beliefs. What separates fallibilists from others is the confidence each gives to epistemological success in general or within a particular domain. Participants within the science/religion discussion quite frequently affirm fallibilism. Its merit seems to be that it opens up possibilities for a dialogue on more even terms than foundationalism does.”

Mikael Stenmark in Encyclopedia of Science and Religion

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Foundationalism

Epistemic foundationalism is a view about the proper architecture of one’s knowledge or justified beliefs.  Some beliefs are known or justifiedly believed only because some other beliefs are known or justifiedly believed.  The claim that one has heart disease is known only if some other beliefs are known—for example, that doctors have reported this and that the doctors are reliable.

This dependence among our beliefs naturally raises the question about the proper epistemic structure for our beliefs.  Should all beliefs be supported by other beliefs?  Are some beliefs rightly believed apart from receiving support from other beliefs?  What is the nature of the proper support between beliefs?  Epistemic foundationalism is one view about how to answer these questions.  Foundationalists maintain that some beliefs are properly basic and that the rest of one’s beliefs inherit their epistemic status (knowledge or justification) in virtue of receiving proper support from the basic beliefs.  Foundationalists have two main projects: a theory of proper basicality (that is, a theory of noninferential justification) and a theory of appropriate support (that is, a theory of inferential justification).

Foundationalism has a long history.  Aristotle in the Posterior Analytics argues for foundationalism on the basis of the regress argument.  Aristotle assumes that the alternatives to foundationalism must either endorse circular reasoning or land in an infinite regress of reasons.  Because neither of these views is plausible, foundationalism comes out as the clear winner in an argument by elimination.  Arguably, the most well known foundationalist is Descartes, who takes as the foundation the allegedly indubitable knowledge of his own existence and the content of his ideas.  Every other justified belief must be grounded ultimately in this knowledge.

. . . [Debates over foundationalism] touched off a burst of activity on foundationalism in the late 1970s to early 1980s.  One of the significant developments from this period is the formulation and defense of reformed epistemology, a foundationalist view that took as the foundations beliefs such as there is a God (see Plantinga (1983)). While the debate over foundationalism has abated in recent decades, new work has picked up on neglected topics about the architecture of knowledge and justification. (Continue article)

— Ted Poston, “Foundationalism,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

* Hyperlinks are mine

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Coherentism

Coherentism is a theory of epistemic justification. It implies that for a belief to be justified it must belong to a coherent system of beliefs. For a system of beliefs to be coherent, the beliefs that make up that system must “cohere” with one another. Typically, this coherence is taken to involve three components: logical consistency, explanatory relations, and various inductive (non-explanatory) relations. Rival versions of coherentism spell out these relations in different ways. They also differ on the exact role of coherence in justifying beliefs: in some versions, coherence is necessary and sufficient for justification, but in others it is only necessary.

(Via Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Coherentism, as mentioned above, is usually contrasted with the theory of epistemic justification known as foundationalism:

Foundationalism is any theory in epistemology (typically, theories of justification, but also of knowledge) that holds that beliefs are justified (known, etc.) based on what are called basic beliefs (also commonly called foundational beliefs). Basic beliefs are beliefs that give justificatory support to other beliefs, and more derivative beliefs are based on those more basic beliefs. The basic beliefs are said to be self-justifying or self-evident, that is, they enjoy a non-inferential warrant (or justification), i.e., they are not justified by other beliefs. Typically and historically, foundationalists have held either that basic beliefs are justified by mental events or states, such as experiences, that do not constitute beliefs (these are called nondoxastic mental states), or that they simply are not the type of thing that can be (or needs to be) justified.

Hence, generally, a Foundationalist might offer the following theory of justification:

A belief is epistemically justified if and only if (1) it is justified by a basic belief or beliefs, or (2) it is justified by a chain of beliefs that is supported by a basic belief or beliefs, and on which all the others are ultimately based.

A basic belief, on the other hand, does not require justification because it is a different kind of belief than a non-foundational one.

(Via Wikipedia)

Philosophy Word of the Day – Basic Belief

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Under the epistemological view called foundationalism, basic beliefs (also commonly called foundational beliefs) are the axioms of a belief system.

Foundationalism holds that all beliefs must be justified in order to be believed. Beliefs therefore fall into two categories:

  • Beliefs which are properly basic, in that they do not depend for their justification on other beliefs, but on something outside the realm of belief (a “non-doxastic justification”);
  • Beliefs which are derivative of one or more basic beliefs, and therefore depend on the basic beliefs for their validity;

Within this basic framework of foundationalism, there are 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.

  • In classical foundationalism, beliefs are held to be properly basic if they are either self-evident axiom, or evident to the senses (empiricism).[1] However Anthony Kenny and others have argued that this is a self-refuting idea.[2]
  • In modern foundationalism, beliefs are held to be properly basic if they were either self-evident axiom or incorrigible.[3] One such axiom is René Descartes’s axiom, Cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”). Incorrigible (lit. uncorrectable) beliefs are those which one can believe without possibly being wrong. Notably, the evidence of the senses is not seen as properly basic because, Descartes argued, all our sensory experience could be an illusion.
  • In what Keith Lehrer has called “fallible foundationalism”,[4] also known as “moderate foundationalism”, the division between inferential and non-inferential belief is retained, but the requirement of incorrigibility is dropped. This, it is claimed, allows the senses to resume their traditional role as the basis of non-inferential belief despite their fallibility.[5]
  • In Reformed epistemology, beliefs are held to be properly basic if they are reasonable and consistent with a sensible world view. This rather broad criterion can include faith in our senses, faith in our memory, and faith in God.

(Via Wikipedia)

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