The Two Types of Foundationalism


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Foundationalism is the approach of structuralizing knowledge as a binary tree in which the lowest nodes constitute a basis that reinforce all other nodes. In this respect, knowledge, often referred to as true-justified-beliefs, assumes a dichotomous property in the sense that it must be classified as a mediately justified belief or an immediately justified belief. Nonetheless, this dichotomous property is fundamental in rendering the construction of the binary-tree structure. Mediately justified refers to the justification of beliefs that are held by inferences from other justified beliefs whereas immediately justified implies that the original belief is inferentially independent, infallible, and self-justifying through means other than justified beliefs. In essence, the principle is that mediately justified beliefs must rest on immediately justified beliefs. More specifically, every mediately justified belief stands at the origin of a multiply branching tree structure at the tip of each branch of which is an immediately justified belief.

One of the main disputes in epistemology is the regress argument. The regress argument, with the assumption that justification itself requires support, asserts that any statement must require justification through means of other justified propositions. This inevitably leads to a proposition being infinitely questioned in terms of its justification. Alston, through foundationalism, attempts to show a solution to the regress argument by showing a sequence of justification which originates with a self-justifying belief. The only acceptable form that this structure must assume is that of which a mediately justified belief terminates in an immediately justified belief. This is the only condition in which the regress comes to an end because, in essence, these propositions can stand alone without the requisite of being justified as they are justified beliefs by nature. For cases in which a belief either terminates in an unjustified belief, creates a loop, or continues on infinitely, fails to approach the regress argument with a valid solution as it ends up back at the origin where the belief remains questionable in terms of justification. The proposition that mediately justified beliefs must terminate in an immediately justified belief is sound and attempts to solve the regress argument however, the definition of immediately justified beliefs outlined in the paper does not suffice for this proposition. In reference to its definition, immediately justified beliefs and human nature cannot produce an associative link between the two as infallible and inferentially independent properties lie outside the realm of fallible and sense-dependent beings. Therefore, I will reinforce the definition of an immediately justified belief in an attempt to make this sound proposition acceptable for the regress argument.

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An individual’s existence revolves around the notion of interacting with the environment and the only known mechanism for human beings to acquire knowledge and form beliefs is through sense perception. This interaction is made possible only through a two-step process in which one gathers raw information via sensory experience then translates it to knowledge and beliefs. The factor that mediates this two-step process is the human’s innate ability to inference. It is then appropriate to make a conclusive statement that all sense experience is subjective in which no two individuals can simply perceive something and definitively translate it to an identical belief. The logical reasoning is due to inferences made instinctively from sense perception. For example, two individuals are walking outside and feels rain drops. Individual A concludes that it is raining while Individual B concludes that it is not. Both these individuals have taken their sensory experience and innately made inferences to their own subjective definition of rain to conclude whether it is raining or not. In that respect, it does not necessarily correlate to a mediately justified belief. Their claim that it is raining is an immediately justified belief because their sensory experience will suffice to act as its justification however, defining it as intrinsically acceptable is implausible as the conclusion must be coherent with their subjective interpretation of rain. For knowledge to be intrinsically acceptable is if it is through pure observation and in the absence of interpretation, eliminating the possibility of error. But this claim is groundless because inference is the essence of sense perception. Therefore, the property that an immediate belief must be independent of other justified beliefs still holds but the fact that it must be inferentially independent is not a necessity, rather, it is faulty.

A rather unknown concept that aims to reinforce the theoretical framework of immediately justified beliefs is a priori knowledge; knowledge that is independent of all particular experiences. A priori knowledge is contained within the scope of immediately justified belief because experience derives from sense perception and knowledge apart from experience often implies its inferentially-independent. Although a priori knowledge is sufficient as a form of justification, it fails to discern the infallible property of an immediate justified belief. By eliminating the property of experience, hence sense perception, it takes away the possibility of inference but the core issue being addressed is its validity. A claim that cannot be verified of its accuracy except through self-justification is unsound because human beings assume the trait of being fallible. For example, the statement, happiness is intrinsically good, is an example of a priori knowledge. With the assumption that an individual understands the meaning of the relevant terms, the conclusion that happiness is intrinsically good can be made on the basis of pure reasoning. However, considering the circumstances in which happiness derives from the suffering of others, it proves otherwise, in that it goes against the a priori justified proposition; happiness is intrinsically good. In general, the extent to which an a priori belief can serve as the foundation of other justified belief is limited to the definition of immediately justified belief.

In other words, an initial a priori justified belief can be overturned through particular experiences, defeating its infallible property. Although this does not make a priori knowledge unanimously incorrect, it certainly contributes enough grounds for it to be insufficient as an immediately justified knowledge.

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