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Thread: Foundationism

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    Default Foundationism

    It is often supposed that knowledge must be constructed upon a foundation. In this view, rational investigation consists of wiping the slate clean to begin anew, and then seeking basic beliefs which can serve as a foundation, relative to which all knowledge can be justified. The metaphor is of a building with foundations and a framework, which must be constructed piecemeal, but no matter how elaborate or impressive, a building is only as strong as its foundations, which if unstable can bring the entire structure to collapse.

    In this context, the primary purpose of rational investigation is to identify a set of foundations which can serve as a solid support for knowledge. This purpose is present in everyday language when we ask: "how do you support that theory?", or "is that belief well founded?" It is here an implicit standard that knowledge should be supported, which in turn presupposes that knowledge can be supported. In other words, the foundational theory of knowledge is implicit, and often taken for granted in ordinary discourse, from school yard to the lecture hall.

    The foundational theory of knowledge also implies a theory of criticism. In this view, criticism is conducted by checking to see whether a proposed idea is justified or unjustified relative to basic beliefs. If it is justified (or at least not in conflict) with basic beliefs, it is then knowledge. However, this theory of criticism implies a problem. If criticism is conducted relative to basic beliefs, and two parties in a discussion hold to different foundations, then there is an impasse where no agreement can be reached. There are logical limits to criticism.

    The problem is deep. How are we to decide which basic beliefs are correct? If we try and check to see which basic beliefs are justified, then we will get different results depending which basic beliefs we choose. The choice among rival sets of basic beliefs would seem to be irrational: a leap of faith. If this problem cannot be solved, then it would seem that rational discussion among people who choose to make a different leap of faith is impossible, and no particular leap of faith can be better than any other, each is an arbitrary choice and all knowledge is relative.

    To respond to this problem, it is often claimed that particular basic beliefs are self-evident, and it is a common claim when challenged upon basic beliefs that they are in no need of defence, because they are self-evident, and beyond question. Therefore, it is often believed that the holy grail of foundationism, and rational philosophy, is to identify a set of basic beliefs which are self-evident. It is supposed that this would defeat the relativist, who would point to the unjustifiability and arbitrariness of our foundations.

    I can only wonder though why self-evidence should be considered in such esteem.It is an all too common occurrence, that different people come to varied and often contradictory conclusions regarding what is self-evident, in much the same way as they do regarding ordinary evidence. I am not aware of by what means self-evidence is elevated to that infallible plane which seems to make it such a desirable goal, or what relation to the truth which it is supposed that self-evidence possesses, or is that supposed to be self-evident?

    It is also a puzzle to me that foundationists should honour self-evidence with such esteem. To me, the prime concern of rational investigation is the truth, which is objective i.e. what is true for one is true for all, and yet to also be concerned with self-evidence is puzzling, as it is little other than an expression of subjective confidence. I think foundationism is mistaken, and places unnecessary limits upon criticism. The search for a solid foundation for knowledge would destroy rationality, and not strengthen it as intended.
    Last edited by reason; 10-24-2007 at 06:26 PM.
    A criticism that can be brought against everything ought not to be brought against anything.

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    Senior Member htb's Avatar
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    I have to wonder though why self-evidence should be considered in such esteem.
    Originally posted by Lee
    Today, I invented a simple machine. I call it "wheel."
    Good work, Mister Coherentist!

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    Quote Originally Posted by htb View Post
    Good work, Mister Coherentist!
    I would like to think that my post was coherent, but not coherentist. I did not explain my own view, which is neither foundationist or coherentist, but simply intended to criticise.
    A criticism that can be brought against everything ought not to be brought against anything.

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    Nor was my response anything other than axiomatic.

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    Tenured roisterer SolitaryWalker's Avatar
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    The basic purport of foundationalism is that of epistemic metholdogy rather than epistemology. Namely that the universe does indeed function in accordance to the laws of logic. It affirms that IF we were to find just the right axioms, we then would be able to outline the ebb and flow of the entire universe. It does exhort us to search for axioms which are not to be questioned. Not even the three great rationalists truly expected to find the axioms which would lead them to discover the formula in accordance to which the entire universe functions. Their guiding notion was that because this was possible, objective truth is possible, not that it was desirable to find this indubitable axiom that they have envisioned. At best the Axiom shall be there mocking us like a Platonic Idea. We will look for such a thing not to find it and become content, but rather for the sake of looking as an end in itself.

    Far from being detrimental to rationality by inviting us to erect a monument of dogma, foundationalism is the cornerstone of rationality. The basic tenet of this epistemology is that on the theoretical level, we know that the universe operates according to laws of logic. This is the same thing as we get in Hegel and Spinoza, Logic and Metaphysics are synonymous. Or in other words, figuring out the logical framework of the universe leads to figuring out all of metaphysics.

    Hence, the only indubitable axiom is that logic does indeed depict the way the real world works, it isn't a mere phantom of our inner worlds.

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    Again, such Foundationalism does not retard rationality because IT does not establish a dogmatic epistemic proposition.

    Foundationalism does not address any particular aspect of our knowledge, but only how knowledge is to be derived. It is not an epistemology, but an epistemic methodology. And of course, the foundational axiom here is that logic is necessary. Logic and rationality are synonymous. Does this mean we cannot question this proposition? No, it does not. We are always free to abandon foundationalism for two reasons. It does not propound any philosophical truths, thus there can be no dogma because there are no doctrines. Secondly, Foundationalism is just one WAY to acquire knowledge, and not the only. Thus, here I have reduced foundationalism to mere deductive inquiry on the theoretical level. And of course, as aforementioned, because it is merely one way and not the only way to acquire knowledge, we are free to abandon this epistemic methodology in favor of something else.

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    Now, does the proposition that logic is foundational to all rational thinking retard rationality?

    Belief in logic as the foundational axiom of epistemic methodology does not require a leap of faith. The reason to believe in such a thing is that it simply proves to be the most efficient vehicle of acquisition of knowledge.

    What you seem to have in mind is Foundationalist epistemology rather than foundationalist epistemic methodology.

    It is indeed the case that if the basic axioms are to be undermined, the whole system shall collapse. For this reason, axioms are to be established only tentatively. And the search for those foundations should be perennial. Hence, after we discover that the axioms we've had hitherto are unacceptable, we should not hesitate to replace them with something superior. Moreover, Foundationalism seems to be unavoidable as it is very difficult, if not impossible to construct a cosmology without having first accepted the proposition that deduction leads to objective truth. This presupposes that whatever occurences we observe, are merely entailments of the antecedent. If we rewind far enough, we would be able to see the very first antecedent, or the primary axiom.

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    This was a defense of a Foundationalist epistemic methodology, not of any particular Foundationalist epistemology.

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    Moreover, there could not be a non-foundationalist epistemology. As to be justifiable and to be logically cogent are synonymous expressions.

    Foundationalism is traditionally associated with Rationalist epistemology. Along the lines of Descartes, Leibniz and Spinoza. Yet, all epistemologies, even those antithetical to the Rationalists are indeed foundationalist epistemologies. For instance, lets take the quintissential empiricist epistemology. The basic axiom there shall be that all knowledge was first inspired by sense-perceptions. All other discoveries we will make in the future in our empiricist epistemology will follow as an entailment of this first axiom. Yes, the whole system collapses if we discover that it is false that all knowledge was first inspired by sense-perception. But then again, we should have an easy time finding a new axiom. After we have established our first axiom, we have arrived within the empire of many possibilities for what the foundational axiom could be. Hence, if our first foundation was not satisfactory, we are not far off from finding something that is satisfactory, or for the very least superior to what we have had hitherto. The basic axioms are not necessarily self-evident, but merely highly likely to be true. Hence, an example of such a thing would be that our senses give us accurate information. Or deductive inquiry does indeed lead to truth. All of those propositions are subjects to be questioned at all times. And if we discover that our initial axiom was not entirely acceptable, it is highly unlikely that we will next be led to a radically different axiom. Therefore, our system shall change only slightly, therefore will not collapse entirely. Thus, we are unlikely to abrogate our axioms, but merely to modify them. We shouldn't have difficulties with establishing our foundational axioms because they tend to be common-sensical, or close to self-evident. If it occurs to us that what we accept as a foundational axiom is less than common-sensical, it is highly likely that we have mistaken a mere entailment of the foundational axiom for the axiom itself. Common-sense is not a mere prejudice that we refuse to question, but the most trenchant demonstration of logical cogency. A common-sensical proposition is one that in our inquiry we have established to be highly likely to be true. As for instance, we would have a difficult time concocting an antithesis to a claim that our senses lead to our sense-perceptions and that cogent claims are the ones that are justified by laws of reasoning. Such ideas are possible to modify, though not to subvert entirely. The basic proposition that there is such an axiom from which we could deduce the equation symbolizing the ebb and flow of the entire universe is the cornerstone of all rational thought, as this is the principle of deduction itself.

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    Now, this was a defense of a Foundationalist Epistemology, or rationality itself.
    Last edited by SolitaryWalker; 11-01-2007 at 12:58 PM.
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    Bluewing,

    Unfortunately, you have yet to realise the full extent of the problems with foundationism. Here in my original post I only touched upon a couple of issues. The biggest problem by far is that all logical deduction is question begging, which means that no foundation can ever serve as a good reason for its consequences, since nobody considers a circular argument a good reason for anything.

    Furthermore, this same quirk of deductive logic always renders the supposed foundations too logically weak, which means that they imply nothing more than themselves. In other words, you cannot logically derive knowledge upon a foundation, since every proposition which is not part of the logical content of the premises must be an illogical move.

    Finally, the preoccupation with foundations has nothing to do with the truth, whether or not an idea is well-founded has bugger all to do with whether it is true or false, and when we decide to take action, an unfounded truth will always work out better than a well-founded falsehood. It serves no purpose to be preoccupied with foundations, and the metaphor is highly misleading.

    I shall try and write a thread elaborating on these points.

    Edit: To put it another way: a theory may be logically consistent, but it cannot be founded in, or by, logic. It certainly is not justified by logic.
    A criticism that can be brought against everything ought not to be brought against anything.

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    Tenured roisterer SolitaryWalker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nocturne View Post
    Bluewing,

    Unfortunately, you have yet to realise the full extent of the problems with foundationism. Here in my original post I only touched upon a couple of issues. The biggest problem by far is that all logical deduction is question begging, which means that no foundation can ever serve as a good reason for its consequences, since nobody considers a circular argument a good reason for anything.

    Furthermore, this same quirk of deductive logic always renders the supposed foundations too logically weak, which means that they imply nothing more than themselves. In other words, you cannot logically derive knowledge upon a foundation, since every proposition which is not part of the logical content of the premises must be an illogical move.

    Finally, the preoccupation with foundations has nothing to do with the truth, whether or not an idea is well-founded has bugger all to do with whether it is true or false, and when we decide to take action, an unfounded truth will always work out better than a well-founded falsehood. It serves no purpose to be preoccupied with foundations, and the metaphor is highly misleading.

    I shall try and write a thread elaborating on these points.

    Edit: To put it another way: a theory may be logically consistent, but it cannot be founded in, or by, logic. It certainly is not justified by logic.

    Okay, so this is an antithesis to my claim. That rationality, deductive inquiry, or foundationalism, as I have equated the three are indeed impossible.

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    Why would somebody say that. Suppose we truly do get our knowledge based on random intuitions. Though, once we submit them to logical analysis, we notice that some claims are logically consistent with each other, whilst others are not. This gives us a reason to reject some and embrace others.

    I would say that what we have is a theoretical map in our minds of how the real world works. Such a map is founded on our logical theorizing. In order to figure out how the real world works, we must find a way to show where in the real world we stand on this map.

    That indeed cannot be justified with apriori logical theorizing alone, as we have to connect the concrete experiences with our abstractions. Proving that such direct connections exist, and even more what specifically they may be shall be an arduous labor.

    However, we need not be much disturbed by this. As it is clear that we see some connections between our theoretical logic and how the real world works. We know based on our theorizing that the law of non-contradiction exists. In the real world we see that we either have an apple in our hand, or we do not. We know that the law of addition exists theoretically, as in the real world we see that when we continue to add on items to our possession we end up having more than we have had before.

    This seems to suggest that if such connections could be made on a very simple level, that if we could reason clearly, and collected sufficient amount of adequate information, we would be able to make connections about even the most intricate matters of theoretical logic with the concrete world. For this reason, I do not see how the disjunction between our apriori theorizing and aposteriori investigation renders foundationalism impossible.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------

    I think knowing that this is possible on the theoretical level is enough to save rationality, we do not have to actually walk through it and ensure that it is in order to know that it truly is possible.

    Logic does not justify propositions? In the rationalist epistemic traditions, the foundations are to be discovered purely intuitively, or so it has beem maintained. Yet, I find this highly unpersuasive. Logic directs our intuitions. If it was not for our logical analysis, we would not have any reason to prefer some axioms over others.

    Moreover, when we go to analyze our intuitions, we notice that some are logically consistent with themselves and other propositions we have embodied in our system, yet others are not. Thus, logic helps us discern what Intuitions to accept, and establish the proper relationship between accepted intuitions.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------

    Yes, you were correct to point out that Foundationalist knowledge theory is taken for granted everywhere, as I have earlier mentioned that there could not be a non-foundationalist knowledge theory. I suppose we could say that we know things based on intuitions that we can't explain, but because there is no logical apology for such notions, we can't consider this knowledge at all.

    Unfounded truth is better than well-founded falsehood? What reason do we have to maintain that the first is a truth and the second a falsehood? If it is the case that we discover our true knowledge with intuitions, than logic does not vitiate our inquiry. If they were unfounded truths to begin with, applying logic, or giving foundation does not turn it into a 'falsehood'. Perhaps then, you could say, it merely shows to our conscious mind, how our intuitions are true. Thus a proposition is either true or false before we applied logical analysis, though after we could see which side of the curve it is on.

    Yet, I do not think that our knowledge is discovered via non-foundationalist methodology, or intuitions alone. As without logic we would not be able to direct our intuitions in any way at all. In this respect one could say that our logical analysis is implicit within our intuitions, as this allows us to discover proper axioms to begin with.
    "Do not argue with an idiot. They drag you down to their level and beat you with experience." -- Mark Twain

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    Tenured roisterer SolitaryWalker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nocturne View Post
    [The biggest problem by far is that all logical deduction is question begging,]
    Fuzzy logic seems to be the answer.

    Quote Originally Posted by nocturne View Post
    [ which means that no foundation can ever serve as a good reason for its consequences, since nobody considers a circular argument a good reason for anything.,]
    The foundation may be logically consistent with itself as well as other propositions it is environed in. A proposition is justified not only in virtue of logical cogency, but also in virtue of its correspondence with the concrete world. So, in this respect the foundation in itself, or theoretical justification for a proposition does not suffice.

    Quote Originally Posted by nocturne View Post
    [ urthermore, this same quirk of deductive logic always renders the supposed foundations too logically weak, which means that they imply nothing more than themselves. In other words, you cannot logically derive knowledge upon a foundation, since every proposition which is not part of the logical content of the premises must be an illogical move..,]
    Deductive arguments are tautologous, yes indeed. Yet,it is through 'fuzzy logic' we make connections between two tautologous arguments. Thus here we discover not only if the proposition is deductively valid or consistent with itself, but also if it is consistent with other propositions. This is how we draw connections between apriori theorizing and concrete observations. Here comes the true epistemic justification and not from tautologous deductions alone.

    Quote Originally Posted by nocturne View Post
    [ since every proposition which is not part of the logical content of the premises must be an illogical move....,]
    The foundational axiom should not become a straight-jacket. If it starts moving that way, it is time to modify the axiom.

    So, the basic purport of 'fuzzy logic' is that we truly justify our knowledge not with the quintissential deductive argument, but with rather logically informed intuitions.

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    Here, I maintain that the relationship of deductive logic to fuzzy logic is analogous to the relationship of a Platonic Form to our perception thereof. Cognizances of theoretical existence of deductive logic suffices to save epistemology, as this could later be utilized as fuzzy logic. The only true instrument we have to make connections between our ideas. Since all deductively valid arguments are true in virtue of being circular, we do not need to worry about their cogency, as that is self-evident. What we need to worry about is ensuring that we can use fuzzy logic to connect such statements with their neighboring claims.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------

    You bring up a very interesting point in regards to how pure deduction shows us nothing other than the proposition discovered is not a new entailment, but a mere reflection of itself. Or that a conclusion is always necessarily identical with the initial premise. This points us towards singularity of substance in the Universe.

    That is basically the proposition that the ultimate reality, or true metaphysic of the universe is infinite. The universe at its essence is composed of one homogeneous substance. Yet, because our finite minds are incapable of grasping the infinite essence in its one kind, perceive it in many finite kinds. Thus, the state of the case is that everything in the world truly is the same thing, because it is no more than an entailment of the infinite substance, and we know this because the infinite substance is all that exists. Now it is only a matter of connecting all of the entities of our finite perception to see what underlies them. After we have accomplished this, we will see that deduction is indeed valid on the theoretical level, yet cannot be applied to the concrete world because we are not able to see the substance for what it truly is. Hence, for this reason we are stuck with fuzzy logic. However, it is indeed comforting to know that we need not be disturbed by the notion that deductive logic is tautologous. As there is only one substance that exists which can entail nothing but itself. Hence, when with our finite-world, fuzzy logic, we see entity A entail entity B which seems to be different from its antecedent. What we have is not a brand new entity, but rather that entity A has entailed a property that is not manifestly inherent in itself, but nonetheless is inherent within it in a way that is not clear to us.

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    So, to elaborate on my example. We could say that an egg entails a chicken. It seems to us that these two properties are different because chicken is not manifestly inherent within the egg. Though the reality of it is that they are part of the same substance. Hence, this substance recurs itself ad infinitum it only appears to us differently because we are not always able to see the entire thing. This is exactly like Hegel's notion of pure thought thinking only about pure thought.

    Another way to put it is that the universe is infinite and everything that we see as finite with our finite minds is a mere manifestation of the infinite universe. The infinite is completely foreign to change, as it is it the initial premise. And as you say, the initial premise in a deductively valid argument cannot change because it can only entail itself.

    Thus, to recapitulate the crux of my argument: we are unable to see that entity B is identical with entity A because we are only able to see parts of entity A. Yet entity A isnt the big picture in itself. Both A and B are mere manifestations of the homogeneous infinite realm which is outside of our perceptions. However, we can discover the greatest possible principle of the finite world, the thing that emanates from within the closest range from the infinite. This, we can do by employing our fuzzy logic to make connections between various logical claims. After we have accomplished this, we will notice that they all are truly the same thing. This 'thing' reiterates itself in one same pattern, that of traditional deductive reasoning, where the conclusion of the argument is the mirror image of the initial premise.

    Hence, using fuzzy logic to connect propostions is just like putting pieces in a puzzle together. And not until you have it all compiled you realize that they were all meant to be part of the same thing and do not have an autonomous identity of their own.

    Deductive logic here is justified only in virtue of the proposition that the infinite realm exists. We could backtrack this claim and try proving that the infinite realm exists in virtue of deductive theoretical logic. We know of the existence of the latter in virtue of existence of fuzzy logic, which, as aforementioned relates to deductive logic exactly like our perception of a form to a Platonic Idea.

    Yet, the existence of deductive logic could be justified with St.Anselm's celebrated argument in favor of God's existence. Replace god with the infinite realm, and there you have it. The infinite realm is the greatest thought you can conceive of, therefore it must exist. With Spinoza we learn that thought and matter are one, the pure substance, hence if an infinite thought exists, an infinite matter must run a parallel to such a thing, as the two not only are inextricable from each other, but are actually the same thing. This is the proof for an infinite, homogeneous universe. Homogeneity of the universe attests to the soundness of deduction, as here the initial premise necessarily entails itself.

    The proof for identity of thought and matter is as follows: we discovered the infinity of thought. Whatever is infinite is ubiqutious, as to be infinite means to be everywhere. Therefore everything is thought. However, since we are confined to our finite perceptions, thought is merely our vehicle to arrive at the infinite substance. Therefore thought is not infinite, but merely a finite attribute of the infinite. Everything in this world is part of the one infinite substance. Therefore thought and extension(matter), only appear different to our finite mind, though the essence that underlies them both is homogeneous. The essence can manifest only itself. Since it is both thought and matter, it manifests as both.

    How do we know that thought is not an infinite attribute in itself? Because to be infinite and to be the ubiquitous, homogeneous substance mean the same thing. Not everything in our perception is thought, and not all thoughts as we conceive them are homogeneous. Therefore, the thought cannot be the infinite attribute in itself but merely our vehicle to the infinite.
    Last edited by SolitaryWalker; 11-03-2007 at 12:16 AM.
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