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Foundationalist Theories of Epistemic Justification

I found this article during my research on foundationalism with epistemology from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It’s an unique perspective of explaining how foundationalism justify itself into the empiricism category. I copied and pasted on the blog. Hope this can be helpful.

   First published Mon Feb 21, 2000; substantive revision Mon Jun 14, 2010

Foundationalism is a view about the structure of justification or knowledge. The foundationalist’s thesis in short is that all knowledge and justified belief rest ultimately on a foundation of noninferential knowledge or justified belief.

A little reflection suggests that the vast majority of the propositions we know or justifiably believe have that status only because we know or justifiably believe other different propositions. So, for example, I know or justifiably believe that Caesar was an assassinated Roman leader, but only because I know or justifiably believe (among other things) that various historical texts describe the event. Arguably, my knowledge (justified belief) about Caesar’s death also depends on my knowing (justifiably believing) that the texts in question are reliable guides to the past. Foundationalists want to contrast my inferential knowledge (justified belief) about Caesar with a kind of knowledge (justified belief) that doesn’t involve the having of other knowledge (justified belief). There is no standard terminology for what we shall henceforth refer to as noninferential knowledge or justification.[1]

For convenience, in what follows we will concentrate on foundationalism about justification. Everything said about justified belief will apply mutatis mutandis to certain foundationalist views about knowledge. On the “classical” analysis of knowledge, the core of the concept of knowledge is justified true belief and the foundational structure of knowledge simply derives from the foundational structure or justification. It should be noted, however, that the presupposition that the structure of knowledge parallels the structure of justification is controversial. Indeed, in a highly influential book, Timothy Williamson (2000) argues that knowledge is unanalyzable and is a concept that should be employed in understanding a host of other interesting epistemic concepts, including the concept of evidence. In short, his view is that our evidence simply consists in everything we know. Justification may have foundations but only because we end a regress of justification with propositions that are known—the evidential foundation on which all justified belief rests is knowledge (186). A discussion of Williamson’s view would take us too far afield, however, and in what follows I will continue to suppose that our understanding of knowledge is parasitic upon our understanding of justification, and not vice versa.

It is surely fair to suggest that for literally thousands of years the foundationalist’s thesis was taken to be almost trivially true. When an argument was implicitly or explicitly offered for the view it was most often the now famous regress argument. It is important, however, to distinguish two quite different regress arguments for foundationalism—the epistemic regress argument and the conceptual regress argument.




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