Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Foundation of experience construct knowledge

Knowledge is constructed on a foundation of previous experience.

As the diagram I presented on the board the other day (Pic), clearly demonstrated how knowledge (the house) derived from a solid fact or previous experience (the base, groundwork). Different from the house that was simply a “house” which indicated knowledge is simply knowledge without external support, or in another word, justification. 

In this case, experiences are considered to be the external support of the structure. Of all the decision we made, we intended to refer the same scenarios we’ve experienced, or those similar ones for the sake of better judgement. Therefore, a solid base is formed for future process. When in terms of knowledge, it is the same theory. For example, a government has the intention to conduct a population census, they will definitely go over the previous history of record despite the differences that occured. Since the mode is the same regarding the differences in the new era, we can recognize this as previous history (experience) provides the foundation.


According to foundationalism, our justified beliefs are constructed like a building: they are separated two parts which contain a foundation and a superstructure. Superstructure relies more on the foundation. Beliefs belonging to the foundation are basic. Beliefs that affiliated to the superstructure are non-basic and receive justification from the justified beliefs in the foundation, which again proved the structure of knowledge derives from the structure of justification. In order to make this statement sound, two obstacles must be resolved

  • firstly, by conscious of exactly what are basic beliefs justified?
  • Secondly, how can basic beliefs justify non-basic beliefs?

In order to clear this confusion, two concepts should be introduced: Doxastic Basicality (DB) and Epistemic Basicality. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_belief

Doxastic Basicality (DB)

Sam’s justified belief that p is basic if and only if Sam’s belief that p is justified without owing its justification to any of S’s other beliefs.


Let’s think of an example. Suppose we notice Mr. Jackson’s stylish shirt, and we also notice that that shirt looks light blue to us. So we believe:

(J) It appears to us that Mr. Jackson’s shirt is light blue.

Normally, (J) is an example of a justified belief. DB tells us that (B) is basic if and only if it does not owe its justification to any other beliefs of us. So if (J) is indeed basic, there might be some item or other to which (J) owes its justification, but that item would not be another belief of yours. We call this kind of basicality ‘doxastic’ because it makes basicality a function of how our doxastic system (our belief system) is structured.                                                                                                                                                   Let us consider the question of where the justification that attaches to (J) might come from, if we think of basicality as defined by DB. Be aware that DB merely tells us how (J) is not justified. It says nothing about how (J) is justified. DB, therefore, does not answer that question. What we need, other than DB, is an account of what it is that justifies a belief such as (J). According to one strand of foundationalist thought, (J) is justified because it can’t be false, doubted, or corrected by others. So (J) is justified because (J) carries with it an epistemic privilege such as infallibility, indubitability, or incorrigibility. The idea is that (J) is justified by virtue of its constitutional nature that makes it possess some kind of an epistemic privilege.

Be aware that (J) is a belief about how the shirt appears to us but not a belief about the hat. So (J) is an belief about a perceptual experience of ours. Think of the thoughts we’re considering, a subject’s basic beliefs are made up of introspective beliefs about the subject’s own mental states, of which perceptual experiences make up one small set. Other mental states about which a subject can have basic beliefs include such things as having a headache. Beliefs about external objects do not and indeed cannot qualify as basic, for it is impossible for such beliefs to own the kind of epistemic privilege needed for the status of being basic.
Some other opinions said (J) is justified by some further mental state of ours instead of the privileged things. And that is a perceptual experience that (J) is about: to us the shirt is light blue. If ‘(E)’ is that experience, based on this, then (B) and (E) are distinct mental states. The idea is what justifies (B) is (E). Since (E) is an experience, not a belief of ours, (J) is, according to DB, basic.

Epistemic Basicality (EB)

Sam’s justified belief that, p is basic if and only if Sam’s justification for believing that, p does not depend on any justification Sam possesses for believing a further proposition.


EB makes it more difficult for a belief to be basic than DB. In order to understand, we turn to the chief question (‘C-question’) that advocates of experiential foundationalism face:

Why are perceptual experiences a source of justification?

Compromise position, which meant to be compromise between foundationalism and coherentism, can be applied to answer. This will show the differences. If we accept this, beliefs such as (H) will qualify as basic according to DB, but according to EB as nonbasic.
Coherentist will say we might think the C-question as: Perceptual experiences are a source of justification because we are justified in believing them to be reliable.
Basically, making perceptual justification dependent on the existence of reliability-attributing beliefs is quite a problem. There is a replacing answer to the C-question that appeals to reliability without making perceptual justification dependent on beliefs that result from reliability to perceptual experiences. According to this second answer to the C-question, perceptual experiences are a source of justification because we have justification for taking them to be reliable. That’s the view we shall call the compromise position.
We have justification to believe that p does not necessitate that we believe p. If we believe that the person next to us wears a blue hat, we have justification for believing that the person next to us wears a blue hat or a red hat. We’re having justification for attributing reliability to our perceptual experiences doesn’t necessitate that we have given thought to the matter and actually formed the belief that they are reliable. Simply speaking, if our perceptual experiences are a source of justification for us, then we must have considered the matter and believe them to be reliable. The compromise position says no such thing. It says merely of that.

Generally, we can briefly consider how justification is supposed to be transferred from basic to non-basic beliefs. There are two ways:
The justificatory relation between basic and non-basic beliefs could be deductive or non-deductive.

  • If we take the relation to be deductive, each of one’s non-basic beliefs would have to be such that it can be deduced from one’s basic beliefs.
  • If we consider a random selection of typical beliefs we hold, it is not easy to see from which basic beliefs they could be deduced.

Foundationalists, typically conceive of the link between the foundation and the superstructure in non-deductive terms.

‘for a basic belief, J, to justify a non-basic belief, J*, it isn’t necessary that J entails J*. Rather, it is sufficient that, given J, it is likely that J* is true.’





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.





Believing in Knowledge

Throughout this week, we have been discussing epistemology, touching on various branches of this topic, focusing often on the progression of opinion, belief, and knowledge. A brief, but somewhat broad definition of the three terms according to our Philosophy textbook and what we used in our discussions: Opinion- Statement that cannot be proven true or false. Belief – Statement that can be proven true or false. Knowledge- Justified true belief. Where a belief becomes knowledge was an area very much debated and broken down further. An idea that caught my mind was the definition of knowledge as society’s beliefs, as a collective belief.

Use Ptolemy’s theory for an example. It was once believed that all celestial bodies within our cosmos orbited around the Earth. Similar to how we now believe that the earth and the planets of our solar system orbit the sun, the people of Ancient Greece accepted the Geocentric model as truth, and more specifically, as knowledge. This theory was not only widely accepted but justified. There were two common observations that supported the idea that the Earth was the center of the Universe. The first observation was that the stars, sun, and planets appear to revolve around the Earth each day. Stars closest to the equator appeared to rise and fall, and circled back to its rising point each day. The second observation was that the Earth did not seem to move from the perspective of the Earth bound observer, remaining solid, stable, and unmoving. In other words, it was completely at rest. If the celestial bodies around the Earth revolved, and the Earth remained still, then the conclusion could be drawn that everything orbited the centered Earth.

Nowadays, however, our newest mathematical and scientific discoveries and theories, such as aberration, parallax, and the Doppler effect, have proven that the Sun is actually the centre of our solar system. We are taught in school and by society that this theory is fact, and is indeed observable out beyond our atmosphere if only our naked eye were able. However, how can we be sure that are current theory is true?

If common knowledge can be defined as beliefs justified by the agreement of society, then knowledge is but the overlapping of personal beliefs (beliefs defined as statements that can be proved true or false). The line in which a belief becomes knowledge is crossed with justification, but it seems justification is a grey shade that is solidified through agreement of the masses. This interlacing of personal perspectives questions whether what we know is true, but nonetheless affirms the world in which we live in today.



For the sake of knowledge, let’s just assume.

The past few days in class, I got a chance to see what the philosophical society defined one of the ideas that I thought of in the first unit “Introduction to Philosophical Inquiry. Now when studying epistemology I can add considerable information and include new concepts to express my thoughts.

At the beginning of the course, in class, we were discussing “Truth”, which in itself is tied inextricably to epistemology. The next following days, I came to a simple conclusion. We really cannot know something to be 100% true. Absolute truth in my opinion cannot be found as long we perceive things. The moment we attempt to measure something, that “thing” changes because we are measuring it in Human terms and Human instruments. A Human Bias if you will.

Perhaps assumptions would be a good replacement for “lies”

Now in epistemology we can delve deeper into Truth, Belief, and Justification, and their roles in how we know things.

Henry Ford’s assembly line

How I like to view of how we reach knowledge or learn in general, is by looking at the process as just that: a process. I see how we know and develop our thoughts as a assembly line, continually developing and refining raw materials and adding to the scaffolding or blueprint provided.

At the start, we must have some idea of what we want to know or would like to know. I see this as belief in epidemiological terms. Belief is defined as holding something as true in your mind despite a lack of evidence for it. The way I see it, it seems like the raw material in an assembly line. In some cases it may be sufficient. If you are a grocery store, the raw apples are enough for you. No further refinement is needed. Through this vein, belief looks to be a fundamental item in the progression of knowledge. The scientific progress that our century has enjoyed is due largely to the conjectures and beliefs of scientists who later went out and sought corroboration for their theories, or in other words refinement.

Taking all this into consideration, how do we know what we’re doing is actually refining the product? How do we know what we’re adding to our belief isn’t just more beliefs? Knowledge, if taken as belief that has been proven true through supporting evidence, is a fickle thing. True as used in the previous sentence is tricky as well.

Now going back to my opening remarks, the knowledge with which we pride ourselves with may simply be stronger beliefs stacked supporting beliefs that are less so. I think this is the case. Setting aside “what if” examples, we can truly investigate what is behind our human knowledge. On the assembly line metaphor, we cannot construct or attain raw and unbiased knowledge because the machines with which we process it are man-made. The human bias of simply observing through our organic eyes, nose, skin, tongue, and ear alters what really is there. Nothing is translated perfectly without distortion. That distortion is what accounts for the problem of knowledge.

It is often written that knowledge is “true belief”. The belief part of this is straightforward enough, but “true” is a problem. If we are defining true as the objective and ultimate truth, “true belief” and consequentially knowledge cannot actually exist, again due to the human bias.

The way I see it, however, is in terms of practicality. I pose the question: “does it even matter?” What is the use of doubting our own senses and interpretation of the different wavelengths of light flying through the air. If as long as we exist and observe, we cannot attain objective truth, why worry? Yes, it’s important to recognize that knowledge in its technical and pure form cannot be attained by us mortals, but, perhaps more importantly, knowledge as defined by our limitations is definitely possible. We must assume truth to learn and teach without doubt.