Foundationalism concerns philosophical theories of knowledge
resting upon non-inferential justified belief
, or some secure foundation of certainty such as a conclusion inferred from a basis of sound premises.
[Simon Blackburn, ''The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy'', 2nd (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005)]
The main rival of the foundationalist theory of justification is the
coherence theory of justification
In philosophical epistemology, there are two types of coherentism: the coherence theory of truth; and the coherence theory of justification (also known as epistemic coherentism).
Coherent truth is divided between an anthropological approach, whi ...
, whereby a body of knowledge, not requiring a secure foundation, can be established by the interlocking strength of its components, like a puzzle solved without prior certainty that each small region was solved correctly.
Identifying the alternatives as either ] circular reasoning
Circular may refer to:
* The shape of a circle
* ''Circular'' (album), a 2006 album by Spanish singer Vega
* Circular letter (disambiguation)
** Flyer (pamphlet), a form of advertisement
* Circular reasoning, a type of logical fallacy
* Circular ... or infinite regress
An infinite regress is an infinite series of entities governed by a recursive principle that determines how each entity in the series depends on or is produced by its predecessor. In the epistemic regress, for example, a belief is justified bec ..., and thus exhibiting the regress problem
In epistemology, the regress argument is the argument that any proposition requires a justification. However, any justification itself requires support. This means that any proposition whatsoever can be endlessly (infinitely) questioned, result ..., Aristotle
Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher and polymath during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. Taught by Plato, he was the founder of the Peripatetic school of ph ... made foundationalism his own clear choice, positing basic belief
Basic beliefs (also commonly called foundational beliefs or core beliefs) are, under the epistemological view called foundationalism, the axioms of a belief system.
Categories of beliefs
Foundationalism holds that all beliefs must be justifie ...s underpinning others. [Ted Poston] Descartes, the most famed foundationalist, discovered a foundation in the fact of his own existence and in the "clear and distinct" ideas of reason,
(Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
[ whereas Locke found a foundation in ] experience
Experience refers to conscious events in general, more specifically to perceptions, or to the practical knowledge and familiarity that is produced by these conscious processes. Understood as a conscious event in the widest sense, experience involv .... Differing foundations may reflect differing epistemological
Epistemology (; ), or the theory of knowledge, is the branch of philosophy concerned with knowledge. Epistemology is considered a major subfield of philosophy, along with other major subfields such as ethics, logic, and metaphysics.
Epis ... emphases— empiricists emphasizing ''experience'', rationalists emphasizing ''reason''—but may blend both. [
In the 1930s, debate over foundationalism revived.] [ Whereas Moritz Schlick viewed scientific knowledge like a pyramid where a special class of statements does not require verification through other beliefs and serves as a foundation, Otto Neurath argued that scientific knowledge lacks an ultimate foundation and acts like a raft.] [ In the 1950s, foundationalism fell into decline – largely due to the influence of ] Willard Van Orman Quine
Willard Van Orman Quine (; known to his friends as "Van"; June 25, 1908 – December 25, 2000) was an American philosopher and logician in the analytic tradition, recognized as "one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century" ..., [ whose ontological relativity found any belief networked to one's beliefs on all of reality, while auxiliary beliefs somewhere in the vast network are readily modified to protect desired beliefs.
Classically, foundationalism had posited infallibility of basic beliefs and ] deductive reasoning
Deductive reasoning is the mental process of drawing deductive inferences. An inference is deductively valid if its conclusion follows logically from its premises, i.e. if it is impossible for the premises to be true and the conclusion to be fal ... between beliefs—a strong foundationalism. [ Around 1975, weak foundationalism emerged.] [ Thus recent foundationalists have variously allowed fallible basic beliefs, and ] inductive reasoning
Inductive reasoning is a method of reasoning in which a general principle is derived from a body of observations. It consists of making broad generalizations based on specific observations. Inductive reasoning is distinct from ''deductive'' rea ... between them, either by enumerative induction
Inductive reasoning is a method of reasoning in which a general principle is derived from a body of observations. It consists of making broad generalizations based on specific observations. Inductive reasoning is distinct from ''deductive'' re ... or by inference to the best explanation. [ And whereas internalists require ] cognitive
Cognition refers to "the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses". It encompasses all aspects of intellectual functions and processes such as: perception, attention, though ... access to justificatory means, externalists find justification without such access.
Foundationalism was initiated by French early modern philosopher
René Descartes ( or ; ; Latinized: Renatus Cartesius; 31 March 1596 – 11 February 1650) was a French philosopher, scientist, and mathematician, widely considered a seminal figure in the emergence of modern philosophy and science. Mathem .... [Grenz & Franke 2001, p. 31] In his '' Meditations
''Meditations'' () is a series of personal writings by Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from AD 161 to 180, recording his private notes to himself and ideas on Stoic philosophy.
Marcus Aurelius wrote the 12 books of the ''Meditations'' in Koine ...'', Descartes challenged the contemporary principles of philosophy by arguing that everything he knew he learnt from or through his senses. He used various arguments to challenge the reliability of the senses, citing previous errors and the possibilities that he was dreaming or being deceived by an Evil Demon which rendered all of his beliefs about the external world false. Descartes attempted to establish the secure foundations for knowledge to avoid scepticism
Skepticism, also spelled scepticism, is a questioning attitude or doubt toward knowledge claims that are seen as mere belief or dogma. For example, if a person is skeptical about claims made by their government about an ongoing war then the pe .... He contrasted the information provided by senses, which is unclear and uncertain, with the truths of geometry
Geometry (; ) is, with arithmetic, one of the oldest branches of mathematics. It is concerned with properties of space such as the distance, shape, size, and relative position of figures. A mathematician who works in the field of geometry is ca ..., which are clear and distinct. Geometrical truths are also certain and indubitable; Descartes thus attempted to find truths which were clear and distinct because they would be indubitably true and a suitable foundation for knowledge. His method was to question all of his beliefs until he reached something clear and distinct that was indubitably true. The result was his '' cogito ergo sum
The Latin , usually translated into English as "I think, therefore I am", is the " first principle" of René Descartes's philosophy. He originally published it in French as , in his 1637 '' Discourse on the Method'', so as to reach a wider audie ...'' – 'I think therefore I am', or the belief that he was thinking – as his indubitable belief suitable as a foundation for knowledge. [ This resolved Descartes' problem of the Evil Demon. Even if his beliefs about the external world were false, his beliefs about what he was experiencing were still indubitably true, even if those perceptions do not relate to anything in the world.
Several other philosophers of the early modern period, including ] John Locke
John Locke (; 29 August 1632 – 28 October 1704) was an English philosopher and physician, widely regarded as one of the most influential of Age of Enlightenment, Enlightenment thinkers and commonly known as the "father of liberalism ..., G. W. Leibniz, George Berkeley
George Berkeley (; 12 March 168514 January 1753) – known as Bishop Berkeley ( Bishop of Cloyne of the Anglican Church of Ireland) – was an Anglo-Irish philosopher whose primary achievement was the advancement of a theory he called "immate ..., David Hume
David Hume (; born David Home; 7 May 1711 NS (26 April 1711 OS) – 25 August 1776) Cranston, Maurice, and Thomas Edmund Jessop. 2020 999br>David Hume" ''Encyclopædia Britannica''. Retrieved 18 May 2020. was a Scottish Enlightenment philo ..., and Thomas Reid
Thomas Reid (; 7 May ( O.S. 26 April) 1710 – 7 October 1796) was a religiously trained Scottish philosopher. He was the founder of the Scottish School of Common Sense and played an integral role in the Scottish Enlightenment. In 1783 he wa ..., accepted foundationalism as well. [ ] Baruch Spinoza
Baruch (de) Spinoza (born Bento de Espinosa; later as an author and a correspondent ''Benedictus de Spinoza'', anglicized to ''Benedict de Spinoza''; 24 November 1632 – 21 February 1677) was a Dutch philosopher of Portuguese-Jewish origin, ... was interpreted as metaphysical
Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that studies the fundamental nature of reality, the first principles of being, identity and change, space and time, causality, necessity, and possibility. It includes questions about the nature of conscio ... foundationalist by G. W. F. Hegel, a proponent of coherentism
In philosophical epistemology, there are two types of coherentism: the coherence theory of truth; and the coherence theory of justification (also known as epistemic coherentism).
Coherent truth is divided between an anthropological approach, whic .... Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant (, , ; 22 April 1724 – 12 February 1804) was a German philosopher and one of the central Enlightenment thinkers. Born in Königsberg, Kant's comprehensive and systematic works in epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and a ...'s foundationalism rests on his theory of categories
Category, plural categories, may refer to:
Philosophy and general uses
*Categorization, categories in cognitive science, information science and generally
* Category of being
* ''Categories'' (Aristotle)
* Category (Kant)
In late modern philosophy
Western philosophy encompasses the philosophical thought and work of the Western world. Historically, the term refers to the philosophical thinking of Western culture, beginning with the ancient Greek philosophy of the pre-Socratics. The word '' ..., foundationalism was defended by J. G. Fichte in his book '' Grundlage der gesamten Wissenschaftslehre'' (1794/1795), Wilhelm Windelband in his book ''Über die Gewißheit der Erkenntniss.'' (1873), and Gottlob Frege
Friedrich Ludwig Gottlob Frege (; ; 8 November 1848 – 26 July 1925) was a German philosopher, logician, and mathematician. He was a mathematics professor at the University of Jena, and is understood by many to be the father of analytic phil ... in his book '' Die Grundlagen der Arithmetik'' (1884).
In contemporary philosophy
Contemporary philosophy is the present period in the history of Western philosophy beginning at the early 20th century with the increasing professionalization of the discipline and the rise of analytic and continental philosophy.
The phrase "co ..., foundationalism has been defended by Edmund Husserl
, thesis1_title = Beiträge zur Variationsrechnung (Contributions to the Calculus of Variations)
, thesis1_url = https://fedora.phaidra.univie.ac.at/fedora/get/o:58535/bdef:Book/view
, thesis1_year = 1883
, thesis2_title ..., Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, (18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970) was a British mathematician, philosopher, logician, and public intellectual. He had a considerable influence on mathematics, logic, set theory, linguistics, ar ... and John McDowell
John Henry McDowell, FBA (born 7 March 1942) is a South African philosopher, formerly a fellow of University College, Oxford, and now university professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Although he has written on metaphysics, epistemology .... [Roger F. Gibson, "McDowell's Direct Realism and Platonic Naturalism", ''Philosophical Issues'' Vol. 7, ''Perception'' (1996), pp. 275–281.]
Foundationalism is an attempt to respond to the
In epistemology, the regress argument is the argument that any proposition requires a justification. However, any justification itself requires support. This means that any proposition whatsoever can be endlessly (infinitely) questioned, result ... of justification in epistemology. According to this argument, every proposition requires justification to support it, but any justification also needs to be justified itself. If this goes on '' ad infinitum
''Ad infinitum'' is a Latin phrase meaning "to infinity" or "forevermore".
In context, it usually means "continue forever, without limit" and this can be used to describe a non-terminating process, a non-terminating ''repeating'' pro ...'', it is not clear how anything in the chain could be justified. Foundationalism holds that there are 'basic beliefs' which serve as foundations to anchor the rest of our beliefs. Strong versions of the theory assert that an indirectly justified belief is completely justified by basic beliefs; more moderate theories hold that indirectly justified beliefs require basic beliefs to be justified, but can be further justified by other factors.
Since ancient Greece
Ancient Greece ( el, Ἑλλάς, Hellás) was a northeastern Mediterranean civilization, existing from the Greek Dark Ages of the 12th–9th centuries BC to the end of classical antiquity ( AD 600), that comprised a loose collection of cu ..., Western philosophy
Western philosophy encompasses the philosophical thought and work of the Western world. Historically, the term refers to the philosophical thinking of Western culture, beginning with the ancient Greek philosophy of the pre-Socratics. The wor ... has pursued a solid foundation as the ultimate and eternal reference system for all knowledge
Knowledge can be defined as awareness of facts or as practical skills, and may also refer to familiarity with objects or situations. Knowledge of facts, also called propositional knowledge, is often defined as true belief that is distin .... This foundation serves not only as the starting point merely as a basis for knowledge of the truth of existence
Existence is the ability of an entity to interact with reality. In philosophy, it refers to the ontological property of being.
The term ''existence'' comes from Old French ''existence'', from Medieval Latin ''existentia/exsistentia .... Thinking is the process of proving the validity of knowledge, not proving the rationality of the foundation from which knowledge is shaped. This means, with ultimate cause, the foundation is true, absolute, entire and impossible to prove. Neopragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty
Richard McKay Rorty (October 4, 1931 – June 8, 2007) was an American philosopher. Educated at the University of Chicago and Yale University, he had strong interests and training in both the history of philosophy and in contemporary analytic p ..., a proponent of anti-foundationalism
Anti-foundationalism (also called nonfoundationalism) is any philosophy which rejects a foundationalist approach. An anti-foundationalist is one who does not believe that there is some fundamental belief or principle which is the basic ground or f ..., said that the fundamentalism confirmed the existence of the ''privileged representation'' which constitutes the foundation, from which dominates epistemology. The earliest foundationalism is Plato
Plato ( ; grc-gre, Πλάτων ; 428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC) was a Greek philosopher born in Athens during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. He founded the Platonist school of thought and the Academy, the first institutio ...'s theory of Forms
The theory of Forms or theory of Ideas is a philosophical theory, fuzzy concept, or world-view, attributed to Plato, that the physical world is not as real or true as timeless, absolute, unchangeable ideas. According to this theory, ideas in t ..., which shows the general concept
Concepts are defined as abstract ideas. They are understood to be the fundamental building blocks of the concept behind principles, thoughts and beliefs.
They play an important role in all aspects of cognition. As such, concepts are studied by s ... as a model for the release of existence, which is only the faint copy of the Forms of eternity, that means, understanding the expression of objects leads to acquiring all knowledge, then acquiring knowledge accompanies achieving the truth. Achieving the truth means understanding the foundation. This idea still has some appeal in for example international relations
International relations (IR), sometimes referred to as international studies and international affairs, is the scientific study of interactions between sovereign states. In a broader sense, it concerns all activities between states—such a ... studies.
Foundationalism holds basic beliefs exist, which are justified without reference to other beliefs, and that nonbasic beliefs must ultimately be justified by basic beliefs. Classical foundationalism maintains that basic beliefs must be infallible if they are to justify nonbasic beliefs, and that only
Deductive reasoning is the mental process of drawing deductive inferences. An inference is deductively valid if its conclusion follows logically from its premises, i.e. if it is impossible for the premises to be true and the conclusion to be fal ... can be used to transfer justification from one belief to another. Laurence BonJour
Laurence BonJour (born August 31, 1943) is an American philosopher and Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Washington.
Education and career
He received his bachelor's degrees in Philosophy and Political Science from Macalester College ... has argued that the classical formulation of foundationalism requires basic beliefs to be infallible, incorrigible, indubitable, and certain if they are to be adequately justified. Mental states and immediate experience are often taken as good candidates for basic beliefs because it is argued that beliefs about these do not need further support to be justified.
As an alternative to the classic view, modest foundationalism does not require that basic perceptual beliefs are infallible, but holds that it is reasonable to assume that perceptual beliefs are justified unless evidence to the contrary exists.
[O'Brien 2006, pp. 72–74] This is still foundationalism because it maintains that all non-basic beliefs must be ultimately justified by basic beliefs, but it does not require that basic beliefs are infallible and allows inductive reasoning
Inductive reasoning is a method of reasoning in which a general principle is derived from a body of observations. It consists of making broad generalizations based on specific observations. Inductive reasoning is distinct from ''deductive'' rea ... as an acceptable form of inference. For example, a belief that 'I see red' could be defeated with psychological evidence showing my mind to be confused or inattentive. Modest foundationalism can also be used to avoid the problem of inference. Even if perceptual beliefs are infallible, it is not clear that they can infallibly ground empirical knowledge (even if my belief that the table looks red to me is infallible, the inference to the belief that the table actually is red might not be infallible). Modest foundationalism does not require this link between perception and reality to be so strong; our perception of a table being yellow is adequate justification to believe that this is the case, even if it is not infallible. [
] Reformed epistemology
In the philosophy of religion, Reformed epistemology is a school of philosophical thought concerning the nature of knowledge (epistemology) as it applies to religious beliefs. The central proposition of Reformed epistemology is that beliefs can ... is a form of modest foundationalism which takes religious beliefs as basic because they are non-inferentially justified: their justification arises from religious experience
A religious experience (sometimes known as a spiritual experience, sacred experience, or mystical experience) is a subjective experience which is interpreted within a religious framework. The concept originated in the 19th century, as a defen ..., rather than prior beliefs. This takes a modest approach to foundationalism – religious beliefs are not taken to be infallible, but are assumed to be '' prima facie
''Prima facie'' (; ) is a Latin expression meaning ''at first sight'' or ''based on first impression''. The literal translation would be 'at first face' or 'at first appearance', from the feminine forms of ''primus'' ('first') and ''facies'' (' ...'' justified unless evidence arises to the contrary.
Internalism and externalism
Foundationalism can take internalist and externalist forms. Internalism requires that a believer's justification for a belief must be accessible to them for it to be justified. Foundationalist internalists have held that basic beliefs are justified by mental events or states, such as experiences, that do not constitute beliefs. Alternatively, basic beliefs may be justified by some special property of the belief itself, such as its being self-evident or infallible. Externalism maintains that it is unnecessary for the means of justification of a belief to be accessible to the believer.
[O'Brien 2006, p. 88]
Reliabilism Reliabilism, a category of theories in the philosophical discipline of epistemology, has been advanced as a theory both of justification and of knowledge. Process reliabilism has been used as an argument against philosophical skepticism, such as th ... is an externalist foundationalist theory, initially proposed by Alvin Goldman
Alvin Ira Goldman (born 1938) is an American philosopher who is Emeritus Board of Governors Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science at Rutgers University in New Jersey and a leading figure in epistemology.
Education and career
Goldman e ..., which argues that a belief is justified if it is reliably produced, meaning that it will be probably true. Goldman distinguished between two kinds of justification for beliefs: belief-dependent and belief-independent. A belief-dependent process uses prior beliefs to produce new beliefs; a belief-independent process does not, using other stimuli instead. Beliefs produced this way are justified because the processes that cause them are reliable; this might be because we have evolved to reach good conclusions when presented with sense-data
The theory of sense data is a view in the philosophy of perception, popularly held in the early 20th century by philosophers such as Bertrand Russell, C. D. Broad, H. H. Price, A. J. Ayer, and G. E. Moore. Sense data are taken to be mind-dep ..., meaning the conclusions we draw from our senses are usually true.
Critics of foundationalism often argue that for a belief to be justified it must be supported by other beliefs;
[ in Donald Davidson's phrase, "only a belief can be a reason for another belief". For instance, Wilfrid Sellars argued that non- doxastic mental states cannot be reasons, and so noninferential warrant cannot be derived from them. Similarly, critics of externalist foundationalism argue that only mental states or properties the believer is aware of could make a belief justified.
According to ] skepticism
Skepticism, also spelled scepticism, is a questioning attitude or doubt toward knowledge claims that are seen as mere belief or dogma. For example, if a person is skeptical about claims made by their government about an ongoing war then the pe ..., there are no beliefs that are so obviously certain that they require support from no other beliefs. Even if one does not accept this very strong claim, foundationalists have a problem with giving an uncontroversial or principled account of which beliefs are self-evident or indubitable.
Postmodernists and post-structuralists such as Richard Rorty
Richard McKay Rorty (October 4, 1931 – June 8, 2007) was an American philosopher. Educated at the University of Chicago and Yale University, he had strong interests and training in both the history of philosophy and in contemporary analytic p ... and Jacques Derrida
Jacques Derrida (; ; born Jackie Élie Derrida; See also . 15 July 1930 – 9 October 2004) was an Algerian-born French philosopher. He developed the philosophy of deconstruction, which he utilized in numerous texts, and which was developed th ... have attacked foundationalism on the grounds that the truth of a statement or discourse is only verifiable in accordance with other statements and discourses. Rorty in particular elaborates further on this, claiming that the individual, the community, the human body as a whole have a 'means by which they know the world' (this entails language, culture, semiotic systems, mathematics, science etc.). In order to verify particular means, or particular statements belonging to certain means (e.g., the propositions of the natural sciences), a person would have to 'step outside' the means and critique them neutrally, in order to provide a foundation for adopting them. However, this is impossible. The only way in which one can know the world is through the means by which they know the world; a method cannot justify itself. This argument can be seen as directly related to Wittgenstein
Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein ( ; ; 26 April 1889 – 29 April 1951) was an Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language. He is conside ...'s theory of language, drawing a parallel between postmodernism and late logical positivism
Logical positivism, later called logical empiricism, and both of which together are also known as neopositivism, is a movement in Western philosophy whose central thesis was the verification principle (also known as the verifiability criterion o ... that is united in critique of foundationalism.
Constructivism is a view in the philosophy of science that maintains that scientific knowledge is constructed by the scientific community, which seeks to measure and construct models of the natural world. According to the constructivist, natu ...
Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition that considers words and thought as tools and instruments for prediction, problem solving, and action, and rejects the idea that the function of thought is to describe, represent, or mirror reality. ...