EWHA's Research Power for Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences
February, 2017
EWHA's Research Power for Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences


A study of contemporary foundationalism: inquiry into the epistemic role of experiences




   by Prof. Bosuk Yoon (bosuk@ewha.ac.kr)

Department of Philosophy 



Despite strong attacks on it during the twentieth century, foundationalism has made a come-back recently.  There are different trends within contemporary foundationalism.  Thus, we need to sort them out for proper evaluation.  Nonetheless, foundationalism has become an attractive and even plausible view due to these efforts.  Overall, this book can be considered as a defense of foundationalism.

Foundationalism is standardly conceived as a view about the structure of knowledge.  The core claim is that there is a stock of special knowledge, often called “basic knowledge”, that serve as the firm foundation on which all other knowledge is built.  Whether I have a non-basic knowledge depends on my having basic knowledge, but, not vice versa.  Basic knowledge can be acquired prior to having any other knowledge.  Thus, when we gain knowledge from a source, say, perception or memory, we can have basic knowledge as long as we are not required to have any knowledge prior to gaining knowledge from that source. 


Suppose that you hear a certain sound and learn that a train is approaching.  Do you have basic knowledge here?  It depends on whether, in order to know from the sound that a train is approaching, you have to know for instance that your hearing is reliable.  If you have to know the reliability of sense perception before you can know anything from sense perception, then sense perception can’t yield basic knowledge.  On the other hand, if you can know, just by hearing and without any other knowledge, that a train is approaching, then your knowledge would be basic. 


Similarly, foundationalism has been also characterized in terms of “basic beliefs”, beliefs that are justified immediately and non-inferentially.  If hearing the sound by itself suffices to justify your belief that a train is coming, then your belief would be basic.  In contrast, if your justification for that belief depends on having prior justification for the belief that your hearing is reliable, then your belief about the train is not basic.  Thus, according dogmatism, a development in contemporary foundationalism, there are basic beliefs about the external world.  If you have evidence to think that your hearing is not reliable, you are not rational to take your auditory experience at face value.  Yet, as long as you have no reason to believe that your hearing is not reliable, hearing the sound can give at least prima facie justification for believing that a train is coming.   Mere lack of evidence for the defeater suffices to render perceptual beliefs justified.  Epistemological disjunctivism, another development of contemporary foundationalism, says that veridical experience of hearing the train can even provide a “factive” reason to believe that a train is approaching, a reason that entails that your belief is true.  That subjectively indistinguishable deceptive experiences can’t provide such reasons simply because no train is actually approaching does not undermine the outstanding epistemic credential of veridical cases.

​In addition to these contemporary developments of foundationalism, I also discuss the view defended by Anil Gupta.  In contrast to pure coherentism which denies any justificatory role to experiences, contemporary foundationalism typically attributes some justificatory role to experiences.  Experiences can exert rational control from outside.  An important issue brought out in Gupta’s view is whether the rational control should take the logical form of providing propositional foundations.  Gupta rejects “basic beliefs immediately justified by experiences”: hearing the sound by itself can’t justify the perceptual belief that a train is coming.  The rationality of perceptual beliefs depends on the background concepts, conception and contingent beliefs about the world.  Coherentists are right to reject the privileged propositional foundation of knowledge.  Yet, it does not follow from this rejection that experience can’t play any justificatory role.  The heart of Gupta’s view lies in the way he extract the rational contribution of experiences themselves.  The epistemic role of experiences consists of mediating the transition from a given view to perceptual judgments and thus providing rational constraint on the revision of the view. 




* Related book

A study of contemporary foundationalism: inquiry into the epistemic role of experiences, Published by Ewha Womans University Press on Oct. 29, 2015, 304 pages

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