Epistemology – Foundational Internalism

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Epistemology – Foundational Internalism

Jim Pryor states, according to his explanations, that the argument against philosophies that encourage immediate justification go on to say that justifiers need to be wholly made up of propositional content. This becomes ‘The puzzle of the Given’, according to BonJour and Davidson, and states that this becomes a dilemma in how the foundationalists attempt to use this to account and understand for how basic beliefs can solve the other problem of infinite regress.

Firstly, I will attempt to negotiate Pryor’s foundationalist’s defense of immediate justification and its justifiers, while applying Davidson and Bonjour’s rebuttals against it in the latter part of the essay. Firstly, in order to understand how immediate justification is attained, one must be acquainted with how the idea of immediate justification operates within the world and our minds.

Working within the framework of foundationalism where there are basic foundational beliefs that are “brute” in the sense that they need no further justification than a pure belief in the proposition itself. A proposition, is a sentence or utterance of something that is said about the world that can either be true or false ( ? ). Common propositional paradoxes are things like statements cannot be both true and false at the same time and something cannot be completely red or completely blue at the same time; they are statements made about the happenings within the world.

Pryor, a rationalist, agrees that epistemologically appropriate (Pryor 181) beliefs stem from one singular and stark infallible basic belief from which all other auxiliary and supplementary beliefs are initially predicated. These ‘foundations’ of knowledge as I will call them, are independent and distinct of propositional beliefs much like axioms of mathematics. This notion that immediate justification is not only favourable, but also necessary, is explained in Pryor’s outcomes of the infinite regress (Pryor 184).

Pryor presents four outcomes that outline how an epistemological regress ends: that theregressive chain continues on infinitely (infinitism), that what makes a person justified in believing a proposition is based off beliefs do not have to be justified, but in turn can justify other beliefs, that some beliefs justify other beliefs but do not get their justification from other beliefs (foundationalism), or the trails of justification form closed circuits so that the justification of a belief comes to include the belief itself as a justifier (Pryor 184).

This differs from what is considered ‘mediate’ justification where your belief is predicated upon other propositions that make the current, true. Pryor is afraid of an infinite regress and an unending, circular reasoning so he vouches for a belief that has solidified and entirely foolproof foundations that are invincible against the skeptic’s view. But, according to Pryor, we need to be justified according to justifiers that make these propositions true or false.

This is where Pryor diverges and makes his main point about immediate epistemization where he says the justifiers of basic, or foundational beliefs, materialize out of states that are not propositional beliefs themselves but come out of something called the “Given Theory” (Pryor 185). The given theory states that you can have a mental understanding and relationship with facts without having direct and immediate evidence and reasoning behind it (Pryor 185). In short, these facts are given to you in a complete form without the necessity of the subject trying to search for evidence of the happening.

Bertrand Russell called his version of Given Theory in his Problems of Philosophy as “Acquaintance” (Russell 46) where he states most beliefs rely on other beliefs, but the unifying notion between them is the idea of acquaintance and how humans are ‘acquainted’, or immediately justified with beliefs as they become self evident to the person itself. Pryor uses the idea of a headache in its own non-propositional nature in order to show how the sensation of a headache can elicit the proposition that “I have a headache” (Pryor 187).

When we are “directly acquainted” (Russell 46) with these beliefs and facts about the world, we are bypassing the propositional necessity. Pryor alludes to the difficulty ignoring a headache, as the mind’s direct understanding of the pain is not a belief in itself, but has a great epistemic privilege of supporting your belief in the idea of a headache. When a person gets a headache, Pryor argues that the person does not have to know any propositions or reasons attributed to the headache, but viscerally knows that she has a headache without calling on any externalist reasons (Pryor 187).

The mere sensation of a headache is an adequate justifier for having the headache. This assumption allows Pryor to call these facts non-propositional in that they have no inherent truth conditions, or capacity for them, thereby stating that epistemological scenarios do not require propositions because they themselves are not true and false; rather, they just “are”. In defense of immediate justification or apprehension, Pryor explains the precedence of “how” one is aware of something, not “what” they are aware of it.

For Pryor, we can draw wrong propositional truth-values from directly apprehending an event, but the event itself does not have the capacity to be unreliable (Russell 119). Pryor says that in fact experience is non propositional in the sense that it does not contain truth values, but is relational and causal in that it is our way of having relations with everyday things (such as our sensations and experiences) which nullifies the belief that everything in existence is a proposition which will relieve you from ever having to label something “true” or “false” (Russell 119).

Pryor appeals to a certain subjectivity of knowledge in how epistemologically appropriate But the epistemological question of immediate justification still remains on whether or not the immediate justifiers that allow direct apprehension do in fact have propositional content or not.

In response, Bonjour and Davidson pose their retort as a dilemma that struggles against the idea of immediate justification BonJour states in his work ‘Can Empirical Knowledge Have a Foundation’, that if epistemological justifiers are in fact propositional, than BonJour can appropriate how our beliefs can be founded on these propositions but then the ‘immediate justifications’ themselves would need further justification (BonJour 7).

In the case that immediate justifiers are non-propositional, than the necessity for them to be justified becomes negligible leading to a verifiable mess of convoluting statements that are neither true nor false; where the main goal of epistemology, which is finding out what is ‘true’, is negated due to the absence of a statement’s capacity to create a truth value (Bonjour 12).

Referring back to the headache example, Bonjour says that the ‘direct apprehension’ of the givenness that the headache presents, would in turn have to be justified due to having the property of being propositional therefore removing its own epistemic strength (BonJour 2). When Pryor talks about the Master Argument for Coherentism, he argued in order for something to be a justifier it needs to have assertive propositional content and only beliefs can have this propositional content, therefore, only beliefs (that are within non-cognitive state) can be justifiers and the belief in the referent; not the referent itself (Bonjour 9).

Bonjour did not subscribe to how foundationally ‘basic beliefs’ (Bonjour 9) were in fact identical to their referent and how they could be ‘immediately apprehended’ (9) as the internalist foundational philosopher can say that the veil between cognitive and non-cognitive worlds does not exst, but what is ‘given’ is simply the direct reference of the meaning (9).

Foundationalists, or givenists as I will refer to them, appeal that there are no “intermediary” or influencing beliefs taking place during interaction with reality and they are “presented” (Bonjour 9) with the observer’s “mental eye” (Bonjour 12) drawing as accurate a depiction as possible with no propositional content involved, but instead a very direct referential vision (BonJour 12). I think BonJour presents a strong argument in that it is epistemologically immature to believe that our minds are free from subjective interpretation and involve themselves with reality in the most pragmatic fashion.

For me, the precedence that immediate acquaintance with an object is based on higher level reasons that do not appeal to propositional content is false in that not everything has a referent within the world. Jim Pryor appeals to the mathematical equation “2 + 3 = 5” as he proceeds to explain how even a young child can understand this without the knowledge of addition, but I wonder how can a child be epistemically verified without being exposed to other examples of addition such as ‘2 + 2 =4’ and such, as a singular equation without any variations of itself would only appl to itself as there is no need to justify it.

This shows how many propositions (or examples) are needed in order to justify an epistemological claim about the world, not a universal foundational belief that cannot be independently extracted from any example. This propositional inclination leans toward coherentism and infinitism in that it does not accept a platonic ideal of knowledge but rather advocates a more subversive and human form where, from various examples that history presents, even the most incorruptible truths such as the heliocentric version of the solar system have come to pass with time and more examples of whatever is unknown at a time.

This natural evolution of knowledge coincides with BonJour in that we always must question the foundations of our knowledge for the skeptic can cripple any strong foundation. In my final argument, I present Sellars’ Puzzle of the Given as an Explanation of Basic Beliefs, and how it proves that immediate justification and it’s justifiers require propositional content, and not concrete referential material in order to make epistemically appropriate judgments about things (BonJour 5).

In this puzzle, BonJour states that (1) Justification proceeds by way of logical or quasi-logical relations among propositional contents, that (2) only things with propositional content need to be justified and only things with propositional content can be justifiers, that (3) basic beliefs (or foundational truths that can be reasoned instead of experienced) potentially have propositional content due their universal nature, that (4) basic beliefs are justified by something that is not a belief, so (5) basic beliefs are from conscious observation (Sellars 128).

BonJour defines the Givenist’s Dilemma n the basis that if our observations are cognitive (direct), then they can justify our empirical beliefs but then they themselves become no longer foundational due to their own need to be justified (BonJour 10). But if these observations are not cognitive, than they deny the need for justification, but in that cannot justify any other external belief. It seems the universality of foundationalism is no more basic than the examples or propositions that pertain to the particular ideal.

Because there is more than one object in the world, it is these external examples or propositions that make up the arbitrary notion of a basic belief and it is also where the true epistemic prize awaits. Knowledge is not the uncovering of a foundational truth, but rather the building of an empirical framework that has the privilege of existing as a real and whole entity in the non-cognitive realm. Works Cited BonJour, Laurence.

“American Philosophical Quarterly. ” American Philosophical Quarterly. 15. 1 (1978): 1-13. Print. . Pryor, James. “There Is Immediate Justification. ” Trans. Array Contemporary Debates in Epistemology. Matthias Steup and Ernest Sosa. Revised ed. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2011. 181-202. Print. Sellars, Wilfrid. “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind,” in Science, Perception, and Reality. Atascadero, CA: Ridgeview Publishing Co. 1963. 127-196. Print.


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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

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