foundationalism

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Tue Jan 24 05:07:53 MST 1995


"Foundationalism" has a technical sense in analytic epistemology, and a
broader, looser sense (in fact a hopelessly equivocal one) in the
post-moderbist discussion. I suspect that it got into the latter from the
former via Rorty, a formerly analytical philosopher turned postmodernist,
but who uses the term in the old technical sense.

In that sense, foundationalism is the doctrine that any warranted belief
is either based, by some profess of justified inference, on beliefs which
are not based on any other beliefs, or is such "baseless" belief which is
itself independently warranted in view of something intrinsic to it. Thus
in the classic empiricist picture, theoretical beliefs are warranted
because they can be derived in some sense from, or justified by,
observational beliefs, where these are considered warranted (though not
necessarily certain) in view of being directly given.
Anti-foundationbalism is the denial of this doctrine and is dominant among
analytical philosophers, empiricists included, today.

As used in the debate on this list, though, and by post-modernists, I
suspect that "foundationalism" cobflates the above stated sense with the
semantic doctrine that the truth of propositions and the referenceof their
terms might have a nonlinguistic component, i.e., that they might be about
something really independent of our conceptions and language and refer to
real things which have natures ("essences") in themselves. Also with the
metaphysical doctrine that the way things are is in fact independent of
our conceptions and language; that the world comes "cut up" already.  As
Wolff, for example, uses "foundationalism," I am a foundationalist even
though I reject the doctrine that there are antecedently and independently
privileged beliefs, because I do maintain that our theories are true or
false absolutely, for anyone, and that they are so in virtue of the way
things really are. For Wolff, reference to the way things really are and
objective truth are "foundations."

Thus understood, foundationlism is what philosophers call realism, atleast
on its semantic and metaphysical sides, and anti-foundationalism is what
philosophers call idealism--the doctrine that the world itself depends on
or is constituted by our conceptions or language. So understood, I am of
course a foundationalist. I think this is a misuse of the term because it
suggests confusion with the epistemological doctrine, which I reject.

--Justin Schwartz

On Mon, 23 Jan 1995, Louis N Proyect wrote:

> Please excuse my ignorance, but "foundationalism" seems a little obscure
> to me.
>
> Unless it's the same term that I heard discussed this weekend at a
> conference held at the Marxist school in NYC, in which case I'm all for it.
>
> David Harvey, author of "The Postmodern Condition", gave a keynote
> address and basically gave a traditional Marxist analysis of the current
> political situation. The chairperson was one Joel Krieger, a professor at
> Wellesley College, who used to be associated with Socialist Review.
>
> Krieger took Harvey to task. His basic complaint was that Harvey saw
> things through the prism of class and that this was insufficient for
> understanding the current political situation. For example, according to
> Krieger, the war in Bosnia eludes the category of class.
>
> Mixed in with Krieger's critique of Harvey was a lot of dismissal of what
> he called "foundationalism". I take this to mean a set of core beliefs
> that have traditionally been associated with Marxism, such as the belief
> that the class-struggle is the locomotive of history, etc., etc.
>
> Is this the same kind of "foundationalism" that contributors to this list
> have been hollering at?
>
> By the way, Harvey stated that old-time, class-oriented Marxists like
> himself are rather a rarity in the academic world. I presume from the
> contributions to this list that he is correct.
>
>
> Louis Proyect, Database Support Group, Columbia University



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