foundationalism

Lulu of the Lotus-Eaters quilty at philos.umass.edu
Wed Jan 25 14:13:11 MST 1995


Justin Schwartz writes:
*}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.

Hmmm...  I guess I'd like to split a couple hairs here.  It strikes me
as slightly funny to contrast realism with idealism, as Schwartz does.
The terms which ring truer to me would be a contrast between
*materialism* and idealism.  That is, these are different *ontological*
views about the "stuff" of the world -- the world might be made out of
matter, or it might be made out of spirit.  Other possibilities than
these two could be held, under this understanding: dualism,
third-stuff-ism.  Spinoza, for example, thought there were infinitely
many substances of the world, mind and matter being just a couple which
humans live with.  Realism, in contrast, seems like a thoroughly
*epistemic* matter.  I understand this to be the notion that what makes
*beliefs* true is their being sufficiently *like* the way the world is
in-itself.  Under this meaning, a realist could perfectly well be either
a materialist or an idealist.  Maybe Fichte is a idealist realist,
although it sounds funny to say.  I think an anti-realist can be either
idealist or materialist as well.  I like to think that I am a
materialist anti-realist inasmuch as I don't think beliefs are really
much like "the world", but nonetheless accept as a matter of faith (and
class-committment) that beliefs are made of matter (I'm a *reductionist*
materialist even, that anathema of dialecticians :-)).

Foundationalism, as Schwartz points out, is also a strictly epistemic
matter.  But it's not so much a question of what makes beliefs good as
it is how they relate to one another.  I suppose foundationalism is a
topological claim that descending chains have greatest lower bounds
("roots end", I guess).  It's not merit, but structure which is at issue
IMO with (anti-)foundationalism, making its concern perhaps a branch of
psychology, along the lines of what sometimes nowadays gets called
'cognitive epistemology' or the like.

Yours, Lulu...

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