foundationalism

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Wed Jan 25 21:17:14 MST 1995


On Wed, 25 Jan 1995, Philip Goldstein wrote:

> 	Justin Schwartz concludes his very interesting and informed
> account of foundationalism with the following point. "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 he is right to say that
> foundationalism implies some kind of realism but not that
> anti-foundationalism

So understood--terminology which I reject as confusing.

 is idealist. The reason is that language too can be
> independent of our conceptions and ideas. Fixed by definitions and rule
> governed discourse, language can be material, a real force. Nothing about
> anti-foundationalism commits it to an idealist view of language, though
> foundationalism may well be idealist or realist.

Well, it depends on what you mean by idealist here. I take it that
Goldstein's view is that since language has a certain sort of objectivity,
a kind of public existence independent of private idiosyncrasies, that the
view that reality has no existence or structure independent of language
isn't idealism. Here "idealism" would be the doctrine that individuals
cannot change the way things are just by thinking differently, that
realism is a matter of resistance to the individual will or ideas. I
cannot make my Toyota a Maserati by willing that it is one or chanmging my
definition of a Maserati, in the latter case, because that isn't how we
use the word. (Thus the later Wittgenstein.)

Or Goldstein might have the
views that idealism is tied definitionally to the _ideas_ or
_conceptions_, in the manner of Berkeley, say, and that claiming that
reality is constituted by language thus isn't idealism, as long as
language doesn't depend on our conceptions and ideas but is a matter of
public norm governed expression; perhaps our conceptions depend on language.

Well, I won't fight over the word: how about anti-realism insread of
idealism, a standard usage these days in philosophy.

I note that as _I_ define the words, the sense in which I would accept the
label "foundationalist," which I think is confusing--the term, not the
sense in which I'd accept it, it is impossible for such foundationalism to
be antirealist. Of course epistemological AF (the only sense of the term I
think is relatively clear, and which doctrined I accept) is neutral on
realism/antirealism. But what I'm calling "metaphysical" and "semantic" AF
are just the denial, respectively, that the external world exists
objectively independently of our conceptions and/or language and that our
theories and beliefs about that world are approximately true. (Note that
these are distinct and logically independent claims.) The denial of these
claims you call call F if you want, but then F is just metaphysical or
semantic realism.

 A realist may want to
> consign anti-foundationalism to the idealists and thereby prove that
> class struggle is alive and well in philosophical circles,

Class struggle? I must have missed something.

 but there are
> not real grounds for that dismissal.

Charcaterizing something as antirealist (formerly, idealist) is not
grounds for dismissal. I disagree with AR, but I haven't gibven my
grounds. I was just trying to make some distinctions I thought had been
run together here, notably between correct and, among us, uncontested
epistemological AF, which I think is metaphysically and semantically
neutral, and contested metap[hysical or semantic realism or antirealism.

 In other words, even though
> anti-foundationalism rejects the analytic philosophers belief

As an analytical philosopher, I can attest that there is no such thing as
THE analytical philosopher's belief that_____, where you can fill in the
blank with anything you like.

 that
> impressions, percepts, or facts are primary

For example, these three doctrines. "Impressions," I guess, is an old term
of art of David Hume, an empiricist but not an analytical philosopher,
which style of philosophy (APh) didn't exist back then. If any APh accepts
the Humean doctrine of impressions, it's news to me. "Percepts," I don't
know about. What are these? Maybe this is an attempt to characterize a
contemporary empiricism. But it would have to be said what these things
are and what they are supposed to be primary with respect to. I note, by
the way, that if "percepts" are something like sense data (which no
important APh believes in any more, and hasn't for decades) or the
directly perceivable or something like that, and primacy means something
like, what really exists, then this view is a form of anti-realism.

Facts are something else again. Belief in facts needn't be in the
slightest empiricist. And there are heavyweight, serious, and
metaphysically portentious ways of believong in facts, and then manner of
speaking ways. The early Wittgenstein--no empiricist!--held the "The world
is the totality if facts." For him (and no one holds his particular view
anymore either), a fact was a special sort of thing, a fundamental
constituent of the universe. On the other hand there are ordinary
scientific realists like me who think that what there is includes things
like atoms, genes, people, social classes, and the like, and no special
sorts of entities called "facts" over and against those. But I'll speak of
facts in the sense of states of affairs obtaining about the things which
exist, thus, it's a fact that genes are made of DNA (more or less). This
is probably a pretty common view,l suitably refined, in APh.

Anyway, the point is that you have to be careful in characterozing the
opposition.

 and accepts the Derridean
> belief that discourse does not depend upon external grounds or realities,

I'm not sure what this means. In some sense I can accept this: people can
say any damn thing they like, whether or not it is true. In another sense
I in particular cannot accept it, because I hold the Putnam-Kripke causal
theory of reference, according to which the meanings of names and kind
terms like atom depend on our causal relations with the external realities
to which they refer. But I think the point is even deeper than a rejection
of _that_, something rather to the effect that whether there are atoms or
classes, and what they are if there are any, is decided by moves in a language
game, to use the Wittgensteinian (later) expression. Or to wax
Foucauldian, a matter of producing sentences approved up the structure of
power/knowledge, and not a matter (as I would have it) of whether there
are such things which have the properties we attribute to them.

Again, I am not arguing against, simply characterizing the view.

> anti-foundationalism need not fall into the idealist camp in which the
> mind or spirit governs all.

This suggests that you intend the second of my two initial alternatives.

Well, from a realist point of view, it is no improvement to say language
governs all.

 The neat, classical oppositions don't work so
> well if one grants that language is material.

What does this mean? I mean, the proposition that language is material.
Certainly you cannot mean "material" in something like the Marxist sense,
which involves realist committments. See the discussion in The German
Ideology, in Part I, Section I--sketchy but suggestive. "Language is as
old as consciousness, _is_ practical consciousness that exiksts for
other men and for that reason really exists for me personally" (this, a
century before the _Philosophical Investigations_!). But (in section 2),
"the priority of external nature remains unassailed."

--Justin Schwartz


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