foundationalism

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Wed Jan 25 22:12:43 MST 1995


On Wed, 25 Jan 1995, Lulu of the Lotus-Eaters wrote:

> 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,

Quite right. I reformulate the distinction in my last post as realism vs.
antirealism. In previous posts I said that in my view there is no such
thing as global realism (although there does seem to be global
antirealism), just realism about this or that--atoms, genes, classes, etc.
One might in principle be realist about the Absolute Spirit or whatever,
and many people are realists about God. Still I'm not so interested, and I
wonder who is, outside philosophy departments, in questions like, Is what
there is material or immaterial? I think answers to questions about what
exists and what it's like are just given by our best theory and
theoretically informed observations. Insofar as there is a philosophical
issue here, I am concerned not with whether Everything is Matter in
Motion, but rather with, e.g., whether what our best theories are about is
wholly constituted by our theories or otherwise dependent on us,
individually or collectively. And even here I have doubts, based on the
recent and ancient history of the debate, about what philosophy can
accomplish apart from the negative work of destroying bad arguments. (God,
I sound like Wittgenstein, don't I? But I mean to sound like Marx. "...a
merely scholastic question.")


 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.

Under that meaning a realist could be an idealist. But the sort of realism
I espouse is metaphysical: it is the view that tokens of the types in our
best scientific theories or commonsense theories exist objectively,
independently of mind, theory, or language. There's nothing epistemic
about that, nothing about how we know this. (The argument for this sort of
realism is epistemic, but not what is argued for.) Also nothing semantic:
the claimn is not, unlike Putnam's "metaphysical realism," that the
theories in question are approximately true. Of course the truth of my
realism may be sufficient for the old Putnam's, which is OK, but neither
here nor there for me. Realism is a claim about what there is, not about
our theoriesw about what there is.

  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.

In your sense, sure.

  I like to think that I am a
> materialist anti-realist inasmuch as I don't think beliefs are really
> much like "the world",

I don't know what this "like-the-worldness" is supposed to be. I think you
may be polemicizing against a Humean resemblance theory or Sellarian
picturing. But beliefs aren't "like" the world. They are part of it. And
they don't have to be "like" what they are about to be true or false. I
have no idea what it would be for a belief to be "like" the falling rate
of profit or the collapse of the wave packet. But I think we do have a
pretty good idea of what it would be for beliefs about the FRP or the CWP
to be true, viz., that they say of what is, that it is.

Anyway realism about the FRP or the CWP isn't a matter of what we think
but of what there is; it's just the view that if the rate of profit (say)
tends to fall, then it doesn't do so because that's what we collectively
agreed to say or think or even had to say or think, but because that's the
way capitalism works.

 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 :-)).

I wrote a dissertation and published several papers out of it defending
reductionism about psychology--a position I am now far less confident
about than I was.

> 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.

This is a distinction which escapes me. Good-makingness on either the F or
the AF views is a matter of how beliefs relate to one another, no?

 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.

I'm as naturalized an epistemologist as the next person. I don't think
that wipes out normativity. Let's go naturalistic on norms, too!

Are others on the Marxism list really interested in this stuff?
Philosophers will go on like this for MILLENIA, and have. "...the point is
to change [the world]"--isn't that why we are on this list?

My interest in the matter, aside from whatever made me go into philosophy
in the first place, is mainly in this point: the fashionable antirealism
associated with postmodernism seems to me (a) to be based on fundamental
confusions, like that I have been insisting on about foundationaliksm, but
(b) more importantly to deny that we can either interpret the world OR
change it; the AR says there is no world to interpret, and the
attack--logically distinct from AR, I think but am not sure--on
"totalitizing metanarratives," "essentialism," and the like, says that we
cannot change it. (Actually, put that way I am not sure that these two
views are independent.) This of course is comfortable to believe in
certain parts of New Haven, but not others. Insofar as this is pernicious,
demobilizing, _and_ false, it should be ruthlessly critiqued. Though not
at the expense of doing positive theoretical and practical work to promote
the interests of the people in New Haven (and elsewhere) whose
self-emancipation promotes human emancipation. I don't mean the folks in
the Yale literature departments either.

Oh boy, I just exposed myself as a real dinosaur, didn't I?

Atavistically yours,

Justin Schwartz


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