A role for abstractionism in a direct realist foundationalism

Synthese 180 (3):357-389 (2011)
Both traditional and naturalistic epistemologists have long assumed that the examination of human psychology has no relevance to the prescriptive goal of traditional epistemology, that of providing first-person guidance in determining the truth. Contrary to both, I apply insights about the psychology of human perception and concept-formation to a very traditional epistemological project: the foundationalist approach to the epistemic regress problem. I argue that direct realism about perception can help solve the regress problem and support a foundationalist account of justification, but only if it is supplemented by an abstractionist theory of concept-formation, the view that it is possible to abstract concepts directly from the empirically given. Critics of direct realism like Laurence BonJour are correct that an account of direct perception by itself does not provide an adequate account of justification. However a direct realist account of perception can inform the needed theory of concept-formation, and leading critics of abstractionism like McDowell and Sellars, direct realists about perception themselves, fail to appreciate the ways in which their own views about perception help fill gaps in earlier accounts of abstractionism. Recognizing this undercuts both their objections to abstractionism and (therefore) their objections to foundationalism.
Keywords Epistemology  Justification  Epistemic regress problem  Foundationalism  Direct realism  Abstractionism  Internalism
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DOI 10.2307/41477563
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John McDowell (1994). Mind and World. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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