Logical and epistemic foundationalism about grounding: The triviality of facts and principles

Res Publica 15 (4):337-353 (2009)
Abstract
In this paper, I seek to undermine G.A. <span class='Hi'>Cohen</span>’s polemical use of a metaethical claim he makes in his article, ‘Facts and Principles’, by arguing that that use requires an unsustainable equivocation between epistemic and logical grounding. I begin by distinguishing three theses that <span class='Hi'>Cohen</span> has offered during the course of his critique of Rawls and contractualism more generally, the foundationalism about grounding thesis, the justice as non-regulative thesis, and the justice as all-encompassing thesis, and briefly argue that they are analytically independent of each other. I then offer an outline of the foundationalism about grounding thesis, characterising it, as <span class='Hi'>Cohen</span> does, as a demand of logic. That thesis claims that whenever a normative principle is dependent on a fact, it is so dependent in virtue of some other principle. I then argue that although this is true as a matter of logic, it, as <span class='Hi'>Cohen</span> admits, cannot be true of actual justifications, since logic cannot tell us anything about the truth as opposed to the validity of arguments. Facts about a justification cannot then be decisive for whether or not a given argument violates the foundationalism about grounding thesis. As long as, independently of actual justifications, theorists can point to plausible logically grounding principles, as I argue contractualists can, <span class='Hi'>Cohen</span>’s thesis lacks critical bite.
Keywords G.A. Cohen  Facts and principles  Contractualism  Constructivism  Rawls  Justification
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References found in this work BETA
G. A. Cohen (2003). Facts and Principles. Philosophy and Public Affairs 31 (3):211–245.
John Rawls (1993). Political Liberalism. Columbia University Press.

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