Skepticism and the Foundations of Empirical Justification

Dissertation, University of Washington (2008)

Ali Hasan
University of Iowa
A central project of traditional epistemology is to address skeptical questions and concerns regarding the rationality or epistemic justification of our empirical beliefs, especially beliefs regarding the external world, with the aim of understanding what makes it possible for such beliefs to have or lack justification, and of determining how much justification we have. A prominent anti-skeptical view in the history of epistemology, a view I shall call classical foundationalism, can be distinguished from other more contemporary versions of foundationalism in part on the basis of two central commitments: (i) the traditional methodological commitment to carry out the project of addressing skepticism “from the armchair,” i.e., on the basis of what can be determined by a posteriori deliverances of introspection and a priori use of reason and reflection, without relying on empirical or scientific research that presupposes the existence of any external world of material objects (including armchairs); and (ii) a substantive commitment to the doctrine of the given, understood roughly as the view that empirical beliefs ultimately depend for their justification on a direct or immediate awareness of reasons to think these beliefs true, reasons simply “given” to us in conscious experience. There has been a recent resurgence of interest in classical or “old-fashioned” varieties of foundationalism, and the debate seems, in some ways, to be repeating itself. Critics object that these attempted resurrections of classical foundationalism are just attempts to square the same old circles.”They argue that there are decisive or clearly sufficient reasons to deny that such a view can be right, let alone that an adequate theory can be developed that is defensible in all its essential details. I think that these critics are either missing the point of the traditional project, misunderstanding classical foundationalism, or exaggerating the severity of the problems they raise. I will show that a number of common arguments against classical foundationalism are not nearly as worrisome as their proponents think. In Chapter 2, I defend classical foundationalism against the Sellarsian dilemma, and provide prima facie support from examples for the availability of foundational empirical beliefs. I then discuss some recent classical foundationalist accounts of the justification of foundational beliefs, argue that these accounts are less than satisfactory, and develop an account of my own. In Chapter 3 I defend classical foundationalism, as a version of internalism, against Bergmann’s recent dilemma for internalism. Finally, in Chapter 4, I take up the issue of skepticism about the external world, and, in closing, the related issue of whether any beliefs about the external world can themselves be empirically foundational.
Keywords Skepticism  Foundationalism  Justification  The Given
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