Foundationalism, Sense-Experiential Content, and Sellars's Dilemma

Abstract

A foundationalist account of the justification of our empirical beliefs is committed to the following two claims: (1) Sense experience is a source of justification. (2) Some empirical beliefs are basic: justified without receiving their justification from any other beliefs. In this paper, I will defend each of these claims against an objection. The objection to (1) that I will discuss is due to Donald Davidson. He writes: The relation between a sensation and a belief cannot be logical, since sensations are not beliefs or other propositional attitudes. What then is the relation? The answer is, I think, obvious: the relation is causal. Sensations cause some beliefs and in this sense are the basis or ground of those beliefs. But a causal explanation of a belief does not show how or why the belief is justified. [1] There are two important thoughts in this passage. The first of these is explicitly expressed, the second implied: (3) Sense-experiential states are devoid of propositional content. (4) Necessarily, if a mental state can play the role of a justifier, it has propositional content. (3) and (4) entail that a sense-experiential state cannot play the role of a justifier. If that is true, then (1) is false. This, in any case, seems to me to be Davidson's argument. In response to it, I accept (4) but reject (3). This is an unusual move for foundationalists, who tend to accept (3) and deny (4). Nevertheless, it is what I take to be the right move.

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Matthias Steup
University of Colorado, Boulder

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Perception and Conceptual Content.Alex Byrne - 2005 - In Ernest Sosa & Matthias Steup (eds.), Contemporary Debates in Epistemology. Blackwell. pp. 231--250.

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