Grounds with no Foundation: or, a Brief Look at Whether or Not Fichte and Kant Were Foundationalists and What Relevance that Might Have for Us Today

Foundationalism has had a really rough time in the last few centuries. Starting with Thomas Reid‘s attacks on ‘the way of ideas’, finding perhaps their most sophisticated articulations in Sellars and his attack on the ‘myth of the given’ (both Reid and Sellars are concerned with the foundations of empirical knowledge here) and continuing with Rorty and his attack on the ‘mirror of nature’, powerful arguments have been leveled at what has been, according to the received wisdom, the reigning theory of knowledge for most of history. Alvin Plantinga has rather famously given classical foundationalism a final kick. Now, a perusal of these links will show that foundationalism is indeed a many splendored thing: there are epistemic and metaphysical articulations to be found, ranging from Descartes to the British empiricists to Russell, but the overall moral is this: the idea that knowledge requires foundations (of any of the kinds listed above) in order to be rational is at the very least open to serious doubt. Now, the fact that foundationalism is in doubt doesn’t negate the idea that knowledge may have foundations more generally. Plantinga is a good case study here, since while he objects to classical foundationalism he is still a sort-of, or a modest, foundationalist. It may be more helpful to put it this way: while the requirement for foundations for knowledge to be rational may be called into question, the question of grounds for knowledge is still alive and well. Continue reading

Thought Notes 8/1/2014

The last few days I’ve been reading about post-Kantian moral philosophy, primarily Fichte. It’s a very interesting project, which could probably be summed as an attempt to construct an ‘objective’ morality in the absence of God, using the ‘Ego’ or ‘I’ or ‘Self’ as an axiomatic starting point. It’s interesting – what started as a project grounded in the rejection of (what Fichte and Co. perceived as) ‘dogma’ ended up providing its own dogma in the form of the postulates of practical reason:

‘Failing a rational justification of morality, and granting that morality is inseparable from human life, there is nothing else to do but take morality for a self-justifying fact. But when morality does not flow from what we know, it becomes free to prescribe for us what we ought to believe.’ (Etienne Gilson, ‘The Unity of Philosophical Experience’, p. 186)

I’ve also been reading ‘Faith and Rationality’, and started William Alston’s essay on religious perception and experience last night. Alston locates religious epistemology in the realm of epistemic practices – practices of forming belief. Fairly interesting, and more readable than Plantinga’s essay. I love Plantinga, but sometimes he can be a bit dense.

Another thought I had was whether existentialism makes more sense as a psychology than as a philosophy or metaphysic. I’ll ponder this one a bit more.