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Pro (for)
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The Contender
Con (against)
4 Points

Foundationalism is a sound theory of epistemic justification

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 3/15/2012 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 4,136 times Debate No: 22035
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (18)
Votes (1)




===Resolution and BoP===

The burden on Pro in this debate will be to provide and defend argument(s) in favor of the epistemic soundness of foundationalism as a theory. The burden of Con will be to show why these arguments or reasons are either flawed or insufficient to justify foundationalism.


Foundationalism will be defined as the epistemological theory that all knowledge and justified belief rests ultimately on a foundation of noninferential knowldge or justified belief[1].

Theories of epistemic justification deal with the conditions necessary for the justification of knowledge or justified belief. A theory of epistemic justifcation is sound if it is valid or correct.


1. Drops will count as concessions.

2. Semantic or abusive arguments will not be counted.

3. New arguments brought in the last round will not be counted.

4. R1 is for acceptance. Argumentation will begin in R2.




I accept.
Debate Round No. 1



Foundationalism purports to be a sound epistemic method of justification. It sets out a specific theory of how knowledge can come to be justified, differentiated from other competing epistemic theories such as coherentism and infinitism. In this debate, I will lay out and attempt to defend foundationalism as a sound epistemic theory. Con may either choose to simply attempt to refute my arguments, or he may argue for a competing theory if he wishes. In this debate, I will defend foundationalism mainly from the perspective of the regress argument. The regress argument proceeds as follows:

Premise 1: in order to be justified in believing a contingent proposition C, one must have a reason R for believing so.

If a proposition is not true by necessity than it follows that there must be some inferential reason for believing it to be true. For instance, the fact that I have red hair is not true by necessity i.e. it is not true in all possible worlds. It is perfectly reasonable to imagine a world in which I would have been born with blond hair or brown hair, etc. Therefore, one would need some inferential reason for the belief "Socialpinko has red hair" to be justified. To just assume that I will have red hair without reason (even if it turns out to be true) cannot be considered justified belief as the proposition itself is not true by necessity.

Premise 2: R can either be a contingent or a necessary proposition.

Some propositions can be known to be necessary. That is, it's not possible to argumentatively deny them. Propositions of this nature include the classic laws of logic and the existence of one's own mind. All other propositions which must be justified via inferential reasoning can be described as contingent propositions. The terms necessary and contingent in the scope of this debate can be defined as describing propositions which are true by necessity and propositions which are not respectively. Reason R for justified belief of C is either self necessitating or must further rely on some other premise for justification.

Premise 3: If R is a necessary proposition than foundationalism proves true.

On foundationalism, all justified belief is ultimately grounded in belief which is non-inferentially justified. If R is true by necessity than it holds that it is non-inferentially justified and hence foundationalism.

Premise 4: If R is a contingent proposition than it must also be justified by some further reason S, ad infinitum.

From Premise 1, it holds that a contingent proposition can only be justified if there is some reason to believe it. If there wasn't a reason necessary than the proposition would not be contingent in the first place. But since R is contingent, we can logically assume that there must be another reason S to justify belief in reason R. However, here we are in the same epistemic state as in Premise 2. To justify reason S there must be some reason T and for reason T some reason U ad infinitum. Without a finite grounding of justification, one can never call upon the reason for the justification of some belief and thus that belief itself cannot be ultimately justified.

Conclusion: There must be some foundational proposition which does not require inferential justification.

Since the argument itself is valid, the premises if they hold true will necessitate the conclusion. There must be some foundational proposition or propositions from which all subsequent knowledge can be justified by reference to. It isn't impossible to figure out what some of these propositions could be. Descartes' "I think therefore I am" by itself can serve as an incontrovertible foundation for epistemic justification of existence. We start with our own minds and move on to other things from there.



Thanks to socialpinko for offering this challenge. I've been looking for a good philosophical debate, and I finally have the time to take one seriously, so I'm excited about this. Since I'm not defending a position of my own, I don't have much of an introduction. My strategy is all out attack from all directions!

Offensive Arguments:

A1: The Coherentist Alternative

In P1, Pro argues that a proposition C is justified iff (if and only if) there is a proposition R that justifies it. R's justification of C does not preclude C's justification of R. Suppose that C is '2 + 2 = 4' and R is “4 – 2 = 2.” Both of these propositions could be mutually justifying. So Pro's basic premise gives us no reason to prefer foundationalism over coherentism. cf.


CA1: In order to be justified in believing a contingent proposition C, one must have a reason R for believing so.

Reply 1: Hume's Skepticism:

It is impossible to establish whether one atomic proposition's truth is related to the truth of another. Per Wittgenstein, there can be no logical relationship between propositions that are truly atomic. Compound propositions can be broken down into their constituent analytic relationships and atomic propositions. So the only reason we can deduce “she is my sibling” from “she is my sister” is because we know that “she is my sister” means “she is my sibling & she is female.” The knowledge is already contained in the original statement; it is 'inferred' analytically.

For two truly unconnected statements, there is no way of establishing that one is a 'reason' for another. No matter how many times my coat gets wet when I throw water on it, there is no way to establish that it the water is what makes my coat wet. There are no 'causal bands' anywhere in the universe, and truly strict science really has no need for concepts of causality. Given our inability to ascertain reasons, Pro's epistemology leaves us unable to justify anything.

Reply 2: Radical Skepticism:

Pro's first premise is a conditional: we must have a reason R for believing C if we are justified in believing C. If we aren't justified in believing C, we don't need a justification. That gets us out of the regress right away. It would mean that there exists no C such that we are justified in believing C, but what if that really is the case? Pro assumes that we are indeed justified in believing some things, but there is no prima facie reason to accept that. If we might be brains in vats, mightn't everything we believe be called into doubt?

CA2: R can either be a contingent or a necessary proposition.

I concede this point.

CA3: If R is a necessary proposition [then] foundationalism proves true.

Reply: Metaphysical necessity is epistemically irrelevant.

Pro correctly defines foundationalism as the position that epistemic justification ultimately rests on non-inferential knowledge, but then goes on to argument that it is based on necessary propositions. Just because a statement is necessarily true does not mean that it can be known non-inferentially. The proposition “there are more real numbers than natural numbers” is perhaps one of the greatest ideas of human thought, and it is necessarily true inasmuch as any proposition could be, but it is by no means foundational. One would certainly be expected to provide a justification for such a thesis (and indeed Cantor did with his famous diagonal argument). A necessary proposition by no means does a non-inferential proposition make. Pro has not established that a proposition can actually be justified non-inferentially, and it's by no means obvious how we would single out certain propositions as specially exempt from the need for proof.

CA4: If R is a contingent proposition than it must also be justified by some further reason S, ad infinitum.

Reply 1:

cf. above reply – Whether R is necessary or contingent is irrelevant.

Reply 2: Infinitism works just fine.

Not every infinite cycle is a vicious cycle. Suppose that n is an integer iff n+1 is an integer (this should not make anyone mathematically uncomfortable). Must we accept that there is some highest integer? Of course not, that would be ludicrous. We know that, though there is an infinite number of integers, for every integer there is one higher. There is no 'final solution,' but the problem is solved at every stage. Likewise, if we have an infinity of propositions, every single one can be justified by a subsequent one without there ever having to be an end.


Pro seems a bit confused about foundationalism. Foundationalism does not require that the non-inferential beliefs be beliefs in necessary propositions. A foundationalist might argue that our immediate sense data can be known without justification, even though it is clearly contingent. For example, if I feel cold, I can't doubt that I feel cold (though I might doubt that I am actually cold). On the other hand, just because a proposition is necessary by no means means that it is non-inferential. At best, Pro has demonstrated that there are necessary facts that explain all other facts. He has not demonstrated that there are basic beliefs that justify our other beliefs.

Debate Round No. 2


socialpinko forfeited this round.


I extend my arguments :(
Debate Round No. 3


socialpinko forfeited this round.


Extend again. All my rebuttals went uncontested and drops count as concessions so I win automatically.
Debate Round No. 4
18 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by The_Fool_on_the_hill 5 years ago
Why popculture I would like to debate it on the side of foundationalism if you are arguing for the other side....
Posted by Jon1 5 years ago

I assumed you knew, others probably too.
Posted by popculturepooka 5 years ago
WHY didn't anyone tell me this debate was going on? >:(
Posted by socialpinko 5 years ago
@Fourtrouble, what do you mean by transformations?
Posted by The_Fool_on_the_hill 5 years ago
I would have liked to argue this one.
Posted by FourTrouble 5 years ago
I have to say, I'm looking forward to reading this debate.
Posted by FourTrouble 5 years ago
Personally, I define epistemic justification as anything that is unchanging after undergoing transformations. Algebra offers the best examples, where relationships are preserved (unchanged) even though the variables change.
Posted by socialpinko 5 years ago
If it comes up in actual debate we can hash it out then. I think a general idea of justification is good enough for the introductory round.
Posted by Grape 5 years ago
I don't have a specific definition in mind. What I don't want is for us to be bound to "validity or correctness" as a definition if it comes into question. I think it's just too vague to resolve any difference in interpretation.

Really, I think we both have the same thing in mind when we talk about justification. Justification is about having a good reason for believing something. I don't think we need to agree on what a good reason is. That should be part of the debate.
Posted by socialpinko 5 years ago
What definition would you rather use?
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by 16kadams 5 years ago
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Total points awarded:04 
Reasons for voting decision: FF