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Foundationalism and the Infinite Regress of Reasons Essay

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Updated: Jun 4th, 2020

Philosophers have generally developed different explanations to determine the actions of people and their belief in different things. Philosophers have tried to come up with explanations as to why certain people have certain beliefs. The explanations on the beliefs are generally based on the reasoning of the individuals in question. Nevertheless, the acquisition of knowledge is a complex process which philosophers have developed different explanations to explain the same.

To have a clear understanding of the issue under discussion, definition of the following terms would be of utmost importance.

  • Epistemology: This is derived from the Greek word episteme. Epistemology can therefore be simply defined as the study of knowledge (cooper 1).
  • Foundationalism: This s a philosophical field that tends to formulate views in terms of justification, instead of using knowledge; justification usually develops in stages such that a proposition might have a little justification yet it will lead to knowledge (DeVries et al xxxiii).
  • Pyrrhonism: This term is derived from the Greek philosopher who was known as Pyrro. Pyrronism is generally used to mean belief that it is impossible to know about everything and therefore suspend judgment on everything (Hookway 2).
  • Infinite regress: This refers to the process of reasoning to amplify the rationed credibility of a proposition that is questioned (Turri 2).
  • Infinitism: This can be generally defined as the view that a certain proposition (e.g. F) is justified epistemically if an infinite series of non-repeating reasons is available to the person making the justification (Turri 2).

Richard Fumerton was a scholar who strongly rejected the concept of infinitism. The main claim that Fumerton uses to reject infinitism is stated as follows: (B) S’s belief that P should be explicated in terms of S’s having a disposition to endorse P under some set of appropriate circumstances (Klein 919).

Fumerton uses inferential justification to justify his rejection of infinitism. In so doing, he presents three arguments that clearly explain the reasons for his rejection of infinitism. Fumerton builds his foundation for the rejection of infinitism using inferential justification using the following statement: “To be justified in believing one proposition P on the basis of another proposition E, one must be (1) justified in believing that E and (2) justified in believing that E makes probable P” (Klein 920).

Fumerton therefore presents three reasons for rejecting infinitism based on inferential justification discussed above.

  • A1. Given clause (1) “(f) inite minds cannot complete an infinitely long chain of reasoning so if all justification were inferential we would have no justification for believing anything” (Klein 920).
  • A2. Given clause (2), not only would the chain be infinitely long, the “infinite regress are mushrooming out in an infinite number of directions. If finite minds should worry about the possibility of completing one infinitely long chain of reasoning, they should be downright depressed about the possibility of completing an infinitely number of infinitely long chains of reasoning” (Klein 920).
  • A3. Finally, “it is terribly difficult to even imagine how one might continue to appeal to still more and more beliefs in justifying one’s belief that one is in pain now” (Klein 920).

Clauses A1 and A2 apply the principle of known as completion requirement. The principle states, “For a person to have justification for a certain belief, the person must have completed the process of reasoning for the belief” (Klein 920). The completion requirement is against the ideas of the infinitists; hence, by using Completion Requirement, Fumerton clearly shows his indifference towards infinitism. Application of the Completion Requirement to a foundationalist concept and the belief (B) stated above shows that most of our beliefs are not justified. One does not undertake the process of reasoning to any beliefs using any foundational beliefs. This would usually lead to a very large number of propositions that would be just too many for the individual to handle (Klein 920).

In (B) stated above, Fumerton shows that S does not bear a certain belief simply because there is a justification available to S to explain the belief. Hence, the presence of a justification does not automatically lead to the belief being justified. To explain this further, Fumerton states that:

“For a belief to be actually justified, we might again want to require more that the believer have justification for holding the belief. We might want to require in addition there be some legitimate chain of reasoning leading to non-inferentially justified beliefs to the conclusion in question, the existence of which is causally sustaining the belief” (Klein 920).

Generally, infinitism should provide the distinction between S’s just having a justification for P and also provide the justification of P being justified for S. An example showing that S does not necessary have to justify for S may believe P simply out of wishful thinking, but not the fact that P has been justified. For justification to occur there must have been a legitimate chain of reasoning, which is “causally sustaining of the belief, rather than rehearsing the justification process, which is generally contrary to the Completion Requirement”; the Completion Requirement therefore rules out that most of the beliefs have actually been justified even when using foundationalists ground as the basis for the justification (Klein 920).

Generally, infinitists, foundationalists, and cohentists agree that for a belief being justified, there must be a suitable causal history and a well-structured set of reasons to justify the belief. Hence, if infinitism were to explain our justification of different things solely, then one of the following scenarios would definitely have to occur: 1) we can revise our concept of normative structure of good reasoning; 2) we can adopt a form of Pyrrhonism (withholding assent to any proposition requiring a justification; 3) we can accept an antinomy (Klein 920). However, since is not generally the case, the argument by infinitists is therefore shown not to be true.

The other argument that Fumerton uses to oppose infinitism is A2 stated above. The argument states that infinite regress seems to be mushrooming in infinite number of directions, hence making the infinitism to be unsuitable to explain justification, as the justification process would be too complex for an individual to undertake the process of regress.

However, Klein disagrees with Fumerton on the basis that, for the statement to be true, it requires some proposition which would be formulated in the form of “E makes probable P” for the statement to be justified. To have a clear explanation of the above proposition, we use the example that “something appearing to be a car might indeed be a car” (Klein 920). In the above proposition, Fumerton argues that whenever E, P becomes probable; however, the appearing object is correctly predicted to a car since there is a general accepted truth in how things appear and how they are. Hence, the general truth is used to explain a certain situation. Therefore, this makes the above propositions to non-inferentially justified, thus making Klein to refute Fumerton’s argument since according to him, these types of statements require inferential justification.

The other reasons that make Klein refute the statement A2 made by Fumerton is the former’s view that in believing a proposition, P, due to another proposition, E, what is mainly required is that: 1) a person must be justified in believing E.; and 2) if E is true, person must be justified believing that E makes P probable (Klein 923).

However, Klein is of the view that one is not justified in believing the second proposition i.e. that E makes P probable. For one to have a justified belief of P the person must be a very good entomologist; hence, this disapproves the statement. To understand clause (2) clearly as written by Fumerton, the following excerpt would suffice:

“Thus the argument for strong skepticism with respect to the physical world relies on clause 2 by insisting that a belief in physical objects inferred from what we know about the character of our sensations is rational only if we have some reason to suppose that there is a connection between the occurrence of certain sensations and the existence of certain objects” (Klein 924).

Hence, in the above statement, Fumerton states that in order to show consideration to skepticism, one must be in a position to accept it as true first. Skeptics generally believe that there is a logical gap in the belief that one can form belief on physical objects while using their sensations to form a basis for the belief. However, the above statement by the skeptics does not generally counter the truth in the argument that beliefs on sensations by an individual makes beliefs about objects that are physical to be probable.

However, Klein does agree with Fumerton’s argument as stated in A3. To oppose argument A3 as stated by Fumerton, Klein uses the following statement:

“Suppose that some proposition, say F, is offered as a putative foundational one; Echoing Pyrrhonism, the infinitist will claim: either F has some characteristic that makes it such that it is (highly likely to be) true or it does not. If it does, then the possession of that characteristic can be and should be offered as a reason for thinking that it is true-and the regress continues. If it doesn’t, then there is nothing that distinguishes it from non-foundational propositions and it becomes arbitrary to treat it as foundational” (Klein 925).

Hence, Klein is of the view that argument on infinitism would lead to the development of very many other issues and should therefore be rejected using very strong arguments for the arguments to hold.

Existence of a Priori Knowledge

Priori knowledge is derived from a Latin word which means from the former. Hence, priori can philosophically be defined as proposition knowledge, which is known to be true autonomously, or before the experience of the subject matter, hence requiring no evidence to validate or support it (Dancy et al 43). Several methods can be used to show the existence of a priori knowledge. Kant states the following in his argument for the existence of a priori knowledge: “If we have a proposition which in being thought is thought as being necessary for the existence it is a priori judgment” (Dancy et al 44).

Kant further goes on to defend the existence of a priori knowledge with the claim that all mathematical propositions are necessary. Hence, one cannot know the existence of a priori using experience as the main basis; however, the knowledge of a priori can be considered as a priori (Dancy et al 45).

The journal shows existence of priori knowledge. This is characterized by the fact that Klein supports Fumerton in refuting that Completion Requirement is required to support a justification for a belief. Kent states that:

“More importantly, infinitists should not agree (with Completion Requirement) because the Completion Requirement demand more than what is required to have a justified belief; to see that apply, the Completion requirement to a foundationalist conception of justification coupled with the dispositional account of belief mentioned in (B) above; the result would be that most if not all of our beliefs are not justified” (Klein 920).

Hence, since most of our beliefs are not justified, then one must have a priori knowledge to justify the existence of the beliefs. Priori knowledge makes one to be justified for the belief without having to experience the beliefs. Hence, the above statement can be used to explain clearly the existence of priori knowledge in the justification of beliefs.

The other part that clearly shows the existence of priori knowledge in the justification of beliefs is the fact that the journal generally refutes the claims made by infinitists on the “a normative acceptable set of reasons must be infinitely long and non- repeating if we are to avoid the pitfalls of foundationalism (arbitrariness) and coherentism (begging the question)” (Klein 922). Hence, refuting the fact that the “infinitely long non-repeating reasons” are not necessary to justify a belief, Klein shows that there must be priori knowledge, which would help in reducing the chain of questions that one requires to have justification for a belief.


Infinitism cannot generally be used to justify why beliefs by people about justification of certain propositions always exist. Justification of the beliefs, which one has, is generally a complex process and hence can be defined through several methods. Hence, it is hard to give a method for a belief in the justification of a proposition epistemic priority over the other methods. Klein and Fumerton provide different arguments in relation to infinitism, foundationalism, and cohentism, with each deriving propositions that tend to justify and protect the truth of his point of view.

For instance, Fumerton used inferential justification to derive three propositions that aimed at rejecting infinitism, although Klein tends to counter-argue by providing propositions that provide a different perspective. In a different perspective, Kant supports and defends the existence of theory of a priori as a knowledge that provides justification of beliefs. Also, the fact that to discredit a certain epistemic concept requires a strong argument and greater understanding of the concept, as each concept has its own limitation, has been clearly brought out in the paper. Therefore, the above three authors have different philosophical arguments that tend to define and justify the actions of people as well as their beliefs; however, no single argument by the authors can be held to bear the absolute truth or strength over the others.

Works Cited

Cooper, David. . Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. 1999. Web.

Dancy, Jonathan, et al. Oxford: John Wiley and Sons. 2009. Web.

DeVries, Willem, et al. IN: Hackett Publishing. 2000. Web.

Hookway, Christopher. NY: Routledge. 1992. Web.

Klein, Peter. “Foundationalism and the infinite regress of reason.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. LVIII, No. 4, p. 929-925. 1998.

Turri, John. 2008. Web.

Turri, John. . 2009. Web.

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