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MWP 1.5: Justification

Chapter outline level

a.      Rejection of positive foundationalism

Theories of justification for our beliefs can be understood as foundationalist if they appeal to a prior belief that’s taken to be true, or coherentist if they appeal to consistency with a set of other beliefs (a supposed third option, reliabilism, does not actually offer any justification in relation to experience). Foundationalist appeals to a belief that’s positively assumed to be completely true can be immediately dismissed as incompatible with scepticism.

b.      Coherentism

Coherentism offers justification in terms, not just of strict logical consistency, but also in terms of probability within a framework of experiential evidence. This appears to be necessary for experiential justification, but it is not sufficient. Highly coherent beliefs can also be deluded beliefs, and coherentism also often implies an unjustifiable conventionalism. Further conditions are required for justification beyond those of coherence alone.

c.      Agnostic foundationalism

Reconsidering foundationalism, then, it appears to be the sufficiency and absoluteness of foundations that makes them unacceptable. However, the lack of full justification from coherence means that a foundational element is required in our justification. This can come from agnostic foundationalism, namely the requirement that our beliefs must be justified in a provisional way that takes their limitations into account. This adopts uncertainty rather than certainty as a foundational ground, and provides a critical standpoint on merely coherent beliefs.

d.      Agnostic foundationalism in relation to falsifiability

Agnostic foundationalism amounts to a recognition that one’s beliefs could be wrong. To make these more concrete, whether our beliefs involve factual or value claims, we could set up our own terms of falsification for them. These may, for instance, involve an expectation of the fulfilment of particular expectations within a given time period. This is an unavoidably imprecise process, but still implies that we are testing our beliefs against alternative possibilities rather than taking them for granted.