The Bounds of Justification

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Bruno, G. Anthony
Foundationalism , Coherentism , Transcendental Awareness , Kant , Wittgenstein , Skepticism , Grounding , Naturalism , Normativity
In the Theaetetus, Socrates proposes that knowledge is true belief that is accounted for or justified. The question that intuitively follows is what the proper structure of a justifying account of true belief is. Answers to this question are available throughout the history of philosophy and are generally vulnerable to the Agrippan trilemma of justification that originates with Pyrrhonian skepticism. I trace the influence of Pyrrhonism on the search for the proper structure of justification as it plays out in the current debate between coherentists and “contemporary” foundationalists. I expose their principal concerns—normative and naturalist, respectively—as descendants of ancient skeptical challenges. Illuminating this lineage shows that currently competing forms of justification are locked into a dilemma that is circumscribed by the Agrippan trilemma. Immanuel Kant and Ludwig Wittgenstein grapple with precursors to the current debate, which sets an interesting precedent for John McDowell’s attempt to resolve it with what I think is a conceptualist interpretation of contemporary foundationalism. I argue that a genetic story heuristically reinforces McDowell’s interpretation in a way that frustrates normative and naturalist concerns and leaves open the threat of skepticism. I in turn portray Kant and Wittgenstein as capable of domesticating these threats with a unique structure of justification that I argue is non-epistemically foundationalist. Such a structure meets the Socratic challenge that justifying true belief itself requires true belief as to the soundness of this justification. My central aim is to show how non-epistemic foundationalism is a matter of grounding, which depicts an asymmetrical relationship between empirical belief and pre-cognitive or transcendental awareness. I conclude that a grounding model satisfies normative and naturalist concerns and thereby offers a way out of the contemporary dilemma and an escape from the Agrippan trilemma.
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