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  • Writer's pictureBurak Yetistiren

Does infinitism provide a better response to the regress problem than foundationalism & coherentism?

Introduction

In the regress problem it is argued that every proposition needs have a justification. Also, every justification requires support. Hence, we have an infinite iteration, that any proposition can be infinitely questioned. There are solutions to address the problem namely, foundationalism, coherentism, and infinitism, which are considered for our problem. In this paper we analyze if one of the solutions, namely the Infinitism, is better than the two others, Coherentism and Foundationalism, or not. My personal belief towards this question is, indeed, the solution offers a more feasible response than the others. The points the prove and disprove my view shall be further discussed in the following parts.


 

Responses of the Philosophers

The details of the views stated above is here extensively explained. The reader can refer to the definitions given below to refer to the views of the philosophers for the three views of Coherentism, Foundationalism, and Infinitism.

According to the foundationalist approach, the regress problem is trying to be avoided by offering foundations, on which the justifications are based. The foundations are justified by themselves without further support, from these foundations we can acquire basic beliefs, which are also called self-justified beliefs. Using such beliefs we can form justification for other beliefs, by forming evidence for such beliefs (Lehrer, p. 13). But there are some objections to this view by stating, that the way of forming the basic truths, or the basic truths themselves appear to be arbitrary (Klein, p. 40). The problem relies on the stopping point of the regress, that the Foundationalist can follow a chain of justifications for her initial belief and arrive at the basic belief avoiding the regression problem, but then the arrival point can be questioned, that why it should be a basic belief that it justifies itself without further support (this idea is also called autonomous warrant). Opposing views to Foundationalism argue that the arrival point is chosen arbitrarily.

The other approach we consider for the regression problem is the coherentist approach. Coherentists deny the idea of autonomous warrant, which we observe in basic beliefs. Coherentists provide two forms in which they regulate their approach. The first one is called warrant-transfer form. I warrant-transfer form, it is believed that the propositions can be formed in a circular manner, such that the justification follows a circular path, unlike the linear approach provided in Foundationalism (Klein, p. 42). The conclusion that we obtain by some justification can justify the first conclusion in the circle. In this form of coherentism any proposition could be justified easily with this circularity phenomenon (Klein, p. 42). There is a similar objection to the idea of warrant-transfer coherentism that the choice of the propositions to form the circle is practiced arbitrarily. Warrant-transfer Coherentists argue that there could be many possible circles for a given proposition, and the presence of one property makes some circle superior to the others, and that circle should be chosen among all. This reply to the objection is seemed to be having a similar path with Foundationalism by offering a property which is self-warranted (Klein, p. 42). The second form of coherentism is called the warrant-emergent form. In this form, rather than transferring the warrant, such that forming a circle with propositions where they justify each other, we have a set of propositions, and we consider if the mere presence of the propositions increases the warrant of each other (Klein, p. 42). The network of propositions rather than the circle of propositions has a simultaneous emergence of warrant, rather than a one-to-one transfer. Again, there is an objection to this approach. As explained, in this approach, there is individual levels of warrant among the propositions, as we are not transferring the warrant in this approach. This way of warrant possession offers a Foundationalist idea on the propositions. As in Coherentism, we are depending on the coherence of the propositions, having an initial warrant does not suit with the definition, according to the objection (Klein, p. 43).

The last approach to solve the regression problem is called Infinitism. In the Infinitist approach, it is argued that the regress is indeed infinite, that it never properly ends (Klein, p. 43). This time, both the arbitrariness, and the circularity offered in the Foundationalist and Coherentist approaches are rejected (Klein, p. 43). In infinitism, the argumentation is not settled like in the approaches we have seen in Foundationalism and Coherentism. As the regress is non-terminatable, we say that for each belief, the justification works provisionally, in other words, the belief is provisionally justified (Klein, p. 43). This is satisfied by the non- conditionalist characteristic of Infinitism. This way, the Infinitist can always find and provide a further reason. In this process, the Infinitist bases her intuition on a comparative manner, that given a proposition p and a reason q for the belief p, she knows that this instance of reason will not be the last reason, or in other words the reason q does not decide on the truth of the belief, as there is going to be infinitely many reasons. So, if for this given reason there is no reason against the belief p as good as q, we have no reason to reject p.

Having stated the characteristics of the three approaches we are considering, I shall now state my argumentation, that why I believe that Infinitism is a better response than the two other approaches.


 

Argumentation

I believe that indeed the response provided by Infinitism, is more feasible in terms of solving the regression problem in comparison to Coherentism, and Foundationalism. In my opinion, the characteristic of the approach does not treat what we call as the regression problem as a problem. We know that the issue of regression is based on the infinite chain of propositions, as each of them are needed to be provided with justification, and each justification need support. In my opinion, while Coherentism, and Foundationalism try to terminate the divergence caused by this infinite chain, Infinitist approach tries to adjust the infinite chain, such that it converges. On the other hand, while the coherentist and foundationalist approaches try to eliminate the infinite chain, they bring arbitrariness and circularity, as Klein also suggests. For arbitrariness, I believe that it should never exist in an epistemologist frame, as we are trying to reach for certain knowledge. And for the circularity, I believe that circularity is not greatly different than the infinite chain, in terms of having an indeterminant characteristic. On the other hand, as I discussed earlier, the coherentist approaches include nuances of Foundationalism, which results in arbitrariness. I believe that these issues are non- existent in Infinitism, which is a more feasible choice. Also, as I believe that we cannot deny the regressive manner of a belief-forming process, which continues to infinity, the infinitist approach embracing such characteristic of the process seems to be more feasible, in terms of solving, or in better terms embracing the regression (problem). Having provided a brief summary, let me provide some further details about my standpoint.


I shall argue that Infinitism has an approach such that, we are approaching knowledge more cautiously. The argument becomes clear when we especially observe the structure of Foundationalism. As we have discussed, in Foundationalism, we had some beliefs justified by themselves, which are forming the basis of some further beliefs we might want to form. In such scenario, we are boldly assuming that there necessarily exists some basis belief that are naturally justified. Having this in mind, let us take our attention to our main consideration when we are talking about all the approaches provided to solve the regression problem. One cannot disagree that the fundamental concern of all the approaches is knowledge. In other words, the main topic of our discussion is knowledge, that otherwise nobody would be concerned to form any sort of theories to solve a nonexistent theory. Therefore, we shall be like-minded that knowledge exists. It shall seem trivial to state this, but in the following, the purpose of this statement should become clearer. We know that knowledge exists, but the main problem we are facing is the method, in which, we are achieving knowledge. In the three cases we are discussing in our context, agree that knowledge needs justification, but similarly justification needs support. In such setting, we are facing the regress problem, that we are tracing an infinite, non-terminating chain of justifications and support. Having in mind joint problem that the approaches are trying to solve, let us proceed further. We know that every proposition needs justification, hence we have the regress problem; but when we look at the solution provided by Foundationalism. It seems that the approach defeats the problem by disregarding the phenomenon which was causing the problem in the first place. It should be clear, how this situation is causing a contradiction. On one hand, the approach is being proposed because there exists the problem of regress, which we have previously explained. On the other hand, the approach states that there should be a set of believes, which have the common trait that they are self-justified. I shall argue, that by definition, it would be infeasible to agree both statements if we accept that the regress problem exists. Furthermore, it should be conspicuous that the members of the set also require support. In this way, the approach seems like a transient solution, that has been ventured to solve the regress problem.

Now we shall argue, why Coherentism also fails to provide a solution to the regress problem. As I explained earlier, the infeasibility of this approach stems from the similar grounds why we argued that Foundationalism failed to be a solution to the regress problem. While I explained the Coherentist approaches, I stated that there were two main views namely, the warrant-transfer, and warrant-emergent types of Coherentism. As the explanations were already provided let me skip the definitions and proceed straight with my argumentation. Previously, we stated that Foundationalism introduced contradiction, by offering a solution, in which the causes of the base problem was neglected while providing a solution. In these two approaches of Coherentism, we see some nuances of Foundationalism, when we are talking about the structures of the formed cycles for beliefs in Coherentism. In warrant-transfer Coherentism, we are choosing members of a cycle arbitrarily which is also a concern, which I provided an explanation earlier, but most importantly, we form multiple cycles, and later we choose a cycle from these. For this choice, it is argued that there is some factor which make us to choose that cycle instead of the others. In this case, I believe, there are two main issues to consider. One of which depends on intuitions more and it is more psychological than philosophical, whereas the other has something to do with the contradiction of the main definitions that we consider for the regress problem. For the first one I shall argue, that while forming beliefs and justifications, the apparent structure to come to ones mind is a single line than a set of cycles, as we know that the regress problem has also the structure of a chain rather than a cycle, which should be the more naturalist view of the problem. The second side of the problem, as stated, we choose a superior cycle in comparison to the others, which we decide with a certain characteristic of one cycle than the others. When we consider such approach, the questions of how to know that the cycle can be superior to the others, what the superior factor is, and how to know that this factor being superior raise. If we say that we can know that some cycle is superior, because we know that the factor is superior, it should be clear, that we are applying a Foundationalist approach here. One should notice that the statement, “we can know that some cycle is superior” is the last chain of regress, the support “we know that the factor is superior” is the second chain, and the self-justifying belief of the factor being superior is the base case. I want to briefly state the other approach of Coherentism, the warrant-emergent approach, in which the mere presence of a set of beliefs should necessarily support each other. Once again, the same contradiction applies in this case, as the decision of the combinations of presence of some beliefs is not trivial. By trivial, I say that the decision implies some degree of knowledge, as the combination, in other words the chemistry of the set should require self- emergent belief, for one to form the set.


The last approach I consider is the Infinitist approach, which I consider to be the most feasible approach among the three approaches I considered. In this approach, we actually accept the non-decisive characteristic of the regress problem. Moreover, we no longer define the regress problem as a problem because we implicitly say that the knowledge acquisition continuum has to be infinite, that always new propositions, and supports could be offered. This more naturalist approach eliminates the transient characteristics offered by the solution Foundationalism provides, and the implicit adoption of Foundationalism we see in both structures of Coherentism. Moreover, the seemingly unnatural patterns of cycles in Coherentism are refused. There are indeed some possible counter arguments to disprove the effectiveness of the solution, which can be the possibility of false beliefs being justified in Infinitism. For example, if we assume that the Earth is flat, we can come up with provisionally justified beliefs one after another, and in the end be justified in believing that the Earth is indeed flat. While such objection seems valid, there is a consideration we have to make in the definition of Infinitism. We say, if for this given reason there is no reason against the belief p as good as q, we have no reason to reject p. At this point, we should argue that Klein adopts the approach of Pyrrhonian Skepticism, rather than Academic Skepticism (Klein, pp. 36-39). In Academic Skepticism, we see a more radical form, in which the judgment is suspended (Klein, p. 37). On the other hand in more moderate forms of Skepticism, such as the Pyrrhonian Skepticism, it is argued, one cannot argue that s/he knows a proposition with complete certainty (Klein, p. 39). Therefore, if we take our attention back to the objection, if by q, we offer some support to prove that the Earth is flat, which is p, we can come up with other q that can a better support than q, such as the occurrence of days and nights. Of course we will not be terminating at q to disprove the proposition p, as the chain of justification and support goes to infinity.


 

References


Klein, P. (2008). How a Pyrrhonian Skeptic Might Respond to Academic Skepticism. In E. Sosa, J. Kim, J. Fantl, & M. McGrath, Epistemology an Antology (pp. 35-50). Malden: Blackwell Publishing.

Lehrer, K. (1990). Theories of Justification. In K. Lehrer, Theory of Knowledge (pp. 13-15). Routledge.

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