The Doxastic Assumption

 Philosophy, Writing  Comments Off on The Doxastic Assumption
Sep 271989

Lawrence Bonjour has dug himself a deep philosophical hole, one about six feet down. He has tried to construct a theory concerning the structure of man’s system of beliefs; but has run into an obstacle of justification. He is forced to salvage his coherentist ideas in order to justify his system of beliefs which is, in and of itself, a justification for accepting new beliefs. As an answer to this dilemma, he proposes the Doxastic Presumption.

The Doxastic Presumption is, for Bonjour, not so much a premise in the logical flow as it is a cognitive practice. He describes it as such realizing that it would, as a premise, require justification. Adjusted thusly, the Presumption states, essentially, that we must assume the veracity of our meta-beliefs; we know that which we believe. This practice, Bonjour claims, is automatic and, because of this, is reliable. He understands that we can question the beliefs in our system, but he feels that the meta-beliefs are not doubtful.

This, unfortunately, is where Bonjour stumbles into that hole which he has dug. This principle requires one to swallow too big a pill. It ask man, who has been staggering through the justification of his cognitive system, to justify that system with an assumption, itself unjustified. Why not simply assume the veracity of one’s initial system and save a few precious memory cells? There is little reason to entertain the Doxastic Presumption when it lacks veracity; when it just “assumes” veracity. Certainly, it is human practice to follow the Presumption. Does, however, humanity always have correct practices? It is conceivable that philosophy’s main barrier to answers is this practice. Could not the most important target of inquery be our meta-beliefs? Or is it impossible that man is mistaken about them? He is, after all, so certain of other “truths.”

Therefore, though the Presumption is a noble effort by Bonjour to escape his unpainted corner, it simply asks too much. It is nothing but an analysis of one aspect of humanity; but, to save himself, Bonjour turns it into an infinite regress arrest. Its failing poses a serious threat to the continued acceptance of externalist coherentism. If one can not even be sure about that which he believes, then a system of these beliefs will not be very trustworthy.

Mixed Drinks

 Philosophy, Writing  Comments Off on Mixed Drinks
Feb 271989

The skeptics have won. They have punched holes in coherence theories and have made a mockery of foundationalism. Their ignorant posture, further, is invulnerable to criticism; so no riposte, on a philosophical level, is possible. They, however, do have a problem. What do they know? Well, they have said themselves that they know nothing, that they are certain of nothing. Yet, what good is skepticism as a philosophy of life if it offers no answers or even any shred of hope for finding the answers? At least foundationalism had a goal; at least coherentists had a system. Skepticism offers nothing on either the philosophical or practical level. With what, then, are we left?

It would seem that the skeptic is forcing its bitter, empty pill down our throats. To allow this is pure folly. Everyday life depends upon assumptions. These assumptions are formed based upon some loosely coherent web of beliefs which we hold. Without these assumptions, we could not act in life, if only because we fear failure and the unknown. What man would drive to lunch if he seriously doubted the continued existence of his favorite diner? How does the skeptic woman, living alone, contend with the absolute uncertainty of her home’s security? Clearly, skepticism is a dead-end street of thought. Its end result is only stagnation, inaction. This point is further evident when one argues with a skeptic. Their only response to any inquiry will be “I don’t know; I cannot be certain of the answer.” What progress is made?

Unfortunately, however, the skeptic has succeeded in damning the competition. Noone would whole-heartedly support strong foundationalist ideas. Likewise, the coherentists have their faults, making them equally unsupportable. For a solution, regard… a bartender. He has, in stock, a liquor whose intoxicating results are unparalleled, yet no man can bear its taste. He also has a mixer which, by itself, is pointless and ineffective, but tasty. His solution is our solution: a mixed drink. We want a potent solution, a foundation, for the universe. We equally require a coherent framework in which to apply this foundation and all of its deductive permutations. Thus should those who quest for empirical knowledge develop some blend of coherentism and foundationalism.
How, then, should we mix our philosophical potable? Equally—one part foundationalism to one part coherentism—or with more of one? Well, of the two ingredients, coherentism is surely the more stable, more useful. For that reason, it is our mixer. By augmenting coherentism with foundationalist beliefs, a truely tasty, as well as heady, drink should be formed. Coherentists propose an internally consistent weave of beliefs. Their prime fault, as Bonjour criticizes, is that their web is neither based upon external input nor “causally influenced by the world” (Bonjour, p108). Foundationalists aspire to reach the central truths of the universe; yet they are forced, because of their dependance soley on sense experience, to fear error and misapplication of the perceived truths. What if, though, the coherentist looked for the basic truths, and from these strove for consistancy? Or, equally, what if the foundationalist applied his fundamentals to a larger frame of thought? Could not a working format for justification of truths then be found?

Essentially, the answer is “yes.” Foundationalist flaws are easily avoided if one has an internal, working test or template in which to try to fit newly derived or discovered truths. If one’s senses are being fooled in some instance, the application of the their discovery to the coherent web will surely reveal this. Coherentism does not flounder alone with the aid of the external, fairly trustable input through the senses. One cannot form a coherent theory of existence which is completely incorrect if one is receptive to the external world. Certainly one could make a coherent web which is not grounded in experience, but our “coherent foundationalism” does not allow for such fantasy. Our mixed drink is blended.

April 20, 1989