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sustainablephilosopher's picture

Call me a foundationalist, but...

During discussion on Thursday, someone brought up the idea that everyone is a foundationalist when scratched hard enough. This provoked a discussion of what exactly we mean by foundationalism, which Anne's discussion section apparently finds so problematic. I think we were able to unpack/ uncover more of what Paul meant/ what we all understood by the term. For Paul, the term has three aspects: a foundationalist is someone who 1) accounts for things as they are now in terms of an intention/plan (i.e. "the word" at the beginning), 2) this intention plan is located somewhere else, outside of this world (i.e. heaven), and 3) things are moving toward an ideal future (i.e. utopia). A foundationalist makes sense of change in terms of fixedness, supernatural perfection, and an eventual goal towards which change is leading. Paul differentiated between his idea of the word and Kate's and my own understanding of it, which had more to do with core beliefs that serve as a basis for all of one's action and thought. For Paul, non-foundationalists make sense of things on their own terms - they have explanations for the world that involve things in the world, not outside of it. They question everything, from their own core beliefs to 'reality;' they may have core beliefs, but these are open to question and challenge. In some ways, non-foundationalists are the quintessential free-thinkers, while foundationalists are dogmatists. I thought that perhaps the relationship between inflexibility in belief and foundationalism is directly proportional.

But still the question remained whether everyone is a foundationalist at the core, in the sense of holding core beliefs that inform one's worldview and behavior. We found that in this sense, perhaps everyone is necessarily foundationalist. For instance, we all hold the belief that language represents something about ourselves internally or the world externally - each time we speak, we seek to communicate something about one of these realms and expect others to find what we say to be intelligible. If we didn't fundamentally affirm our belief in language as a communication device, we wouldn't be able to use it as rampantly as we do. Acting at all in the world requires certain fundamental assumptions - each time we set foot on a train, or step into a car or on board an airplane, we are affirming our beliefs in classical Newtonian mechanics and modern physics, because we trust that our machines are able to manipulate physical laws and matter in our favor, for travel. The list goes on, but it becomes clear that every person has some operational assumptions about the nature of themselves or the world that undergird all action and thought. The challenge is recognizing the various sets of assumptions and beliefs that determine our action and thought, and questioning the appropriate aspects at the appropriate times. As we said in discussion, no one can question everything about themselves and the world all the time - it is too draining (and believe me, I have tried). Call me a foundationalist, but in this sense I don't think the word can serve as a pejorative. F-word no longer?


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