Outline for a Rejoinder to “Knowledge: Its Foundation”



The conclusion reached by my essay “Knowledge: Its Foundation” is that while it seems foundationalism gets ahead of infinitism and coherentism when we really get into the weeds of it we recognize that neither empirical nor rational foundationalism gets around the demand for metajustification without being viciously circular due to begging the question, thus, putting infinitism, coherentism, and foundationalism on the same level in terms of them all lacking metajustification. While this is the desired conclusion for the extreme skeptic, let us answer the last question put forward in that essay: Have we hit a dead end with rational foundationalism? I propose that we have not and that there really is a way out of the logocentric predicament by way of rational insight.

Terms: Rational Insight; Logocentric Predicament; Rational Foundationalism


In his book A Priori Knowledge, Tommaso Piazza recognizes that the proponent of rational insight has two options to address the question of meta-regression or meta-circularity: 1. Arguing rational insight is non-propositional or 2. That it is both non-inferential and able to provide genuine justification for a proposition (Piazza, A Priori Knowledge, pp. 123–125). Now, this leads us to the question of positive justification for either argument, for as Piazza says, “What a rationalist must do in order to substantiate the aforementioned replies, however, is to argue either for the claim that rational insight is not propositional insight, or for the claim that, though propositional, rational insight into the truth-preservingness of a rule of inference does not warrant the inferential movement from the premises to the conclusion of an argument instantiating the rule” (Piazza, A Priori Knowledge, pp. 124–125). To expand on the second possible method of substantiation, let me quote Piazza once more, “a theorist might try to deny that the justificational link between the knowledge of the truth-preservingness of a rule of inference and the corresponding practice must be necessarily inferential, if such knowledge is propositional in form. She could maintain, for instance, that rational insight directly (i.e. non-inferentially) supplies the grounds for moving to the conclusion of an argument propositionally known to be truth-preserving” (Piazza, A Priori Knowledge, p. 124).

I prefer the second method to the first because I don’t see how it being non-propositional really helps our case. Non-inferential a priori knowledge is exactly what we need. However, having both non-inferential and non-propositional a priori knowledge can’t, at least prima facie, hurt our case either. Non-inferential justification is necessary to get past the logocentric predicament, for the logocentric predicament can ultimately be seen as an issue of meta-circularity in regards to inference rules and the principles of logic. The justification being non-inferential allows for there to be no use of either, and thus no meta-circularity. There are various theories of non-inferential justification, both a posteriori and a priori in nature. However, these theories all must answer the demand for metajustification. This is the issue that pervades all attempts at having justified epistemic standards for justification. The theory of non-inferential justification I believe is able to get around the demand for meta-justification is one of rational insight. Now, I do not just mean BonJour’s theory of rational insight. Rather, all I mean by rational insight is that there is some a priori understanding of a proposition and/or the logical connectives involved in the proposition. The McGrews describe it as follows, “By their nature, a priori truths are the sort of thing that can be grasped in a self-evident fashion. Indeed, when contemplating 2 + 1 = 3 or the corresponding conditional for modus ponens, one has … exactly such an experience — not simply a vague feeling which might or might not be correct, but a genuine experience of seeing the truth of a proposition by reason of its conceptual structure” (McGrew, Internalism and Epistemology, p. 47).

To escape dogmatism, we must follow a point of Richard Fumerton’s that the McGrews shine light on: “one important way for a priorists to keep themselves honest is not to be driven by the fear of skepticism. One must be willing to explicate principles independently of the conclusions one wishes to certify as justified and let the philosophical chips fall where they may” (McGrew, Internalism and Epistemology, p. 48). While being skeptical is key to not being dogmatic, making skepticism and anti-dogmatism our only view is also not something we necessarily need to head for. I think that an easy way to escape any predicament about honesty, or anything like that is to instituted a good faith epistemic principle of honesty. Simply, as long as we are honest in regards to what we actual think, feel, understand, intuit, etc. to be the case, then we are not violating this principle. This principle is the best way to avoid both dogmatisim and dogmatic anti-dogmatism. Again, this is the most important thing: “One must be willing ot explicate principles independently of the conclusions one wishes to certify as justified and let the philosophiacal chips fall where they may” (McGrew, Internalism and Epistemology, p. 48).


What we must escape is both the meta-regress and epistemic circularity. The McGrews recognize two forms of epistemic circularity: epistemic circularity regarding arguments and then epistemic circularity regarding foundational beliefs. The former is described as such: “an argument for p is epistemically circular in relation to a metalevel defense of Jp iff p appears at the metalevel as a part of the defense of Jp” and the latter as “the holding of a foundational belief p is epistemically circular in relation to a metalevel defense of Jp iff p appears at the metalevel as part of the defense of Jp” (McGrew, Internalism and Epistemology, p. 67). In other words, “epistemic circularity is present whenever p appears in the defense of an ascription of epistemic status to p” (McGrew, Internalism and Epistemology, p. 67). The metaregress is “a hierarchy of defending arguments for isomorphic claims at each ascending metalevel — e.g. that Jp, JJp, JJJp, etc. The metaregress may be infinite in one of two ways. Either the defense at each level involves new premises not introduced one earlier levels and the metaregress continues infinitely with ever-new arguments, or epistemic circularity arises between two of the levels. In the latter case, the metaregress can be considered infinite because the loop of epistemic circularity is repeated ad infinitum and hence the conditional ‘p is justified if … ’ is never fully discharged” (McGrew, Internalism and Epistemology, p. 68). To escape both the metaregress and epistemic circularity, the McGrews head to defend “a view of the a priori that stops the metaregress by precluding the need for a defense of the epistemic status of truths known a priori” (McGrew, Internalism and Epistemology, p. 69).


First let us look at what the McGrew’s call the “Modal Principle” (hereinafter referred to as MP), “If it is in principle impossible to show decisively that S’s belief that p is justified, then S is not justified in believing that p” and “one has shown decisively that p is justified iff one has exhibited a hierarchy of meta-justificatory trees such that every hierarchy terminates, in a finite number of levels, with a tree including only claims about the justification of which there can be no rational doubt” (McGrew, Internalism and Epistemology, p. 73). The interesting about MP is that it “does not state that the knowing subject must have positive metaknowlege, but only that decisive metaknowledge regarding the subject’s claim must be possible. For this same reason, it is weaker [than many other metajustificatory requirements]” (McGrew, Internalism and Epistemology, pp. 73–74). Decisive showing is key because it is exactly what metajustification is. Though, what I have just said may not be entirely true in that the role of rational doubt is questionable. But, the “Strong Modal Principle or SMP” is of even more interest; it states, “For any term E intended to indicate positive epistemic status, if it can be the case for some belief p that Ep while it is not in principle possible to show decisively that Ep, then E is not in fact a type of positive epistemic status” (McGrew, Internalism and Epistemology, p. 74). SMP’s use of show decisively is important as well: “For any term E intended to indicate positive epistemic status, one has shown decisively that Ep iff one has exhibited a hierarchy of metalevel trees such that every hierarchy terminates, in a finite number of levels, with a tree including only claims for which it is not possible rationally to doubt that they have the property E” (McGrew, Internalism and Epistemology, p. 74). The McGrews recognize that “MP is a special case of SMP because justification is by definition a form of positive epistemic status” (McGrew, Internalism and Epistemology, p. 74).


The special thing about the McGrews’account is that it is a metafoundationalist account that tries to offer genuine metafoundations. Metafoundations are “metalevel propositions that stop the metaregress” (McGrew, Internalism and Epistemology, p. 94). Metafoundationalism will be our first step toward solving the logocentric predicament because it is, by definition, epistemically positive in regards to metajustification. The metafoundationalist beats out the coherentist, pragmatist, infinitist, contextualist, and first-order foundationalist.


Any type of skeptical rebuttal of private justification would itself be categorically erroneous. For, asking someone with private justification to make their justification public is itself a category error. In this way, the subject with private justification really can get around the skeptical challenge and have justification simply because of the fact that private justification is private justification. And, once an epistemic principle of honesty is instituted, we can easily get around the issue of relative foundations.


If the skeptic asked us, “Why ought I be logical?” how could we possibly respond? If we give a logical argument, do we not then fall into a sort of categorical circularity in that the argument being put forward is logical and we are telling them they ought to accept logic, hence, they wouldn’t have to accept our argument at all because of the fact that it supposes they ought to accept logicality in the first place?


The McGrews recognize that, for Locke, “intuition[, being the first act of the mind,] is epistemically prior to other modes of knowledge; [hence] no regress looms … it does not depend upon some further experience … and it promises to be the foundation for our knowledge of demonstrative truths as well” (McGrew, Internalism and Epistemology, p. 97). When we explain the relational nature of intuition as “a relation of direct acquaintance that is sui generis,” we understand that “[o]ne’s knowledge of one’s own concepts need not be mediated; there need not be any fallible steps by which one undertakes to determine what those concepts are” (McGrew, Internalism and Epistemology, p. 97). This a priori intuition that is a characteristically a direct acquaintance is non-inferential because it is unmediated, because it is direct. However, this does not tell us why such a relation yields justification. Furthermore, let me clarify that here we are not speaking of Fumerton’s theory of direct acquaintance for that has epistemic baggage such as the correspondence theory of truth that I do not care to deal with.

The McGrews suppose that a priori intuitions of the aforementioned character allow us to “know our concepts directly” (McGrew, Internalism and Epistemology, p. 98). Now, while we can grasp them without inference, i.e., non-inferentially, that does not mean we know them, because grasping here is in no way indicative of a priori intuition’s ability to confer justification of a belief and recognize its truth. What the McGrews (hereinafter just McGrew) want to say is “We have a priori justification for believing analytic truth p when we see, by acquaintance with the relevant conceptual relations, that there is no alternative but for p to be true” (McGrew, Internalism and Epistemology, p. 98). But, what yields McGrew justification for this? Is he not just plainly supposing that direct acquaintance is vindicated, i.e., “show[n] that it can serve the purpose for which it was intended,” which is conferring justification (McGrew, The Foundations of Knowledge, p. 83).

However, McGrew does argue that direct acquaintance is just an explication of the common metaphor of the “light of reason” for self-evidency. McGrew puts it in other words, “This sort of a priori knowledge grants awareness of the truth and the necessity of propositions in virtue solely of acquaintance with concepts and with the relations among them; but it does more than that. To grasp a truth in this fashion is also to show decisively one’s own justification to oneself” (McGrew, Internalism and Epistemology, p. 99; emphasis mine).


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Evan Jack

How sweet terror is, not a single line, or a ray of morning sunlight fails to contain the sweetness of anguish. - Georges Bataille