[Perpetually unfinished] The Jackian Theory of Epistemology, Stated and Defended

Evan Jack
13 min readAug 5, 2022



1: Introduction

The retreat to epistemic privacy, or “the Private,” is a necessary movement within any sound and valid epistemology. It is necessary because there is a certain categorical circularity that arises when warrants about public propositions come from other public propositions.[1] Because epistemic privacy resits such categorical circularity, any epistemology that claims to have anything warranted, must necessarily retreat to the Private, for there is no other option within the binary of the Private and Public. Now, what such a retreat brings doesn’t amount to too much until an anti-skeptical bent is given to it. In the face of attaining such an anti-skeptical character, skepticism is our first opponent. Because of the attained anti-skeptical character, epistemic privacy denotes three things: first, non-propositionality; second, non-inferentiality; and third, epistemic autonomy. Because those reasons and/or beliefs that get around skepticism must be non-propositional, non-inferential, and epistemically autonomous the architecture of Jackian epistemology is foundationalist.[2]

With the adoption of a foundationalist architecture, Jackian epistemology recognizes that at its foundations (or metafoundations, if you will) there are certain intuitions, i.e., non-propositional, non-inferential, and epistemically autonomous reasons and/or beliefs. Now, not all types of intuition are at this foundation. For example, divine intuition is not epistemically autonomous and is thus not anti-skeptically private as God can be questioned and God is what gives the divine intuition its truth conduciveness. Thus, what must now be done is an understanding of non-propositionality, non-inferentiality, and epistemic autonomy. Once our understanding of these latter three concepts is drawn out, we will then go over what has all of these three latter epistemic properties, for whether only certain intuitions are anti-skeptically private, or maybe something other than intuition (e.g., possibly reasoning itself ) is anti-skeptically private.

2: Non-Propositionality

Propositional reasons are reasons that p. Non-propositional reasons, on the contrary, are reasons that do not take propositional form and so are not reasons that p. For example, I know that logic is the case. My belief in logic is both true and justified. Now, my reasons for such are not propositional. Some have spoken of those reasons as coming from the light of Reason (and that’s Reason with a capital R). The point nonetheless is that these reasons that are behind and justify my belief in logic do not take propositional form, such as “p therefore logic is true.” Another example would be emotional intuitions. So, I know that I feel angry, but how do I propositionality explicate such an intuition? Obviously saying “I feel angry” is not actually the intuition itself, but rather just an attempt at propositionally mediating the intuition, and something can be “propositionally mediated” and non-propositional. Nonetheless, even when my intuition is propositionally mediated by the proposition “I feel angry,” this feeling of anger, i.e., the emotional intuition itself is not publicly demonstrated to the other. This other may have some idea of anger that has been presented to them by society or may have some idea of anger from their own experiences of what they understand to be anger. Even in light of all of this, I still have not given them my intuition. They may understand what I’m attempting to communicate to them by way of propositional mediation. Nonetheless, they still have not had my intuition, unless they have, in which we can just speak of this in the context of another subject who hasn’t. Now, assuming all existing subjects have had this intuition I am speaking of, then it is universally understood, yet never is it propositional in its non-mediated character. The concept of non-propositionality has been explained.

3: Non-Inferentiality

An inference goes from some amount of reasons to a conclusion. Thus, non-inferential beliefs are beliefs that one “comes upon” (or is rather “given”) not by way of drawing them as a conclusion. How it comes about does not matter as long as it does not come by way of inference. It could come by way of empirical intuitions being given to the mind or it could be God enlightening a conscious subject by way of giving them a divine intuition.[3] The concept of non-inferentiality has been explained.

4: Epistemic Autonomy

A reason and/or belief that is epistemically autonomous is a reason and/or belief that has all its justificatory and/or truth conducive content within itself. So, in the case of reasons for belief: reasons for belief that are epistemically autonomous have second-order justification, metajustification, and supply first-order justification for a belief. Now, the content of these epistemically autonomous reasons contains all the metajustification for themselves and all the justification for the beliefs they are reasons for. So, for example, divine intuitions do not contain their metajustification within themselves. The metajustification for divine intuitions comes from their divine status, i.e., that they came from God. Now, divine intuitions are not epistemically autonomous because of this fact. The concept of epistemic autonomy has been explained.

5: Metajustification and Metafoundations

To address epistemically autonomous reasons, let us understand their metafoundational character, for them having a metafoundational character gives our epistemology a metafoundationalist architecture. We have foundational beliefs that take a propositional form such as the belief in the inference rule that is modus ponens, yet the skeptic will ask us, “What provides justification for such beliefs?” If these beliefs provide first-order justification for inferences, propositions, etc. then the question of second-order or meta-justification has been raised: “What justifies that which justifies all of our other beliefs?” The answer to the skeptic is reasons for belief that are non-propositional, non-inferential, and epistemically autonomous are our metafoundations, i.e., they are what provide metajustification. But what causes us to believe in them, or rather what justifies these reasons for belief? Why is there not just an infinite regress of reasons for belief? One could argue that because these reasons are “epistemically autonomous,” i.e., because these reasons are “dependent on nothing beyond [themselves] for [their] justification” they have within themselves their own justification (BonJour, In Defense of Pure Reason, p. 146). I think this is not only the way to go because epistemic autonomy literally denotes that nothing more is needed for the justification of the reason other than itself but also that there is no need to worry about circularity, for there is no circularity. What we are not saying is that the reason justifies itself, for if we were then we would just be caught up in a vicious circle. Let us understand that the justification for these reasons is not necessarily given to us by the reason but rather with the reason or maybe even within the reason. The property that will designate this justified status will be genuineness. If one has a genuine reason for belief, then they are justified in their belief. We do not intuit the genuineness of an intuition by way of another intuition, for if we did then an infinite regress would occur, for what is the genuineness of that intuition that tells us of the genuineness of the intuition at hand? Instead, when an intuition is given to our mind, the genuineness is also given to our mind. But, does this not beg the question of the fallibility of this process? The answer to the question is not at all, for there is no process. The given is not the result of a process. There is no process of giving, no process of the present being given to us arriving, for it has already arrived. The given is given, and is always such. At no point in time is the given not given. What I have just said, I must admit, is just abstract theorization and is not as concrete as I would like it to be, but, nonetheless, even if giving is a process, it is not done by anything with fallible mechanisms, then again, this is all more metaphysical and much more a question of metaphysics, thus it will be sidelined to metaphysical reflection.

6: The Specter of Relativism

The biggest problem that faces us is relativism and a lack of honesty. For all of my philosophical investigation, an epistemic principle of honesty has been in the background, but with many others less noble ends such as winning debates and simplicity have been behind their thought process. I have no specific desired end point any longer, no bias to carry me. Simply, I will describe reality and that is all. But, what if I meet someone who describes reality dishonestly and such dishonesty leads to a contradiction between us? What do I then? It is very difficult to answer this question, but what we must realize is that the problem here is one of relativism. How do we overcome disagreements when two minds claim to have genuine intuitions about something and disagreement arises between the supposedly had intuitions?

One could argue that a denial of foundationalism would lead one to lose their claim to non-inferentiality, therefore opening up one to skeptical attack. This is certainly the case, however, some issues arise here: 1. Just because one cannot resist skepticism doesn’t necessarily mean their position is fallacious. In regards to this, we simply have to understand that inferential beliefs have inferential justification. Therefore, if one were to deny the foundationalist character of their epistemology, they could make no claim to epistemically private intuitions that were anti-skeptical in character, and the truth for their belief would be dependent not only on the truth of the inference (i.e., if the conclusion really follows from the premises) but also on if the premises which they hold their belief follows from are true.[4] Furthermore, if these premises are justified or true by way of the inference and the premises then a regress recurs. If no justification is forwarded then an infinite regress occurs naturally. One can claim to have inferential justification and just not be able to say it, that is fine, but they can not claim to have knowledge, for what justifies their supposedly had inferential justification? What provides the metajustification? And then the “metametajustification” (the third order justification)? They must regress to some principle, and if illogicality is under and epistemic ban then it cannot be coherenist nor infinist for both lapse into circularity once the issue of metajustification arises. Because inferential beliefs are dependent on inference for their justification, no claim to knowledge can be made without a stopping point which must be non-inferential in nature, for it is inferential, then we go back another step, and so on ad infinitum. If we lapse into coherence: “What justifies the coherence?” If we lapse into context: “What justifies the context? Why does context provide justification?” If we lapse into a state of propositional infinitude: “Where is the metajustification?” So, we can see that if one were to deny our practically derived foundationalism, they would be opening themselves up to the Agrippan trilemma and would lose any claim to knowledge.[5] 2. The anti-foundationalist could become the illogician. By that, I mean they could turn to illogic and appeal to the fact that since we are in a pre-logical arena in regards to our intuitions, they could technically say they had an intuition of illogic being the case and then say they don’t fall into the infinite regress the anti-foundationalist who is committed to logic falls into (as I just explained). How do we deal with the illogician? What if they simply say that they have justification because they said so?

If the illogician tries to put forward a defeater, we can simply put forward our own without any justification, for within the realm that is illogic everything goes. In this sense, illogic is practically relativism! But, because of this, illogic really has no effects in that it has no real foundation. To put it differently, restrictions, rules, and regulations are all needed in order to have any ground to stand on — a circle (a group of beliefs) without a line (rule, restriction, regulation, etc.) is nothing (has no ground to stand on). But, even in the face of this, we have to understand that the idea of self-defeat, i.e., the idea that an argument/position/belief contains in itself its own refutation/defeater, is a logical idea, therefore we suppose logic to be the case here. This all takes us to the primordial question that certainly exists in epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics: “Logic or illogic?”

6.1: Logic vs. Illogic

In this pre-logical realm we have found ourselves in, how are we to go about answering such a question?

At best, illogic does and doesn’t obtain both positive and negative justification. At best, logic does obtain both positive and negative justification. We can see here that, from the view of both perspectives, it is more probable that logic will obtain justification. This is not necessarily indicative of anything, but it could be. Nonetheless, let us move to some other things we can observe.

6.2: Can Logic be Doubted?

Can logic be doubted? Well, a priori skepticism is on the rise… Evil demons are everywhere! Jokes aside, how does the evil demon hypothetical fare? Or what about the bumbling God hypothetical? What if an evil demon deceived me to see what is false as so clearly evident? Or what if a God constructed me to think in a way that only leads me to falsehoods? Or what if instead of God, I’m just wired to believe logic by way of evolution? Assuming any of these hypotheticals are true then logic has certainly been defeated, but we can understand that the truth of these hypotheticals depends on logic. For any of these hypotheticals to even be presented as a defeater, they must assume logic is the case. According to the notions of self-defeat lined out by James R. Beebe in his article “A Priori Skepticism,” logic would be self-defeating, but would the defeaters lined out by Beebe not also be self-defeating, therefore freeing logic from the accusation of being self-defeating, for the supposed self-defeating element within logic would be self-defeating. In regards to specifically the evolutionary argument, I just don’t think there is a lot of force behind the argument simply because it doesn’t seem that the vast majority of the population commonly thinks with logic in mind.

6.3: Can Logic be Revised?

If logic is “revisable” it is only revisable in the sense that we can “revise” how we propositionally mediate it. For example, I could propositionally mediate the law of identity in the form of “A is A,” and in the future, I could express it differently. In other words, I could “revise” how I express it by way of propositions, but can the intuition be revised? Obviously not. It is possible that you could have new intuitions or realize that one of your intuitions was wrong, but there is no revising them.

7: What is Knowledge?

Now that we have solved this whole issue of relativism and have demonstrated how the logical has primacy over the illogical, let us understand the very subject of epistemology: knowledge. What is knowledge? Very simple: justified true belief. There could be many critiques of this view or arguments for more colloquial or obscure understandings of knowledge that run contrary to ours, but let’s understand that this is all an issue of semantics, which is to say, there is no issue at all, for when it comes to a definition of knowledge, unless you make metaphysical presuppositions in regards to what can qualify as knowledge, the JTB, justified true belief, understanding of knowledge is the most basic and the most satisfying understanding.[6] What I mean by this is that what the skeptic is looking for is an answer. Such answer, at their most basic and simple level, come in the form of a belief, obviously, that is true, obviously, and justified, obviously. Now, belief could be propositional or non-propositional. For example, I could know I am in pain but not be able to express it propositionally. I am not understand what it means to be in pain, but that I know I’m having the percept of pain is the case. I just may not be able to describe it. A belief could be explicit or implicit in that it could be an attitude, for example, or a propositionally explicated position, as another example. Beliefs do somewhat require acceptance. For example, I could be in denial about something and thus not believe it even though it is almost self-evidently the case. So, now that we have put forward a simple and primitive understanding of a belief, let us look at the other components of knowledge… What is truth?

8: What is Truth?

The old and famous question with which the logicians were to be driven into a corner and brought to such a pass that they must either fall into a miserable circle or else confess their ignorance, hence the vanity of their entire art, is this: What is truth?

— Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, A58/B82

About a year ago, Erik and I thought of “the truth bind,” as we called it. The “truth bind” will from hereon be understood as such: “Now it could be held that the demand for a justification of a conception of truth is itself unreasonable, posing a task which could not possibly be fulfilled. Any such justification would necessarily be circular, since a specific notion of truth would already have to be employed in order to evaluate the argument’s validity” (Soffer, Husserl and the Question of Relativism, p. 14).

Now that we understand truth and have gotten past the “truth bind” let us turn to the question of justification. The subject of theories of justification is almost an equally troubling matter as is the subject of truth theory. So, what does it mean to be justified?

9: What Does it Mean to be Justified?

10: The Question of Certainty


[1]: The predicament that “the Public” (epistemic publicity) faces has been described by multiple names. Two of those names are the Agrippan trilemma and the Münchhausen trilemma.

[2]: The degree to which it is foundationalist, whether it is of an extreme or moderate foundationalist character, will be covered later on.

[3]: Though, this divine intuition isn’t epistemically autonomous, it is non-inferential as a reason and/or belief need not necessarily be epistemically autonomous in order to be non-inferential.

[4]: It could be argued that the justification of the belief relies on the inference and the truth on the premises which it is inferred from. Because truth and justification are integral parts of knowledge, it does not really matter if we differentiate between the two here in regards to our purpose here practically.

[5]: My emphasis on the word “practically” is important here because it denotes the fact we are not defending foundationalism first as a thesis but rather recognizing it as the practical structure of our epistemology. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT because what it helps us recognize is that there is no appeal to ignorance here. What am I talking about? Let me explain: one could accuse us of not being aware of some other epistemology that actually has non-inferentiality a part of it or gets around the problem altogether, but because we understand that there is a practical necessity in regards to non-inferentiality and, for us, foundationalism is just an epistemology that holds non-inferential, i.e., foundational beliefs to be the stopping points for justification.

[6]: An example of what I am talking about in regards to the whole “metaphysical presuppositions” thing would be if someone held that we only had an empirical faculty of perception and held that all knowledge was empirical. If this was supposed, one could say that knowledge was a justified true belief about an empirical matter, for it could be about no other matter. We, on the contrary, make no such metaphysical presuppositions, for if we did, we would be essentially begging the question.



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