The foundational/coherentism dichotomy comes into my head a lot at the moment; I haven’t done this for ages but let’s see if I can remember it, off the top of my head so probably inarticulate: there are the two main competing theories of justification. The only other such theory that occurs to me is reliabilism but I’ve yet to find an adherent of that. Foundationalism says that our beliefs are justified by being based on other beliefs, which are justified by being based on others and back and back we go, until we reach a belief that is self-evidently true—it’s true in and of itself with no further justification required. This really isn’t, though, how we tend to justify things. Coherentism is a more attractive model: something is justified if it fits in with all our other knowledge. This is nice cos it fits with Science: scientific theories are kept given support by fitting with other theories etc.etc. you can go on.

My thought is that actually, foundationalism is something we seem to fall back on a lot. I remember back in A-level when I was making my arguments for extreme scepticism—sadly people don’t want to hear them anymore…—I would say, well this is why you can’t rely on ‘logic’ to bring you knowledge either, and the response would be ‘you just used logic to get that conclusion so it’s useless’. My response was that it didn’t matter because to me, this argument left us with nothing left and from that I saw no knowledge, or an infinite regress or something which amounts to no knowledge either. Were they relying on foundationalism there? Or was I just making a circular argument which is never okay?

Another one is Maths. My studies so far lead me to the belief that there aren’t any sure foundations for Maths because those we construct in predicate calculus and set theory courses have precious little relation to the magic-logic we actually use when doing Maths. Perhaps I’ll change my view after doing philosophy of Maths this upcoming term, but it seems like we’re all foundationalist here because we want these foundations. I mean this makes sense—just look at written Maths, building theorems upon lemmas and the like—how could this possibly fit a model of coherentism? Perhaps the foundationalism/coherentism debate doesn’t actually have anything to do with this hrm.

I remember our very first essay in A-level philosophy was on foundationalism.