Regress argument

Last updated

The regress argument (also known as the diallelus [1] (Latin) or diallelon, from Greek di allelon "through or by means of one another") is a problem in epistemology and, in general, a problem in any situation where a statement has to be justified. [2] [3] [4]

Latin Indo-European language of the Italic family

Latin is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. The Latin alphabet is derived from the Etruscan and Greek alphabets and ultimately from the Phoenician alphabet.

Greek language language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

Epistemology A branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge.

Contents

According to this argument, any proposition requires a justification. However, any justification itself requires support. This means that any proposition whatsoever can be endlessly (infinitely) questioned.

In logic and philosophy, an argument is a series of statements, called the premises or premisses, intended to determine the degree of truth of another statement, the conclusion. The logical form of an argument in a natural language can be represented in a symbolic formal language, and independently of natural language formally defined "arguments" can be made in math and computer science.

A proposition is a tentative and conjectural relationship between constructs that is stated in a declarative form. An example of a proposition is: “An increase in student intelligence causes an increase in their academic achievement.” This declarative statement does not have to be true, but must be empirically testable using data, so that we can judge whether it is true or false. Propositions are generally derived based on logic (deduction) or empirical observations (induction). Because propositions are associations between abstract constructs, they cannot be tested directly. Instead, they are tested indirectly by examining the relationship between corresponding measures (variables) of those constructs. The empirical formulation of propositions, stated as relationships between variables, is called hypotheses. The term proposition has a broad use in contemporary analytic philosophy. It is used to refer to some or all of the following: the primary bearers of truth-value, the objects of belief and other "propositional attitudes", the referents of that-clauses, and the meanings of declarative sentences. Propositions are the sharable objects of attitudes and the primary bearers of truth and falsity. This stipulation rules out certain candidates for propositions, including thought- and utterance-tokens which are not sharable, and concrete events or facts, which cannot be false.

The theory of justification is a part of epistemology that attempts to understand the justification of propositions and beliefs. Epistemologists are concerned with various epistemic features of belief, which include the ideas of justification, warrant, rationality, and probability. Loosely speaking, justification is the reason that someone (properly) holds a belief.

Origin

The argument is usually attributed to Sextus Empiricus, and has been restated by Agrippa as part of what has become known as "Agrippa's trilemma". The argument can be seen as a response to the suggestion in Plato's Theaetetus that knowledge is justified true belief.

Sextus Empiricus ancient Greek philosopher

Sextus Empiricus, was a physician and philosopher, who likely lived in Alexandria, Rome, or Athens. His philosophical work is the most complete surviving account of ancient Greek and Roman Pyrrhonism.

Plato Classical Greek philosopher

Plato was an Athenian philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece, founder of the Platonist school of thought, and the Academy, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world.

The Theaetetus is one of Plato's dialogues concerning the nature of knowledge, written circa 369 BCE.

Structure

Assuming that knowledge is justified true belief, then:

  1. Suppose that P is some piece of knowledge. Then P is a justified true belief.
  2. The only thing that can justify P is another statement let's call it P1; so P1 justifies P.
  3. But if P1 is to be a satisfactory justification for P, then we must know that P1.
  4. But for P1 to be known, it must also be a justified true belief.
  5. That justification will be another statement - let's call it P2; so P2 justifies P1.
  6. But if P2 is to be a satisfactory justification for P1, then we must know that P2 is true
  7. But for P2 to count as knowledge, it must itself be a justified true belief.
  8. That justification will in turn be another statement - let's call it P3; so P3 justifies P2.
  9. and so on, ad infinitum .

Responses

Throughout philosophic history many responses to this problem have been generated. Here, however, we present the major counter-arguments: some statements do not need justification, the chain of reasoning loops back on itself, the sequence never finishes, belief cannot be justified as beyond doubt.

Foundationalism

Perhaps the chain begins with a belief that is justified, but which is not justified by another belief. Such beliefs are called basic beliefs. In this solution, which is called foundationalism, all beliefs are justified by basic beliefs. Foundationalism seeks to escape the regress argument by claiming that there are some beliefs for which it is improper to ask for a justification. (See also a priori .) This would be a claim that some things (basic beliefs) are true in and of themselves.

Basic beliefs are, under the epistemological view called foundationalism, the axioms of a belief system.

Foundationalism concerns philosophical theories of knowledge resting upon justified belief, or some secure foundation of certainty such as a conclusion inferred from a basis of sound premises. The main rival of the foundationalist theory of justification is the coherence theory of justification, whereby a body of knowledge, not requiring a secure foundation, can be established by the interlocking strength of its components, like a puzzle solved without prior certainty that each small region was solved correctly.

The Latin phrases a priori and a posteriori are philosophical terms popularized by Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, one of the most influential works in the history of philosophy. However, in their Latin forms they appear in Latin translations of Euclid's Elements, of about 300 BC, a work widely considered during the early European modern period as the model for precise thinking.

Foundationalism is the belief that a chain of justification begins with a belief that is justified, but which is not justified by another belief. Thus, a belief is justified if and only if:

In logic and related fields such as mathematics and philosophy, if and only if is a biconditional logical connective between statements.

  1. it is a basic/foundational belief, or
  2. it is justified by a basic belief
  3. it is justified by a chain of beliefs that is ultimately justified by a basic belief or beliefs.

Foundationalism can be compared to a building. Ordinary individual beliefs occupy the upper stories of the building; basic, or foundational beliefs are down in the basement, in the foundation of the building, holding everything else up. In a similar way, individual beliefs, say about economics or ethics, rest on more basic beliefs, say about the nature of human beings; and those rest on still more basic beliefs, say about the mind; and in the end the entire system rests on a set of basic beliefs which are not justified by other beliefs.

Coherentism

Alternatively, the chain of reasoning may loop around on itself, forming a circle. In this case, the justification of any statement is used, perhaps after a long chain of reasoning, in justifying itself, and the argument is circular. This is a version of coherentism.

Coherentism is the name given to a few philosophical theories in modern epistemology.

Coherentism is the belief that an idea is justified if and only if it is part of a coherent system of mutually supporting beliefs (i.e., beliefs that support each other). In effect Coherentism denies that justification can only take the form of a chain. Coherentism replaces the chain with a holistic web.

The most common objection to naïve Coherentism is that it relies on the idea that circular justification is acceptable. In this view, P ultimately supports P, begging the question. Coherentists reply that it is not just P that is supporting P, but P along with the totality of the other statements in the whole system of belief.

Coherentism accepts any belief that is part of a coherent system of beliefs. In contrast, P can cohere with P1 and P2 without P, P1 or P2 being true. Instead, Coherentists might say that it is very unlikely that the whole system would be both untrue and consistent, and that if some part of the system was untrue, it would almost certainly be inconsistent with some other part of the system.

A third objection is that some beliefs arise from experience and not from other beliefs. An example is that one is looking into a room which is totally dark. The lights turn on momentarily and one sees a white canopy bed in the room. The belief that there is a white canopy bed in this room is based entirely on experience and not on any other belief. Of course other possibilities exist, such as that the white canopy bed is entirely an illusion or that one is hallucinating, but the belief remains well-justified. Coherentists might respond that the belief which supports the belief that there is a white canopy bed in this room is that one saw the bed, however briefly. This appears to be an immediate qualifier which does not depend on other beliefs, and thus seems to prove that Coherentism is not true because beliefs can be justified by concepts other than beliefs. But others have argued that the experience of seeing the bed is indeed dependent on other beliefs, about what a bed, a canopy and so on, actually look like.

Another objection is that the rule demanding "coherence" in a system of ideas seems to be an unjustified belief.

Infinitism

Infinitism argues that the chain can go on forever. Critics argue that this means there is never adequate justification for any statement in the chain.

Skepticism

Skeptics reject the three above responses and argue that beliefs cannot be justified as beyond doubt. Note that many skeptics do not deny that things may appear in a certain way. However, such sense impressions cannot, in the skeptical view, be used to find beliefs that cannot be doubted. Also, skeptics do not deny that, for example, many laws of nature give the appearance of working or that doing certain things give the appearance of producing pleasure/pain or even that reason and logic seem to be useful tools. Skepticism is in this view valuable since it encourages continued investigation. [5]

Synthesized approaches

Common sense

The method of common sense espoused by such philosophers as Thomas Reid and G. E. Moore points out that whenever we investigate anything at all, whenever we start thinking about some subject, we have to make assumptions. When one tries to support one's assumptions with reasons, one must make yet more assumptions. Since it is inevitable that we will make some assumptions, why not assume those things that are most obvious: the matters of common sense that no one ever seriously doubts.

"Common sense" here does not mean old adages like "Chicken soup is good for colds" but statements about the background in which our experiences occur. Examples would be "Human beings typically have two eyes, two ears, two hands, two feet", or "The world has a ground and a sky" or "Plants and animals come in a wide variety of sizes and colors" or "I am conscious and alive right now". These are all the absolutely most obvious sorts of claims that one could possibly make; and, said Reid and Moore, these are the claims that make up common sense.

This view can be seen as either a version of foundationalism, with common sense statements taking the role of basic statements, or as a version of Coherentism. In this case, commonsense statements are statements that are so crucial to keeping the account coherent that they are all but impossible to deny.

If the method of common sense is correct, then philosophers may take the principles of common sense for granted. They do not need criteria in order to judge whether a proposition is true or not. They can also take some justifications for granted, according to common sense. They can get around Sextus' problem of the criterion because there is no infinite regress or circle of reasoning, because the principles of common sense ground the entire chain of reasoning.

Critical philosophy

Another escape from the diallelus is critical philosophy, which denies that beliefs should ever be justified at all. Rather, the job of philosophers is to subject all beliefs (including beliefs about truth criteria) to criticism, attempting to discredit them rather than justifying them. Then, these philosophers say, it is rational to act on those beliefs that have best withstood criticism, whether or not they meet any specific criterion of truth. Karl Popper expanded on this idea to include a quantitative measurement he called verisimilitude, or truth-likeness. He showed that even if one could never justify a particular claim, one can compare the verisimilitude of two competing claims by criticism to judge which is superior to the other.

Pragmatism

The pragmatist philosopher William James suggests that, ultimately, everyone settles at some level of explanation based on one's personal preferences that fit the particular individual's psychological needs. People select whatever level of explanation fits their needs, and things other than logic and reason determine those needs. In The Sentiment of Rationality, James compares the philosopher, who insists on a high degree of justification, and the boor, who accepts or rejects ideals without much thought:

The philosopher's logical tranquillity is thus in essence no other than the boor's. They differ only as to the point at which each refuses to let further considerations upset the absoluteness of the data he assumes.

See also

Related Research Articles

Reliabilism, a category of theories in the philosophical discipline of epistemology, has been advanced as a theory both of justification and of knowledge. Process reliabilism has been used as an argument against philosophical skepticism, such as the brain in a vat thought experiment. Process reliabilism is a form of epistemic externalism.

The Gettier problem, in the field of epistemology, is a landmark philosophical problem concerning our understanding of descriptive knowledge. Attributed to American philosopher Edmund Gettier, Gettier-type counterexamples challenge the long-held justified true belief (JTB) account of knowledge. The JTB account holds that knowledge is equivalent to justified true belief; if all three conditions are met of a given claim, then we have knowledge of that claim. In his 1963 three-page paper titled "Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?", Gettier attempts to illustrate by means of two counterexamples that there are cases where individuals can have a justified, true belief regarding a claim but still fail to know it because the reasons for the belief, while justified, turn out to be false. Thus, Gettier claims to have shown that the JTB account is inadequate; that it does not account for all of the necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge.

Inductive reasoning is a method of reasoning in which the premises are viewed as supplying some evidence for the truth of the conclusion; this is in contrast to deductive reasoning. While the conclusion of a deductive argument is certain, the truth of the conclusion of an inductive argument may be probable, based upon the evidence given.

In philosophy, a distinction is often made between two different kinds of knowledge: knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description. Knowledge by acquaintance is obtained through a direct causal (experience-based) interaction between a person and the object that that person is perceiving.

Evidentialism is a thesis in epistemology which states that one is justified to believe something if and only if that person has evidence which supports his or her belief. Evidentialism is therefore a thesis about which beliefs are justified and which are not.

Ethical intuitionism is a family of views in moral epistemology. At minimum, ethical intuitionism is the thesis that our intuitive awareness of value, or intuitive knowledge of evaluative facts, forms the foundation of our ethical knowledge.

Virtue epistemology is a contemporary philosophical approach to epistemology that stresses the importance of intellectual, and specifically epistemic virtues. A distinguishing factor of virtue theories is that they use for the evaluation of knowledge the properties of the persons who hold beliefs in addition to or instead of the properties of propositions and beliefs. Some advocates of virtue epistemology claim to more closely follow theories of virtue ethics, while others see only a looser analogy between virtue in ethics and virtue in epistemology.

Reformed epistemology

In the philosophy of religion, Reformed epistemology is a school of philosophical thought concerning the nature of knowledge (epistemology) as it applies to religious beliefs. The central proposition of Reformed epistemology is that beliefs can be justified by more than evidence alone, contrary to the positions of evidentialism, which argues that while belief other than through evidence may be beneficial, it violates some epistemic duty. Central to Reformed epistemology is the proposition that belief in God may be "properly basic" and not need to be inferred from other truths to be rationally warranted. William Lane Craig describes Reformed epistemology as "One of the most significant developments in contemporary Religious Epistemology ... which directly assaults the evidentialist construal of rationality."

The argument from a proper basis is an ontological argument for the existence of God related to fideism. Alvin Plantinga argued that belief in God is a properly basic belief, and so no basis for belief in God is necessary.

Broadly speaking, fallibilism is the philosophical claim that no belief can have justification which guarantees the truth of the belief. However, not all fallibilists believe that fallibilism extends to all domains of knowledge.

In epistemology, phenomenal conservatism (PC) holds that it is reasonable to assume that things are as they appear, except when there are positive grounds for doubting this.

Münchhausen trilemma A thought experiment used to demonstrate the impossibility of proving any truth

In epistemology, the Münchhausen trilemma is a thought experiment used to demonstrate the impossibility of proving any truth, even in the fields of logic and mathematics. If it is asked how any knowledge is known to be true, proof may be provided. Yet that same question can be asked of the proof, and any subsequent proof. The Münchhausen trilemma is that there are only three options when providing proof in this situation:

Infinitism is the view that knowledge may be justified by an infinite chain of reasons. It belongs to epistemology, the branch of philosophy that considers the possibility, nature, and means of knowledge.

Outline of epistemology Overview of and topical guide to epistemology

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to epistemology:

In epistemology, foundherentism is a theory of justification that combines elements from the two rival theories addressing infinite regress, foundationalism prone to arbitrariness, and coherentism prone to circularity.

Self-refuting ideas or self-defeating ideas are ideas or statements whose falsehood is a logical consequence of the act or situation of holding them to be true. Many ideas are called self-refuting by their detractors, and such accusations are therefore almost always controversial, with defenders stating that the idea is being misunderstood or that the argument is invalid. For these reasons, none of the ideas below are unambiguously or incontrovertibly self-refuting. These ideas are often used as axioms, which are definitions taken to be true, and cannot be used to test themselves, for doing so would lead to only two consequences: consistency or exception (self-contradiction). It is important to know that the conclusion of an argument that is self-refuting is not necessarily false, since it could be supported by another, more valid, argument.

References