Infinitism: An Interesting Assessment Of Justified Belief
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Epistemology is a major part of philosophy that pertains to inquiring about knowledge, belief, and the methods and limitations to gaining both of these. The issues involved in epistemology are considered to be of great importance, as they probe the origins and reasons of things that one would normally take for granted or not think about at all. When one starts to think about beliefs that he holds and the justifications of these beliefs(even beliefs that seem so apparently obvious that it seems absurd to question it), he discovers more about himself and develops the ability to rationalize better. Questions regarding epistemology have been around for thousands of years, and they are still widely debated today. There are many different theories and analyses that have been developed, over time, and we will be looking at a particular one, throughout this paper.
Peter Klein wrote an article in 1999 titled Ð²Ð‚ÑšHuman Knowledge and the Infinite Regress of ReasonsÐ²Ð‚Ñœ which promoted and defended infinitism. The ideas and concepts within this work are not commonly held and actually oppose the majority, if not all of the major epistemologists in the field. The goal of this paper is to thoroughly assess the major concepts involved in the paper and to determine whether or not these concepts should be held instead of other possible analyses. First and foremost, I must establish what infinitism consists of, and I will focus on describing certain points and characteristics of it in detail. Second, I will take into consideration a part of his paper that deals with an objection to infinitism through the idea
of meta-justification. I will explain what it is and how he handles the issue, as well as my own views on the matter. Lastly, I will examine an alternative view of belief by Richard Feldman, and I will examine the differences between them.
Before I dive right into what infinitism is all about, I feel that I should address the regress argument. The regress argument deals with justification and is the central problem being dealt with by foundationalism, coherentism, and infinitism. The regress argument is structured like this:
1)We have a justified true belief in P
2)P must be justified by another belief/reason because that is all that can justify P
3)This reason justifying P can be called P1
4)P1, to be justified in justifying P, must have a belief/reason to justify P1
5)This reason justifying P1 can be called P2
6)Repeat ad infinitum
To clarify, a justified true belief is a standard definition accepted for the requirements of knowledge. To hold knowledge, one must believe in the proposition, one must be justified in their belief, and the proposition must be true. By accepting this definition of knowledge (as most all epistemologists accept), one must also confront the regress argument because it stems from the requirements of justified true belief. The regress argument states that any proposition, in order to be justified, must have a reason for its justification. This reason must be justified and so does this reasonÐ²Ð‚™s reason and so on. This causes a never ending chain of justified beliefs which is considered to be an impossibility among nearly all epistemologists. What distinguishes the foundationalist, coherentist, and infinitist is actually the method and reasoning by which they use to answer the regress problem.
A foundationalist addresses the issue of infinite regress by appealing to a notion called a Ð²Ð‚Ñšbasic belief.Ð²Ð‚Ñœ The concept of a basic belief is one that ends the chain of never ending justified beliefs. All beliefs that arenÐ²Ð‚™t basic beliefs are actually justified at some point by basic beliefs. These basic beliefs are considered to be so apparently justified in their own right that they donÐ²Ð‚™t require any reasons for their justification. As we will see a little later, Klein argues that accepting basic beliefs is arbitrary and that they donÐ²Ð‚™t provide any reasons that make it even slightly more appealing than accepting a different belief in its place.
A coherentist addresses the issue of infinite regress by accepting the notion that justification of beliefs can form a circle. A belief is only justified if it is part of a coherent system that involves a set of mutually justified beliefs. By this system, a belief can ultimately justify itself by transferring justification from one belief to another until it eventually ends back at where it started. I think that there are many problems with this system, as does Klein, and it allows for many errors in what one accepts as knowledge. This is because all of these beliefs in a system of coherency donÐ²Ð‚™t rely on any objective truths; they simply rely on one another, so someone could accept a ridiculous notion as long as it fit well into their already established system of beliefs. Klein makes it clear that this circular reasoning is unacceptable, in any regards, to attaining knowledge.
Now, I will examine what infinitism is and how it sets itself apart from these other two systems of justified belief. Infinitism really differs from these other systems in that it actually accepts the possibility of an infinite regression of justification versus attempting to
solve the so-called Ð²Ð‚ÑšproblemÐ²Ð‚Ñœ it presents. Klein seems annoyed with how infinite regression is so commonly dismissed without any real arguments, and he seeks to promote a system which accepts infinite regression as the only way a belief can be justified. Since a belief must be justified by reasons, justification cannot accept the basic beliefs presented in foundationalism because these beliefs are not truly justified. In this way, there is a similarity between coherentism and infinitism in that reasons are required to justify all beliefs. However, infinitism doesnÐ²Ð‚™t allow circular reasoning like coherentism because no belief is allowed to eventually justify itself.
Klein states two principles that he finds to be key in supporting infinitism. The first of these principles is titled as the Ð²Ð‚ÑšPrinciple of Avoiding CircularityÐ²Ð‚Ñœ (PAC). This principle states that if a person holds a belief (b1), and his belief is justified by another belief (b2), then b1 can never reappear in the chain of justified beliefs as a reason for b2.
For example, if I stated that there is a chair in front of me(belief number one), then I could state that the reason I believe that is because I am having a sensory perception of a chair (belief number two). When asked why I believe that IÐ²Ð‚™m having