Foundationalism and Anti-Foundationalism

There’s a deep and fascinating question about whether we need “foundations” in our philosophical system, and if so, why and what kind.

First question: is the foundationalism primarily epistemological (foundations of knowledge) or ontological (foundations of being)?*

Second question: insofar as foundationalism implies a hierarchy, is the grounding or fundamental principle at the top of the hierarchy or at the bottom?

These two questions give us four positions:

top-down epistemological foundationalism: rationalism
bottom-up epistemological foundationalism: empiricism
top-down ontological foundationalism: theism/idealism
bottom-up ontological foundationalism: materialism

The ontological foundationalism can be reductive or non-reductive. Hence:
reductive top-down ontological foundationalism: idealism
non-reductive top-down ontological foundationalism: emanationism
reductive bottom-up ontological foundationalism: physicalism
non-reductive bottom-up ontological foundationalism: emergentism

Likewise, anti-foundationalism can also be epistemological or ontological:

epistemological anti-foundationalism: pragmatism (or: the good parts of Hegel/Peirce/Sellars)*
ontological anti-foundationalism: process ontology (or: the good parts of Spinoza/Whitehead/Deleuze)*

The main reason why I have resisted efforts to interpret me as an empiricist or materialist is that both empiricism and materialism are forms of foundationalism. Since I am an anti-foundationalist (both in epistemology and in ontology) I am as opposed to empiricism as I am to rationalism, and as opposed to materialism as I am to theism. My views might look like those of an empiricist/physicalist, but only if one insists on interpreting those views through the lens of the foundationalism that I reject.

As time permits I’ll explore the arguments for epistemological anti-foundationalism and ontological anti-foundationalism. For now I just wanted to get the conversation started.

*I’m leaving aside ethical and political versions of foundationalism and anti-foundationalism, though I think that’s where the philosophical action is really at.

** I’m only citing philosophers in the Western canon here, but Nagarjuna in the Madhyamika tradition of Tibetan Buddhism developed a consistently anti-foundationalist epistemology and ontology one and a half millennia  before it was even conceived of in the West. Within the West, probably Nietzsche and Dewey would be the first consistently anti-foundationalist philosophers.

Questions for Christians and other theists, part 7: Original Sin and the Fall

Among Christianity’s many odd doctrines is the notion of original sin. The details vary from denomination to denomination, but a common view is that all humans are born into a state of sin because Adam succumbed to temptation in the Garden of Eden, and that this state of sin makes us worthy of God’s eternal condemnation.  Only Christ’s sacrifice can redeem us.

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How and Why: questions for scientists and philosophers?

The late John Davison often remarked that science could only answer “how” questions, not “why”. It seems to me philosophers, perhaps I’m really thinking of philosophers of religion rather than in general, attempt to find answers to “why” questions without always having a firm grasp on how reality works. Perhaps this is why there is so much talking past each other when the explanatory power of science vs other ways of knowing enters a discussion. Continue reading

The Reasonableness of Atheism and Black Swans

As an ID proponent and creationist, the irony is that at the time in my life where I have the greatest level of faith in ID and creation, it is also the time in my life at some level I wish it were not true. I have concluded if the Christian God is the Intelligent Designer then he also makes the world a miserable place by design, that He has cursed this world because of Adam’s sin. See Malicious Intelligent Design.
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Merry Kitzmas!

December 20th, 2015 is the tenth anniversary of the decision in Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al. 

Judge Jones (a Bush-appointed Republican) wrote a 139-page legal opinion which can be summarized thus: 

Teaching intelligent design in public school biology classes violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (and Article I, Section 3, of the Pennsylvania State Constitution) because intelligent design is not science and “cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.”

wikipedia article, side bar 

Despite the precedent set by Kitzmiller/Dover, creationist and Intelligent Design advocates continue to battle to remove teaching of evolution from public schools and to protect teachers who insert biblical creationist or ID speculations into science classes.

I found this interesting essay in response to our current “friend” John West from 2007, when JW applauded passage of Louisiana creationism law.

All sorts of laws advance secular purposes—that’s what laws are supposed to do, and the Constitution assumes as much—but no law may advance a merely religious purpose under the Constitution. Thus those who lobby for law to advance a religious purpose are indeed under a disadvantage, one traceable to the Constitution itself,which purposely erects a roadblock in the path of those who would want to use the government to propagate a religion. It does not erect a similar roadblock to those who would use the government for secular purposes[see essay for footnote], whether it be to set up a fire department, or run the U.S. Army, or the Post Office, or whether it be to teach students about biological science. It is therefore perfectly valid for a secularist to attack the religious motivations of her political opponents, while simultaneously rallying her own political supporters to secularism.

Timothy Sandefur

I think it’s particularly interesting that Sandefur identifies the non-symmetry between trying to advance religious purposes and trying to advance secular ones, which I know many religious people mistake.

Happy anniversary, y’all

Being

Three powerful commentaries on the nature of our existence:

The first is a BBC programme called The Secret Life of Waves.  My father, who died earlier this year, was very keen that we should all watch it, and it helped us hugely after his death, to know that this was what he thought, and wanted to share with his children and grandchildren.

The second is a lecture someone introduced me to recently by Alan Watts, It Starts Now.

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Are we in a war?

Barry Arrington, owner of the pro-ID blog, Uncommon Descent is alleged to have written the following in an email to a contributor:

We are in a war. That is not a metaphor. We are fighting a war for the soul of Western Civilization, and we are losing, badly. In the summer of 2015 we find ourselves in a positon very similar to Great Britain’s position 75 years ago in the summer of 1940 – alone, demoralized, and besieged on all sides by a great darkness that constitutes an existential threat to freedom, justice and even rationality itself.

 

In this thread I don’t want to discuss the rights and wrongs of the email itself, nor of whether or not TSZ constitutes a “great darkness”.  Barry is entitled to decide who posts at UD and who does not; it’s his blog.

What interests me is the perception itself, which I suspect is quite widely shared.

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Pastor Hates Jesus after Reading Coyne’s Book

Bruce Gerencser was a pastor for 27 years until he started reading books with non-Christian viewpoints. One of the 5 most influential books in his conversion to atheism was Jerry Coyne’s book, Why Evolution is True. Bruce’s kids are no longer evangelicals and left the faith that he once taught them. He openly says he hates Jesus now.

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Unyielding Despair

Gregory has made the connection more than once between atheism and despair. But he wasn’t the first.

That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins — all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.

– Bertrand Russell. A Free Man’s Worship

I’m thankful that my foundation is not one of unyielding despair.

The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with with a problem of pure metaphysics; he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantageous to themselves.

– Aldous Huxley. Ends and Means

I am also thankful that I do not believe that there is no valid reason why I personally should not do as I want to do, and that my friends have no desire to seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantageous to themselves.

Innate dualism and intimations of eternal life

Excerpts from a new article at Aeon by Natalie Emmons:

We see faces in the clouds and we might just see Jesus in our toast: the fact that we see anyone at all tells us that the human mind is actively searching for agents, even in the most ambiguous of situations.

…Bering and his colleagues set their sights on what psychologists call ‘intuitive mind-body dualism’ as an alternative…The study deliberately included a cluster of children too young to have been exposed to much religious testimony at all, to see whether even they had an inkling that a part of an individual survives death.

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A Minimal Materialism

From Victor Reppert:

I am convinced that a broadly materialist view of the world must possess three essential features.

First, for a worldview to be materialistic, there must be a mechanistic base level.
Second, the level of basic physics must be causally closed.
Third, whatever is not physical, at least if it is in space and time, must supervene on the physical.

This understanding of a broadly materialistic worldview is not a tendentiously defined form of reductionism; it is what most people who would regard themselves as being in the broadly materialist camp would agree with, a sort of “minimal materialism.”

To the atheists:

Some of you know you’re materialists, some of you suspect it, others try to deny it or don’t like to be identified as such. But if you’re an atheist what else do you have?

The Cosmological Argument

I am currently working my way through the book A Natural History of Natural Theology: The Cognitive Science of Theology and Philosophy of Religion.

There is already a thread here dedicated to the book, but I decided to separate the thesis of the book from the actual natural theological arguments themselves. The evidence that the premises upon which these natural theological arguments rest are natural and intuitive are the subject of that thread.

In this thread I’d like to explore how the cosmological argument for the existence of God is presented in the book and provide a place where these cosmological arguments can be examined and criticized.

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Is Religious Belief Natural?

Questions about the existence and attributes of God form the subject matter of natural theology, which seeks to gain knowledge of the divine by relying on reason and experience of the world. Arguments in natural theology rely largely on intuitions and inferences that seem natural to us, occurring spontaneously — at the sight of a beautiful landscape, perhaps, or in wonderment at the complexity of the cosmos — even to a non-philosopher.

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