Sunday, December 17, 2006

On Behalf of Moderate Foundationalism

Jason and I were discussing a project I'm working on right now on probability and basic perceptual beliefs. He reminded me of some things Tim McGrew says in his "A Defense of Strong Foundationalism." Here is part of the relevant passage.

"probability arises from a relation between the probable proposition and a body of evidence. This simple fact about probability creates a fatal dilemma for moderate foundationalism. If there are basic beliefs that are merely probable, then they are not basic at all; they are inferred, probable in relation to some other beliefs that support them."

Clearly this is a non-sequitur so just a slip-up. From

(1) Probability is a relation between a proposition and a body of evidence.

it does not follow that

(2) All merely probable beliefs are inferred.

This is because the species of epistemic support relation which is relevant is a quasi-logical relation and so it holds regardless of what we do about it. We know that there are justified uninferred beliefs because we have them all the time. Most (to put it mildly) of our perceptual beliefs are basic, justified, and sub-certain (if we are rational). They are made epistemically probable (or reasonable) by the experiences which cause them. They are epistemically appropriate responses to our experiences (where "response" does not imply (or exclude) volition).

All Tim means to affirm, as far as I can tell, is that there is always some belief in the neighborhood we *could* have of which we *would* be certain (if rational), namely, the belief that it seems to us as if such-and-such is the case. I'm fine with that as long as we're talking about "This is thus" beliefs or something pretty close. My worry is one Plantinga makes use of. Suppose I have an experience as of a dolphin swimming by. I might not be certain that I'm applying "dolphin" correctly. The conceptual bit make cases a bit trickier, but the main point is the one about the non-necessity of inferring merely probable propositions.