I was going to do a full-fledged post on post-foundationalism, but before I do so, I wanted some feedback as to what people hear when that phrase is used. If you wouldn’t mind, let us know what you think of when someone uses the term “post-foundationalism.” Is it mainly a term denoting enlightenment values, and therefore used generally? Is it a specific epistemology? Is it merely delineating what we are no longer doing?

I would also be interested to hear in what contexts it is being invoked. Is this a term you are running across a lot? If so, where? Is “foundationalism” being engaged in these works at all, and if it is, who are the “foundationalists”?


73 thoughts on “Post-foundationalism

  1. I run across the term in academic circles. Usually, it is used to refer to someone doing poststructural-type work–where the focus is on the interpretation of linguistic and nonlinguistic practices and how they (re)construct some social phenomenon.

    It is used in opposition to structural-type work that presumes there to be a non-interpreted material foundation (e.g. the economy, power, human nature etc) as the cause of the phenomenon in question.

  2. I’ve only seen the term in active use while reading Stan Grenz. I don’t see it at all in the French Continental stuff I regularly read (Baudrillard, Badiou, Deleuze, etc). I think the Grenzian usage is similar to the Caputo and Westphal strand of theology that critiques the onto-theology of “Modernism” (but also the American Evagelical fundamentalist theology). I would venture “foundationalism” is considered any form of thought that relies on some kind of Common Sense Realism (e.g. the WYSIWYG hermeneutics of fundamentalist theologies). “Post-foundationalism” would be a rejection of that certitude and, in the Caputo/Westphal varieties, a return to a “weak” theology.

  3. A couple quotes from two self-confessed postfoundationalists for what it’s worth:

    “Over against the alleged objectivism of foundationalism and the extreme relativism of most forms of nonfoundationalism, a postfoundationalist theology wants to make two moves. First, it fully acknowledges contratextuality, the epistemically crucial role of interpreted experience, and the way that tradition shapes the epistemic and nonepistemic values that inform our reflection about God and what some of us believe to be God’s presence in the world. At the same time, however, a postfoundationalist notion of rationality in theological reflection claims a point creatively beyond the confines of the local community, group, or culture towards a plausible form of interdisciplinary conversation (van Huyssteen, Essays in Postfoundationalist Theology [1997], 4).

    And from Leron Shults (a devotee of van Huyssteen and an exceptionally capable philosophical theologian):

    “Postfoundationalism aims to develop a plausible model of theological rationality that charts a course … between the Scylla of foundationalist dogmatism and the Charybdis of nonfoundationalist relativism. This approach argues for a more subtle set of distinctions for responding to the postmodern challenge … Postfoundationalists want to acept the challenge of postmodernity, but they do it in order to take up the task of refiguring the ideals of truth, progress, and reason, rather than expunging them from the philosophical vocabulary … [P]ostfoundationalism sees the primary value of postmodernism in its relentless interrogation of the remnants of the facile foundationalisms of the Enlightenment” (The Postfoundationalist Task of Theology [1999], 26-7)

    Shults goes on to argue that a ‘postfoundationalist’ is one who would assert a particular kind of relationality as obtainig between four conceptual pairs: experience and belief, truth and knowledge, individual and community, explanation and understanding.

  4. At its most basic (and milder form), wouldn’t it be in part the chastening of objectivity, that Enlightenment confidence in pure ‘scientific’ objectivism untainted by temporal, cultural, racial, or gender-specific factors/influences?

  5. I’ve been a sort of part-time specialist in Post-Modernist, Post-Structuralism, for about 30 years or so. It is indeed, a certain lack of confidence in scientific or any other “facts,” and even to some extent Reason. It is the idea that we, our lives, our thoughts, are not really so ordered as that; that we are essentially floating around in the perhaps absurd accidents of language, puns, metaphors; the very language we use to think is inexact, associative, poetic; not entirely rational.

    It is Philosophical, phenomenological, in that it believes that we never see material “reality” as it is in itself; but only as our minds allow us to see it. As “phenomena.” When we see a “house,” we don’t see it as it is, but as our eyes allow us to see it. And perhaps as our language, the word “house,” structures our perception.

    Believing this, many of us no longer have full confidence in the old “foundations” – or “master narratives”; root stories, scenarios, beliefs – for civilization. Or even scholarship: science, reason, Marxism … or perhaps even Christianity.

    It appears that “Postfoundationalism,” would attempt to try to in part, acknowledge this Post-structure, Post-Modern approach; without however going whole hog on it. Retaining some sense of reason; and presumably, Christian values.

    My guess anyway.

  6. In terms of classic theological positions that might relate to this?

    I don’t know much theology. But popular ideas from church that might relate include:

    1) Popular sermons from the “Emerging Church”; and/or

    2) Sermons on “God’s progressive revelation,” come to mind here.

    The idea being that … religion, Christianity, is to some extent not quite as rooted to ancient “foundations” any more; those foundations seeming unreliable to many in any case. But that we can sort of “float” the dollar of theology, and key it into whatever things now seem … rather firm.

    I guess a Postfoundationalism as described above though, is not entirely Post Modernist; and might find still some foundation in modern science and reason, or linguistics.

    After all, even PostModernist scholars still are quite reasoned in their arguments. So Reason at last, is retained to some extent. And to the extent that it calls itself a theology, it still believes enough in a God, to talk about him.

  7. Thanks all, there are some good thoughts here. In order to try to get a little more dialogue going, I want to push on some issues. First, we are still early enough into the post-modern “era” where we can talk generally about the past, and I think this is something we need to avoid. I have no doubt in 20 years a ton of scholars will have groundbreaking books showing us what we have termed “enlightenment values” have no grounding in the enlightenment. So, true or not, could we be more specific? On this account, what is foundationalism specifically, and what is the underlying issue. Griffin came closest to point this out, but there seems to be more here. Likewise, what is the postfoundationalist scheme of justification (since that is what these things presumably are).

    I ask, to show my cards a little, because I’ve never read anyone who claims to be post-foundationalist who actually interacts with foundationalism – besides just smacking Descartes around – as if he is the only voice in the conversation (something like talking bad about Darwin and thinking that does something to evolutionary theory).

    I was catechized as a foundationalist back when I studied philosophy, and I can honestly say that I see none of it being addressed (which I admit could very well be my lack of knowledge of the field), and hence my interest. Does it just come down to an issue with the correspondence theory of truth? What are the main issues?

  8. Kyle: Could you be even more specific? Things are kind of vague still, here.

    My impression would be that a Postfoundationalism would still be … somewhat Enlightenment/rationalist; if not in a Descartian or correspondence vein. (That is not asserting that we really see an accurate picture of reality with our eyes, corresponding to the truth, the way things are). Probably a Postfoundalism would retain belief in Kant’s “phenomena”; and agreeing too though, that the “noumena” or “thing-in-itself” – real reality – can never really be reached by our subjective human minds. We see life through the distorting lens of our own culture and personal experience.

    Still, probably a Postfoundationalist should have 1) some confidence in reason; rational discussion; otherwise, why are we trying to talk about things rationally here?

    Though 2) it might be somewhat relativist; seek some kind of para-objectivity in whatever interdisciplinary nodes or islands of consensus appear in speculations about what truth is, and what a good methology would be.

    3) In particular, I like to see things not as timeless, but as a product of a given historical era. Regarding salvation, justification? It might regard the whole Bible, and all its theology, as a product say, of a periord of History. Which may or may not be timeless.

    Indeed, this would involve standard Liberal theological ideas as a) God revealing himself differently, to different people, in different eras (cf. dispensationalism). Even different eras having a somewhat different God; “God” vs. “Jesus” for example. As defined by the tribal, Mediterranean culture of the Jews, vs. Paul’s Greco-Roman Platonism? Etc..

    I’m not sure if the conceptual pairs here, are in the right order; or make full sense. But roughly: we would look at “truth,” “God,” real life “experience,” (?) as having being defined differently, by different people, in different historical situations. Without making final judgements as to how finally, firmly true those judgements were?

    Or in terms noted here earlier: we find early ideas of God and Truth, being imbedded in, mixed into, the “flesh” of their culture.

    Regarding “justification” ; by faith? If that is the subject? To some extent that Pauline concept (if Paul in fact held it), would be Postfoundationalist itself. In that we can be saved, without being rooted say in Jewish culture, or literally circumcised. But merely by believing in an idea or morality. Being in a faith community? Allied with Jews “in spirit.”

    Does anyone want to run with this? I myself am not postmodernist to the point that I would say, that if everybody believes something, that is the same as it being true. Not unless you put “true” in quotes.

    Specifically, as for being justified by just faith? I would want to see even scientific proofs that our “faith” is justified in fact. I don’t like “blind” faith. And indeed, even the Bible itself asserted that it proved its case often, by real material wonders and fruits and so forth.

    But all this is initial hot air. Unless you have a more specific topic we can focus on?

  9. The challenge to foundationalism, by postmodernity? Basically, “foundationalism” just means people who believe there is a solid “truth,” a solid foundation of reality underneath us; that we can reach somewhat or refer to. Call it “reality,” or “God,” or “Truth,” or whatever.

    Liberalism/postmodernity though, challenges this idea. It has noted that throughout time, different cultures have defined truth, God, differently. And there is no reason to suppose that our idea of truth, reality, will change one day too. Therefore, anyone who wants to base this or that idea today, on “the Truth” or “reality” … is, postmoderns would say, simply deluded.

    (Postmodernism thus amounting in fact, by the way, to not much more than traditional Liberal relativism).

    The “challenge” issued by postmodernity, to foundationalism, might therefore be: PROVE IT. Prove that your idea of the criterion of truth, reality – be it Reason, Chrisitianity, the Bible, Marxism, or what your Wife says – is really going to be a timeless, eternal truth. And not just another fallible idea that will be discarded eventually, as knowledge moves on.

    And finally, as this would apply in Theology? It finds its practical application, in say, the “Emergent Church”; which some would say, even feels somewhat free to cast itself off, from the “rock” founcation even of Biblical truth. Heading into the realm of even, conceivably, a non-Christ-based religion in America.

    Which is in fact, a quite challenging development.

  10. Corrections: “No reason to suppose … will not change…”

    I’m using the word “postmodern” as pretty much synonymous with “postfoundationalism”; which I think is accurate.

  11. Dear Kyle,

    I’ve enjoyed the thread here, and might add a few bits do the discussion. I realise that epochal or generic terms like ‘foundationalism’ and ‘post-foundationism’ each run the risk of being read and evaluated within the politics of their use and abuse. The fact that something is referenced as ‘post’ in regards to ‘foundationalism’ automatically places our discussion in media res. We’ve entered, like it or not, into the very rhetoric and politics about recent discussions and debate about epistemology and ontology (recent of course being a debatable and pejorative term). More specifically we’ve entered into the complicated territory of trying to locate, analyze and define concepts which are steeped in diverse interpretation and radical partiality. Nevertheless, any success in probing the subject matter requires us to swim in the storm. Hence I’ll try to stay afloat in offering some helpful insights I’ve gathered in my handlings of the surge.

    I find, for the sake of brevity, George Schner’s reduction of ‘two different’ paths for gaining purchase on complex ideas helpful. Firstly, we can attempt to provide a detailed history of the idea in encyclopedic fashion. This approach, however, is certainly beyond the parameters of the blog (and, well, certainly beyond my time constraints). Secondly, we can appeal to metaphor; figures of speech which do not merely figurate some thing or other, nor sum things up, but act as a ‘proposal of how we ought to think about’ this or that reality being reflected upon. (Schner, ‘Metaphors for Theology’, pg 3).

    Schner however does better. For theological purposes, he maps the history of modern theology (and its posts) via metaphors which allow entrance into its complexities for evaluation and guidance. Schner avoids however the metaphor ‘foundation’ in describing modern theology. However his preferred ‘construct’ provides the linguistic arena in which he discusses modernity’s ‘search for foundations’ (p. 16). In the context of modernity’s centrality of ‘criticism’, Schner discusses the modern ‘search for foundations’. In short, modernity and foundationalism become linked when humans became overly optimistic about their abilities to discover, invent and create via ‘technique of a mechanical sort’. Without following his historical differentia, I think the salient feature of Schner’s account is quite sound (and consistent with the leading features of defining foundationalism on most sides of its accounts). Foundationalism is bound up with modernity’s ‘principle of subjectivity’ As Van Heyssteen notes ‘Understanding the complex era called modernism, and finding some form of identifiable trait for that era finally turns on the principle of subjectivity, which is seen as grounding the human subject as at once rational and free, and liberated from the fetters of authoritative traditions… the rationality of modernity thus resides in a centered human subject, functioning as an epistemological foundation from which all justification of knowledge claims proceeds’. (The Shaping of Rationality, pg. 22).

    I guess the question arises, maybe for discussion, is such a description sound of foundationalism? Secondly, what are the key ways that foundationism has impacted theology (its notions of revelation, authority, relation to sources, etc)? Thirdly, if such a description of foundationalism is fair, what theological objections might arise in relationship to it? Thirdly, how do ‘post-foundationalists’ articulate their distinction and break theologically? If so how?.

  12. I’m reading Foundationalism, as a new word for those who believe in the old realities, the old verities, the old alleged foundations of our thoughts: “Life,” “God,” “Truth,” “Nature,” and so forth. Postfoundationalists are those who think that our best ideas of these things, after all, are all too subjective, flawed human ideas. We can’t really know “Truth,” “reality,” “nature,” as it is, but only as our flawed human minds allow us to see it.

    Many would feel despair here. But here’s the characteristic Postfoundationalist move (I’m guessing?): looking at this very situation, Postfoundationalists decide therefore, to just … partially accept this subjective element. To always keep in mind that our firmest ideas of “God” and “realilty” are, after all, just our own imperfect ideas; ideas defined by human subjectivities, according to the prejudices and preoccupations of their culture, their historical era, and so forth. But to try to simply live with this.

    Or begin to look at how indeed, such ideas of a truth foundation for our existence, were “socially constructed” (Berger and Luckmann?), according to various cultural prejudices or preoccupations.

    The essence of Postfoundationalism, I’m guessing, is to accept this situation and not despair; to simply go on living with the idea that our best ideas of a truth or a reality underneath us, are after all mere fallible human ideas; tentative, subjective; floating without being tethered to any firm foundation. Postmodernists though don’t get too anxious about the Ultimate uncertainty of our ideas, any more. Even if our ideas cannot be tethered to any firm “foundation,” still, they seem usable enough. And if we still don’t know the origin of the Universe? So what?

    These are old ideas actually; c. 1966 ff. Just classic liberalism, in fact. With the idea that cultures and their language warp or define our best ideas of reality. So that in part, any time we speak of a “Truth,” we should also describe perhaps, the culture, the community of subjective persons, that speaks of it. Since both are related. Every idea of a foundational “truth” was formed after all, by one culture or another; and warped by it.

    And if ourselves are in a culture, and we ourselves never find absolute Truth? Then so what? What we know is usable enough; even if we can’t find any absolute firm foundation; we can float, like a boat in the sea. Without firm foundation.

    In theology? Such things have always been known: “God” is so infinitely complex, that our mere human ideas of him will always be inadequate; subjective; flawed. And so, “God being in Heaven,” and we we “being on earth,” therefore, “let our words be few.”

    God being so far above us, perhaps we should not presume to say too much about him; since all our human characterizations of him will always be hopelessly flawed oversimplifications. Though insofar as we chose to talk about Him, let us talk about how He was defined by various social communities: clerics, Jews, Greeks, churches, and so forth. While perhaps trying to put all that together into, if not an Objective Truth, at least a meta-subjectivity.

  13. Thanks Griffin (great Welsh name by the way) for your thoughts on this matter. In part, I think you hit on several core features of foundational and postfoundational thinking and attitudes. I would however sharpen a few points, or articulate them a bit differently. Firstly your definition of foundationalism sounds more like classical realism (in its foundational form) and your definition of postfoundationalism sounds more like classical idealism (equally in its foundational form). Foundationalist Idealists were the challengers of the ‘givenness’ of realist ontology and epistemology. The idealist challenge to the realist’s claims was mostly articulated in terms of the question of how we are to distinguish between what is genuinely objective and our own subjective states. The idealist (especially in its Kantian form) sought to limit our knowledge of things to observation and appearance and never move beyond this towards knowledge of things ‘in themselves’. This especially applied to metaphysical realities like God, truth, reality, etc. However, idealism also has its ‘foundations’ which underwrite its bifurcation of reality into objective and subjective (and its further divide into ‘in themselves’ and ‘as they appear’). What underpins the idealist notion of ultimate reality as being ‘not-given’ and ultimately beyond human penetration is a transcendental foundation. This foundation, in Kant’s case, was posited to make sense of rational and moral life. Its accessibility beyond its regulative function was simply out of the question because, on this understanding, it’d be brought back into the arena of appearance…etc. What you define as postfoundationalist here actually sounds more like the subjectivist turn that post-Kantian thinking undertook. Hence, as I understand it, it’s still a form of subjectivist foundationism and not truly what postfoundationalists are up to. However, your mention of the ‘contextuality’ of knowledge and its concomitant relativism certainly captures a core feature of postfoundationalist thinking.
    I find Nancy Murphy and Calvin Schrag quite on the mark in their listing of the key ‘traits’ of postfoundationalist thinking (some of these are right on target with what you mention, just severed from the subjective Kantianism you link it to earlier). Van Huyssteen sums these up (a focus on holism in epistemology, a focus on meaning and its use in philosophy of language, a focus on tradition and community in ethics [Murphy], the decentering of the subject as epistemological foundation, the recognition of the social and contextual resources of rationality, the embeddedness of power and desire within the claims to reason, the undecidability of meaning and the inscrutability of reference, a celebration of radical historicism and pluralism [Shrag]) {The Shaping of Rationality, pg 30). I think this a good sum of key attributes of the variegated phenomena of postfoundationalism (and postmodernism, etc).
    Before moving into postfoundationalism however, I think it good to keep probing foundationalism and its consequence on theology. I find a good place to start in terms of the latter is with George Schner’s comment regarding theology in the age of foundationalism. He notes ‘when contemporary theology accepts the modern agenda (subject-centred knowing) it must submit all of its taken-for-granted principles, sources and procedures to rigorous scrutiny, and will be found seriously wanting. What was formerly foundational to theology- faith and devotion, revelation and grace, sin and judgment, tradition and Scripture, prayer and reading Scripture- must give way to more transcendental foundations upon which such intrasystematic realities will be judged for their adequacy in the work of construction’. (Metaphors for Theology, pg. 16). A theological question worth considering: What theology underwrites foundationalist and postfoundationalist attempts to re-construct the classically determinative elements of theology upon a more anthropocentric basis (abstract in the case of foundationalism or contextual in the sense of postfoundational)?

  14. I think the “postmodern challenge to foundationalism” is two-fold:
    1) A variation of Nietzsche’s critique of truth (“a sum of human relations, which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that is what they are”)
    and 2) We can never get to an objective, neutral point of view (as some variation of Heidegger’s “thrownness to the world”)
    In some ways, it can be seen as taking foundationalism as a variation of Descartes’ epistemology and recycling the same critique as before (the KK principle). This time, however, the venue is that silly thing called language (Deleuze plays on this very dilemma under the guise of sense and nonsense in his Logic of Sense). I think that also there is no desire to create a structure for truth to reside in so that one can have certainty in a view from nowhere. For theology, it may be a good idea to return to tradition and, instead of claiming some kind of special revelation through an untainted channel from On High to accept the limits humans have and work from there.

  15. Thanks all for your thoughts. Let me push back a bit. I think that the foundationalist discussion, for some reason, is left within the history of thought rather than being allowed a life of its own. Foundationalism, ideologically, has nothing to do with certainty, structuralism, or objective truth (as I understand it), but is merely a way to talk about how humans come to believe they are justified.

    Let me explain. The simple premise of foundationalism is that there are basic beliefs we all start from. It is wrong to assume that these beliefs are beyond critique, foundationalists allow that they are. Therefore any belief could act as a “foundation” for your thought. In this sense, foundationalism merely calls out how we get our projects started. For Griffin, perhaps, it is that truth is not a totally objective reality that we all can come to without talking about our subjective angles on that truth. Whatever the case, there is still a presupposition (a basic belief) grounding and guiding the form and content of how you determine your justification. The same would be true for impleri’s comments. If you decide to stand on Nietzsche and Heidegger, you are just as much of a foundationalist as any. You see, foundationalism is not a structure of beliefs, but a structure of justification. It seeks to answer the question: Am I right in thinking this rather than that?

    Now there are important historical questions as well, which Thomas laid out. I think, as he showed, the post-foundationalists have just solidified a version of foundationalism tied to both Descartes and the enlightenment project, and are reacting utilizing projects that are no less culturally bound. This has caused, I believe, confusion among foundationalists, who don’t recognize their critiques actually addressing what “real” foundationalists believe (it would be similar, to use my earlier example, of calling yourself post-evolutionary after you smack around Darwin for a while).

    Does that make sense? I think, particularly in theological circles, the issue has much less to do with foundationalism, and more to do with the nature of theological inquiry in comparison with philosophical inquiry, but that is just my inclination.

  16. Kyle,
    Your analysis seems to make it impossible to acknowledge a nonfoundationalist (or postfoundationalist) line of thought. I’m not sure that this is really an accurate reading of the post-structuralist movements (and if I’m misreading you here, please correct me!). The way I see foundationalism is that there are some absolutes, some Archimedean point around which one can base everything else. This view cannot even imagine a world without a foundation because such would be seen as absolute chaos/relativism (pun aside, is this not the reaction we see in people like Chuck Colson’s attack on postmodernity or D.A. Carson’s critique of the Emergent movements?). At the very least, there must be something beneath the mask; it can never see that beneath the mask is another mask (all the way down). Even if one manages to pull off all the masks, there still isn’t something there; one is left with nothing (or the Abyss to borrow Deleuze). In short, the poststructuralist critique (I can’t speak for postfoundationalists) is that there are no true justifications…even the foundations are created. Or, I could be missing your point entirely.

  17. Impleri, no, I think you are right about the community of foundationalists, but not necessary about foundationalism. All I am doing is trying to abstract away this single position from the other various metaphysical and epistemological commitments and hone in on what the actual issue is inherent to the term “foundationalism”.

    The community of foundationalists, certainly, wouldn’t desire any account which does not allow for at least one properly basic belief (a belief which does not need justification) to ground the whole series of justifying moves (note though that this does not imply any account of certainty, something most foundationalists are accused of without justification in my mind). This could be, with Descartes, “I think therefore I am”, but nothing is stopping a foundationalist from starting with the properly basic belief that there is no objective knowledge.

    I think your first point is important, and I almost mentioned it in my last post, that if this is the case, this just isn’t all that interesting. I think that is the point though. Most of the foundationalists that I know just say that their account seeks to be true to how people live. This is just, they assert, how people actually behave.

  18. It’s almost true – as Kyle says – that even a “Post”Foundationalist, likes to use various ideas over and over; implying for some, that even Postfoundationalists have foundations of a sort: like their appeal to “language,” reason, or even … saying there is no objective truth, but only Subjectivity.

    But here Impleri seems to have a good response: if we are going to take “lack of objectivity in anything” as a “foundation,” then … 1) “Post”Foundationalism is logically incoherent/it’s impossible to distinguish from Foundationalism.

    But to be sure, 2) I’d almost admit that, as Kyle objects, there is this deep resemblance, and kind of foundation, in Postfoundationalists. Yet 3) still, there is a meaningful difference beteeen PostFoundies & Foundies; in that, if nothing else, Posties are have a different foundation.

    “Posties” are … a) far less confident, for example, about the various kinds of Psychological Realism etc..: or here I defer to Price’s excellent summary above. The various Philosophies that underpinned older foundationalists. Specifically – as noted above – the new Posties are b) far more interested in, say, the social construction of reality, truth.

    Call the interest in subjectivity, that just anonther foundation? Well … a) it is at least a different one. But especially, b) social structures change every few years.

    So finally there is a difference: nothing is quite so “eternal” here any more.

    And so, by the way, if you want to find a specific target in traditional Theology, that Posties might challenge? “Eternal”lity might be one.

    While as for what positive theology underwrites the Posties? I would say that the writers on this blog, who mentioned our theology being situated inevitably in our all-too-human “flesh,” or human subjectivity, would be among the useful sources.

    While then too, more traditionally, among even conservative theologians (even “Foundationalists”; Fundamentalists): look at their “dispensationalism.” At the idea that God might change his “laws,” from the Old Testament to the New, to suit different peoples – Jews vs. Gentiles, one “age” vs. another. That certainly implies that God himself changes “eternal” laws … to fit differenty subjective social groups and eras.

  19. I know I am a bit late, so I’ll be brief, but this is one of the “streams” of theological thought I enjoy the most. I wonder if perhaps the link between what is called post-foundational and post-liberal theology needs to be stressed a bit more, especially when talking about Nancey Murphy (whom I would recommend). Another thought is that perhaps there is need to look at the specific throw of post-foundationalism as an epistemological term, working within the more specific realm of coming to know something, or forming justified true belief, and allowing other broader terms to work in broader theological ways. Post-liberalism seems to be the closest cousin to post-foundationalism, and to some degree I have seen them as different names for the same thing. However, at least Lindbeck’s “research experiment” strokes a wider path, and one more specific to religious doctrine formation, than does post-foundationalism, which can be abstracted into sheer epistemology.

    In both cases (Lindbeck’s “cultural-linguistic” formation of doctrine, and Grenz, et al’s takes on post-foundationalism) there seems to be not so much a sloughing off of foundations of knowledge willy-nilly, but rather a shift to tiers or several foundations acting in various levels of assurance or formation of knowledge. This may really fade into web-of-belief epistemology, but it seems to line up with the usual theological concerns of folks who want to both wean Evangelical-type theology (in Grenz’s case) from sheer acceptance of propositions=Christ-likeness, to wider pictures of both belief and action resulting from it.

    Anyways-have fun! Look forward to your thoughts!

  20. Gr and Dustin, thanks for your thoughts. I think you are both, as far as I can tell, correct.

    That being said, I was worried that this conversation might get a bit muddled, so here is my attempt to do some ground clearing.

    I think the problem is that the conversation is shifting between philosophical foundationalism and theological foundationalism (and Post- as well). In the philosophical sense, content is irrelevant, if we are keeping it narrowed, and therefore is only a formal distinction. In this case, whatever the content is, even subjectivism of some kind, is still foundational. I think things can get a bit muddied when we mesh metaphysics in with what I am trying to talk about in a solely epistemic register.

    Therefore, even the negative idea that there will never be an eternal objective truth (or eternal subjective truth for that matter) is a foundation. It is, because it is from this truth that we move to talk about having justified beliefs concerning reality (namely, that these things we call truth are not so eternally and objectively, etc.). This does collapse post-foundationalism into foundationalism, and I think that is important, and one of the reasons why I think the usage of the term post-foundationalist is misguiding and unnecessarily elusive.

    Staying with philosophy for a moment, there are plenty of foundationalists out there still in analytic departments around the country, who can talk about social construction of truth, linguistic issues, etc., and remain foundationalists. My continual worry is that foundationalism is only critiqued in its historic form rather than as an idea itself. Even “web-of-belief” epistemologies as Dustin raised (coherentism) are forms of foundationalism broadly speaking (as I am using it here).

    So, this could very well, at the end of the day, prove uninteresting. If nothing else, I think we need to be a little more careful in our usage of the term. Unless we desire to give up any chance for something like justification, which few do, then I think we need to work within a general theory of foundationalism. If we accept this, I think, we can turn our attention to what it truly is that post-liberals and say post-conservatives really think, and hopefully develop some more helpful categories from which to talk about that.

  21. But Kyle: you’re going to cause a lot of confusion, if you want to argue that “Foundationalists” could include those that believe there is no objective truth; in which case, your “Foundationalism” now includes … Postfoundationalists among them.

    Putting the two together, an interesting rhetorical move … if you are a Postie, and want to avoid being criticized for it. But realistically? It seems to lead to a lot of confusion. Personally, I’d like to maintain the distinction between the two for a while

    As for how firmly-based the “subjectivity-” people-behavior folks are? Whether you want to call them Foundies or Posties, either way …they’re actually a bit more objective than you might think. When they speak of knowledge, truth-forming in subjective groups, they are not just asserting “that’s how people are.” Because there are after all, behind them, at least the para-sciences of Sociology, and Psychology.

    When they start talking about people, and subjectivities … it’s not total opinion and chaos; or rampant subjectivity in the investigator too. There actually are a couple of at least para-sciences of human subjectivity: Psychology and Sociology.

  22. Seems to me, that D’s “web” of many foundations … is significantly different enough from one foundation, to maintain a distinction here.

  23. In which case, the Philosophical – epistemic/ontological – question, of “foundations,” in itself might not be as interesting for many, in a Theology column, as say the strictly Theologican implications of PostFoundationalism.

    Or perhaps we can continue the two topics simultaneously? For example: is PostModern multi-culturalism, a “web” of different foundations, a new form of polythesism?

  24. G,

    I’m not saying that post-foundationalists and foundationalists are actually the same, I’m just denying they are different when it comes to my narrowed discussion of epistemic foundationalism. In terms of the objectivity of post-foundationalists, that is exactly my point – THEY ARE FOUNDATIONALISTS IN DISGUISE!!! LOL! Seriously though, that kind of is the point. Even those who posit a more coherentist point of view start somewhere, and that starting point orients the whole (I think this kind of language is more helpful for theological discourse, but I’m still not willing to jump the discussion there yet – maybe a different post).

    In terms of having many foundations, I know of no foundationalist who would deny that claim. I think Descartes could have been the only one who actually tried to have one (Once again why Descartes is not the issue).

    In terms of justification, I am referring to an epistemic claim made by someone in reference to a belief in order to show that their claim is more “accurate” “right” “true” “nice” (pick your poison) than another.

    On a more lay-level, here is an illustration of my concern (although being on a lay level if is a bit unfair, but on TF there is no fair!). In Brian McLaren’s breakout book A New Kind of Christian, the sage figure in the book explains how “moderns” taught that beliefs were built like a building, whereas postmoderns teach that it is like a web. They walk into the woods, and he points out a web being anchored by several trees, and says something along the lines of: “Look, the beliefs cohere like a web rather than a building.”

    Now, I hope the point is obvious: Reach down, grab the center of the web and pull up – wham bam – you have a building. Classic foundationalism. Now, like I said, this is totally unfair to pull this into a discussion of serious issues, but still, similar kinds of mistakes are happening on all levels. My concern isn’t to try and convert people to foundationalism, I just want people to speak accurately about it.

    Now, admittedly, positing a serious foundationalism often develops into robust metaphysical claims, contra some who are inclined toward strands of post-liberalism (hence Murphy’s book arguing that narrative theologians actually turn God himself into a story). These strands that are allergic to metaphysics tend to stay away from the language of foundationalism, but they tend to do so, in my limited knowledge, poorly, bashing Descartes around and boiling hundreds of years of thought into his (mostly rejected) analysis.

  25. Kyle, I disagree with your collapsing of postfoundationalism back into foundationalism for a few reasons. First and foremost, a foundation in foundationalism as an undeniable, objective truth is paramount to its structural success. In post-structuralist thought (which I assume is similar to postfoundationalist thought), that is only contingently necessary (and necessarily contingent). The critique that I am reading is along the lines of Stove’s Gem where the conclusion is already smuggled into the presuppositions (a good summary here of it under notes from Brassier’s talk a few weeks ago).
    Secondly, I think you are trying to categorize thinking and get into a specialized epistemology devoid of any king of ontological or metaphysical context. Perhaps it’s the continental tradition in me, but these can’t simply be separated. They all play a role in the language of epistemology at different levels. In fact, I would say that they resemble network relations (or peer-to-peer filesharing networks) which are always decentralized and interconnected. No point within the system can be seen as having primacy over any other, but also every point has primacy. In other terms, it is like a Borromean Knot, a fragile knot where everything is founded on everything else. It cannot be a “building” (to use McLaren’s terminology) because once a hand reaches into the center and pulls, the whole thing falls apart.
    While this may ultimately be a difference of opinion and research (I’m across the country in Glasgow*!), I think theology should be treated like a language system: it is learned and no part is coherent until the whole thing is coherent. When one learns, say, German, one doesn’t make sense (Sinn not Bedeutung) of the grammar until one has made sense of the language as a whole (and vice versa). It’s the difference between someone who “knows” that er hat einen Vogel means he’s crazy as a colloquial expression and he has a bird as a direct translation (which is what online translation machines give). Similarly, one only “knows” what Christ died for our sins until one understands everything else (sin, punishment, justice of God, etc).

    * BTW, off topic here, but are any of you going to the PG day in St Andrews next month?

  26. Actually, your architectural metaphors might find some literal, historical illustrations – but also oppositions – in Art History. Till recently, nearly all major buildings were constructed in 1) a conventional way, foundation up; with walls, a steel linear framework inside.

    But more 2) recent Post-Mod architecture though, is often different. From the (now destroyed) World Trade Center towers, to the Houston Astro-Dome, to Le Centre George Pompideaux (SP?) in Paris, to the Opera House in Syndney (?), many of these buildings are often actually, often, built using the external “skin” as a structural member; an enclosing “web.”

    Which would suggest that the “web” vs. the more conventional “building,” are not mere metaphors, nor even (oddly) a difference that appears only in Language but not in reality. These “master metaphors” (as George Lackoff would call them) are first, 1) real conceptual differences. But also 2) real differences in actual material practice.

    Modern vs. PostModern Architecture therefore, might partially support, but also partially contradict, your apparent leanings. It might support in fact, 1) a sort of post-liberal, post poststructural view, that puts Post-foundationalism and Foundationalism together; you do indeed have a) a concrete building in both. And now once again, b) contrary to post-structuralism, and consistent with post-liberalism (?), things do not exist just in the never-never world of Language; but also in a real, material, reality.

    At the same time though? 2) Still, the two, Foundationalism and PostFoundationalism … do see and build things, a bit differently.

    As for 3) Descartes – why bash him in particular? The a) Cogito (“I think”) would support a person-centered position, I would think. While his b) rationality couldn’t really be under attack … by rational writers.

    Perhaps Descartes’ c) dualism? Mind vs. Matter? Here in fact, there might be some real metaphysical differences.

    My Philosophy is not quite as advanced as some readers here. But to take a stab at it: Postmodernists probably are more monistic; or they don’t feel you can really separate world from world. If (according to a phenomenalistic Psychology say?) we can only know the external world, through the agency of the mind, our perceptions, as “phenomena,” a mix of external things and internal ones (probably; so far as we can guess), make speaking of an external material reality, separate from the mind, at least, rather moot.

    This I might now tentatively term, a PostFoundationalism monism. And if it is what is actually going on? Then … you have some heavy Philosophy lifting to do. To refute it. Or proven that this neo-monism is not different from foundationalist dualism.

    All before, I assume, returning to Theology proper?

  27. Actually, your architectural metaphors might find some literal, historical illustrations – but also oppositions – in Art History. Till recently, nearly all major buildings were constructed in 1) a conventional way, foundation up; with walls, a steel linear framework inside.

    But more 2) recent Post-Mod architecture though, is often different. From the (now destroyed) World Trade Center towers, to the Houston Astro-Dome, to Le Centre George Pompideaux (SP?) in Paris, to the Opera House in Syndney (?), many of these buildings are often actually, often, built using the external “skin” as a structural member; an enclosing “web.”

    Which would suggest that the “web” vs. the more conventional “building,” are not mere metaphors, nor even (oddly) a difference that appears only in Language but not in reality. These “master metaphors” (as George Lackoff would call them) are first, 1) real conceptual differences. But also 2) real differences in actual material practice.

    Modern vs. PostModern Architecture therefore, might partially support, but also partially contradict, your apparent leanings. It might support in fact, 1) a sort of post-liberal, post poststructural view, that puts Post-foundationalism and Foundationalism together; you do indeed have a) a concrete building in both. And now once again, b) contrary to post-structuralism, and consistent with post-liberalism (?), things do not exist just in the never-never world of Language; but also in a real, material, reality.

    At the same time though? 2) Still, the two, Foundationalism and PostFoundationalism … do see and build things, a bit differently.

    As for 3) Descartes – why bash him in particular? The a) Cogito (“I think”) would support a person-centered position, I would think. While his b) rationality couldn’t really be under attack … by rational writers.

    Perhaps Descartes’ c) dualism? Mind vs. Matter? Here in fact, there might be some real metaphysical differences.

    My Philosophy is not quite as advanced as some readers here. But to take a stab at it: Postmodernists probably are more monistic; or they don’t feel you can really separate world from world. If (according to a phenomenalistic Psychology say?) we can only know the external world, through the agency of the mind, our perceptions, as “phenomena,” a mix of external things and internal ones (probably; so far as we can guess), make speaking of an external material reality, separate from the mind, at least, rather moot.

    This I might now tentatively term, a PostFoundationalism monism. And if it is what is actually going on? Then … you have some heavy Philosophy lifting to do. To refute it. Or prove that this neo-monism is not different from foundationalist dualism.

    All before, I assume, returning to Theology proper?

  28. Wow, I’m sad to have been away whilst this thread was in full swing. I’ll reply to a few points, mainly tied to what I wrote earlier. Kyle, you hinted that the discussion took an historical turn and was intended to congregate around the mere ideology of ‘foundationalism’ (as having a life of its own). My initial comments however were in reply to your query ‘what does one hear when one hears the term post-foundationalism?’. My first impulse, as stated, was that it is ‘both’ an epochal and generic term. The ‘post’ certainly implies an after, whether the identifiying traits will show accurate at a later time or not. Moreover, my second point was that taking a position on the term as a generic concept (as having a life of its own) ineluctably brings one into the dynamics of the politics of the term (hence it is NOT abstractable from its history precisely because it has a life of its own, one bound up with real people, ideas.. hence history.. however this history is less about the history of thought but about the rhetoric and politics of the term in arenas of ideology and its agendas). I therefore suggested that Schner offers a helpful way into the complexity of the matter by keeping these aspects of the term together as we seek to gain purchase on the currencies of meaning surrounding the term and its various employments. Finally, I went for a further narrowing, by asking if the ‘key’ traits frequently offered in regard to foundationalism and post-foundationalism were fair readings of the matter, or merely pejoratives priviliging one or another ideologial strategy.
    I guess the replies demonstrated my earlier point, we’ve to jump in and swim and align our positions along the differling lines of these strategies. Kyle, for example, was very helpful in cutting to the chase. His position certainly appears along the lines of what we used to call in epistemology a soft-foundationalist (something along the lines of Alvin Plantinga…maybe I’m wrong on this) rather than a classical foundationalist (those in search for an Archimedean point upon which we can ground all knowledge). I do not agree with Kyle that the simple premise of foundationalism ‘ is that there are basic beliefs we all start from’. This is a position within the varieties of foundationalisms, but it isn’t a shared one across the board. Harder forms of foundationalism have certainly (and continue unreflectively) to leave their stamp on almost all fields of knowlege. Further, the notion of ‘basic’ beliefs that we all ‘start’ from is loaded. I think William Placher’s is quite pointed on this: ‘It does seem that Wittgenstein was right: when we find the foundations, it turns out they are being held up by the rest of the house’ (Unapologetic Theogy, pg. 34). It’s the ‘rest of the house’ that is anything but ‘basic’. And it is from the complexity of beliefs, being mutually reenforcing, that our projects emerge. This I think is the ‘move’ that the post-foundationalist, and even non-foundationalist, seeks to stress. I don’t agree that the latter can be reduced to another form of foundationalism. However, my own criticisms of most foundationalisms and post-found. would be their strong anthropological focus. The a postoriori character of the church’s knowlege of God means drawing from the material content of this knowledge in order to trace out the relationship between the order of being and knowing. This means, in short, drawing from the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation to think out the relationship between God’s and the objectivites (and subjectivites) of the world in which he gives us knowlege of himself in the ‘given’ and ‘not-given’ polarities of our historical existence. Yes these are ‘beliefs’ and yes they are ‘grounding’ but they are ones anchored outide our humanity and hence a radically different epistemology.

  29. Let me see if I can respond. Everyone, great thoughts (Impleri, I’ll be teaching in the US during the St. Andrews thing, and I don’t think James will be going either and Kent is also in the States), I would deny that a foundationalist would necessarily see a foundation as both undeniable and objective. This is where I think I might be confusing. Let me summarize what I am saying:

    All I am saying is this: First, if we want to address the necessary and sufficient conditions for a “foundationalist” position, the concepts, in other words, that a soft, hard and “regular” foundationalist could and would have to affirm to still be a foundationalist, we have to address the position as a position, and not merely posit historic instances of it. Thomas doesn’t seem to like my use of historic here, which is probably a bit too slippery, but I am not saying that there are not historic instances which match my view, as Thomas noted, Plantiga would be one. This is, in fact, what I believe to be the majority view of contemporary foundationalists, which is why I am troubled by the constant referral back to Descartes – but I digress!

    Second, I am unwilling, at this point, to talk about theology. So all I’ve been doing is talking about philosophy. My theological inclinations are the same with Thomas’ and Impleri’s. The reason I didn’t want to talk theology yet, is because I believe theologians, for the most part, don’t actually grasp the issues inherent to the foundationalists position, and have instead posited a “post” to a position they don’t actually understand in the first place. Post-correspondence, for instance, would be much more appropriate in many cases. Likewise, Thomas’ point about the anthropocentric character of the foundationalist position is exactly right (which is why I would not start here as a theologian). Even Plantiga’s suggestion that a belief in God can be considered properly basic (which seems odd in and of itself), is still an epistemic claim based an “our” knowledge.

    So, as I see it, we are left with one major question: Is it really true, with Thomas’ quote of Placher, that a foundationalist position necessitates a linear idea moving from a starting point (I understand that he is picking up my language here)? Likewise, assuming that the house holds everything together (the complexity of our beliefs), and the mutual reinforcement of beliefs allow the emergence of justification, is this really and necessarily a non-foundationalist position?

  30. Kyle,
    Thanks for the redirect/clarification. I do think that in common parlance, the foundationalist position requires some point of origin in order to produce an internally coherent line of thought. Further, that origin must be an absolute (necessarily necessary) in order to produce an “external” coherence. Even though foundationalists will tout the Heideggerean-Wittgensteinian insight (we are “always already” outside ourselves and engaged with the world) as the significant break from Descartes, there is still the lingering fixed origin of Descartes in even contemporary foundationalism (though not always the cogito ergo sum). As a structure, it rises and falls on that one central point. Other points can be taken away or eroded, but as long as that foundation stands, the structure itself still works. Look at it in terms of architecture as the load-bearing wall. We can remove every other wall in the structure and it will still stand as long as the load-bearing wall(s) remains intact. I need to re-read some of Deleuze to get the wording right about the post-structuralist/non-foundationalst position…I can’t think of a good analogy at the moment!

  31. Here’s maybe the best, core source of Postfoundationalism: the distaste of Wittgenstein and others, for Metaphysics. For Cosmology. For the belief that would could find, an ultimate foundation, out there in space, for all our beliefs.

    Like the people who believed that under the world, holding it up, was a turtle. But then the question is: and what is that turtle standing on?

    Or with the Big Bang. Allegedly, there was suddenly an explosion … and the universe appeared. But if there was nothing before that … then how did nothing, blow up? Wouldn’t there have to have been something out there, to blow up in the first place? So what’s under the Turtle?

    Platonistic Christianity alleged that it had the solution to this; in a God that was an Uncreated First Cause, or something. But anti-foundationalists, suggest this is “incoherent”; not really an explanation at all, but a mere cipher.

    The fact is, PostFoundies would note that the search for the metaphysical origins – note, Foundations – of the universe, is itself an ongoing academic study; with no absolute dogmatic conclusions.

    So that we never really know what it is exactly, that we are standing on. Those foundationalists who think they know, are simply wrong. And the Post Foundies therefore, are on the better track. At least they know they don’t know.

    And they know that somehow, life can go on … even without being sure about our ultimate foundation.

    As for God? He is an infinitely complex entity, that we do not know perfectly; and therefore, no once should dogmatise about, as if he was a very, very firm, entirely know foundation.

    In fact, we are all floating; without firm foundation, ever. And yet we can do that – always have done that – easily. Like a boat on the sea.

    Or so a PostFoundationalist might say?

  32. Kyle pointed me to this thread, and it’s certainly an interesting discussion. As a philosopher by trade, maybe I can at least shed some light on how the word ‘foundationalist’ is used in contemporary (so-called) “analytic” epistemology.

    One is a foundationalist if and only if one thinks there are warranted (or justified or whatever) beliefs for which one has no “propositional” evidence.

    What counts as “propositional” evidence? Other beliefs that one holds that can be expressed using declarative sentences in some natural language. What sorts of non-propositional evidence might one have? Perceptual states, a priori intuitions, quasi-perceptual states delivered by (say) the sensus divinitatis, etc.

    This is, I think, the standard understanding of foundationalism in contemporary analytic epistemology these days. And on this understanding, the “foundations” (or “basic beliefs”) needn’t be certain for you, or infallible, or anything of the sort. And you can have loads of properly basic beliefs, beliefs that are both basic and warranted. Plantinga, for instance, thinks that not only is belief in God properly basic, but belief in other finite minds, (some) beliefs about the empirical world, (some) beliefs about what is possible and necessary, and others besides. Other foundationalists don’t have so promiscuous a view of the foundations as Plantinga. Descartes, for example, as is well known, thought that a belief is properly basic only if it is infallible, or certain, or evident, or something like that. (There are other issues about which foundationalists could disagree. For example, there has been disagreement about the appropriate ways to justifiably “move” from the foundations to non-foundational beliefs. Descartes thought these moves had to involve valid deductive inference. Other foundationalists add induction or inference to the best explanation or both.)

    So I disagree with Kyle a bit, because I think there’s a position in logical space that disagrees that there are warranted beliefs for which one has no propositional evidence. (In this space appears coherentism, for example. There are other views: so-called “infinitism”, say.) What you may have in mind, Kyle, if I’m understanding you, more has to do with which beliefs are *central* to your structure of beliefs, however it’s constructed. That is, which beliefs you are unlikely to give up when faced with putatively countervailing evidence. One might use ‘foundationalism’ so that it covers views about this sort of thing, but that would be to part with the contemporary (analytic) philosophical usage of the term. (By the way, one could be a foundationalist who was willing to give on the foundations but not willing to give on a few non-basic beliefs of yours.)

    Anyway, sorry for the length on this, but I hope that at least makes clear how “analytic” philosophers are using the term today, which will maybe in turn help folks chart the relations between that usage, other usages, and all the “post”-style views!

  33. And then of course, many foundationalists use their assertion – of whatever thing it is that they say they should believe in, without firm propositional evidence – as their base, their foundation, for all subsequent behavior and belief.

    Seems like we are dealing here with simple, raw, arbitrary, dogmatism. People using dogmatic, inflexible assertions, without any proofs, as the “foundation” for their life.

    It would seem better for any would-be Foundationalist, to be a little less arbitrary. And to go on next, to try to show that he or she does have some good, base “proposition,” to indicate that his or her foundation for living, is warranted.

  34. I’m not sure that believing that other finite minds exist really pushes you into an overly dogmatic foundation which would guide your life in arbitrary directions.

  35. OK; I’ll accept that one as a good proposition. But already, you are not a Foundationalist; since you are putting forth a proposition on which to found yourself.

    So? I think you should tentatively abandon Foundationalism, and tentatively accept Post Foundationalism here. As an intellectual, obviously, you are already most of the way there: you don’t rest on arbitrary assertions, but instead, you want to give “reasons,” good sound “propositions,” to support what you say.

    In fact, I submit that you have long been leaning toward PostFoundationalism; but were merely pretending not to be, for the sake of argument.

    Why don’t you switch sides here for a moment? At least for the purpose of argument? And see what we can make of a Post-Foundationalist theology?

    Since you have already advanced a reasonable proposition?

  36. G:

    I’m not sure I understand what you mean you ask, “So foundationalists believe things for which there is no evidence? Or no good propositions to support it?” The first question’s obvious answer is, “no”. Foundationalists take there to be evidence that is non-propositional. I mentioned some sorts of these in the original post. As for the second question, the answer is “yes”, but I’m not sure why you seem to take this to be a problem…

    Take, for example, my belief that this (pointing toward my living room wall) is green. The evidence I have is the perceptual state that I’m in, which (on the most natural view) is not propositional. Also, I don’t think I can give you an *argument* that that is green, and in that sense, I have no propositional evidence for that claim. (Now, certainly I need to know some other propositions to rightly assert that the wall is green, but none of those beliefs of mine serve properly as evidence for my belief that this (pointing to the wall) is green. Rather, they are best understood as something like preconditions for making the (English) assertion that it is, or for having the relevant concepts to form the belief, or whatever.)

    Later you say that a story like this amounts to “arbitrary dogmatism”. I’m not sure why it’s either arbitrary (I have evidence!) or dogmatic (I’m open to correction!).

    Am I missing something?

  37. Tim:

    Maybe I’m missing something? Haven’t played around much with Analytical Philosophy. But … I’ll give it a try.

    First to be sure, you note that some people – Foundies – assert that there are pre- or non-propositional intuitions that are good, useful, even certain.

    But that did not seem to be the position you finally supported, yourself:

    1) First, regarding non-propositional stuff in general; you yourself suggested that in Logic (“logical space”; hyperspace; the last frontier) there is a problem with the position that such things are “warrented.”

    Not “warrented” implying to my untrained ears … not good enough.

    2) While previously by the way, you put the sense of the divine in with the pre-propositional stuff (a priori stuff, etc.). In my stipulative terminology for today: “stuff.”

    3) And indeed, confirming your sense of logical space, there are hundreds of philosophical arguments, that our vague sense sensations and other pre-propositional senses, are not entirely reliable; as notoriously in the case of illusions and delusions, for example.

    4) No doubt, to be sure, anyone could found a “belief” on such things. But mere beliefs are different from well-founded truths. As Descartes – or better than him, all of science – have tried to show.

    5) So? How strong, how certain, are these non-or pre-propositional artifacts or sensations? Should we “found” ourselves on things so uncertain, and even so notoriously unreliable? (As in the case of illusions, for example). You yourself suggested we should not.

    Or in my pre-AP language: there is no good “evidence” being offered by Foundies. No sound-enough propositional structures here. Only pre-propositional vague longings.

    6) Are some of even those vague sensations good, however? Perhaps. But then … specifically, when and how do these vagaries and vague sensations become “warrented”? (Whatever that term means technically). Or in simple language: when do we have something that appears rather firm, or true enough?

    a) I’d like indeed, to hold to … a somewhat stricter standard than just going what feels good or looks nice at first. I’d like a stronger standard; one not quite Descartian, but … somewhat more rigorous. In the tradition of critical thinking.

    b) Surely we shouldn’t in any case, just stipulatively say, that “belief” is good in itself. What if you believe in a false God? What if you believe you are Napoleon?

    IN any case, why should I even both to sound like I’m disagree with you, Tim? You yourself seemed to hint that there were indeed problems with all this pre-propositional stuff.

    So … ? Voice your own objections to, articulations of the space, that objects to or ejects … Kylian Foundationalism.

  38. My objection to Kylian Foundationalism, as presently defined, would be that, using roughly the language chosen by Tim, since Kyle bases himself on a reasonable “proposition,” then Kyle is not a foundationalist; foundationalists base themselves not on propositions, but on (what they regard as warranted) “perceptual states,” “a-priori” intuitions, and so forth. Not on propositions.

  39. Just a few clarifications…

    A position is in logical space just in case it’s not obviously incoherent. That’s just a metaphor that’s common in my line of work, but it didn’t occur to me that other disciplines might not share that idiom! Admitting that a position is in logical space doesn’t commit one to the position, only the admission that it’s something you might want to consider.

    ‘Warrant’ is a term that has partially replaced ‘justification’ in the epistemology literature that I’m most familiar. The replacement is a function of certain connotations of ‘justification’ that aren’t really salient in this context. So we can use them interchangeably.

    Non-propositional evidence is not generally construed by foundationalists as justified or warranted. Nor are the states that serve as that evidence normally construed as the foundations of one’s belief system. Instead, these states serve to justify/warrant a believer in believing certain things (a believer’s being in certain propositional states), and these beliefs are the foundations. In other words: it is propositional states that are the foundations, according to the foundationalist, but these states have non-propositional justifiers.

    I take the lack of certainty supplied by, e.g., perceptual states and, therefore, the lack of certainty I have for my (foundational) perceptual beliefs to be a *virtue* of foundationalism. The reason is that my perceptual beliefs *aren’t* certain for me, and my epistemological system has the resources to account for that fact! On the other hand, that perception isn’t *entirely* reliable doesn’t entail that it isn’t just plain reliable, and only plain reliability is necessary for perceptual states to do their justificatory work with respect to my perceptual beliefs. These beliefs can be “firm” without being infallible, and can therefore be the right sorts of things to serve as foundations.

    So says most contemporary “modest” foundationalists, anyway…

  40. Tim, do you think that by defining foundationalism in such broad terms–warranted, evidenced, dogmatic, and/or not–that its aim for all-inclusion creates a very poor definition? This was something continental folks noticed in the history of epistemological discourse where folks like Hume defined knowledge in such unreserved terminology (I’d say akin to Wittgenstein’s private languages) that everything immediately present was “knowable.” The direct result of such specificity made it impossible for there to be a “disagreement” (or even an “agreement”) because it was an individualistic state of affairs. Everything was “true” because there were no methods for an a priori verification/justification (alluding here to the Heidegger-Wittgenstein contribution of one “always already” in the world). We are stuck with a game of correspondence that always must go back another level if we are playing with foundationalism, unless we say that all foundations both ground and are grounded by other foundations (current “non-foundationalism” of folks like Ray Brassier and Quentin Meillassoux), but then that makes the label “foundationalism” sound very awkward and useless.

    • Hi, Impleri,

      I’m afraid I’m not following what you have in mind with the first bit. Can you say a bit more about what the criticism is meant to be regarding my definition of ‘founationalism’? You say the definition uses “broad terms”. I don’t think I’m appreciating what you mean by that.

      Also, what kind of disagreement would you like the account to make room for? I take it that nothing I’ve said rules out, for example, disagreement about whether the wall is green. (This is true *even if* I am justified in my belief that the wall is green while someone else is justified in her belief that the wall is white; justification, on my view, doesn’t entail truth.) The beliefs that make up the vast majority of the foundation, on most modest foundationalist views these days, are about the external world of walls and dogs and people and trees. (There are other things in there as well; beliefs about simple mathematics, for example, or certain metaphysical principles, among others.) I don’t think, and most contemporary foundationalists don’t think, that foundational beliefs have to be about one’s own states of mind. The trend is very much away from Cartesian style of foundationalism on this front as well. (So we now have three differences between most contemporary foundationalists and Descartes: no need for infallibility, more than deduction, and foundational beliefs about things other than mental states.)

      Toward the end, on the other hand, you seem to be objecting to foundationalism as I’ve described it (with the stuff about methods for a priori “verification”). Being unfamiliar, as I am, with much of the “continental” lit on this stuff, I don’t think I followed what you meant by the ref to a “game of correspondence”. Could you say a bit more? I do agree, however, that the last view you describe would not be fit for the label ‘foundationalism’!

      (Incidentally, I don’t take myself to have *defended* foundationalism in what I’ve said thus far. I really just came to describe one contemporary use of the term! I certainly don’t think these fundamental and complicated epistemological issues can be settled just by pointing out a view!)

      • Hi Tim,
        Let me try to re-articulate my previous post. I don’t think I was as clear as I thought and as a result, led you the wrong way. My entire comment there was all about the definition.
        The definition of foundationalism you gave sounds like it is unfalsifiable. That is, for two people to talk about that wall and whether it is green or not must be based on some kind of foundation. The definition is so broad that it tries to cover everything at once while also trying to be “untimely” (the great Nietzschean term). The definition is structured so that it rejects any situated-ness others have suffered even though it is already situated in particular language-game with particular limits and horizons of meaning. The definition does well to account for people talking about a wall’s color; but its displaced nature renders it unable to even acknowledge sense (the German Sinn not Bedeutung) in phrases such as “colorless green dreams sleep furiously” (Chomsky) or “Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo” (Pinker) because these can never have a foundation.

  41. Kyle, Tim, etc.:

    Klyian/Timian Foundationalism, as here tentatively defined, seems to be based partially on what passes these days, for a simple but useful kind of everyday, now common Realist/scientific model on how we get to know the world. That is 1) our mind sees raw “sense data”; 2) our brain then processes the raw sense data, according to the structure of our brain, including its perception of a priori things or self-evident truths; and then it processes all that 3) according to the models, thought patterns, given to us by our culture.

    Foundationalism in our present approximation, seems to want to focus on whatever level of this that seems certain: especially say, that there is an external world of rocks and trees out there.

    But the problem is – as Imp. noted above – that “continential” philosphers – French guys, like Derrida; German phenomenologists and others – have to be sure, been a little suspicious, about just how true and right even some of our own foundational, basic perceptions are. Are those really rocks and trees, for example? Or are we at Disneyland … and its all fake? “Simulacra”?

    To be sure, I myself have rather more confidence than Derrida in the rocks-and-trees level of our ideas of the world. On the other hand though … the question is, which things really are all THAT firm? Many of our perceptions of the “world,” are apparently formed by our personal subjective bias; and/or the things our culture tells us are real. Or even by the value-structure built into our language; as PostStructuralists like to point out from the days of the “Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.”

    So the question is, which things are really that solid and true and real? True enough to form a “foundation” for our thinking. And here, I would leave Epistemology behind for a second; and remind everyone of the especially problematic nature of … Metaphysics and Cosmology. Which is what so many religious questions are based on.

    Our ideas of what is true, keep going back and forth, to many different qasi ideas, “language games,” and so forth; that how can we know which things are real and which are not?

    And if we don’t know … then we should not be dogmatic about what is true; or “foundational.” Which indeed, is precisely … what our European Post-Structuralists do. PostFoundationalists suggesting that after all, there have been many assertions as to what is absolutely true and good; but historically, one after another of these ideas have been shot down. Like the “flat-worlders” view that the earth was flat.

    So why be dogmatic? Why insist we have an ultimately, timeless foundation for our truths? And this is the PostFoundationalist view; let’s not be dogmatic any more. And leave it all open to investigation and questioning; the same as an scientific/academic enterprise.

    • G, I don’t think I’m appreciating the way that you’re using some of these words. Baudrillard’s simulation and simulacra aren’t “fake” at all. He consistently describes them as hyperrealities, more real than “real.” These copies of copies of copies are so strong, so pervasive that the “real” cannot be distinguished from the simulacra. To me (and I could quite easily be wrong), it sounds like you’re using “postmodern” language to structure your arguments, but you’re still deeply committed to a Kantian dualism (which is not “postmodernism”).
      The post-structuralist debates of the 60s, 70s, and 80s (all before Derrida became popular in the US) was all about language. By the 80s, the sentiment in France was that while language seemed impossible because it had “no subject which expresses or manifests itself in it, no object to denote, no classes and no properties to signify according to a fixed order;” paradoxically, the “gift of meaning occurs” (Deleuze, Logic of Sense, 79). It really is an “interdisciplinary” task, however I’d also argue that it has always been that way and we’ve imposed limits on disciplines as a way of neatly categorising thoughts. These disciplines do not run in the wild to be later caught and tamed; they’re all produced in the labs of the universities.
      Ironically, the most recent sets of “postmodernists” have started talking cosmology with physicists. One of the interesting things they discovered is that not only the world but the entire universe is flat, distorted and perceptionally bent by the web-like structure called dark matter (Urbanomic’s Collapse vol 2 has a lengthy discussion on this).

  42. By the way, I finally went out and researched basic info on “Foundationalistm”; and so here’s my results (from Wikipedia, and then the Stanford Ency. of Phil). Basically, it notes a problem in all kinds of academic, philosophical questioning, and any search for the basis of truth: in that it never ends. One question leads to another, to another; in an infinite “regress.”

    If I say I believe in Caesar, for example, then we might ask, how do I know he is real? How is my belief justified? Unless I say, believed in the texts, the books, that said he is real. But then how did I believe in the texts? And so forth. The questioning goes on forever.

    Questions about the basis of our beliefs, go on forever, and never stop. But most of us don’t have time for such infinite activity. So we need some kind of quick, tentative “reality” to base ourselves on. So what do we do?

    “Coherent”ists suggest, against Foundationalists, that something might be regarded as true, if it seems consistent with – coherent with – the rest of what we know and say. But this coherentism leads to other problems of its own. For example, we might have a tiny system of lies, that is utterly coherent or consistent with itself. But that circular system after all, leaves out … lots of important truths, outside itself.

    So what do we do when our academic/philosophical questions just go on forever, in an infinite regress, and never end? Nothing seems sure … and yet we need some sense of a rather firm truth, in order just to walk out the door. Yet how can we be sure enough about anything, to open the door in the morning and get in the car to go to work? When we technically can’t even be sure the door or the car will be there. Since nothing is certain.

    Or is it? Foundationalism would seems say that at some point, we just have to put our foot down: and say that this or that belief appears firm enough; “justified” or “warranted.”

    And we might agree to some tentatively-accepted “realities.” But still, questions remain. About WHICH beliefs we decide are that firm or foundational; or “given.”

  43. And especially the question is: how firmly should we be about such foundations? Postfoundationalism it seems to many, is more honest. In that it admits that all our foundations are always, a little arbitrary. That in actuality, nearly all things that appear very solid and foundational, dissolve before our very eyes, when we look at them more closely.

    (Except maybe, rocks and trees. Because I like them. The hard rocks of reality. Like – who was it – Hume? Who kicked a rock and said, “Thus I refute” idealism?)

  44. Dr. Johnson. Kicking a rock. And saying “I refute Berkeley” (the Idealist), “THUS!”

    Real or not, rocks appear … real enough. In that the penalty for not believing them – like jumping off a cliff onto rocks – at least appears, superifically, to be fatal. And so like Dr. Johnson, I choose tenatively, to believe in rocks. Hence, the inspiration, foundation, for “Rock and Roll.”

    Stil, at the same time … so many things that appeared solid, melt into the air, when we look at them closely. Therefore, let’s never be as entirely dogmatic, as so many were, for so many centuries.

  45. Which is why, by the way, that of all the branches of Theology, “Dogmatics” is my least favorite. In spite of the current, enthusiastic post for Barth’s Dogmatics.

    Unless Barth intended to … totally finesse dogmatism, even within Dogmatics, somehow.

    Which to be sure, was not really my impression, having read parts of his introduction.

    Though other writings of Barth would lead you to … go looking for such a subtext.

  46. Glad to hear from you again, James; I read your cogent remarks, above.

    True; I’m stretched a little thin here. But keep in mind, we’re talking about 1) Theology; 2) Philosophy; 3) Art; 4) Science; 4) Psychology. And probably a dozen other things. While to be sure, none of these are in my field; I’m an amateur here in this field.

    But of course, now and then we’re probably all going to be stretched, with this new, inter-disciplinary topic.

    Though to be sure, James, you seem to be one of the experts on Philosophy. And it’s about time you checked in again!

    However, I do know a bit about Postmodernism. While, since it looked like we all needed a basic definition and catch-up on Foundationalism, a quick check with not just Wikipedia but also Stanford … seemed like a good idea. And in fact, even that simple, basic reference source ends up being … not too far from where we started. And hasn’t really invalidated any of the discussion to date.

    By the way: the discussion seems to confirm that Postmodernism (which is slightly related to Coherentism) … might also actually be related to “Griffin”s Kantian or Bereley-ian “idealism”; the Postmodernism of Derrida, might be called say, linguistic idealism or monism. In that it asserts that all we know, is through the medium of our minds or ideas … and it adds, those minds are formed largely, by the language we speak (or a linguistic system of “differences”).

    Ultimate reality, outside out minds, therefore being unreachable – in this theory – all we have is not real foundations, but only language. Which since it includes many of Wittgenstein’s “language games,” includes perhaps, multiple foundations. (I hope, whose reality can not only be confirmed by coherentism?).

    So actually I think, all the discussion to date has been useful and relevant; and not too far off the mark, or off the thread.

    I hope.

    Or in fact, it might be that “philosophical” PostFoundationalism … is not really all that Post is about. As I think Tim hinted? In fact, I still think that it relates more to … Postmodernism. Which includes a number of mainly, to be sure, only semi-philosophical thinkers in it.

    Mostly “continental” French fries, to be sure. Like the classics: Saussure. Derrida. Deleuze. Bourdieu. Baudrillard. Foucault. Imp’s friends!

    But feel free to carry the conversation for a while; now that we’ve at least entered a dictionary definition, to center the conversation.

  47. Thanks for the clarifications, Impleri.

    I’m not sure why you claim that my definition of ‘foundationalism’ would make the position unfalsifiable. There are at least three ways I can think of that it would be falsified: (i) if the foundations turned out not be justified; (ii) if it turned out there weren’t any foundations; or (iii) if (as you seem to be suggesting in what you say) foundationalism so construed made hash of certain possibilities.

    I confess, on the other hand, that I’m not seeing the connection between our ability to make room for certain facts about the nature of our mental lives, in particular, facts about the “content” of our mental states, and foundationalism. The latter is just a view about the structure of justification. So it doesn’t seem to make any comment at all about sense and reference, for example. (You won’t be surprised that I learned about sinn and bedeutung by studying Frege, and that’s how Frege-folks tend to interpret those words!) Is there some reason you think foundationalism can’t accommodate that sort of two-level view of content? Is it that you think foundationalism implies a certain view about concept-possession? Is it that foundationslists can’t make sense of the way we are able to recombine concepts to form bizarre, necessarily false sentences like ‘colorless green dreams sleep furiously’? Maybe it would help me if you explain why you think foundationalism, so construed, must reject “situated-ness”?

    The buffalo sentence you mention is, it seems to me, just a really interesting case where a (lexically) ambiguous word can be strung together repeatedly to form a complete sentence. I don’t see why a commitment to foundationalism would make trouble on that front. Do you think that foundationalists must have trouble with other ambiguous terms, like ‘bank’ or ‘plane’? (By the way, if you help yourself to the proper name ‘Buffalo’, you can string it out to eight!)

  48. I & T:

    Don’t want to intrude on your dialogue much. Just a few notes:


    Yup; I’d agree. I’m not quite a full PostModernist; I am still rather committed to Descartian/Kantian dualism. Consciously. And for that reason indeed, I would hold that “simulacra” might best be described as “fakes,” of real reality.


    Is it really possible to entire separate “justification” from sense and reference and other subjects? Since the critical thing here, in justification is … not just talking in the abstract about justification in itself. Because here we have a broader project: we’re more interested in a practical application that would inform and “flesh” out justification, or simply apply it to … say, Theology.

    And for that matter, a look at WHAT things are thought to be foundational, could reflect back in fact, on justification even “in itself.” If any such state is even possible; indeed even my mildly Kantian PostModernism would suggest that nothing exists “in itself”; everything is part of larger webs. “Situatedness.” As interdisciplinary studies suggest. Perhaps there is no justification, without examples. Any more than its hard to understand the word “orange,” unless you’ve seen it. Words and sense data, are both needed. And without both? You float – as I. seems to hint above?

    Specifically, when thinking of Foundation, we will soon need to know … exactly WHICH things you think are real or justified. And since some of us mentioned sense data more or less (or now, sense and reference), next we need to decide how reliable that is; how reliable our sense of things, and/or their reference, would be.

    Eventually. Unless the point is to generate language, concepts … but not to find reality? A little too much into the WEB as an end in itself?

  49. By the way, I think the “Buffalo” example can be made sense of, if not just in itself, then still, just within the system of language itself. Indeed, one example of how to parse this told us – in words of course, in language – to just assign particular meanings to the terms. So that Buffalo the town, tried to “buffalo” or bluff, the “buffalo”s or furry animals that were eating on the town green, etc..

    To be sure, then, at times it seems that we don’t even really need to know much about the actual physical objects here; we can just describe the “referents” (used here conventionally), the things the words name, just in words.

    So that just being within the web of language, in itself, for a while, works. And can make sense of stuff that looks impossible to resolve just within that system.

    But to be sure, how about the word “orange”? Could you really understand it … unless one day you’d seen the color, with your eyes? So that ultimately, many (and perhaps all) words will not make sense “in themselves” very well; they only “make sense” after all, when we cross-reference them to objects seen with our senses.

    Therefore, any discussion on justification “in itself”? Or say “epistemology” “in itself,” just might not quite work. We need to see what kind of larger contextual web or system, it’s situated in.

  50. Hi Tim,
    You are correct that there are situations where foundationalism would be falsified, but these are still working from the same model/definition of foundationalism. The content can be falsified, but the model/definition is not. In fact, foundationalism has become the excess of itself that gives value to to the economy of epistemological enquiry (e.g. X is true because it is worth Y where Y is a measurement of foundation[s]). As you have said, “colorless green dreams sleep furiously” is necessarily false; this is because it has no value in foundational enquiry as some of its predicates contradict one another while others are not attributes of the subjects. In short, foundationalism operates solely from the framework of Bedeutung/meaning/reference. It may mention sense, but it always reduces sense to meaning.
    The post-structuralist (which I assume is a postfoundationalist) approach looks at Sinn/sense separate from meaning. At this level, sense is produced by nonsense (where nonsense is not the absence of sense/meaning but that which produces and consumes sense). In this location, Deleuze can take the step that Wittgenstein contemplated (he may have even taken the step, I’m not familiar enough to say so) in that language itself is impossible because it has “no subject which expresses or manifests itself in it, no object to denote, no classes and no properties to signify according to a fixed order” (Logic of Sense, 79). Yet Deleuze can also (paradoxically) affirm that it is here where the “gift of meaning” finally occurs. And it is this paradox which highlights the difference between a foundationalist model and a postfoundationalist one. I don’t think that a foundationalist model can accept paradox because it, like “colorless green dreams sleep furiously” doesn’t have a reference in its constructed reality, which is where foundationalism is always situated. Deleuze calls this “good sense” and paints the picture much like the arrow of time in which there is a single direction towards “good sense” even though sense itself always runs in both directions at once.
    So, yes, I think ambiguity (in general) and paradox (in particular) give the foundationalist model a hard time because those do not have stable referents within the model. Likewise, foundationalism cannot really handle metaphor and symbolism because these change the structure of signification and short circuit the system. However, the biggest problem foundationalism has isn’t the ambiguous symbol but the person who takes it literally. He takes any kind of nonfoundationalism and follows his own adaptation of the Marxist (brothers) joke: “this may look like a foundation and act like a foundation, but don’t be fooled: it is a foundation!”

    • I think I’m finally beginning to understand why you take yourself to be object to my definition of foundationalism, Impleri. And I think we’re starting to find some places of actual disagreement!

      If I’m understanding you, you’re not objecting to foundationalism as such, but rather to what you take to be a presupposition of foundationalism, namely that language works in a certain way. It seems to me that your worry is that foundationalism is committed to some kind of “label theory” of language, where words are only meaningful if they are labels of an object or some objects. In this sort of picture, it can seem hard to make room for “sense”. I happen to think that *parts* of natural languages function as labels, but I’m not so naive as to think that all parts of natural languages work that way (the copula ‘is’, quantifiers like ‘every’ and ‘some’ and ‘most’, and predicates like ‘…is red’ and ‘…is tall’ are all examples of linguistic phenomena that aren’t labels, in my view). Indeed, I think many bits of language have a dual function, in that tokens of the word label objects but the word-types do not. Indexical words (like ‘I’, ‘here’, ‘now’) are this way. Importantly, it is precisely this non-label function that helps us see the need for a theory of sense that is robustly distinct from the theory of reference. For example, there is a sense in which you can understand an utterance of ‘He went to the store’ without knowing who “he” is. This sort of understanding just is grasping the (Fregean) sense of that sentence. Thus I think you can motivate and articulate a theory of sense even given a simpleminded label theory about certain parts of natural language, and especially when you don’t generalize that simpleminded view to *all* parts of natural language.

      Why do I think, though, that some bits of natural language function as labels? Frankly, because it’s one of the most natural things in the world to think that. Names like ‘Tim’ and ‘Kyle’ refer to individual things (namely, Tim and Kyle). They are labels, in that sense. Those words do have objects to denote, and they do it quite well! (If you want to say that I “express” or “manifest” myself in my name, go right ahead; I probably won’t follow suit, but that’s a matter of taste, I suppose…) So I think Deleuze is just wrong, and doubt that there are any arguments against that sort of label view of names that have premises that are more plausible to me than the claim that ‘Tim’ refers to me and ‘Kyle’ to Kyle.

      As for metaphor and symbol, I admit that those sorts of things are difficult to understand, and don’t pretend to have some view about them. But I don’t yet see, given that I don’t have a simple-minded label view of language, and that I do have room for a robust theory of sense, why I don’t have room to accommodate them. Something similar holds for paradox, I think. If the paradox exploits metaphor or some other “looseness” in language, then handling it amounts to making room for those other phenomena. If the paradox is just a contradiction, then I don’t want to accommodate it!

      • Hi Tim,
        I’m not against labels as they are useful within language. I do, however, find them (as with all of language) always contingent and arbitrary. Take this excerpt from Alice in Wonderland:

        “Edwin and Morcar, the earls of Mercia and Northumbria, declared for him: and even Stigand, the patriotic archbishop of Canterbury, found it advisable–“‘
        ‘Found what?’ said the Duck.
        ‘Found it,’ the Mouse replied rather crossly: ‘of course you know what “it” means.’
        ‘I know what “it” means well enough, when I find a thing,’ said the Duck: ‘it’s generally a frog or a worm. The question is, what did the archbishop find?’

        The relation between objects and labels (or signifieds and signifiers in Deleuze) is contingent and produced. I know of 4 people currently living in the US alone that have my exact full name (I even attended a church with one!), so my name/label is not uniquely mine and this plurality and ambiguity make anything running with the label “foundationalism” right now unable to account for that uncertainty in any certain manner. It does sound like you are trying to articulate a new foundationalism that moves beyond such, but the question then becomes is it really “foundationalism” if it has no resemblance to the historical varieties?
        As for paradox, I think language does need to accommodate it or else our theology is screwed before we get to it (Jesus as fully God and fully human, God as three-in-one, etc)!

  51. Sorry to intrude again. But …

    I do think that you could tell that 1) “Colorless green” is at least superficially a paradox or oxymoron, just within the system or “foundation,” of say … language. A dictionary of the major definitions would show them to be contradictory: therefore, an oxmoron.

    And I think you could also 2) however, find a poetic meaning there too; in that though the major definitions are contradictory, secondary lexical definitions show that “colorless”ness does not necessarily reflect lack of literal color; but can mean … emotionally flat, say. So you can have a green colorlessness.

    So that, purely within dictionary definitions – or note, the system, foundation, of language – you can both identify a 1) paradox, but also 2) a poetic meaning in that paradox.

    Though ultimately still, I would add, we would not know what “Green” was, it would never have entered any dictionary in the first place, unless we had empirically seen it sometime with our eyes. So that the meaning, seemingly of just the words in themselves … came in part from another system: empirical experience.

    And so, rather as Marx did to Hegel, what I want to do is “turn on its head” Poststructuralism’s endless, all-encompassing Language – into a discrete system again. One that can do a lot on its own; but that ultimately to be sure, needs to be cross-referenced against another (semi-) foundational system: empirical experience.

    So what we have in my model, is a sort of compromise: neither a 1) single foundation; nor 2) an all-enveloping web; but 3) multiple foundations. With no pretence of all-sufficiency, in any one of the many systems referred to.

    Great quote from the Marx Brothers my the way; is it historically accurate? An actual example? Fantastically appropriate.

  52. Hi G,
    When the sentence is turned into a nonliteral (e.g. “poetic”) interpretation in order to resolve the paradox, it is being forced to fit within a particular foundation to have a particular sense it may not originally had. In other words, the sense had to first be produced before it could be made into a non-paradoxical statement. Yet that very act makes it into something it is not. The post-structuralist response to language (they blame the previous administration, in this case the structuralists, for the hang-up) is that can’t be a discrete system because it is a (to follow with Deleuze) a body without organs–it is not an organism that has organization except in ad-hoc, one-off instances that are always produced from somewhere else. I can see the desire for multiple foundations, but I would qualify that by saying that the foundations are always artificial and beneath them is something unrecognizable (nothingness, turtles all the way down, big Other, etc).

    It’s an paraphrasing of the Marx Brothers from Duck Soup (the whole scene here could be equally appropriate)

  53. I:

    So, unfortunately, we agree. You are “I.” So how will we generate further discussion?

    Want to make up some quibbling differences?

  54. Hi, Impleri,

    I think we need to be clear about the dimension(s) on which their arbitrariness and contingency lie(s). It is arbitrary that my parents chose to use the orthographic symbol ‘Tim’ to label me, and likewise it’s arbitrary that we chose to produce the noise we do when we utter ‘Tim’ to utter that word. But, pace Deleuze, there *is* an object to denote! The arbitrariness of our choice of labels does not extend to the world in the sense that our choices to use words in certain ways doesn’t “construct” the world for us. The world comes to us constructed, and we choose (arbitrarily and contingently) to talk about it in certain ways. So, on my view, the meanings of many words (paradigm case: names) are already out there, and the arbitrariness comes in the way we hook the words up to those meanings (to stick with our metaphor: the arbitrariness comes in the choice of labels).

    I think, for example, that the meaning of my name is just me. (Like many of my peers, I wonder whether the theory of sense is properly part of the theory of meaning, but that is choice about how to use the phrase ‘theory of meaning’, and so isn’t something we could have a substantive dispute about. If I were going to accommodate sense into a theory of meaning, I would change what I just said to: There are two levels of meaning for names, sense and reference. At the level of reference, the meaning of my name is just me.)

    But further, I think names are ambiguous in just the way other words are. There’s no mystery about the ambiguity of ‘bank’. Sometimes when we use that we’re talking about financial institutions, sometimes about the shores of rivers. There’s no interesting “uncertainty” there, I don’t think. When I use the orthographic sign ‘bank’ to speak of financial institutions, it’s not “uncertain” that I’m talking about financial institutions (though it may be unclear to someone what I am, in fact, talking about). Likewise, names like ‘Kyle’ and ‘Tim’ are ambiguous.

    None of what I just said addresses the issue of foundationalism at all, at least as I defined it when I entered this conversation. As I said then, foundationalism is a view about the way our beliefs are justified. I haven’t said anything about justification. The definition I gave for ‘foundationalism’ is the standard one in contemporary “analytic” epistemology. And I don’t think that definition strays too far from foundationalisms historical roots, despite that we noted three differences between most contemporary foundationalists and Descartes.

    On the other hand, I don’t think I’m saying anything strikingly original about language either. The views I’m expressing have their roots in Frege, Russell, Quine, and, in more contemporary times, Dummett, Evans, (David) Lewis, and loads of contemporary (formal) linguists.

    As for paradox, again, I think it either exploits metaphor or some other looseness (which, given that I think we need a theory of sense, I have the resources to accommodate, at least insofar as you do) or it amounts to a contradiction. I happen to think you can’t say anything true when you utter a contradiction, and so I happen to think that the basic, true claims about the Trinity and Incarnation aren’t contradictions. In that, I’m with the whole of Christian thinking up until very recently (cf. the early Church councils). At no point have Christians contented themselves with assertions like: “We believe in three Gods and only one God, at the same time and in the same sense.” Indeed, Christians have almost always railed against such a characterization of their view! The paradox, then, must be understood in something like this way: paradoxes are sets of claims that seem prima facie contradictory, but are in fact not. The way to show they aren’t contradictory will vary from case to case, as will the reason that they aren’t. I agree that we need to accommodate paradox, but only if by paradox you don’t mean contradiction.

  55. In Tim’s account, the world of objects, seems almost “given” to us automatically. (In sense perception and so forth? Our eyes see it?) And from then on, its just a matter of getting our language to put this or that (perhaps arbitrary) label on it.

    But gestalt Psychology has many examples to show that our mind-set, actually changes the way physical objects look to our eyes. You’ve see the figure that looks like two faces looking at each other … or, if you look at the space in between them, and think “vase,” you see that instead?

    While likewise, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis suggests that the concepts given to us by language, culture, also infect the way that reality looks.

    While philosophical Skepticism, borrows from many philosophies that suggest that real reality is hard to get to; to the point that Skepticism concludes there might not even be a real world out there at all.

    I would suggest that the main difference between Tim’s Foundationalism, and Impleri’s PostFoundationalism, would be a difference more or less, between a sort of Realist representationalist view of the external world; the view that there is a world of objects, rocks and trees, and that it is more or less reliably “given” to us (in sense perception and so forth). Which is opposed to Impleri’s – and PostStructuralism’s – basic idea: that there are so many things, so many cultural and linguistic biases and so forth, between us and the world, that we can never really be very sure about external objects at all. The very way we see them with our eyes, can change, when our mindset changes. (While our mindset is influenced by our culture; whose values are imbedded in our language.)

    So in fact, real reality, external to our minds, is not reliably given to us. Indeed, we cannot even firmly say it exists at all. In PostFoundationalism.

    My personal philosophy, by the way, is not quite so extreme: it is somewhere in-between the two extremes of simple Realism, and radical Skepticism.

  56. By the way, regarding the issue of language: 1) Tim seems to be coming from the point of view of many classic philosphical linguists. I’d call it Realist view: there’s a real world out there; one that is reasonably accessible or known to us though our senses; and our words refer to it.

    But 2) Impleri is referring to and using another group of linguists; Postmodernist language theorists … like Derrida. Roughly, you might describe what they believe this way: our brains, say, think and perceive and structure any reality, in a way like a language. To the point that we really can’t get outside language, to see reality as it really is apart from our subjective perceptions of it. Our domination by language, they say, is so great, that in a sense, language is all we really know. Or need to know; Derrida infamously said “there is nothing outside the text.”

    So we have two different accounts of language. Depending on two different philosophies.

  57. Tim,
    I agree that there are objects “out there” that are in relation to one another. In fact, I’d go so far to say that these relations don’t depend on human observation. I’m very much against the Kantian derived correlationism–“the view that thought cannot have access to things-in-themselves, only to things as they appear for us” (I believe this originates in Meillassoux’s book, which is using the “brand name” of “speculative realism”). These objects interact without any kind of labels, language, or human perception. I think that in this vein, we will agree. I think that we’d even agree that the extreme post-structuralist view (highlighted in Derrida and Blanchot more than Deleuze) undermines objects as objects and reduces them to a correlationist view. I think we disagree on “traditional foundationalism.” I think it “overmines” objects and makes them “too deep” for any kind of meaningful relationships. However, this could very well be because I’m not extensively familiar to “foundationalism” as used in analytic circles (it’s not a common term in continental circles).
    With all of that said, I will uphold my claim that “labels” are necessarily contingent and arbitrary as well as that they construct the way in which we humans perceive, classify, and observe the relations between the “real objects” underneath those labels. I’m not sure how to conceive of those relations independent of our given conceptual framework (i.e. independent of mind/concept).
    On paradox, I think we’re going to continue to disagree here, and primarily because we are coming from very different angles. I think that “resolving the paradox” simplifies the points of divergence to create a singular point of convergence of sense. I just don’t see that being a robust approach to paradox and sense. Sense is always a plurality fed by the ambiguity of “labels.” “The bank collapsed”–which bank? Sure, the ambiguity here can be clarified, but is that also the case with “Jesus is fully God and fully man”? What about “God is both just and merciful”? I don’t think the two poles of those can be resolved without butchering one part of theology. While the early Christians didn’t contend with three gods vs one god, they did have to deal with the divinity of Christ as distinct from the person of “God the Father” while maintaining a single substantial link between them. (Sorry, Kyle, while you want to hold off on theology, I think it always has to be around at the back of our minds in these discussions). Paradox isn’t a simple contradiction (or else we should say contradiction!), but it is a continuum of compossibility with contradistinctive book-ends.
    G, I wouldn’t say I’m coming from Derrida. I’ve only read a little of him and disliked it completely! I am, however, coming from a lot of his cohorts (namely Baudrillard and Deleuze). I think Derrida is given credit for more things than what he actually did.

  58. Well said guys, so far?

    But on “paradox”es: to the extent they are a problem, aren’t they a problem for everyone, and every system? Even, by definition. A paradox by definition, is something that does not seem true, that seems contradictory, that is a problem, from a given point of view (/system). But that seems to have a truth in it. And every system has them.

    So perhaps 1) we can accept them.

    Or better 2) if you want a solution to any given paradox? That would indeed be a good example of the value of multiple foundations or platforms: go to another system, another para-foundation, where it does make sense.

    So for example, a “green colorlessness,” might not make sense to a) strict logic. But b) it could make sense in the “foundation” of poetry, and emotion: where “green” might not mean a color, but something “new.” Or where “colorlessness” is not taken literally, as a color either.

    By the way, the different para-foundations – platforms – I like, would be … the different academic disciplines. If Philosophy and Logic doesn’t work, turn to Literature and Language and Poetry.

    Hence all this leads to … my field, Interdisciplinary Studies. (Brief commercial message here).

    Impleri: very roughly what country in GB/Europe are you in? Just so we can tenatively envision your situatedness? Is the Euro really $1.33 these days?

  59. By the way, sorry if I’ve slightly mischaracterized you two just for the purpose of a slightly arbitrary contrast: I know Tim is not really accepting the label of “foundationalist” for himself; nor does Impleri quite fully accept the label of Derrida-ian linguist.

    Indeed, I expect that we all mostly agree, somewhere in between; and hopefully, we are merely coming to common terms here.

  60. G, I’m in Glasgow, but don’t base my situatedness on my being here (as I’m the odd one out in my department). I’m from the US and come from one postgrad program in Cultural Theory (yet another “interdisciplinary” topic). Remaining off-topic for a minute, I’m actually against calling something “interdisciplinary” primarily because historically the “disciplines” were loosely defined (we’ve compartmentalized them and now want to play between them as if we can’t make up our collective academic minds!). Yes, I do think the Euro is around $1.33 right now (or 91p)….which reminds me–don’t think I’m ticked at anyone if I don’t respond in the next few days as I’ll be away for a few…perhaps we should get a new topic so that it doesn’t seem like we’re beating this one poor post down to nothing (sorry Kyle)!

  61. What a treat. Did you post your full fledged treatment of postfoundationalism?

    I have recently come across the work Wentzel van Huyssteen. I am curious to know your view of Postfoundationalism if you have one. I have not read Huyssteen but as translated through other sources on the web the “interdisciplinary” dialogue of science and theology seems loose, without either having a hermeneutic priority over the other. Does Postfoundationalism offer a distinct, proper epistemology or is it simply a rejection of Foundationalism and anti-Foundational eager to find the middle ground?

    I’ve seen in the writing of one postfoundationalist what appears to be vascilation between using science to interpret scripture and almost no use of scripture to chafe against scientific claims.

    • I never actually ended up doing a full-fledged treatment of post-foundationalism unfortunately. I tend to treat post-foundationalism as a category of epistemology rather than an epistemology in its own right. From the little I’ve read on the subject, the glue that holds post-foundationalists together is the denial of a broadly Cartesian epistemology.

  62. Hey,

    I stumbled onto this blog searching for postfoundationalism in google…

    I’ll be honest, I haven’t read most of these comments. I suspect, as a postfoundationalist, it wouldn’t really yield much to do so.

    If you want a good read on postfoundationalist thought, pick up Hans-Georg Gadamer’s “Truth and Method.” The idea of there being no neutral interpretation of a text is probably the biggest reason I think of it as a superior methodology to foundationalism and nonfoundationalism.

    If you’re interested, I wrote a small defense of postfoundationalist thought here

    It’s a good method. Don’t let anyone sucker you into turning your nose up at it ;) And I’d suggest writing that full-on article about postfoundationalism. Even if people disagree, it’s something to be aware of.

  63. I humbly propose that for me, post-foundationalism rests on the foundation of a preference for phenomenology over epistemology, and subjective or tradition-specific interpretation over Objective Truth that is binding for all. I believe it culminates in the post-modern embrace of Meaning over Truth, which touches on so many of the specific details contained in the above comments.Saying a few words on this topic is so difficult, but if I had to use one phrase, I would say post-moderns have generally lost faith in Truth and have turned instead to Meaning. Sorry if I sound arrogantly assured. Not my intent. Just the meaning I’ve gleaned from 10 years of Catholic priesthood and ministry in the parish and my own personal faith journey.
    – Marc

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