You are on page 1of 11

Synthese (2008) 163:175–185 DOI 10.


Meta-epistemology and the varieties of epistemic infinitism
Scott F. Aikin

Received: 26 July 2006 / Accepted: 12 May 2007 / Published online: 27 June 2007 © Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Abstract I will assume here the defenses of epistemic infinitism are adequate and inquire as to the variety standpoints within the view. I will argue that infinitism has three varieties depending on the strength of demandingness of the infinitist requirement and the purity of its conception of epistemic justification, each of which I will term strong pure, strong impure, and weak impure infinitisms. Further, I will argue that impure infinitisms have the dialectical advantage. Keywords Epistemology · Infinitism · Foundationalism · Regress problem

Epistemic Infinitism is an underdeveloped view. On the old epistemic regress problem, infinitism is the view that one can solve the problem by giving (or having) reasons on to infinity. Its prima facie implausibility surely explains this lack of development—so few have been willing to go to the mat for the thesis. Some have recently defended infinitism against both the initial implausibility problem and actual arguments against it—notably, Peter Klein (1998, 1999, 2003), Jeremy Fantl (2003), and myself (2005). I will proceed here as though these defenses are adequate for the time being and inquire as to the variety standpoints within the view. I will argue that infinitism has at least three varieties depending on the strength of demandingness of the infinitist requirement and the purity of its conception of epistemic justification, each of which I will term strong pure, strong impure, and weak impure infinitisms. Further, I will argue that impure infinitisms have the dialectical advantage. Before proceeding with infinitism, some theoretical apparatus must be assembled. Two distinctions are necessary. The first is between pure and impure meta-epistemic theories. Pure meta-epistemic theories are commitments to the exclusivity of one source or formal structure of justification. So pure foundationalism, for example, is the commitment to basic beliefs

S. F. Aikin (B ) Philosophy, Vanderbilt University, 111 Furman Hall, Nashville, TN 37212, USA e-mail:


With some things. S may in the end have a basic belief (one for which no more beliefs are necessary) or some epistemic relation of coherence with the right set of beliefs as the justifiers. was still a foundationalist about a priori knowledge (1985). The purist then knocks off the relevant challenges and then proceeds to elaborate her own view. As such. What impure theorists do with the piecemeal of intuitive cases of knowledge is cobble together a systematic view of knowledge that allows a variety of sources of justification. for example. even as a coherentist about empirical knowledge. the distinction between foundationalist versions and coherentist versions seems more a matter of emphasis than a real theoretical difference.176 Synthese (2008) 163:175–185 being the source of all epistemic justification. 1989) and Feldman (2003). Davidson (1986). The dialectical situation for those defending an impure epistemic theory is that the history of exchanges between purists has yielded some very good arguments against pretty much every view. From the earlier distinction between pure and impure theories. and infinitism). coherentists hold out interpretations and explanations. on the basis of the hexalemma (for six choices) where five of the choices are either refuted or reasonably presumed out of bounds. So if S believes that p on the basis of q and r. Audi (2001). Some of these arguments proceed from prima facie cases of knowledge to showing how competitors cannot countenance the cases. It makes for neat scholarly work. but the favored theory can. externalism. and she proceeds in a fashion of systematically saving the appearances. may allow for basic beliefs to function alongside coherent sets of beliefs. Moser (1984. 2 See. then. 3 For example. 123 . only epistemic relations between beliefs can do the work. a pure foundationalism is the view that 1 See. 4 BonJour. Justification trees (J-trees) are an easy way to present this difference. The second distinction is between the strong and weak demandingness of a meta-epistemic view. with q and r as nodes on one level and s and t on nodes at a lower level: p / q / s \ r \ t We could ask further question about s and t.2 Impure epistemic theories are more ecumenical—there may be more than one formal structure for justification. only basic beliefs can do the work. and with other things. with some impure theories. The case for the purist’s view is made. too. S’s J-tree for p would have two branches. basic unjustified beliefs.5 The dialectical factor counting in the favor of pure epistemic theories is that the regress problem is a powerful tool to motivate a theory. coherentism. since the classical version of the problem generally yields at most five or six possible solutions (skepticism. allow both basic beliefs and perhaps systematic coherence to be sources for justification.1 Pure coherentism is the view that coherence (of the right kind) is the only source. and depending on which epistemic theory is right.4 In fact. A J-tree for some subject S’s belief that p is a graphic representation of the justifying reasons S has for p. for example. Some impure foundationalisms. and S believes q on the basis of s and r on t. 5 Which is solvable by Susan Haack’s term ‘foundherentism’ (1993).3 Impure coherentisms. foundationalism. for example. the impure theorist has fewer bullets to bite dialectically. So foundationalists hold out their hands.

Clearly weak pure foundationalism is not a real possibility. as he holds infinitism’s “central thesis is the structure 123 . and all J-trees have only basic beliefs as their terminating nodes. Weak epistemic theories hold that some J-trees have at least one branch end with the relevant type of belief. yields a strong pure foundationalism. Pure coherentism is that all final nodes bear epistemic relations of coherence with the relevant beliefs. Paul Moser (1984) argues that coherentism cannot independently solve the regress problem. • Strong impure foundationalism—basic beliefs are not the only source of justification. • Weak pure foundationalism—basic beliefs are the only source for justification. basic beliefs are still necessary for any J-tree. but there are at least some J-trees with basic beliefs as terminating nodes. but they are not necessary for all J-trees. Basic beliefs are productive of. This distinction is particularly useful in light of the structural arguments foundationalists make against coherentists. For example. Peter Klein’s infinitism. since some of the J-trees with basic beliefs (because of the exclusivity of basic beliefs yielding justification. then.Synthese (2008) 163:175–185 177 all J-trees have only basic beliefs at their bottom nodes. weak impure foundationalism is the view that there are not only other sources of justification. There are no other sources of justification other than infinite chains of inference. • Weak impure epistemic infinitism—Infinite chains of inference are productive of justification. But impure meta-epistemic theories may either be weak or strong. As such. Strong epistemic foundationalism is the view that every J-tree has at least one basic belief. There are four possibilities for combination for these meta-epistemic theories. but it only is a case for strong foundationalism (as the requirement that basic beliefs must play a role in all J-trees). • Weak impure foundationalism — basic beliefs are not the only source of justification. is a pure epistemic theory. Finally. So all pure meta-epistemic theories are strong. Basic beliefs yield justification for weak theories. but they are not necessary for all J-trees. outlined in “Human Knowledge and the Infinite Regress of Reasons” (1999). but infinitely extended chains of inference are necessary for any J-tree. On these three combinations of strengths of demandingness and exclusivity of metaepistemic theories. Let us use foundationalism as the exemplar: • Strong pure foundationalism—basic beliefs are the only source of justification. • Strong impure epistemic infitinitism—at least one branch on every J-tree must be infinitely extended. Strong epistemic theories run that all J-trees must have at least one branch end with the relevant epistemic type of belief. on the purity commitment) will in fact be all of the J-trees. This. three correlate possibilities arise for epistemic infinitism: • Strong pure epistemic infinitism—all branches on J-trees are infinitely extended. but all J-trees have at least one basic belief as a terminating node. Strong impure foundationalism is the view that though there may be other sources of justification. but they cannot yet clear the field. and some J-trees have basic beliefs as their terminating nodes. This argument may be correct. but it does not necessarily count against an impure coherentist commitment to coherence being a source of justification. Moser’s arguments clearly count against pure coherentisms. but are necessary. These beliefs are necessary for any J-tree. There other sources of justification. but there may even be J-trees without any basic beliefs as their terminating nodes. since assessments of coherence cannot themselves be based on coherence. Basic beliefs are not exclusive of justification. then. Weak epistemic foundationalism is the view that there are J-trees with some basic beliefs. Intuitive or basic beliefs are necessary. but they are neither exclusive nor necessary for justification.

Klein proceeds precicely from the dialectical position of the hexalemma and eliminates foundationalism. and that one also. My view is clearly ecumenical enough to qualify as impure. My strategy is to concede that “beliefs based on (some acceptable set of) non-doxastic states are innocent until proven guilty” (200).6 Klein’s case against the alternatives proceeds from two intuitive principles of good reasoning: the Principle of Avoiding Circularity. it may turn out that there must be an infinite number of them. for coherentism to meet the completeness requirement. but it is unclear whether it is strong or weak. 222). and is as such. So he concludes: “The infinitist is claiming that a normatively acceptable set of reasons must be infinitely long and non-repeating if we are to avoid the pitfalls of foundationalism (arbitrariness) and coherentism (begging the question)” (1998. for complete justification. The challenge is formulated as what I call “the modus ponens reductio” (MPR) of infinitism. 297). 123 . which makes them all fully justified. because the alternatives clearly run afoul of one or two of them and infinitism runs afoul of neither. and explanatory group of beliefs. if foundationalism allows incompletely justified beliefs to serve as basic. Jeremy Fantl’s argument for infinitism in “Modest Infinitism” (2003) is also exclusivist. Coherentism fails because it is not. But on the one hand. unjustified foundations. justification does not admit of degrees. from how I solve the arbitrariness problem with the MPR (by requiring basic beliefs in every J-tree). surely the belief that a proposition coheres with that set must itself be justified. See Klein’s development of the view in 2003. they amount to the requirement that subjects must have reasons as a whole that are non-circular and that subjects must for each reason individually have reasons they can give in its favor. full justification. capable of yielding complete justification (2003. if the justification for some S’s belief that p was p’s coherence with the most coherent. and the Principle of Avoiding Arbitrariness. Klein’s argument is that these requirements as conditions for rational believing stand as exclusive requirements in favor of infinitism. I introduce the foundationalist conception of justification in order to answer the question as to how infinitism itself can eliminate arbitrary but infinite chains of modus ponens inferences from the class of justifiers. as I describe the infinitism I defend as “consistent with modest epistemic foundationalism” (2005. and show how infinite chains must be supplemented by non-doxastic support. comprehensive. or justification of the highest degree) makes sense. for a set of beliefs to satisfy these requirements. 541). coherentism. and reliablism in order to motivate his view. given the contents of the essay. 546).7 Alternately. my view is certainly a strong impure founda6 Note that Klein does not eliminate skepticism for the argument. And on the other hand. That is. Foundationalism fails because the traditional version of the view seems to make all basic beliefs justified in virtue of their truth. then foundationalism cannot explain the possibility of complete justification. and I will address it more fully below. Fantl similarly introduces two requirements for a theory of justification: that the theory account for justification coming in degrees and that complete justification (or justification simpliciter. My own version of infinitism in “Who Is Afraid of Epistemology’s Regress Problem?” (2005) is an impure version of the view. Klein’s take on the matter is that the old Agrippan-Pyrrhonean skepticism of the five modes is consistent with epistemic infinitism — namely that there are cases where we do not meet the infinitist requirement. it must be a tacit infinitism (2003. As such. it is clear. 7 The argument is more detailed that this. at least on internalist requirements. 191). The non-doxastic support for these inferential chains counts as prima facie evidence that they are correct (as opposed to the arbitrary ones). Fantl then proceeds to show that neither foundationalism nor coherentism can live up to these requirements. and as such. Together. a strong pure theory.178 Synthese (2008) 163:175–185 of justificatory reasons is infinite and non-repeating” (1999. then surely the belief that p belongs would improve the justification for p. However.

from the perspective of the reasoner. and the former is a de facto failure to end the regress of reasons. I take it that some S would be justified in holding H if she did so on the basis of feeling headachy.Synthese (2008) 163:175–185 179 tionalism in the requirement of basic beliefs. But what makes B’s having F a reason for it to be a basic belief? How is F related. our subject should be able to answer further questions about H and F. the dialectical burden is on the impure infinitist to answer their challenges. What follows is a sketch of such a defense. A foundationalist response to Klein’s dilemma is that surely being able to explain the connection between B’s property F and B’s truth is requisite for B’s justification. But this ability is a condition for H being basic for S. it itself does not comprise reasons for H. Basic beliefs are held as basic with reasons or without. “how do you know that you have a headache?”. since even for connecting appearances with beliefs about the external world. That is. it must be so on the basis of some property F of B. But on this reading of F. With regard to infinitism. restating H is appropriate. in classic Ducassian fashion. since the regress is not regarding whether the subject is justified in taking B to be justified but regarding whether F is a reason for holding B. does not presume that a subject must be justified in her assessments of her current justification. if the impure theory allows in sources of justification that Klein and Fantl have shown inconsistent with infinitism. 123 . S would probably respond that she feels it. because with the restatement S is elliptically stating something along the lines of: (H–F) I believe I have a headache on the basis of the fact that I have a headache. I require infinite inferential series (201). It seems right that if S has got the conceptual tools to formulate H and for it to be a belief held by a responsible human adult. is an arbitrary foundation). If a belief B is taken to be foundational. Take the old introspective belief held by some subject. It still. but is a first order question about B’s justification. is an open question as to whether there can be beliefs completely justified by non-doxastic contents only. For responsible reasoners. F (or B’s having F) stands as a reason for B. which means that foundationalism is on the road to infinitism) or no answers are coming (and the basic belief. So F for H would be the basing relation between H and the subject’s awareness of her non-doxastic state. on my account. S: (H) I have a headache. Klein’s default is to interpret this as either arbitrary or perhaps circular reasoning. Or. and the latter is a de jure failure to end the regress. given the arguments both Klein and Fantl have against infinitism’s meta-epistemic competitors in favor of pure infinitism. It is clear. Klein’s argument against foundationalism is that it either runs afoul of the arbitrariness requirement or it is in fact infinitist. say. That is. but that explanation itself is not a continuation of the regress of jusitification. If asked. as formulated. It should be noted that Klein’s dilemma. and so a further question can be asked as to how F in fact justifies B. “the meta-justification is invoked in order to avoid the appearance of arbitrariness for it is designed to show why the ‘final’ beliefs are likely true” (1999. which would yield a weak impure infinitism. The point of Klein’s dilemma here is that foundationalism as a meta-epistemic theory cannot solve the structural problem of the regress. 339). she would simply repeat H (Ducasse 1944. So the dilemma is not dependent on some version of the JJ principle. 304). to B’s truth? Either the foundationalist answers the question (and the regress continues. then it is incumbent on the impure infinitist to show how the alternatives are in fact consistent with infinitism. I lean toward strong infinitism. But this requirement is one that only extends to fallible external world beliefs.

S can explain why H is a basic belief for her in showing that she is a capable reasoner. they are abilities S must be able to display for her to hold any kind of belief with the semantic contents of H—she must know something about how headaches feel and how one might get them. He terms the first option ‘traditional foundationalism’ and the second ‘meta-justificatory’ foundationalism. or explain that headaches are precisely the kind of things that if you feel like you’ve got one.9 She can demonstrate that ability by answering questions correctly. but this does not mean that they are justifiers for H. But more can be said. but it does not begin the original regress anew. cannot satisfy the completeness requirement without becoming de facto infinitists (2003. . they would all have the same justification (2003. she must not only be able to answer these questions. on the other hand. and so on. you’ve got one. as they reach 20 or so. One strategy would be to turn the tables on the Kleinian skeptic-infinitist and ask on the basis of what anyone would challenge H and perhaps explain that these attitudes have default status. but showing that she knows what she is doing when she avows H is not a justification for H in the sense that it would serve as a set of reasons for H. one would be in a much better position if that belief itself were completely justified. especially if one is a good (or even passable) foundationalist. 9 Daniel Howard-Snyder makes a similar distinction between. As such. the justification of S’s basic belief being derived from S’s meta-justificatory argument (2005. S’s independent justification for H should be just her being aware of her headache. . If basic beliefs are not all fully justified (for example. if this distinction between the doxastic conditions for being justified and the nondoxastic justifiers is right. 8 See Andrew Cling’s criticism of Klein on similar grounds: “Foundationalism implies that some beliefs can be justified independently of propositional support. on the other hand. then they must be justified by something other than themselves. these reasons may be indicative of how she is a responsive and capable reasoner. Being able to answer questions about H and F is clearly a condition for S to be justified in holding H and answering them may in fact improve H’s epistemic status. 107). 544).8 A necessary condition for her to be justified in holding H (perhaps conditions for her to formulate H at all) would be that she is able to responsively regard her non-doxastic psychological states. because without the antecedent awareness of the headache S would not be justified in H. then Klein’s meta-regress argument may show the unavoidability of infinitism. a basic belief being justified for S and S believing the premises of a meta-justificatory argument and. but they are not justifiers for H. Showing that she can recognize a headache or that she can defend some sense of priviledged access does not justify S in believing H. Fantl’s argument against foundationalism is that the foundationalist takes basic beliefs to be either self-justifying or in need of a meta-justification. So Klein is right that the meta-regress begins a new regress for justification. but for H to be justified for her. That is. which requires another reason. The traditional foundationalist. But regardless of what S says in her defense. etc. Rather. If they are. she must have that antecedent awareness of her headache. on the one hand. if no belief B can be completely justified without some feature F. 123 . faces a dilemma: either basic beliefs are fully justified or not. not that there are propositions for which propositional support is in some absolute sense unavailable” (2004. have some tacit familiarity with the default status of first person psychological statements. the belief about the number of speckles on a hen. . restating the belief on the challenge is a stand-in for articulating the fact with which one is acquainted that comprises the belief. 546). our confidence would surely drop below complete confidence). on the one hand.180 Synthese (2008) 163:175–185 On the Ducassian model. Of course. then foundationalism cannot explain how justification admits of degrees. Meta-justificatory foundationalists. then one will be in a better position to hold the belief if one had a reason to hold that B had F. but it does not by necessity eliminate foundationalism. which itself should be completely justified. 21). . Otherwise.

11 Fantl.10 It seems that this should have been his main argument—fallible (or at least purportedly fallible) sources of justification cannot yield complete justification. But putting things this way trivializes the argument. if it allows basic beliefs to be less than completely justified. the classification of Fantl as a pure infinitist may be strained.214). Take. confuses the possibility of separate chains of argument being possible with continuing the original chain. including difficulties that make fallibility in introspection a somewhat plausible consequence. However. cannot show how complete justification is possible. Fantl concedes that further reasons are not necessary for such a proposition to be justified to a very high degree. because of its either unattainability or its incoherence. And again. .. some subject’s belief that she has a headache (H). since they are not arguments constitutive of the epistemic relation between S’s belief and her non-doxastic state. a subject’s ability to answer meta-challenges to basic beliefs is necessary for their being justified for S as a reasonable and responsible believer.) However. . Fantl holds. The consequence. these do not undermine H’s status as basic. given that Fantl’s requirements are still that infinite chains of inferential support are the only sources of justification sufficient for complete justification. Fantl here does not categorically endorse the commitment. no human can ever have complete justification. then. because it is precisely this constraint on a theory of justification that most fallibilist theorists have been trying to do without. is that though challenges to S’s belief that H as basic and S’s defenses may go on to infinity. it’s hard to see why. Peirce’s argument that certainty is not something that can be rationally attained. Only infinite inquiry could do that. argues that infinitism is still preferable even in if complete justification is incoherent. Fantl’s concession here is hypothetically dependent on his dialectical opponent allowing basic beliefs to be incompletely justified. because it still makes sense of the thought that for any degree of justification yielded by a fallible source. Again. because all of the worries about whatever source of information can never be completely settled. Fallibilist theories of justification are designed precisely to make due without the concept of complete justification. 561). So Fantl. these propositions cannot be fully justified for this subject because: I also recognize that there are many difficulties with introspection. since he is willing to coun- tenance other sources of justification. like Klein. Regarding cases like a subject believing that she has a headache.Synthese (2008) 163:175–185 181 Fantl’s argument that infinitism is a consequence of meta-justificatory foundationalism is posited on the same confusion behind Klein’s meta-justificatory argument—namely taking a subject’s ability to answer challenges to and questions about a basic belief for a continuation of reasons supporting the belief. but rather is evidence that she know what she is doing when she avows it. though they do not by themselves yield complete justification. 123 . First note that Fantl has conceded that there can be other sources of justification. the view is exclusive with regards to that element of justification. So foundationalism. CP 5. how and why introspection works. nor are further reasons necessary for the proposition to justified to a sufficient degree to count as knowledge. in the end. Given this. the degree to which ‘I have a headache’ is justified for you wouldn’t increase (2003. She could not be in any better position to assess its truth than when she focuses her attention on how her head feels. here. (Thanks to one of my reviewers for this point. for example. that it worked well in this instance. but they do not constitute reasons for the belief—they are abilities that make up S’s knowing what she is doing when she holds the belief. that in light of a reasonable fallibilism about introspection (and other sources of information—rational insight and ordinary perception). there is a higher degree which is attainable with further reasons 10 In this respect. As such. if you can have as an adequate reason that. because reasons are always tentative and open for challenge (Peirce 1931–1935. again. Her relative ability to answer questions about that privileged position does not amount to an argument for H. and in particular. 11 Take.

But surely this is not correct. Fantl’s point holds fallibilists to standards they reject. Traditional foundationalism can answer Fantl’s two requirements. because we are not omniscient (Descartes 1984. This. One. Further. 545). does not mean that infinitism is wrong. The standard we should hold theories of justification to is that in the service of being adequate to analyze knowledge. a modern-day Lewisian. and so on? Might not a man just dream up a system and be ingenious enough to always extend his story in logical fashion? How can the mere continuous extension of a belief system guarantee the rationality of the members of the system? (1973. He holds that the consequence of holding that all basic beliefs are fully justified is that one cannot then explain how justification comes in degrees. So if complete justification is not necessary for knowledge. The thought was captured early by Max Deutscher: Could it be one vast delusion system? Is a man reasonable in holding one belief merely because he holds another whose propositional content is suitably related to the first. cannot countenance degrees of justification clearly misses its target. 6) We can make good on this worry by formulating the following way of extending reasongiving in Deutscher’s ‘purely logical fashion. Fantl’s dilemma for basic beliefs is that either they are all fully or not all fully justified. however. Lewis’s pragmatic foundationalism had certainties as terminating judgments. it is still a viable meta-epistemic theory. since the point of fallibilist theories is to find legitimate stopping places in these exchanges with the full awareness that they can continue endlessly. the paradigmatic traditional foundationalist. arbitrary. even if he holds the second on account of a third which is suitably related to the second. and as such. Fantl is wrong that infinitism is preferable to foundationalism.182 Synthese (2008) 163:175–185 (perhaps eliminating pressing defeaters). AT VII 78–79). C. then it is an excessive requirement for theories of justification. but none are yet on the table. but rather it is motivated by the thought that complete justification is not necessary for knowledge. who held that one may nevertheless err in making non-deductive inferences from clear and distinct perceptions. and B2 by B3. Klein and Fantl’s arguments for the exclusivity of infinitism with regard to the structure of reasons fail with foundationalism. Fantl requires that foundationalists address the degree requirement only with basic beliefs: “This is on the initial assumption that foundationalism can only satisfy the requirements by specifying the way the foundational reasons should be treated” (2003. then. This objection to infinitism amounts to the argument that infinite chains of reasons are.I. If that is the case. I propose. There is a dialectical consideration that further distinguishes pure and impure infintitisms in what I earlier (2005) termed the modus ponens reductio. fallibilism is not necessarily motivated by the thought that complete justification is incoherent or unattainable. that an updating of the dialectical situation within infinitism is necessary. But many traditional foundationalists explain degrees of justification by appealing to weaker than deductive inferential support yielded by basic beliefs. but that the proponents of the pure versions of the view must either develop new arguments or turn ecumenical with impure versions of the view. does not have to go any further than Descartes himself. when considered as mere relations between beliefs. in fact. A final point is that Fantl’s argument that traditional foundationalism.’ Let the following beliefs stand in the support relation such that B1 is supported by B2. but their epistemic support for the superstructure of the rest of human knowledge was probabilistic (1946). There may be other arguments against foundationalism that succeed on infinitist grounds. again. But. CSM II 54–55. because his infinitism is only different in emphasis from modest foundationalisms. if it requires that basic beliefs are completely justified. and so on. 123 . but beliefs about the world and so on are abductively justified (1995). Timothy McGrew. has subject’s basic beliefs justified by their indexical relation to the subject’s non-doxastic psychological states. So.

Post (1980. say in cases of their relation being relations like the following: • Analytic (or logical) entailment: If Sam’s a bachelor. One may ask our subject. on the infinitist thesis. Insofar as any J-tree will be subject to the same structural issue (which is necessary. if they are unadjudicable between their claims on the truth of p and ∼p. 28–29). and 1987. We can see clearly that if B2 is justified. .Synthese (2008) 163:175–185 183 B1: p B2: q & (q ⊃ p) B3: r & (r ⊃ (q & (q ⊃ p))) B4: . .12 But here the issue can be resolved by a question as to whether the sets of beliefs (B1. . then ex hypothesi. respectively (2005) have been made by: Deutscher (1973. looses its moorings with truth. then he’s male. So. Bn ). and Cling (2004. But now note that if we change p to not-p. . Cornman (1977. And B2 is justified by B3. 290). are the only necessary components for a justificatory story. it entails B1. Moser (1985. 110). it seems. . 313). 32–35. The problem is that on the infinitist theory. and B3 by B4. only beliefs not in need of J-trees can play the role of rationally adjudicating the two set’s claims on truth. Oakley (1976. it has property F. . any subject caught in this dilemma must be capable of understanding the difference between these two conditionals. . p. 227–228). So long as modus ponens is truth preservative and epistemic justification follows what are intuitively truth indicative inferences (these are at least plausible assumptions). Pollock (1974. so B1 is justified so long as B2 is. if there are infinitely iterating branches of reasons. it’s colored. 67). given the syntax of J-trees). Epistemic justification that does so loses the name. There. 6). “When q. we have no rational way of telling the difference between one justifying set of beliefs that is conducive of truth and one that is not. . not p? Are you sure?” A subject’s understanding of the propositions may. too. . provide immediate justification for accepting one conditional over another.Bn) and (B1 . precisely because it is defined exclusively in terms of relations between beliefs. the difference between the two sets can be captured between the cognitive situation for some subject between B2 and B2 : B2 : q & (q ⊃ p) B2 : q & (q ⊃ ∼p) Both simplify to: B2a: q ⊃ p B2 a: q ⊃ ∼p Given that J-trees are supposed to be snapshots of a subject’s beliefs. If something has properties F and G. Infinitist justification. we get the following set of beliefs: B1 : ∼p B2 : q & (q ⊃ ∼p) B3 : r (r ⊃ (q & (q ⊃ ∼p) B4 : . must also be terminating nodes on those branches. and so on. 123 . 12 Versions of this argument and a simpler form that I call ‘the modus ponens reductio’ and ‘the simplification reductio’. and that a condition for belief is understanding. If something is blue. is justified. Foley (1978. . there must be some other feature that is necessary. 88–91). If they cannot be rationally adjudicated by their own contents and inferential relations.

Modest infinitism. American Philosophical Quarterly. 537–562. (1978). The structure of empirical knowledge. 14(4). then. R. Simply change all the above conditionals so that their consequents are negated. 138. truth. (1973). Translated by John Cottingham. and experience provide at least a prima facie epistemic difference between propositions. In E. Synthese. 33. MA: Harvard UP. you should. 15(4). R. We may need further arguments to fix the consequent as justified. The architecture of reason: The structure and substance of rationality. Regresses. However. NJ: Prentice Hall. R. (1985). Cling. If the foundationalist thesis is broadly right that understanding. 287–297. Descartes. because it can address the challenge of the ‘modus ponens reductio. since the subjects considering these series of inferentially related beliefs have a means of deciding for themselves which story is right. 191–217. 126. If someone’s elderly. moral sense. New York: Oxford UP. C. since no series of inferences can have evidence it is not arbitrary unless it has non-inferential support from a subject’s intuitions or experiential states. II. L. The trouble with infinitism. A coherence theory of truth and knowledge. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. Ducasse. Cornman. but there may be other features of the justification for choosing B2 over B2 above that relies on some other epistemic property of the beliefs I have not addressed here—perhaps its coherence with other beliefs on the matter. Propositions. is that a strong impure foundationalism is necessary for the solution. then. Foley. R. M. then. Audi. Canadian Journal of Philosophy. • Experiential connections: If you hold your hand up in front of your face with your eyes open and in good light. ceteris paribus you should express gratitude. 51(1). also.). (2004). F. Who is afraid of epistemology’s regress problem? Philosophical Studies. S. Feldman. (2003). Inferential justification and the infinite regress. and Dugald Murdoch). is that impure infinitism has a dialectical advantage over impure infinitism. (1944). Upper Saddle River. (1984). but those that are immediately so. if impure foundationalism is true.184 Synthese (2008) 163:175–185 • Synthetic a priori support: If Sally is elderly. you’ll be appeared to your-hand-in-front-of-your-face-ly. As a consequence. (2003). Deutscher. you’ll feel light headed (at least). • Morally or practically intuitive connections: If you promised to take out the trash. reasons. If you drink a lot of beer. is that impure infinitism is dialectically preferable. A. American Philosophical Quarterly. 123 . you shouldn’t torture her for fun. 101–123. regardless of this matter. BonJour. 307–319). J. The conclusion. (2005). The consequence. Robert Soothoff. J. J. Fantl. References Aikin. then at least strong foundationalism is true. it is clear that defensible versions of epistemic infinitism must be articulated as impure theories of justification. (1977). The philosophical writings of Descartes (Vol.’ What seems to follow. Foundational versus nonfoundational theories of empirical justification. which must be tabled for our purposes here. If something is a physical object. Cambridge. New York: Blackwell. If someone gives you something. Epistemology. but we can tell the difference between and even assign justificatory status to one or the other conditional depending on our understanding and experience relevant to these propositions. and the ultimate criterion of truth. D. 4. and grounds. 311–316. we have a way of rationally adjudicating the two competing sets. and we can tell the difference epistemically between B2a and B2 a when they are formulated as such. Davidson. Leplore (Ed. And that means has nothing to do with beliefs that are inferentially justified. (2001). Cambridge: Cambridge UP. 1–16. that thing has spatial properties. Truth and interpretation (pp. (1986). Sally is old. 317–340. Australasian Journal of Philosophy.

Moser. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. MD: Littlefield Adams Books. Philosophical Studies. 32–50. (1993). (2005). Evidence and inquiry: Towards reconstruction in epistemology. Malden. (1985).Synthese (2008) 163:175–185 185 Haack. Weiss (Eds. Infinite regresses of justification and explanation. Knowledge and justification. Faces of existence: An essay in nonreductive metaphysics. American Philosophical Quarterly. P. An analysis of knowledge and valuation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.). 3–4. NJ: Princeton U. Klein. P. (1976). Foundationalism and the infinite regress of reasons. P. 86. In C. J. Princeton.). Press: Ithaca. How a Pyrrhonian skeptic might respond to academic skepticism. Moser. J. Foundationalism and arbitrariness. Metaphilosophy. S. C. T. IL: Open Court. (1974). Klein. MA: Blackwell. (1946). The collected papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. 23(1). (1984). Philosophical Perspectives – Epistemology. C. La Salle. (1980). Oakley. (1998). 297–325. Post. In S. Whither infinite regresses of justification? Southern Journal of Philosophy. (2003). 65–74. Peirce. 221–228. VT: Ashgate Press. Post. P. 38. 15. 919–925. (1999). Klein. P. Press. (1987). 123 . Moser. (1989). (1995). 18–24. I. An argument for scepticism concerning justified beliefs. (1931–1935). The foundations of knowledge. S. A defense of epistemic intuitionism. 13. Pollock. P. Howard-Snyder. The skeptics: Contemporary essays. Burlington. J. I. Luper (Ed. New York: Cambridge UP. Lanham. Human knowledge and the infinite regress of reasons. T. 58. McGrew. Hartshorne & P. D. Lewis. Knowledge and evidence. 13(3). Cornell Univ. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly.