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Marianne Angeline S. Esteria

Epistemology Final Paper
De La Salle University – Manila


There are two known theories in arriving at epistemic justification of beliefs. These
are the foundationalist theory and coherence theory of justification. My paper aims to
discuss the argument between these theories. The argument that has long been debated by
foundationalists and coherentists is between justified basic beliefs or immediately justified
beliefs and justified nonbasic beliefs or mediately justified beliefs. The foundationalists
argue that there are justified basic beliefs or beliefs that have some degree of justification
that is independent of the justification, if any, it gets from other beliefs (Lemos, 2007). These
are the beliefs that get justification from mental states and perceptual experiences. On the
other hand, coherentists hold that it is only nonbasic beliefs that can justify other beliefs.
Justified nonbasic beliefs depend entirely for their justification on other beliefs (Lemos,

To support the long debate between foundationalists and coherentists, I chose two
philosophers in which one is foundationalist and the other coherentist. These two
philosophers are James Pryor and Brandon Schaller. Pryor sides with foundationalism and
defends the immediate justification. On the other hand, Schaller sides with coherentism
which rejects the view that there are basic beliefs.

In his paper entitled “Is There Non-Inferential Justification?”, Pryor presented what
he thinks is the best argument for immediate justification which is considering examples. His
considering examples goes like this,
(1) Suppose I feel tired, or have a headache. I am justified in believing I feel those
ways. And there do not seem to be any other propositions that mediate my
justification for believing it. (Pryor, 2003).
(2) Suppose I raise my arm. I am justified in believing that I’m doing this in order to
scare a fly. That is my reason for trying to raise my arm. Sometimes my reasons
for acting are opaque to me and have to be carefully reconstructed. But not always.
In cases like this one, my reasons can be immediately evident to me. There doesn’t
seem to be anything else I’m justified in believing, that makes me justified in
believing my reason for trying to raise my arm is to scare a fly. (Pryor, 2003).
(3) I think about a domino and a chessboard. It’s obvious to me that the only way to
wholly cover two spaces on the board is to place the domino horizontally or
vertically. That’s something I could have derived from geometric premises. But in
this case I didn’t. I just immediately saw that it was true. In this case, too, my
justification does not seem to be mediated by any further propositions. (Pryor,
In the examples he had given, it is clear that immediate justification is possible. No need for
other beliefs to support and justify the beliefs stated above. Experiences and mental states
could be the sole sources for their justification.

Master Argument
In his paper, Pryor also addressed an argument against immediate justification. It is
called the Master Argument. In this, coherentists propose that,
(1) The Content Requirement (Revised) In order to be a justifier, you need to have
propositional content, and you need to represent that proposition assertively.
(2) Only Beliefs (Revised) Only beliefs (or other states that are epistemically like
beliefs) represent propositions assertively.
Therefore, only beliefs (or other states that are epistemically like beliefs) can be
justifiers. (Pryor, 2003)

Pryor’s obections on the Master Argument

Pryor has three obejctions for the Master Argument. First one is coherentists claim
that beliefs are the only states that are justified therefore they are capable of justifying other
beliefs as well. But according to Pryor (2003), “a Foundationalist might agree that beliefs in
some sense always “require” justification, but argue that they’re still sometimes able to
justify other beliefs even when they’re not themselves justified”. These beliefs that justify
other beliefs without themselves being justified qualify into being immediately justified

Second contention of Pryor (2003) is “justifying role of coherence is shorthand for

talk about which sets of beliefs justify and which don’t”. It seems that the argument raised
by coherentists also attack their own claim which is beliefs can justify other beliefs as well.
If there are sets of beliefs that cannot justify other sets of beliefs then we cannot say that
beliefs can give justification in general.

His last contention is,

To say that experiences have propositional content is not to say that
experiences are beliefs. It can look to you as if P without your believing that P.
Experiences and beliefs just have it in common that they both represent
propositions. And both seem to represent propositions assertively; when they
represent that P, they do so in a way that purports to say how the world is.
(Pryor, 2003).
This refutes what the coherentists propose in the Content Requirement premise. He also
refuted the Only Beliefs premise by saying that beliefs about experiences are the ones that
need to be justified, but experiences themselves do not. Even though experiences are not
justified they still could give justification. Through his contradiction of the content
requirement and only belief we could say that Master Argument failed in excluding
experiences as bases for justification.
One option Pryor proposed to avoid arbitrariness is “the event of my having a
headache has a logical structure akin to the structure of the proposition that I have a
headache” (Pryor, 2003). Experiencing the headache itself already supports and justifies the
belief that you have a headache so that belief is not arbitrary.


In his paper entitled, “A Defense of Coherence Theories of Epistemic Justification”,

Schaller defends coherentism and replies to the contentions made by Pryor. He believes the
Master Argument is a strong argument against foundationalism especially when a fourth
premise was added which is the Premise Principle. Premise Principle states,
The only things that can justify a belief that P are other states that assertively
represent propositions, and those propositions have to be ones that could be
used as premises in an argument for P. They have to stand in some kind of
inferential relation to P: they have to imply it or inductively support it or
something like that. (Pryor, 2003)

Premise Principle
Premise Principle strengthens premises I (Content Requirement) and II (Only Belief) in
Master Argument and its conclusion which is beliefs are the only ones capable of justifying
other beliefs. When these three are combined with Premise Principle, it rules out the
possibility of experiences in justifying beliefs and experiences do not satisfy premises I and
II. But, Pryor still contends that there must be a premise such as experiences do not satisfy
premise I in order for the Master Argument to be true. However Schaller has an objection to
Pryor’s contention. According to Schaller (2013),
Foundationalists rejecting (IV) face the arbitrariness objection. Simply stated,
why should the experience of seeing a squirrel justify the belief of seeing a
squirrel and not some unrelated belief? The experiences alone do not seem to
contain anything to prevent arbitrariness.
But apparently, Pryor had addressed the problem of arbitrariness. He claims that
experiences alone are enough support for a belief.

The debate between Pryor and Schaller does not end here. Schaller has another
objection to Pryor’s claim for arbitrariness. As what he stated on his paper, “an experience
and proposition may have the same logical structure but be entirely unrelated, so it is not
clear that the logical structure argument answers the charge of arbitrariness” (Schaller,
2013). Schaller claims that Pryor’s answer for the problem of arbitrariness is not clear and
unsatisfactory. The logical structure that Pryor claimed to be similar to the proposition’s
structure enabling it to justify a belief is not sufficient.

Experiences as grounds for justiciation

However, Pryor does not stop there. He then claims that experiences are grounds for
the justification of beliefs. The term he used was justification-makers. If some beliefs are
grounded on experiences then they are capable of justifying the said beliefs thus making
them qualify as justifiers. Unfortunately Schaller has an answer for his contention,
Even if beliefs are somehow grounded on experiences like headaches, it does
not follow that the relation is epistemic. It may be causal. Further
argumentation is needed to establish this point. Without further
argumentation, specifically without showing how experiences can be justifiers
if beliefs are in some sense grounded on them, Pryor’s argument seems
insufficient. (Schaller, 2013).
Again the issue raised here by Schaller is the vagueness of Pryor’s claim. Being ‘grounded on’
is not sufficient for experiences to qualify as justifiers. Being ‘grounded on’ does not
necessarily entails that belief gets their justification from the experiences. As what Schaller
said, it may be causal but does not bear epistemic relationship.
Objections against coherentism
Input objection
Furthermore, Schaller addressed three objections against coherentism in his paper. The first
objection is the input objection. The input objection goes like this, “if justification is just a
relation among beliefs, then conceivably one could maintain the same fully coherent set of
beliefs but cut off experience from the world” (Schaller, 2013). An example by Plantinga was
given by Schaller. Suppose that a man is currently climbing a mountain and he has coherent
beliefs that justify he is doing so. But having the same sets of beliefs remain while the man is
going down from a mountain and having experienced a Mozart opera is where the problem
arises. The problem is,
Being on a mountain is evidential input, so the lack of change or reaction to
that evidence cuts a coherentist off from that experience. Thus it seems like
coherence has no need for experiential input, and this is problematic because
intuitively we think experiential input plays an important role in forming
justified beliefs. (Schaller, 2013)
Schaller answers by asserting that it is still the coherence of beliefs which justify other
beliefs. Again, experiences and beliefs do not have epistemic relationship rather it is just a
causal one. The support and base the experiences offer to beliefs do not necessarily make
them as justifiers. The changes brought by experiences to the beliefs are causally related not
epistemically as what Schaller believes.

Basing objection
The second objection against coherence theory is the basing objection. The problem
here is why the justification of other beliefs be based to the justification of the entire sets of
beliefs and not just to the individual? An example can be why should my justified beliefs
about my breakfast be based on my beliefs about London? The solution, as what Schaller
(2013) stated in his paper,
Evans and Smith outline one possible solution in Knowledge (2012). They
claim that the basing relation need not be causal; it could be such that “in order
for his belief to be justified, he must be disposed to revise it if he loses” any of
the beliefs that the belief is based on (118). This translates to the following
biconditionals for S’s belief that p to be justified:
VI. P coheres with S’s belief system B and B is adequately large and coherent
VII. S’s belief that p is based on each member of a subset B’ of B (118- 119).
(Schaller, 2013)
But Schaller finds their solution insufficient so he added,
VIII. S’s belief that p is justified if and only if (VI) and (VII) are satisfied and
(VII) is strengthened such that B’, evidence for B, contains beliefs sufficient to
justify p without any additional basing support from B. (Schaller, 2013)
This solution contains that beliefs do not rely on irrelevant beliefs that are in the system.
There are subsets in the system of beliefs which contain the beliefs relevant and appropriate
in justifying another belief. Therefore the beliefs that are to be justified do not need to rely
on the entirety of the system of beliefs.

Truth connection objection

The last objection against coherence theory is the truth connection objection. The
problem raised here is that justification supposedly must lead to truth. Coherence theory is
being doubted whether it has the capability of leading to truth. The solution given was,
The most plausible solution to the truth connection objection may be biting
the bullet. Even though one could be stuck in some skeptical paradox such that
all of their beliefs are false, this only makes coherence more like
foundationalism. In foundationalism, a belief could be immediately justified
just by existing or coming from the right source. (Schaller, 2003)
Schaller sees a correlation between foundationalism and coherentism in this objection. For
him, this objection is not exclusive for coherentism only, but it also applies to foundationlism.
What he could only think of as a solution is to bite the bullet or just endure the risk imposed
which is the possibility of fallibility in the sets of beliefs.
After discussing the main points and arguments from Pryor’s and Schaller’s papers, I
find Pryor’s argument more convincing. I agree with his claim that immediate justification
is possible. I also think that experiences can give justification to other beliefs.
I find Schaller’s argument about experiences and beliefs not having an epistemic
relationship weak. If he finds Pryor’s solution for the problem of arbitrariness vague and
insufficient, I find his contention about experiences only having a causal relationship with
beliefs vague and insufficient as well. He did not explain why experiences and justifications
are only limited to being causally related. He did not present reasons and evidences on why
I would also want to point out the claim Pryor made that some beliefs even though
they are not justified themselves are able to justify other beliefs. So these unjustified beliefs
that provide justification can qualify as basic beliefs thus making immediate justification
Pryor, J. (2003). Is there non-inferential justification? Retrieved from

Schaller, B. (2013). A sefense of coherence theories of epistemic justification. Retrieved from