Objections to Empiricism and Inferentially Justified Beliefs

by Max Andrews

There seem to be good objections raised against empiricism and inferentially justified beliefs:

(A) That we seldom if ever consciously infer propositions about objects from propositions about experiences.

(B) That most people, if challenged as to their justification for believing propositions about the external world, would seldom if ever offer as their reasons or evidence propositions about experiences.

(C) That it is quite meaningless, that it makes no sense to search for evidence justifying a belief in the existence of a physical object that is before one under optimum conditions of perception.

Certainly, (A) may be true but is agreeably not critical to the empiricist’s defense.  Both (B) and (C) may be true or false to a certain degree but is hardly relevant to the validity of an empiricist’s foundationalism.  The concern is the logical order of justification rather than psychological or historical order.  Let’s give more consideration to (B) with an example of beliefs which would have to be inferentially justified but are not usually if ever consciously inferred from that which would constitute evidence, which would be beliefs about the future or subjunctive conditionals.  The belief that this glass of water in front of me will quench my thirst if I drink it is not inferred back from previous experiences coupled with an application of a synthetic a priori principle of induction.  Though this example is not how we form our beliefs psychologically or historically, it can be formed via instances of past experience and induction in the logical sense.


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