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How Reason Works
September 30, 2008, 10:48 am
Filed under: Epistemology

In philosophy we have no choice but to proceed from what seems most evident to us.

If it seems to you that P (for any proposition, P), then you are prima facie justified in believing that P.

To be prima facie justified is to be justified by default.  That is, you are justified unless some other consideration comes into play, destroying this justification.



So, if it seems to you that Barney the dinosaur is at your door, then you are prima facie justified in believing that Barney is at your door.  But, if you also believe you’re tripping on hallucinogenic drugs, then your justification is destroyed.  Or, if it seems to you that Barney is a fictional character, then your justification is either destroyed or at least imperiled.

In any case, all we can do is begin with what seems most evident and then carefully move on from there.

This process is inherently risky.  But the knowledge game is risky.  The sooner we reconcile ourselves to this the better.  Knowing that P, doesn’t entail P is certain for you, at least in any risk free sense.  Sorry, no such luck.  You don’t have to know that you know that P, in order to know that P.  Every epistemic act is grounded in trust, in faith.  But this faith is the beginning of reason, not the abandonment of it.  It is the job of reason to sift through these beliefs, throwing out the bad ones and modifying others as seems best.  But this process will be guided by our most basic beliefs and commitments.  Even our explicit articulations of our beliefs are risky.  We have to trust that our articulations rightly express our beliefs.


5 Comments so far
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Are you making a defense of presuppositionalism here?

Comment by Christopher

No. Although, now that I think about it, I should confess that I used to be a presuppositionalist. But I’m not sure that I’m one anymore.

Comment by the.pilgrim


So I’m not quite sure where to leave off with your thoughts then. If, like you say, there is a prima facie base to reason such that P is P, and that base requires a position of faith ipso facto, then how is that different than presuppositionalism? As I understand it, presuppositionalism says just that: there is a base to reason which simply has to be accepted bona fide, and reason simply serves to sift the variables that either show or deny the accuracy of the presupposition in the first place. Can you explain how what you’re saying is different than presuppositionalism?

Comment by Christopher

My basic point is that we have no other option but to proceed from what seems most evident.

Put another way, the first impulse of any epistemic act is belief.

I’m not saying that we must presuppose the truth of special revelation in order to make sense of the world, or anything quite like that. That’s what I understand presuppositionalism to teach.

Comment by the.pilgrim

Okay, Ed. I see your point.

Perhaps it was my mistake extending presuppositionalism into a strictly philosophical realm instead of leaving it where it originated, in theology.

In any case, I agree with you that the first act of reason, in any epistemic system is belief. Were in not so, we would have no recourse to suggest what we think we know is in any way relevant.

Thanks for the speedy replies, and I look forward to reading more of your posts.


p.s. I remember you from EBC. Though your entrance was close to my exit. What have you done with your education since EBC?

Comment by Christopher

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