Arbitrary Foundations? On Klein’s Objection to Foundationalism
Arbitrary Foundations? On Klein's Objection to Foundationalism
Coos Engelsma 0
0 Department of Theoretical Philosophy, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Groningen , Oude Boteringestraat 52, 9712 GL Groningen , The Netherlands
This paper evaluates Peter Klein's objection to foundationalism. According to Klein, foundationalism fails because it allows arbitrariness at the base. I first explain that this objection can be interpreted in two ways: either as targeting dialectical foundationalism or as targeting epistemic foundationalism. I then clarify Klein's concept of arbitrariness. An assertion or belief is assumed to be arbitrary if and only if it lacks a reason that is objectively and subjectively available. Drawing on this notion, I evaluate Klein's objection. I first argue that his objection construed as targeting dialectical foundationalism fails, since nothing prevents dialectical foundationalism from ruling out arbitrary assertions. I then argue that the objection seen as targeting epistemic foundationalism cannot be disqualified in the way some foundationalists believe. However, I show that also the objection so construed does not succeed, since epistemic foundationalism need not countenance arbitrary beliefs.
Peter Klein; Foundationalism; Arbitrariness; Regress problem; Reasons; Availability
1 Introduction: Foundationalism and the Arbitrariness Objection
Foundationalism, as a theory of epistemic justification, has met with a variety of
objections. It has been criticized for positing incorrigible beliefs, or infallible beliefs,
or beliefs that are justified merely in virtue of someones holding them. As has been
convincingly argued, though, foundationalism can be defended as a view that does not
posit such beliefs (e.g., Alston 1976b). A different, and possibly more subtle, objection
states that foundationalism, in holding that at some point chains of justification come to
an end, allows a kind of arbitrariness. This objection to foundationalism can be found
at several places but has been put forward most explicitly and forcefully in some recent
papers by Peter Klein. According to Klein,
foundationalism is unacceptable because it advocates accepting an arbitrary
reason at the base, that is, a reason for which there are no further reasons making
it even slightly better to accept than any of its contraries (Klein 1999, p. 297; cf.
Klein 2000, 2007, and 2012).
In the present paper, I argue that Kleins objection does not succeed. However, I also
explain that the responses given by several foundationalists fail to show that Klein is
wrong. I proceed as follows. In Section 2, I distinguish two versions of
foundationalism: dialectical foundationalism and epistemic foundationalism. I explain
that many of Kleins remarks appear to be directed at dialectical foundationalism, but
that there are also indications that he objects to epistemic foundationalism. In Section 3,
I explain Kleins concept of arbitrariness. An assertion or belief is assumed to be
arbitrary if and only if it lacks a reason that is objectively and subjectively available.
Drawing on this notion, I evaluate Kleins objection in Section 4 and Section 5. In
Section 4, I discuss the objection construed as an objection to dialectical
foundationalism. I argue that this objection fails, since dialectical foundationalism
can be defended as a view that licenses only assertions which have an objectively
and subjectively available reason. In Section 5, I assess Kleins objection as an
objection to epistemic foundationalism. I argue that, so construed, it cannot be shown
to be mistaken in the way some foundationalists believe. However, at the same time, I
show that also epistemic foundationalism need not allow arbitrariness. Since it is
possible to construe basic beliefs such that they should have a reason that is objectively
and subjectively available, epistemic foundationalism can rule out arbitrary beliefs.
2 Kleins Objection to Foundationalism
Foundationalism is typically seen as a response to the regress problem. This problem
admits of at least two varieties: an epistemic regress problem and a dialectical regress
problem. The epistemic regress problem arises on the assumptions that a belief can only
be justified if it is based on a reason or ground and that reasons or grounds are further
justified beliefs. If a belief B1 can only be justified by another justified belief B2, and
B2 can only be justified by a further justified belief B3, which can only be justified by a
still further justified belief B4, etc., this implies that in order to have any justified belief,
we need to have infinitely many justified beliefs.
The dialectical regress problem, on the other hand, arises in situations where a
person is asked to justify her belief in response to critical challenges. Suppose S
believes that p, and an interlocutor asks her to give a reason for thinking p is true.
After S responds by saying that q, the interlocutor asks for a reason for believing
q. When S answers by asserting that r, the interlocutor asks for a reason for r.
If Ss interlocutor is what Leite (2005) has called a persistent interlocutor,
one who never stops asking for reasons, and if S is obliged to give reasons
whenever challenged to do so, it seems that she has to be able to cite reasons
Rescorla (2009, pp. 4446) has shown that since there is this distinction between an
epistemic regress problem and a dialectical regress problem, a distinction should be
drawn between two forms of foundationalism as well. Epistemic foundationalism, on
the one hand, holds that many beliefs are justified by further beliefs, which may be
justified by still further beliefs, etc., but that this chain of beliefs comes to an end in
socalled basic beliefs: beliefs that do not rely on further beliefs for their justification
(Quinton 1973, p. 119; Audi 1978, p. 49; Ginet 2005, pp. 141143). 1 Dialectical
foundationalism, on the other hand, holds that when S is challenged to justify her
belief, and is asked for new reasons whenever she has given one, she does not have to
go on giving reasons indefinitely. Rather, S does not have to cite a further reason when
at some point she has asserted something that counts as dialectically foundational
(Brandom 1994, chs. 3 and 4; Norman 1997; Leite 2005).
Given the distinction between epistemic and dialectical foundationalism, a first
question that arises is which kind of foundationalism Klein is actually objecting to.
Although Klein himself does not explicitly distinguish epistemic and dialectical
foundationalism, it appears as if it is especially dialectical foundationalism that he
has in mind. Often he speaks of foundationalism as accepting arbitrary assertions (e.g.,
Klein 1999, p. 303). In most of his papers, Klein also presents his case by considering a
dialectical situation where he envisions
a type of socratic questioning that lies behind the regress of reason-giving that
begins with the assertion of some proposition, say p, followed by the question,
Why do you believe that p? The regress continues: Because I believe that q.
And why do you believe that q? Because I believe that r. And why do you
believe that r? Etc. (Klein 2004, p. 168).
Klein calls such imagined conversations assertion/question dialogues (168),
reason-giving games (169), or why-games (171). It is in the context of such dialogs
where someone is asked to justify her belief that foundationalism is said to involve
arbitrariness: even the practicing, self-conscious, modest foundationalist would fall
into an unacceptable kind of arbitrariness once the regress of providing reasons begins
In order to see how Klein thinks this unacceptable arbitrariness is effected, it is
useful to consider his description of the way a foundationalist supposedly must respond
when he is asked to give reasons:
Now, imagine a dialog (even if it is a sotto voce one). Call the personae, Fred the
Foundationalist and Sally the Skeptic. Fred begins by asserting something, say p,
and Sally asks Fred why he believes that p. Fred gives his reason, say r. This goes
on for a while, but eventually Fred gives what he takes to be a basic reason, say b.
1 Not all foundationalists construe basic beliefs in this way. Plantinga (1993, p. 68) thinks of them as beliefs
that do not rely on other beliefs as evidence. Alston (1976a, p. 19) and Pryor (2000, p. 532) construe them as
beliefs that are justified without relying on further justified beliefs for their justification. It will become clear in
Section 4 that dismantling Kleins objection to epistemic foundationalism is much easier if one of these latter
concepts is assumed. Since the notion mentioned in the main text is the strongest, however, I prefer to employ
that notion. If, as I shall argue, epistemic foundationalism can withstand Kleins objection while assuming the
strongest notion, it can also stand up to the objection while assuming one of the weaker notions.
Sally asks Fred for his reason for b. Fred, being a foundationalist, says that there
is no reason available for bor more cautiouslythere need be no reason
available for b because b is propositionally justified at least to some degree but
not in virtue of there being a reason for it (Klein 2007, p. 14).
Since foundationalists allow Fred to reason thus, they allow a form of unacceptable
arbitrariness in [his] reasoning (Klein 2004, p. 167) or a vicious kind of arbitrariness
at the base (Klein 1999, p. 297).
Given Kleins repeated emphasis on dialectical situations, his main focus seems to
be dialectical foundationalism. However, there are also indications that his target is
epistemic foundationalism. First, Klein always presents foundationalism as opposed to
epistemic views such as (linear and holistic) coherentism and infinitism. Second, at
certain places, Klein mentions beliefs as the items constituting justificatory chains (e.g.,
Klein 1999, p. 299). Third, at some point, Klein explicitly describes foundationalism in
an epistemic fashion (Klein 2000, p. 23). For this reason, and also because most
foundationalists commenting on Klein treat his objection as an objection to epistemic
foundationalism, I evaluate the objection both as directed at dialectical foundationalism
and as directed at epistemic foundationalism.
3 Epistemic Arbitrariness
In order to be able to evaluate Kleins objection, it is crucial to establish (1) what
(kinds of) items are allegedly allowed to be arbitrary and (2) what, if those items
are supposedly allowed to be arbitrary, is meant by arbitrary. As to the first
question, Klein is not very clear. 2 However, since he is talking about either
dialectical foundationalism or epistemic foundationalism, it is reasonable to
assume that he thinks either assertions or beliefs are allowed to be arbitrary.
Dialectical foundationalism holds that chains of justifying assertions terminate
with foundational assertions; epistemic foundationalism has it that chains of
justified beliefs come to an end in basic beliefs. According to Klein, in this
way, foundationalist views advocate arbitrariness at the base (Klein 1999, p.
297). Given his mention of arbitrariness at the base, and given what dialectical
and epistemic foundationalism posit at the base, I assume that it is either
foundational assertions or basic beliefs that are supposedly allowed to be
arbitrary. Turning to the second question, then, what does Klein mean when he
calls assertions or beliefs arbitrary? I first discuss arbitrary assertions and then
construe an analogous notion of arbitrary beliefs.
Items most naturally called arbitrary are choices. If one is asked to choose between
two identical boxes, one of them containing $1000, the other being empty, without
knowing which one contains the money, one chooses without having a reason. Since,
2 Sometimes he speaks of arbitrary reasons (Klein 1999, pp. 297, 299, 303), sometimes of arbitrary beliefs
(Klein 1999, pp. 299, 304), sometimes of arbitrary assertions (Klein 1999, p. 303), sometimes of arbitrary
propositions (Klein 1999, p. 304; Klein 2000, p. 12), and sometimes of arbitrary suppositions (Klein 2000, p.
8). Elsewhere, he also speaks of treating a proposition as foundational (Klein 1998, p. 924), of stopping to
give reasons (Klein 2000, p. 21), and of using b as a reason (Klein 2005, p. 134) as being arbitrary.
judged from ones perspective, nothing favors a particular choice, the choice one in fact
makes may be considered arbitrary.3
Although assertions may be rather different from choices, they resemble them in
being evaluated in terms of reasons. Just as it is possible to ask for and give reasons for
choices, is it possible to ask for and give reasons for assertions. Thus, it is natural to
suggest that assertions are arbitrary if they are not supported by a reason. However,
there are many different kinds of reasons for assertions. One can have moral reasons,
and also pragmatic or political reasons. Yet, it is not the absence of such reasons that
gives rise to the arbitrariness objection. Rather, it is the absence of epistemic reasons:
foundationalism fails because it allows foundational assertions not supported by
reasons for thinking they are true.
In order to explicate Kleins notion of epistemic arbitrariness, it is useful to start by
considering his Principle of Avoiding Arbitrariness:
According to Klein, this principle entails that the chain of reasons cannot end with
an arbitrary reasonone for which there is no further reason (Klein 1999, p. 299). So
if an assertion is not to be arbitrary, there has to be a reason available for it. However,
Klein argues, there just being a reason available does not suffice, for it appears that for
any assertion there is a reason available. Suppose I assert that all fish wear army boots.
Surely, when asked for a reason, I could say that all fish have fins and anything having
fins wears army boots. Yet it is clear that the availability of this reason hardly suffices
for my assertion not being arbitrary (Klein 1999, p. 300).
In order to rule out the possibility of such ad hoc reasons, Klein introduces the
requirement that a reason be objectively available. By this, he means that a reason, r,
must satisfy certain quality requirements, thus allowing r to be anchored in
nonnormative properties. For instance, r could be regarded objectively available as a
reason for an assertion that p (1) if r has some sufficiently high probability and the
conditional probability of p given r is sufficiently high; or (2) if an impartial, informed
observer would accept r as a reason for p; or (3) if r would be accepted in the long run
by an appropriately defined set of people. Klein lists seven possible accounts of
objective availability and adds that it may be that another, yet unmentioned, account
will turn out to be the best one (Klein 1999, p. 300). For the sake of discussion, I
shall employ a concept of objective availability to the effect that r is an objectively
available reason for an assertion A if and only if the probability of A, given r, is
While a reasons being objectively available is necessary for an assertion not to be
arbitrary, in Kleins view it is not sufficient. For if it were sufficient, then any assertion
for which there is an objectively available reason would not be arbitrary, even if judged
from the perspective of the person making the assertion it is merely an unfounded guess
or hunch. Thus, Klein argues, a reason should also be subjectively available. By this, he
means that it must be properly hooked up with beliefs she already holds; it must be a
3 For more on arbitrary choices, see Rescher (1959/1960) and Ullmann-Margalit and Morgenbesser (1977).
reason that she would endorse at least in some appropriately restricted circumstances
(Klein 1999, p. 300). In Kleins view, not only consciously believed reasons, such as
the reason that 2+2=4, can be subjectively available. Also the reason that apples
do not normally grow on pear trees and the reason that 366+ 71 = 437 can be
subjectively available, even though one has never consciously entertained these
reasons and although being able to endorse them may require a bit of adding (Klein 1999,
So if an assertion is to avoid arbitrariness, it is necessary that it has a reason
that is both objectively and subjectively available. Given that Klein does not
mention further criteria, it is safe to assume that he also regards this sufficient
for avoiding arbitrariness. Since an assertion avoids being arbitrary if and only
if it has a reason that is objectively and subjectively available, an assertion is
arbitrary if and only if it lacks an objectively and subjectively available reason.
(Henceforth, I use objective for objectively available, subjective for
subjectively available, and objective and subjective reason for reason that
is both objectively and subjectively available.)
Since an assertion A is arbitrary if it lacks a reason that is both objective and
subjective, it can be arbitrary in more than one way. A can be arbitrary in virtue of
lacking both an objective and a subjective reason; A can be arbitrary in virtue of lacking
only an objective reason; and A can be arbitrary in virtue of lacking only a subjective
reason. Because of these different ways in which an assertions arbitrariness can be
realized, it is possible to isolate different forms of arbitrariness. For the purposes of this
paper, I mention two forms. When an assertion lacks an objective reason, I call the
assertion objectively arbitrary. When an assertion has an objective reason that is not
subjective, I call the assertion subjectively arbitrary.
Given this analysis of arbitrary assertions, it is rather easy to develop an analogous
notion of arbitrary beliefs. Since also beliefs are evaluated in terms of reasons, it can be
said that a belief is arbitrary if and only if it has no objective and subjective reason. I
assume that r is an objective reason for a belief B if and only if the probability of B,
given r, is very high. Because a beliefs lacking an objective and subjective reason can
be realized in more than one way, I also isolate two senses in which a belief can be
arbitrary. When a belief has no objective reason, I call it objectively arbitrary; when a
belief has an objective reason that is not subjective, I call it subjectively arbitrary.4
In the sections that follow, I shall evaluate Kleins objection. In Section 4, I consider
whether dialectical foundationalism has to allow arbitrary assertions; in Section 5, I
consider whether epistemic foundationalism must countenance arbitrary beliefs.
4 Dialectical Foundationalism and Arbitrariness
Does dialectical foundationalism have to sanction arbitrary assertions? Recall how
Klein represents Fred the Foundationalist as arguing when he is asked to give a
reason for the allegedly foundational assertion that b:
4 Throughout the present paper, I shall take Kleins concept of arbitrariness for granted. For an evaluation of
Fred, being a foundationalist, says that there is no reason available for bor more
cautiouslythere need be no reason available for b because b is propositionally
justified at least to some degree but not in virtue of there being a reason for it
(Klein 2007, p. 14).
If it is true (what Fred says) that there is no reason available for b, and hence
neither a reason that is both objective and subjective, then the assertion that b is
arbitrary. So if dialectical foundationalists argue in the way Fred argues, they do
indeed allow arbitrariness. However, must dialectical foundationalists necessarily
argue as Fred does? Dialectical foundationalism holds that when S is challenged
to justify her belief, and is asked for new reasons whenever she has given one,
she does not have to go on giving reasons indefinitely. Rather, S does not have
to cite a further reason when she has asserted something that counts as
dialectically foundational. Does this view necessarily allow foundational assertions that
lack an objective and subjective reason?
Presumably, this depends on how dialectical foundationalism should think of
foundational assertions. There exist versions of the position that construe foundational
assertions such that they can terminate dialectical regresses even when they lack an
objective and subjective reason (e.g., Brandom 1994, Ch. 3, and Norman 1997).
However, it is by no means clear that foundationalism is committed to such a view
of foundational assertions. Nothing in the concept of dialectical foundationalism
prevents it from construing foundational assertions as assertions that must have an
objective and subjective reason. In fact, some dialectical foundationalists do explicitly
regard them in that way. According to Adam Leite, for instance, if someone is asked to
give a reason for what she has asserted, and after she has given a reason is asked for a
further reason, etc.,
[a]t a certain point () a request for further reasons is inappropriate, and the
defendants pointing this out may legitimately terminate the justifying episode
(Leite 2005, p. 403).
However, Leite stresses, in this way terminating a justificatory regress is possible
only so long as the defendant possesses reasons in favour of the belief at issue (403).
That Leite regards the availability of reasons, even for foundational assertions, pivotal
becomes manifest also in what he considers to be the norm governing justificatory
Dont request further reasons if the defendant correctly and responsibly takes
there to be no reason for doubt; under such conditions the defendant need not
provide justifying reasons (though she must believe things which constitute such
reasons) (407, my italics).
Again, considering someone making an assertion for which she has no reason, but
who nevertheless dismisses a request for reasons, Leite says that her response would
be sheer dogmatism (405). As Leites remarks illustrate, nothing prevents dialectical
foundationalism from construing foundational assertions such that they must have an
objective and subjective reason. Hence, dialectical foundationalism has a way to avoid
arbitrary assertions. But if this is so, Kleins argument construed as targeting dialectical
foundationalism does not succeed.
5 Epistemic Foundationalism and Arbitrariness
How about Kleins objection regarded as an objection to epistemic foundationalism?
According to epistemic foundationalism, justificatory chains of beliefs come to an end
in basic beliefs: beliefs that are justified without relying for their justification on
further beliefs. Kleins objection is that in allowing basic beliefs to terminate epistemic
regresses, foundationalism licenses arbitrary beliefs. Since several foundationalists
have already responded to Kleins objection so construed, I begin with evaluating their
arguments in Section 5.1. I discuss the responses advanced by Michael Huemer,
Michael Bergmann, and Daniel Howard-Snyder and E.J. Coffman. After arguing that
their arguments are less convincing than they are presented as being, I give my own
assessment of the arbitrariness objection in Sections 5.2 and 5.3.
According to Michael Huemer, on most interpretations, Kleins objection is not so
much an objection to foundationalism, as a question-begging rejection of it. To argue
that foundationalism is unacceptable because it involves epistemic arbitrariness, says
Huemer, is simply to repeat the thesis of foundationalism, appending the assertion that
the thesis is unacceptable (Huemer 2003, p. 143). That Huemer is able to so respond to
the objection is due to his definition of foundationalism:
The central idea of foundationalism is that in some circumstances, we do not need
reasons for believing a proposition to be justified in believing it. More precisely:
() For some persons S and some propositions P, S is justified in believing P, and
some of Ss justification for believing P does not depend upon Ss having a
reason or reasons for believing P (Huemer 2003, p. 141; cf. Huemer 2010, p. 22).
Huemer defines basic beliefs as beliefs for which no reasons are needed. Since
arbitrary beliefs are beliefs that have no (objective and subjective) reason, this means
that he defines basic beliefs as beliefs that are allowed to be arbitrary. Hence, if
foundationalism is construed as Huemer construes it, then the objection that it fails
because it allows arbitrariness is indeed viciously circular. What is expected of an
objection to foundationalism is more than a mere assertion that it is unacceptable.
I think Huemers response to Kleins objection is unconvincing for two reasons.
First, even if the arbitrariness objection, as an objection to foundationalism as defined
by Huemer, begs the question, one may still wonder whether Huemer need not account
for the fact that his version of foundationalism allows arbitrary beliefs. If someone were
to define foundationalism so that basic beliefs are beliefs that stand in need only of bad
reasons, then to object that this foundationalist view allows basic beliefs for which there
are only bad reasons would certainly beg the question. Yet it seems that someone
defending such a view may be expected at least to explain why allowing such basic
beliefs is unobjectionable.
Second, most foundationalists define foundationalism in a way different from the
way Huemer defines it. Instead of saying that basic beliefs do not stand in need of
reasons, they construe basic beliefs as beliefs that do not rely on further beliefs. When
basic beliefs are construed in that way, foundationalism does not involve epistemic
arbitrariness in the direct way that Huemers account does. Hence, to claim that
foundationalism allows arbitrariness need not be question-begging.
Michael Bergmanns response targets Kleins concept of arbitrariness. Klein holds
that a belief is arbitrary if and only if it has no objective and subjective reason.
Bergmann rejects this notion. He argues that a foundationalist confronted with Kleins
objection should be advised to respond as follows:
I say a belief for which one has no reason can avoid being arbitrary if it has some
feature F such that beliefs having feature F are noninferentially justified
(Bergmann 2004, p. 164).
Thus, Bergmann advices a foundationalist to cite the presence of a
meta-justification. However, when he is in fact drawing attention to the meta-justificatory
argument, the foundationalist is not offering a reason for his basic beliefs (164). Rather,
the foundationalist is using the ideas in that meta-justificatory argument to
explain why it is that lacking a reason for a belief is not sufficient for that beliefs
being arbitrary. The aim is to avoid the appearance of arbitrariness, not by
providing a reason for [the basic belief] b, but by casting doubt on an assumption
about what is sufficient for bs being arbitrary (164165).
What to think of this appeal to meta-justifications? I first note that it appears hard to
make sense of Bergmanns claim that drawing attention to the meta-justificatory
argument does not involve giving a reason. Consider an allegedly basic belief B. Lets
say that B has the feature, F, of being reliably produced by a properly functioning
perceptual system. Assume that Bergmann says that in such a situation, B has a
metajustification. How can appealing to this meta-justification not involve adducing a
reason? Recall that r is an objective reason for B if and only if the probability of B,
given r, is very high. Since justification is supposed to be truth-conducive, the fact that
Bs having F provides B with a meta-justification presumably indicates that it makes B
very likely to be true. So the fact that B has F forms an objective reason for B. But if
that is so, then certainly asserting that B has F is to give a reason for B.
Setting this worry aside, though, does Bergmann succeed in showing how the
presence of meta-justifications precludes arbitrariness? Recall that avoiding
arbitrariness requires a reason that is both objective and subjective. A belief is objectively
arbitrary if it has no objective reason, and subjectively arbitrary if it has an objective
reason that is not subjective. Given what I said in the previous paragraph, it is clear that
the presence of a meta-justification involves the existence of an objective reason. If Bs
having F provides B with a meta-justification, then it makes B very likely to be true.
Hence, Bs having a meta-justification does prevent B from being objectively arbitrary.
How about subjective arbitrariness, though? In order to avoid also this form of
arbitrariness, the fact that B has an objective reason does not suffice. The person
holding B should also have a certain degree of access to that reason. Suppose that S
holds B and that B is produced by Ss reliably functioning visual system. Bergmann
says that the existence of this meta-justification ensures that B is not arbitrary.
However, suppose that S himself has no idea whatsoever about Bs origin. When asked why
he holds B, S does not know anything to cite in support of his belief. Seen from his
perspective, B has just popped into his head from nowhere; to him, B appears to be a
mere guess or hunch. In such a case, it is obvious that B is subjectively arbitrary.
Hence, Bergmanns appeal to meta-justifications fails to do what he claims it does.
Though the presence of such justifications may rule out objective arbitrariness, it does
not preclude subjective arbitrariness.
As it stands, the claim that meta-justifications rule out arbitrariness is false.
However, could Bergmanns remarks not be interpreted differently? Perhaps his only
concern is to show that meta-justifications rule out objective arbitrariness. Though
beliefs that are not objectively arbitrary could still be subjectively arbitrary, Bergmann
could be taken to hold that this latter kind of arbitrariness is not objectionable.5 On this
interpretation, Bergmann would take a typically externalist line of argument, saying
that although S has no idea where some purported basic belief B comes from, although
S does not have any clue what to say when B is challenged, and although from his point
of view B seems a mere hunch, B may nevertheless be justified, as long as B has a
suitable meta-justification. In countenancing B as being justified, Bergmann would
simply bite the bullet that his verdict involves subjective arbitrariness. Or he would
even be proud that his epistemology allows such beliefs to be justified, since it also
allows children, lower animals, and supermarket doors to have justified beliefs, and
since (he thinks) an epistemic theory should allow for that.
Would Bergmanns argument, so construed, succeed in dismantling Kleins
objection? Obviously, internalists such as Klein deny that a belief can be justified when it is
subjectively arbitrary. They find pressing intuitions telling against beliefs where the
person holding them has no clue whatsoever why they would be true, and where the
beliefs just appear to pop into her head from nowhere. Though it may be valuable that
Ss belief has a meta-justification, it is also required that S has access to (what is
responsible for) that justification. Thus, Klein and other internalists would not be
persuaded by Bergmanns externalist proposal that the presence of a
metajustification suffices for avoiding arbitrariness and for guaranteeing justification.
This controversy between externalists and internalists is very old, and it seems that a
solution to it is not to be expected soon. In Alstons (2005) terms, internalists and
externalists press different epistemic desiderata. Both agree that (i) there being an
objective reason and (ii) this reason also being subjective are valuable from an
epistemic point of view. But when a particular belief has an objective reason that is
not subjective, whether one is willing to regard the belief as justified depends on which
of these two desiderata one considers decisive. Externalists press the desideratum that
there must be an objective reason, whereas internalists emphasize that this reason must
also be subjective. As long as internalists and externalists keep appealing to their
intuitions, it is very unlikely that this debate is going to be settled. Since internalists
cite intuitions not shared by externalists and vice versa, there appears to be no neutral
way of bringing the dispute to an end (Alston 2005, pp. 5357).
5 I thank an anonymous referee for bringing this interpretation to my attention.
If Bergmanns approach were the externalist approach sketched above, he and Klein
would get involved in such a standoff. Whereas Klein would have intuitions telling him
that a subjectively arbitrary belief cannot be justified, Bergmann would not have these
intuitions or would ignore them in favor of others. And since Bergmann would not
share Kleins view on the normative status of subjective arbitrariness, in a sense his
position would be immune to Kleins objection. After all, that objection presupposes
that subjective arbitrariness is objectionable, something Bergmann denies. At the same
time, however, it would be improper to describe Bergmanns response as an argument
establishing that Kleins objection fails. For just as Kleins objection presupposes
something Bergmann does not accept, Bergmanns response relies on a premise Klein
does not accept. Rather, what Bergmanns response would boil down to is a venting of
intuitions about arbitrariness that are different from those enjoyed by internalists. And
although Bergmanns view so construed would be immune to Kleins objection, it is
clear that his response could not reasonably be expected to convince Klein. While
Kleins objection, relying on internalist intuitions about subjective arbitrariness, would
not persuade Bergmann, Bergmanns response, relying on his externalist intuitions,
would definitely not persuade Klein.
I draw two conclusions. First, Bergmann does not succeed in showing what he says
he shows, i.e., how the presence of a meta-justification rules out arbitrariness. A belief
having such a justification can still be subjectively arbitrary. Second, if Bergmanns
argument is reinterpreted as saying that the presence of a meta-justification rules out
objective arbitrariness and that other forms of arbitrariness are unobjectionable, it turns
out that Kleins objection need not be fatal to his view. Yet, in that case, Bergmanns
arguments cannot properly be said to show that the objection fails, and his argument
will not even begin to convince Klein.6
Still another response to Kleins objection has been adduced by Daniel
HowardSnyder and E.J. Coffman. Of the five possible interpretations of Kleins objection they
suggest, the following reconstruction seems to come closest to what Klein is in fact
If Foundationalism is true, then there could be basic beliefs of the following kind:
Ss basic belief that p is justified although there are no further beliefs of S that
make it even slightly better that S believe p rather than any of ps contraries. Since
Foundationalism implies that there could be basic beliefs of this kind, and there
couldnt be, Foundationalism is false (Howard-Snyder and Coffman 2006, p. 541).
According to Howard-Snyder and Coffman, neither internalist nor externalist
foundationalists need be impressed by this objection. Consider how they think
internalists can escape the charge of arbitrariness:
if you are an internalist, and, more importantly, if your particular brand of
internalism implies that ones belief that p is justified only if one has some further
6 As I shall show in Sections 5.2 and 5.3, it is possible for foundationalists to give a much stronger response to
Kleins objection. That response defends a form of foundationalism which requires that basic beliefs have a
reason that is both objective and subjective, and therefore attempts to show that Klein is wrong on terms that
also he accepts.
beliefs that support p over its contraries, you can still be a foundationalist ()
provided that you allow that in some cases, namely the case of basic beliefs, ones
belief does not owe its justification to those further beliefs (541).
Of course, Howard-Snyder and Coffman admit, a proponent of such an
internalist foundationalism will need to explain why one must have those
further beliefs in the first place (541). However, it seems that she has to explain
more than just that. First, in describing the internalist option the way they do,
Howard-Snyder and Coffman assume that it is possible that Ss belief is justified
only if she has further beliefs that support it over its contraries, while at the same
time it does not owe its justification to those further beliefs. So the presence of
supporting beliefs is posed as a necessary condition for another beliefs
justification, while the latter belief is said not to owe its justification to those
supporting beliefs. Yet it seems very hard to make sense of the idea that some
condition is a necessary condition for a beliefs justification while at the same
time the justified belief does not owe its justification to the satisfaction of that
condition. Second, and relatedly, it is doubtful whether the internalist view
described by Howard-Snyder and Coffman can still be called foundationalist. If
someones basic belief can be justified only if she has other beliefs that support
it over its contraries, certainly it is not the case that that belief does not rely on
other beliefs for its justification.7 Thus, foundationalism of this internalist variety
cannot escape the charge of arbitrariness in the way Howard-Snyder and
Coffman think it can.
Howard-Snyder and Coffman also hold that externalist versions of foundationalism
do not have to worry about the arbitrariness objection. When externalists maintain that
Ss belief B can be justified even if S has no access to reasons for B, Klein objects that
their view allows subjective arbitrariness. Although certain external factors may
prevent B from being objectively arbitrary, B is subjectively arbitrary as long as S has no
clue as to why B would be true. Howard-Snyder and Coffman find Kleins objection
Externalists tend to allow for cases in which ones belief that p is justified even if
one has no further beliefs that support p over its contraries (). So if you are an
externalist, you will probably not be much impressed by the premise above that
there could not be a case of the sort in question [i.e., a case of someone having a
basic belief not supported by further beliefs] (541).
However, why exactly is it that externalists need not be much impressed
by Kleins objection? Given that their position is said to allow arbitrariness,
one would at least expect some response. Presumably, Howard-Snyder and
Coffman could follow the same strategies as Bergmann. One option would be
to assert that externalist foundationalism does not allow arbitrariness at all.
However, as Howard-Snyder and Coffmans argument stands, it does not begin
to make that claim plausible. Externalist foundationalism can avoid objective
7 That basic beliefs do not rely on further beliefs is a requirement that also Howard-Snyder and Coffman
arbitrariness by requiring the presence of an objective reason. But as long as it
allows Ss belief to be justified in cases where an objective reason is not
subjective to S, it clearly countenances subjective arbitrariness.
A second possibility is that Howard-Snyder and Coffman assert that it suffices if
externalism rules out objective arbitrariness. Perhaps externalism licenses justified
beliefs that are subjectively arbitrary, but the arbitrariness enjoyed by such beliefs is
not vicious.8 As with Bergmann, taking this line would render their position immune to
Kleins objection. But at the same time it is unreasonable to expect that this response
would even begin to convince Klein. Externalists may discover strong intuitions to the
effect that some subjectively arbitrary beliefs are justified, but Klein does not share
those intuitions. Hence, this line of defense would not so much count as an attempt to
show that Kleins objection fails but rather as an expression of different intuitions about
5.2 Objective Reasons for Basic Beliefs
The responses proffered by Huemer, Bergmann, and Howard-Snyder and Coffman
cannot be expected to convince Klein. In the current section, I shall attempt to really
establish that Kleins argument fails.
Given the concept of arbitrariness assumed in this paper, the crucial question
with regard to Kleins objection is whether foundationalism must allow beliefs
that lack an objective and subjective reason. Presumably, the only ground for
thinking they must allow such beliefs is that requiring that beliefs have an
objective and subjective reason involves the justificatory presence of further
beliefs. For if it involves this, then foundationalists, in their attempt to avoid
arbitrariness, have to regard basic beliefs as requiring further beliefs. So the
decisive question is whether a beliefs having an objective and subjective
reason involves the presence of a further belief. In the present section, I discuss
what is implied by having an objective reason; in Section 5.3, I consider what
is involved by having a subjective reason.
Whether a beliefs having an objective reason involves a further belief depends on
what kinds of items can be objective reasons. If only beliefs can be objective reasons,
then a beliefs having such a reason obviously involves the presence of a further belief.
But regardless of whether beliefs can be objective reasons at all, the suggestion that
only beliefs can be objective reasons is wildly implausible. Consider the natural law
saying that iron expands when heated. At some time in the past, t, this law was not yet
believed to obtain. Suppose that at t some piece of iron was in fact heated. If only
beliefs can be reasons, and if at t no other relevant beliefs about iron and heating were
held, then at t there was no reason at all for believing that the piece of iron would
expand. But this consequence is highly counterintuitive. We dont say that there was no
objective reason for believing that the piece of iron would expand, but that the reason
8 In a different paper where he argues against Kleins objection in a similar fashion, Howard-Snyder intimates
that he does not feel attracted to this second option: Unfortunately, the foundationalist cannot find solace in
arbitrariness. Thats because justification just is being nonarbitrary in the relevant sense; () So the
arbitrariness option reduces to the denial of Foundationalism (Howard-Snyder 2005, p. 20).
that obtained was not yet believed to obtain; that although the reason existed, it had still
to be discovered.9
So presumably, other items can be objective reasons as well. For the purposes of this
paper, I shall especially focus on two plausible candidates: facts and experiences. Many
epistemologists have noticed that ordinary language suggests that reasons could be facts
(Pollock 1974, p. 25; Alston 1988, p. 230; Millar 1991, p. 65; Thomson 2008, p. 128).
For instance, in the example given above, at t an objective reason for believing that the
piece of iron would expand was the fact that iron expands when heated. Similarly, a
reason for believing that the train shall leave at 12:33 is the fact that the schedule says
that it leaves at 12:33. These facts form objective reasons for the corresponding beliefs
because the likelihood of the beliefs, given the facts, is very high. Analogously, many
philosophers maintain that particular sensations or perceptual experiences can be
reasons (Pryor 2000; Alston 2002, pp. 8185; Turri 2009; Rescorla 2009, pp. 5054).
For instance, when a visual experience as of a maple tree outside prompts me to believe
that there is a maple tree outside, my experience is a good reason for holding that belief.
Likewise, if an auditory experience as of a bus approaching from behind causes me to
believe that a bus is approaching, my experience forms a perfect reason for the belief.
These experiences constitute objective reasons for the beliefs they engender, since given
the experiences, the beliefs are highly likely to be true.
I assume that these examples illustrate that both facts and experiences can be
objective reasons for beliefs. Many facts are such that given that they obtain, a
corresponding belief is highly probable, and very often, a subjects having a particular
experience makes it extremely likely that a corresponding belief is true. Regardless of
whether any person has these facts or experiences subjectively available, they can at
least be objective reasons. But if that is true, it is safe to assert that a beliefs having an
objective reason need not involve the justificatory presence of a further belief. So
nothing prevents foundationalism from requiring basic beliefs to have an objective
5.3 Subjective Reasons for Basic Beliefs
How about subjective reasons, though? Can an objective reason be required to be also
subjective without this involving the presence of a further belief? 10 This of course
depends on what being subjective means. In Section 3, we saw that on Kleins
9 Some think that Klein holds that only beliefs can be objective reasons (Ginet 2005, p. 143; Howard-Snyder
2005, p. 20). However, it is not clear exactly why they attribute this view to Klein. Though sometimes what he
says seems to indicate that he regards especially beliefs as reasons, there are strong indications that he thinks of
other items as reasons as well. First, consider his requirement that reasons be both objective and subjective. If
only beliefs can be objective reasons, a reason can only be objective if it is a belief. But if a reason can only be
objective if it is a belief, a reason can only be objective if it is also subjective. Yet, in that case, the requirement
that reasons be not only objective but also subjective becomes unintelligible (or at least tautological). Second,
at several places, Klein explicitly speaks of other items as reasons for beliefs. Sometimes, he speaks of reasons
for beliefs as if they are particular facts (e.g., Klein 1998, p. 924); at other places, he mentions propositions as
reasons for beliefs (e.g., Klein 2007, p. 12).
10 If basic beliefs are construed in one of the alternative ways mentioned in footnote 1, then showing that
foundationalism can require that objective reasons for basic beliefs are also subjective becomes much easier.
For in that case, foundationalism can require the presence of further beliefs, provided that those beliefs do not
function as evidence or need not be justified. I keep focusing on the stronger notion, however, since I think it is
possible to require the presence of objective and subjective reasons even on that notion.
account reasons can be subjective even if they are not consciously believed. Also
reasons that one has never entertained, e.g., the reason that apples do not normally
grow on pear trees, and even reasons that one can endorse only after some adding, e.g.,
the reason that 366+71=437, can be subjective. Such reasons are subjective if they
are correctly hooked up to already formed beliefs (Klein 1999, p. 308). Elsewhere,
Klein argues that reasons can be subjective (or available in the appropriate sense)
even if what is needed in order to believe them is new experiences, insight and perhaps
a certain amount of luck (Klein 2000, p. 23). For instance, though at some point in
history we did not yet believe that many diseases are caused by microscopic organisms,
we did have the capacity to form this belief. Hence, Klein says, also this reason has
always been subjective (23). In a later paper, Klein suggests that a reason that p is
subjective to S just in case there is an epistemically credible way of Ss coming to
believe that p given Ss current epistemic practices (Klein 2007, p. 13). Reasons that
are subjective to S are like money in Ss bank account that is available to S if S has
some legal way of withdrawing it even if S is unaware that the money is there or takes
no steps to withdraw it (13). Suppose S is asked what is the capital of Montana. If her
epistemic practices are such that for this she has to check the state capital listings in the
World Almanac, then the fact that this almanac lists Helena as the capital of Montana
entails that the reason that Helena is the capital of Montana is subjective to S (13).
Given these examples, it is safe to say that a reasons being subjective need not
involve the presence of (further) beliefs. So on Kleins concept of subjective reasons, it
is clearly open to foundationalism to construe basic beliefs so that they must have an
objective reason that is also subjective. Hence, on Kleins assumptions, it is possible for
foundationalism to rule out arbitrary basic beliefs. But if this is possible, then Kleins
claim that foundationalism allows arbitrary basic beliefs is false. If we accept Kleins
concept of objective and subjective reasons, his objection to foundationalism does not
However, it may be wondered whether this conclusion is not reached a bit easily.
That foundationalism can require objective reasons to be also subjective is due to a
rather lenient conception of subjective reasons. But is this conception not much too
lenient? Klein assumes that any capacity to discover an objective reason suffices for Ss
belief for which it is a reason not to be arbitrary, even if as yet S has no idea why his
belief would be true. However, does not this assumption judge not arbitrary many
beliefs that are clearly arbitrary?11 Suppose S holds the belief, B, that Jones is having a
party. Since there are a lot of cars around Joness house, and since this makes it very
likely that B is true, B has an objective reason. Moreover, assume that S is in a position
where she can travel to Joness house in order to see the cars standing around the house.
Since S has this capacity, the objective reason is also subjective to S. Hence, on Kleins
account, B is not arbitrary. However, if we suppose that at the moment S has no clue
whatsoever as to why B would be true, Kleins verdict appears to be false. As long as S
has no idea about the existence of a reason, her belief still seems subjectively arbitrary
in an important sense. Analogously, suppose I believe that Helena is the capital of
Montana. Since I can check with the World Almanac to find out that this is true, Klein
judges that my belief is not arbitrary. However, suppose that before in fact consulting
the almanac I have no idea whatsoever about the truth of my belief; that judged from
11 I thank an anonymous referee for pressing this question.
my point of view it is nothing but a mere guess. Kleins judgment here does not seem to
be correct. My belief is subjectively arbitrary.
What this shows, I think, is that Kleins requirement for subjective availability is far
too weak.12 In order for a reason r to be appropriately subjective to S, it does not suffice
that S has some capacity to discover r, or that Ss epistemic practices provide her with a
credible way of detecting r. A reasons being sufficiently subjective requires the
satisfaction of a stronger requirement. That requirement should not only render
subjective all reasons that clearly are sufficiently available but should also judge not
subjective all reasons that Kleins concept wrongly judges to be sufficiently available.
13 However, if such a stronger requirement is to be of any use to the foundationalist
concerns of this paper, it should at the same time be weak enough to not involve the
presence of beliefs. Hence, the pivotal question becomes whether foundationalism can
find a requirement that is both strong enough to rule out the reasons Klein wrongly
regards subjective, and weak enough to not involve beliefs.
In order to show how I think foundationalism can find such a requirement, I draw
attention to an availability requirement proposed by Alston (1988). Alston holds that a
belief not only needs to have an objective (or, in his terms, adequate) reason but that
this reason should also be fairly readily available to the subject through some mode of
access much quicker than lengthy research, observation, or experimentation (238). A
reason should be the sort of thing that, in general, a subject can explicitly note the
presence of just by sufficient reflection on his situation (238). Drawing on this
suggestion, I say that a reason r is strongly subjective to S if and only if S can note
the presence of r just by reflecting on her present situation. A strong availability
requirement holds that Ss belief B avoids being arbitrary only if an objective reason
for B is strongly subjective to S.
Can this strong availability requirement satisfy the aims of foundationalism? I first
consider whether it is strong enough, then whether it is weak enough. The requirement
is strong enough if it not only judges subjective all reasons that clearly are sufficiently
available but also judges not subjective all reasons that Kleins concept wrongly judges
to be sufficiently available. Presumably, the requirement does give the right verdict
about many clearly subjective reasons. Suppose my experience as of a grey coffee cup
prompts me to believe that there is a grey coffee cup placed on my desk. Once I start to
wonder why I hold the belief, I recognize my experience as a reason. So this reason is
clearly subjective. Since I can note its presence by reflecting on my present situation, it
also satisfies the strong availability requirement. Or imagine that I believe my fiance is
home after she told me this morning that she would be working home today. When I
start to think about it, I remember what she told me this morning and cite that as a
reason for my belief. Clearly, the fact about what she told me is a subjective reason.
And since I can note it just by reflecting on my present situation, also the strong
availability requirement judges it subjective. Thus, the strong availability requirement
renders subjective such readily available reasons.
12 I think Klein is tempted to let his notion of subjective availability be so weak because, as an infinitist, he
wants to leave room for human beings having an infinite number of reasons available. Employing a stronger
notion of subjective availability would tend to rule out this possibility.
13 The idea to distinguish between Kleins weak availability requirement on the one hand and a (more
appropriate) stronger requirement on the other was suggested to me by an anonymous referee.
More importantly, however, does it also judge not subjective all reasons that Kleins
concept wrongly judges to be sufficiently subjective? Recall Ss belief that Jones is
having a party, where S can come to discover that there are a lot of cars around Joness
house. On Kleins concept, the objective reason for this belief is also subjective.
However, on the strong availability requirement, this reason turns out to be not
subjective. If S first has to travel to Joness house in order to detect the objective
reason, she is not in a position where she can note the presence of that reason just
by reflecting on her present situation. Similarly, Klein judges that the objective
reason for my belief that Helena is the capital of Montana is sufficiently
subjective, since I can always check the Almanac. Yet the strong availability requirement
renders this reason not subjective: I cannot find the Almanacs contents just by
reflecting on my situation. Thus, the strong availability requirement is sufficiently
strong: not only does it judge subjective those reasons that clearly are readily
available, it also renders not subjective reasons that Kleins weak requirement
wrongly judges subjective.
Is the strong availability requirement also weak enough, though? It is weak enough if
it does not involve the presence of further beliefs. According to the requirement, S
should be able to explicitly note the presence of an objective reason just by sufficient
reflection on his situation. But to require this is not yet to require the presence of a
further belief. As S has to be able to note the presence of the reason by reflection on his
situation, that reason clearly has to be part of his situation already: it does not suffice
that S can discover the reason by traveling to a distant place or by consulting an
almanac. But from that it does not follow that the reason has to be believed already.
There are many things which are part of my present situation that I do not yet believe.
Currently, an enormous amount of biological and neurophysiological processes are
operative in my body. But though they are part of my present situation, I do not hold
any beliefs about those processes.
Similarly, again consider the case where a visual experience as of a grey cup on my
desk prompts me to believe that there is a grey cup on my desk. Though that experience
is part of my present situation, as yet I hold no beliefs about it. Or suppose that the fact
that leaves are falling causes me to believe that autumn has begun. The fact regarding
the leaves clearly affects my present situation. Yet it is possible that as yet I have not
formed any beliefs about it. To be sure, when I were to reflect on my situation, e.g., by
asking why I believe that the cup is on my desk or that autumn has begun, I would
presumably come to believe things about my experience and facts regarding the leaves.
But before reflecting on these matters, I did not have any beliefs about them. Rather,
that I come to believe things about my experience and the leaves upon reflection
presupposes that I did not believe those things before. Thus, the envisaged requirement
is also weak enough: it is possible for a reason to meet it without this involving a further
The strong availability requirement is both strong enough and weak enough. So,
unlike Kleins requirement, this requirement can really be used to ensure that reasons
are sufficiently subjective vis--vis the aim of avoiding arbitrariness. Hence,
foundationalism can require basic beliefs to have a reason that is both objective and
sufficiently subjective. Therefore, it can rule out arbitrary beliefs not only on Kleins
lenient view of subjective reasons but also on a concept that involves a much stronger
Let me draw the threads of this long section together. First, I showed that the
arguments given by several foundationalists do not succeed in establishing that Klein
is wrong. At best, their arguments can be reinterpreted as presenting a view that is
immune to Kleins objection. But, in that case, they cannot reasonably be expected to
persuade Klein. Second, I attempted to really establish that Klein is wrong. I argued that
since facts and experiences can be objective reasons, nothing prevents foundationalism
from requiring basic beliefs to have an objective reason. I also argued that it can require
that this objective reason is subjective. On Kleins notion of subjective availability, this
is rather easy. But I have shown that it is also possible to require that objective reasons
are available in a stronger sense. When a strong availability requirement is posed,
foundationalism ensures that an objective reason should also be sufficiently subjective.
Since foundationalism can require basic beliefs to have a reason that is both objective
and strongly subjective, it can avoid arbitrary basic beliefs. Hence, Kleins objection to
foundationalism is unsound.
In this paper, I have argued that Kleins arbitrariness objection, regarded as an objection
either to dialectical foundationalism or to epistemic foundationalism, fails. With regard
to dialectical foundationalism, I argued that nothing prevents it from construing
foundational assertions as having an objective and subjective reason. With regard to
epistemic foundationalism, I argued that neither a beliefs having an objective reason
nor its having a subjective reason need involve the presence of further beliefs. As a
result, I argued, foundationalism can construe basic beliefs as having an objective and
Thus, I have argued that both versions of foundationalism can avoid arbitrariness by
requiring that what they posit at the basis has an objective and subjective reason.
However, a question remains: have I not merely replaced one problem for another? I
may have shown that foundational assertions and basic beliefs need not be arbitrary,
but what about the reasons for those assertions and beliefs? Are they not vulnerable to a
similar arbitrariness objection? If there are no reasons for these reasons, are not these
new items at the base arbitrary? After all, as we have seen, Klein sometimes phrases
his objection by saying that foundationalism is unacceptable because it advocates
accepting an arbitrary reason at the base (Klein 1999, p. 297, my italics).
Though this question is rather intuitive, there is a proper answer to it. In Section 5.2,
I argued that epistemic foundationalism could think of objective reasons as being
nondoxastic items such as perceptual experiences or facts. Analogously, dialectical
foundationalism can think of reasons for foundational assertions as experiences or
facts. But if foundationalism can construe those reasons as experiences or facts, it can
easily respond to the worry that they are also arbitrary as long as they lack a further
reason. In Section 3, I explained that items primarily called arbitrary are choices.
Though assertions and beliefs are rather different from choices, they resemble them
in being evaluated in terms of reasons. Therefore, they can be considered arbitrary too.
However, experiences and facts are different not only from choices but also from
assertions and beliefs. Assertions and beliefs can be true or false, but experiences and
facts cannot; assertions and beliefs can be evaluated in terms of reasons, but
experiences and facts cannot. And, crucially, as experiences and facts cannot be
evaluated in terms of reasons, they cannot be epistemically arbitrary. So, since
foundationalism can think of objective reasons as experiences or facts, it can avoid
arbitrary foundational assertions and beliefs without positing other arbitrary items at the
My arguments in this paper are not meant as a final defense of foundationalism.
There may be very good reasons for rejecting foundationalism after all. What I have
shown, though, is that foundationalism can require foundational assertions and basic
beliefs to have a reason that is both objective and strongly subjective. Assuming that
having such a reason suffices for assertions and beliefs not to be arbitrary, one can be a
foundationalist and not allow arbitrariness at the base.
Acknowledgments My research is funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO),
grant 360-20-281. For valuable comments on previous drafts, I thank Jeanne Peijnenburg, Jan Albert van Laar,
and the members of the Groningen research colloquium in theoretical philosophy. I also thank the audiences of
my talks at the University of Groningen (April 2013) and the University of Eindhoven (August 2013). For
discussion of my thoughts at the workshop on infinite regresses at Vanderbilt University (October 2013), I
especially thank Michael Rescorla, Selim Berker, Mylan Engel, Jeremy Fantl, Ren van Woudenberg, Scott
Aikin, and Peter Klein. Finally, I thank an anonymous referee for this journal for comments that helped
improve the paper.
Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International
License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and
reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a
link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
Alston , W. ( 1976a ). Two types of foundationalism . In W. Alston (Ed.) ( 1989 ), Epistemic justification. Essays in the theory of knowledge (pp . 19 - 38 ). Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Alston , W. ( 1976b ). Has foundationalism been refuted ? In W. Alston (Ed) ( 1989 ), Epistemic justification. Essays in the theory of knowledge (pp . 39 - 56 ). Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Alston , W. ( 1988 ). An internalist externalism . In W. Alston (Ed) ( 1989 ), Epistemic justification. Essays in the theory of knowledge (pp . 227 - 245 ). Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Alston , W. ( 2002 ). Sellars and the Myth of the Given . Philosophy and Phenomenological Research , 65 ( 1 ), 69 - 86 .
Alston , W. ( 2005 ). Beyond Justification: dimensions of epistemic evaluation . Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Audi , R. ( 1978 ). Psychological foundationalism . In R. Audi (Ed.) ( 1993 ), The structure of justification (pp . 49 - 71 ). Cambridge : Cambridge University Press.
Bergmann , M. ( 2004 ). What's not wrong with foundationalism . Philosophy and Phenomenological Research , 68 ( 1 ), 161 - 165 .
Brandom , R. ( 1994 ). Making it explicit. Reasoning, representing and discursive commitment . Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Engelsma , C. ( 2014 ). On Peter Klein's concept of arbitrariness . Metaphilosophy , 45 ( 2 ), 192 - 200 .
Ginet , C. ( 2005 ). Infinitism is not the solution to the regress problem . In M. Steup & E. Sosa (Eds.), Contemporary debates in epistemology (pp. 140 - 149 ). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Howard-Snyder , D. ( 2005 ). Foundationalism and arbitrariness . Pacific Philosophical Quarterly , 86 , 18 - 24 .
Howard-Snyder , D. , & Coffman , E. J. ( 2006 ). Three arguments against foundationalism: arbitrariness, epistemic regress, and existential support . Canadian Journal of Philosophy , 36 ( 4 ), 535 - 564 .
Huemer , M. ( 2003 ). Arbitrary foundations? Philosophical Forum , 34 ( 2 ), 141 - 152 .
Huemer , M. ( 2010 ). Foundations and coherence . In J. Dancy, E. Sosa , & M. Steup (Eds.), A companion to epistemology (pp. 22 - 32 ). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Klein , P. ( 1998 ). Foundationalism and the infinite regress of reasons . Philosophy and Phenomenological Research , 58 ( 4 ), 919 - 925 .
Klein , P. ( 1999 ). Human knowledge and the infinite regress of reasons . Philosophical Perspectives , 13 , 297 - 325 .
Klein , P. ( 2000 ). The failures of dogmatism and a new pyrrhonism . Acta Analytica , 15 ( 24 ), 7 - 24 .
Klein , P. ( 2004 ). What is wrong with foundationalism is that it cannot solve the epistemic regress problem . Philosophy and Phenomenological Research , 68 ( 1 ), 166 - 171 .
Klein , P. ( 2005 ). Is infinitism the solution to the regress problem ? In M. Steup & E. Sosa (Eds.), Contemporary debates in epistemology (pp. 131 - 140 ). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Klein , P. ( 2007 ). Human knowledge and the infinite progress of reasoning . Philosophical Studies , 134 , 1 - 17 .
Klein , P. ( 2012 ). Infinitism . In A. Cullison (Ed.), The continuum companion to epistemology (pp. 72 - 91 ). New York : Continuum International.
Leite , A. ( 2005 ). A localist solution to the regress of epistemic justification . Australasian Journal of Philosophy , 83 ( 3 ), 395 - 421 .
Millar , A. ( 1991 ). Reasons and experience . Oxford: Clarendon.
Norman , A. ( 1997 ). Regress and the doctrine of epistemic original sin . The Philosophical Quarterly, 47 ( 189 ), 477 - 494 .
Plantinga , A. ( 1993 ). Warrant: the current debate . New York : Oxford University Press.
Pollock , J. ( 1974 ). Knowledge and justification . Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Pryor , J. ( 2000 ). The skeptic and the dogmatist . Nos , 34 ( 4 ), 517 - 549 .
Quinton , A. ( 1973 ). The nature of things . London: Routledge & Kegan Paul .
Rescher , N. ( 1959 /60). Choice without preference . Kant-Studien , 51 , 142 - 175 .
Rescorla , M. ( 2009 ). Epistemic and dialectical regress . Australasian Journal of Philosophy , 87 ( 1 ), 43 - 60 .
Thomson , J. J. ( 2008 ). Normativity. Chicago: Open Court.
Turri , J. ( 2009 ). The ontology of epistemic reasons . Nos , 43 ( 3 ), 490 - 512 .
Ullmann-Margalit , E. , & Morgenbesser , S. ( 1977 ). Picking and choosing . Social Research , 44 ( 4 ), 757 - 785 .