Philosophy Infinitism
by
Peter Klein, John Turri
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 August 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0283

Introduction

Infinitism, along with foundationalism and coherentism, is a logically possible solution to the epistemic regress problem. But unlike the other two views, infinitism has only been developed and defended as a plausible solution since the late 1990’s. Infinitists grant that although there is an ending point of any actual chain of cited reasons for a belief, no belief (including the last one cited) is fully justified until a reason for it is provided. In addition to differing with foundationalism about the existence of so-called basic beliefs, infinitism depicts reasoning as a process through which full doxastic justification is generated, rather than as a device for merely transferring doxastic justification from one belief to another. Thus, like coherentism, infinitism attempts to account for the origin of epistemic doxastic justification without invoking self-justified beliefs whose justification is transmitted through reasoning. But infinitism parts company with coherentism by maintaining (1) that circular reasoning is unable to provide a doxastic justification for any belief and (2) that there is a linear epistemic structure of our beliefs that reflects the fact that some beliefs are epistemically prior to others.

General Overviews

Klein and Turri 2013 is currently the only article-length overview of infinitism. There are three state-of-the-art collections of essays on infinitism and the epistemic regress problem: Aikin and Peijnenburg 2014, Peijnenburg and Wenmackers 2014, and Turri and Klein 2014. To date, there is only one monograph dedicated to epistemological infinitism, namely, Aikin 2011 (cited under Contemporary Arguments for Infinitism). There is one routinely updated bibliography in PhilPapers for infinitism.

Historical Treatments

Influential figures in the history of epistemology have routinely neglected infinitism. Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics mentions infinitism only to dismiss it. Sextus Empiricus 1956 argues that infinitist reasoning cannot produce belief worthy of assent. Some passages in Peirce 1965 have been interpreted as supporting infinitism.

  • Aristotle. “Posterior Analytics.” In The Complete Works of Aristotle. Edited by Jonathan Barnes, 114–166. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The locus classicus of the regress argument for foundationalism. Mentions infinitism only to dismiss it on the grounds that it is impossible for our finite minds to traverse an infinite series of beliefs.

    Find this resource:

    • Peirce, Charles. “Some Questions Concerning Certain Faculties Claimed for Man.” In Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. Edited by Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss, 135–155. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965.

      Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      These passages have been interpreted as sketching an argument for infinitism. See Aikin 2011 (cited under Contemporary Arguments for Infinitism), pp. 80–90.

      Find this resource:

      • Sextus Empiricus. Outlines of Pyrrhonism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1956.

        Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

        In chapter 5, Sextus presents the epistemic regress problem and seeks to demonstrate that none of the three proposed solutions to the problem (foundationalism, circular reasoning, infinitism) provides a method of reasoning that results in belief worthy of assent.

        Find this resource:

        Contemporary Arguments for Infinitism

        There are three main contemporary arguments for infinitism. First, there is the features argument, defended in Fantl 2003, which claims that infinitism is best suited to explain two crucial features of epistemic justification. Second, there is the regress argument, defended by Klein 1999, Klein 2005 (cited under Defending and Refining Infinitism), and Klein 2012, which from different angles claim that infinitism is best suited to halt the regress of reasons non-skeptically. Third, there is the proceduralist argument, defended in Aikin 2009 and Aikin 2011, which claim that infinitism is most compatible with proper procedure for gaining knowledge. Turri 2009 responds to the regress argument, and Turri 2010 responds to the features argument.

        • Aikin, Scott. “Don’t Fear the Regress: Cognitive Values and Epistemic Infinitism.” Think (Autumn 2009): 55–61.

          DOI: 10.1017/S1477175609990121Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          Argues for infinitism on the grounds that knowledge is a reflective success, reflective success requires careful thinking, and careful thinking requires an infinite series of available reasons.

          Find this resource:

          • Aikin, Scott. Epistemology and the Regress Problem. New York: Routledge, 2011.

            Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

            Updates Aikin’s work on infinitism from the previous half decade, including his main positive argument for infinitism.

            Find this resource:

            • Fantl, Jeremy. “Modest Infinitism.” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 33 (2003): 537–562.

              Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

              Argues for infinitism on the grounds that it alone can explain two of epistemic justification’s crucial features: it comes in degrees, and it can be complete. Focuses on propositional rather than doxastic justification.

              Find this resource:

              • Klein, Peter. “Human Knowledge and the Infinite Regress of Reasons.” Philosophical Perspectives 13 (1999): 297–325.

                Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                Argues for infinitism on the grounds that it alone can respect two intuitive principles of justification: one must avoid circularity, and one must avoid arbitrariness.

                Find this resource:

                • Klein, Peter. “Infinitism and the Epistemic Regress Problem.” In Conceptions of Knowledge. Edited by S. Toldsdort, 487–508. Berlin and Boston: de Gruyter, 2012.

                  Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                  Updates and clarifies some of Klein’s most influential ideas defended over the previous decade. Argues for infinitism as the best view of adult human knowledge. Identifies and rejects the foundationalist assumption that reasoning can only transfer justification (as opposed to generating it).

                  Find this resource:

                  • Klein, Peter. “Infinitism is the Solution to the Regress Problem.” In Contemporary Debates in Epistemology. 2d ed. Edited by Matthias Steup, John Turri, and Ernest Sosa, 274–283. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2013.

                    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                    Argues for infinitism on the grounds that it alone can explain how reasoning can enhance the rational credibility of a questioned, non-evident proposition.

                    Find this resource:

                    • Turri, John. “On the Regress Argument for Infinitism.” Synthese 166 (2009): 157–163.

                      DOI: 10.1007/s11229-007-9270-xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                      Responds to Fantl 2003, arguing that foundationalism can explain justification’s two crucial features.

                      Find this resource:

                      • Turri, John. “Foundationalism for Modest Infinitists.” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 40 (2010): 275–284.

                        DOI: 10.1353/cjp.2010.0006Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                        Argues that if infinitism can explain how reasoning can enhance the rational credibility of a questioned, non-evident proposition, then foundationalism can do so as well. Responds to Klein 2005 (cited under Defending and Refining Infinitism).

                        Find this resource:

                        Contemporary Objections to Infinitism

                        Infinitism’s resurgence has generated increasing controversy, including numerous objections. Bergman 2007 argues that infinitism either lapses into foundationalism or implies skepticism. Cling 2004 argues that a fully articulated version of infinitism will undermine its own motivation. Coffman and Howard-Snyder 2006 defends foundationalism against some infinitist arguments. Gillett 2003 argues that infinitism faces a serious metaphysical objection stemming from the nature of infinite regression. Ginet 2013 argues that infinitism leads to skepticism and endorses the implausible view that inference can generate justification. Podlaskowski and Smith 2011 offers an updated version of the “finite mind” objection to infinitism and argues that infinitism conflicts with the normativity of justification. Post 1980 argues that an infinite regress of justification is conceptually impossible. Wright 2011 objects to infinitism on the grounds that we lack a single example of an appropriately available infinite chain of reasons.

                        • Bergman, Michael. “Is Klein an Infinitist About Doxastic Justification?” Philosophical Studies 134 (2007): 19–24.

                          DOI: 10.1007/s11098-006-9016-5Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                          Objects to Klein’s regress argument for infinitism, on the grounds that it either lapses into a disguised version of foundationalism, or it entails skepticism about doxastic justification: this is the kind of justification that requires not just having good reasons but also having beliefs based on them.

                          Find this resource:

                          • Cling, Andrew. “The Trouble with Infinitism.” Synthese 138 (2004): 101–123.

                            DOI: 10.1023/B:SYNT.0000012132.60082.0eSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                            Argues that in order for infinitist justification to be appropriately connected to truth, infinitism must be supplemented in such a way that undermines the motivation for infinitism.

                            Find this resource:

                            • Coffman, E. J., and Daniel Howard-Snyder. “Three Arguments Against Foundationalism: Arbitrariness, Epistemic Regress, and Existential Support.” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 36.4 (2006): 535–564.

                              DOI: 10.1353/cjp.2007.0003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                              The article defends foundationalism against some of the arguments used to motivate infinitism.

                              Find this resource:

                              • Gillett, Carl. “Infinitism Redux? A Response to Klein.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 64 (2003): 709–717.

                                DOI: 10.1111/j.1933-1592.2003.tb00285.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                Argues that contemporary infinitists have not yet come to terms with a serious and ancient metaphysical worry about infinite regression, dubbed “the Structural Objection,” which can be traced back to Aquinas.

                                Find this resource:

                                • Ginet, Carl. “Infinitism is not the Solution to the Regress Problem.” In Contemporary Debates in Epistemology. 2d ed. Edited by Matthias Steup, John Turri, and Ernest Sosa, 283–291. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2013.

                                  Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                  Objects to infinitism on the grounds that it not only requires us to have an infinite of reasons available to us in a way that leads to skepticism but also that it falsely presupposes that inference itself can generate justification.

                                  Find this resource:

                                  • Podlaskowski, Adam, and Joshua Smith. “Infinitism and Epistemic Normativity.” Synthese 178 (2011): 515–527.

                                    DOI: 10.1007/s11229-009-9654-1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                    Argues against infinitism by presenting a modified version of the finite-mind objection, and on the grounds that infinitism conflicts with the normativity of justification.

                                    Find this resource:

                                    • Post, John. “Infinite Regresses of Justification and of Explanation.” Philosophical Studies 38 (1980): 31–52.

                                      DOI: 10.1007/BF00354524Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                      Argues that an infinite regress of justification of is conceptually impossible, not merely impractical. This objection was later called the “modus ponens reductio” in Aikin 2008 (cited under Defending and Refining Infinitism).

                                      Find this resource:

                                      • Wright, Stephen. “Does Klein’s Infinitism Offer a Response to Agrippa’s Trilemma?” Synthese (2011).

                                        DOI: 10.1007/s11229-011-9884-xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                        Objects to infinitism on the grounds that infinitists have yet to make it plausible that we ever satisfy the requirements of an infinitist account of epistemic justification.

                                        Find this resource:

                                        Defending and Refining Infinitism

                                        As the literature around infinitism has grown, a number of authors have suggested ways of refining, defending, and further motivating infinitism. Aikin 2008 distinguishes several varieties of infinitism and argues that one is particularly promising. Fantl 2011 motivates infinitism on the grounds that it is the only theory of the structure of justification that can respect three independently plausible theses about the nature of justification. Herzberg 2013 argues that the consistency theorem for probabilistic infinitism can provide a basis for replies to some common objections to infinitism. Klein 2005 motivates infinitism on the grounds that it can explain the absolute and relative senses of epistemic certainty, and Klein 2011 summarizes and responds to several common objections to infinitism. Peijnenburg and Atkinson 2011 offers a formal proof that an infinite series of reasons can result in a definite, computable, non-zero probability, and in Peijnenburg and Atkinson 2013 there is an explanation of the way is which justification can gradually emerge from infinite chains of reasons. Turri 2009 offers an infinitist account of doxastic justification, and Turri 2013 defends infinitism from two new objections.

                                        • Aikin, Scott. “Meta-epistemology and the Varieties of Epistemic Infinitism.” Synthese 163 (2008): 175–185.

                                          DOI: 10.1007/s11229-007-9196-3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                          Distinguishes among several varieties of infinitism, and argues that Aikin’s variety is superior to other varieties because it can respond to the “modus ponens reductio” originally presented in Post 1980.

                                          Find this resource:

                                          • Fantl, Jeremy. “Infinitism and Practical Conditions on Justification.” Logos & Episteme 2 (2011): 191–209.

                                            DOI: 10.5840/logos-episteme20112231Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                            Defends infinitism on the grounds that it is the only theory of the structure of justification that is consistent with a trio of plausible intuitions about the nature of justification. Notable in that it connects infinitism to the recent trend of “pragmatic encroachment” in epistemology.

                                            Find this resource:

                                            • Herzberg, Frederik. “The Consistency of Probabilistic Regresses: Some Implications of Infinitism.” Erkenntis 78.2 (2013): 371–382.

                                              DOI: 10.1007/s10670-011-9358-zSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                              Employs a consistency theorem for infinite regresses of probabilistic justification to address some of the better-known objections to epistemological infinitism.

                                              Find this resource:

                                              • Klein, Peter. “Infinitism’s Take on Justification, Knowledge, Certainty and Skepticism.” Veritas 50 (2005): 153–172.

                                                Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                Motivates infinitism on the grounds that it can explain why certainty has both an absolute sense and a relative sense. Its absolute sense is given by an infinitist account of propositional justification, and its relative sense is given by an infinitist account of doxastic justification, which is suitably indexed to the demands of conversational context.

                                                Find this resource:

                                                • Klein, Peter. “Infinitism.” In Routledge Companion to Epistemology. Edited by Sven Bernecker and Duncan Pritchard, 245–256. New York: Routledge, 2011.

                                                  Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                  Offers a brief summary of and response to several of the most common objections to infinitism.

                                                  Find this resource:

                                                  • Peijnenburg, Jeanne, and David Atkinson. “Grounds and Limits: Reichenbach and Foundationalist Epistemology.” Synthese 181 (2011): 113–124.

                                                    DOI: 10.1007/s11229-009-9586-9Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                    Foundationalists have argued that nothing can be probable unless something is certain, and that an infinite regress of reasons can result in only propositions whose probability is zero. Peijnenburg and Atkinson provide a formal proof that they say demonstrates that an infinite series of reasons can result in a definite and computable non-zero probability.

                                                    Find this resource:

                                                    • Peijnenburg, Jean, and David Atkinson. “The Emergence of Justification.” Philosophical Quarterly 63 (2013): 546–564.

                                                      DOI: 10.1111/1467-9213.12009Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                      Proposes, develops, and defends a mechanism for the gradual surfacing of justification from an infinite chain of reasons, thereby supporting the claim that justification is generated rather than merely transferred, as foundationalists claim.

                                                      Find this resource:

                                                      • Turri, John. “An Infinitist Account of Doxastic Justification.” Dialectica 63 (2009): 209–218.

                                                        DOI: 10.1111/j.1746-8361.2009.01173.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                        Argues that infinitism faces no special problem in developing a theory of doxastic justification, mitigating worries expressed in Bergman 2007 (cited under Contemporary Objections to Infinitism).

                                                        Find this resource:

                                                        • Turri, John. “Infinitism, Finitude and Normativity.” Philosophical Studies 163 (2013): 791–795.

                                                          DOI: 10.1007/s11098-011-9846-7Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                          Responds to Podlaskowski and Smith 2011 and its two objections to infinitism (cited under Contemporary Objections to Infinitism). Argues that resources that infinitists use to respond to the original finite-mind objection can be recycled to respond to the two new objections.

                                                          Find this resource:

                                                          back to top

                                                          Article

                                                          Up

                                                          Down