Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2011

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Fumerton, Richard A

First Committee Member

Hasan, Ali

Second Committee Member

Fales, Evan

Third Committee Member

Cunning, David

Fourth Committee Member

Skiff, Frederick


Many of our ordinary beliefs about the world around us are a result of inference from more fundamental beliefs. Foundationalists in epistemology have thought that, if these ordinary beliefs are to be rationally justified, the chain of inferential justification must terminate in a belief that is justified noninferentially. Foundationalists, of the internalist variety, have thought that the most plausible candidates for ending the regress of empirical justification are experiential states, the justifying features of which the believing subject is aware.

The Sellarsian dilemma, taking its name from philosopher Wilfrid Sellars, has been a persistent argument against foundationalist theories of epistemic justification. There have been various formulations of the dilemma over the years, but in its most general form it says that for any construal of an experiential state where the experiential state provides justification, the experiential state (or the apprehension thereof) will need further justification. Sellars thought that an experience, all by itself, cannot provide justification unless we apply concepts to the experience. However, the application of concepts is judgmental and conceptual judgments, like beliefs, require further justification. So, the experiential state construed this way would perpetuate the regress it was designed to terminate. On the other hand, if the experiential state is construed such that it is not in need of justification, then it cannot itself provide justification. Both options are devastating to a foundationalist epistemology.

My thesis is that a solution to all forms of the Sellarsian dilemma is to require for foundational justification direct awareness of (what I call) the fit between one's conceptual judgment and the justifying experiential state. I concede that one must conceptualize one's experiential states for these states to play an epistemic role. However, I argue that conceptual judgments of this sort are the foundations.

The importance of this solution is that it not only terminates the regress of justification but it also captures the primary intuitions that motivate internalism and foundationalism. This is to say that although I have framed my account as a response to the Sellarsian dilemma, it is not merely an ad hoc patch that avoids what stood as a serious problem. Instead, it is a return to what has motivated and what I take to be most persuasive about internalist foundationalism.


Foundationalism, Internalism, Sellarsian Dilemma


iv, 229 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 225-229).


Copyright 2011 Travis Dickinson

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