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Foundationalism & Anti-foundationalism

The belief that knowledge has a certain foundation. Empiricism believe this foundation is in observations, while rationalism find that it is in rational intuition (like mathematical insight). Logical positivism tried to combine empiricism and rationalism and thus to base knowledge on both experiences and rational intuition. The break-down of these positions implies anti-foundationalism, fallibilism and possibly an epistemological crisis. Evolutionary epistemology, pragmatism, feminism and Marxism try to establish knowledge by considering human practice the final criterion of knowledge.

”Neurath’s Boat”:
We are like sailors who must rebuilt their ship on the open sea, never able to dismantle it in dry-dock and to reconstruct it there out of the best materials (Neurath, 1932).

The ship metaphor was first introduced to philosophy in 1932 by the Austrian philosopher and sociologist Otto Neurath (1882-1945). Due to its anti-foundationalist and, ultimately, anti-fundamentalist implications, it has become one of the most significant metaphors of philosophical thought today. Neurath used it to argue his case against empiricist foundationalism, that is, the idea held by some of the logical positivists of the Vienna Circle that empirical observations, formulated as so-called protocol sentences, were the starting point of all science and provided its ultimate justification basis. Rather, Neurath suggested, any body of knowledge must be compared to a boat that needs to be repaired at sea.


Neurath, Otto (1932). "Protokollsätze,“ Erkenntnis, Vol. 3, 1932/33, pp. 204-214.


Fallibilism Epistemological crisis

Entry Added: July 22, 2007
Last Update: January 10, 2008