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Foundationalism is a theory of knowledge that holds that all knowledge and inferential knowledge (justified belief) rests ultimately on a certain foundation of no inferential knowledge. In simpler terms, it expresses the view that the vast majority of propositions we know or justifiably believe have that status only because we know or justifiably believe other, more fundamental, propositions. Ultimately, this tower of propositions, one resting atop another, itself rests on some solid foundation. Different philosophers have had varying ideas about what that solid foundation must consist of. The origins of the facts and history we know are based on other 'facts', so foundationalists are on a quest for a pure and untainted knowledge claim that does not refer back (does not need to refer back) to another knowledge claim. For example, I know that Hitler was alive only because I justifiably believe that various historical texts describe him. So in this case, foundationalists would want to contrast my justified belief about Hitler with a kind of knowledge that doesn't require the having of other knowledge.
There are three different branches within foundationalism worth distinguishing more clearly. Descartes, who had a more internal approach to foundationalism, was a rationalist. He held the belief that the only way to prove anything about the world is to first prove his own existence: 'I think therefore I am'. From there, he could prove that the universe that he saw existed because it could be proved in the mind. Rationalists generally believe that the so-called truths of reason are the most important epistemologically basic propositions. Platonism is more mathematical in nature. Plato believed that mathematics is not created but discovered in some undescribed realm. Positivism is the view that scientific inquiry should not search for ultimate causes deriving from some outside source, but must restrict itself to the study of relations existing between facts which are directly accessible to observation. The idea of 'scientific naturalism' follows and holds that the foundation of knowledge and truth is the basic observations we make about the world (see naturalism). All other knowledge can be derived from simple sense perceptions.
Fumerton, Richard, "Foundationalist Theories of Epistemic Justification", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2000 Edition), Edward N. Zalta(ed.),
URL = http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2000/entries/justep-foundational/.
McGrew, Lydia. ISCID Encyclopedia of Science and Philosophy. June 2003. Accessed March 25th, 2004.
URL = http://www.iscid.org.
Shatz, David. 2002. Philosophy and Faith. New York: Mc-Graw Hill.