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The Epistemological Foundations of Practical Reason

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One consequence of the later Wittgenstein's influential critique of epistemological foundationalism has been to convince many contemporary philosophers that the ideal of universal and necessary cognitive grounds for moral or political norms is illusory. Recent neo-Wittgensteinian accounts of practical reason attempt to formulate a conception of a post-foundational politics in which a political ethos can be legitimate, rational or just even if its informing practices and cognitive standards lack foundational justification. Against these appropriations of Wittgenstein, I argue that his account challenges foundationalism only by generating epistemological relativism at both the first-order level of belief systems and at the second-order level of the comparative evaluation of first-order belief systems and their non-comparable forms of justification. The result is a polytheism of forms of reason which imperils the methodological ideal of a non-relativistic practice of moral-political criticism.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: March 1, 1999

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