I recently decided that it is high time I reacquaint myself with the early moderns, and I thought there could be no better place to start with than Descartes' Mediations on First Philosophy. Reading this work, I think it is evident that Descartes is carrying out his skeptical project within the framework of Foundationalism (of course, I am always eager to have my mistakes pointed out if I have wrongly interpreted him). Indeed, he writes

I can do this without showing that all my beliefs are false, which is probably more than I could ever manage. My reason tells me that as well as withholding assent from propositions that are obviously •false, I should also withhold it from ones that are •not completely certain and indubitable. So all I need, for the purpose of rejecting all my opinions, is to find in each of them at least some reason for doubt. I can do this without going through them one by one, which would take forever: once the foundations of a building have been undermined, the rest collapses of its own accord; so I will go straight for the basic principles on which all my former beliefs rested.

Not only does this passage make it evident that Descartes is presupposing some form of Foundationalism, but this passage seems to suggest that such a skeptical project makes sense only in the context/framework of a Foundationalist epistemology. I say this because it is, from what I gather, Descartes' ultimate goal to remove himself from this doubt he has entrenched himself in, and to vindicate as many those beliefs he held before embarking on this skeptical project as possible. And it only seems possible to do this by first securing those beliefs forming the foundation which then, by extension, secure his former beliefs by being justified by those foundational beliefs.

But I am now wondering whether this is mistaken, and wondering whether such a Cartesian skeptical project can be carried out within the framework of Coherentism. Is there any attempt out carry out some form of Cartesian skepticism within Coherentism? If so, what does such a project look like?

Note: For those interested, I am referencing this translation.

  • Descartes is not a skeptic; is doubt is an "argument": assume for the sake of discussion that we can doubt about everything. Then, also in this extreme case... Apr 22, 2018 at 17:06
  • Nut yes, D's project is "foundational" : the derive the basic laws of everything (nature, life, ethics) from some undisputable principle. Apr 22, 2018 at 17:07
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA Just to be clear, I wasn't claiming that Descartes was a skeptic: from what I have read, Cartesian doubt and Cartesian skepticism are used interchangeable. Apr 22, 2018 at 17:32
  • For me Descartes in not sceptical enough and not altogether honest in his arguments for the view he sets out to prove. As for foundationalism and coherentism, any metaphysical must have a foundation or it isn't one and if it is not coherent it is useless. .
    – user20253
    Apr 23, 2018 at 10:33

1 Answer 1


You might be interested in three attempt to reconcile foundationalism and coherentism :

Sven Ove Hansson, 'The False Dichotomy between Coherentism and Foundationalism', The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 104, No. 6 (Jun., 2007), pp. 290-300.

This is a response to and commentary on :

Ernest Sosa, 'The Raft and the Pyramid: Coherence versus Foundations in the Theory of Knowledge', Midwest Studies in Philosophy v, 1 (1980): 3-25.

There's also :

Sanford Goldberg, 'A Reliabilist Foundationalist Coherentism',Erkenntnis (1975-), Vol. 77, No. 2 (September 2012), pp. 187-196.

I wish I could offer more than references but the topic quickly complicates when one explores the varieties of both foundationalism and coherentism. Hannson explores 'universal direct support', 'universal indirect support' and 'universal supportedness', terms all carefully explained, in discussing coherentism; and distinctions multiply in the case of foundationalism as well of course. Hard to fit into an Answer here. (For me, anyway.)

Sosa's paper, which is probably seminal, is reprinted as ch. 10 in :

E. Sosa, Knowledge in Perspective, Cambridge : CUP, 1991. ISBN 10: 0521396433 / ISBN 13: 9780521396431.

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