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I am interested in philosophical or logic-based texts that discuss the nature of self-evident truths, which seem related to Alvin Plantinga's discussion of so-called properly basic beliefs. I am more specifically interested in the various epistemological views on self-evidence, as I think Locke and Hume both had ideas on this topic. I couldn't really find much substance on SEP or Wikipedia. Actually, SEP has a list of references at the bottom of the linked page on Evidence, but I don't know which references would discuss self-evident truths. I guess any book on basic epistemology or evidence listed would discuss it? I would appreciate specific recommendations. I also just found the self-evidence discussion under the Intuitionism in Ethics article in SEP.

For example, why would 2+2=4 be a self-evident truth? Some epistemologists reject the notion of self-evident truths. It seems some identified "self-evident truths" aren't really self-evidence since various people don't agree. If something were truly self-evident, then it would not depend on the perspective of the viewer since it only depends on the self (the object in question). I understand self-evidence to be a subset of a priori knowledge, and brute facts to be just a related topic.

When searching (such as on Google Scholar or JSTOR or PhilPapers), much of the discussion is with respect to the very important statement in the Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights...

I am not very interested in anything politically focused or too specific, but a generalized discussion of the nature self-evident truths (if, in fact, they exist). Wikipedia suggests that a self-evident truth is "one whose denial is self-contradictory" but no source mentioned.

What books or review papers cover the subject of self-evidence as a whole, present various epistemological views of self-evident truths, and discuss them extensively?

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    You missed self-evidence on SEP. – Conifold Nov 29 '18 at 19:13
  • @Conifold Thanks! I actually had just found it a few minutes ago and edited the question. – Alex Strasser Nov 29 '18 at 19:14
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    It seems to give plenty of references, can you make the question more specific? – Conifold Nov 29 '18 at 19:19
  • @Conifold The question asks for books or review papers that extensively discuss self-evident truths, presenting the various epistemological views on the subject. I don't know if any of the references in that list address what I am looking for, hence my question. The titles in the references suggest a few possible candidates, and that's why I am here. – Alex Strasser Nov 29 '18 at 20:44
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    I edited the post to make what (I think) you are asking clearer, "discuss extensively" was not very telling. You can roll back the edit. You may also want to look at intuitions as fallible guides to the truth, in a way the successor subject to "self-evident truths" that few take seriously today. It is livelier. – Conifold Nov 30 '18 at 1:44
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My references will exclude the moral and political, which are not your focus. Here are some references I've found helpful:

Robert Audi, 'Self-Evidence', Philosophical Perspectives, Vol. 13, Epistemology (1999), pp. 205-228.

Robin Jeshion, 'Frege: Evidence for Self-Evidence', Mind, New Series, Vol. 113, No. 449 (Jan., 2004), pp. 131-138.

Kai Hauser, 'Is Choice Self-Evident?', American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 4 (Oct., 2005), pp. 237-261. [Worth looking at but may be marginal.]

David Benfield, 'The A Priori and the Self-Evident: A Reply to Mr. Casullo', Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 38, No. 2 (Dec., 1977), pp. 225-227. [Albert Casullo, "The Definition of A Prioii Knowledge," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, XXXVII (December, 1977). Pp. 220-224.]

Roderick Chisholm's notion of 'the evident' is closely connected with self-evidence :

R. Chisholm, (1966), Theory of Knowledge, 1st ed., Englewood-Cliffs, Prentice-Hall.

Wayne Wasserman, 'Chisholm's Definition of the Evident', Analysis, Vol. 40, No. 1 (Jan., 1980), pp. 42-44.

Reflections on self-evidence and the a priori

The trouble is that I don't think self-evidence is a live topic in contemporary philosophy. I don't mean that no-one believes in it but self-evidence fits with the idea of self-evident truth, and that idea is not one that is widely entertained. You might find it useful to approach the topic obliquely via that of the a priori. I'm not suggesting that the two notions are the same but if we can know something a priori (IF) then it would not seem totally a misnomer to say that it is self-evident. I don't use either notion but that's another story.

On the a priori I recommend :

P.K. Moser ed., A Priori Knowledge (Oxford Readings In Philosophy) : Published by Oxford University Press, U.S.A. (1987) ISBN 10: 0198750838 ISBN 13: 9780198750833.

  • Thanks for your answer! While these do seem helpful, do you know of any references that really discuss the various views on the subject of self-evidence as a whole and present this in a thorough manner? I don't see any in this list. They seem to be all specific papers (as opposed to a more comprehensive and extensive review paper) and then the Theory of Knowledge book seems good but doesn't really address my question of thoroughly presenting the views on self-evidence (I found a free pdf here). – Alex Strasser Nov 29 '18 at 20:48
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    Hello : The trouble is that I don't think self-evidence is a live topic in contemporary philosophy. I don't mean that no-one believes in it but self-evidence fits with the idea of self-evident truth, and that idea is not one that is widely entertained. You might find it useful to approach the topic obliquely via that of the a priori. I'm not suggesting that the two notions are the same but if we can know something a priori (IF) then it would not seem totally a misnomer to say that it is self-evident. I don't use either notion but that's another story. Best : GT – Geoffrey Thomas Nov 29 '18 at 21:15
  • Thank you for your reply! That is very helpful. I would think it would be easier to find discussions on general a priori knowledge. Do you have any particular references on a priori knowledge that you think would be best? – Alex Strasser Nov 29 '18 at 21:18
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    @Hi Alex. This should be useful : P.K. Moser ed., A Priori Knowledge (Oxford Readings In Philosophy) : Published by Oxford University Press, U.S.A. (1987) ISBN 10: 0198750838 ISBN 13: 9780198750833. It's a collection, so represents different viewpoints and the editor's intro. gives an overview. Best - Geoffrey – Geoffrey Thomas Nov 30 '18 at 9:21
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    @Alex Strasser. I've amended the answer, retaining your edits, but adding a section bridging the self-evident and the a priori. Best - Geoffrey – Geoffrey Thomas Nov 30 '18 at 15:52

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