Mary Shepherd on the role of proofs in our knowledge of first principles

Noûs 56 (2):473-493 (2022)
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This paper examines the role of reason in Shepherd's account of acquiring knowledge of the external world via first principles. Reason is important, but does not have a foundational role. Certain principles enable us to draw the required inferences for acquiring knowledge of the external world. These principles are basic, foundational and, more importantly, self‐evident and thus justified in other ways than by demonstration. Justificatory demonstrations of these principles are neither required, nor possible. By drawing on textual and contextual evidence, I will show that Shepherd should have said that we know the first principles of any science, in general, and that “everything which begins to exist must have a cause”, in particular, via intuition, not via reason. Reasoning about such principles can help their self‐evidence shine through in certain cases; their justification, and our being justified in believing them, does not come from this reasoning, however.

Author's Profile

M. Folescu
University of Missouri, Columbia


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