Self-Evidence and Understanding
By: Richard Flockemann (Rhodes)
Generally, in order to be justified in believing something, my belief must be based upon some other belief that serves as my reason for believing it. However some things we believe give every indication of being what we might call immediately justified. They appear to be properly justified, but yet they don't appear to be properly based upon anything else we believe. One common way of making sense of this is to argue that while these beliefs are not based upon other beliefs we hold, they are still based on something. Thus, if I am immediately justified in believing that p, this is because I am in some kind of non-doxastic state of mind, and this mental state provides a proper basis for my belief. While this explanation works nicely for a range of immediately justified beliefs (i.e. some perceptual beliefs), I’ll argue that there is also a range of immediately justified beliefs that aren't based on anything. For these beliefs, there is no mental state available that can serve as a proper reason for believing them. So, unless we want to write off all of these beliefs as unjustified, we need to revisit the possibility that these propositions are simply self-evident: that is, that they justify themselves. I will also offer some suggestions as to how self-evidence can be plausibly understood, drawing on some of the recent epistemological work on understanding.