In describing Hegel's approach as it relates specifically to philosophy, Michael Allen Fox notes in his surprisingly accessible book on Hegel (called, interestingly enough, The Accessible Hegel) that Hegel was largely indifferent to one's starting point in the philosophical journey. Wherever we start, "our philosophical journey will inevitably be a prolonged process of self-examination in which thought interrogates itself and remedies its deficiencies as it progresses." The end result of this process will be what "'justifies' the starting point we have chosen by proving its fruitfulness in yielding knowledge."
We have to start somewhere--to think at all requires us to have rational and evidential starting points that characterize what that thinking will look like. But as we engage in whatever style of thinking these starting points entail, we will inevitably encounter and transcend deficiencies. Whatever we think about, we will eventually be forced inward to thought itself, and called upon by its failures to revise our starting points.
In fact, Hegel thought this was true not just of philosophy. The same dialectical process plays out not just in the history of philosophy, but in human history. The efforts of human societies to engage with the world drive humanity towards "self-interrogation" in which deficiencies are discovered and remedied.
As a way of clarifying and defending this Hegelian approach, I want to consider a version of fallibilistic foundationalism out of which Hegel's species might be thought to arise. I’m inclined to give it a big mouthful of a name: defeasible-but-trustworthy doxastic practice foundationalism. After all, it’s important for academics to come up with pretentious-sounding names, or they wouldn’t be academics. But to save space, I’ll call it DTDP foundationalism for short.
Assign a set of contrary beliefs to heads and tails on a coin, flip the coin, and believe in accord with the outcome of the coin flip.DTDP foundationalism attaches credibility to some but not all of the range of possible doxastic practices, in effect treating as foundational any belief that comes from this select list of “trustworthy” practices. But a belief coming from a “generally trusted” practice is not immune to criticism. Rather, any such belief, call it B, is believed unless and until it is confronted with “defeaters,” that is, other beliefs that arise out of trusted doxastic practices and which call B into question.
Use your senses to investigate your environment, and believe whatever propositions you find yourself immediately inclined to believe based on such sensory investigation.
In attempting to form beliefs about what happened to you in your past, consult your memory.
In forming beliefs about regularities in nature, make predictions about what one ought to observe under given conditions if the supposed regularity holds, then create or put oneself into the given conditions and determine if one observes what was predicted. Keep doing this. If the supposed regularity remains unfalsified after extensive testing, accept it as true.
In forming beliefs about what happened in Europe in the 19th Century, consult your old “History of Western Europe” textbook.
In forming beliefs about what happens after bodily death, consult the Upanishads and the Vedas and believe whatever is clearly stated on this matter in these texts.
Or maybe you identify those doxastic practices you pretty much have to trust if you want to live anything remotely like an ordinary human life, and you trust them and only them.
Alternatively, you might take the approach of someone like Alvin Plantinga, saying that those doxastic practices are trustworthy which involve the use of cognitive faculties under those conditions in which the faculties are generally reliable. The problem here, of course, is that there may be a difference between a doxastic practice being reliable and our being able to tell that it is reliable. Plantinga has famously proposed that we have a cognitive faculty dubbed "the sensus divinitatus" which is responsible for theistic belief and which produces that belief reliably. His critics instantly cry foul--but part of Plantinga's point is that we have no inner guarantee or non-circular proof that any of the things we treat as reliable cognitive faculties are reliable cognitive faculties. That a congitive faculty is trustworthy, in the sense of consistently delivering true beliefs, does not clearly entail that we have immediate access to this fact. And that, of course, is part of the problem. How do you decide which doxastic practices to presumptively (not absolutely) trust?
Perhaps this worry isn't decisive, but a different worry looms nearby. Even if one's remaining doxastic practices are deemed trustworthy based on their success in producing undefeated beliefs, we might worry that the subset of beliefs generated by these practices is far too narrow to be representative of reality, or that it is too narrow to help us live our lives in a way that meaningfully embodies the truth about ourselves and our world. We may have evolved certain practices to a point of high refinement but left ourselves with a set of practices that is nevertheless deficient, because the boundaries of the knowable that they establish are too narrow.
In other words, starting with doxastic practices as the foundation for all our beliefs is not the only way to start, nor is it the only thing that can lead to an evolutionary process. So, why not allow as a legitimate starting point a perspective which treats a narrative picture of reality as foundational, and doxastic practices as derivative?
This is not to say, of course, that every story we tell should be immediately embraced as true or anything like that. But some stories resonate in such a way that people are moved to live them out as if they were true. And in some cases these initial experiments don't immediately come crashing down by virtue of a volley of defeaters. Instead, the experiments knock down some parts of the story but not others. And some elements in the narrative motivate new doxastic practices which themselves prove extremely fruitful, in the sense of pumping out beliefs that resist defeat. Many see the birth of the scientific method in these terms: the Christian conviction that the universe is essentially orderly, that there must be a regularity and structure beneath even the most chaotic-seeming dimensions of our experience, set the stage for science.
And so we've made our way towards something that looks more like the Hegelian approach. But how does it work, you may ask? How does one framework give rise to another? What sorts of deficiencies motivate a change in one's system?