Infinite regress

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An infinite regress is an infinite series of entities governed by a recursive principle that determines how each entity in the series depends on or is produced by its predecessor. In the epistemic regress, for example, a belief is justified because it is based on another belief that is justified. But this other belief is itself in need of one more justified belief for itself to be justified and so on. An infinite regress argument is an argument against a theory based on the fact that this theory leads to an infinite regress. For such an argument to be successful, it has to demonstrate not just that the theory in question entails an infinite regress but also that this regress is vicious. There are different ways in which a regress can be vicious. The most serious form of viciousness involves a contradiction in the form of metaphysical impossibility. Other forms occur when the infinite regress is responsible for the theory in question being implausible or for its failure to solve the problem it was formulated to solve. Traditionally, it was often assumed without much argument that each infinite regress is vicious but this assumption has been put into question in contemporary philosophy. While some philosophers have explicitly defended theories with infinite regresses, the more common strategy has been to reformulate the theory in question in a way that avoids the regress. One such strategy is foundationalism, which posits that there is a first element in the series from which all the other elements arise but which is not itself explained this way. Another way is coherentism, which is based on a holistic explanation that usually sees the entities in question not as a linear series but as an interconnected network. Infinite regress arguments have been made in various areas of philosophy. Famous examples include the cosmological argument, Bradley's regress and regress arguments in epistemology.

An illustration of infinite regress