Bonjour Defending Cartesian Foundationalism Term Paper

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Bon Jour Defending Cartesian Foundationalism

Although philosopher and epistemologist Laurence BonJour was at the outset a strong proponent of coherentism, as evidenced by his staunchly critical anti-foundationalist treatise, the Structure of Empirical Knowledge, more recent works such as Epistemology: Classic Problems and Contemporary Responses and in Defense of Pure Reason instead underscore various problematic ideological ramifications stemming from coherence theories of knowledge, marking BonJour's shift from supporting coherentism to Cartesian foundationalism. BonJour's prior support of coherentism is irrefutable:

"The basic role of justification is that of a means to truth… . If epistemic justification were not conducive to truth…, if finding epistemically justified beliefs did not substantially increase the likelihood of finding true ones, then epistemic justification would be irrelevant to our main cognitive goal and of dubious worth. It is only if we have some reason for thinking that epistemic justification constitutes a path to truth that we as cognitive beings have any motive for preferring epistemically justified belief to epistemically unjustified ones."

It is important to note that BonJour has ceased to defend the above position. In fact, his exhausting and unwavering endorsement of a priori epistemic justification in Defense of Pure Reason even entailed harshly disparaging schools of thought that rejected his theories.

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BonJour recently attempted to formulate an a priori justification of induction in his book, in Defense of Pure Reason. He defines the traditional rationalist conception of the a priori as the following:

"A proposition is justified a priori when and only when the believer is able, either directly or via some series of individually evident steps, to intuitively 'see' or apprehend that its truth is an invariant feature of all possible worlds, that there is no possible world in which it is false."

Term Paper on Bonjour Defending Cartesian Foundationalism Assignment

Consequently, BonJour created and employed a novel, interesting, and unexpected approach to tackle the problem of induction. BonJour sets himself the interesting and unusual task of defending rationalism with respect to a priori justification. He proceeds by presenting arguments against moderate and radical empiricism, describing the rationalist perspective, countering various objections to rationalism, and proposing a new rationalist solution to the problem of induction.

In in Defense of Pure Reason, BonJour advances a version of moderate rationalism, the thesis that rational insight is an independent, though fallible, source of a priori epistemic justification; he maintains that we can know a priori that the truth of an inductive inference's conclusion constitutes the best explanation of the inference's inductive premise. Bonjour advances two main reasons for believing that there is such a thing as rational insight into necessity. First, BonJour argues that there are many cases in which it clearly seems that one possesses such insight. Secondly, he maintains that any epistemology denying the existence of rational insight into necessity is committed to a narrow skepticism. To demonstrate that this thesis must obtain, BonJour argues that rational insight is truth conducive and that no infallibilist rationalist theory could be correct.

In Defense of Pure Reason contains interesting criticisms of and rebuttals to opponents of rationalism. Additionally, it simultaneously contains a bold, heady, imaginative, and positive account of pure reason. Although he concedes that it is contingent, not a priori, that our patterns of inductive inference are reliable, BonJour nevertheless claims that it is necessary and a priori that those patterns are highly likely to be reliable, which is in and of itself enough to ground an a priori justification induction.

BonJour maintains that the empiricist is unable to explain how our collective beliefs in a priori subjects can be rationally justified; consequently, the empiricist, lacking any entirely rational explanation, would become committed to an unacceptably extreme form of skepticism. BonJour goes on to explain that the rationalist has a metaphysically and epistemologically coherent answer to the ideologically problematic issue of justifying a priori beliefs.

In his book in Defense of Pure Reason, BonJour presents a late twentieth-century persuasive rationalist approach to a priori knowledge. As a precursor to stating and defending his positive theory, BonJour utilizes the first several chapters of the book to state criticisms of varieties of empiricism on a priori knowledge: of Moderate Empiricism, which allows for the a priori but also attempts to demythologize it by grounding it in analyticity, and of Radical (i.e. Quinian Empiricism), which neither denies nor embraces the adoption of a skeptical stance towards the a priori. Bonjour contends that the empiricist is unable to explain how and why our beliefs in a priori subjects are justified. Therefore, lacking the latter explanation, the empiricist would be committed to an extreme and unacceptable form of skepticism. Bonjour then argues that the rationalist has a metaphysically and epistemologically coherent answer to the question of how to justify a priori beliefs.

BonJour's rationalism is instead that of a realist, maintaining that a priori knowledge is rational insight into necessary features of reality. It is not a dogmatic rationalism but rather a moderate rationalism in claims to a priori knowledge that are fallible and corrigible. BonJour's positive account involves presenting and then examining intuitive cases of a priori knowledge and justification (such as knowing that nothing blue all over is pink, for example). He explains:

"It is in the natures of both redness and greenness to exclusively occupy the surface or area that instantiates them, so that once one of these qualities is in place, there is no room for the other; since there is no way for the two qualities to coexist in the same part of the surface or area, a red item can become green only if the green replaces the red."

By way of rebutting epistemological and metaphysical objections, he also outlines his positive theory. Among the alternative metaphysical views he rejects are theories of content, such as those of conceptual role semantics and the representational theory of content. The representational view, which can be found in authors such as Fodor, takes content to be symbolic or representative of its objects so that it need not be one with the objects symbolized or represented. Such content is extrinsically and contingently related to that which it represents, however. Part of BonJour's argument for his conception of content lies in the fact that it avoids the numerous and largely irreconcilable problems that he finds in the other treatments of content. His rationalist solution is that the necessary features of reality are not extrinsically (contingently-empirically) related to content, and that, instead, mental content consists of the very stuff that has the necessity. He states that "experience is a conscious state [and] automatically involves a constitutive or built nonapperceptive awareness of its own distinctive sort of content, namely sensory or leriential content."

Properties are both really in the world and in the content as well. The problem of how to make the rational real and the real rational is bridged by identifying them, uniting them as being constitutive of extramental reality, as well as of rationality (mental content). BonJour concludes that occurrent thoughts and/or beliefs are, in their own right, conscious states, insofar as the individual possessing any given belief or thought is, by definition, necessarily conscious and aware of whatever content comprises the thought or belief.

On Laurence BonJour's alternative, the content of the rational insight into the necessity that nothing is both blue and pink is at one with the objects constituting the reality in question. He explains:

"I comprehend or grasp the property indicated by the word 'red' and also that indicated by the word 'green', that I have adequate conceptions of redness and greenness.... Similarly, I understand the relation of incompatibility or exclusion that is conveyed by the rest of the words in the verbal formulation of the proposition, together with the way in which this relation is predicated of the two properties by the syntax of the sentence… it is this direct insight into the necessity of the claim in question that seems, at least prima facie, to justify my accepting it as true."

The properties, which are universals having the necessary connection, are part of the content. The objective necessity, exclusion of the property of being blue from the property of being pink, contains components that are, the properties -- universals that are also components of the content of the proposition involved in having that insight. Thus BonJour's positive account ultimately comes down to the acceptance of intuitions as to both the existence of a priori knowledge and to the explanation of how such intuitions are possible.

Critics of BonJour's argument for the fallibilist thesis overwhelmingly state that BonJour's arguments are inherently problematic because each invokes implausible conditions on justification, conditions that arguably even BonJour rejects; BonJour's argument for the truth conduciveness of rational insight fails because it does not (and cannot) account for the truth-conduciveness of fallible rational insights. One critic, Michael Devitt, elaborates:

"In charging that the a priori is deeply obscure I am, according to BonJour, 'simply rejecting the idea that merely finding something to be intuitively necessary can ever constitute in itself a reason for thinking that it is… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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