Supplement to Hauptli's Lectures on BonJour's Structure of Empirical Knowledge [1985]

     Copyright © 2013 Bruce W. Hauptli

Note the initial citation from Kant--our "opinions" should somehow be securely connected with truth and the "law of such connection" should be certain.  This should suggest "internalism" to you!


xi BonJour introduces the justificatory problem in epistemology and indicates why we need to avoid a vicious infinite regress.  The problem is, in effect, that we appear to need a justification for whatever we rely upon to justify our claims, and a vicious regress seems to threaten us here.

The standard solution to this problem historically has been foundationalism:

-in first approximation, the view that certain empirical beliefs are justified in a way which somehow does not depend on inference from other empirical beliefs, thus bringing the regress to a halt.

-Problem: how are the foundational beliefs themselves supposed to be justified--a sleight of hand appears to be going on here.

xii BonJour contends that foundationalism is a dead-end.  He will defend a version of coherentism:
-in first approximation: "the view that the regress of empirical justification, rather than proceeding infinitely, moves in a closed curve of some sort and that justification which takes this form is at least sometimes rationally cogent, rather than being vitiated by circularity...."

-Problem: why believe that a given set of coherent beliefs is true?  This is the central problem which such theories face.

            Part I: A Critique of Empirical Foundationalism1

Chapter 1. Knowledge and Justification

1.1 The Traditional Conception of Knowledge:

3 BonJour notes that philosophers are generally concerned with propositional knowledge.
-What Should  Be An "Unnecessary" Philosophical Aside: Note that there are other sorts of knowledge--claims which don't seen to be adequately recognized by the emphasis upon the propositional cases: knowledge by acquaintance, know-how, knowing what (e.g., knowing what a tuba sounds like), etc.  Moreover, there is the underlying question of whether there are "propositions."  These issues take us too far afield, but it is best to note and critically register the philosophical presuppositions as one begins to study a position!
4 The traditional JTB2 analysis is discussed:
-BonJour discusses the classical realists' view of the nature of truth: "...a correspondence or agreement or accordance between belief and the world: the propositional content of my subjective state of mind describes or specifies the world in a certain way; and for this description or specification to be true is for the world as it is in itself, independent of my cognitive or conceptualizing fit that description or specification."

-According to BonJour, we must regard "...the [classical] realist conception of truth as indispensable to the very enterprise of critical epistemology."

--Alternatives: idealism (wherein correspondence seems to have no sense), and pragmatism (wherein correspondence has a different sense--if any).

--Problems: (i) classical realism seems to presuppose some form of logical atomism;3  (ii) correspondence seems to be a matter of degree; (iii) there seems to be a significant difference between our "ideas" (statements, beliefs, theories, etc.), on the one hand, and things (facts, states of affairs, etc.) on the other, and this yields a worry as to whether these could "correspond" with one another; and (iv) what is a proposition?

--Moreover, there is the problem of being able to ever determine whether or not such a correspondence obtains--that is, the challenge of skepticism!4

5 The "Gettier counterexample" to the JTB analysis is discussed.  In his An Introduction to Contemporary Epistemology, Matthias Steup distinguishes between a lucky guess (where given S's evidence, the truth of p is not a likely outcome), and a lucky truth (where in relation to the relevant facts, p's truth was not a likely outcome).  As he notes:
-justification is what prevents a true belief from being a lucky guess, but not from being a lucky truth.
  ...What the Gettier problem shows us is that in order for a true belief to qualify as knowledge, it must satisfy two conditions; it must not be a lucky guess (that is, it must be justified), and it must not be a lucky truth.  A true belief that isn't a lucky guess--like Smith's belief...may still be a lucky truth, and thus fall short of being knowledge.  Hence in order to solve the Gettier problem, epistemologists have to figure out what kind of condition can prevent a true belief from being a lucky truth.5
Other philosophers identify the problem by speaking of "accidental truths."  For example, Ralph Baergen says what goes wrong in the Gettier cases is:
-the target belief is true, but the way in which it is true isn't what the subject has in mind.  One has the feeling that these beliefs are only accidentally true, and this seems to be what prevents us from regarding these beliefs as knowledge.  The weakness of the JTB theory, then, seems to be that it doesn't rule out the possibility that the target belief could be true only accidentally.6
BonJour maintains that: "one important further result of the Gettier-initiated discussion has been the realization that attributions of knowledge, and perhaps also of justification, which would be quite beyond reproach if other things were equal may be defeasible if they are not; and the nature and range of possible defeating circumstances has been the subject of vigorous discussion."  This leads to the question:
-"What sort of justification is required for knowledge?"

1.2 The Concept of Epistemic Justification:

5-6 BonJour begins by discussing how epistemic justification differs from other sorts of justification (appeal to moral standards, business standards, theological standards, etc.).

6-7 Epistemic justification can't simply be thought of as justification dealing with beliefs: for example, there could be a "moral" justification for some beliefs (e.g., the belief that one should stand up for one's friend); there could be a "religious" justification for some beliefs (e.g., Pascal's wager).7

-7 Central to epistemic justification is the fact that it is tied to knowledge and truth: "what makes us cognitive beings at all is our capacity for belief, and the goal of our distinctively cognitive endeavors is truth; we want our beliefs to correctly and accurately depict the world.  If truth were somehow immediately and unproblematically accessible (as it is, on some accounts, for God) so that one could in all cases opt simply to believe the truth, then the concept of justification would be of little significance and would play no independent role in cognition.  But this epistemically ideal situation is quite obviously not the one in which we find ourselves.  We have no such immediate and unproblematic access to truth, and it is for this reason that justification comes into the picture.  The basic role of justification is that of a means to truth, a more directly attainable mediating link between our subjective starting point and our objective goal."
--Alternatives: other "cognitive" goals besides truth include : explanation, prediction, control, understanding, and problem-solving.  Moreover, theorists like Pascal would certainly agree with BonJour's claim that "what makes us cognitive beings at all is our capacity for belief", but they would emphatically disagree with his continuation of the statement that "the goal of our distinctively cognitive endeavors is truth"--at least in the way that BonJour means it.  They would contain that it is not justified belief as a means to truth which is important but rather the beliefs of faith which are important (of course, they would have this belief be true, but justification question would be unimportant here).
8 Thus the distinctive characteristic of epistemic justification is to be found in its relation to truth--" accept a belief in the absence of such a reason, however appealing or even mandatory such acceptance might be from some other standpoint, is to neglect the pursuit of truth; such acceptance is...epistemically irresponsible."
-Consider the debate between William K. Clifford, on the one hand and James and Pascal on the other!8

 -Note: the very notion of epistemic responsibility needs to be carefully considered.  Among the things which need to be investigated are: the viability of epistemic voluntarism, the question of what one's epistemic duties are (assuming that there are any), the question of how strong they are, and the question of how these duties are justified.  Therefore, BonJour's discussion of epistemic justification raises a host of issues.

1.3 The Epistemological Task:

9 According to BonJour, there are two central aspects to the epistemological task:

(A)  to give an account of the standards of epistemic justification, and

(B)  to provide a metajustification for the proposed account by showing that the identified standards are, indeed, truth-conducive.

-Doing only the first is not enough.  Identifying some particular set of standards will not do because other theorists may offer or identify other standards, and we then have to ask the "correctness" question.
10 The second task is extremely difficult--bridging the gap between justification and truth is something which philosophers often shy away from.  There are several difficulties which such efforts confront according to BonJour:
-first, no empirical premises may be employed--if they are used, then the account of empirical justification will be (1) unjustified, (2) viciously circular, (3) or will require further justificatory accounts.  For this reason, an a priori metajustification will be requisite.
--Problem: what makes a priori justification "secure" here?  That is, why don't such premises also pose a justificatory problem?  Cf., the Appendix on a priori justification below and BonJour's In Defense of Pure Reason: A Rationalist Account of A Priori Justification.9
-Second, the metajustification must be "available" to the knowers.  If it exists but is beyond the knowers, it is useless:
--For how can the fact that a belief meets those standards give the believer a reason for thinking that it is likely to be true (and thus an epistemically appropriate reason for accepting it), unless he himself knows that beliefs satisfying those standards are likely to be true?  Why should the fact that a metajustification can be supplied from the outside by an epistemologist, or is available in some other way which is beyond the believer's own cognitive grasp, mean that his belief (as opposed to an analogous belief held by the outsider observer) is justified?10

--Note: here BonJour clearly evinces his commitment to “internalism”—we will see his argument for this commitment in Chapter 3.  The statement he offers here is reminiscent of Peter Klein’s  argument that

 …merely having a reliably produced belief without any reason for thinking that it is reliably produced seems like having money in the bank without knowing that it is there.11 

11 The difficulties in supplying the requisite metajustification lead some theorists to try to avoid the issue.  BonJour discusses three such attempts:

(1) Appeal to justification in the long run to "redefine" the concept of truth.  [Pragmatists and absolute idealists].  BonJour suggests that such views require adherence to an odd view of truth and they are dialectically defective (as he will show later).

(2) Appeal to common sense (instead of "redefining `true'," such theorists endeavor to provide an essential tie between some justified beliefs and truth [Moore and Chisholm].  BonJour discusses Chisholm's "The Problem of the Criterion"12:

-11-13 quote from Chisholm (pp. 11-12) which identifies the ways out of the "problem of the criterion" and Chisholm's preferred response ("critical cognitivism," the "evident," and the tie to common sense).  The problem with Chisholm's orientation, according to BonJour, is that it too quickly and readily rules out even weak versions of skepticism, and it is overly dogmatic.
--Chisholm says there are two possibilities: justification of the criterion on the basis of clear-cut particular knowledge claims, or determination of the particular claims from a clear-cut criterion.  Descartes wants a criterion first, Reid trusts the particular claims.  Chisholm sides with Reid.

--13 "...there is indeed an initial presumption that common sense is at least broadly correct as to the scope of our knowledge and thus a correlative presumption that skepticism is false. But this presumption is completely defeasible by a failure to find any account of the standards of epistemic justification which yields results in agreement with common sense and which can be adequately defended by philosophical argument...."

13-14 (3) Richard Rorty and Michael William's views that skepticism does not have to be answered.  This view is not clearly stated (nor may it be easily summarized), but BonJour says that "much of the point of epistemological inquiry is to understand and delineate the nature and degree of our justification for the beliefs that we hold.  And perhaps the most obvious way of doing this is to consider carefully the various forms of skepticism...."
These orientations are difficult to briefly characterize.  At a later point in the course, I will try to more carefully discuss these responses to the metajustification requirement.
Notes:  (click on the note number to return to the text the note refers to)

1 Note: Part II is titled "Towards a Coherence Theory."

2 `JTB' stands for `justified true belief'--this traditional analysis of knowledge dates back to Plato's Theaetetus.

3 For there to be the relevant correspondence relation, that is, the "external world" must "divide" into atomistic components and relationships, and that this is the case is, clearly, a significant metaphysical presumption.

4 Cf., Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of  Nature (Princeton: Princeton U.P., 1979).  Rorty's important book develops the claim that classical correspondence theories encourage skepticism.

5 Matthias Steup, An Introduction to Contemporary  Epistemology, (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1996), p. 9.

6 Ralph Baergen, Contemporary Epistemology (Fort Worth: Harcourt, 1995), p. 110.

7 Note that this "wager" does not provide an epistemic justification for becoming a believer.  In fact, the wager argument is really an argument for discarding reason and the search for rationally justified  belief (at least at the fundamental, or foundational level).  Instead, Pascal argues that we must have "faith," at least at the foundational level.  Cf., Blaise Pascal, Pensees [1670], trans. W.F. Trotter (N.Y.: Dutton, 1958). 

8 Cf., William K. Clifford, "The Ethics of Belief," Contemporary Review  (1877) (reprinted in Clifford's Lectures and Essays 1979]); and William James, "The Will to Believe" [1897] in his The Will To Believe and Other Essays (N.Y.: Dover, 1956).  Clifford contends that we have an epistemic obligation to ensure that our beliefs are based upon adequate evidence:  " is wrong always, everywhere, and for everyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence."  James, on the other hand, contends that sometimes we must (in the sense of `ought to'--that is in the sense that we have an epistemic responsibility to) believe without sufficient evidence.  These essays, along with several others on the topic, are reprinted in The Theory of  Knowledge: Classical and Contemporary Readings (third edition), ed. Louis Pojman (Belmont: Wadsworth, 2003).

9 Laurence BonJour, In Defense of Pure Reason: A Rationalist Account of A Priori Justification (Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 1998).

10 Note that this requirement carries an "internalist" presupposition with it!  Internalists contend that "justifying conditions must be within the ken of the knowing subject" [cf., p. 58 below].  The emphasized passages in the citation above highlight the internalist presupposition here.  The contrast between "internalism" and "externalism" will become clear as we proceed.  Barry Stroud offers an excellent critical analysis of externalism in his "Understanding Human Knowledge in General," in Knowledge and Skepticism, eds. Marjorie Clay and Keith Lehrer (Boulder: Westview, 1989), pp. 31-50.  The essay is reprinted in Knowledge: Readings In Contemporary Epistemology, Sven Bernecker and Fred Dretske (eds.) (N.Y.: Oxford U.P., 2000), pp. 307-323) and my lecture supplement for it is available on the class website. 

11 Peter Klein, “There Is No Good Reason To Be An Academic Skeptic,” in Essential Knowledge: Readings in Epistemology, ed. Steven Luper (N.Y.: Pearson/Longeman, 2004), pp. 299-309, p. 302. 

12 I have a lecture supplement from an earlier semester to one version of Chisholm's argument, and it may be of interest to you should you wish to understand his argument further. 

Go To Hauptli's Supplement for Chapter 2

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