BonJour's 'Basic Antifoundationalist Argument'

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BonJour's 'Basic Antifoundationalist Argument' ABSTRACT: BonJour argues that there can be no basic empirical beliefs. But premises three and four jointly entail ‘BonJour’s Rule’ — one’s belief that p is justified only if one justifiably believes the premises of an argument that makes p highly likely — which, given human psychology, entails global skepticism. His responses to the charge of skepticism, restricting premise three to basic beliefs and noting that the Rule does not require ‘explicit’ belief, fail. Moreover, the Rule does not express an epistemic duty. Finally, his argument against this fails since it is false that if an experiential state has representational content, then it is in need of justification. I venture the diagnosis that BonJour mistook the representational content of a cognitive state for the assertive functional role of a belief. Foundationalism may well be false, but not for BonJour’s reasons. Laurence BonJour observes that critics of foundationalism tend to argue against it by objecting to "relatively idiosyncratic" versions of it, a strategy which has "proven in the main to be superficial and ultimately ineffective" since answers immune to the objections emerge quickly. (1) BonJour aims to rectify this deficiency. Specifically, he argues that the very soul of foundationalism, "the concept of a basic empirical belief," is incoherent. (2) This is a bold strategy from which we can learn even if, in the end, as I shall argue, it fails. But, first, what is foundationalism? A person's belief is ‘nonbasic’ just in case it is justified in virtue of its relation to other justified beliefs; it is ‘basic’ just in case it is justified but not in virtue of its relation to other justified beliefs. Foundationalism is the view that if one has a nonbasic belief, then — in the final analysis — it is justified in virtue of its relation to a basic belief. Basic beliefs comprise the foundation of a person's network of justified beliefs. Now to BonJour's argument. 1. The Argument Stated BonJour summarizes it like this: 1. Suppose, for reductio, that there are basic empirical beliefs. 2. A belief is justified only if there is a reason why it is likely to be true. 3. A belief is justified for a person only if he is in cognitive possession of such a reason. 4. A person is in cognitive possession of such a reason only if he believes with justification the premises from which it follows that the belief is likely to be true.

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