Laurence BonJourLaurence BonJour criticizes much of contemporary epistemology. In his book Epistemic Justification, he says that the typical concerns of recent epistemologists - the Gettier problem, doubts about closure, the lottery paradox, contextual views, etc. - are "devouring much time and effort and philosophical cleverness and giving almost nothing back in return" (A Companion to Epistemology, 2nd ed., p.118) In a recent profile of his work, he says:
My epistemological thinking has focused primarily on a set of related issues that I take to be the central issues of epistemology, both historically and substantively. Do we have good reasons for thinking that our various beliefs about the world (primarily about the common-sense world of material objects, including its history and scientific nature) are true? If we have such reasons, what is their detailed nature and structure, and how ultimately cogent are they? In recent epistemology, issues in this vicinity have been standardly formulated in terms of the concepts of knowledge and epistemic justification; and my own discussion has often been couched in these terms. I have lately come to think, however, for reasons that are briefly suggested in the final section of this self- profile, that such formulations, are inessential and, to a significant degree, misleading. What the great historical epistemologists (here I have especially Descartes and Locke in mind) were asking more than anything else was, I believe, just the questions I have mentioned, even though they often couched them in terms of knowledge (though rarely, if ever, in terms of the somewhat technical notion of justification). Much recent epistemological discussion has been devoted to the issue between internalist and externalist theories of justification and knowledge. Here I shall only say that, as I understand the issues listed above, externalist views are simply irrelevant to them: externalism may offer conceptions of knowledge or of justification or perhaps even (in what I can understand only as a stipulated sense) of a reason for a belief, but having a reason is an essentially internalist notion.One might think that BonJour's concern with "the common-sense world of material objects" would make him externalist and leaning toward "naturalizing" epistemology by using scientific methods. But BonJour is a strong internalist who originally defended coherentism but now defends "Pure Reason." BonJour now argues for a Cartesian foundationalism and a priori justification. He describes his rationalist conception of the a priori:
In contrast to the radical changes in my views concerning empirical reasons, my position on a priori reasons has remained essentially unchanged. In opposition to the radical empiricism that denies the very existence of a priori reasons and the moderate empiricism that insists that they are confined to claims that are analytic, I have defended the traditional rationalist view that a priori insight yields genuinely cogent reasons for accepting non-analytic claims about the world. My main argument for such a view is extremely simple, but also, I believe, quite compelling. It begins with two premises that only a very extreme skeptic can deny: first, that experience or observation provides, in some way, direct reasons for accepting certain empirical claims; and, second, that the class of broadly empirical claims for which we have good reasons is much larger than thai for which there are reasons of this directly experiential sort. (The former class would include at least claims about unobserved situations in the past and present, claims about the future, claims about unobservable entities of various sorts, and claims about laws of nature.) The argument is then that we can have a good reason for some claim in this former class only if we have a logically prior good reason for a conditional proposition having some claim (or conjunction of claims) supported by directly experiential reasons as the antecedent and the claim in question as the consequent. And the reason for this conditional proposition can only be a priori, since it is obviously not a matter of direct experience.BonJour accepts the traditional view that a priori reasons are based on an immediate insight into the truth, indeed a necessary truth.
Turning to the positive aspect of the concept of an a priori reason, the traditional view, which I believe to be essentially correct, is that in the most basic cases such reasons result from direct or immediate insight into the truth, indeed the necessary truth, of the relevant claim. A derivative class of a priori reasons results from similar insights into the derivability of a claim from one or more premises for which such a priori reasons exist or from a chain of such derivations. And a partially a priori reason may result from an a priori insight into the derivability of a claim from others established on broadly empirical grounds. Here it is important to be clear that insights of this sort are not supposed to be merely brute convictions of truth, on a par with hunches that may be psychologically compelling. On the contrary, a priori insights purport to reveal not just that the claim in question must be true but also, at some level, why this is so. They are thus putative insights into the essential nature of things or situations of the relevant kind, into the way that reality in the respect in question must be. But, contrary to the most standard historical views, the idea of an a priori reason does not imply either: (i) that experience could not also count for or against the claim in question; or (ii) that an a priori reason could not be overridden by experience; or still less (iii) that an a priori reason renders the claim certain or infallible.