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In Defense of Pure Reason: A Rationalist Account of A Priori Justification (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy)
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"...after reading his book we have a much better idea of the direction in which those answers must lie." Mylan Engel, Jr., Dialogue
"This book is an important contribution to the contemporary epistemological literature. The book is tightly organized, crisply argued, and sets the standard against which competing accounts must be measured. BonJour's book is rich and challenging...much can be learned from this book. It is required reading for anyserious student of the field and I entusiastically recommend it to nonspecialists as well." The Philosophical Review
"This work contains interesting criticisms of and rebuttals to opponents of rationalism. In addition it contains a bold, heady, imaginative positive account of pure reason. BonJour's bold answer consists of outlining and arguing for a theory of mental content that is nonrepresentational and at once both externalist as well as internalist. His imaginative conjecture is in the spirit of historic forms of rationalism: it is Aristotelian and Thomistic, in that the intellect in knowing necessary truths is in a sense all things; it is Hegelian in that the project critically argues for the coincidence of the real and the rational." Review of Meta Physics
This book is concerned with the alleged capacity of the human mind to arrive at beliefs and knowledge about the world on the basis of pure reason without any dependence on sensory experience. Most recent philosophers reject the view and argue that all substantive knowledge must be sensory in origin. Laurence BonJour provocatively reopens the debate by presenting the most comprehensive exposition and defense of the rationalist view that a priori insight is a genuine basis for knowledge.
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What is rational insight? One of the simplest examples is the syllogism: "All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Socrates is mortal." Another example is the statement: "Something cannot be both green all over and red all over." I think that only the hardcore skeptic would deny the certainty of such insights. How do we justify/explain such insights? Here comes the rub - to justify such insights, the ability to grasp them must already be possessed by those who are justifying them and those to whom they must be justified. A point later defended by the author, and which has been defended by many rationalists, is that the structure of the world must such that these relationships are given in reality in some form.
Rather than list and categorize these insights, Bonjour mounts a wonderful defence for these insights, which he categorizes, like other rationalist philosophers, as "apriori" knowledge, or in his better term, "apriori justification". He, like other rationalists, describes them as a grasp of necessity: once thier nature is grasped and understood, people defend them by thinking and reasoning, rather than pointing to specific data given in experience.
The book has many wonderful points: a careful and reasoned exposition of why Kant was not a rationalist in the true sense of the word (this has been known to quite a few rationalists in the Aristotleian tradition, but Bonjour's criticism leaves little to the imagination), a defence of view of a priori knowledge as fallible, but fallible only in the sense that it answers to new and better apriori insights when found to be mistaken, and a nice and careful discussion of the major analytic school's objections against a priori knowledge.
A great part of this book is well made and much needed distinctions between the a priori and the a posteriori, the analytic and the synthetic, and the necessary and the contingent. His defence and qualification of these terms are worth the cost of the book alone, and he shows how misrepresentaions of these terms, and thier implications are, have led to the acceptance of weak arguments against them being considered conclusive rejections of them.
Finally, the author gives both the nice defence and the beginnings of an a priori theory of induction. The good thing about his defence is that it validates induction, and it will probably be easy to incorporate the best work that has been done into this field since I believe that Bonjour has silenced the greatest oppositions to induction as a source of knowledge.
It is a short book, and is quite limited in scope, but it was a page turner for me. I believe the influence of this book's arguments will be far reaching, once the required critical mass of intellectuals inculcate the ideas contained within this book.
I think my review is understated, so I will only say this: get the book if you have the philiosophical background, and be prepared for one of the best defences of Reason in philosophical history.
Well done and worth a second read.
Bonjour does a reasonable job in this piece of work as he argues for a moderate rationalism as being the best theory of knowledge out there. The topic of a priori justification is on the hot seat here. Does it even exist or should we reject it outright (Radical Empiricism) Does it exist only in analytic truths such as 'there are no married bachelors' (Moderate Empiricism) or does A priori, most specifically synthetic a priori justifcation exist, though our rational insight would end up being fallible? (Moderate Rationalism)
His book is split up into a chapters arguing against moderate & radical empiricism, defending moderate rationalism, and then finishing off with the problem of induction.
In my eyes Bonjour was pretty QED all throughout the book, and did a great job dismantling the claims made by Salmon and W.V.O Quine.
I'd say this book is definitely for the intermediate crowd, a beginner to philosophy might have a tough time reading this one through, though it is possible.