by Jim | August 25th, 2009
Epistemic Justification, Laurence Bonjour and Ernest Sosa. Massachusetts: Blackwell 2003, Pp. 240. Summary by
James L. Smyrl, Ph.D.
Laurence Bonjour and Ernest Sosa present two views of epistemic justification. Bonjour develops a polemic favoring an internalist epistemology with a foundationalist approach to certainty in said knowledge. Sosa is strong on his stance for certainty and reliability within the justification means of knowledge, but goes in the way of experience, rather than foundationalism for his epistemological view. Bonjour’s case is first presented followed by Sosa with a helpful section concluding their defenses in which each rebuts the others argument and presents one more effort at proving his own view correct. A noticeable theme throughout the work, although not clearly detailed by either author is an emphasis on negating a strict system of epistemology in which one can definitively align one’s self. It appears that each author is, although subtly, promoting a more eclectic epistemological system, rather than a rigid adherence to preconceived labels that restrict each man’s quest for certainty and reliability with his perspective epistemological system.
Bonjour begins his defense for an internalist, foundationalist view of epistemic justification by examining the relation of knowledge to the empirical evidence derived from experience. He spends much time on the regress problem noting that the traditional manner in which we perceive reality or reasons to believe are not conditional in form. He continues examining the necessity for stages of justification to find a conclusion or foundation at some stage, for the stages cannot infinitely continue. He uses the phrase “premise-beliefs,” which appears to be a proliferation of his foundationalism, clothed in a different terminology. He strongly defends what he considers a neglected conception by most epistemologists, a cognitive availability of epistemic justification, which is the internalist view of the matter. Bonjour notes that even if the idea is not directly cognitively available to an individual, it is nonetheless somehow connected to his cognitive processes. He furthers his polemic with a high value on coherentism noting that epistemic justification depends entirely on an internal coherence of a system of beliefs. Even with this defense of coherence, he notes that it is not enough to stand alone on a coherence view.
Sosa begins his polemic with a defense of propositional knowledge. He notes that knowledge cannot be just true belief. According to Sosa knowledge must have a proper rationale in order to be considered true belief, but that the proper rationale cannot simply be pragmatic in nature in order to secure certainty or true belief. He refutes Bonjour’s claim to coherence as a primary means of epistemic justification, noting that a body of beliefs may be “comprehensively coherent and still fall short of justification” (111). He notes the danger of one actually adjusting one’s beliefs to the level or degree of coherence that is perceived within a system of beliefs. He continues noting that even with experience, beliefs, and coherence working together, one can still not claim knowledge.
Sosa’s emphasis on virtue epistemology is somewhat unclear to this reviewer. It appears to be a polemic in favor of foundationalism, but this assessment is certainly not consistent with the previous or concluding text of his argument. Within the realm of epistemic justification, Sosa provides a somewhat mathematical approach to knowledge, noting that a belief is justified if acquired through one or more intellectual virtues. Again this appears contradictory to his previous statements opposing a coherence model of epistemic justification. Both Sosa and Bonjour present, although opposing in views, a unified understanding that epistemic justification is not attained within one system of knowledge, but is rather sought through a series of epistemological disciplines.