PHIL 450A:  HANDOUT #3

The Feature-φ Argument Applied to Talbott's Reconstruction of Chisholm

 

Consider my belief about my current apparent perception: 

APW = I am having an apparent perception of a wall.

 

The Chisholmian Foundationalist account of my justification: 

           

Basic Empirical Belief = A belief that is empirically justified, but does not depend for its justification on any other empirical belief. 

 

Beliefs about self-presenting states are basic empirical beliefs.  Apparent perception is a self-presenting state.  Therefore, my belief that APW is a basic empirical belief.

 

The Feature-φ Argument is a reductio of the claim that any belief (including APW) is a basic empirical belief.  It begins with the Meta-Justificatory Requirement for the basic empirical (i.e., foundational) beliefs:  That in order to be justified in believing APW or any other empirical belief, I need an argument that APW (or the relevant empirical belief) is likely to be true—for example, an argument of the following kind:

 

            (0) I believe APW

            (i) Self-presenting states are such that whenever someone believes that they are in a such a state, the belief is true.

(ii) APW is a belief about a self-presenting state.

Conclusion:  Therefore, my belief APW is certain to be true.

 

[NOTE THAT THE SHORT ARGUMENT JUST REHEARSED IS NOT THE FEATURE-Φ ARGUMENT.  THE FEATURE-Φ ARGUMENT IS THE BROADER ARGUMENT THAT USES THIS SHORT ARGUMENT AS PART OF A REDUCTIO OF THE ASSUMPTION THAT APW IS A BASIC EMPIRICAL BELIEF.]

 

BonJour argues that if my justification for believing APW depends on the metajustificatory argument given above, then my belief APW is NOT a basic empirical (i.e., a foundational) belief.  Why not?   Consider the premises individually.

 

            BonJour is willing to allow that I am entitled to (0)—that is, to presume that I believe APW (the Doxastic Presumption).  What about (i) and (ii)?  Consider first (ii).  That seems to be definitional of a self-presenting state.  [There is a complication here that I set aside, because the main problem is with the remaining premise.]

            What about (i)?  What is my justification for believing that apparent perception (or any other mental state) is self-presenting?  It would seem that this would have to be justified empirically.  If so, then the belief APW is not a basic empirical belief.  Why not?

 

Since this argument form can be applied to any proposed basic empirical belief, it provides a reductio of the assumption that there are any basic empirical beliefs.