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.