Rationality and the Good: Critical Essays on the Ethics and Epistemology of Robert Audi

By Mark Timmons; John Greco et al. | Go to book overview

8
Are Perceptual Beliefs Properly
Foundational?

LAURENCE BONJOUR

I have known Robert Audi for most of my philosophical life, beginning with the time when we were both junior professors at the University of Texas in the late 1960s and early 1970s. We have kept in touch pretty steadily through the intervening years, and it would be difficult to overestimate how much I have learned from him. For a time, we were on opposite sides of the foundationalism-coherentism divide, and Audi’s gentle but insistent probing of the weaknesses of coherentism as a general epistemological position (along with his insistence on recognizing and accommodating the genuine insights of the coherentist) was one major influence on my eventual abandonment of coherentism and shift to foundationalism. In recent years, our broad epistemological views have become increasingly similar: we share foundationalism, internalism, and rationalism (though Audi’s brand of internalism is more nuanced and qualified than my own). And my respect for Audi’s philosophical acumen is great enough that I cannot help but think that this convergence must mean that I am getting at least some things right!

But, of course, we do not agree on everything, and it is the somewhat curious practice of philosophers, even in the process of honoring a valued colleague and friend, to focus on disagreement more than agreement. Thus my aim in the present paper will be to explore an important issue on which Audi and I have differed, one that arises within the context of the epistemological foundationalism that we share. The issue in question has to do with the scope of the foundation: Audi and I agree that (some) a priori beliefs and also (some) introspective beliefs about one’s own states of mind are foundational. But his view is that perceptual beliefs about material objects can also have the same foundational status as beliefs of these other two kinds;1 whereas my own tentative albeit reluctant view has been that perceptual beliefs about material objects are never strictly foundational, with the main reason being simply that no good account of how they could have this status seemed to me to be available.2 I remain unsatisfied with Audi’s main accounts of the foundational status of perceptual beliefs, at least as I understand them. But I now think that I can see how to do better in this regard, and moreover in a way that it seems to me that Audi might well be willing to accept.

-85-

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