The rationalist's dilemma


  • Vanessa Morlock University of Konstanz



In his book In Defense of Pure Reason Laurence BonJour proposed an account of a priori justification which essentially refers to so-called rational insights. Unfortunately, the reader is not equipped with a substantial answer to the question what such rational insights exactly are. And moreover, he is told that this is not an in any way decisive shortcoming of BonJour’s account of a priori justification — at least not a shortcoming which should motivate us to abandon his account. In order to support this thesis, BonJour refers to an analogy between the case of rational insights and the case of consciousness. He points out that we would not give up the use of the notion of consciousness, in spite of the fact that today there is still no satisfying answer to the question what consciousness exactly is. I will argue that the analogy BonJour refers to is in fact a persuasive one and can help him as well as other proponents of the rational-insight account to deal with some prominent objections. But taking the analogy seriously does consequently mean to undermine a favourite rationalist’s thesis: the autonomy claim. I conclude that the rationalist is confronted with a dilemma; he simply cannot have it both ways.