A Unsent and Perpetually Unfinished Email to Professor BonJour
Dear Professor BonJour,
I’ve been working on various epistemological quandaries pertaining to the logocentric predicament, the predicament of the fact that logical and inferential principles must be supposed in any attempt to justify themselves thus meaning logical and inferential principles are epistemically circular. Inferential principles like modus ponens are at the forefront of this discussion, with Timothy McGrew writing two chapters in Internalism and Epistemology trying to solve the “problem of deduction” and speaking of modus ponens specifically. Nonetheless, in the past few months I’ve been reading and writing about all this I have realized a few things.
First, I have realized that logical circularity is practically indifferentiable from illogicality in that all propositions can justify themselves by way of themselves, therefore allowing for contradiction. One could, and people have argued this, move toward holding a coherentist position that has a ban on some epistemic circularity because it doesn’t meet the coherence standards. But, when we ask about the legitimacy of this, we find that it itself breaks down into circularity. Hence, infinitism and foundationalism seem to be superior to the coherentist position in terms of actually obtaining epistemic justification. Infinitism, however, like coherentism cannot get around the demand for metajustification. This is because if we ask the infinitist why infinite chains of non-repeating reasons offer and confer epistemic justification to propositions they will either have to appeal to an infinite chain of non-repeating reasons in which they become trapped in a vicious circularity or they must appeal to some other thing to provide metajustification. We can then treat this as a regress argument for foundationalism, but let us realize that the same can be said for foundationalism if it turns out to be the case it collapses in circularity too. A division is then made between empirical and rational foundationalism. I find your comments in The Structure of Empirical Knowledge about needing a priori metajustification convincing, but when we actually turn to In Defense of Pure Reason, some problems arise.
As previously stated, I agree that any empirical foundationalism will have to defer to some form of a priori justification to not be categorically circular (using empirical percepts to justify that empirical percepts can confer epistemic justification). So, we are finally left with rational foundationalism. But, again, even though we could treat this all as a regress argument for both foundationalism and rationalism, we need to understand that regress arguments only demonstrate which options are untenable and not which ones are tenable, for it could be the case that knowledge isn’t possible.
Now, let us further realize that any skeptical argument that says “knowledge isn’t possible” will itself collapse. For the skeptic will be inferring from the fact that all attempts at obtaining epistemic justification fail to it not being possible. The skeptic’s very making of this inference reveals that the skeptic has his own epistemic presuppositions. And, as Andrew Spear, in his dissertation, argues, skepticism about the a priori that says a priori knowledge isn’t possible will have at its basis some a priori reason, thus making it self-defeating. But, the fact that the skeptic of the a priori who makes conclusions is stuck in a position of self-defeat does not give any positive proof of their being rationalist epistemic justification. Though, people such as James Beebe have argued that a priori skepticism presents a legitimate challenge. Though, we know that this is false simply based on the fact that the a priori skeptic makes its inference that the a priori is not justified based on either empirically derived inferential principles, but we have already gone over how this regresses into either circularity or the need for the a priori, hence we can conclude a priori that skepticism that makes (i.e., infers) conclusions about the a priori is necessarily self-defeating. However, Beebe responds to what we have just said by arguing, “The belief that these [skeptical] hypotheses [about the a priori] are impossible is an a priori belief — -i.e., the very sort of belief that a priori skepticism seeks to call into question. … Consequently, skeptics about the possibility of a priori skepticism who appeal to their a priori beliefs to argue that a priori skepticism is impossible either beg the question or otherwise fail to engage with the skeptical challenge that is being raised” (A Priori Skepticism, p. 596). While what Beebe has just said is a real concern, it is not a difficult concern to deal with. Beebe’s response here has one major flaw: it cannot stand up to skepticism itself. While it may be using a priori notions to demonstrate how they themselves are self-defeating, it can be pointed out that while a priori skepticism really does contest the a priori, that it also has an a priori form in that it has a priori reasons at bottom is clear and so making the inference that it defeats itself and the a priori can be “made” (though this inference itself too will be unjustified). But, what type of a priori skepticism could even yield this result? Only the skeptic who raises the logocentric predicament!
Now, there is the evil demon/genius argument against the a priori. But, I think that McGrew, in his Internalism and Epistemology, responds to Plantinga’s usage of the argument adequately. Furthermore, the non-inferential nature of certain modes of a priori justification make it to where there could be no point in which the evil demon/genius could even do anything to the subject having the, for example, rational insight. Those forms of a priori justification that are immediate and directly acquainted (see McGrew’s usage of direct acquaintance in conjunction with analytic a priori intuitions in Internalism and Epistemology) with that part of reality that the insight pertains to really do relieve any worry about some evil demon/genius.
So, we understand now that the only objection to the a priori that can be made is that of the logocentric predicament. But, the logocentric predicament itself can not be made in the form of a question, and it is only once we understand that fact that we can begin to understand the real issue at hand: skepticism that doesn’t make conclusions. The skeptic that doesn’t make conclusions and just asks why is our biggest threat because they can inadvertently raise the logocentric predicament when they ask how we have non-circular meta-justification for our belief in logical and inferential principles. So, it is now time to turn toward our options.
We understand that everything either turns toward the a priori or total skepticism, which is not at all any positive proof of the former. So, what options do we have? Well, we must first understand that to even begin to solve the logocentric predicament, both our first- and second-order justification needs to be non-circular and thus non-inferential because inference itself is what is in question. This means we must have some sort of non-inferential a priori justification. The only option then is rational insight in the way you formulate it in In Defense of Pure Reason (that is, in a synthetic manner) or how McGrew formulates it in Internalism and Epistemology (that is, in an analytic manner). Okay, so we have gotten pretty far! We only have one last thing to answer: the demand for second-order or meta-justification. This demand is what has led to all the aforementioned methods that aren’t non-inferential and a priori to collapse (and they also collapsed because they haven’t been able to stand up to the logocentric predicament and thus all their inferences are, in effect, left unjustified). If we use rational insight to answer the demand for metajustification then skepticism “wins” and judgment is suspended indefinitely it seems, and you yourself note this in In Defense of Pure Reason.
All of what has been said thus far leads me to the whole point of this email: do you think that us rationalists can, to use the words of Spear, “provide a non-circular account of rationalist meta-justification that preserves the integrity of the rationalist position” (Not by Experience Alone, p. 52)? Or, do you think we don’t need to answer the question of metajustification (I only emphasis “question” to remind one of the fact that the demand for metajustification isn’t an objection when coming from the skeptic who does not make conclusions but only asks questions) when it comes to rational insight? Or, do you think it is hopeless and total skepticism is the case?
In your responses to Michael Devitt’s various critiques of a priori knowledge, you say, in regards to Devitt’s usage of rule-circularity, something I believe to be fundamentally correct: “[A rule-circular] argument may not beg the question in quite the sense that a premise-circular one does, but it is just as unsatisfactory in relation to the question at issue” (Contemporary Debates in Epistemology, p. 196). In response to your rejection of rule-circularity, Devitt argues that your use of rational insight is itself based on rule-circularity. To this you respond, “the basic point is that a priori insight is atomistic rather than holistic in character, so that neither the issue of circularity nor that of self-defeat applies in any clear way. Alleged a priori claims can be defeated by a combination of other such insights (plus, sometimes, empirical premises), but the main positive case for such a claim rests only on the immediate insight itself” (Contemporary Debates in Epistemology, p. 196; emphasis mine). Here is what I take your reply to mean: rational insights are not justified by some meta-justificatory principle such as, “If proposition, p, is rationally intuited then subject, S, is justified in believing p,” or, “If p is rationally intuited by S then p is prima facie true,” or something like that. Instead, they contain all the positive justification for themselves in themselves, i.e., they are “epistemically autonomous, as dependent on nothing beyond itself for its justification,” i.e., it is “self-evident” (In Defense of Pure Reason, p. 146). Hence, any accusation of rule-circularity misses the mark simply because of the fact that rational insights are epistemically autonomous. I think this is also why you said, “Devitt fails to understand the point about the atomistic character of a priori justification” (Contemporary Debates in Epistemology, p. 200). I take the rest of your argument to mean that there are some empirical defeaters for a priori insights and that a priori insights can be refuted by way of other rational insights because, for you, they are fallible and their epistemic status can be gauged by way of reflection (and I assume reflection is the process in which another rational insight can arise that acts as a defeater to that rational insight one is reflecting on). Now, Devitt responds to this by saying, “According to the rationalist, S [a system of rules for belief-formation] also includes a rule yielding a priori insights. Now the challenge posed by the skeptic is to say why any rule, R, is good. BonJour responds to this challenge by appealing largely, if not entirely, to a priori insight; the mind directly or intuitively grasps the necessary fact that R is good. Whatever its other problems, there need be no circularity about this provided R is not the rule for a priori insight itself. Where R is that rule, the rule-circularity is obvious. So BonJour’s move to atomism does not avoid rule circularity” (Contemporary Debates in Epistemology, p. 198). Now, I completely agree with you that he misunderstood what you were saying about rational insight. I completely agree because of the fact that Devitt seems to assume that there is a case in which rational insight is regulated by a rule, but we both know there isn’t because rational insight is epistemically autonomous and non-inferential. You finally address Devitt’s main objection though which is his question of “how finding something to be intuitively necessary can constitute a reason for thinking that it is true” (Contemporary Debates in Epistemology, p. 200). To this you respond, “If the insight is genuine, then the answer is obvious” (Contemporary Debates in Epistemology, p. 200). I completely agree with you that a rational insight being a genuine rational insight secures epistemic justification that is non-circular. But, I have some comments about this. First, there is definitely an element of private justification here, e.g., “I have private justification for rational insight, r, being genuine.” This is only a concern because it could lead to a reductio ad absurdum regarding private justification by way of a parody argument. However, I’m sure we could institute some principle of epistemic honesty, so these ridiculous arguments against rationalist private justification regarding the genuineness of the rational insight in question can’t be made. But, there is a larger question of what if the empiricist argues they have private justification for their beliefs? This seems to be the problematic parody argument I was worried about, as stated in this paragraph. Is this tenable? Before we can answer this question, let us look at the implications of someone having private justification. Second, the dialectical argument that was being had would basically end once private justification arises because when the skeptic asks for us to justify why our private justification is really justification they would be committing a category error/mistake in that they are asking us to make our private justification into public justification. Furthermore, the skeptic who just asks questions would not only be categorically erroneous as they would also be begging the question in that they would be supposing that having justification and showing you have justification are the same thing. As Timothy McGrew says in The Foundations of Knowledge, “A persistent questioner is usually demanding to be shown the justification for a particular belief. But this overlooks a distinction now well entrenched in epistemological circles: it is not necessary that one be able to show one’s justification for ordinary beliefs in order for those beliefs to be justified. … the persistent questioner by his very practice tacitly assumes that justification is always propositional, that it always involves inference from premises[, and that it is always public, i.e., able to be shown]. But this, it will turn out later, is question-begging against certain theories of epistemic justification” (p. 4). And, to add to what McGrew has just said, you yourself have argued, against Paul Boghossian, that some rational insights are/can be non-propositional. In this way, the rationalist would secure their victory against the total skeptic, but the cost for such a victory would be requiring subjects to be honest about their reflections on their rational insights, the genuineness of their rational insights, and what their rational insights actually pertain to. Then again, the skeptic could probably argue that category errors/mistakes and begging the question are only an issue if you suppose logic which they do not, therefore meaning we have to warrant logic before the issues of being categorically erroneous and begging the question are actual issues for the skeptic. The issue with this is that it is not an indictment of the rationalist. To expand on this, let us look toward a notion put forward by Olaf Tollefsen we will parody in a moment,
Hence the question at issue, whether anyone knows an incorrigible truth as such, can be directly answered affirmatively only by someone who actually knows an incorrigible truth as such; to demand a demonstration of this is already to have rejected the claim. Of course the sceptic claims this is unconvincing; the proponent of CF [classical foundationalism] has failed to give him — the sceptic — a good reason for thinking that anyone knows an incorrigible truth as such. But it should be asked if that amounts to anything more than an admission by the sceptic that he doesn’t know any incorrigible truths as such. Is that an argument against CF? Is the proponent of CF somehow required to get the sceptic to grasp an incorrigible truth in order to make good his claim to know such a truth? Surely one does not want to say that the sceptic’s failure to know an incorrigible truth as such undercuts the cognitive certainly of someone who does know an incorrigible truth as such. … But CF, as I have elaborated it here, is not self-refuting; all that is left for the sceptic is to complain that he doesn’t known any incorrigible truth as such/ That may be true, but it is no reason for someone who does know an incorrigible truth as such to suppose that he doesn’t. (Foundationalism Defended, pp. 59–60)
Now, I don’t believe incorrigibility can be a good standard for justification as it, like everything other than rational insight, will collapse into a vicious circulation. But, if we simply release “incorrigible truth” with “the genuine character of an rational insight,” then we can understand that the skeptic’s failure to abide by those justified and true propositions is not a defeater for our response of them being categorically erroneous and question-begging when asking to make our private justification public within the dialectical exchange. Then again, this might not be the most certain of responses to the skeptic, because it in a certain sense sort of supposes we have justification, but then again, we really do have justification because we know of the genuine character of some rational insights.
This all culminates in the issue of the parody arguments and then the implications of a rational insight being genuine.
So, let us first understand that if a reason is inferential, then the demand for public justification is never categorically erroneous nor is it ever question-begging, for the inference goes from one thing to another, and you can surely demonstrate this in light of the fact that inferences are themselves public demonstrations (for more on my usage of demonstration, see McGrew’s words on Locke’s division between intuition and demonstration in Internalism and Epistemology). So, to say you have private justification for an inference and that you can’t publicly demonstrate it would, in a certain sense, itself be categorically erroneous.
No parody argument of private justification can do with inferred propositions/reasons as we have just gone over. This means that if empirical private justification does not exist and private justification is a priori, then rational insight will be the only foundational source of justification. Keep this fact in mind, for it will come in handy later. So, what if the coherentist uses private justification? Well, this becomes a question of if private justification is propositional or non-propositional or rather if it only has to do with non-propositional a priori insights and/or a posteriori percepts (we will address the empiricist parody argument last, so for now, it is in consideration, as is infinitism). Well, if you can publicly state a proposition, does that mean you can’t have private justification for it? I’d say so, simply because of the fact that you can public state the proposition which you take to be justifying, i.e., you can, by definition, state why you have justification. Now, why this proposition provides justification could itself have private justification for it. So, for example, if I believe I have private justification for modus ponens by way of a non-propositional rational insight. But, if the non-inferential rational insight is propositional (somehow? I don’t know how it could be), then we can question it too, and any demand for public justification of it won’t be categorically erroneous nor question-begging. This is a problem for both coherentism and infinitism because it means they cannot have proportional nor inferential meta-justification and also have private justification which is the only way to a non-circular and non-question-begging justification and/or metajustification, but both have somewhat holistic (this is more about coherentism than infinitism but it does apply to infinitism), or rather, rule-like propositional attempts at meta-justification, therefore meaning neither can have private justification. Now that we realize that foundationalism is supreme, we must ask whether rational or empirical foundationalism can have private justification or if both can. First, let us institute a principle of epistemic honesty. So, with this, people having ridiculous percepts such as seeing a 400-foot-tall baboon would have an epistemic ban on it, but, with rational insight, we don’t really have this issue because we can all reflect retrospectively on communicated notions, but we cannot perceive percepts that are not ours. So, this already acts to show that having private justification in conjunction with empirical foundationalism is a pathway to absurdity.
So, the final thing we must answer before we move on to the implications of the genuine character of rational insight is the question of if empirical or rational foundationalism can have private justification. We can have direct experiences that are non-propositional and non-inferential, hence they are candidates for private justification. Rational insight is also a candidate for private justification. But, any inferences made from these can only be done validly if inferential principles are justified by them. We can rationally intuit inferential principles whether they be concepts or abstract objects, therefore meaning rational insight is still in the race. But, can we have a direct percept of, for example, modus ponens? That one could have such a thing. Furthermore, do direct percepts even qualify as reasons for belief? How could we conclude such a thing? We know that by definition rational insights are by definition reasons. It seems the case rational insight has prima facie more strength than direct experience. You do, though, say that “[t]o reject all such insights is to reject the capacity of human intelligence to have good reasons for believing anything beyond the narrow deliverances of direct experience, and experience alone cannot establish that they are connected to experience in a way that makes them likely to be true” (Contemporary Debates in Epistemology, p. 200). I think that what we can extricate from this is either an admission, that has a real risk, of defeat and just having an empirical and rationalist foundationalism, or that direct experience is an untenable foundation. But why is it? If we can answer this, then the rationalist position will be secured. Let us also not forget about divine intuition and revelation.
Before we consider empirical and divine parody arguments, let us look toward the single objection to the private justification of rational insight I have found. In his Margins of Precision, Max Black goes to attack Locke’s claim that “intuitive knowledge … [is] irresistible, and, like bright sunshine, forces itself immediately to be perceived, as soon as ever the mind turns its view that way; and leaves no room for hesitation, doubt, or examination, but the mind is presently filled with the clear light of it” (Locke, An Essay on Human Understanding, Bk. 4, Chap. 1, §1). His argument is as follows:
Now we can see why the supposed analogy between vision and “mental insight” or intuition breaks down. When a man claims a private title for his perceptual report, there is a logical gap between a certain perceptual fact and another fact consisting of his saying that he has the perception in question: he could see the red patch without saying that he saw it. And unless there was such a gap, there would be no sense in his claiming to have a title or ground for his assertion. The implied existence of a distinct truth-ground is essential to the whole conception. But precisely this feature of vision proper is intended to be absent in the case of “metnal vision.” Since the truth-ground of a self-evident proposition is intended to be included in that very proposition, understanding and verifying here collapse into one and the same thing, and it no longer makes sense to speak of having even a private justification of title. (Black, Margins of Precision, pp. 18–19).
The issue with Black’s critique is that I see no actual critique. He argues that there is no distinct truth-ground because the mechanism of coming to knowledge, the apprehension or the rational insight itself, and the knowledge of the truth of that proposition garnered by way of rational insight are not distinct. But, is this not exactly the moderate rationalist’s point when we argue that rational insight is an immediate, direct, and unmediated insight into the necessary nature of reality? Is this not what the moderate rationalist means by epistemic autonomy? Is this not what rational insight is? I believe that Black has missed the mark and inadvertently conceded to the character of rational insight being one of epistemic autonomy. Hence, I’ve seen no critique of rational insight that does not come from parody arguments. For example, Steven D. Hales’ critique of rational insight comes from the fact that it is almost differentiable from divine/revelatory intuition in terms of its character (for more on this, see his article “Intuition, Revelation, and Relativism”). Thus, if we can demonstrate how the empirical and divine/revelatory parody arguments miss the mark, then there will be no objection to rational insight other than McGrew’s critique of you (see more about this in the second to last paragraph in this email). But, McGrew’s attack doesn’t seem to prevent us from having private justification of rational insight, instead it just demonstrates a preference for analyticity to syntheticity. But, wait, aren’t seemings as characterized by Michael Huemer’s phenomenal conservatism both non-propositional and non-inferential? Yes, they are. So, we will have to deal with them too! But, first, let us deal with divine revelation.
Divine revelation has multiple conceptions of it. Kant effectively demonstrated some fundamental issues with it. We have demonstrated that any propositional divine revelation can make no claim to private justification. Let us ask though, is divine revelation true? You can have private justification for believing you have just had a divine revelation, but that does not mean the divine revelation is true. This is also the case for seemings, direct percepts, and rational insight. The only difference with rational insight is that we have specified that what garners private justification are genuine rational insights. We would have to have a divine revelation that our divine revelations are true, thus meaning we would know them as they would have garnered justification and would be true. They could argue that they have had such a divine intuition. So, all we can really do is point out how divine intuition must be propositional, or something of that sort. To clarify, testimony is not being considered here because it is propositional, though it is non-inferential. But, to move back to the main subject at hand, could we not say that all that is being considered — divine revelation, rational insight, direct percepts, seemings — is genuine? Could the theist not say that they had a divine revelation of the nature of divine revelations and that they are all genuine? No, as this would be a holistic picture, and it would definitely be propositional. Furthermore, in regards to seemings, a genuine seeming would not be a seeming at all, but a confirmation of what is actually the case; unless one took genuine seeming to mean that one knows they genuinely have a seeming. And, because we are not phenomenal conservatives, we can throw seemings out of the loop simply because they collapse into perception or intuition in the sense that there will never be a claim that is neither a priori nor a posteriori. Then again, this could be a misunderstanding of seemings. So, to even get around this mess we have entered into, we must add another requirement for something to have private justification.
Not only must something be non-inferential and non-propositional in order to have private justification, it must also be epistemically autonomous. I say this simply because of the fact that if, for example, a seeming is contingent, then “its content cannot offer, by itself, any intellectually accessible reason for thinking that it is true or likely to be true” (BonJour, In Defense of Pure Reason, p. 146). Obviously, BonJour is talking about propositional claims, but I think that it still applies, because if none of these latter methods (e.g., divine revelation, rational insight, direct perception, seemings) have assertive content then they put nothing forward, thus meaning nothing would be justified, even privately. So, in a certain sense, this is just a precondition, less for private justification, and more for being justified in general. But, it is still a precondition for private justification because if these methods aren’t autonomous, then they are dependent on something “beyond itself for its justification” (BonJour, In Defense of Pure Reason, p. 146). Divine intuition only seems to be able to be truth conducive to the theist because it is divine intuition. In this way, divine intuition is not atomistic but rather regulated by God. In this way, the theist’s intuition depends on something beyond itself for its justification: divine confirmation. This can obviously be questioned because the very statement of “I have a divine intuition of p” is public and the only reason this intuition is truth-conducive for the theist is that it, like said before, is divinely confirmed. Then again, could the theist not say they have a genuine divine intuition of p? I’m sure they could, but they would have to publicly justify this because divine intuition doesn’t meet the requirements for being able to be privately justified. Furthermore, the holistic rule could be explicated as “Intuition, i, is true, T(i), because of God’s confirmation, G, of i, which is to say, G(i)⊢T(i), for, if the intuition was not divinely confirmed, it would not be truth-conducive for the theist. Now, direct percepts and rational insights are not subject to this because they are atomistic and are not truth-conducive because they are a priori or a posteriori because we know that there are other a priori methods of justification that fail. Neither operates according to some propositionally representable rule that can be publicly explicated. Now, let’s say we just had a revelation or an intuition, without the qualifier of “divine,” would this not get around the whole issue? It certainly would because they would be atomistic, but considering that these insights, intuitions, and revelations are all a priori, for if it wasn’t a priori, then it would be a percept, then what is the difference between these and rational insight? There isn’t one. Hence, we are left with the final “debate”: empiricism v. rationalism. But wait! What about the idea of intellectual intuitions? And, what about semantic intuitions?
Lastly, let us deal with the implications of the genuine character of some rational insights. Why does their being genuine mean they are justified? If something is genuine as you said in your reply to Devitt, I’m taking you to mean truth-conducive. Is this understanding of genuineness not in a certain sense question-begging? By genuineness do we not just mean being justified and truth-conducive? Does it matter though? Not really. There doesn’t seem to be any reason this is question-begging and private justification can get around it.
I know what I have asked of you to consider and respond to is a tall order to say the very least, but I have one last thing to ask of you, and, of course, if you don’t want to reply to this email at all you don’t have to, though, if you did, that would be greatly appreciated. So, here is one of the last things I have to ask of you. Could you look at McGrew’s defense of analytic a priori intuitions against your “critique” of them found in In Defense of Pure Reason and McGrew’s “attack” against your notion of synthetic a priori intuitions both found within his work Internalism and Epistemology? And could you write your thoughts about both McGrew’s defense and attack? From what I understand, the two aren’t really differentiable in function, except McGrew’s is obviously more restrictive because it only allows for analytic principles to be intuited, whereas, with your concept of synthetic a priori intuitions, you can intuit both analytic and synthetic propositions (if I’m mistaken and your concept of synthetic a priori intuitions doesn’t actually allow for analytic propositions to be intuited then please do correct me). Hence, why I prefer your notion to his.
Finally, in your final response to Devitt, you say, “There is (obviously) no non-circular way to establish that such insights are genuine” (Contemporary Debates in Epistemology, p. 200). Do you still really think this is the case? Obviously, the private justification argument I have put forward gets around it, but I know that you mean public establishment in the quote. Do you really think there is no non-circular public justification for a rational insight’s genuineness?
Best regards and wishes,
Hi, I’m Erik. I’ve been involved with Evan in solving the logocentric predicament, and I am currently finding myself interested in creating a solution to the problem of alternatives as Evan has formulated it. I think I’ve been able to muster up a decent response, but I just wanted to run it by you to see if it works. A few weeks ago, I read the paper “A Defense of Categorical Reasons” by Russ-Shafer Landau. It essentially argued that S being blameworthy for x trivially implies some categorically normative reason for S to not do x, as S would not be blameworthy for x if there wasn’t a categorically normative reason against doing x (supposing that not doing x isn’t within S’s preferences). While reading this, I thought of the skeptical question concerning alternatives ( “Why can’t I be illogical?”), and I thought that a parity argument could provide the answer. So rather than saying:
“If S is blameworthy for doing x, then S has a reason to not do x,”
We would instead say:
“If S is epistemically blameworthy (from being illogical, irrational, etc.) for doing x, then S has a reason not to be committed to proposition x.”
This is through a deontological view of epistemic justification- epistemology, like morality, consists of a system of duties, obligations, merits, and demerits. Ergo, if we assert that S is irrational, then we have applied an epistemic demerit- illogicality- to them. Therefore, we are blaming S, thereby giving them a reason not to be irrational (which would be independent of their preferences). This renders the question, “Why can’t I be illogical?”, self-answering; it is conceptually true that the trait of being illogical implies a categorically normative reason not to do so. In addition, it is not necessarily a circular response, which is presupposing their commitment to logic. We are only analyzing the contents of the skeptic’s question and the concepts they invoke, without engaging in more presuppositions than they are.
A possible objection the skeptic could raise is “What if I’m an emotivist/error about epistemic rules?”, in which case we could argue that they are beginning to deny the normative presuppositions of their original claim.
Another objection I could think of is if the skeptic says “Aren’t you using logic to say that this is a conceptual truth?”, in which case we would say that we are dealing with semantics, meaning that the statement they expressed isn’t necessarily logical- it just happens to be.
I’m wondering if you think that this response is valid, and if not, if it can be improved.