Comments on Rational Insight
All those other methods of non-inferential justification never actually propose a reason for belief, other than the method of rational insight. Meta-justificatory regress begins when one has to demonstrate why, for example, direct acquaintance provides a reason for belief, i.e., justification. Not only does the issue of meta-regress loom, but the issue of circularity arises because I must either employ another non-inferential method for my justification or the one at hand in which circularity arises. How does rational insight escape this? I propose that if we follow BonJour’s account we will find our answer.
Firstly, rational insight is “epistemically autonomous,” i.e., “dependent on nothing beyond itself for its justification” because of the very fact it is, by definition, a (pure) reason for belief” (BonJour, In Defense of Pure Reason, p. 146). There is no circularity here because we are not saying that it offers itself justification because of the fact it itself is justified, or automatically justifying, but simply because it is itself a reason for belief, therefore meaning there is no need to describe why it confers justification, unlike the other methods. BonJour elaborates on this, describing rational insights as having an “atomistic character” because of the fact that “each individual instance of a priori justification depends only on the specific insight that is relevant to it, so that there is simply no need (and no use) for a general rule yielding a priori insights’” (BonJour, Contemporary Debates in Epistemology, p. 200).
Secondly, rational insight is “non-propositional in character,” for it is “a direct grasping of the way in which the conclusion is related to the premises and validly flows from them” (BonJour, Contemporary Debates in Epistemology, p. 179). This means that the reasons cannot be questioned in a certain sense. If I ask “Why?” what am I asking that to in regards to rational insight? Certainly not a proposition. BonJour elaborates that “the most basic sort of insight involved [in getting past the Carroll argument] is not and cannot be propositional in form. Instead, what I apprehend or grasp is the way in which the conclusion is validly related to the premises, how it validly flows from them, with the propositional insight that such a relation obtains being secondary and derivative at best” (BonJour, “Replies,” p. 677). To help us better understand what he is putting forward BonJour gives us an example. He says, “Consider the one involved in the color incompatibility case. What is most fundamentally grasped or apprehended there, I would now suggest, is the actual relation of incompatibility between the two colors, the way in which the presence of one excludes the presence of the other, with the propositional awareness that this is so, that nothing can be red and green all over at the same time, being again secondary and derivative” (BonJour, “Replies,” p. 677). So, the aforementioned rational insight is non-propositional in that it is an apprehension of the relation between the two relata and their incompatibility and not the proposition that they are incompatible, though this a derivative and thus secondary to the primary and non-propositional form that rational insight takes.
One thing I genuinely have had a genuine rational insight of is the validity of modus ponens. That the entitlement to go from p to q is garnered from p → q could not be wrong. The jump is literally accepted by the first premise of p → q. To accept the first premise of modus ponens is to accept that one has justification for concluding q from p, but to then not accept the second premise and the conclusion is that “unknown madness” Frege speaks of (Frege, Basic Laws of Arithmetic, pp. 11–12). It is literally presupposing that you are justified in making the inference and then saying you are not justified in making the inference. I’m just ranting now, but that one genuinely could not see why modus ponens is the case by way of rational insight is less indicative of the fallibility of rational insight and more indicative of the mental state of the person unable to have a genuine rational insight into the validity of modus ponens.