Monday, April 20, 2009

Plantinga's Recent Critique of Materialism in Philosophy of Mind

When people think of Alvin Plantinga's work in the philosophy of religion, they typically think of his defense of the proper basicality of belief in God and his defenses of theism against the logical and evidential versions of the problem of evil. However, since about the early to mid 90s, he's gone on the offensive and offered several critiques of metaphysical naturalism.[1] His previous three arguments of this sort are:

(i) The argument from anti-realism, which we mentioned recently.

(ii) The evolutionary argument against naturalism (EAAN): very roughly, the argument is that if naturalism is true, then the probability that unguided evolution gave us reliable cognitive faculties is low or inscrutable. Therefore, embracing naturalism gives one a decisive basis for not trusting your own mind.

(iii) The argument from proper function: very roughly, the argument is that a belief is warranted -- i.e., it has that quality or quantity, enough of which turns true belief into knowledge -- if and only if it's produced by truth-aimed cognitive faculties that are functioning properly in a congenial epistemic environment. But this analysis of warrant contains an irreducible appeal to proper function. But a naturalist can't make sense of the notion of proper function, as proper function in an entity x presupposes an intelligent agent who created the design plan for x, and from which x can diverge and malfunction. Therefore, the existence of proper function is evidence for supernaturalism.

Recently, Plantinga constructed a fourth argument of this sort. This one is aimed at refuting materialism in the field of the philosophy of mind. His current exposition of the argument can be found in his paper, "Against Materialism", Faith and Philosophy, 23:1 (January 2006), 3-32.

An interesting and powerful criticism of Plantinga's argument comes from his Notre Dame colleague and fellow Christian philosopher, Peter van Inwagen. Van Inwagen's critique is linked to there -- the paper with the title, "Plantinga's Replacement Argument".

[1]The exception is the paper, mentioned in what follows above, on anti-realism, which is much older. On another note, I should say that I don't mean to imply that Plantinga has given no other arguments for theism or against naturalism. See, for example, his "Two Dozen (or So) Theistic Arguments".


Sabio said...

If you were going to recommend one or two books both about and by Plantinga for someone naive to his philosophy, where would you recommend we begin?
("Onegaishimasu" - Japanese for "Thank you for this favor ahead of time)

exapologist said...

Hi Sabio,

Are you primarily interested in his Reformed Epistemology stuff? If so, then perhaps the best point of entry is a selection from one of his early papers on this topic, such as can be found (for example) in this collection.

You might also want to read it along side an enyclopedia entry, such as Kelly James Clark's, here.



Sabio said...

Thank you kindly !

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