Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Problem for Plantinga's Proper Functionalism

The Argument: If theism is true, then, probably, none of our beliefs have warrant. But surely many of our beliefs do have warrant; therefore, probably, theism is false.

The Argument Expanded: If theism is true, then Plantinga's account of warrant is probably correct. Now, roughly, Plantinga analyzes warrant in terms of beliefs formed by properly functioning, (successfully) truth-aimed cognitive faculties in congenial epistemic environments. However, he rejects naturalistic accounts of function, instead requiring essential appeal to intentional design in any adequate account of function.[1] However, he also thinks God is a person with cognitive faculties, and that his faculties weren't designed. Therefore, on his own account, they lack functions, in which case, a fortiori, they can't function properly. But if not, then on his own account, God's beliefs lack warrant. But if God's beliefs lack warrant, then it's hard to make intelligible the notion of God as a competent designer of our cognitive faculties. Therefore, if theism is true, then our beliefs probably don't have warrant. But surely many of our beliefs do have warrant. Therefore, probably, theism is false.


UPDATE: I recently read an article in which (Christiian philosopher) R. Douglass Geivett and Greg Jesson raise roughly the same criticism against Plantinga's account of warrant. See their "Plantinga's Externalism and the Terminus of Warrant-Based Epistemology", Philosophia Christi 3:2, pp. 329-340.
==========================================================
[1] Plantinga argues for this claim in ch. 11 of Warrant and Proper Function (Oxford University Press, 1993). A more recent, explicit statement from Plantinga that proper function entails intelligent design, see Plantinga and Tooley, Knowledge of God: ". . . this notion, the notion of proper function, essentially involves the aims and intentions of one or more conscious and intelligent designers" (p. 29).  For a critique of Plantinga's claim here, see, e.g., Wunder, Tyler. "Anti-Naturalism and Proper Function", Religious Studies 44 (2008), pp. 209-224; and Bardon, Adrian. "Reliabilism, Proper Function, and Serendipitous Malfunction", Philosophical Investigations 30:1 (2007), pp. 45-64. (Btw, Bardon offers a nice revised version of Bigelow and Pargetter's naturalistic analysis of functions in the latter paper.)

6 comments:

Luke said...

Philosophical theism is Looney Tunes.

Chad said...

1. Design is not a necessary condition for Plantinga’s notion of warrant. See Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function (Oxford University Press, 1993), Ch. 11. Warranted Christian Belief, p. 154.

2. I don't see why it would be a problem to think of God's cognitive faculties as necessarily functioning properly. If they weren’t designed, but necessarily exist, why not think of them as a template of sorts for proper functioning faculties that are designed?

3. If the above doesn’t work, all you need is something like Alston’s view, where God’s knowledge is not propositional.

I would stick to “kidding.” :)

Really interesting argument, though.

exapologist said...

Hi Chad,

Thanks for your thoughtful reply!

Re: 1: Looking at your reference in WCB>, it doesn't look to support your claim. There, Plantinga doesn't deny that it's a necessary condition of a thing having a function or having the capacity of proper function that it have a design plan. Rather his language ( "...I am not supposing, initially, at least..."; ".. it is perhaps possible..." emphases mine) only commits him, at most, to the epistemic possibility of a non-intentionally designed entity capable of having a function, and of functioning properly. But of course, that's compatible with the metaphysical impossibility of such a thing. And it's a good thing, too. For otherwise he'd be contradicting (or retracting?) ch. 11 of WPF. ;-)

Re: 2: I guess the problem is that in ch. 11 of WPF, he argued for a necessary connection from proper function to intentional design. But if the connection is necessary, then there is no possible entity that functions properly and is yet not intentionally designed.

Re: 3: I guess I'm not seeing how a switch to construing God's beliefs as non-propositional will help. The problem is at the level of God's faculty of intellect, not at the level of entities entertained by that intellect.

Scott said...

That is a funny nice objection. Maybe you should send it to a journal. How do you think Plantinga could respond?

exapologist said...

Hi Scott,

Thanks! I'm not sure what he'd say in reply. I suppose he could restrict his claim about the connection between function and intentional design, so that, say, only created things need designers, but then we'd need a principled basis for the qualification to fend off worries that the qualification is ad hoc. In any case, such a solution would raise problems for his argument from proper function to theism in ch. 11 of WPF.

Alternatively, he might leave the claim unqualified, but deny that God has cognitive faculties in any literal sense, or that they don't function or function properly in any literal sense. Instead, God has cognitive faculties in a merely analogical sense: God is or has something that is kind of, somewhat like what we call 'cognitive faculties', and these do something kind of, somewhat like what we call 'functioning properly'.

Of course, the challenge would then be to spell this out in a way that's both coherent and in keeping with orthodox theism. Suppose this can be done. The problem then is that once we allow mere remote analogues of the human mind to be undesigned producers of properly functioning things, it's hard to give a principled basis for ruling out the possibility of undesigned natural objects and processes that are likewise remote analogues of the human mind (say, trial-end-error processes), which in turn give rise to things that are capable of proper function. (Hume makes similar points in Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion).

exapologist said...

For a more recent, explicit statement from Plantinga that proper function entails intelligent design, see Plantinga and Tooley, Knowledge of God: ". . . this notion, the notion of proper function, essentially involves the aims and intentions of one or more conscious and intelligent designers" (p. 29).

Site Meter