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Showing posts from February, 2010

Intrinsic Defeaters and the Plantinga-Quinn Debate

I've worked up some notes on a strand of the debate between Alvin Plantinga and Phillip Quinn in the 80s and 90s. My aim is to get clearer on their discussion of Plantinga's notion of an intrinsic defeater. As such, I focus on that strand of their exchanges, and not so much on their exchanges on modern and classical foundationalism.

Plantinga[1]: Belief in God is properly basic, i.e., it's rational or justified or warranted wholly apart from supporting arguments. For there is parity between universally accepted properly basic beliefs (e.g., perceptual beliefs and memory beliefs) on the one hand, and basic theistic beliefs on the other. Both sorts of beliefs are naturally and spontaneously "triggered" in a wide variety of circumstances. So, for example, one will naturally and spontaneously form the following beliefs under certain familiar circumstances:

-I see a tree. (upon having a perceptual experience as of a tree)
-I had breakfast this morning. (upon trying to re…

Beilby on the Variability-of-Belief Problem for Plantinga's Reformed Epistemology

In his paper, "Plantinga's Model of Warranted Christian Belief"[1}, Christian philosopher James K. Beilby raises an interesting and powerful criticism of Plantinga's latest and most mature version of his Reformed epistemology. First, though, some review and stage-setting:

According to Plantinga's account, a belief must satisfy four conditions if it is to have at least some measure of warrant:
(i) The belief must be produced by properly functioning cognitive faculties.
(ii) The relevant cognitive faculties must be successfully aimed at truth.
(iii) The belief must be produced in an epistemically congenial maxi-environment and mini-environment
(iv) The belief is subject to no undefeated defeaters (i.e., reasons against the belief that have yet to be undercut or rebutted).[2]

So that's what's required for a belief to have any warrant at all. But Plantinga allows that warrant admits of degrees, and he ties the degree of warrant a belief enjoys to the degree of fir…

A Neglected Version of the Great Pumpkin Objection

Here's an argument I'm toying with. (Very rough and partial draft. Comments welcome!)

There's an interesting version of the Son of Great Pumpkin Objection to Plantinga's reformed epistemology that has been raised in passing by Christians (William Lane Craig) and atheists (Keith Parsons) alike. However, so far as I've been able to tell, no philosopher develops the criticism in detail. Here's a first pass at a more explicit statement of the argument.

Setup: Plantinga follows Roderick Chisholm in using a particularlist, inductive method of generating criteria of proper basicality. As Plantinga puts it:

"We must assemble examples of beliefs and conditions such that the former are obviously properly basic in the latter, and examples of beliefs and conditions such that the former are obviously not properly basic in the latter. We must then frame hypotheses as to the necessary and sufficient conditions of proper basicality and test these hypotheses by reference to …

Thomas Crisp's Refutation of Contemporary Historical Apologetics

I'd like to call attention to Thomas Crisp's[1] recent paper, “On Believing that the Bible is Divinely Inspired”, in Analytic Theology: New Essays in Theological Method (Oxford University Press, 2009). In the paper, Crisp offers his own account of how such belief can be rational. But what I found most interesting about his paper was the rigorous and apparently fatal critiques of the prominent contemporary models for rational belief in biblical reliability and inspiration: those of Richard Swinburne, Alvin Plantinga, and Timothy McGrew. Required reading for those interested in historical apologetics.

[1] Thomas Crisp is one of the brightest young stars in the constellation of contemporary Christian philosophers, and is very highly regarded in the broader philosophical community. He did his M.A. in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics at Biola University, studying under J.P. Moreland. While there, he was generally regarded as the best Philosophy student they ever h…

Alvin Plantinga is Retiring

Alvin Plantinga (Notre Dame), the greatest living Christian philosopher of religion, is retiring. Despite my disagreements with his views, he is one of my favorite philosophers of religion. His work is of the highest caliber, and his style is a model of clarity and rigor. I have learned more from his work than I can say.

On a happier note, a conference is scheduled in celebration of his retirement. Details about the conference can be found here.

P.S., Plantinga's latest reply to criticisms of his evolutionary argument against naturalism ("Content and Natural Selection", Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (forthcoming)) is now available at his department website. Here is the link.

plantinga's proper functionalism

In a previous post, I emphasized the fact that on Plantinga's account of warranted belief, the degree of warrant a given belief enjoys depends on the degree of firmness with which one holds it. Thus, Plantinga's view entails the following two (roughly stated) theses:

I. Conditions of warrant are met + high degree of firmness = high degree of warrant.
II. Conditions of warrant are met + low degree of firmness = low degree of warrant.

Now Plantinga characterizes his account of warrant as externalist. But while thesis (I) is in accordance with his externalism (e.g., one can be warranted in firmly believing that Christianity is true if it meets all of Plantinga's proper functionalist conditions of warrant, even if one cannot know that (say) the faculty responsible for that belief is successfully aimed at truth), it appears that thesis (II) is not. For one can, at least sometimes, be aware by armchair reflection alone that one does not have a sufficiently firm belief that Chris…