Review of Liberal Faith: Essays in Honor of Phillip Quinn

Ted Poston (University of South Alabama) reviews the book for NDPR, here.

Good ol' Phillip Quinn. He was a truly honest Christian. If only more Christians read him. It's still instructive to read his hard-hitting (and in my view, successful) critiques of Plantinga's earlier, internalist version of reformed epistemology in his exchanges with Plantinga in the mid-80s and early 90s.[1] Indeed, many of his criticisms apply to Plantinga's current, externalist stuff. I've always found it curious that the Plantinga-Quinn exchanges aren't more widely anthologized. Strange.

[1] Quinn, "In Search of the Foundations of Theism", Faith and Philosophy 4:2 (October, 1985), pp. 469-486; Plantinga, "The Foundations of Theism: A Reply", Faith and Philosophy 3:3 (July, 1986), pp. 298-313; "The Foundations of Theism Again: A Rejoinder to Plantinga", in Zagzebski, Linda (ed.), Rational Faith: Catholic Responses to Reformed Epistemology (University of Notre Dame Press, 1993), pp. 14-47.

Degrees of Belief, Degrees of Warrant, and Plantinga's Proper Functionalism

*Rough draft*

We're all familiar with Plantinga's account of warrant. As he summarizes it:

"Put in a nutshell, then, a belief has warrant for a person S only if that belief is produced by cognitive faculties functioning properly (subject to no dysfunction) in a cognitive environment that is appropriate for S's kind of cognitive faculties, according to a design plan that is successfully aimed at truth." (Warranted Christian Belief, p. 156)

However, it bears emphasizing that this isn't the whole story about his account. For of course warrant is not the same thing as knowledge for Plantinga; rather, warrant is "that quality or quantity, enough of which turns true belief into knowledge."

Relatedly, Plantinga's account ties degrees of warrant to degrees of firmness of belief:

"We must add, furthermore, that when a belief meets these conditions and does enjoy warrant, the degree of warrant it enjoys depends on the strength of the belief, the firmness with which S holds it." (Ibid.).

But of course there is a fairly wide spectrum of degrees of belief. Putting these points together, we see that on Plantinga's account, a given belief can meet all the conditions of his account of warrant, and yet have nowhere near the degree of warrant required to "turn true belief into knowledge".

Now here's the rub: even if it should turn out that Plantinga's account of warranted Christian belief is correct, and even if Christian belief typically satisfies Plantinga's conditions of warrant, such belief may yet have nowhere near enough warrant to constitute knowledge.

To illustrate:
Billy Joe is reading 2 Corinthians 5:19 (with a humble and contrite heart, say, for good measure), where the author says that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself. In this situation, Billy Joe forms the belief that

P. God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.

Furthermore, P is produced in Billy Joe by properly functioning, (successfully) truth-aimed cognitive faculties, and in an epistemically congenial environment for forming beliefs of this sort. Unfortunately, though, Billy Joe's belief is of the "I do believe; help thou mine unbelief" sort, i.e., relatively weak, wavering, and fragile.

Thus, although Billy Joe's belief enjoys a smidgin' of warrant, it's nowhere near enough to constitute knowledge. And one worry is that most Christians believe with a degree of firmness that more closely approximates Billy Joe's than that of Plantinga's ideal believer.

(I should note that this point about Plantinga's account of warranted belief is not a new one; in fact, many Christian philosophers have made it. Examples include (the late) Phillip Quinn, James Sennett, Michael Sudduth, Keith DeRose, Andrew Chignell, James K. Beilby, Sandra Menssen and Thomas D. Sullivan.)

John Turri's Critique of Alston's Perceiving God

John Turri (Huron University College) critiques William Alston's argument for experience-based theistic belief in "Practical and Epistemic Justification in Alston’s Perceiving God", Faith and Philosophy 25:3 (July 2008). The paper can be found here.

Mazzy Star - I'm Gonna Bake My Biscuit

Politics and Economics Post

As you read widely in your aim to be an informed and rational voter, may I recommend that you include Elizabeth Anderson's important work in your reading list? Elizabeth Anderson is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and John Rawls Collegiate Professor of Philosophy and Women's Studies at the University of Michigan, and her work in social and political philosophy, and in philosophy of economics, is of the highest caliber. See especially her book, Value in Ethics and Economics (Harvard University Press, 1993). But much of her published work is available here on her department website.

However, in light of the pervasiveness of a set of dubious arguments and assumptions about free markets and the role of government, you might want to start with this excellent series of posts she wrote several years ago at Left2Right.

Apologies for the interruption. And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming...

On Deane-Peter Baker's Alvin Plantinga (Again)

I just finished reading Deane-Peter Baker's edited volume, Alvin Plantinga (Cambridge UP, 2007). Verdict: Yeah, you're really going to want to read it. Each chapter exemplifies the following four features: (i) it is written by a philosopher who is a leader in their AOS; (ii) they have a command of the relevant aspect of Plantinga's philosophical corpus; (iii) that aspect falls within one of their own AOSs. Furthermore, each author provides an illuminating overview of that aspect of Plantinga's work, as well as penetrating criticisms of it.

What a treat! Made me feel like a kid in a candy store.

Krugman to House Democrats


Intrinsic Possibilities, Extrinsic Possibilities, and Possible Worlds Analyses of Modality

On a possible-worlds analysis of possibility, for some x to be possible is for x to exist at at least one possible world. From this, it follows that x is impossible just in case there is no possible world at which x exists.

Here's my worry: such an account is too coarse-grained to distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic impossibilities; in particular, it's too coarse-grained to handle putative cases of entities that are intrinsically possible, yet extrinsically impossible. Thus, consider the following thought experiment:

Goody and Baddy
Consider two beings, Goody and Baddy. Goody is an Anselmian being, and Baddy is an inherently malevolent being who gets his kicks by torturing all other creatures that happen to exist. However, in virtue of his essential goodness, Goody is inherently such that he prevents the existence of Baddy in any world in which Goody exists. Thus, since Goody is an inherent Baddy-blocker, and since Goody exists in all possible worlds, there is no world at which Baddy exists.

If Goody blocks Baddy's existence at every world, then Baddy's impossibility is due to factors extrinsic to it. By contrast, consider a round square, RS. Like Baddy, RS exists at no possible world. However, unlike Baddy, RS fails to exist at any world in virtue of its own nature.

So a worlds analysis of possibility appears to be too coarse-grained to handle cases of entities that are intrinsically possible, yet extrinsically impossible; therefore, I worry that a straight possible-worlds analysis fails to capture the essence of possibility.

David O'Connor's Philosophy of Religion Primer

David O'Connor (Seton Hall) has a new(ish) introductory text out on philosophy of religion: God, Evil, and Design.

I was intrigued by this description of the book's approach:

Starting out with no pre-disposition to theism, atheism, or agnosticism, God, Evil, and Design takes up these questions in order to see where an impartial investigation leads. To achieve impartiality, the reader is invited to simulate ignorance insofar as his or her own religious preference is concerned. With this approach, God, Evil, and Design provides both a fresh look at important and controversial issues in philosophy and an excellent introduction to the contemporary debates surrounding them. Lively and non-technical, this book will be accessible to anyone with an interest in these topics.

And while blurbs should of course be taken with very many grains of salt, I was again intrigued by this portion of the blurb from my favorite philosopher of religion:

"For those tired of theistic or atheistic apologetics masquerading as philosophy of religion, this book is highly recommended.”
-Paul Draper, Purdue University

I'm thinking of ordering a copy to use as a secondary text for introductory philosophy of religion courses. Has anyone used it in their classes? Or at least: has anyone read it? If so, I'd by happy to hear your comments!

Btw: O'Connor's Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Hume on Religion is a very helpful companion volume for Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, both inside the class and out.

Graham Oppy's Recent Paper on Cosmological Arguments

Graham Oppy's recent paper, "Cosmological Arguments" (Nous 43:1 (2009), pp. 31-48) can be found here.

Spinoza on BBC

Hi gang,

Beginning today (Monday), BBC3 radio is doing a five-part series on Spinoza. Here is the link for listening online.


The series is relevant to our recent discussions of more "liberal" versions of naturalism, as Spinoza was of course a Liberal Naturalist.

Sea lions use flippers as an excuse

Sea lions use flippers as an excuse

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Morriston's Latest Presentation on Divinely-Mandated Genocide in the Old Testament

Here. The paper includes (to my mind) compelling rejoinders to the sorts of replies found in the recent issue of Philosophia Christi that focused on this topic, as well as the recent conference at Notre Dame that focused on it.

I think this issue constitutes the most troublesome version of the problem of evil for orthodox Christian theism, and precisely for the reasons Morriston discusses here: not only does the OT have Yahweh allow these horrendous evils to occur, but:

(i) he explicitly commands them.
(ii) he explicitly states his reasons for doing so.
(iii) the reasons he gives are bad.

As Morriston brings out to great effect at the end of his paper, the Skeptical Theist response is especially implausible for cases of this sort.

Great New Podcast

Andrew Cullison has a cool new podcast over at his blog, Wide Scope. Here's his description of it:

I’ve started a philosophy podcast that will be incorporated into my regular blogging. Right now I’m keeping it simple. I’m just going to highlight journal articles that have recently come out that look interesting to me based on their titles and abstracts. The purpose is to give philosophers a way to get easily (and rather passively) stay informed about what new stuff is out there in situations where reading/browsing the internet isn’t convenient.

If you’re a subscriber to the main feed, new episodes will show up as blog posts in the regular feed. You’ll be able to go to the post and listen to the episode from the blog post. You’ll also be able to manually download an mp3 of the episode.

The podcast also has its own separate feed for people who track podcasts separately with their MP3 players (e.g. with their Android phones or Iphones).

Of particular interest to readers of this blog: Cullison sometimes highlights recent articles in philosophy of religion, and links to the articles he discusses.

By the way: I found out about the podcast via Sympoze, another helpful online tool for philosophers.

What God Would Have Known... the title of J.L. Schellenberg's forthcoming book , which offers a large number of novel arguments against Christian theism. I...