Review: The Analytic Theist (Alvin Plantinga Reader)

Ed. James Sennett.  Eerdmans.

Unlike some anthologies, this isn’t simply a Plantinga chapter here and a long snippet there.  True, there are some reproduced chapters (see his legendary “Reason and Belief in God”) but other chapters in the book, while not necessarily giving new material, present it in a new format.  A few chapters take key passages from his notoriously difficult Nature of Necessity and present it without the modal logic, making for an easier read.

Plantinga
Thanks to Al Kimel for the picture

 

https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2015/07/09/alvin-plantinga-the-most-interesting-theologian-in-the-world/

The first section of the book explores his early and later approaches to natural theology, the ontological argument, and free will.  A word on the latter: more Reformed readers do not have to accept some of his conclusions in order to appreciate his analysis of Possible Worlds Semantics.  Per the ontological argument,

(22) It is possible that there is a greatest possible being.

(23) Therefore, there is a possible being that in some world W’ or other has a maximum degree of greatness.

(24) A being B has the maximum degree of greatness in a given possible world W only if B exists in every possible world.

(25) It is possible that there be a being that has maximal greatness.

(26) So there is a possible being in some world W that has maximal greatness.

This is an early form of his argument, especially since the modal operators are lacking.  But we can add the conclusion:

(27) It is possible that a necessary being exists.
(28) A necessary being exists.

Does the argument work?  It depends on whether you think S5 modal logic is true or not.  If it is true, the argument holds.

Reason and Belief in God

The issue:  must I satisfy some norm to hold Belief B?  If knowledge = justified, true belief, then what duty must I fulfil in order to have a rational belief? The modern answer to this question is seen in some form of foundationalism: what is a properly basic belief?:

(1) Self-evident or evident to the senses
(2) Incorrigible (for example, if I see a tree, I could be mistaken, but I am not mistaken that I think I see a tree)

(3) Which denial leads to a contradiction.

We will call (1)-(3) the Foundationalism Thesis (FT).

The problem with the above is that very few beliefs meet those criteria.  In fact, the thesis itself doesn’t meet the criteria. FT isn’t self-evident, it’s not incorrigible, and rejecting it doesn’t violate any laws of logic.  Even more striking, this seems to mean that the theist is warranted in believing in God even if he hasn’t bothered to meet the FT.  

The last section is a collection of encouraging chapters on how to do Christian philosophy in a secular guild.

Plantinga: Warrant, the Current Debate

And so begins Plantinga’s vaunted “Warrant Trilogy.” Reviewing this work presents some challenges for me. I read the books in reverse order (WCB, WPF, and finally WCD). Therefore, I have to resist the urge to fault Plantinga in WCD for leaving some points undeveloped when I know he developed them in WPF.

Plantinga begins his work by outlining what “internalism” entails. Internalism implies knowledge as “justification.” I am justified in knowing something if I have fulfilled my epistemic duty with regard to that knowledge. It is “internal” because it suggests special epistemic access.
Justification:
Connection between justification and knowledge
Connotes epistemic responsibility
Internal cognitive access
Match up with evidence

Internalism is often linked with classical or modern foundationalism. The ground of a belief’s justification is the same as the property by which I determine if I am justified in holding it (Plantinga 21).

Ordinary Foundationalism: The evidence of basis on which I form a belief is taken from other, logically prior beliefs. Beliefs that I do not accept on the basis of other beliefs are basic beliefs (68). A foundationalist will reject circular reasoning.

Another epistemological model is coherentism. Coherentism is not foundationalism. A coherentist will hold that belief B is properly basic for person S [iff] B coheres with the rest of S’s noetic structure. Coherentism is not concerned about the transmission of warrant but of its source (79).

Plantinga gives a number of reasons on why these internalist models fail. He then moves to externalist models.

EXTERNALISM

I do not have to have some internal access to truth-making functions. Plantinga lists Aristotle (de Anima and Posterior Analytics II) and Aquinas (ST 1 q. 84, 85) as externalists (183ff). Externalism is correct about warrant (if only as a denial of internalism). Most externalist models, however, do not (yet) offer strong enough systems.

What is “reliabilism” then?

1.1 Alstonian Justification

A person is justified in believing a proposition only if she believes it on the basis of a reliable indicator. But what is justification? A belief is justified if it is accepted on rational grounds accessible to the knower.

B. Questions about Alstonian Justification

B.1. Where does justification come from? Alston tries to distance himself from the received tradition which locates justification with deontological norms. Alston does not seem to think that justification (or warrant) is necessary for knowledge (“An Internalist Externalism,” Synthese 74 no. 3, p. 281).

B.2 Not sufficient for warrant. S’s belief that p is Alston-justified if it is accessible to S and is a reliable indicator of the truth of p. Plantinga points out that a number of beliefs could meet this condition but have no warrant (Plantinga 191). Something could be a reliable indicator of the truth but I could believe it on the basis of cognitive malfunction. A belief can be reliable by accident.

Evaluation:

Pro–Plantinga does a masterful job in what the title suggests: he summarizes the “current debate” concerning warrant and justification. In that he succeeds. Further, no matter how arcane or technical a discussion is, Plantinga always begins the chapter by reviewing what internalism, deontology, justification, and warrant mean at said point in the discussion.

Further, Plantinga’s discussion of key individuals can also serve as an entry-point for the reader to continue the study.

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Review: Reason, Metaphysics, Mind

This might be a series of essays in honor of Alvin Plantinga, but few of the essays have anything to do with Plantinga.  Some are extremely technical and it’s not always clear what is going on. Nevertheless, there are a few fine pieces. Zimmerman’s account of simple foreknowledge, Stump’s Thomistic view of the atonement, Peter Van Inwagen’s “Causation and the Mental,” and Wolterstorff’s fun “Then, Al, and Now.”

Reason, Metaphysics, and Mind by Kelly James Clark

Molinism starts off interestingly enough, but the discussion takes a strange turn over the

Plantingian middle knowledge: God knows what free creatures might do in circumstances that would never be actual (5).

  • Natural knowledge: knowledge God has by virtue of being God (think divine simplicity, where God’s mind is an ontological “=” sign to everything in God).
  • The Molinists accounts (Thomas Flint, rejoinder by Thomas Crisp) question whether we have counterfactual power over the past.  I’m just not sure how to approach that.
  • Free knowledge: God’s choices, like to create or not to create the world.

Stump contrasts the Anselmian account of the atonement with the Thomist one.  She says the Anselmian falters because his account, due to its objectivity, cannot address past shame. So what if Jesus died for my sins if others don’t want to associate with me?  Well, she doesn’t say it that crassly and to be fair, that might not even be her position. She might mean something like, “Yeah, the sin problem is taken care of but not the life part.”

In response, EJ Coffman points out that Christ’s work also deals with the effects of interpersonal shame. In any case, Stump’s account isn’t all that convincing.

Peter Van Inwagen: Causation and the Mental

  1. An object is concrete iff it can enter into causal relations and is abstract iff it cannot enter into causal relations (Van Inwagen 153).  PVI adjusts this to where concrete objects are substances and abstract objects are relations-in-intension.
  2. PVI is willing to say that causal relations exist, but not causality.  

The whole essay was kind of odd.  PVI did do a fine job surveying problems in phenomenology of mind (cf Jaegwon Kim).

Dean Zimmerman Simple Foreknowledge

Molinism: contingently true conditionals about what every possible individual will, or would freely do in each circumstance (175).  There are “conditionals of freedom” (CF)

Simple foreknowledge view: affirms libertarian foreknowledge yet rejects Molinism. The main difficulty with this is that God has no more control over the future than what one would find in Open Theism.

Difficulties the Libertarian (or LFW) faces:

* Zimmerman wants to affirm that God takes risks (177).

The most pressing difficulty with simple foreknowledge is what Zimmerman calls “The Metaphysical Principle:”

MP: It is impossible that a decision depend on a belief which depends on a future event which depends on the original decision (179).

He avoids this fallacy by comparing God to a “time traveler.”   I am not sure this really helps his argument.

Nicholas Wolterstorff gives a semi-autobiograpical account of his and Al’s grad-school years together.  But humor aside, Wolterstorff explains how analytic philosophy has developed in the 20th century, and how bold Plantinga’s project really was.

  • Logical positivism almost erased “real-talk” about God, yet Plantinga’s God and Other Minds threw down the gauntlet and cheerfully spoke about “justification for belief in God.”
  • David Lewis’s possible worlds semantics provided the groundwork for Plantinga’s Nature of Necessity.
  • And then, of course, Plantinga’s Warrant Trilogy.

 

The book is expensive and not every essay is equally good.

Internalism/Externalism notes

Some notes on internalism and externalism

I made a bad mistake and tried to discuss philosophy with some Christian Reconstructionists.  I couldn’t get them to move beyond sloganeering and cliches.   While this post will do nothing to help them, for those who want to grow and mature it should prove helpful.

Internalism in epistemology sees warrant as justification.

    • justification is necessary for warrant.
      • satisfaction of epistemic duty.
      • Descartes: epistemic deontologism.
  • formation of belief; hence, internal
  • involves a view of cognitive accessibility (36).
  • Proper Function
    My belief-forming apparatus must be free from cognitive malfunction (Plantinga 4).  They must be in their proper environment (hence, externalism?) .  However, functioning properly is not the same thing as functioning normally.  
    1. The environment in which my cognitive faculties are functioning must be similar to that for which they have been designed (11).
  1. The Design plan
    1. When our organs function properly, they function in a particular way (13).  Our faculties are highly responsive to circumstances.

Warrant: Objections and Refinements

  • Gettier:  knowledge cannot be just justified, true belief.  A fourth condition is necessary.  Internalist accounts of warrant are fundamentally wanting, thus the continuing epicycles added to the Gettier problem (32).
    • an externalist account of warrant would also take in the “epistemic credentials the proposition you believe has from the person whom you acquired it” (34).
    • credulity is valid when it operates under certain conditions:
  • Gettier’s problems show that even if internalism meets all of its conditions for knowledge, it can still fail to give knowledge.  If my internal cognitive faculties are working, and they arrive at a belief, there are still a number of counters- (ala Gettier) that show it can’t reach knowledge (36-37).  As Plantinga notes, “Justification is insufficient for warrant” (36).

Knowledge of the Design Plan

  • Knowledge of myself:  Any well formed human being who is in an epistemically congenial environment and whose intellectual faculties are in good working order will typically take for granted at least three things:  that she has existed for some time, that she has had many thoughts and feelings, and that she is not a thought or feeling(Plantinga 50).
  • This can malfunction, however.   The cognitive design plan also includes, especially as it relates to testimony, the cognitive situation of the testifiee (83).  If they are deluded et al, yet are telling me the truth, do I have warrant?  Maybe, maybe not.  Plantinga calls these semi-Gettier cases, since Gettier was only trying to show that justification is insufficient for knowledge.
    • Further, in the case of testimony, a testimony, particularly one in which knowledge of X is passed down, the last member of the testimony chain will only have warrant if the previous members do (84).
    • Therefore, if there is a cognitive malfunction early on in the chain, then the following links in the chain will be suspect.

Is TAG a Variety of Internalism

TAG is the transcendental argument for the existence of God.  It asks (among other things) “What are the preconditions of intelligibility?” In other words, in order for you to have knowledge, what must be true?  Here we need to clarify that last clause.  Is the presuppositionalist asking, “In order for you to have knowledge, what must you account for to be true”?  This would make the argument thus:  how can your worldview account for logic, science, and morality?

Knowledge as Justified, True Belief.

Without using all the religious-ese in the statement, it is another way of stating knowledge as “justified, true belief.”  This means that knowledge is I believe something to be true and am justified in that belief.  In other words, I have to give internalist (intellectualist) accounts for knowledge.  Greg Bahnsen clearly holds to this position.  He writes, “To put it traditionally, knowledge is justified, true belief” (Bahnsen 178).  He glosses justification as “sounds reasons (good evidence” for a belief.  At this point Bahnsen is in line with the traditional models of epistemology.

It seems, moreover, that the TAG-ist is asking the skeptic (or whomever; TAG works better on skeptics than it does on adherents of other theistic systems) to account for justifications (or preconditions) within his own worldview. Bahnsen writes, “The Christian claim…is justified because the knowledge of God is the context and prerequesite for knowing anything else whatsoever.  Furthermore, the unbeliever is asked to account for any “theoretical sense” of “any kind on the subject” (262).   It is here I suggest that Van Tillian presuppositionalism–at least in the extreme TAG variety–is a form of internalism.

Justification seeks the satisfaction of epistemic duty.  Applied to the Van Tillian case, the person must fulfill an epistemic duty in order to have true knowledge; namely, the duty is to “establish the preconditions of intelligibility.”  Further, since it involves the formation of a belief, it is internal (hence, internalism).  Internalism also involves a view of cognitive accessibility (Plantinga 36), but this isn’t relevant to the above discussion.

The Gettier Problem

Edmund Gettier suggested a number of scenarios that show where someone can know something yet not really have justification.  A fourth criterion is needed.  For example, I look at a field in the early morning fog and see what I think is a sheep.  As it happens, it wasn’t a sheep but a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Unbeknownst to me, there was indeed a sheep in the field behind the wolf.  Technically, I was correct.  I saw something in the field that I thought was a sheep.  It was true belief and I was justified in holding it, yet it wasn’t knowledge (Plantinga 32).  While this may not be the most powerful Gettier problem, the reader can consult here for more examples.

Externalism, by contrast, notes that many people have knowledge of situations s…z without being able to give ultimate justifications for their knowledge.  They would say, rather, with Thomas Reid and Alvin Plantinga, “ Any well formed human being who is in an epistemically congenial environment and whose intellectual faculties are in good working order will typically take for granted at least three things:  that she has existed for some time, that she has had many thoughts and feelings, and that she is not a thought or feeling” (Plantinga 50).

Conclusion

This paper does not try to show whether TAG is in fact false (I think it is).  Rather, that it rests upon improper foundations.  Furthermore, the challenge given by hard presuppositonalists (e.g., can you account for the preconditions of intelligibility? OR such-and-such thinker is in error because he did not challenge the unbeliever’s foundation) is itself a non-starter.  This paper, in conclusion, merely stated the view of externalism and did not seek to prove it to be true or false, as it is not used by TAG presuppositionalists.

Works Cited

Bahnsen, Greg. Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis

Plantinga, Alvin.  Warrant and Proper Function.

A Reidian Internalist?

Thomas Reid is seen as the predecessor to Alvin Plantinga.  The latter holds to a “warrant” view of epistemology:  I don’t have to justify endless justifications for foundational beliefs.  Plantinga draws heavily from Reid.

Yet here is a thought:  can one hold to an internalist epistemology (knowledge = justified, true belief) and incorporate many of Reid’s insights?  I think one certain can on issues like anthropology and the will.