Alvin Plantinga Abstract In this book and in its companion volumes, Warrant: The Current Debate and Warranted Christian Belief, I examine the nature of epistemic warrant, that quantity enough of which distinguishes knowledge from mere true belief. In Warrant: The Current Debate, the first volume in this series, I considered some of the main contemporary views of warrant. In this book, the second in the series, I present my own account of warrant, arguing that the best way to construe warrant is in terms of proper function. In my view, a belief has warrant for a person if it is produced by her cognitive faculties funct
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Review: Warrant and Proper Function by Alvin Plantinga In Warrant: The CurrentDebate , Alvin Plantinga examined various proposed accounts of warrant that which turns true belief into knowledge and found them all wanting. The most pervasive failing, as he saw it, was that the various accounts failed to incorporate a notion of proper function henceforth PF.
He argues that the concept of PF seems bound up with other, interdefinable notions: design, damage, purpose, normativity, and the like. PF is applies to obviously designed artifacts like cars or computers but is a concept also employed in the biological and physical sciences. But PF is not enough for warrant. If not, then a cognitive module might be functioning properly and thus satisfying one of the constraints of this model of warrant but not be aimed at true beliefs and thus violate another constraint of this model.
If untrue, they are not knowledge and—by definition—cannot be warranted. Plantinga also argues that Gettier problems are much more of a difficulty for internalist models of warrant, because they fail by definition to take into account external factors i. Because his view of warrant is an externalist one, he judges it robust in the face of Gettier problems. He also spends some time talking about how proper function may have to take place in terms of satisfying multiple constraints within a complex cognitive system.
For example, certain visual illusions demonstrate errors on the part of our vision module. On the whole, however, our visual systems function quite well. This, Plantinga thinks, may be because of other goals God had in mind—for example, creating embodied moral agents.
He ends the chapter by discussing defeaters and overriders. Say you read somewhere that the University of Aberdeen was founded in You later encounter a historian at a cocktail party who tells you that publication contained a misprint: the university was founded in The historian has provided you with a defeater for your earlier belief: a rebutting defeater, a reason to reject the earlier belief. There are also undercutting defeaters. Say you are watching widgets being assembled, and they look red to you.
You are later told that, in fact, the whole room is irradiated in red light and would have looked red whether or not they were in fact red. In a sense, you have a reason to be agnostic about the color of the widgets. Defeaters seem to be aimed at the preservation of true beliefs.
Overriders see footnote 3 may not be. That is, his various constraints proper function, appropriate or congenial environment, etc. I shall mention and emphasize those features of these modules that illustrate and elucidate the account of warrant I think correct, and those features of these modules about which it has something special to say.
He thinks that such skeptical theories boil down to a question about whether the beliefs are true, and demonstrates that as long as the various constraints of his model of warrant are satisfied, our believing such is warranted. In discussing memory. Plantinga emphasizes that accepting or rejecting a memory as correct or incorrect is hard to describe in terms of sensuous imagery. It is not, for most of us, as if there is a visual picture we can recall in detail and determine whether or not the accompanying memory is correct.
Again, if our memory faculties meet the demands of his model of warrant, then our memory beliefs are also warranted. He also notes that our memory beliefs are basic: that is, they are believed not on the basis of other beliefs. It is unlikely that we trust our memory on any other basis such as inference to the best explanation for the simple reason that any such argument would be so complex that we would have to rely on memory recalling that it was I who wrote down the earlier steps to the argument and so forth.
That is, how do we justify our beliefs that there are other persons and not just convincing robots, or figments of our own imagination ala solipsism? He examines and rebuts the claims that we believe in other minds on the basis of a analogical arguments b scientific theories and c Wittgensteinian criteria. From the present perspective on the nature of warrant the answer is just simplicity itself.
The answer, first, is that a human being whose appropriate cognitive faculties are functioning properly and who is aware of B will find herself making the S ascription in the absence of defeaters. So if the part of the design plan governing these processes is successfully aimed at truth, then ascriptions of mental states to others will often have high warrant for us; if they are also true, they will constitute knowledge.
Obviously, we can gain defeaters for testimony: direct counterevidence from our own experience, knowledge that the person who is testifying is a pathological liar, etc. The most important point here, however see footnote 1 is that the warrant we have for any belief gained by testimony is only by warrant transfer. In Chapter 5, Plantinga discusses perception. He notes that, as with memory, perceptual beliefs are often basic—that is, non-inferred.
In Chapter 6, Plantinga discusses a priori knowledge the ability to see the truths of propositions or mathematics and how his theory of warrant can account for them. If the conditions of his model of warrant are met, then so too will a priori beliefs be warranted and, if true, constitute knowledge. The old problem of induction derives from David Hume, who notes that induction the belief that the future will resemble the past is something that is hard to justify on independent grounds.
Thus, on one hand, Hume was depressed that he could not justify continuing to believe in induction. On the other hand, he saw that belief in induction was what made science possible. Plantinga proposes that this problem can be resolved by asking the following question: What would a properly functioning individual do in these circumstances?
His model of warrant, he thinks, supplies the answer: that a properly functioning person will continue to believe in induction. In Chapters 8 and 9, Plantinga examines the notion of epistemic conditional probability: that is, what is the likelihood that A will occur, given that B is true? Right off the bat, Plantinga notes that this concept is a bit tricky as it involves two different notions of probability.
There is the objective probability: that is, if we had objective statistical evidence at hand, what probabilities would we assign? There is also what we might call subjective or epistemic probability: as humans we seldom have the relevant objective probabilities at hand.
Still, we want to say that there is a range of values perhaps between 0. Again, Plantinga thinks that the answer is given by what a properly functioning human being would do in those circumstances. In Chapter 10, Plantinga considers coherence and several varities of foundationalism classical, Reidian, and evidentialist. In discussing coherence and classical foundationalism, he is basically retreading material from Warrant: The Current Debate, so I eschew lengthy detailing of it here.
He refers back to the case of the Epistemically Inflexible Climber from WCD to demonstrate that coherence cannot be the sole criterion for warrant, and dismisses classical foundationalism as both too narrow too much of what we know does not meet the standards of classical foundationalism and worse, classical foundationalism appears to be self-referentially incoherent.
More interesting is his defense of what he terms Reidian after Thomas Reid foundationalism. First, contrary to classical foundationalism he has already argued see the earlier discussions of perception, memory, etc. They will agree that if I am appeared to in a certain familiar way, I will be warranted in the belief that I see a tiger lily; if instead I am watching football on television but through some odd chance form this belief, it will have little or nothing by the way of warrant for me.
The difference between the two positions comes into view when we ask how the experience in question must be related to the belief in question, if the latter is to have warrant. Reid and Plantinga dispute all three conditions, most centrally 3. So on this view, proper basicality is a source of warrant. Plantinga rounds out Chaper 10 by noting the connections between classical foundationalism and evidentialism. The Reidian will agree that beliefs, when properly formed, are formed on the basis of evidence.
But the Reidian construal of evidence is broader than just propositional evidence. In the tiger lily example above, we have the evidence of the senses.
Plantinga then proceeds to point out that the narrower construal of evidence employed by the classical foundationalist and the evidentialist will preclude many different kinds of knowledge. In fact, propositional evidence and sensual evidence e. Recall the examples of memory and a priori knowledge. Neither seem to be accompanied by propositions or sensuous imagery.
And yet they are central to all human epistemic endeavors including science: now what did the earlier investigation find? But this, once again, presupposes the idea of proper function. A person may be irrationally convinced that the rest of us are out to do him in, even though…he has no evidence at all for this paranoid belief; nor would we suppose we were wrong in thinking he had no evidence if it were pointed out that in fact he has a strong inclination to accept the proposition in question.
But this just reflects our belief that in the case of believing this sort of proposition if this inclination to believe is all you have by way of evidence, then your belief is irrational and evidences pathology. It does not follow that this kind of evidence is not really evidence. And if we do take it to be evidence, then no doubt it will be true that in a well-formed noetic structure, belief is always on the side of evidence.
Indeed, how could it be otherwise? Could it really be that you should believe a proposition, even though it had none of this phenomenal attractiveness, this seeming-to-be-true—even if, that is, there was no felt or feelable inclination to believe it on your part? So the evidentialist is right; where there is warrant, there is evidence. Having this evidence, however, or having this evidence and forming belief on the basis of it, is not sufficient for warrant: proper function is also required.
And given proper function, we also have evidence: impulsional evidence, to be sure, but also whatever sort is required, in the situation at hand, by the design plan; and that will be the evidence that confers warrant.
Thus any proposed method of knowing which also exhibits these characteristics cannot be rejected out of hand on those grounds alone, unless one is willing to toss memory and arguably a priori knowledge on the trash heap.
In Chapters 11 and 12, Plantinga offers two arguments against naturalism. In Chapter 11, he offers an argument for the falsity of naturalism thus, he proposes a rebutting defeater for naturalism.
In Chapter 12, he proposes that there is an incompatibility between believing that 1 our cognitive faculties are reliable that is, produce preponderantly true beliefs , henceforth symbolized by R, and 2 that naturalism and evolution both obtain. Thus, the EAAN offers an undercutting defeater for naturalism. Put more intelligibly, in defense of 6 Plantinga examines various ways in which our beliefs and behaviors might be related. This was a genuinely enjoyable book to read.
Throughout, I felt like Plantinga was enjoying expositing as much as I was writing. And somehow although perhaps this too presupposes the sensus divinitatis I felt that, while enjoying the complex artistry of our cognitive systems, he was also enjoying what it said about the Artist of those systems. Any Christian who has not read this series of books should do so—now. He is especially interested in epistemology and natural theology. Part of what it means to be properly functioning, in other words, is for there to be a tendency to believe more firmly those propositions for which one has more warrant.
A patient is told that he is terminally ill and has months to live. If he went on the basis of a cognitive module which is designed to generate true beliefs, he would be skeptical about his chances of survival. But the proper function of the optimistic overrider henceforth OO is something different: to preserve happiness, perhaps.
There is also a connection with the Freudian complaint against religion lurking here. The intermediate or perhaps ultimate function of the heart is to ensure survival.
Warrant and Proper Function
Start your review of Warrant and Proper Function Write a review Shelves: epistemology , neo-calvinism Plantinga begins by examining the Gettier-type problems that internalist accounts of knowledge face. Having shown these difficulties, Plantinga is now able to set the stage for his externalist approach to warrant. This he does by explaining our design function: 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 Plantinga begins by examining the Gettier-type problems that internalist accounts of knowledge face. This he does by explaining our design function: 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 He then examines three apparent weak points of externalism and show not only are they strong points, only a fool would challenge them: memory, other persons, and testimony.
An Introduction to the Thought of Alvin Plantinga
April 25, by: William Edgar , K. As the son of a philosophy and psychology professor, Plantinga evidenced a knack for and interest in philosophy early on. Throughout his prolific career, Plantinga spent the majority of his years teaching, first, at Calvin College for nineteen years, then, until his recent retirement, at Notre Dame University. His Nature of Necessity did much to further discussions of modality in metaphysics, and his most recent work in epistemology, the roots of which began early in his career, have stimulated a multitude of developments and critiques in philosophical and theological circles. This was, at least in large part, due to the influence of positivism on the philosophical terrain.