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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About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
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