Thursday, February 12, 2015

Plantinga's case against the classical foundationalist account of properly basic beliefs

Basically he says that the criterion refutes itself. 


Plantinga proposes a negative and a positive way of addressing this problem. The negative way seeks to demonstrate that the evidentionlist project will not hold up. The positive way seeks to offer a rationale for Reformed Epistmeology. 
The Negative (analytical) Argument

Plantings grants those propositions which are self-evident, evident to the senses, or incorrigible are properly basic. Plantinga's objection is with the evidentialist who claims that only these propositions are properly basic. Plantinga wants to include other beliefs (such as belief in the past, belief in other minds, etc.)

The foundationalist contention is presented as (19):
    (19) "A is properly basic for me only if A is self-evident or incorrigible or evident to the senses."

Plantinga argues that one is rational in accepting (19) only if either (19) is properly basic or (19) relates to propositions which are properly basic. Now, Plantinga thinks that its obvious that (19) is neither self-evident, evident to the sense, nor incorrigible. Therefore , Plantinga makes the following claims:
    N1 - (19) is not properly basic.
    N2 - since no one has demonstrated that (19) relates to propositions which are properly basic, then, Plantinga asserts, not only is there no compelling reason to accept (19) but also to do so would be epistemologically irresponsible (on Clifford's criterion - there is not sufficient evidence).
This is the negative critique of evidentialism. It's Plantingas strongest argument.


Johnny-Dee said...

Not everyone is convinced Plantinga's got a good argument. I normally don't self-promote, but I have published a paper directly in response to this argument.

Dan Gillson said...


I don't see why it's necessary for Plantinga to rehearse the very good arguments, e.g., Sellar's and Pierce's, against CF. The work has already been done for him. The recent resurgence of interest in it aside, CF is mostly a dead option; "contingently false" is still false.

Johnny-Dee said...


Suppose you are right. Then, Plantinga's argument offers nothing new. There's no "in principle" reason to think CF is false or misguided or doomed to self-referential failure. Plantinga makes it seem like we have good reason to dismiss CF without getting bogged down in the details of the various arguments for and against CF. In other words, Plantinga is making the case that CF is necessarily false. To retreat to the claim that it is contingently false is essentially to concede Plantinga's whole argument!

As for CF being a mostly dead option, I think that's an overstatement (Fumerton and BonJour, for instance, are not exactly lightweights in contemporary epistemology), but it's also irrelevant. Truth is not determined by popularity or what's en vogue. If you think Sellars's arguments present a good critique of CF, I'd recommend reading Evan Fales's A Defense of the Given, which is a tour de force response to Sellarsian problems with CF. In any case, it sounds like the truth of CF can't be settled without looking at more detailed arguments given by defenders and critics of CF.

Dan Gillson said...


Supposing that I am right (and that's granting me a lot more room than I deserve), there is no reason to need an "in principle" reason. Now, I've never read anything by Plantinga, (sorry, maybe I should just hold my tongue, eh?), so I can't actually argue against your claim that Plantinga is making the case that CF is necessarily false, but that doesn't seem to matter: false is false, whether contingent or necessary. If turns out that CF is only contingently false, then Plantinga's argument against CF is defeasible and we continue on debating.

Anyways, thanks for the reading recommendation. I haven't actually ever come across a recent defense of the given. I'll be excited to read it when I get the chance.