Thomas Nagel writes a review of Alvin Plantinga’s recent book, Where the Conflict Really Lies, which James Beebe has also nicely reviewed here at Prosblogion.
Nagel’s review is well-written and charitable. He covers much territory by summarizing large swathes of Plantinga-philosophy in succinct paragraphs, all without sacrificing accuracy. (He even appears to have carefully read footnotes from Plantinga’s other works.) His only objection seemed to be that Plantinga does not consider naturalist theories of mental content. Plantinga doesn’t cover them in this book, but he deals with a number of them in a recent PPR paper.
So, as one very familiar with Plantinga’s work, I was impressed with Nagel’s review.
In Where the Conflict Really Lies, which James Beebe has nicely reviewed, Alvin Plantinga discusses nomological necessity, the necessity had by physical laws. As he (and everybody else) points out, propositions like
2) Every sphere made of gold is less than 1/2 mile in diameter
are true and universal. However, there is a clear sense in which (2) is not necessary in the sense required for lawhood (the sort of necessity we call ‘nomological necessity’). On the other hand, the proposition that no object can increase from a velocity less than the speed of light to a velocity more than the speed of light is nomologically necessary. Also, it does not seem that this proposition is necessary in the broadly logical or metaphysical sense; the law seems contingent.
How are we to understand nomological necessity? Plantinga suggests:
But numbers and sets themselves make a great deal more sense from the point of view of theism than from that of naturalism. Now there are two quite different but widely shared intuitions about the nature of numbers and sets. First, we think of numbers and sets as abstract objects, the same sort of thing as propositions, properties, states of affairs and the like… On the other hand, there is another equally widely shared intuition about these things: most people who have thought about the question, think it incredible that these abstract objects should just exist, just be there, whether or not they are ever thought by anyone. Platonism with respect to these objects is the position that they do exist in that way, that is, in such a way as to be independent of mind… But there have been very few real Platonists, perhaps none besides Plato and Frege, if indeed Plato and Frege were real Platonists (and even Frege, that alleged arch-Platonist, referred to propositions as gedanken, thoughts). It is therefore extremely tempting to think of abstract objects as ontologically dependent upon mental or intellectual activity in such a way that either they just are thoughts, or else at any rate couldn’t exist if not thought of. (287-288)
I am inclined to think that there are numbers and that they are abstract objects, but I don’t have the second intuition that they must be thought. Is there something I’m missing? I do have the intuition that contingently existing objects must have a cause for their existence, but I don’t have the intuition that abstract objects must be thought, which, if they exist, necessarily exist.
Maybe somebody could help motivate this intuition for me? Or is this intuition not very widely shared (contra Plantinga’s remark)?
A1: God exists
A2: Plantinga has successfully argued for one of his big conclusions in Warranted Christian Belief: that if God exists, then belief in God is likely to be warranted.
Now, suppose Smith has a properly basic belief that God exists. Smith has also read WCB and believes the conclusion of Plantinga’s argument on the basis of that argument. Can Smith appropriately reason as follows?
1) God exists
2) If God exists, then my belief that God exists is likely to be warranted.
3) Therefore, my belief that God exists is likely to be warranted.
Granted, there is some circularity going on here. Smith is using his belief that God exists as a premise in his reasoning to prove something about the epistemic status of his belief.
But many epistemologists have come to be okay with such circular reasoning. (For example, Mike Bergmann would probably be okay with it so long as Smith had no significant doubts about God exists or it’s not the case that he ought to have. And I don’t think anybody’s provided a good criticism of Bergmann’s defense in the literature.)
Q1) Is Smith’s reasoning okay? (granted my assumptions)
Q2) Anybody know of any literature that assesses the sort of reasoning Smith is engaging in (w/r/t theistic belief)?
[AUTHOR’S EDIT: MY FIRST COMMENT BELOW, IN RESPONSE TO THE NATES, MAKES IT MUCH MORE CLEAR WHY I THINK THAT THERE IS EPISTEMIC CIRCULARITY GOING ON. PLEASE READ THAT IF YOU PLAN ON RESPONDING TO THIS POST.]
John Hawthorne has been awarded a generous grant from Templeton for work on religious epistemology. There are fellowship possibilities. See here.
In a forthcoming paper, I defend the view that knowledge does not require believing on the basis of evidence. In other words, I argue against what I call the “Evidence Thesis”, which states:
(Evidence Thesis) S knows that p at t only if S believes that p on the basis of evidence at t.
How does the evidence thesis relate to evidentialism, formulated and defended by Earl Conee and Richard Feldman? Well, their view is about epistemic justification, and it states that the doxastic attitude one is justified in having is the one that fits the evidence. Evidentialism is a popular view, and we can see that it is distinct from the evidence thesis. However, VERY MANY evidentialists endorse the evidence thesis. So do VERY MANY internalists. On the other hand, almost no externalist will endorse the evidence thesis. So long as one’s true belief was produced in the right way (e.g., by a reliable process, with safety, with sensitivity, by properly functioning faculties, by an exercise of the right sort of ability, etc.), the belief counts as knowledge. Despite the fact that some people seem to presume the truth of the evidence thesis, we can see that a great many theories of knowledge (the externalist ones) entail that it is false. And I argue that it is false in my paper. So, my argument both provides support for the many externalist theories of knowledge and also gives many evidentialists and internalists a reason to revise their views.
In this post, I want to try out a counterexample against the evidence thesis.