Warrant and Proper Function by Alvin Plantinga

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Context

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Alvin Plantinga’s Warrant and Proper Function offers a detailed version of a very widely accepted (and strongly disputed) analysis of knowledge. In this analysis, knowledge, for a person, is not to have evidence of his or her beliefs but rather for these beliefs to have been formed properly, for these beliefs to be the result of a reliable process of belief formation operating in a congenial environment under circumstances in which its operation is aimed at truth (rather than, for example, survival or convenience).

This book is the second of three books that form a trilogy in the theory of knowledge. The other two are Warrant: The Current Debate (1993) and Warranted Christian Belief (1999). Warrant examines in detail the debate concerning the nature of knowledge, asking what exactly it means for a person to know something. Plantinga attempts to analyze the claim “Jane knows that so-and-so is true if and only if . . . ,” where the blank is filled in with a statement of the conditions that must be satisfied. The analysis is intended to be general so that regardless whether what Jane knows is that her shoes are white, that ten is greater than nine, that God exists, that it is wrong to torture for pleasure, or that quantum mechanics has replaced classical Newtonian mechanics, the analysis will fit perfectly. The analysis is intended to cover every actual and every possible case of knowing. Warrant examines various analyses of knowledge and rejects them in favor of Plantinga’s analysis. Warranted Christian Belief discusses the relevance of the analysis offered in Warrant and Proper Function to questions of religious, particularly Christian, belief.

Internalism vs. Externalism

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Warrant was written to show that internalist theories of knowledge are mistaken, and that while externalist theories of knowledge are the right sort of analyses, only Plantinga’s externalist analysis has a certain very desireable feature and is not subject to refuting counter-examples. Warrant and Proper Function presents an in-depth examination of the theories set out in the first book, and an understanding of these theories is necessary to place the second work in its context.

The internalist versus externalist dispute occurs among philosophers who agree on at least two things. (1) A person can know something only if that something is true. It is what might be called propositional knowledge, or knowledge of what is expressed by true statements, that is under analysis, not knowledge by acquaintance or awareness of either external objects such as trees or internal items such as pains. Thus, these philosophers must agree that “Jane knows that P” entails “P is true.” (2) For a person to know something, the individual must believe it. Knowledge must include true belief, but true belief is not enough for knowledge. If Jane believes that the most expensive tea in the world costs twenty thousand dollars an ounce and believes this because she read about a twenty-thousand-dollar car while she was drinking a cup of tea, even if the most expensive tea in the world does happen to cost twenty thousand dollars an ounce, Jane has just luckily stumbled onto a true belief; she does not know it to be true. So the question becomes, “What, besides her having a true belief, must be true of Jane if she is to know something?”

An internalist theory of knowledge insists that knowers have something available to them that constitutes evidence for what they know. There must be something that the knowers are conscious of or at least can be conscious of that provides evidential support for what is believed. If Jane knows that she is in pain, she must be aware of an internal negative feeling or state and know that this state is a pain; if Jane knows that there is a tree outside her window, she must be having a sensory experience in which it seems to her that she sees a tree. If she believes that two plus two is four, then she must have a familiar, though hard to accurately describe, sort of cognitive experience in which the...

(The entire section is 1,416 words.)