Plantinga on Warrant -- By: K. Scott Oliphint

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 57:2 (Fall 1995)
Article: Plantinga on Warrant
Author: K. Scott Oliphint


Plantinga on Warrant*

K. Scott Oliphint

* Alvin Plantinga, Warrant: The Current Debate (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. ix, 228. $39.95; $19.95, paper); id., Warrant and Proper Function (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. x, 243. $39.95; $19.95, paper).

Warrant: The Current Debate (hereafter Debate) and Warrant and Proper Function (hereafter Function) develop the ideas underlying Plantinga’s Gifford Lectures in Aberdeen in 1987 and his Wilde Lectures in Oxford in 1988. Along with the promised third volume, entitled Warranted Christian Belief, they constitute the latest in Plantinga’s extensive and extended discussions on the rationality of belief in general and of theistic belief more specifically.

The burden of these two volumes is to discuss, critique, and suggest an answer to the question of just what it is that “epistemizes” true belief, or better, what quality or quantity is it, enough of which turns true belief into knowledge? The (more recent) historic answer to that question has centered on an internalist tradition that has emphasized the deontological character of knowledge. Plantinga wants to show the inadequacy of that tradition. Volume one sets out to delineate the contemporary versions of deontological internalism, while volume two seeks to build a positive alternative which is, not surprisingly, externalist.

In volume one, Plantinga seeks to show why it is that classical foundationalism is all but dead. More specifically, he seeks to refute the contention, consonant with classical foundationalism, that fulfillment of epistemic duty and obligation is of crucial importance for epistemic justification. And thus deontology in epistemology implies internalism.

Chap. 1 of Debate connects the notions of justification, internalism and deontology. “The basic internalist idea, of course, is that what determines whether a belief is warranted for a person are factors or states in some sense internal to that person” (p. 5). Justification relates primarily to the “justified true belief” tradition of Anglo-American epistemology, which tradition has been in some disarray since Gettier’s 1963 three-page critique.1 Classical deontologism stems (at least) from “those twin towers of Western epistemology, Descartes and Locke” (p. 11).

Chaps. 2–3 are an attempt to explain and critique the “dean of contemporary epistemology,” Roderick Chisholm. In chap. 2, Plantinga scrutinizes “classical Chisholmian internalism” as he calls it. Consider just one of (classical) Chisholm’s principles of justificatio...

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