Review: Warrant and Proper Function by Alvin Plantinga
….I shall mention and emphasize those features of these modules that illustrate and elucidate the account of warrant I think correct, and those features of these modules about which it has something special to say. (pp. 48 Kindle edition)
From the present perspective on the nature of warrant the answer is just simplicity itself. The answer, first, is that a human being whose appropriate cognitive faculties are functioning properly and who is aware of B will find herself making the S ascription (in the absence of defeaters).There is nothing in the least unjustified about such ascriptions, no is there anything strange, odd, nonstandard about making them quite independently of any analogical or inductive or abductive arguments Indeed, the pathology is on the other foot: it is the person who believes in others only on the basis of analogical arguments….who is weird or nonstandard….So if the part of the design plan governing these processes is successfully aimed at truth, then ascriptions of mental states to others will often have high warrant for us; if they are also true, they will constitute knowledge.
In discussing testimony, Plantinga approvingly cites Thomas Reid’s view of the matter: properly functioning persons will, in the absence of defeaters, accept what other people tell them. (Obviously, we can gain defeaters for testimony: direct counterevidence from our own experience, knowledge that the person who is testifying is a pathological liar, etc.). The most important point here, however (see footnote 1) is that the warrant we have for any belief gained by testimony is only by warrant transfer. If the conditions for warrant are violated by anyone else in the chain (they were mistaken, their own cognitive faculties are not functioning properly, or they are lying—that is, their cognitive faculties are not currently ‘aimed’ at the generation of true beliefs) then neither will we be warranted in believing that proposition.
Reidian and classical foundationalism will concur, of course, in holding that the question how I am appeared to is crucial to the question of whether a given perceptual judgment has warrant for me. They will agree that if I am appeared to in a certain familiar way, I will be warranted in the belief that I see a tiger lily; if instead I am watching football on television but through some odd chance form this belief, it will have little or nothing by the way of warrant for me. The difference between the two positions comes into view when we ask how the experience in question must be related to the belief in question, if the latter is to have warrant. (p. 183 edition)
…..it is….sometimes quite right to say that someone who has this kind of impulsional experience has no evidence. A person may be irrationally convinced that the rest of us are out to do him in, even though…he has no evidence at all for this paranoid belief; nor would we suppose we were wrong in thinking he had no evidence if it were pointed out that in fact he has a strong inclination to accept the proposition in question. But this just reflects our belief that in the case of believing this sort of proposition if this inclination to believe is all you have by way of evidence, then your belief is irrational and evidences pathology. It does not follow that this kind of evidence is not really evidence. And if we do take it to be evidence, then no doubt it will be true that in a well-formed noetic structure, belief is always on the side of evidence. Indeed, how could it be otherwise? Could it really be that you should believe a proposition, even though it had none of this phenomenal attractiveness, this seeming-to-be-true—even if, that is, there was no felt or feelable inclination to believe it on your part? So the evidentialist is right; where there is warrant, there is evidence. Having this evidence, however, or having this evidence and forming belief on the basis of it, is not sufficient for warrant: proper function is also required. And given proper function, we also have evidence: impulsional evidence, to be sure, but also whatever sort is required, in the situation at hand, by the design plan; and that will be the evidence that confers warrant. (p. 192 Kindle edition)
Apologetics 315 Book Reviewer Latter Day Inkling is a U.S.-based research psychologist for the military. He is especially interested in epistemology and natural theology.