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Alvin Plantinga is important. Even if he were never right about anything, he’d still be important because hundreds of thousands (or millions) think he’s important.
But that’s where the similarities to Joe Biden end.
Unlike Biden, Plantinga is actually right about a lot of things.
Those many, many people who think he matters, they agree with him, disagree with him, follow him, oppose him, love him, and hate him. But mostly they talk about him, and usually they misunderstand him.
That’s what it means to be a great philosopher.
I am not one of the great philosophers, but I can explain them sometimes. So here’s what Plantinga is talking about in as few words as I can manage.
Some things can be known without relying on evidence from other things we know. Those are the properly basic beliefs (PBBs). All evidence has to come from somewhere, and PBBs are where it comes from.
Not just any belief can be a PBB. It has to be one we can know in some way other than through evidence from other things we know.
And — surprise! — Plantinga thinks belief in G-d can be a PBB.
But how do we know which things can be in the category of PBBs? Plantinga borrows from Roderick Chisholm‘s advice for figuring out something like this: First, make a nice list of beliefs we know fit into a particular category of beliefs; next, carefully look at the beliefs in that list to figure out a criterion for beliefs in that category; finally, use that criterion to see whatever other beliefs might fit into that category.
Plantinga gets his list of PPBs from common-sense beliefs, drawing from Thomas Reid (whom you can meet on Ricochet here). Then there’s some inductive logic to get to the criterion (summarized here on Ricochet and here off Ricochet). And then there’s an explanation of why Plantinga thinks Christian belief meets that criterion.
It took Plantinga more than three decades and well over a thousand pages to do all this. But he eventually did it, and it’s some pretty awesome philosophy.
I have an introduction to this coming out in Criswell Theological Review before the year is up.
And here’s “The Philosophers in Their Own Words,” a YouTube playlist where I’ve recorded some introductions to Plantinga’s writings on the subject. Expect a new video in this series each Monday till sometime in December. Here are the first two.Published in