Warrant and Epistemic Virtues: Toward and Agent Reliabilist Account of Plantinga's Theory of Knowledge

Dissertation, Oklahoma State University (2008)
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Alvin Plantinga’s theory of knowledge, as developed in his Warrant trilogy, has shaped the debates surrounding many areas in epistemology in profound ways. Plantinga has received his share of criticism, however, particularly in his treatment of belief in God as being “properly basic”. There has also been much confusion surrounding his notions of warrant and proper function, to which Plantinga has responded numerous times. Many critics remain unsatisfied, while others have developed alternative understandings of warrant in order to rescue Plantinga’s theory from certain objections. The most promising of such attempts fall under the broad category of “virtue epistemology” or a “virtue-theoretic” approach. The work being done in virtue epistemology is still in its early stages and a consensus on what actually constitutes virtue epistemology has yet to be reached. While some have attempted to structure an entire theory of knowledge based on the virtues possessed by the knower, others have focused more on the role of epistemic virtues as an attempt to supplement existing theories, including Plantinga’s. In this paper, I will offer an analysis of what such an attempt might look like and evaluate the potential success of broadening Plantinga’s original model. My proposal is that certain features of a virtue-theoretic approach (also referred to as “agent-reliabilism”) could improve Plantinga’s model in significant ways. Not only would such a broadened approach be better equipped to handle common objections, but it would also be better suited to contribute an enhanced understanding of the task of epistemology, one that seeks to discover multiple epistemic goods other than what has been traditionally confined to the realm of knowledge. I conclude by applying this approach to Plantinga’s treatment of theistic belief in Warranted Christian Belief and by articulating a few of the ways in which epistemic virtues can increase the degree of warrant enjoyed by such belief.

Author's Profile

Stewart Clem
Aquinas Institute of Theology


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