Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Plantinga's Reformed Epistemology and Religious Exclusivism

From guest blogger, Zach.

It seems to me that Plantinga's “Reformed Epistemology,” especially when combined with his views on exclusivity, leaves something to be desired.  Admittedly, the papers we read in class should be taken as a broad painting of Plantinga's picture.  But, I believe (ha!) a more specific discussion must be had before we can consider Plantiga's view to be plausible.  Namely, we need a definition or explanation of what counts as a “religious experience” that one might use to to ground a properly basic belief.

I think the discussion of religious exclusivity highlights this need quite clearly.  Without a concrete notion of what might constitute a religious experience worth of causing a properly basic belief, it seems  that many sorts of potential experiences could cause basic beliefs that are mutually exclusive.  For example, if the personal happiness gained from performing traditional religious practices (e.g. attending church, prayer, meditation, recitation of religious doctrine, etc.) can count as a sort of religious experience, many different, contradictory views seem to be justified (on Plantinga's account of justification); and if these views are justified, it seems folks holding any of the views should be (or could be) exclusivists about those differing, contradictory views.  For example, a basic Christian belief and a basic Jewish belief about whether or not Jesus is the son of God would be mutually exclusive, but could both be justified and held by religious exclusivists.  In this scenario, the believers on both sides see themselves as right, and the others as wrong,.  This doesn't help us understand anything, really, other than the fact that the believers on each side believe their respective beliefs.

My main problem, stated broadly, is that an epistemology that allows for many contradictory views to be justified seems to water down the term “justification,” and seems to drastically separate the ideas of knowledge (or, in this case, justified belief) and truth (i.e. the “fact of the matter,” if there is one).  This separation seems to be the opposite of what we generally want to approach in an epistemological theory, and seems like something we should avoid.

It seems plausible that with a specific definition of “religious experience,” we might be able to restrict the sorts of properly basic beliefs formed from such experiences, which might, in turn, eliminate the sorts of beliefs that might be mutually exclusive.

I know that my worry seems very broad, but, like Plantinga, I just wanted to point out a sort of general worry.  What do you guys think?  Do we need a definition of religious experience?  What would a definition of religious experience look like?  Would such a definition eliminate this general worry?

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