alvin plantinga Alvin Plantinga, Phd.
University of Notre Dame


Alvin Plantinga Biography,

Alvin Plantinga (b. 1932) in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His father, Cornelius, was then a philosophy graduate student at the University of Michigan. When Cornelius graduated with a Ph.D. from Duke University, the family lived on a relatively low income until he secured a teaching job in Huron, Michigan, in 1941.

After a few years in Huron, Cornelius took a job Jamestown College in North Dakota. Alvin attended high school there and developed a keen interest in sports. The school’s curriculum was poor, and before Alvin moved into his senior year, his father insisted his son attend the college to advance his education. Plantinga enrolled at Jamestown College in the fall, 1949. Cornelius was offered a job in the philosophy department at Calvin College and, reluctantly, on his father’s “advice” Alvin enrolled in studies there in 1950.
In his first term at Calvin, Alvin applied to Harvard University and, much to his surprise, he was awarded a healthy scholarship and began study there in the fall of 1950. He returned to Calvin during spring recess following his second semester at Harvard, and attended lectures by William Harry Jellema. Jellema made an impression on him that was so great that Plantinga returned to Calvin to study with him. He would never regret this decision. Philosophy at Calvin (under the influence of Harry Jellema and Henry Stob) emphasised studying the history of philosophy. A certain amount of Plantinga’s higher education, therefore, centred around the study of the key figures from Plato to Kant. However, there was a further primary directive, to study the history of philosophy as an arena where ‘divergent religious visions competed for human allegiance’. Plantinga’s education, therefore, took on a further seriousness in light of this framework.
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Over the years Plantinga’s career has flourished and continues to flourish. He has had professorships at Wayne State University (1958–1963), Calvin University (1963–1982) and the University of Notre Dame (1982–2002). He has been visiting professor at a number of first-rate universities: Harvard (1964–1965), Chicago (1967), Michigan (1967), Boston (1969), Indiana (1970), UCLA (1972), Syracuse (1978) and Arizona (1980). Among the lectures he has been invited to give, of particular note are that he was Suarez Lecturer, Fordham University (1986); Gifford Lecturer, University of Aberdeen (1987); Wilde Lecturer, Oxford University (1988); and (for a second time) Gifford Lecturer, University of St. Andrews (2005). He was Guggenheim Fellow (1971–1972) and has been Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 1975. Plantinga has also been awarded honorary degrees from (among other establishments) the University of Glasgow (1982), Calvin College (1986) and the Free University of Amsterdam (1995). His publications include Faith and Philosophy (1964), The Ontological Argument (1965), God and Other Minds (1967), The Nature of Necessity (1974), God, Freedom and Evil (1974), Does God Have a Nature? (1980), Faith and Rationality (1983), The Twin Pillars of Christian Scholarship (1990), Warrant: The Current Debate (1993), Warrant and the Proper Function (1993), The Analytic Theist: An Alvin Plantinga Reader (1998), Warranted Christian Belief (2000) and Essays in the Metaphysics of Modality (2003). - Written by Jon Cameron, University of Aberdeen


When I was a graduate student at Yale, the philosophy department prided itself on diversity: and it was indeed diverse.  There were idealists, pragmatists, phenomenologists, existentialists, Whiteheadians, historians of philosophy, a token positivist, and what could only be described as observers of the passing intellectual scene.  In some ways, this was indeed something to take pride in; a student could behold and encounter real live representatives of many of the main traditions in philosophy.  However, it also had an unintended and unhappy side effect.  If anyone raised a philosophical question, inside, but particularly outside of class, the typical response would be to catalogue some of the various different answers the world has seen: there is the Aristotelian answer, the existentialist answer, the Cartesian answer, Heidegger's answer, perhaps the Buddhist answer, and so on.  But the question 'what is the truth about this matter?' was often greeted with disdain as unduly naive.  There are all these different answers, all endorsed by people of great intellectual power and great dedication to philosophy; for every argument for one of these positions there is another against it; would it not be excessively naive, or perhaps arbitrary, to suppose that one of these is in fact true, the others being false?  Or, if there really is a truth of the matter, so that one of them is true and conflicting ones false, wouldn't it be merely arbitrary, in the face of this embarrassment of riches, to endorse one of them as the truth, consigning the others to falsehood?   How could you possibly know which was true? 
           Some urge a similar attitude with respect to the impressive variety of religions the world displays.  There are theistic religions, but also at least some non-theistic religions (or perhaps nontheistic strands of religion) among the enormous variety of religions going under the names 'Hinduism' and 'Buddhism'; among the theistic religions, there are strands of Hinduism and Buddhism and American Indian religion as well as Islam, Judaism and Christianity; and all of these differ significantly from each other.  Isn't it somehow arbitrary, or irrational, or unjustified, or unwarranted, or even oppressive and imperialistic to endorse one of these as opposed to all the others?  According to Jean Bodin, "each is refuted by all"; (1) must we not agree?  It is in this neighborhood that the so-called 'problem of pluralism' arises.  Of course many concerns and problems can come under this rubric; the specific problem I mean to discuss can be thought of as follows.  To put it in an internal and personal way, I find myself with religious beliefs, and religious beliefs that I realize aren't shared by nearly everyone else.  For example, I believe both

(1) the world was created by God, an almighty, all-knowing and perfectly good personal being (one that holds beliefs, has aims, plans and intentions, and can act to accomplish these aims) and

(2) Human beings require salvation, and God has provided a unique way of salvation through the incarnation, life, sacrificial death and resurrection of his divine son.

            Now there are many who do not believe these things.  First, there are those who agree with me on (1) but not (2): there are nonChristian theistic religions.  Second, there are those who don't accept either (1) or (2), but nonetheless do believe that there is something beyond the natural world, a something such that human well-being and salvation depend upon standing in a right relation to it.  And third, in the West and since the Enlightenment, anyway, there are people—naturalists, we may call them—who don't believe any of these three things.  And my problem is this: when I become really aware of these other ways of looking at the world, these other ways of responding religiously to the world, what must or should I do?  What is the right sort of attitude to take?  What sort of impact should this awareness have on the beliefs I hold and the strength with which I hold them?   My question is this: how should I think about the great religious diversity the world in fact displays?  Can I sensibly remain an adherent of just one of these religions, rejecting the others?  And here I am thinking specifically of beliefs.  Of course there is a great deal more to any religion or religious practice than just belief; and I don't for a moment mean to deny it.  But belief is a crucially important part of most religions; it is a crucially important part of my religion; and the question I mean to ask here is what the awareness of religious diversity means or should mean for my religious beliefs. 

            Some speak here of a new awareness of religious diversity, and speak of this new awareness as constituting (for us in the West) a crisis, a revolution, an intellectual development of the same magnitude as the Copernican revolution of the 16th century and the alleged discovery of evolution and our animal origins in the 19th. (2) No doubt there is at least some truth to this.  Of course the fact is all along many western Christians and Jews have known that there are other religions, and that not nearly everyone shares their religion. (3)   The ancient Israelites—some of the prophets, say—were clearly aware of Canaanitish religion; and the apostle Paul said that he preached "Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to the Greeks" (I Corinthians 1: 23).  Other early Christians, the Christian martyrs, say, must have suspected that not everyone believed as they did.  The church fathers, in offering defenses of Christianity, were certainly apprised of this fact; Origen, indeed, wrote an 8 volume reply to Celsus, who urged an argument very similar to those urged by contemporary pluralists.  Aquinas, again, was clearly aware of those to whom he addressed the Summa Contra Gentiles; and the fact that there are nonChristian religions would have come as no surprise to the Jesuit missionaries of the 16th and 17th centuries or to the Methodist missionaries of the 19th.  To come to more recent times, when I was a child, The Banner, the official publication of The Christian Reformed Church, contained a small column for children; it was written by 'Uncle Dick', who exhorted us to save our nickels and send them to our Indian cousins at the Navaho mission in New Mexico.  Both we and our elders knew that the Navahos had or had had a religion different from Christianity, and part of the point of sending the nickels was to try to rectify that situation.

            Still, in recent years probably more of us western Christian have become aware of the world's religious diversity; we have probably learned more about people of other religious persuasions, and we have come to see more clearly that they display what looks like real piety, devoutness, and spirituality.  What is new, perhaps, is a more widespread sympathy for other religions, a tendency to see them as more valuable, as containing more by way of truth, and a new feeling of solidarity with their practitioners.

            There are several possible reactions to awareness of religious diversity.  One is to continue to believe what you have all along believed; you learn about this diversity, but continue to believe, i. e., take to be true, such propositions as (1) and (2) above, consequently taking to be false any beliefs, religious or otherwise, that are incompatible with (1) and (2).  Following current practice, I shall call this exclusivism; the exclusivist holds that the tenets or some of the tenets of one religion—Christianity, let's say—are in fact true; he adds, naturally enough, that any propositions, including other religious beliefs, that are incompatible with those tenets are false.  Now there is a fairly widespread belief that there is something seriously wrong with exclusivism.  It is irrational, or egotistical and unjustified (4) or intellectually arrogant, (5) or elitist, (6) or a manifestation of harmful pride, (7) or even oppressive and imperialistic. (8)   The claim is that exclusivism as such is or involves a vice of some sort: it is wrong or deplorable; and it is this claim I want to examine.  I propose to argue that exclusivism need not involve either epistemic or moral failure, and that furthermore something like it is wholly unavoidable, given our human condition. 

            These objections are not to the truth of (1) or (2) or any other proposition someone might accept in this exclusivist way (although, of course, objections of that sort are also put forward); they are instead directed to the propriety or rightness of exclusivism.  And there are initially two different kinds of indictments of exclusivism: broadly moral or ethical indictments, and other broadly intellectual or epistemic indictments.  Of course these overlap in interesting ways as we shall see below.  But initially, anyway, we can take some of the complaints about exclusivism as intellectual criticisms: it is irrational, or unjustified to think in an exclusivistic way.  And the other large body of complaint is moral: there is something morally suspect about exclusivism: it is arbitrary, or intellectually arrogant, or imperialistic.  As J. Runzo suggests, exclusivism is "neither tolerable nor any longer intellectually honest in the context of our contemporary knowledge of other faiths".(9)   I want to consider both kinds of claims or criticisms; I propose to argue that the exclusivist is not as such necessarily guilty of any of these charges. 

I Moral Objections to Exclusivism

            I first turn to the moral complaints: that the exclusivist is intellectually arrogant, or egotistical, or self-servingly arbitrary, or dishonest, or imperialistic, or oppressive.  But first three qualifications.  An exclusivist, like anyone else, will probably be guilty of some or all of these things to at least some degree, perhaps particularly the first two; the question is, however, whether she is guilty of these things just by virtue of being an exclusivist.  Secondly, I shall use the term 'exclusivism' in such a way that you don't count as an exclusivist unless you are rather fully aware of other faiths, have had their existence and their claims called to your attention with some force and perhaps fairly frequently, and have to some degree reflected on the problem of pluralism, asking yourself such questions as whether it is or could be really true that the Lord has revealed himself and his programs to us Christians, say, in a way in which he hasn't revealed himself to those of other faiths.  Thus my grandmother, for example, would not have counted as an exclusivist.  She had of course heard of the heathen, as she called them, but the idea that perhaps Christians could learn from them, and learn from them with respect to religious matters, had not so much as entered her head; and the fact that it hadn't entered her head, I take it, was not a matter of moral dereliction on her part.  This same would go for a Buddhist or Hindu peasant.  These people are not, I think, plausibly charged with arrogance or other moral flaws in believing as they do. 

            Third, suppose I am an exclusivist with respect to (1), for example, but nonculpably believe, like Thomas Aquinas, say, that I have a knock-down, drag-out argument, a demonstration or conclusive proof of the proposition that there is such a person as God; and suppose I think further (and nonculpably) that if those who don't believe (1) were to be apprised of this argument (and had the ability and training necessary to grasp it, and were to think about the argument fairly and reflectively), they too would come to believe (1)?  Then I could hardly be charged with these moral faults.  My condition would be like that of Gödel, let's say, upon having recognized that he had a proof for the incompleteness of arithmetic.  True, many of his colleagues and peers didn't believe that arithmetic was incomplete, and some believed that it was complete; but presumably Gödel wasn't arbitrary or egotistical in believing that arithmetic is in fact incomplete.   Furthermore, he would not have been at fault had he nonculpably but mistakenly believed that he had found such a proof.  Accordingly, I shall use the term 'exclusivist' in such a way that you don't count as an exclusivist if you nonculpably think you know of a demonstration or conclusive argument for the beliefs with respect to which you are an exclusivist, or even if you non-culpably think you know of an argument that would convince all or most intelligent and honest people of the truth of that proposition.  So an exclusivist, as I use the term, not only believes something like (1) or (2) and thinks false any proposition incompatible with it; she also meets a further condition C that is hard to state precisely and in detail (and in fact any attempt to do so would involve a long and presently irrelevant discussion of ceteris paribus clauses).  Suffice it to say that C includes (1) being rather fully aware of other religions, (2) knowing that there is much that at the least looks like genuine piety and devoutness in them, and (3) believing that you know of no arguments that would necessarily convince all or most honest and intelligent dissenters of your own religious allegiances.

            Given these qualifications then: why should we think that an exclusivist is properly charged with these moral faults?  I shall deal first and most briefly with charges of oppression and imperialism: I think we must say that they are on the face of it wholly implausible.  I daresay there are some among you who reject some of the things I believe; I do not believe that you are thereby oppressing me, even if you do not believe you have an argument that would convince me.  It is conceivable that exclusivism might in some way contribute to oppression, but it isn't in itself oppressive. 

            The important moral charge is that there is a sort of self-serving arbitrariness, an arrogance or egotism, in accepting such propositions as (1) or (2) under condition C; exclusivism is guilty of some serious moral fault or flaw.  According to Wilfred Cantwell Smith,  " . . . except at the cost of insensitivity or delinquency, it is morally not possible actually to go out into the world and say to devout, intelligent, fellow human beings: '. . . we believe that we know God and we are right; you believe that you know God, and you are totally wrong'."(10)

            So what can the exclusivist have to say for herself?  Well, it must be conceded immediately that if she believes (1) or (2), then she must also believe that those who believe something incompatible with them are mistaken and believe what is false.  That's no more than simple logic.  Furthermore, she must also believe that those who do not believe as she does—those who believe neither (1) nor (2), whether or not they believe their negations—fail to believe something that is true, deep, and important, and that she does believe.  She must therefore see herself as privileged with respect to those others—those others of both kinds.  There is something of great value, she must think, that she has and they lack.  They are ignorant of something—something of great importance—of which she has knowledge.  But does this make her properly subject to the above censure? 

            I think the answer must be no.  Or if the answer is yes, then I think we have here a genuine moral dilemma; for in our earthly life here below, as my Sunday School teacher used to say, there is no real alternative; there is no reflective attitude which is not open to the same strictures.  These charges of arrogance are a philosophical tar baby: get close enough to them to use them against the exclusivist, and you are likely to find them stuck fast to yourself.  How so?  Well, as an exclusivist, I realize that I can't convince others that they should believe as I do, but I nonetheless continue to believe as I do: and the charge is that I am as a result arrogant or egotistical, arbitrarily preferring my way of doing things to other ways.(11)  But what are my alternatives with respect to a proposition like (1)?  There seem to be three choices.(12)  I can continue to hold it; I can withhold it, in Chisholm's sense, believing neither it nor its denial, and I can accept its denial.  Consider the third way, a way taken by those pluralists, who like John Hick, hold that such propositions as (1) and (2) and their colleagues from other faiths are literally false, although in some way still valid responses to the Real.  This seems to me to be no advance at all with respect to the arrogance or egotism problem; this is not a way out.  For if I do this I will then be in the very same condition as I am now: I will believe many propositions others don't believe and will be in condition C with respect to those propositions.  For I will then believe the denials of (1) and (2) (as well as the denials of many other propositions explicitly accepted by those of other faiths).  Many others, of course, do not believe the denials of (1) and (2), and in fact believe (1) and (2).  Further, I will not know of any arguments that can be counted on to persuade those who do believe (1) or (2) (or propositions accepted by the adherents of other religions).  I am therefore in the condition of believing propositions that many others do not believe, and furthermore am in condition C.  If, in the case of those who believe (1) and (2), that is sufficient for intellectual arrogance or egotism, the same goes for those who believe their denials.  

            So consider the second option: I can instead withhold the proposition in question.  I can say to myself: "the right course here, given that I can't or couldn't convince these others of what I believe, is to believe neither these propositions nor their denials".  The pluralist objector to exclusivism can say that the right course, under condition C, is to abstain from believing the offending proposition, and also abstain from believing its denial; call him, therefore, 'the abstemious pluralist'.  But does he thus really avoid the condition that, on the part of the exclusivist, leads to the charges of egotism and arrogance?  Think, for a moment, about disagreement.  Disagreement, fundamentally, is a matter of adopting conflicting propositional attitudes with respect to a given proposition.  In the simplest and most familiar case, I disagree with you if there is some proposition p such that I believe p and you believe -p.   But that's just the simplest case: there are also others.  The one that is presently of interest is this: I believe p and you withhold it, fail to believe it.  Call the first kind of disagreement 'contradicting'; call the second 'dissenting'. 

            My claim is that if contradicting others (under the condition C spelled out above) is arrogant and egotistical, so is dissenting (under that same condition).  For suppose you believe some proposition p but I don't: perhaps you believe that it is wrong to discriminate against people simply on the grounds of race, but I, recognizing that there are many people who disagree with you, do not believe this proposition.  I don't disbelieve it either, of course; but in the circumstances I think the right thing to do is to abstain from belief.  Then am I not implicitly condemning your attitude, your believing the proposition, as somehow improper—naive, perhaps, or unjustified, or in some other way less than optimal?  I am implicitly saying that my attitude is the superior one; I think my course of action here is the right one and yours somehow wrong, inadequate, improper, in the circumstances at best second-rate.   Of course I realize that there is no question, here, of showing you that your attitude is wrong or improper or naive; so am I not guilty of intellectual arrogance?  Of a sort of egotism, thinking I know better than you, arrogating to myself a privileged status with respect to you?  The problem for the exclusivist was that she was obliged to think she possessed a truth missed by many others; the problem for the abstemious pluralist is that he is obliged to think that he possesses a virtue others don't, or acts rightly where others don't.  If, in conditions C, one is arrogant by way of believing a proposition others don't, isn't one equally, under those reflective conditions, arrogant by way of withholding a proposition others don't?

            Perhaps you will respond by saying that the abstemious pluralist gets into trouble, falls into arrogance, by way of implicitly saying or believing that his way of proceeding is better or wiser than other ways pursued by other people; and perhaps he can escape by abstaining from that view as well. Can't he escape the problem by refraining from believing that racial bigotry is wrong, and also refraining from holding the view that it is better, under the conditions that obtain, to withhold that proposition than to assert and believe it?  Well, yes he can; then he has no reason for his abstention; he doesn't believe that abstention is better or more appropriate; he simply does abstain.  Does this get him off the egotistical hook?  Perhaps.  But then of course he can't, in consistency, also hold that there is something wrong with not abstaining, with coming right out and believing that bigotry is wrong; he loses his objection to the exclusivist.  Accordingly, this way out is not available for the abstemious pluralist who accuses the exclusivist of arrogance and egotism.    

            Indeed, I think we can show that the abstemious pluralist who brings charges of intellectual arrogance against exclusivism is hoist with his own petard, holds a position that in a certain way is self-referentially inconsistent in the circumstances.  For he believes

(3) If S knows that others don't believe p and that he is in condition C with respect to p, then S should not believe p;

this or something like it is the ground of the charges he brings against the exclusivist.  But of course the abstemious pluralist realizes that many do notaccept (3); and I suppose he also realizes that it is unlikely that he can find arguments for (3) that will convince them; hence he knows that he is in condition C.  Given his acceptance of (3), therefore, the right course for him is to abstain from believing (3).   Under the conditions that do in fact obtain—namely his knowledge that others don't accept it and that condition C obtains—he can't properly accept it.

            I am therefore inclined to think that one can't, in the circumstances, properly hold (3) or any other proposition that will do the job.  One can't find here some principle on the basis of which to hold that the exclusivist is doing the wrong thing, suffers from some moral fault—that is, one can't find such a principle that doesn't, as we might put it, fall victim to itself. 

            So the abstemious pluralist is hoist with his own petard; but even apart from this dialectical argument (which in any event some will think unduly cute) aren't the charges unconvincing and implausible?  Of course I must concede that there are a variety of ways in which I can be and have been intellectually arrogant and egotistic; I have certainly fallen into this vice in the past and no doubt am not free of it now.  But am I really arrogant and egotistic just by virtue of believing what I know others don't believe, where I can't show them that I am right?  Suppose I think the matter over, consider the objections as carefully as I can, realize that I am finite and furthermore a sinner, certainly no better than those with whom I disagree, and indeed inferior both morally and intellectually to many who do not believe what I do; but suppose it still seems clear to me that the proposition in question is true: can I really be behaving immorally in continuing to believe it?  I am dead sure that it is wrong to try to advance my career by telling lies about my colleagues; I realize there are those who disagree; I also realize that in all likelihood there is no way I can find to show them that they are wrong; nonetheless I think they are wrong.  If I think this after careful reflection—if I consider the claims of those who disagree as sympathetically as I can, if I try level best to ascertain the truth here—and it still seems to me sleazy, wrong and despicable to lie about my colleagues to advance my career, could I really be doing something immoral in continuing to believe as before?  I can't see how.  If, after careful reflection and thought, you find yourself convinced that the right propositional attitude to take to (1) and (2) in the face of the facts of religious pluralism is abstention from belief, how could you properly be taxed with egotism, either for so believing or for so abstaining?  Even if you knew others did not agree with you?  So I can't see how the moral charge against exclusivism can be sustained.

II Epistemic Objections to Exclusivism

            I turn now to epistemic objections to Exclusivism.  There are many different specifically epistemic virtues, and a corresponding plethora of epistemic vices; the ones with which the exclusivist is most frequently charged, however, are irrationality and lack of justification in holding his exclusivist beliefs.  The claim is that as an exclusivist, he holds unjustified beliefs, and/or irrational beliefs.  Better, he is unjustified or irrational in holding these beliefs.  I shall therefore consider those two claims; and I shall argue that the exclusivistic views need not be either unjustified or irrational.  I shall then turn to the question whether his beliefs could have warrant: that property, whatever precisely it is, that distinguishes knowledge from mere true belief, and whether they could have enough warrant for knowledge.

A. Justification

            The pluralist objector sometimes claims that to hold exclusivist views, in condition C, is unjustifiedepistemically unjustified.  Is this true?  And what does he mean when he makes this claim? As even a brief glance at the contemporary epistemological literature will show, justification is a protean and multifarious notion.(13)  There are, I think, substantially two possibilities as to what he means.  The central core of the notion, its beating heart, the paradigmatic center to which most of the myriad contemporary variations are related by way of analogical extension and family resemblance, is the notion of being within one's intellectual rights, having violated no intellectual or cognitive duties or obligations in the formation and sustenance of the belief in question.  This is the palimpsest, going back to Descartes and especially Locke, that underlies the multitudinous battery of contemporary inscriptions.  There is no space to argue that point here; but chances are when the pluralist objector to exclusivism claims that the latter is unjustified, it is some notion lying in this neighborhood that he has in mind.  (And of course here we should note the very close connection between the moral objections to exclusivism and the objection that exclusivism is epistemically unjustified.)      

            The duties involved, naturally enough, would be specifically epistemic duties: perhaps a duty to proportion degree of belief to (propositional) evidence from what is certain, i.e., self-evident or incorrigible, as with Locke, or perhaps to try one's best to get into and stay in the right relation to the truth, as with Roderick Chisholm,(14) the leading contemporary champion of the justificationist tradition with respect to knowledge.  But at present there is widespread (and as I see it, correct) agreement that there is no duty of the Lockean kind.  Perhaps there is one of the Chisholmian kind;(15) but isn't the exclusivist conforming to that duty if, after the sort of careful, indeed prayerful consideration I mentioned in the response to the moral objection, it still seems to him strongly that (1), say, is true and he accordingly still believes it?  It is therefore hard to see that the exclusivist is necessarily unjustified in this way. 

            The second possibility for understanding the charge—the charge that exclusivism is epistemically unjustified—has to do with the oft-repeated claim that exclusivism is intellectually arbitrary.  Perhaps the idea is that there is an intellectual duty to treat similar cases similarly; the exclusivist violates this duty by arbitrarily choosing to believe (for the moment going along with the fiction that we choose beliefs of this sort) (1) and (2) in the face of the plurality of conflicting religious beliefs the world presents.  But suppose there is such a duty.  Clearly you do not violate it if you nonculpably think the beliefs in question are not on a par.  And as an exclusivist, I do think (nonculpably, I hope) that they are not on a par: I think (1) and (2) true and those incompatible with either of them false

            The rejoinder, of course, will be that it is not alethic parity (their having the same truth value) that is at issue: it is epistemic parity that counts.  What kind of epistemic parity?  What would be relevant, here, I should think, would be internal or internalist epistemic parity: parity with respect to what is internally available to the believer.  What is internally available to the believer includes, for example, detectable relationships between the belief in question and other beliefs you hold; so internal parity would include parity of propositional evidence.  What is internally available to the believer also includes the phenomenology that goes with the beliefs in question: the sensuous phenomenology, but also the nonsensuous phenomenology involved, for example, in the belief's just having the feel of being right.  But once more, then, (1) and (2) are not on an internal par, for the exclusivist, with beliefs that are incompatible with them.  (1) and (2), after all, seem to me to be true; they have for me the phenomenology that accompanies that seeming.   The same cannot be said for propositions incompatible with them.  If, furthermore, John Calvin is right in thinking that there is such a thing as the Sensus Divinitatis and the Internal Testimony of the Holy Spirit, then perhaps (1) and (2) are produced in me by those belief-producing processes, and have for me the phenomenology that goes with them; the same is not true for propositions incompatible with them.

            But then the next rejoinder: isn't it probably true that those who reject (1) and (2) in favor of other beliefs have propositional evidence for their beliefs that is on a par with mine for my beliefs; and isn't it also probably true that the same or similar phenomenology accompanies their beliefs as accompanies mine?  So that those beliefs really are epistemically and internally on a par with (1) and (2), and the exclusivist is still treating like cases differently?  I don't think so: I think there really are arguments available for (1), at least, that are not available for its competitors.  And as for similar phenomenology, this is not easy to say; it is not easy to look into the breast of another; the secrets of the human heart are hard to fathom; it hard indeed to discover this sort of thing even with respect to someone you know really well.  But I am prepared to stipulate both sorts of parity.  Let's agree for purposes of argument that these beliefs are on an epistemic par in the sense that those of a different religious tradition have the same sort of internally available markers—evidence, phenomenology and the like—for their beliefs as I have for (1) and (2).  What follows? 

            Return to the case of moral belief.  King David took Bathsheba, made her pregnant, and then, after the failure of various stratagems to get her husband Uriah to think the baby was his, arranged for him to be killed.  The prophet Nathan came to David and told him a story about a rich man and a poor man.  The rich man had many flocks and herds; the poor man had only a single ewe lamb, which grew up with his children, "ate at his table, drank from his cup, lay in his bosom, and was like a daughter to him".  The rich man had unexpected guests.  Instead of slaughtering one of his own sheep, he took the poor man's single ewe lamb, slaughtered it, and served it to his guests.  David exploded in anger: "The man who did this deserves to die!"  Then, in one of the most riveting passages in all the Bible, Nathan turns to David, stretches out his arm and points to him, and declares, "You are that man!"  And then David sees what he has done. 

            My interest here is in David's reaction to the story.  I agree with David: such injustice is utterly and despicably wrong; there are really no words for it.  I believe that such an action is wrong, and I believe that the proposition that it isn't wrong—either because really nothing is wrong, or because even if some things are wrong, this isn't—is false.  As a matter of fact, there is isn't a lot I believe more strongly.  I recognize, however, that there are those who disagree with me; and once more, I doubt that I could find an argument to show them that I am right and they wrong.  Further, for all I know, their conflicting beliefs have for them the same internally available epistemic markers, the same phenomenology, as mine have for me.  Am I then being arbitrary, treating similar cases differently in continuing to hold, as I do, that in fact that kind of behavior is dreadfully wrong?  I don't think so.  Am I wrong in thinking racial bigotry despicable, even though I know that there are others who disagree, and even if I think they have the same internal markers for their beliefs as I have for mine?  I don't think so.  I believe in Serious Actualism, the view that no objects have properties in worlds in which they do not exist, not even nonexistence.  Others do not believe this, and perhaps the internal markers of their dissenting views have for them the same quality as my views have for me.  Am I being arbitrary in continuing to think as I do?  I can't see how.

            And the reason here is this: in each of these cases, the believer in question doesn't really think the beliefs in question are on a relevant epistemic par.  She may agree that she and those who dissent are equally convinced of the truth of their belief, and even that they are internally on a par, that the internally available markers are similar, or relevantly similar.  But she must still think that there is an important epistemic difference: she thinks that somehow the other person has made a mistake, or has a blind spot, or hasn't been wholly attentive, or hasn't received some grace she has, or is in some way epistemically less fortunate.  And of course the pluralist critic is in no better case.  He thinks the thing to do when there is internal epistemic parity is to withhold judgment; he knows that there are others who don't think so, and for all he knows that belief has internal parity with his; if he continue in that belief, therefore, he will be in the same condition as the exclusivist; and if he doesn't continue in this belief, he no longer has an objection to the exclusivist.

            But couldn't I be wrong?  Of course I could!  But I don't avoid that risk by withholding all religious (or philosophical or moral) beliefs; I can go wrong that way as well as any other, treating all religions, or all philosophical thoughts, or all moral views, as on a par.  Again, there is no safe haven here, no way to avoid risk.  In particular, you won't reach safe haven by trying to take the same attitude towards all the historically available patterns of belief and withholding: for in so doing you adopt a particular pattern of belief and withholding, one incompatible with some adopted by others.  You pays your money and you takes your choice, realizing that you, like anyone else, can be desperately wrong.  But what else can you do?  You don't really have an alternative.  And how can you do better than believe and withhold according to what, after serious and responsible consideration, seems to you to be the right pattern of belief and withholding? 

B. Irrationality

                I therefore can't see how it can be sensibly maintained that the exclusivist is unjustified in his exclusivistic views; but perhaps, as is sometimes claimed, he or his view is irrational.  Irrationality, however, is many things to many people; so there is a prior question: what is it to be irrational?  More exactly: precisely what quality is it that the objector is attributing to the exclusivist (in condition C) when the former says the latter's exclusivist beliefs are irrational?  Since the charge is never developed at all fully, it isn't easy to say.  So suppose we simply consider the main varieties of irrationality (or, if you prefer, the main senses of 'irrational') and ask whether any of them attach to the exclusivist just by virtue of being an exclusivist.  I believe there are substantially five varieties of rationality, five distinct but analogically (16) connected senses of the term 'rational'; fortunately not all of them require detailed consideration. 

            (1) Aristotelian Rationality.  This is the sense in which man is a rational animal, one that has ratio, one that can look before and after, can hold beliefs, make inferences and is capable of knowledge.  This is perhaps the basic sense, the one of which the others are analogical extensions.  It is also, presumably irrelevant in the present context; at any rate I hope the objector does not mean to hold that an exclusivist will by that token no longer be a rational animal.

            (2) The Deliverances of Reason.  To be rational in the Aristotelian sense is to possess reason: the power or thinking, believing, inferring, reasoning, knowing.  Aristotelian rationality is thus generic.  But there is an important more specific sense lurking in the neighborhood; this is the sense that goes with reason taken more narrowly, as the source of a priori knowledge and belief.(17)  An important use of 'rational' analogically connected with the first has to do with reason taken in this more narrow way.  It is by reason thus construed that we know self-evident beliefs—beliefs so obvious that you can't so much as grasp them without seeing that they couldn't be false.  These will be among the deliverances of reason.  Of course there are other beliefs—38 x 39 = 1482, for example—that are not self-evident, but are a consequence of self-evident beliefs by way of arguments that are self-evidently valid; these too are among the deliverances of reason.  So say that the deliverances of reason is the set of those propositions that are self-evident for us human beings, closed under self-evident consequence.  This yields another sense of rationality: a belief is rational if it is among the deliverances of reason and irrational if it is contrary to the deliverances of reason.  (A belief can therefore be neither rational nor irrational, in this sense.)  This sense of 'rational' is an analogical extension of the fundamental sense; but it is itself extended by analogy to still other senses.   Thus we can broaden the category of reason to include memory, experience, induction, probability, and whatever else goes into science; this is the sense of the term when reason is sometimes contrasted with faith.  And we can also soften the requirement for self-evidence, recognizing both that self-evidence or a priori warrant is a matter of degree, and that there are many propositions that have a priori warrant, but are not such that no one who understands them can fail to believe them.(18)

            Is the exclusivist irrational in these senses?  I think not; or at any rate the question whether he is isn't the question at issue.  For his exclusivist beliefs are irrational in these senses only if there is a good argument from the deliverances of reason (taken broadly) to the denials of what he believes.  I myself do not believe that there are any such arguments.  Presumably the same goes for the pluralist objector; at any rate his objection is not that (1) and (2) are demonstrably false or even that there are good arguments against them from the deliverances of reason; his objection is instead that there is something wrong or subpar with believing them in condition C.  This sense too, then, is irrelevant to our present concerns.

            (3) The Deontological Sense.  This sense of the term has to do with intellectual requirement, or duty, or obligation: a person's belief is irrational in this sense if in forming or holding it she violates such a duty.  This is the sense of 'irrational' in which, according to many contemporary evidentialist objectors to theistic belief, those who believe in God without propositional evidence are irrational.(19)  Irrationality in this sense is a matter of failing to conform to intellectual or epistemic duties; and the analogical connection with the first, Aristotelian sense is that these duties are thought to be among the deliverances of reason (and hence among the deliverances of the power by virtue of which human beings are rational in the Aristotelian sense).  But we have already considered whether the exclusivist is flouting duties; we need say no more about the matter here.  As we saw, the exclusivist is not necessarily irrational in this sense either.
            (4) Zweckrationalität.  A common and very important notion of rationality is means-end rationality—what our Continental cousins, following Max Weber, sometimes call Zweckrationalität, the sort of rationality displayed by your actions if they are well-calculated to achieve your goals.  (Again, the analogical connection with the first sense is clear: the calculation in question requires the power by virtue of which we are rational in Aristotle's sense.)  Clearly there is a whole constellation of notions lurking in the nearby bushes: what would in fact contribute to your goals, what you take it would contribute to your goals, what you would take it would contribute to your goals if you were sufficiently acute, or knew enough, or weren't distracted by lust, greed, pride, ambition, and the like, what you would take it would contribute to your goals if you weren't thus distracted and were also to reflect sufficiently, and so on.  This notion of rationality has assumed enormous importance in the last 150 years or so.  (Among its laurels, for example, is the complete domination of the development of the discipline of Economics.)  Rationality thus construed is a matter of knowing how to get what you want; it is the cunning of reason.  Is the exclusivist properly charged with irrationality in this sense?  Does his believing in the way he does interfere with his attaining some of his goals, or is it a markedly inferior way of attaining those goals?

              An initial caveat: it isn't clear that this notion of rationality applies to belief at all.  It isn't clear that in believing something, I am acting to achieve some goal.  If believing is an action at all, it is very far from being the paradigmatic kind of action taken to achieve some end; we don't have a choice as to whether to have beliefs, and we don't have a lot of choice with respect to which beliefs we have.  But suppose we set this caveat aside and stipulate for purposes of argument that we have sufficient control over our beliefs for them to qualify as actions: would the exclusivist's beliefs then be irrational in this sense?  Well, that depends upon what his goals are; if among his goals for religious belief is, for example, not believing anything not believed by someone else, then indeed it would be.  But of course he needn't have that goal.  If I do have an end or goal in holding such beliefs as (1) and (2), it would presumably be that of believing the truth on this exceedingly important matter, or perhaps that of trying to get in touch as adequately as possible with God, or more broadly with the deepest reality.  And if (1) and (2) are true, believing them will be a way of doing exactly that.  It is only if they are not true, then, that believing them could sensibly be thought to be irrational in this means-ends sense.  Since the objector does not propose to take as a premise the proposition that (1) and (2) are false—he holds only that there is some flaw involved in believing them—this also is presumably not what he means.

            (5) Rationality as Sanity and Proper Function.  One in the grip of pathological confusion, or flight of ideas, or certain kinds of agnosia, or the manic phase of manic-depressive psychosis will often be said to be irrational; the episode may pass, after which he regains rationality.  Here 'rationality' means absence of dysfunction, disorder, impairment, pathology with respect to rationalfaculties.  So this variety of rationality is again analogically related to Aristotelian rationality; a person is rational in this sense when no malfunction obstructs her use of the faculties by virtue of the possession of which she is rational in the Aristotelian sense.  Rationality as sanity does not require possession of particularly exalted rational faculties; it requires only normality (in the nonstatistical sense) or health, or proper function.  This use of the term, naturally enough, is prominent in psychiatric
discussions—Oliver Sacks's man who mistook his wife for a hat,(20) for example, was thus irrational.(21)  This fifth and final sense of rationality is itself a family of analogically related senses.  The fundamental sense here is that of sanity and proper function; but there are other closely related senses.  Thus we may say that a belief (in certain circumstances) is irrational, not because no sane person would hold it, but because no person who was sane and had also undergone a certain course of education would hold it, or because no person who was sane and furthermore was as intelligent as we and our friends would hold it; alternatively and more briefly the idea is not merely that no one who was functioning properly in those circumstances would hold it, but rather no one who was functioning optimally, as well or nearly as well as human beings ordinarily do (leaving aside the occasional great genius) would hold it.  And this sense of rationality leads directly to the notion of warrant; I turn now to that notion; in treating it, we will also treat ambulando this fifth kind of irrationality. 

C. Warrant

            So the third version of the epistemic objection: that at any rate the exclusivist doesn't have warrant, or anyway much warrant (enough warrant for knowledge) for his exclusivistic views.  Many pluralists—for example, Hick, Runzo and Wilfred Cantwell Smith—unite in declaring that at any rate the exclusivist certainly can't know that his exclusivistic views are true.(22)  But is this really true?  I shall argue briefly that it is not.  At any rate from the perspective of each of the major contemporary accounts of knowledge, it may very well be that the exclusivist knows (1) or (2) or both.  First, consider the two main internalistic accounts of knowledge: the justified true belief account(s), and the coherentist account(s).  As I have already argued, it seems clear that a theist, a believer in (1), could certainly be justified (in the primary sense) in believing as she does: she could be flouting no intellectual or cognitive duties or obligations.  But then on the most straightforward justified true belief account of knowledge, she can also know that it is true—if, that is, it can be true.  More exactly, what must be possible is that both the exclusivist is justified in believing (1) and/or (2) and they be true.  Presumably the pluralist does not mean to dispute this possibility.

            For concreteness, consider the account of justification given by the classical Chisholm.(23)  On this view, a belief has warrant for me to the extent that accepting it is apt for the fulfillment of my epistemic duty, which (roughly speaking) is that of trying to get and remain in the right relation to the truth.  But if after the most careful, thorough, thoughtful, open and prayerful consideration, it still seems to me—perhaps more strongly than ever—that (1) and (2) are true, then clearly accepting them has great aptness for the fulfillment of that duty.(24)  

             A similarly brief argument can be given with respect to coherentism, the view that what constitutes warrant is coherence with some body of belief.  We must distinguish two varieties of coherentism.  On the one hand, it might be held that what is required is coherence with some or all of the other beliefs I actually hold; on the other that what is required is coherence with my verific noetic structure (Keith Lehrer's term): the set of beliefs that remains when all the false ones are deleted or replaced by their contradictories.  But surely a coherent set of beliefs could include both (1) and (2) together with the beliefs involved in being in condition C; what would be required, perhaps, would be that the set of beliefs contain some explanation of why it is that others do not believe as I do.  And if (1) and (2) are true, then surely (and a fortiori) there can be coherent verific noetic structures that include them.  Hence neither of these versions of coherentism rules out the possibility that the exclusivist in condition C could know (1) and/or (2).

            And now consider the main externalist accounts.  The most popular externalist account at present would be one or another version of reliabilism.  And there is an oft-repeated pluralistic argument (an argument that goes back at least to John Stuart Mill's  On Liberty and possibly all the way back to the third century) that seems to be designed to appeal to reliabilist intuitions.  The conclusion of this argument is not always clear, but here is its premise, in John Hick's words:

For it is evident that in some ninety-nine percent of cases the religion which an individual professes and to which he or she adheres depends upon the accidents of birth.  Someone born to Buddhist parents in Thailand is very likely to be a Buddhist, someone born to Muslim parents in Saudi Arabia to be a Muslim, someone born to Christian parents in Mexico to be a Christian, and so on.(25)

As a matter of sociological fact, this may be right.  Furthermore, it can certainly produce a sense of intellectual vertigo.  But what is one to do with this fact, if fact it is, and what follows from it?  Does it follow, for example, that I ought not to accept the religious views that I have been brought up to accept, or the ones that I find myself inclined to accept, or the ones that seem to me to be true? Or that the belief-producing processes that have produced those beliefs in me are unreliable?  Surely not.  Furthermore, self-referential problems once more loom; this argument is another philosophical tar baby. 
            For suppose we concede that if I had been born in Madagascar rather than Michigan, my beliefs would have been quite different.(26)  (For one thing, I probably wouldn't believe that I was born in Michigan.)  But of course the same goes for the pluralist.  Pluralism isn't and hasn't been widely popular in the world at large; if the pluralist had been born in Madagascar, or medieval France, he probably wouldn't have been a pluralist.  Does it follow that he shouldn't be a pluralist or that his pluralistic beliefs are produced in him by an unreliable belief-producing process?  I doubt it.  Suppose I hold

(4) If S's religious or philosophical beliefs are such that if S had been born elsewhere and elsewhen, she wouldn't have held them, then those beliefs are produced by unreliable belief-producing mechanisms and hence have no warrant;

or something similar: then once more I will be hoist with my own petard.  For in all probability, someone born in Mexico to Christian parents wouldn't believe (4) itself.  No matter what philosophical and religious beliefs we hold and withhold (so it seems) there are places and times such that if we had been born there and then, then we would not have displayed the pattern of holding and withholding of religious and philosophical beliefs we do display.  As I said, this can indeed be vertiginous; but what can we make of it?  What can we infer from it about what has warrant and how we should conduct our intellectual lives?  That's not easy to say.  Can we infer anything at all about what has warrant or how we should conduct our intellectual lives?  Not obviously.

            To return to reliabilism then: for simplicity, let's take the version of reliabilism according to which S knows p iff the belief that p is produced in S by a reliable belief-producing mechanism or process.  I don't have the space, here, to go into this matter in sufficient detail: but it seems pretty clear that if (1) and (2) are true, then it could be that the beliefs that (1) and (2) be produced in me by a reliable belief-producing process.  For either we are thinking of concrete belief-producing processes, like your memory or John's powers of a priori reasoning (tokens as opposed to types), or else we are thinking of types of belief-producing processes (type reliabilism).  The problem with the latter is that there are an enormous number of different types of belief-producing processes for any given belief, some of which are reliable and some of which are not; the problem (and a horrifying problem it is (27)) is to say which of these is the type the reliability of which determines whether the belief in question has warrant.  So the first (token reliabilism) is the better way of stating reliabilism.  But then clearly enough if (1) or (2) is true, it could be produced in me by a reliable belief-producing process.  Calvin's Sensus Divinitatis, for example, could be working in the exclusivist in such a way as to reliably produce the belief that (1); Calvin's Internal Testimony of the Holy Spirit could do the same for (2).  If (1) and (2) are true, therefore, then from a reliabilist perspective there is no reason whatever to think that the exclusivist might not know that they are true.

            There is another brand of externalism which seems to me to be closer to the truth than reliabilism: call it (faute de mieux) 'proper functionalism'.  This view can be stated to a first approximation as follows: S knows p iff (1) the belief that p is produced in S by cognitive faculties that are functioning properly (working as they ought to work, suffering from no dysfunction), (2) the cognitive environment in which p is produced is appropriate for those faculties, (3) the purpose of the module of the epistemic faculties producing the belief in question is to produce true beliefs (alternatively: the module of the design plan governing the production of p is aimed at the production of true beliefs), and (4) the objective probability of a belief's being true, given that it is produced under those conditions, is high.(28)  All of this needs explanation, of course; for present purposes, perhaps, we can collapse the account into the first condition.  But then clearly it could be, if (1) and (2) are true, that they are produced in me by cognitive faculties functioning properly under condition C.  For suppose (1) is true.  Then it is surely possible that God has created us human beings with something like Calvin's Sensus Divinitatis, a belief-producing process that in a wide variety of circumstances functions properly to produce (1) or some very similar belief.  Furthermore, it is also possible that in response to the human condition of sin and misery, God has provided for us human beings a means of salvation, which he has revealed in the Bible.  Still further, perhaps he has arranged for us to come to believe what he means to teach there by way of the operation of something like the Internal Testimony of the Holy Spirit of which Calvin speaks.  So on this view, too, if (1) and (2) are true, it is certainly possible that the exclusivist know that they are.  We can be sure that the exclusivist's views lack warrant and are irrational in this sense, then, only if they are false; but the pluralist objector does not mean to claim that they are false; this version of the objection, therefore, also fails.  The exclusivist isn't necessarily irrational, and indeed might know that (1) and (2) are true, if indeed they are true.

            All this seems right.  But don't the realities of religious pluralism count for anything at all?  Is there nothing at all to the claims of the pluralists?(29)  Could that really be right?  Of course not.  For many or most exclusivists, I think, an awareness of the enormous variety of human religious response serves as a defeater for such beliefs as (1) and (2)—an undercutting defeater, as opposed to a rebutting defeater.  It calls into question, to some degree or other, the sources of one's belief in (1) or (2).  It doesn't or needn't do so by way of an argument; and indeed there isn't a very powerful argument from the proposition that many apparently devout people around the world dissent from (1) and (2) to the conclusion that (1) and (2) are false.  Instead it works more directly; it directly reduces the level of confidence or degree of belief in the proposition in question.  From a Christian perspective this situation of religious pluralism and our awareness of it is itself a manifestation of our miserable human condition; and it may deprive us of some of the comfort and peace the Lord has promised his followers.  It can also deprive the exclusivist of the knowledge that (1) and (2) are true, even if they are true and he believes that they are.  Since degree of warrant depends in part on degree of belief, it is possible, though not necessary, that knowledge of the facts of religious pluralism should reduce an exclusivist's degree of belief and hence of warrant for (1) and (2) in such a way as to deprive him of knowledge of (1) and (2).  He might be such that if he hadn't known the facts of pluralism, then he would have known (1) and (2), but now that he does know those facts, he doesn't know (1) and (2).  In this way he may come to know less by knowing more.  

            Things could go this way, with the exclusivist.  On the other hand, they needn't go this way.  Consider once more the moral parallel.  Perhaps you have always believed it deeply wrong for a counselor to use his position of trust to seduce a client.  Perhaps you discover that others disagree; they think it more like a minor peccadillo, like running a red light when there's no traffic; and you realize that possibly these people have the same internal markers for their beliefs that you have for yours.  You think the matter over more fully, imaginatively recreate and rehearse such situations, become more aware of just what is involved in such a situation (the breach of trust, the breaking of implied promises, the injustice and unfairness, the nasty irony of a situation in which someone comes to a counselor seeking help but receives only hurt) and come to believe even more firmly the belief that such an action is wrong—which belief, indeed, can in this way acquire more warrant for you.   But something similar can happen in the case of religious beliefs.  A fresh or heightened awareness of the facts of religious pluralism could bring about a reappraisal of one's religious life, a reawakening, a new or renewed and deepened grasp and apprehension of (1) and (2).  From Calvin's perspective, it could serve as an occasion for a renewed and more powerful working of the belief-producing processes by which we come to apprehend (1) and (2).  In that way knowledge of the facts of pluralism could initially serve as a defeater, but in the long run have precisely the opposite effect. 

Alvin Plantinga
University of Notre Dame
June, 1994

1. Colloquium Heptaplomeres de rerum sublimium arcanis abditis, written by 1593 but first published in 1857.  English translation by Marion Kuntz (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975).  The quotation is from the Kuntz translation, p. 256.

2. Thus Joseph Runzo: "Today, the impressive piety and evident rationality of the belief systems of other religious traditions, inescapably confronts Christians with a crisis—and a potential revolution.  "God, Commitment, and Other Faiths: Pluralism vs. Relativism", Faith and Philosophy, Vol. 5, Number 4, October 1988, p. 343 f.

3. As explained in detail in Robert Wilken, "Religious Pluralism and Early Christian Thought", Pro Ecclesia 1 (1992).  Wilken focuses on the third century; he explores Origen's response to Celsus, and concludes that there are striking parallels between Origen's  historical situation and ours.  What is different today, I suspect, is not that Christianity has to confront other religions, but that we now call this situation 'religious pluralism'."

4. Thus Gary Gutting: "Applying these considerations to religious belief, we seem led to the conclusion that, because believers have many epistemic peers who do not share their belief in God . . . , they have no right to maintain their belief without a justification.  If they do so, they are guilty of epistemological egoism." Religious Belief and Religious Skepticism (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1982), p. 90 (but see the following pages for an important qualification).

5. "Here my submission is that on this front the traditional doctrinal position of the Church has in fact militated against its traditional moral position, and has in fact encouraged Christians to approach other men immorally.  Christ has taught us humility, but we have approached them with arrogance. . . . This charge of arrogance is a serious one."  Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Religious Diversity (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), p. 13.

6. Runzo: "Ethically, Religious Exclusivism has the morally repugnant result of making those who have privileged knowledge, or who are intellectually astute, a religious elite, while penalizing those who happen to have no access to the putatively correct religious view, or who are incapable of advanced understanding." “God, Commitment, and Other Faiths”, p. 348.

7. "But natural pride, despite its positive contribution to human life, becomes harmful when it is elevated to the level of dogma and is built into the belief system of a religious community.  This happens when its sense of its own validity and worth is expressed in doctrines implying an exclusive or a decisively superior access to the truth or the power to save." John Hick, "Religious Pluralism and Absolute Claims," Religious Pluralism (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984),p. 197.

8. Thus John Cobb: "I agree with the liberal theists that even in Pannenberg's case, the quest for an absolute as a basis for understanding reflects the long tradition of Christian imperialism and triumphalism rather than the pluralistic spirit."  "The Meaning of Pluralism for Christian Self-Understanding", in Rouner, Religious Pluralism, p. 171.

9. "God, Commitment, and other Faiths: Pluralism vs. Relativism",p. 357.

10. Smith, Religious Diversity, p. 14.  A similar statement:  “Nor can we reasonably claim that our own form of religious experience, together with that of the tradition of which we are a part, is veridical whilst others are not.  We can of course claim this; and indeed virtually every religious tradition has done so, regarding alternative forms of religion either as false or as confused and inferior versions of itself.  . . . .   Persons living within other traditions, then, are equally justified in trusting their own distinctive religious experience and in forming their beliefs on the basis of it.  . . . let us avoid the implausibly arbitrary dogma that religious experience is all delusory with the single exception of the particular form enjoyed by the one who is speaking.”  John Hick, An Interpretation of Religion  (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), p. 235.

11. ". . . the only reason for treating one's tradition differently from others is the very human but not very cogent reason that it is one's own!"  Hick, An Interpretation of Religion, p. 235.

12. To speak of choice here suggests that I can simply choose which of these three attitudes to adopt; but is that at all realistic?  Are my beliefs to that degree within my control?  Here I shall set aside the question whether and to what degree my beliefs are subject to my control and within my power.  Perhaps we have very little control over them; then the moral critic of exclusivism can't properly accuse the exclusivist of dereliction of moral duty, but he could still argue that the exclusivist's stance is unhappy, bad, a miserable state of affairs.  Even if I can't help it that I am overbearing and conceited, my being that way is a bad state of affairs.  

13. See my "Justification in the Twentieth Century" Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 50, supplement (Fall, 1990), pp. 45 ff., and see chap. 1 of my Warrant: the Current Debate (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).

14. See the three editions of Theory of Knowledge referred to in footnote 22.

15. Some people think there is, and also think that withholding belief, abstaining from belief, is always and automatically the safe course to take with respect to this duty, whenever any question arises as to what to believe and withhold.  But that isn't so.  One can go wrong by withholding as well as by believing: there is no safe haven here, not even abstention.  If there is a duty of the Chisholmian kind, and if I, out of epistemic pride and excessive scrupulosity succeed in training myself not to accept ordinary perceptual judgments in ordinary perceptual circumstances, I am not performing works of epistemic supererogation; I am epistemically culpable.

16. In Aquinas's sense, so that analogy may include causality, proportionality, resemblance, and the like. 

17. But then (because of the Russell paradoxes) we can no longer take it that the deliverances of reason are closed under self-evident consequence.  See my Warrant and Proper Function (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), chap. 6.

18. See my Warrant and Proper Function, chapter VI.  Still another analogical extension: a person can be said to be irrational if he won't listen to or pay attention to the deliverances of reason.  He may be blinded by lust or inflamed by passion, or deceived by pride: he might then act contrary to reason—act irrationally, but also believe irrationally.  Thus Locke:
Let never so much probability land on one side of a covetous man's reasoning, and money on the other, it is easy to foresee which will outweigh.   Tell a man, passionately in love, that he is jilted; bring a score of witnesses of the falsehood of his mistress, 'tis ten to one but three kind words of hers, shall invalidate all their testimonies . . . .   . . . and though men cannot always openly gain-say, or resist the force of manifest probabilities, that make against them; yet yield they not to the argument. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. A.D. Woozley (New York: World Publishing Co., 1963), bk. IV, sec. xx, p. 439.

19. Among those who offer this objection to theistic belief are, for example, Brand Blanshard, Reason and Belief (London: Allen & Unwin, l974), pp. 400 ff.; Antony Flew, The Presumption of Atheism (London: Pemberton, 1976), pp. 22 ff.; Michael Scriven, Primary Philosophy (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966), pp. 102 ff.  See my "Reason and Belief in God" in Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff, eds., Faith and Rationality (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983) p. 17 ff.

20. . Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat (New York: Harper and Row, l987).

21. In this sense of the term, what is properly called an 'irrational impulse' may be perfectly rational: an irrational impulse is really one that goes contrary to the deliverances of reason; but undergoing such impulses need not be in any way dysfunctional or a result of the impairment of cognitive faculties.  To go back to some of William James's examples, that I will survive my serious illness might be unlikely, given the statistics I know and my evidence generally; perhaps we are so constructed, however, that when our faculties function properly in extreme situations, we are more optimistic than the evidence warrants.  This belief, then, is irrational in the sense that it goes contrary to the deliverances of reason; it is rational in the sense that it doesn't involve dysfunction.

22. Hick, An Interpretation of Religion, p. 234; Runzo,“God, Commitment, and Other Faiths,” p. 348; Smith, Religious Diversity, p. 16.

23. See his Perceiving: a Philosophical Study (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1957), the three editions of Theory of Knowledge (New York:  Prentice-Hall, 1st ed., l966, 2nd ed., l977, 3rd ed., 1989), and The Foundations of Knowing (University of Minnesota Press, l982); and see my "Chisholmian Internalism", in David Austin, ed., Philosophical Analysis: a Defense by Example (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, l988), and chap. 2 of Warrant: the Current Debate.

24. Of course there are many variations on this internalist theme.  Consider briefly the postclassical Chisholm (see his "The Place of Epistemic Justification" in Roberta Klein, ed., Philosophical Topics, 14, no. 1 (1986), p. 85, and the intellectual autobiography in  Roderick M. Chisholm, ed. Radu Bogdan [Dordrecht: D. Reidel, l986] pp. 52 ff.), who bears a startling resemblance to Brentano.  According to this view, justification is not deontological, but axiological.  To put it another way, warrant is not really a matter of justification, of fulfilling duty and obligation; it is instead a question of whether a certain relation of fittingness holds between one's evidential base (very roughly, the totality of one's present experiences and other beliefs) and the belief in question.  (This relationship's holding, of course, is a valuable state of affairs; hence the axiology.)  Can the exclusivist have warrant from this perspective?  Well, without knowing more about what this relation is, it isn't easy to tell.  But here at the least the postclassical Chisholmian pluralist would owe us an explanation of why he thinks the exclusivist's beliefs could not stand in this relation to his evidence base.

25. An Interpretation of Religion, p. 2. 

26. Actually this conditional as it stands is probably not true; the point must be stated with more care.  Given my parents and their proclivities, if I had been born in Madagascar, it would probably have been because my parents were (Christian) missionaries there.

27. See Richard Feldman, "Reliability and Justification", The Monist, 68 (1986), pp. 159-74, and chap. 9 of my Warrant and Proper Function.

28. See chapter 10 of Warrant: the Current Debate and the first couple of chapters of my Warrant and Proper Function for exposition and defense of this way of thinking about warrant.

29. See W. P. Alston, "Religious Diversity and Perceptual Knowledge of God", Faith and Philosophy, 5, (October 1988), pp. 433 ff.

Carnival Sage ®