Thursday, December 15, 2011

Rock Bottom In Philosophical Argument

In a NYT article, Alvin Plantinga declares

“I think there is such a thing as a sensus divinitatis, and in some people it doesn’t work properly,” he said, referring to the innate sense of the divine that Calvin believed all human beings possess. “So if you think of rationality as normal cognitive function, yes, there is something irrational about that kind of stance.” 

 This has to be the worst philosophical argument ever. "You are a defective human being, so you cannot see the evidence I see." Can there be any clearer declaration that the speaker is lacking any serious argument and flailing desperately than to say that I have a special secret knowledge that my opponent lacks?

And this guy is supposed to be the top Christian philosopher of our time?


  1. It _was_ a good argument when Plantinga was on pure defense against claims that Christianity was ruled out by philosophy. (It turns out you can defend almost anything as possible, if you try hard enough.)

    I'm...less impressed with his offensive moves.

  2. I don't see how this could ever be a good argument. Imagine a moral philosopher defending intuitionism (say) by claiming that anyone who disagrees has a defective moral sense.

    It seems to me that it is legitimate to claim that one has relevant experiences that another person lacks (I have stood atop Everest, God appeared to me in a vision), but it is never legitimate to claim one has powers that another person lacks.

  3. No need to call foul on special power claims. We can test them! Suppose 99% of all humans were literally, completely blind. There would be a minority of oddballs who claim a special power. Blind philosophers and scientists could devise tests to find out whether these freaks really do have a special sense that's causally regulated by otherwise-unsensed reality.

    It's just that special religious senses happen to fail analogous tests.

  4. I think you’ve misunderstood Plantinga here; while he appeals to the sensus divinitatis to show that belief in God is rational in the absence of any (additional?) evidence or argument if God exists, I’ve never seen him use it as a “therefore God exists” type argument. No quotation from Plantinga in the NYT suggests otherwise.