Jonathan Kvanvig has argued that what he terms “doxastic” theories of epistemic justification fail to account for certain epistemic features having to do with evidence. I’m going to give an argument roughly along these lines, but I’m going to focus specifically on properfunction theories of justification or warrant. In particular, I’ll focus on Michael Bergmann’s recent properfunction account of justification, though the argument applies also to Alvin Plantinga’s properfunction account of warrant. (...) The epistemic features I’m concerned about are experiences that should generate a believed defeater but don’t. I’ll argue that proper functionalism as it stands cannot account for the epistemic effects of these defeating experiences—or, at least, that it can only do so by embracing a deeply implausible view of our cognitive faculties. I’ll conclude by arguing that the only plausible option Bergmann has for modifying his theory undercuts the consideration that motivates proper functionalism in the first place. (shrink)
Both biological traits and artifacts have proper functions. But accounts of properfunction are typically based on the biological case. So adapting these accounts to the artifact case requires finding cultural analogues of biological concepts. This can go wrong in two ways. The biological concepts may not pick out either biological or cultural proper functions correctly; or they may have no cultural analogues. I argue that things have gone wrong in the first way with regard to (...) selection and in the second way with regard to fitness. Finally, I argue that the only way forward is to examine the phenomena of reproduction and use in material culture. -/- . (shrink)
The penultimate chapter of Alvin Plantinga's "Warrant and ProperFunction" attacks metaphysical naturalism through an argument which concludes that only a supernaturalistic worldview can accommodate the indispensable concept of properfunction. I make the case that this argument, which I dub 'the argument from properfunction', suffers from two major flaws. First, it underestimates the naturalist's ability to ground natural properfunction ascriptions in the concept of health. Second, it relies upon an (...) overly stringent standard for successful conceptual analysis; ironically, the naturalist can undercut the argument by adopting Plantinga's own recommended model for analysing concepts. (shrink)
Michael Bergmann seeks to motivate his externalist, properfunction theory of epistemic justification by providing three objections to the mentalism and mentalist evidentialism characteristic of nonexternalists such as Richard Feldman and Earl Conee. Bergmann argues that (i) mentalism is committed to the false thesis that justification depends on mental states; (ii) mentalism is committed to the false thesis that the epistemic fittingness of an epistemic input to a belief-forming process must be due to an essential feature of that (...) input, and, relatedly, that mentalist evidentialism is committed to the false thesis that the epistemic fittingness of doxastic response B to evidence E is an essential property of B–E; and (iii) mentalist evidentialism is “unmotivated”. I object to each argument. The argument for (i) begs the question. The argument for (ii) suffers from the fact that mentalist evidentialists are not committed to the consequences claimed for them; nevertheless, I show that there is, in the neighborhood, a substantive dispute concerning the nature of doxastic epistemic fittingness. That dispute involves what I call “Necessary Fittingness”, the view that, necessarily, exactly one (at most) doxastic attitude ( belief , or disbelief , or suspension of judgment ) toward a proposition is epistemically fitting with respect to a person’s total evidence at any time. Reflection on my super-blooper epistemic design counterexamples to Bergmann’s properfunction theory reveals both the plausibility of Necessary Fittingness and a good reason to deny (iii). Mentalist evidentialism is thus vindicated against the objections. (shrink)
"Modern History" versions of the etiological theory claim that in order for a trait X to have the properfunction F, individuals with X must have been recently favored by natural selection for doing F (Godfrey-Smith 1994; Griffiths 1992, 1993). For many traits with prototypical proper functions, however, such recent selection may not have occurred: traits may have been maintained due to lack of variation or due to selection for other effects. I examine this flaw in Modern (...) History accounts and offer an alternative etiological theory, the Continuing Usefulness account, which appears to avoid such problems. (shrink)
Designers’ intentions are important for determining an artifact’s properfunction (i.e., its perceived real function). However, there are disagreements regarding why. In one view, people reason causally about artifacts’ functional outcomes, and designers’ intended functions become important to the extent that they allow inferring outcomes. In another view, people use knowledge of designers’ intentions to determine proper functions, but this is unrelated to causal reasoning, having perhaps to do with intentional or social forms of reasoning (e.g., (...) authority). Regarding these latter social factors, researchers have proposed that designers’ intentions operate through a mechanism akin to social conventions, and that therefore both are determinants of properfunction. In the current work, participants learned about an object’s creation, about social conventions for its use and about a specific episode where the artifact was used. The function implemented by the user could be aligned with the designer’s intended function, the social convention, both, or neither (i.e., an opportunistic use). Importantly, the use episode always resulted in an accident. Data show that the accident negatively affected properfunction judgments and perceived efficiency for conventional and opportunistic functions, but not for designers’ intended functions. This is inconsistent with the view that designers’ intentions are conceptualized as causes of functional outcomes and with the idea that designers’ intentions and social conventions operate through a common mechanism. (shrink)
This paper presents a critical analysis of Alvin Plantinga’s recent contention, developed in Warranted Christian Belief (forthcoming), that if theism is true, then it is unlikely that religious unbelief is the product of properly functioning, truth-aimed cognitive faculties. More specifically, Plantinga argues that, given his own model of properly basic theistic belief, religious unbelief would always depend on cognitive malfunction somewhere in a person’s noetic establishment. I argue that this claim is highly questionable and has adverse consequences for Plantinga’s epistemology (...) of religious belief. Plantinga’s proper basicality thesis together with his view of rationality defeaters suggests that there are circumstances in which theistic belief would not be properfunction rational even if theism is true. (shrink)
A number of counterexamples have recently been leveled against Alvin Plantinga's Proper Functionalism, counterexamples aimed at showing that Plantinga's theory fails to provide sufficient conditions for warrant — that elusive epistemic property which together with true belief yields knowledge. Among these counterexamples, Laurence Bonjour's is perhaps the most formidable and, if successful, shows that Proper Functionalism is simply too weak to serve as an acceptable theory of warrant. In this paper, I argue that, contrary to initial appearances, BonJour's (...) counterexample is not successful. More exactly, I argue that, once it is recognized that a defeasibility constraint is deeply embedded within Plantinga's properfunction condition for warrant — a constraint which says, in effect, that a belief B is warranted for an agent S only if S does not possess any defeaters against B — BonJour's counterexample to Proper Functionalism can be handled quite straightforwardly. (shrink)
The survival enhancing propensity (SEP) account has a crucial role to play in the analysis of properfunction. However, a central feature of the account, its specification of the proper environment to which functions are relativized, is seriously underdeveloped. In this paper, I argue that existent accounts of proper environment fail because they either allow too many or too few characters to count as proper functions. While SEP accounts retain their promise, they are unworkable because (...) of their inability to specify this important feature. However, I suggest that this problem can be overcome by the application of a new strategy for specifying proper environment that is grounded in the operation of natural selection and I conclude by offering a first approximation of such an account. (shrink)
Function theorists routinely speculate that a viable function theory will be equally applicable to biological traits and artifacts. However, artifact function has received only the most cursory scrutiny in its own right. Closer scrutiny reveals that only a pluralist theory comprising two distinct notions of function--properfunction and system function--will serve as an adequate general theory. The first section describes these two notions of function. The second section shows why both notions are (...) necessary, by showing that attempts to do away with one of them fail. This demonstration draws on examples from the artifactual realm to motivate major points of the argument. The third section is an outline of artifact function. It confirms the conclusions of the second section, and also begins the task of describing some of the special features of artifact function needing accommodation within the general theory. (shrink)
In this companion volume to Warrant: The Current Debate, Plantinga develops an original approach to the question of epistemic warrant; that is what turns true belief into knowledge. He argues that what is crucial to warrant is the proper functioning of one's cognitive faculties in the right kind of cognitive environment.
It is suggested that Charles Sanders Peirce's triadic semiotics provides a framework for a diagrammatic representation of a sign's proper structure. The action of signs is described at the logical and psychological levels. The role of (unconscious) abductive inference is analyzed, and a diagram of reasoning is offered. A series of interpretants transform brute facts into interpretable signs thereby providing human experience with value or meaning. The triadic structure helps in de-mystifying the relations between Penrose's three worlds when the (...) latter are considered as constituting a semiotic triangle. (shrink)
Language is both a biological and a cultural phenomenon. Our aim here is to discuss, in an evolutionary perspective, the articulation of these two aspects of language. For this, we draw on the general conceptual framework developed by Ruth Millikan (1984) while at the same time dissociating ourselves from her view of language.
Plantinga thus offers an approach that begins by assessing the faculties or abilities of a cognitive system or agent. Once such an assessment is complete, the epistemologist is in a position to infer the epistemic status of the doxastic products of those faculties or abilities.
Situation theory, as developed by Barwise and his collaborators, is used to demonstrate the possibility of defining teleology (and related notions, like that of proper or biological function) in terms of higher order causation, along the lines suggested by Taylor and Wright. This definition avoids the excessive narrowness that results from trying to define teleology in terms of evolutionary history or the effects of natural selection. By legitimating the concept of teleology, this definition also provides promising new avenues (...) for solving long standing problems in the philosophy of mind, such as the problems of intentionality and mental causation. (shrink)
It is commonly assumed that there is some sort of tacit ’inference’ involved when we form the belief that intentional activity on the part of some (perhaps unidentified) person is causally relevant to the occurrence of some event. Against this "inferential model" of design belief formation I argue that in many ordinary cases we do not ’infer’ design beliefs at all, but that they form spontaneously and ’properly’ whenever certain conditions are met. This alternative model has a respectable historical precedent, (...) better matches our introspective judgments about design beliefs, and helps resolve a puzzling objection to the standard "fine-tuning" argument. (shrink)
The etiological approach to ‘proper functions’ in biology can be strengthened by relating it to Robert Cummins' general treatment of function ascription. The proper functions of a biological trait are the functions it is assigned in a Cummins-style functional explanation of the fitness of ancestors. These functions figure in selective explanations of the trait. It is also argued that some recent etiological theories include inaccurate accounts of selective explanation in biology. Finally, a generalization of the notion of (...) selective explanation allows an analysis of the proper functions of human artifacts. (shrink)
Medical science conceives the human body as a system comprised of many subsystems at a variety of levels. At the highest level are bodily systems proper, such as the endocrine system, which are central to our understanding of human anatomy, and play a key role in diagnosis and in dynamic modeling as well as in medical pedagogy and computer visualization. But there is no explicit definition of what a bodily system is; such informality is acceptable in documentation created for (...) human beings, but falls short of what is needed for computer representations. Our analysis is intended as a first step towards filling this gap. (shrink)
I defend the historical definition of "function" originally given in my Language, Thought and Other Biological Categories (1984a). The definition was not offered in the spirit of conceptual analysis but is more akin to a theoretical definition of "function". A major theme is that nonhistorical analyses of "function" fail to deal adequately with items that are not capable of performing their functions.
The concept of action is playing an increasingly prominent role in attempts to explain how subjects can represent the world. The idea is that at least some of the role traditionally assigned to internal representations can, in fact, be played by the ability of subjects to act on the world, and the exercise of that ability on appropriate occasions. This paper argues that the appeal to action faces a serious dilemma. If the concept of action employed is a representational one, (...) then the appeal to action is circular: representation has been presupposed rather than explained. However, if the concept of action employed is a non-representational one, then the appeal to action will be inadequate: in particular, the appeal will fail to account for the normativity of representation. The way out of this dilemma is to develop a conception of action that is normative, but where this normativity is not inherited from the action's connection to distinct representational states. The normative status of such actions would be sui generis. This paper argues that such a conception of action is available. (shrink)
This paper aims to offer an alternative to the existing philosophical theories of self-deception. It describes and motivates a teleofunctional theory that models self-deception on the subintentional deceptions perpetrated by non-human organisms. Existing theories of self-deception generate paradoxes, are empirically implausible, or fail to account for the distinction between self-deception and other kinds of motivated irrationality. Deception is not a uniquely human phenomenon: biologists have found that many non-human organisms deceive and are deceived. A close analysis of the pollination strategy (...) of the mirror orchid (Ophrys speculum) provides the basis for an analysis of non-human deception as subintentionally purposive. This teleofunctional analysis is then used as the basis for a theory of self-deception that accounts for its normative and purposive features without defaulting to intentionalism. The teleofunctional theory accounts for distinction between self-deception and phenomena such as wishful thinking in an empirically plausible manner. Three objections to the theory are considered and rejected. (shrink)
In this paper I consider the concept of an illocutionary rule - i.e., the rule of the form "X counts as 7 in context C" - and examine the role it plays in explaining the nature of verbal communication and the conventionality of natural languages. My aim is to find a middle ground between John R. Searle's view, according to which every conventional speech act has to be explained in terms of illocutionary rules that underlie its performance, and the view (...) held by Ruth G Millikan, who seems to suggest that the formula "X counts as Y in context C" has no application in our theorizing about human linguistic practice. I claim, namely, that the concept of an illocutionary rule is theoretically useful, though not explanatorily basic. I argue that using the formula "X counts as Y in context C" we can classify illocutionary acts by what Millikan calls their conventional outcomes, and thereby make them susceptible to naturalistic explanation. (shrink)
There is a fairly general consensus that names are Millian (or Russellian) genuine terms, that is, are singular terms whose sole semantic function is to introduce a referent into the propositions expressed by sentences containing the term. This answers the question as to what sort of proposition is expressed by use of sentences containing names. But there is a second serious semantic problem about proper names, that of how the referents of proper names are determined. This is (...) the question that I will discuss in this paper. Various views consistent with Millianism have been proposed as to how the semantic referents of proper names are determined. These views can be classified into (1) description theories and (2) causal theories, but they can also be classified into (3) social practice theories, on which a name’s referent is determined by a social practice involving the referent, and (4) individualistic theories, on which the referent of the use of a name is determined by the speaker’s state of mind. Here I argue against social practice theories of the sorts proposed by Kripke and Evans and in favor of an individualistic approach to name reference. I argue that social practice is irrelevant to determining name reference and that, as a consequence, names have no meanings in natural languages. In the second part of the paper I motivate and propose a new form of individualistic theory which incorporates features of both description theories and Evans’s social practice theory. (shrink)
Kant is well known for his restrictive conception of proper science. In the present paper I will try to explain why Kant adopted this conception. I will identify three core conditions which Kant thinks a proper science must satisfy: systematicity, objective grounding, and apodictic certainty. These conditions conform to conditions codified in the Classical Model of Science. Kant’s infamous claim that any proper natural science must be mathematical should be understood on the basis of these conditions. In (...) order to substantiate this reading, I will show that only in this way it can be explained why Kant thought (1) that mathematics has a particular foundational function with respect to the natural sciences and (2) as such secures their scientific status. (shrink)
Comprehensive and packed, Alvin Plantinga's two-volume treatise defies summary. The first volume, Warrant: Current Views, is a meticulous critical survey of epistemology today. Many current approaches are presented and exhaustively discussed, and a negative verdict is passed on each in turn. This prepares the way for volume two, Warrant and ProperFunction, where a positive view is advanced and developed in satisfying detail. The cumulative result is most impressive, and should command attention for years to come. Here I (...) cannot possibly do justice to the scope and richness of Plantinga's accomplishment. Given the limitations imposed by the occasion, I will discuss only what seem the most important and original proposals, and will compare them with some relevant alternatives. (shrink)
In this paper, I develop some internal problems with Alvin Plantanga's proper functionalist epistemology. I focus on: (1) how we know that a belief is the result of properfunction and the special difficulties this occasions for religious beliefs; (2) what a properly functioning person should believe in various circumstances, and (3) the problem of design -- whether the claim that God designed us can be reconciled with the claim that He was subject to trade-offs, compromises and (...) unintended by-products. These serious internal problems cast doubt upon proper functionalism's fruitfulness as a theory of knowledge. (shrink)
Comprehensive and packed, Alvin Plantinga's two-volume treatise defies sum- mary. The first volume, Warrant: Current Views, is a meticulous critical survey of epistemology today. Many current approaches are presented and exhaustively discussed, and a negative verdict is passed on each in turn. This prepares the way for volume two, Warrant and ProperFunction, where a positive view is advanced and developed in satisfying detail. The cumulative result is most impressive, and should command attention for years to come. Here (...) I cannot possibly do justice to the scope and richness of Plantinga's accomplishment. Given the limitations imposed by the occasion, I will discuss only what seem the most important and original proposals, and will compare them with some relevant alternatives. (shrink)