Evidential Privilege: An Inquiry Into Justified Belief, God, and Plantinga

Dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles (1986)
Authors
David Carl Wilson
Webster University
Abstract
Some of our beliefs are justified regardless of the quality of the evidence for them. This, at least, is what Alvin Plantinga argues; and, he adds, belief in God is typically just such a belief. With the objective of determining whether Plantinga is right, I conduct a broad inquiry into the pertinent epistemological issues. ;I begin with meta-epistemology. A justified belief, I argue, is a belief that satisfies the internal necessary conditions for knowledge. Alternatively, it is a belief that we would be willing to take someone's word for, on the assumption that we did not know the identity of the belief but did know the internal conditions that the belief satisfied. By looking at particular instances of such beliefs and at the principles that such beliefs must satisfy, the correct theory of justified belief can be discovered. ;I then turn to substantive epistemology. The three most popular theories of justified belief are reliabilism, foundationalism, and coherentism; but each is ruled out by the preceding meta-epistemology. To be preferred is a composite view, which I present as a system of hypothetical imperatives directing us, if we want to know the answer to a particular question, to accept the answer that displays the appropriate empirical and propositional fit. ;I finally employ this theory in assessing the original claim--that some beliefs can be justified without regard for the quality of their evidence. If the claim is that some beliefs can be justified without satisfying the necessary conditions for justification, it is trivially false. If the claim is that some beliefs can be justified without the existence of arguments in their favor, it may well be true--but, pace Plantinga, belief in God cannot be one of those beliefs. If the claim is that some beliefs can be justified without the believer's producing evidence or even being able to produce evidence for the belief, it is true; in fact, in this way it is true for all justified beliefs. And it is only in this way that belief in God, if justified, can be evidentially privileged
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