Some Thoughts on Properly Basic Beliefs

The central thrust of properly basic beliefs ( a theory of knowledge developed by in part by Alvin Plantinga, referred to has PBB from here on out) is that there are certain things (God, other minds, the past) that do not require evidence to be rationally believed in. They can be believed in the properly basic way – to believe otherwise would seem to indicate some cognitive dissonance. This seems to be the case – to not believe that the past happened because of a lack of convincing argument would indeed seem to be odd.

Is this self-defeating, however? If I claim that I don’t need evidence to believe in, say, God, because I can believe in things like other minds, the past, etc, that’s giving evidence that I don’t need evidence.

Or, perhaps, this is a more helpful way of thinking of it: PBB says that evidentialism is wrong – but surely it says this on the basis of evidence. This seems to me to be a bit self-defeating. Can one say on the basis of evidence that evidentialism is wrong? If it’s not self-defeating, it certainly seems suspicious.

But perhaps PBB says something true: it says that on the basis of evidence, evidentialism is wrong – evidentialism cannot justify all our beliefs in a non-circular way. It is evidently true that evidentialism is wrong. If something is self-evidently wrong, then one is not unjustified to call it wrong on the basis of its self-evidence.

So on the basis of evidentialisms self-evident falsity, PBB can claim that evidentialism is indeed false without that claim being a case of self-defeat. It is not self-defeating for PBB to claim that evidentialism is false on account of its self-evident falsity.

4 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Properly Basic Beliefs

  1. mackman May 27, 2012 / 11:59 am

    The argument here isn’t for the existence of God: It’s for a rational basis for BELIEF in God. That’s the key issue. Platinga is arguing against the naturalistic idea that even if God exists, it’s not rational to believe in him.

    His argument is not self-defeating, even taking out your last two points. He says, “We can believe in God without evidence, because we believe in all these other things without evidence.” He’s not saying that this constitutes evidence that God exists (which, even then, would not defeat his point: He’s saying evidence is unnecessary, not irrelevant). He’s merely citing reasons why we can believe without evidence.

    The evidence applies to the existence of God: He is speaking about belief, and so evidence in that area does not defeat his view of evidence about the existence of God. I think that makes sense…


  2. whitefrozen May 27, 2012 / 1:04 pm

    My main point here i pretty much trying to figure out if it makes sense to cite evidence as to why we don’t need evidence for believing in X – I already am a firm PBB guy, but this is something that I saw mentioned somewhere that interested me. Does it make sense to give evidence for why we don’t need evidence? The belief/existence distinction does trip me up sometimes, however.


    • mackman May 27, 2012 / 5:05 pm

      If his argument were, “We don’t need evidence in general,” you would be right. But it’s not. He’s saying, “We don’t need evidence for this particular thing, because of this, this, and this.” You seem to be conflating, “We don’t need evidence to believe in God,” with “Evidence in general is irrelevant.” I think that’s an illogical move to make, and I don’t think it holds up.


  3. whitefrozen May 27, 2012 / 5:53 pm

    My previous comment is talking about evidence for belief in God, not evidence in general. I’m not claiming that Plantinga’s argument is that ‘evidence in general is irrelevant’. If my wording has given that impression then I’ll edit the phrasing, but I’m not intentionally conflating ‘evidence for belief in God’, with ‘evidence in general’.


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