The Futility of Philosophic Inquiry

As a result of three years of college as a philosophy major, I have come up with one major conclusion as regards philosophy: I know a lot less than I had initially thought I knew.  One of my philosophical heroes, Socrates, said that the only thing that he knew was the fact that he knew nothing.[1]  Although I shall not adopt the entirety of my hero’s statement of ignorance, I shall say that I know very little.  But, allow me to say what little knowledge I think I do know.  A common conception of a resident in the philosophic community is to question the usefulness or value of philosophy.  Any one person who has been involved with philosophy, at one time or another in his life, has, I am sure, thought about the worth of philosophy; and I think that he has questioned whether he ought to continue with his pursuit of philosophy.[2]  At least I have encountered the issue of the value and worth of philosophy, and that is why I am writing this paper.  This questioning of the value of philosophy has probably been engendered by the constant controversy with all the differing theories and viewpoints employed in philosophy.  People who find philosophy nugatory might say the following: Why should we even consider this viewpoint or that viewpoint?  It is not as if we are going to arrive at some conclusive answers.  Everything is subjective. 

The purpose and aim of this paper is chiefly directed to agnostics and to people who deem philosophy futile and unworthy of attention and inquiry.  To those of you who think that philosophic inquiry is not futile, you might find this paper a bit soporific and thus have the propensity to cease reading.  However, the entire paper is not devoted to the futility of philosophic inquiry and the value of philosophy (though much of it is).  I shall, for a few pages or so, briefly advocate my idea of knowledge,[3] and this might give you an idea of the constituents of knowledge.  In the ensuing pages I shall (1) briefly state my idea of the position of the agnostic or of anyone who considers philosophy to be futile and hence mitigates or diminishes the value of philosophy (I will call this “anyone” who mitigates the value of philosophy and thinks it futile a “MVP,” which could also signify  “‘Mitigator’ of the Value of Philosophy.”  I also say that the MVP is involved in MVPism—the “doctrine,” practice, or theory of mitigating or diminishing the value of philosophy); (2) try to prove that there is objective truth; (3) propose a (though incomplete) theory of knowledge; and lastly I will (4) state the value of philosophy and thus maintain that philosophic inquiry, and philosophy in general, is not futile.  The last thing that I will do, (4), will incorporate the above three endeavors.

(1)

To begin, I would like to say that it seems to me that agnosticism and MVPism have had quite an appealing feel to them, and I would not be surprised if there are indeed many adherents to agnosticism and what I call MVPism.  My idea of agnosticism[4] and of MVPism is that they claim that there are many problems in all branches of philosophy, be it epistemology, metaphysics, and/or ethics.  Moreover, owing to the fact that there are so many controversies and so much dissension in philosophy, we cannot know things.  Knowledge must be relative to each individual, and thus it is subjective.  There is no objective truth.  Or, if there is objective truth (though I think not, says the agnostic and/or MVP), we do not have certainty regarding them, and therefore we have no knowledge.  For I (the agnostic and MVP continue) think that knowledge requires absolute certainty.  In addition, how do we know what is morally right and morally wrong?  We do not know.  Ethics is in the same boat as epistemology.  Ethics is relativistic, and thus what is morally right for one society or community may not be morally right for another society or community (and there is nothing wrong with that).  Oh (they continue) do not get me started on metaphysics!  If there could be any branch more susceptible to error, it is metaphysics.  All in all, we do not, and cannot, know anything.  The attainment of  knowledge in any branch of philosophy falls short either due to the lack of certainty or owing to its relativistic nature.

That was essentially my idea of agnosticism and MVPism.  This idea is pretty harsh, and some people may not go this far or say this in the exact same way, but I think that there exist proponents of the above idea.  I do sympathize with the agnostic and MVP in this respect, for, I, too, have found a difficulty in the search for the truth.  Peter van Inwagen, a metaphysician, in a way sympathizes with the agnostic and MVP—at least such a one who finds metaphysics to be the “most faulty.”  In his Metaphysics, van Inwagen says, “…take anything said in this book (or in any other book about metaphysics) or by your instructor with a grain of salt.”[5]  He realizes that metaphysics is a difficult branch of philosophy from which to extract conclusive answers.  In a nutshell, that is the idea of the agnostic or MVP against which I shall argue.  In order to show that I think that philosophy is not futile, I will try to prove the existence of objective truth (contrary to the agnostic and MVP); and I will show that we can have knowledge and that knowledge does not require absolute certainty.  Therefore, let us move on to my next task.

(2)

Pursuant to western philosophy, there is such a thing as objective truth, and there are two components to this thesis.  According to van Inwagen, the first component is:

…our beliefs and our assertions are either true or false; each of our beliefs and assertions represents the World as being a certain way, and the belief or assertion is true if the World is that way, and false if the World is not that way.[6]

and the second component to this thesis is:

…the World exists and has the features it does in large part independently of our beliefs and assertions… and our beliefs and assertions [are] “objective” in the sense that truth and falsity are conferred on those beliefs and assertions by their objects, by the things they are about.

 

Now that we know what objective truth means, let us proceed.  I shall try in two separate ways to prove that there is objective truth.  Both attempts to show that there is objective truth are very similar to each other; but the main differences concerning them are twofold: 1) the first proof is stated more formally, whereas the second proof is not so stated; 2) the second proof is more explained than the first, for I think that the first proof does not require much explanation—I think that it is basically self-explanatory.  Both proofs have the same end in mind; they just take different means to arrive at their destinations.  Let us see the first proof.

This argument dates at least back to St. Augustine, and it is possible that it predates St. Augustine.  This argument can be found in St. Augustine’s On Free Choice of the Will, though my formulation of it is much more compact.[7]  In the following argument, let X signify any proposition.  Here is the argument:

1.      X is either false or true.

2.      If x is false, then truth exists.

3.      If x is true, then truth exists.

4.      \Truth exists.

In order to explain this argument and to elucidate any complexities that one may be having, let us look at another formulation of this argument, which is set forth by Gordon Clark.[8]  Similar to St. Augustine, Clark feels that any attempt to negate the existence of truth must be self-defeating.  Essentially, if skepticism[9] is false, there must be knowledge; and if there is knowledge, there must exist the object of knowledge, viz. truth.  If someone should maintain that there is no truth, his statement would have to be either true or false.[10]  If it is false that “there is no truth,” then truth exists; and if “there is no truth” is true, then truth still exists, for it would be true that there is no truth—and this cannot be the case due to the law of non-contradiction.  Therefore, there is truth.  After having seen this argument for objective truth, I believe that it is quite implausible for someone to attempt to prove the nonexistence of truth.

I hope that the above arguments for the existence of objective truth proved their point, but if not, here is one more.  As I said, it is essentially the same as the first proof, though it does have some slight differences.  This argumentation and line of reasoning come from Peter van Inwagen’s chapter entitled “Objectivity” in his book Metaphysics.[11]  Van Inwagen’s main idea is that there is no such thing as truth that is, say, true for me and not true for you.  For instance, if I say that Gerald Ford is the inventor of the car that we know of as Ford, then my statement is true if and only if Gerald Ford is the inventor of the Ford.  Consequently, my statement is false if and only if it is false that Gerald Ford is the inventor of the Ford.  Hence, it cannot be the case that it is true for you that Gerald Ford is the inventor of the Ford and not true for me that Gerald Ford is the inventor of the Ford.  It has to be either true or false that Gerald Ford is the inventor of the Ford.  However, there is a qualification to the idea that our beliefs and assertions are either true or false.  This qualification has to do with vagueness.  Basically, due to the vague nature of some words, there will not be a conclusive or definite yes-or-no answer.[12]  Accordingly, some of our beliefs and assertions will not be either true or false.  To illustrate, let us say that a man, Chubs, is 6 feet and 4 four inches.  Some would say that Chubs is tall.  The word “tall” is vague because, say, another man, Nicodemus, is 7 feet 7 inches.  Which one is tall?  According to Nicodemus, Chubs (who was thought to be tall) is short; but, according to Chubs, Nicodemus is tall.  Now enters Thrasymachus.  Thrasymachus is 4 feet 9 inches.  In this case, according to Thrasymachus, both Chubs and Nicodemus are tall.  Oh, no!  Which one is tall?  No one, because, as I said, the word “tall” is vague.  Vague words do not, however, mean that objective truth does not exist.  Believers in objective truth would say that the fact that some words are vague is objectively true.[13]  I wish not to get involved with the issue of vagueness anymore, for I think that the importance is negligible. 

There is one more reason for why I think that there exists objective truth.  It has to do with the fact that we disagree about normal things in life—for example, about the future (i.e. when a baby will be born); about the past (i.e. when the cosmos began); and about what things are good and what are bad.[14]  The fact that we disagree about these things, I think, rings plausible the idea that there is objective truth.  I think that this is so because we do not disagree about things that are subjective.  For instance, people will not disagree about the fact that my back hurts, that I do not want to smoke a cigar, or that I think that I suffer from a condition I call Physicality Attention Deficit Disorder (PHADD).  All these examples are subjective, and why would some person wish to argue whether or not my back hurts, that I do not want to smoke a cigar, or that I think that I suffer from PHADD?  People do not argue about these things; and why?  Because they are simply subjective.  There is no point in arguing for or against the truth of the aforementioned examples.  But when we do engage in argumentation, I think that we are at some level assuming that objective truth exists.  If this last reason for showing that objective truth exists is faulty, one can always choose the best of the already stated arguments for objective truth, and then see if it is sound.  Hopefully, I have shown that there is objective truth.  Take your pick of the aforementioned arguments.  I think that they are all successful in proving that there exists objective truth.  And now that I have finished showing that objective truth exists, I shall now advocate a certain theory of knowledge.

(3)

The theory that I shall advocate is a synthesis of fallibilism and proper functionalism.  I do not know if the combination of fallibilism and proper functionalism has ever been espoused, but I enjoy both theories, and I think that they do not contradict each other (at least in their general form).  I must warn the reader that this theory of knowledge could possibly not be the theory of knowledge, for there are many epistemically beneficial components that can constitute knowledge: reliability, proper function, coherent beliefs, for example.  However, I think that the following theory of knowledge is worth considering.  I will talk about each theory—fallibilism, and proper functionalism—separately; and then I will show how they go well together.  After I show this consistency, I will conclude that we do have knowledge, and thus the agnostic and MVP is erroneous in holding the negation of one’s having knowledge. 

Let us commence with fallibilism.  Fallibilism, in its extreme form, is the doctrine that some significant class of beliefs or propositions is inherently uncertain and possibly mistaken.[15]  I, however, do not accept fallibilism in its extreme form.  I adopt the form that is defined by Richard Feldman, in his Epistemology.[16]  Fallibilism is basically a response to skeptical arguments[17] that claim that absolute certainty is necessary for knowledge.  Fallibilism, instead of requiring absolute certainty for knowledge, maintains that merely very good reasons are required for knowledge.[18]  Fallibilism seems to think that the certainty requirement for knowledge is unreasonably high, for we seem to be saying something that is different and much stronger when we maintain that we know something with absolute certainty than when we merely claim to know something.  To illustrate, let us say that there are two people, Jack and Rabbit, who live together and they need to go out of town.  So they get on an airplane to go to their destination.  Now, let us say that when they are on the plane, Jack says to Rabbit, “Did you close the garage door before we left?”  Rabbit simply says to Jack, “Yes, Jack, I did close the garage door before we left.”  Then, Jack goes one step further, and he asks, “Well, Rabbit, are you absolutely certain that you closed the garage door; so certain that nothing could be more certain?”  To this Rabbit replies that he is not absolutely certain that he closed the door.  However, Rabbit’s new reply—that he is not absolutely certain—does not mean that he does not know that he closed the garage door.  Rabbit has not reneged on what he previously said just by saying that he was not absolutely certain.  Rabbit still has knowledge that he closed the garage door before they left, because the second question by Jack—the one about absolute certainty—was a new question, raising an issue that was not raised by the original question about knowledge.  The second question was a question about the degree to which Rabbit knew with certainty that he closed the garage door.  The second question was not about whether he knew; rather, it was about whether he was certain. 

As we have seen, knowledge, according to the fallibilist, does not require absolute certainty.  Let us continue with this idea of fallibilism and see how it responds to other ideas from the skeptic (agnostic and MVP), in order to flesh out this particular theory of knowledge.  A skeptic would say that if a belief could be mistaken, then it is not a case of knowledge.  The fallibilist rejects this claim by the skeptic, for he thinks that “knowledge is compatible with the possibility of error.”[19]  One must note that the fallibilist is not saying that knowledge is compatible with actual error.  He does not think that one can have knowledge of that which is not true.  Then what is the fallibilist saying?  He is saying that strong justification and truth are required for knowledge.  Therefore, if, for example, S believes that x is true, and if S has strong justification and excellent reasons for believing x to be true, and if x is true, then S has knowledge of x.  At the same token, if S believes y on the same strong justification and excellent reasons, and if it turns out that y is false due to S’s being a victim of, say, a hoax or a hallucination, then S does not have knowledge. 

As Feldman points out, the skeptic’s idea of absolute certainty is similar to the idea that there must not be the possibility of error in order to have knowledge.  Feldman says:

The assumption that knowledge requires certainty is equivalent to the assumption that if you are not certain of something, then you do not know it.  And this assumption is central to the best reason for thinking that [the proposition ‘If a belief could be mistaken, then it is not a case of knowledge’] is true.  The defense of [the proposition ‘If a belief could be mistaken, then it is not a case of knowledge’] goes like this: If you can be mistaken about something, then you are not absolutely certain of it.  If you are not absolutely certain of something, then you do not know it.  So, if you can be mistaken about something, then you do not know it.[20]

But, as Feldman rightly points out, once the assumption that absolute certainty is necessary for knowledge is rejected, the defense of the proposition ‘If a belief could be mistaken, then it is not a case of knowledge’ fails.  So far we have seen that the fallibilist does not require absolute certainty for knowledge; nor does he think that one does not have knowledge if it is possible that one is mistaken.  Here is the gist of fallibilism set forth by Feldman:

Our experiences provide us with very good evidence, but not absolutely conclusive evidence, for propositions such as the proposition that we really do see a book….  All the arguments for skepticism [and for the agnostic and MVP] rely on the mistaken assumption that justification, and thus knowledge, requires conclusive evidence.[21]

Let us now turn to proper functionalism. 

In epistemology there are at least three conditions that must be met in order for one to have knowledge.  They are: the truth condition, the belief condition, and the justification condition.  Usually there is a fourth condition that needs to be met, but I did not (as of yet; I will in a moment) say what that fourth condition was, because it is this condition over which there is much debate and philosophic division.  Because I have already shown that truth exists, and because the second condition is not too important for this paper, let us briefly talk about the third condition.  Due to the nature of the paper, I am going to briefly say that justification is at least necessary for knowledge;[22] for, I think that, assuming the existence of objective truth—which we should do now, since I hopefully showed it to exist—not even the agnostic or MVP will deny the fact that justification is at least necessary for knowledge.  I will just use a couple examples to show that mere true belief—fulfilling both the truth and belief conditions—is not sufficient for knowledge.  Let us say that I have a two-sided coin, one side “heads” and the other side “tails.”  Now, I flip the coin and say, “If the coin lands on heads, the number of leaves on the tree outside my apartment is 4,657.”  Now suppose the coin lands on heads, and it turns out that the number of leaves on the tree outside my apartment is in fact 4,657.  That hardly constitutes knowledge.  Let us use one more example to rid any perplexities there may be.  Richard Feldman states a good example.  It is:

New York is playing Denver in an upcoming Superbowl. The experts are divided about who will win, and the teams are rated as even. You have a hunch that Denver will win. When the game is finally played, your hunch turns out to have been correct. So you believed that Denver would win, and your belief was true.[23]

In this example, you believe that Denver will win, and that belief is true.  However, you did not know that Denver would win.  You just had a guess that turned out to be correct.  So, it is quite manifest that there are many times in which a person has a true belief but does not have knowledge.  We can now conclude that mere true belief is not sufficient for knowledge, and that justification is also necessary for knowledge.

 So, what is proper functionalism?  It is this fourth condition that is needed due to the introduction of the Gettier problem which rightly maintains that a justified true belief is not sufficient for knowledge; thus there needs to be at least one more condition to resolve the Gettier problem.  (And the idea of proper functionalism belongs to Thomas Reid, but Alvin Plantinga has adopted it and wrote a few books on it.)  Proper functionalism will be explained after I have explained Plantinga’s idea of warrant (for his idea of warrant is necessary for his theory of knowledge).  From here on out, the word “warrant” will replace the word “justification.”  The rationale behind this word replacement is that Plantinga uses the word “warrant” instead of “justification.”[24]  Although Plantinga finds that there is a difference between these two words, I shall treat warrant as a synonym for justification.[25]  To start, pursuant to Plantinga, warrant is the “…quality or quantity enough of which, together with truth and belief, is sufficient for knowledge.”[26]   

Throughout his Warrant: The Current Debate, Plantinga concludes at the end of each chapter that each theory of knowledge has failed.[27]  The chief reason that each of these theories has failed was because all of them did not take, or seriously take, into account the possibility of cognitive malfunction.  Plantinga’s main criticism of all of these is because there exists the possibility that one’s cognitive faculties are not functioning properly.  For instance, let us say that Nigel is painting his home, and then suddenly Nigel’s cognitive faculties fail him—possibly because of the paint fumes or, say, the pill he just took to preclude a migraine.  Nigel starts having this belief that when he paints his home, he is actually gambling at the local casino.  So, now Nigel thinks he is gambling and not painting his home.  Because his cognitive faculties are not functioning properly, Nigel does not have knowledge about his “gambling” or his painting his home—if they are involved in these beliefs. 

There are three conditions that S must have in order to satisfy warrant.  Briefly, they are (1) proper function, (2) the design plan, and (3) reliability.  Very broadly put, S’s epistemic faculties must function properly; S’s belief must be in the design plan; and S’s belief must be reliable.  Essentially, Plantinga’s theory of knowledge is the following:

…a belief has warrant for me only if (1) it has been produced in me by cognitive faculties that are working properly (functioning as they ought to, subject to no cognitive dysfunction) in a cognitive environment that is appropriate for my kinds of cognitive faculties, (2) the segment of the design plan governing the production of that belief is aimed at the production of true beliefs, and (3) there is a high statistical probability that a belief produced under those conditions will be true.[28]

Let us now see what Plantinga means as regards these three conditions for a warranted belief.  

Proper Functionalism

Proper functionalism is the condition that is called proper function.  I have briefly touched on this condition for warrant.  Fundamentally, for example, Jìmenez has a warranted belief if his “cognitive equipment, …belief-forming and belief maintaining apparatus or powers, [are] free of” any cognitive malfunction.[29]  In other words, a belief has warrant for Jìmenez if Jìmenez’s cognitive apparatus is functioning the way it ought to function in producing and sustaining the belief.  I believe that it would not be “out of line” to assume that the agnostic or MVP would think that one’s faculties need to be functioning properly in order to at least have a chance for knowledge, for we all deal with it every day, and not just in epistemology but in our every day lives.  Let us say that Gertrude is on her church’s softball team.  She is the pitcher for the game.  When she pitches the ball, the opposing player hits it right at her, and the ball shatters her kneecap.  She tries to walk it off, but the pain is unbearable.  So, she sits on the bench for the rest of the game.  Gertrude thinks that sitting for the rest of the game will ameliorate her kneecap, but it does nothing of the sort.  Once she stands up from the bench to go home, she collapses on the floor.  She realizes that her kneecap is not functioning properly, or as it ought to, for previously it did not use to hamper her walking.  Gertrude visits a doctor, and the doctor concedes that her kneecap is broken, and thus it is not functioning properly. 

We can apply this train of thought to our present purpose.  It is October 2000.  Let us say that Johann is digging a hole in his backyard, so that he can place a pole inside the hole to make a volleyball court.  All of a sudden, he looks at the bright sun, and then the sun blinds him for a little while.  Because he was blinded by the sun, he tripped over his shovel and banged his head on the trunk of an apple tree.  Johann was rushed to a hospital by his neighbors.  Unfortunately, Johann fell into a coma, and he remained in the coma until April of 2004.  When he came out of the coma, he began, without any reason or evidence, to believe that George W. Bush was President of the United States.  He was unaware that George W. Bush was in fact President of the United States.  It just happened that due to all of what had occurred to him Johann believed that George W. Bush was President of the United States.  Obviously Johann’s cognitive faculties are not functioning properly, or as they ought to function.  And Plantinga would claim that Johann does not have knowledge of the fact that George W. Bush is President of the United States, for Johann is suffering from cognitive malfunction.  Therefore, we can presume that proper function is at least necessary for warrant.  Even if this is a poor example, the main idea should be clear: without proper function there can be no knowledge.  

But what does Plantinga mean when he says that the cognitive faculties are “working properly in a cognitive environment that is appropriate for my kinds of cognitive faculties?”[my emphasis].  Plantinga has a good example that shows that the cognitive environment needs to be one that is suitable for one’s kinds of cognitive faculties.

You have just had your annual cognitive checkup at MIT; you pass with flying colors and are in splendid epistemic condition. Suddenly and without your knowledge you are transported to an environment wholly different from earth; you awake on a planet revolving around Alpha Centauri. There conditions are quite different; elephants, we may suppose, are invisible to human beings, but emit a sort of radiation unknown on earth, a sort of radiation that causes human beings to form the belief that a trumpet is sounding nearby. An Alpha Centaurian wanders by; you are subjected to the radiation, and form the belief that a trumpet is sounding nearby.[30]

Plantinga concludes by saying that there is nothing wrong with your cognitive faculties.  They are functioning properly.  So what is needed is more than just proper function, but a cognitive environment that is befitting, or appropriate, for one’s kinds of cognitive faculties.  The problem in the above example is not with your cognitive faculties.  They are functioning properly.  The problem is with your cognitive environment.  The cognitive environment that you were in was not properly attuned to your cognitive faculties.  To illustrate, “…your automobile might be in perfect working order, despite the fact that it will not run well at the top of Pike’s Peak, or under water, ….”[31]  Since we know that more conditions are necessary than just proper function, let us continue.

The Design Plan

 “But aren’t there cases in which our faculties function perfectly properly in the right sort of environment but the resulting beliefs still lack warrant?”[32]  Of course there are such cases.  To explain the Design Plan, we must differentiate it between what Plantinga calls the Max Plan.  Basically, the Max Plan specifies how a thing will function or behave in any, or in a very large, broad, and complete range of circumstances or situations.  The Design Plan is a subsection of the Max Plan.  The Design Plan specifies how a thing will function or behave in circumstances envisioned by its Designer.[33]  Let us use an example to explicate this difference.  Let us say that there is a radio on Larry’s nightstand.  Now, let us say that Larry’s wife, Anita, who is very angry with Larry for not taking out the garbage when she asked him to, takes Larry’s precious radio from him and throws it into their bathtub (filled with water).

Now, the Design Plan specifies how Larry’s radio will function the way it was envisioned by its Designer.  It was not designed to function in the bathtub; but rather, it was designed to function in, say, a dry atmosphere, where nothing can hinder its proper function.[34]  It was designed to function properly where no other thing or being can cause it to malfunction by “tweaking” with it—whether or not it is in a dry or wet setting.  The Max Plan, however, does account for this change.  It specifies how Larry’s radio will function in any given situation.  It will specify how his radio will function, say, in the bathtub, in a moist tree, in space, or in any other environment.

The Design Plan is the plan with which Plantinga is most concerned.  But what is the application of the Design Plan?  Well, it can be applied to human beings.  We are designed to function properly in certain cognitive environments, and if we somehow arrive at an inappropriate cognitive environment—the Alpha Centauri environment, for instance—then we have no warranted beliefs in that environment.  Plantinga has a good example to illustrate this point:

My brain might be so constructed that pressure on a certain area (from a lesion or tumor, say) may cause headache, or bizarre beliefs—among which might be the belief that I have a lesion or tumor. That the lesion happens to cause me to form that true belief is no part of my cognitive design plan; it is either an unintended by-product [which does not indicate cognitive malfunction] of the design of my brain or else just a part of the max plan that is not involved in the design plan at all. As a result, this belief does not have warrant.[35] 

In addition to the necessity of the Design Plan, the Design Plan must be aimed at the production of true beliefs.  This should be quite obvious.  It would be hard to assert with sincerity that one has warrant if one’s Design Plan is aimed at false beliefs! 

So far then, therefore, in order for my belief to have warrant, I have to have at least a properly functioning belief system and it has to be designed at the production of true beliefs.  Let us turn to the last necessary condition for a warranted belief: reliability.

Reliability

So the third condition for warrant is that there must be a high statistical probability that a belief produced under the previous conditions—proper function and Design Plan—will be true.  To put it in Plantinga’s terminology,

Even more exactly, the module of the design plan governing its production must be such that it is objectively highly probable that a belief produced by cognitive faculties functioning properly according to that module (in a congenial environment) will be true or verisimilitudinous.[36] 

The rationale for this reliability condition for warrant could be grasped with some facility, and Richard Feldman does just that:

Suppose someone were actually in the situation of designing a cognitive agent. If you like, imagine someone designing a robot and assume that the robot has beliefs about the world it is in. Suppose further that the designer is totally inept and builds into the robot a system that uniformly gets things wrong. The robot then might form beliefs as it was designed to —it is functioning properly— but it is not getting anything right. Intuitively, such a poorly designed robot does not have justified beliefs, even though clauses (1) and (2) of Plantinga’s account are satisfied. [37]

Feldman’s reference to clauses (1) and (2) takes clause (1) to be the proper function condition and clause (2) to be the Design Plan condition.  This reliability condition is supposed to deal with these sorts of cases of satisfying the above conditions.  It seems plausible that one’s belief-forming process must be reliable.  We would not want to base our beliefs on an unreliable belief-forming process if we want that belief to be true, or to constitute as knowledge.  We also know that to satisfy the reliability condition, the Design Plan governing its production must be such that it is objectively highly probable.[38] 

That was Plantinga’s theory of knowledge in a nutshell.  Like I said, he wrote two books on it, so the theory, naturally, has much more to it than what I presented.  Now that I have stated Plantinga’s theory of knowledge, let me now briefly explain why I think that fallibilism can be combined with proper functionalism.[39]

I think that the one thing that was missing in fallibilism is compensated for by proper functionalism.  Proper functionalism takes into account the possibility of cognitive malfunction.  We see a hint of that concern in fallibilism,[40] but proper functionalism comes to the aid of fallibilism.  Proper functionalism does not require absolute certainty for knowledge; it just claims that basically one needs to have properly functioning cognitive faculties.  Both are similar in that there needs to be a good basis for one’s belief.  Remember that fallibilism requires a good basis, plus true belief; also, remember that proper functionalism requires a high reliability, and this high reliability will certainly suffice for one’s very-good-reasons basis.  Moreover, just as fallibilism takes into account the possibility of error, so does proper functionalism (in a way).  I think that Plantinga would say that there is a possibility that one’s cognitive faculties are not functioning properly at some time, but that does not mean that one does not have knowledge at that time.  It may be possible that one’s cognitive faculties are malfunctioning, but it is also possible that they are functioning properly.  So, now that we have seen that fallibilism and proper functionalism, at least in their general forms, are consistent with each other, and that they can be combined, let us move to the last section.

(4)

I shall now turn to my last task in this paper.  I will show, using all of which I had just said from section (1) through section (3), that philosophic inquiry, and philosophy in general, is not futile.  In short, I will show that the agnostic and MVP are erroneous in holding that we do not have knowledge and that everything is subjective.  I will also briefly show the value of philosophy.  If the reader needs to recall the agnostic and MVP’s position, one can turn to section (1), which can be found on pages 2 through 4.  It is against the position on those pages that I shall focus my concentration. 

I realize that, yes, there are many controversies in all branches of philosophy, especially in metaphysics; and I am also aware that there is much debate over many ideas and theories.  However, this fact alone does not mean that philosophy is futile.  All it shows is that there are many pensive theories out there in the philosophic community over which there is dissension.  Now, what is all this business with subjectivity?  As the reader can tell, I attempted to show that there is objective truth.  If there is objective truth, then it ought to be manifest that it is the case that there is truth.  And, since there is truth, not everything is subjective.  I am going to go one step further with respect to my deductions.  I say that since there is objective truth, then we can rightly repudiate the agnostic and MVP’s claim that morality is subjective.  I realize that the issue of relativism in morality is an important one, and I have not given it much munificence here; but I think that I could say that objective truth does not just reside in epistemology and metaphysics.  I think that it can be applicable to morality.  I am sure that someone might argue that the issue of vagueness can be applied to morality; and hence he would say that the issue of moral rightness and moral wrongness is something that cannot be known due to its vague nature.  However, I disagree.  I do not think that moral rightness and moral wrongness are vague terms.  I believe that we have an inherent sense of right and wrong.  Just think: Do to others as you would have them do to you.  I am sure that it is probable that most people would say that murder, rape, theft, etc. are all wrong, for they would not wish that those things be done to them.  But I think that that is all that I can say in this paper about moral relativism.  My position is basically that objective truth is applicable even to ethics. 

Remember that my idea of the agnostic and MVP was that even if they conceded that there is objective truth—which hopefully they have done thus far—then absolute certainty is required for knowledge.  But, as we have seen, according to both fallibilism and proper functionalism, absolute certainty is not required for knowledge.  Essentially, merely good reasons premised on properly functioning cognitive faculties is sufficient for knowledge.  So this claim—that knowledge requires absolute certainty—also now ought to be rejected by the agnostic and MVP.  So, speaking optimistically, I think that we have jettisoned the ideas that there is no knowledge and that everything is subjective. 

Therefore, philosophy and philosophic inquiry are not futile.  They do have a purpose and aim, namely the truth!  Now that we know that the truth is out there, all we have to do is to inquire about it and search for it.  “But,” someone might say, “why search for the truth?”  Here is why.  We need to search for the truth lest we be a people that has reached an intellectual demise and the ghastly consequences of such a demise.  We are rational, human beings with a natural inquisitive mind.  If we do not exercise our minds, an intellectual indolence and demise ensue.  And no one, I hope, wishes to be indolent.  Bertrand Russell says,

The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason.[41] 

That is some harsh stuff to say, but I think that it rings true.  Sometimes we cannot just be reliant on common sense or habitual beliefs that have been imparted to us by various types of people.  Some things we need to find out for ourselves, using reason!  We search for the truth not just for the sake of knowledge and truth; but we search for truth with a great sense of practicality and a sense of direction toward an ameliorated mind/soul and life.  We need truth for its application in life.  A sense of worthiness and a sense of greatness come with knowing the truth.  We are praised and awarded when we act in accordance with the truth, and we are also castigated when we deviate from the truth.  So, obviously truth is present in our lives, and it is wholly important that we seek it. 

We ought to seek truth for the “good” life.  I will have to implement another quote from one of my philosophical heroes.  You will find this quote in Plato’s Apology:  “And the unexamined life [is] not to be lived.”  As I said earlier, a kind of intellectual lassitude shall result from a life that is not examined.  We ought to self-examine to find the truth that is in the world.  I have been saying that we ought to search for the truth, and by this point I thought of a question that could be posed by the agnostic and MVP.  It is: “Ok, assuming all what you said is true, and that there is truth, what does philosophy have to do with truth?”  To this I reply, “Everything!”  The word “philosophy” comes from the Greek, which means, “love of wisdom.”  This means that philosophy’s aim is wisdom; in other words, it searches for the truth and knowledge.  Whenever we engage in or behave according to the questions about life—for example, What is ultimate reality? What ought I to do?  What can I know?—we do philosophy.  We cannot escape the “hold” that philosophy has on humans.  Those three questions essentially encapsulate both what philosophy signifies and what we search for in life.  We want a life with meaning, and philosophy can abet one to arrive at that state of meaning.

It might be argued, “According to the quote by Russell, the man who has no tincture of philosophy does not do philosophy; nor does he behave according to the questions about life.  It seems that you and Russell are conflicting, though you use Russell to support what you say.  How do you resolve this?”  I would say that I make a distinction between doing philosophy explicitly and doing it implicitly.  Everyone, I think, engages in philosophy at least implicitly, for everyone has his or her own presuppositions and ideas of at least ultimate reality and ethics.  We act according to our beliefs and presuppositions.  There are those—philosophy majors and philosophers, for instance—who do philosophy explicitly.  We talk and write about ultimate reality, ethics, knowledge and many more philosophical issues.  We do this every day and in an explicit manner.  Hence, I think that the man who has no tincture of philosophy does philosophy implicitly; and since I made a distinction between doing philosophy explicitly and implicitly, we should see that Russell and I do not contradict each other.  I think that Russell would claim that people do philosophy implicitly; he wants to center on the person who does it explicitly.  If, however, what Russell meant by that quote was that not everyone does philosophy (at least implicitly), then I disagree with what he said.  My point is simple: everyone does philosophy and behaves according to the three main questions about life.

The reason why there are so many inconclusive answers in philosophy, as Bertrand Russell points out, is that “as soon as definite knowledge concerning any subject becomes possible, this subject ceases to be called philosophy, and becomes a separate science.”[42]  Russell says that the study of the heavens, which now belongs to astronomy, used to be included in philosophy.  This also is the case with what we now call psychology, for the study of the human mind was once included in philosophy.  So, it seems that philosophy is a stepping-stone for some aspects or disciplines in life, in order to further their studies for the truth in their respective disciplines.  Philosophy in a way hands off what knowledge it obtains to the sciences.  I would say that philosophy, in a sense, gets knowledge only temporarily, and then it transfers that knowledge to the appropriate science.  Now I can imagine the following question: Are philosophers supposed to attain the knowledge but not deal with or address it; philosophers just “give up” the attained knowledge?  I think that Russell is not espousing ignorance or indifference to the truth that is attained by the philosopher.  Rather, as my intelligent philosopher and friend, Daniel Julian, so rightly points out, Russell “[emphasizes] the importance of acquiring new knowledge.  Knowledge attained is knowledge that can be built upon.  Knowledge attained is knowledge that can be employed in the pursuit of new truth.”[43]  Once truth is acquired, that truth can be utilized in philosophy or other disciplines to arrive at truth not yet attained. 

“But we cannot discover an answer to the philosophical problems,” someone could argue.  Even if we cannot discover an answer to these problems, Russell says,

…it is part of the business of philosophy to continue the consideration of such questions, to make us aware of their importance, to examine all the approaches to them, and to keep alive that speculative interest in the universe which is apt to be killed by confining ourselves to definitely ascertainable knowledge.[44] [my emphasis]

Like I said earlier, we are a people with a natural inquisitive mind, and we will always have an interest to know things, and there shall exist a perpetual hankering for the truth.  It is in our mind’s “blood.” 

There are two more things that I would like to say quickly.  First, you cannot avoid philosophy.  It is as simple as that.  It is ubiquitous.  Whenever you talk about the main questions in life, there you are engaging in philosophic discussion.  We might as well get used to it.  Even if we do not think that we are doing philosophy, or if we are not explicitly engaging in philosophy, we do it implicitly.  Philosophy is, in a way, within us.  It is what makes us question, analyze, and discuss thoughtfully.  Second, even if we grant that it seems that we cannot find the truth—let us say that it seems to be hidden from us—it does not mean that we ought to cease our search.  You never know.  You may come across it one day.  The search per se for truth is worth the chase.  If you do not search, you surely will not find what you are looking for.  However, if you do seek, you are more likely to find that for which you are searching than you are if you do not seek.  The obtainment of truth is a good and virtuous thing, and it ought to be near the center of one’s life.  So, let us commence our search for knowledge, for that so precious virtue that we call Truth. 



* I dedicate this paper to my lovely fiancée, Elizabeth, whom I love with all my heart.  Love is patient; love is kind, not merely often, but all the time. 

[1] Well, anyone who is familiar with the Platonic dialogues will find that Socrates said that he knew only two things: the fact that he knew nothing, and that he knew love.  The latter can be found in Plato’s Symposium and his Phaedrus.  Socrates stresses the former much more than the latter.

[2] Maybe this is a generalization, but I think that most people do, at least at some level of consciousness in their lifetime, wonder if philosophy is important and whether it should be sought after.

[3] When I say that I shall advocate my idea of knowledge, I do not say that I came up with this theory of knowledge; and evidence of that shall be quite evident.  I only mean to say that I shall state what I think knowledge to be.  As one will be able to tell at the moment of seeing this theory of knowledge, one shall rightly conclude that it is not my own. 

[4] My idea of agnosticism may not be the one that is generally accepted, but I think that people feel this way toward philosophy.  I am just calling this idea “agnosticism” for the sake of simplicity.

[5] Peter van Inwagen, Metaphysics, 2nd ed., 12, Westview, 2002. 

[6] Ibid., p. 73.

[7] This argument is in book two of his On Free Choice of the Will. 

[8] See The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark, ed. Ronald Nash, p.158.

[9] Though Clark directs this argument to the skeptics, this argument can certainly be addressed to the agnostic and MVP; for they, too, would repudiate objective truth.   

[10] There is one exception to this though.  One can maintain, without actually believing it true, that there is no truth.  He would have to say that he just feels, or is inclined to believe, that there is no truth.  This way of reasoning, however, is weak.  His argument does not carry much force with it, for it is contingent upon his feelings and not on his reasoning. 

[11] Peter van Inwagen, Metaphysics, 2nd ed., pp. 73-85, Westview, 2002.  I will just state the main point; for the whole argument, I suggest you read it. 

[12] Ibid., p. 75.

[13] Ibid., p. 75.

[14] See Peter Kreeft’s The Journey: A Spiritual Roadmap for Modern Pilgrims, p. 45, InterVarsity Press, 1996. 

[15] This definition of fallibilism can be found in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd ed., ed. Robert Audi, p. 303, Cambridge University Press, 1999.

[16] The following explanation of fallibilism can be found on pages 122-128, in Feldman’s Epistemology, Prentice Hall, 2003. 

[17] Just as Gordon Clark’s argument for the existence of objective truth was directed to the skeptics, fallibilism is also directed to the skeptics.  But, fallibilism can easily be directed toward the agnostic and MVP.  It should not be a problem to apply these responses that were initially for the skeptics to the agnostic and MVP.

[18] Fallibilism also says that, in addition to merely very good reasons, knowledge requires true belief, and whatever condition is necessary in order to deal with the Gettier problem.  I do not wish to get into the issues of true belief and the Gettier problem.  I think that this theory of knowledge will be granted plausibility even if we do not talk about the other necessary conditions for knowledge. 

[19] Feldman, Epistemology, p. 123, Prentice Hall, 2003.

[20] Ibid., p. 124.

[21] Ibid., p. 128.

[22] By this I mean that justification can be treated as just another condition for knowledge besides mere true belief.

[23] Ibid., pp. 14-15.

[24] See either Warrant: The Current Debate, or Warrant and Proper Function, Alvin Plantinga, Oxford University Press, 1993.

[25] Essentially, Plantinga thinks that justification is the fulfillment of one’s duty, and thus one can have warrant and not necessarily have justification.

[26] See Alvin Plantinga’s Warrant and Proper Function, p. v, Oxford University Press, 1993.

[27] These theories include Reliabilism, Pollockian Quasi-Internalism, Bayesian Coherentism and Rationality, Bonjourian Coherentism, Coherentism, Post-Classical Chisholmian Internalism, Classical Chisholmian Internalism, and Classical Deontologism.

[28]Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function, p. 59, Oxford University Press, 1993.

[29] Ibid., p. 4.

[30] Ibid., p. 6.

[31] Ibid., p. 7. 

[32] Ibid., p. 11.

[33] For a more comprehensive account on the difference between the Max Plan and Design Plan, see Ibid., pp. 22-24.

[34] I acknowledge that some other thing, perhaps in a dry atmosphere, can cause it to malfunction.  And in that case, it was not designed to function in that environment.  

[35] See Warrant and Proper Function, Alvin Plantinga, p. 25, Oxford University Press, 1993.  The statement in the brackets of that quote was not in this actual quote.  It is a paraphrase of what he says on p. 24.  I thought it necessary to say that unintended by-products are not indicators of cognitive malfunction.  For more on that from Plantinga, see Ibid. p. 24.

[36] Ibid., p.17.

[37] See Richard Feldman’s Epistemology, p. 101, Prentice Hall, 2003.

[38] I realize that a question arises; that is, how high does the probability need to be?  Due to the vagueness of reliability, it is difficult to answer this question.  But I think that this question is an innocuous one.

[39] If they cannot be combined—after, say, taking every condition to its logical conclusion and seeing all of its implications, then I am not aware of that.  I think that, in general, they can be amalgamated.  

[40] Page 10 in this paper says, “At the same token, if S believes y on the same strong justification and excellent reasons, and if it turns out that y is false due to S’s being a victim of, say, a hoax or a hallucination, then S does not have knowledge” (my emphasis).  If one is a victim of, say, a hallucination, then one’s cognitive faculties are obviously not functioning properly.   

[41] In Louis Pojman’s Classics of Philosophy, 2nd ed., pp. 1100-1136, Oxford University Press, 2003, there is Bertrand Russell’s treatise “The Problems of Philosophy.”  And this quote is in his section The Value of Philosophy p. 1134.

[42] Ibid.

[43] This quote can be found in his unpublished manuscript The Purpose and Practice of Philosophy for Christians, p. 3, 2004.

[44] Ibid.

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