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I. Religion & Virtue Theory > God, Grace, Gettier, and Greco

John Greco's "God, Grace, and Gettier" is a very interesting paper that many of us know (and anyway available @http://stage.web.fordham.edu/cgi-bin/sitemap.cgi?/philosophy/greco/Gettier.html

There he lays out his differences between the Reformed epistemologists Alvin Plantinga and George Mavrodes, on the one side, and Linda Zagzebski, on the other, with respect to the question of religious knowledge. I transpose in what follows the argument Greco provides into a formal "aporia" or logically inconsistent set of claims:

THE APORIA OF THEISTIC EXTERNALISM

(1) Knowledge is a cognitive achievement. S knows p only if S deserves (intellectual) credit for believing the truth regarding p (for example, where p = that God exists).

(2) A perception of God (or, in general, a revelation from God) requires God’s grace.

(3) But grace undermines credit. It is never to S’s credit that, by God’s grace, He reveals himself to S.

(4) A perception of God (or, in general, a revelation from God) qualifies as knowledge of God.

The inconsistency of this aporetic cluster should be apparent, because if 1-3 are true, and 4 can't be. Now here are the key players in this debate:

Mavrodes/Plantinga. 2,3,4 hence ~1
Zagzebski. 1,2,3 hence ~4
Greco. 1,2,4, hence ~3

If I have these differences as John Greco intends them, then the question is simply how you would find your way out of the aporia? I can fill in descriptions of their full positions in a later post. But YOUR mission, should you choose to accept it, is to "restore consistency" to our mutually-inconsistent set of statements by rejecting and/or qualifying one or more of the claims, as the four authors mentioned above do.

“The sea is still the aporetic place par excellence, and it is still the best metaphor for the aporia of discourse.”
—Sarah Kofman, “Beyond Aporia”
September 18, 2006 | Registered CommenterGuy Axtell
I think we should deny (1).

Here is an argument against (1), inspired by Plantinga via footnote 10 of Sosa's "Place of Truth..." paper:

Knowledge by divine revelation is possible; and when it obtains, it is a mere gift of divine providence. But we cannot deserve credit for any properties of mere gifts. For instance, we cannot deserve credit for the color of our eyes, which are a mere gift of genetics. Just like the color of our eyes is a property of a mere gift, the truth of beliefs that constitute knowledge through divine revelation is a property of a mere gift. Thus we cannot deserve credit for the truth of our beliefs, when those beliefs constitute knowledge through divine revelation. So (1) is false.

This argument is a bit more general than the one above, in that it appeals to divine revelation of any sort, and not just divine revelation that God exists.

Perhaps it will help support this argument to note that denying (1) does not compel us to deny that knowledge is valuable, or even to deny that knowledge is intellectually valuable. Even if (1) is false, knowledge can be valuable intellectually in the same way that happiness is valuable prudentially: not as a credit-related achievement but intrinsically.
September 20, 2006 | Registered CommenterDennis Whitcomb
Dennis, You map out an interesting line of response to the aporia. Can you develop it a bit further though, if you're so inclined? I'm not sure your meaning when you say that your approach would support divine revelations of any sort. I'm also wondering just how to take your point that one who takes your way out of the aporia needn't deny that knowledge is valuable. I guess you mean its valuable if credit-related, but can be valuable even if not so?

I'm wondering how far you agree with Mavrodes in the example he gave that Linda Z. then criticizes? Mavrodes' example is of a person "who has had no discernable theistic belief throughout his life goes to bed one night, and he wakes up in the morning with the firm conviction [caused by God] that there is a God who is the creator of the world" (GGG, 3). Mavrodes holds there is nothing askew in attributing warrant to the person (on condition of truth of the revelation--the 'if its true he can know it' idea associated with the intuition of theistic externalism). But isn't there an intrinsic connection between knowledge-possession (or third-person ascriptions of knowledge) and one proprietary conditions for first-personally thinking or claiming to know something? If we can't ascribe to him anything like an intellectual or epistemic virtue in this case, and if, as it seems you may be conceding to Linda, "Beliefs put into the head by God are epistemically on a par with guesses that are true," then I'm left unclear why the theistic externalist should be taken to assert anything of philosophical interest in taking the line of Mavrodes and Plantinga.
September 21, 2006 | Registered CommenterGuy Axtell
Thanks for these questions, Guy.

Re your first question. When I say that my approach appeals to divine revelation of any sort, I mean that it requires only the truth of (a), and not the truth of the logically stronger (b):

(a) There is something that it possible to know via divine revelation.
(b) It is possible do know that God exists via divine revelation.

Re your second question, the answer is basically yes. If knowledge were credit-related, then it would have some value in virtue of that relation to credit. But one can (and some of us do!) hold that knowledge is valuable but not credit-related. Some things are clearly valuable but not credit-related, for instance pleasure. Since other things are valuable but not credit-related, why can’t knowledge be valuable but not credit-related?

Now to the points in your second paragraph. You write:

“But isn't there an intrinsic connection between knowledge-possession (or third-person ascriptions of knowledge) and one proprietary conditions for first-personally thinking or claiming to know something?”

Well, here’s one defensible propriety condition on thinking that one knows something: It is proper to think that one knows P only if one has a justified belief that one knows P.

Now, when the guy wakes up in the morning, it is proper for him to think *that God exists*. (Because he knows that God exists and is therefore has a justified belief that God exists.) This does not entail, and it is probably not the case, that it is proper for him to think *that he knows that God exists*. (Because he is probably not justified in believing that he knows that God exists. It is generally true that if one knows P one is justified in believing *P*, but it is not generally true that if one knows P one is justified in believing *that one knows P*).

Does that help assuage the worry you were raising in the quoted material?

Now to your last question, the question about what is philosophically interesting in the foregoing sorts of views given that they deny that those who know via divine revelation need to have any sort of virtue or credit. What is interesting about these views is that if they are right, they show that knowledge is not creditably true belief, and thereby refute a popular virtue-theoretic account of knowledge. Moreover, they do so without denying that knowledge is valuable, or even that knowledge is intellectually valuable. No?
September 24, 2006 | Registered CommenterDennis Whitcomb
Dennis, Thanks. On your last point, you're right that if the view you're holding is correct, it shows that knowledge is not creditably true belief, and refutes a virtue-theoretic account of knowledge. Its difficult, because now the claim that the guy in Mavrodes' example who wakes up with a belief that God exists, knows that God exists, or is warranted in that belief, seems little different than other examples of 'brute' knowledge, such as the 'unenlightened' chicken-sexer who has no understanding of his competence for reliable (qua good truth ration) of judgment of the sex of chick. In both cases it seems we're just being asked whether or not we agree with the externalist intuition, because the competence in question is one simply attributed externally or third personally. Or does the theistic externalist allow that one can argue disanalogies between the two cases? My worry is that if all that's being held is that these cases are formally similar, the claim isn't very interesting. 'So What?'-If the unenlightened chicken sexer can have a brute, unconceptualized knowledge of the sex of chickens, the man in Mavrodes' case can have the same, if his belief is in fact due to his sensus divinitatis being set right by God. I get it, but I'm left wondering on what I should I based my judgment either for or against the view? Just on my intuition that cases like the chicken-sexer are indeed cases of knowledge, of a sort? Cases of these sorts where pure reliability (cashed out as a goo truth-ration) are themselves controversial; while they seem to be a bit more tractable than the purely metaphysical case Mavrodes gives, we eventually find that there are tangible grounds for the reliability of the chicken-sexer. The sensus divinitatis by contrast is doubly unvarifiable it seems, both the faculty and the object of that faculty being non-physical. So I wouldn't want to say that a concession to the austere externalism that insists that unenlightened chicken-sexers having knowledge of a low credit or non-credit related sort implies that one agrees to similar judgment about the fellow in Mavrodes example.

The other question involves your saying you hold (a) but not the stronger (b)

(a) There is something that it possible to know via divine revelation.
(b) It is possible do know that God exists via divine revelation.

Here it would seem you depart from Plantinga, whose quote you use, and presumably from Mavrodes as well. Is that right? Because Plantinga clearly holds that divine revelations include scripture, such that the basic belief apologetic he develops means that not only theistic belief (b) but also belief in the teachings of the scriptures is properly basic belief, and knowledge if produced in a properly functioning agent granted the revelation (through the aid of the Holy Spirit-not the sensus divinitatis, as in the case of generic theistic belief). I'm unclear if you're agreeing or disagreeing with Plantinga on this, because he as least concedes the problem that a basic belief apologetic for specifically Christian beleif involves positing a different process, that of the "IIHS" (internal instigation of the Holy Spirit), than that through which generic knowledge of God's existence flows.
September 27, 2006 | Registered CommenterGuy Axtell