New Essays on the Philosophy of Alvin Plantinga

August 08, 2012
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Kelly James Clark and Michael Rea (eds.), Reason, Metaphysics, and Mind: New Essays on the Philosophy of Alvin Plantinga (Oxford University Press, 2012).

Christian philosopher and theologian Jim Beilby (Bethel University) has a helpful NDPR review on the latest celebration of Al Plantinga’s work.

“The culmination of a long and fruitful career is always something worth celebrating. But some retirement celebrations require a little something extra — like an academic conference and a book,” writes Beilby.

The context for the development  Reason, Metaphysics and Mind is the May 21-23, 2010 conference in honor of Plantinga. “[nearly three-hundred people] gathered, Beilby notes, “not only because Plantinga is world-renowned for his contribution to the fields of epistemology, metaphysics, and philosophy of religion, but also because “Al” — as most of the conference participants know him — is their friend, mentor, and/or former professor.” One is reminded here of Wolterstorff’s paper at the closing session of the conference, “Then, Now, and Al” (which is also available in the book).

Not surprisingly, the topics addressed by the papers in this book are as wide-ranging as Plantinga’s own work.

The quality of the essays in this volume is very high. They all provide an important contribution to their respective areas of philosophical discourse and some have the potential to be classics. I found Ric Otte’s essay, for example, to be profoundly helpful in advancing (and in some ways, redirecting) the conversation about the problem of evil. Furthermore, the distribution of the topics provides an interesting survey of some of the best work in analytic philosophy and analytic theology out there.

The essays in the volume also nicely illustrate the profound impact Alvin Plantinga has had on the field of philosophy. His purely academic achievements were not the only reason for this conference and ensuing volume. Consider the first footnote in Michael Bergmann’s essay.

I am very pleased to be presenting this chapter in honor of Alvin Plantinga. His philosophical writings are brilliant, field defining, and full of wit, all of which make them both hugely beneficial and a huge pleasure to read. But even more impressive and meaningful to me, however, is the manner in which he has modeled in his own life, in multiple ways that I think about often, how someone with a career in philosophy can be a faithful Christian (p. 9, n. 1).

Comments such as these, including the whole of Wolterstorff’s essay, indicate that Al has not been content to merely blaze new trails in the philosophical landscape. He has shouldered the more difficult task of guide and mentor to many who have followed him on those new trails. This volume appropriately conveys appreciation for his work, both philosophical and personal.

I do, however, have three small quibbles with the volume. First, the issues engaged by the essays are profoundly interesting and the contributors and respondents are all top-notch, so I would very much have liked to have seen more extensive conversations between them. Second, some (but not all) of the essays include a short rejoinder to the comments of the respondent. But this rejoinder is included as a postscript to the original essay and before the response. This is, as I said, a quibble. It is certainly possible to read the essay, skip ahead to the response, and then jump back to the post-scripted rejoinder. But this is unwieldy and unnecessary. Third, not all of the essays include a rejoinder.

Bergmann, Flint, Merricks, and Sosa do, but Otte, Stump, van Inwagen, and Zimmerman do not. But, of course, these are not objections to the content of the volume. The problem here is not, one might say, philosophical indigestion. The problem here is analogous to that of Oliver Twist. The philosophical food in this volume is so appetizing that I found myself saying, “Please sir, I want some more.”

As more books come out about the influence and leadership of Plantinga’s work, it will be interesting to explore his impact on some aspect of a ‘pentecostal philosophy’ (e.g., the work of Jamie Smith), Christian apologetics (e.g., his influence on Bill Craig’s epistemology), and to more interdisciplinary discussions (e.g., science and theology), including the work of Christian scholarship.

Recently, Plantinga and Wolterstorff were Presidential Visiting Scholars at Biola University’s Center for Christian Thought. Below is an interesting video interview with both of them. The interviewer, philosopher Tom Crisp (a former student of Al’s), asks them questions pertaining to the nature of Christian scholarship and the role of Christian scholars in the academy and in society.