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Plantinga’s “Advice to Christian Philosophers” and Moral Philosophy

In a famous essay by Alvin Plantinga, he argues that Christian philosophers should do philosophy as Christians. Christian philosophers have their own concerns, problems, and methods, and they need not run on the tracks the rest of the philosophical community has laid. This is not to say, of course, that Christian philosophy happens in a vacuum. Plantinga suggests Christian philosophers engage and take seriously the philosophy and ideas of others, but not at the expense of developing and defending a truly Christian philosophy. Christian philosophers ought to be breaking new ground and moving both the Christian and philosophical world along  in the process. As an example of an area where Christian philosophers could be working on their project, Plantinga suggests the area of ethics:

These, then, are my examples; I could have chosen others. In ethics, for example: perhaps the chief theoretical concern, from the theistic perspective, is the question how are right and wrong, good and bad, duty, permission and obligation related to God and to his will and to his creative activity? This question doesn’t arise, naturally enough, from a non–theistic perspective; and so, naturally enough, non-theist ethicists do not address it. But it is perhaps the most important question for a Christian ethicist to tackle.

Plantinga’s point is that when doing moral philosophy, Christian philosophers should not confine themselves to working within the paradigm given to them by their peers. That paradigm is not even asking the right questions in the first place.  Instead, they should seek to develop a moral philosophy that arises from Christian commitments.

At the end of his essay, Plantinga says,

We who are Christians and propose to be philosophers must not rest content with being philosophers who happen, incidentally, to be Christians; we must strive to be Christian philosophers. We must therefore pursue our projects with integrity, independence, and Christian boldness.

Plantinga’s incredible work in epistemology and the problem of evil have demonstrated that Plantinga is in no way a hypocrite;  he has taken his own advice. Plantinga’s work is not only distinctively Christian, it is also just excellent philosophy by anyone’s lights. For example, in his work on the logical problem of evil, Plantinga has done what few philosophers have ever done: persuade almost all those who started out disagreeing with him that they were wrong. Because of his excellent Christian philosophy, Plnatinga has been a major contributor to the revival of Christian philosophy so that now Christian philosophers have a greater opportunity to follow his advice. As Christian ethicists and moral philosophers do their work, they too ought to take Plantinga’s advice and perhaps they can continue to turn the philosophical world upside down. Or, perhaps it best to say that when Christian philosophers really act like Christian philosophers, they won’t so much as turn the world upside down as right-side up.

If you’d like, you can read all of Plantinga’s “Advice to Christian Philosophers” here. 

Photo: “St. Paul Preaching in Athens” by Lawrence OP. CC License. 

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