I first heard about so-called properly basic beliefs in the context of discussions about belief in God. Moreover, when I do a Google search for the term "properly basic belief," I get a bunch of results having to do with Christianity and God.

So, I am curious, was the notion of PBB invented in a religious context? Who came up with it, originally?

Obviously, Plantinga is one of its chief champions. Was he the one who originated it?


  • 2
    The term is coming from the so-called "reformed epistemology", of which Plantinga is the best known proponent, others are Alston and Wolterstorff. It is a theological movement focused on rationality of religious beliefs. I think Kenny used it in a 1982 lecture where he discussed what came to be known as RE before it was officially so named in 1983. Plantinga traced the idea back to Calvin, and later even to Aquinas.
    – Conifold
    Sep 8 '18 at 0:26

I associate the term, 'properly basic belief', like Conifold, with Alvin Plantinga as its prime modern proponent. See for a start, see A. Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief [WCB], Oxford: OUP, 2000: 81.

So that we can be quite clear what we are talking about, let's characterise the idea of a properly basic belief. We need to distinguish it from any belief elucidated or defended along the lines of classical foundationalism.

Conceptualising properly basic belief

What is the best way of understanding properly basic beliefs? One way is along the lines of classical foundationalism, according to which a belief is properly basic if and only if it is 'self-evident, incorrigible, or evident to the senses' (WCB, p. 84). Of course, Plantinga forcefully argues that classical foundationalism is self-referentially self-refuting, as the requirement that a belief must be either properly basic in the sense just described or inferable from properly basic beliefs is itself neither properly basic nor inferable from properly basic beliefs.5 He adopts a dif belief, one which is still foundationalist, but which (unlike classical foundationalism) is fallibilist, admitting that basic beliefs are subject to defeat. ((Jeremy Randel Koons, 'Plantinga on Properly Basic Belief', The Philosophical Quarterly (1950-), Vol. 61, No. 245 (October 2011), pp. 839-850: 840.)

For Plantinga, a basic belief is essentially a foundational belief, a non-inferential belief. Paradigm examples of basic beliefs are perceptual beliefs (as when one sees an orange sphere and forms the belief 'There is a basketball') and memory beliefs (as when one remembers 'I had a banana for breakfast'). In neither case is the belief inferred from any other belief: it is immediate, non-inferential, basic. A belief is properly basic if in addition to being basic, it is warranted for the individual. Warrant, for Plantinga, is, of course, that which is added to true belief to produce knowledge; it functions like justification and the Gettier condition in traditional theories of knowledge. More precisely, a belief's warrant depends on the circumstances of the belief's production. For Plantinga, 'a belief has warrant for a person S only if that belief is produced in S by cognitive faculties functioning properly (subject to no dysfunction) in a cognitive environment that is appropriate for S's kind of cognitive faculties, according to a design plan that is successfully aimed at truth' (WCB, p. 156). (Because Plantinga uses 'justification' as a technical term distinct from 'warrant', I ... avoid the term 'justification' as a term for the positive epistemic status of a belief; instead, I use 'warrant' to denote whatever is added to a true belief to turn that belief into knowledge.) (Randell: 841.)

PLantinga's introduction of God into the picture

One could endorse this idea of a properly basic belief without any reference to God. Plantinga himself, as of course you know, links it with God. Just briefly to spell out how:

Plantinga argues that belief in God can, like perceptual or memory belief, be properly basic. He thinks it likely that if there is a God, He wants us to know Him, and has given us a way of knowing Him. Following Calvin, Plantinga postulates 'a kind of faculty or a cognitive mechanism, what Calvin calls a sensus divinitatis or sense of divinity, which in a wide variety of circumstances produces in us beliefs about God' (WCB, p. 172). As this cognitive mechanism is designed to produce true beliefs about God (and other conditions are or can be satisfied7), such beliefs about God (if God exists) can be warranted, and we can indeed have knowledge of God, produced by this sensus divinitatis. (Randell: 841.)


The seed of the argument present in Reformed Epistemology, but it has been advanced by various writers and Philosophers, the most famed are:

  • Alvin Plantinga (1932- ).

  • William Lane Craig (1949- ).

Basic beliefs=Foundational beliefs=Core beliefs.

Properly basic:

a- Self-evident.

b- Incorrigible.

For existence of God as a Properly basic belief, there are some arguments resembles that, as in Presuppositional apologetics:

  • Van Tillian presupposition.

  • Clarkian presupposition.

Notable proponents of presupposition apologetics are:

  • Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987).

  • Gordon Clark (1902-1985).

  • Greg Bahnsen (1948-1995).

  • John Frame (1939- ).

  • Rousas John Rushdoony (1916-2001).

  • Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984).

  • Douglas Wilson (1953- ).

  • Sye Ten Bruggencate (1963- ).

We could note that dates of the arguments are very new (20 century).

We could also notice that the argument for God as properly basic belief is for some believers, not all believers.

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