I'm currently trying to understand Plantiga's proposed reformed foundationalism and this may be a stupid question but if say you agree that God is a properly basic belief is it still consistent to make arguments for God which would would rest on other beliefs (ie. inferential).

More simply, is it consistent to both believe something as a properly basic and to simultaneously make an inferential argument for it?

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    Yes, it is fine to make arguments for properly basic beliefs based on other beliefs, as long as the purpose of those arguments is persuasion rather than establishing that the beliefs in question are properly basic. Beliefs are supposed to form a coherent system, and some groups of beliefs in it may well imply properly basic beliefs. If one already holds those other beliefs for some reasons they can then be convinced to accept properly basic beliefs as well based on such arguments. However, this mode of argument does not have the weight of epistemological justification.
    – Conifold
    Commented Dec 14, 2020 at 4:29
  • What is Plantinga's assertion about what a "properly basic belief" consists of? Descartes was that an idea is undeniably true -- IE is knowable by direct intuitive knowledge. But two answers below assume they are just postulates, not directly knowable. If he asserted they are postulates, this is not a contradiction. If he asserted they are directly and undeniably knowable, then yes it is.
    – Dcleve
    Commented May 9, 2022 at 16:06

3 Answers 3


There are a few ways to interpret the concept of simultaneously expressing a basic belief and showing evidence for it in a consistent way. Interpreting the statement non-literally is a cop-out, but it is a way to interpret it.

Let's take the concept of a basic belief at face value for a moment. There are a few things you can do that are internally consistent.

One thing that you can do is to argue that a particular explanation in language is a good description for a basic belief that someone else already has.

You can also argue that someone else should accept a belief that is properly basic for you but would merely be inferential/derived/non-basic for them.

We can also take the concept of being a "basic belief" not at face value and interpret it instead as a commentary on what constitutes evidence for a belief and how beliefs work in general.

Finally, I don't think there's a requirement that some collection of basic beliefs be minimal. I can articulate a "redundant" set of five basic beliefs, but some of them are "theorems" of other beliefs. I don't say which of them are foundational because they're all foundational. Nevertheless I might end up concluding the same things if I took one of those beliefs and de-basicked it. If my collection of basic beliefs is non-minimal, then I would expect some of the basic beliefs to be provable using other ones.


More simply, is it consistent to both believe something as a properly basic and to simultaneously make an inferential argument for it?

No, it is not consistent. But that's our only rational choice. <== BTW, do you think those statements are contradictory?

It is necessary because our starting point -- point-zero; before we can do or know anything useful; before it becomes possible to develop a concept of truth -- already at that point we are entrapped in a paradox, a catch-22 kind. That's according to pure reason, according to that rationale, this is it, we a done before even getting a chance to do something.

According to pure reason, the only knowledge we will ever possess is that of our own existence. We can do nothing, no agency whatsoever. That's not an option. Staying perfectly rational is not an option. Ditching rationality completely is just as bad. Our best bet is to choose our first premise (among too many others), the way it would let us stay rational thereafter. And that's all there is to it.


I don't see why not. It seems to be Platinga's translation of Descartes "clear and distinct ideas" to the realm of belief: beliefs that rely on no other beliefs.

  • But justifications mean that it relies upon other beliefs. Your defense of Plantinga looks self-contradictory.
    – Dcleve
    Commented May 9, 2022 at 16:00
  • @dcleve: I didn't mention "justifcation". As the OP appeared confused about what a "properly basic belief" is, this is what I explained. Commented May 9, 2022 at 16:05
  • Your definition does not clarify the key issue needed to answer his question. And a single line definitional response generally should be in comments.
    – Dcleve
    Commented May 9, 2022 at 16:08
  • @Dceleve: If it takes a couple of lines to answer then thats fine in my eyes - if not yours. What do you see as the "key issue"? Commented May 9, 2022 at 16:27
  • @Dcleve: Although the question talks about "consistency" there are some basic inconsistencies in his question. Did you spot them? Commented May 9, 2022 at 16:28

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