The cognitive faculties (CF) are crucial components to our conscious experience of the world and of ourselves. Without these faculties, we would simply not possess the capacities to engage the world, form beliefs, know anything about the past, or even be able to exercise rational thought.
Distinguished philosopher Alvin Plantinga, known for his reformed epistemology and for his argument against naturalism, provides a framework through which one can understand the workings of our cognitive faculties. Plantinga outlines several components: [i] memory, [ii] perception, [iii] logical intuition, and [iv] induction (1). Most of us assume that these faculties are reliable and that they produce within us true beliefs or at least more true beliefs than false beliefs.
Memory – Memory is basic to all persons. It is used to remember facts and concepts we learn for our tests and exams, and when we engage in dialogue with our friends, peers, and family. We simply cannot avoid using our memories to recall information that we believe to be true of the past. Alternatively, we can sometimes be deliberately deceptive by lying about past events or by retelling a story that does not do justice to the actual events that occurred. More technically, memory is the way information is encoded, stored, and retrieved. Encoding is taking information from the external world and converting it into mental representations which are then stored in three “locations”: sensory memory (info that is held for a few milliseconds with most info being filtered out), working memory (meaningful info transitions from sensory memory to working memory), and long term memory (info that is deemed really important that can be held for a lifetime).
Perception – This is how an individual knows facts about the world through the use of his or her senses. Knowledge of the world is derived through hearing, seeing, touching, smelling, and tasting. Some philosophical worldviews have based their entire epistemologies on this premise, such as the likes of empiricism and positivism. We tend to exercise our perceptive faculties in two major ways: towards that of our [i] immediate and [ii] distant environments. The former consists of facts we know about our close environment such as within it there are people, chairs, tables, and cups, etc. The latter consists of what we think we know about distant environments, such as the sun, stars, and celestial objects that exist many billions of light-years away.
Logical intuition – This is an individual’s mental state in which a proposition seems true. I would think that our logical intuition presupposes the three classical Laws of Logic. For example, it is intuitively obvious that a statement is either true or that its negation is true (law of excluded middle). Either the proposition that the cup is on the table is true or it is false. It is intuitively obvious that a table possesses all the characteristics of being a table and is therefore not a coffee cup (law of identity). It is also intuitively obvious that contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense at the same time (law of non-contradiction). It is intuitively obvious that there are no such things as three-sided circles, round squares, and married bachelors. I need not have to examine all of the squares in the world to know that no squares are circles, etc. These beliefs about the world seem obvious almost beyond a reasonable doubt.
Induction – This is how the individual learns something about the future based on his past experience. For example, an individual knows that an apple nourished him after eating it, and he uses this experience to form the belief that the next time he eats an apple it will similarly nourish him. This, also known as an inductive inference that infers from the observed to the unobserved.
1. Plantinga, A. An Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism. Available.