William Alston

William Alston
Born(1921-11-29)November 29, 1921
Shreveport, Louisiana, US
DiedSeptember 13, 2009(2009-09-13) (aged 87)
Jamesville, New York, US
Alma materUniversity of Chicago
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolAnalytic philosophy
Notable ideas
Epistemic justification

William Payne Alston (November 29, 1921 – September 13, 2009) was an American philosopher. He made influential contributions to the philosophy of language, epistemology, and Christian philosophy. He earned his PhD from the University of Chicago and taught at the University of Michigan, Rutgers University, University of Illinois, and Syracuse University.

Early life and education

Alston was born to Eunice Schoolfield and William Alston on November 29, 1921, in Shreveport, Louisiana. He graduated from high school when he was 15 and went on to Centenary College of Louisiana, graduating in 1942 with a Bachelor of Music in piano. During World War II, he played clarinet and bass drum in a military band in California. During this time, he became interested in philosophy, sparked by W. Somerset Maugham's book The Razor's Edge. After this, he engrossed himself in works by well-known philosophers such as Jacques Maritain, Mortimer J. Adler, Francis Bacon, Plato, René Descartes, and John Locke.[1] After being discharged, he entered a graduate program for philosophy at the University of Chicago, even though he had never formally taken a class on the subject.[2][3] While he was there, he learned more about philosophy from Richard McKeon and Charles Hartshorne, and he received his PhD in 1951.[1]


From 1949 until 1971, Alston was a professor at the University of Michigan, and he became professor of philosophy in 1961.[4] He then taught at Rutgers University for five years, followed by the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign from 1976 to 1980 and then Syracuse University from 1980 to 1992.[1]

His views on foundationalism, internalism versus externalism, speech acts, and the epistemic value of mystical experience, among many other topics, have been very influential. Like most contemporary American philosophers, Alston is counted among the analytic philosophers.[5]

Together with Alvin Plantinga, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Robert Adams, and Michael L. Peterson, Alston helped to found the journal Faith and Philosophy.[6] With Plantinga, Wolterstorff, and others, Alston was also responsible for the development of "Reformed epistemology" (a term that Alston, an Episcopalian, never fully endorsed), one of the most important contributions to Christian thought in the twentieth century.[7] Alston was president of the Western Division (now the Central Division) of the American Philosophical Association in 1979, the Society for Philosophy and Psychology, and the Society of Christian Philosophers, which he co-founded. He was widely recognized as one of the core figures in the late twentieth-century revival of the philosophy of religion.[8][9] He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1990.[10]


Alston died in a nursing home in Jamesville, New York, on September 13, 2009, at the age of 87.[2]


  • Beyond "Justification": Dimensions of Epistemic Evaluation, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0-8014-7332-6
  • A Sensible Metaphysical Realism (The Aquinas Lecture, 2001), Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Marquette University Press, 2001. ISBN 978-0-8746-2168-6
  • Illocutionary Acts and Sentence Meaning, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-8014-3669-7
  • A Realist Conception of Truth, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1996. ISBN 978-0-8014-8410-0
  • Epistemic Justification: Essays in the Theory of Knowledge, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1996. ISBN 978-0-8014-9544-1
  • The Reliability of Sense Perception, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1993. ISBN 978-0-8014-8101-7
  • Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1991. ISBN 978-0-8014-8155-0
  • Divine Nature and Human Language: Essays in Philosophical Theology. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8014-9545-8
  • Philosophy of Language, Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall, 1964

See also


  1. ^ a b c Howard-Snyder, Daniel (2005). "Alston, William Payne (1921– )". In Shook, John R. (ed.). Dictionary of Modern American Philosophers (PDF). 1. Continuum. pp. 56–61. ISBN 978-1-84371-037-0. Retrieved December 8, 2013.
  2. ^ a b "William Payne Alston Obituary". The Post-Standard. September 20, 2009. Retrieved December 9, 2013.
  3. ^ "Emeritus professor of philosophy William Payne Alston dies". Syracuse University. September 18, 2009. Retrieved December 9, 2013.
  4. ^ "The Aquinas Lecture in Philosophy i". Marquette University Press. Retrieved December 10, 2013.
  5. ^ Oppy, Graham; Trakakis, Nick, eds. (2009). History of Western Philosophy of Religion (PDF). Acumen Publishing, Limited. ISBN 978-1-84465-679-0. Retrieved December 9, 2013.
  6. ^ Plantinga, Alvin (2009). "In Memoriam: William J. Alston" (PDF). Faith and Philosophy. 26 (4): 359–360. doi:10.5840/faithphil200926434. ISSN 0739-7046.
  7. ^ Meeker, Kevin (April 1994). "William Alston's Epistemology of Religious Experience: A 'Reformed' Reformed Epistemology?". International Journal for Philosophy of Religion. 35 (2): 89–110. doi:10.1007/bf01318327. JSTOR 40036246. S2CID 170253486.
  8. ^ "William P. Alston". Centenary College of Louisiana. Archived from the original on December 13, 2013. Retrieved December 10, 2013.
  9. ^ "APA Divisional Presidents and Addresses". American Philosophical Association. Retrieved August 11, 2018.
  10. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. p. 11. Retrieved December 9, 2013.

Further reading

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