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The Right to Believe: Perspectives in Religious Epistemology
 9783110320169, 9783110319972

Table of contents :
Russell’s China Teapot
Religious Belief and Evidence from Testimony
Steps Towards an Epistemology of Revelation
Faith As an Epistemic Good According to Aristotle: Towards an Aristotelian Understanding of the Act of Faith
Aquinas and the Will to Believe
To Be in Truth or not to Be Mistaken?
Do We Have the Epistemic Right to Believe in Jesus? An Epistemological Analysis of Some Arguments for Credibility of Christianity
Religious Beliefs in the Face of Rationalism
Believing the Self-Contradictory
Logic, Right to Unbelief and Freedom
Scepticism and Religious Belief The Case of Sextus Empiricus
Are We Morally Obliged to Be Atheists? Marian Przelecki on the Right to Believe
Can There Be Supernaturalism without Theism? Contra Tooley’s Thesis
On the Interrelation between Forgiveness, Rationality and Faith
Transfiguration of Human Consciousness and Eternal Life
Notes on the Authors
Index of Names

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Dariusz Łukasiewicz & Roger Pouivet (Eds.) The Right to Believe Perspectives in Religious Epistemology

Dariusz Łukasiewicz & Roger Pouivet (Eds.)

The Right to Believe Perspectives in Religious Epistemology

Bibliographic information published by Deutsche Nationalbibliothek The Deutsche Nastionalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliographie; detailed bibliographic data is available in the Internet at

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Contents Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Russell’s China Teapot . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


PeTeR van Inwagen Religious Belief and evidence from Testimony . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


John gReCo Steps Towards an epistemology of Revelation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


RogeR PouIveT Faith as an epistemic good according to aristotle: Towards an aristotelian understanding of the act of Faith . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


MIChel BaSTIT aquinas and the will to Believe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


CyRIlle MIChon To Be in Truth or not to Be Mistaken? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


PIoTR guTowSkI Do we have the epistemic Right to Believe in Jesus? an epistemological analysis of some arguments for Credibility of Christianity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


JaCek woJTySIak Religious Beliefs in the Face of Rationalism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


uRSzula M. Żegleń Believing the Self-Contradictory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


FaBIen SChang logic, Right to unbelief and Freedom . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Jan woleńSkI




Scepticism and Religious Belief. The Case of Sextus empiricus . . . . . . . . . . .


RenaTa zIeMIńSka are we Morally obliged to Be atheists? Marian Przełęcki on the Right to Believe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


DaRIuSz ŁukaSIewICz Can there Be Supernaturalism without Theism? Contra Tooley’s Thesis . . . . .


gaBRIele De anna on the Interrelation between Forgiveness, Rationality and Faith . . . . . . . . . . .


geRhaRD heInzMann Transfiguration of human Consciousness and eternal life . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


STanISŁaw JuDyCkI Notes on the Authors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Index of Names . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .



The Right to Believe: Perspectives in Religious Epistemology “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence1”, said the english philosopher and mathematician william Clifford. Clifford made his remark in a polemic against those religious thinkers who have responded to the positivist program of making evidence subject to the sole authority of science by claiming that the lack of sufficient scientific evidence for belief in god was not a vice. Clifford’s viewpoint was famously attacked by william James in his essay, “will to Believe2”, defending the adoption of beliefs as hypotheses and self-fulfilling prophecies even without prior evidence of their truth. James took the case of the uniformity of nature presumed by science as a hypothesis that is as hard to conform to the criterion of evidence as religious belief. In these ultimate cases, he wrote: “our passional nature not only lawfully may, but must, decide an option between propositions, whenever it is a genuine option that cannot by its nature be decided on intellectual grounds.” Their polemic inaugurated a debate over the moral right to believe. This book situates itself in this debate, and proposes new perspectives on it. of course, Clifford and James were engaged in an argument that goes all the way back to the time of origen and Clement of alexandria, and has absorbed the energies of such figures as augustine, abelard, Thomas aquinas, Duns Scot, leibniz, and newman. In the twentieth century, with the introduction of new formal frameworks of argumentation and the william k. Clifford, „The ethics of Belief”, lectures and essays, ed. l. Stephen & F. Pollock, london: Macmillan and Company, 1879. 2 william James, „The will to Believe” (1896), The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy, new york: Dover Publications, 1956. 1



extension of scientific research to many realms once hidden from scholarly research, many contemporary epistemologists in the analytic tradition have entered into this debate with new tools: Richard Swinburne, anthony kenny, alvin Plantinga, nicholas wolterstorff, Peter van Inwagen (who contributes a piece in this volume) among many others, defending or contesting the requirement of evidence for any justified belief and even discussing the epistemological value of this requirement of justification for our beliefs, whether we are touching on religious belief here or not. This polemic on the moral right to believe is both epistemological and ethical. The epistemological debate turns principally around the question of epistemic justification. The ethical debate derives from the epistemological one, pursuing the question of the kind of responsibility which our ultimate beliefs engage. when justification is not sufficient, it would perhaps better not to believe; and if we do accept that it would be better, we are not only wrong to believe, but also bad in believing upon insufficient evidence. as our beliefs should commit us to act in certain ways, beliefs that are not only bad in themselves (insofar as they are not justified) must also be irresponsible. of course, the question of responsibility rests on the idea that our beliefs are at our disposition, that we can decide to believe or not – a point that william James, with his emphasis on the claims of our passional nature, makes ambiguous. how could we say to young children that god exists, that he loves us, that he is our creator, and that we must obey his commands as revealed to us in the Bible (or another sacred text), if such beliefs are definitively without any evidence, and simply express our convictions, or perhaps the cultural stereotypes in our community? If religious beliefs were all epistemologically weak, and even deficient, our moral right to have them would be proportionally weak, and we could be blamed for believing what we ought not to believe or communicate. Religious beliefs would not only be irresponsible, but also morally shameful. Certainly if it is a virtue, both epistemic and moral, to believe only upon sufficient evidence, is not faith (the open confession that there is no sufficient ground from the human point of view) an epistemic and moral vice? If we accept Clifford’s dictum, then we should try to ground our faith in non-religious and non-disputable arguments – and if these cannot be found, we should give it up. This is the task of natural theology, after all. But putting this task in this way should throw light on why some religious thinkers, embracing skepticism, find it irrational to ground conclusions about the existence of a supernatural Being, creator of everything, on the basis of natural reasons and facts that this creator must have created.



Clifford’s formula presupposes that our beliefs must have certain adequate grounds without spelling out his criterion of adequacy. even the thesis that all beliefs must have generally adequate grounds is ambiguous in its privileging of some form of unquestionable foundation, posited by enlightenment epistemology. The epistemological question implies a practical question, for if the ethics of religious belief is truly ethics and truly deals with the reasoning that leads to belief, it must also, as ethics, deal with practical matters. It is not simply that we use a moral vocabulary to characterize the integrity of the belief acquisition process, asking people to be responsible for appropriating only those beliefs for which they have sufficient evidence, but in the matter of religious beliefs, we are also expressing our existential commitments. In a sense, these ultimate beliefs are different in kind from other intellectual objects that we could examine seriously or not, finding a viewpoint that would allow us to judge them rationally. These beliefs constitute the selves of those who have them. we exist as religious believers differently than we exist as non-believers. as religious believers, we have a different explanation of our existence, and the existence of non-believers, than non-believers have. Thus, it seems disproportionate or even ridiculous to decide to belief or to decide not to belief concerning the ultimate grounds of existence because we do not have sufficient evidence. That our religious beliefs are groundless could have nothing to do with what a Cliffordian would be tempted to characterize as credulity, for the question concerns whether we have adequately thought out who we are – not, for instance, why we believe some product will cure a certain ill, or some investment will produce a certain return. very often, an academic believer has to cope with colleagues who consider that overwhelming evidence and logical arguments against religious beliefs makes religious faith quite surprising! Conversely, the academic believer could (and does) ask, why do certain people who hear and understand the Christian message not accept it? as Saint Paul says, speaking about unbelievers in Romans 1: 19: “what can be known about god is plain to them because he has shown it to them”. From both sides, the assumption prevails that the moral right not to believe is uncontroversial – or, among believers, that the moral right to believe is uncontroversial. This insensitivity to the very problem should remind us that there are no knockdown arguments in religious matters, any more than in philosophy in general, but also that other domains, including physical sciences, are founded on suppositions that are synthetic, and can always be questioned. while some part of mathematics and logics is analytically certain, even



there we can find space for constructing a variety of logical or mathematical systems, depending on the axioms we accept. It does not mean at all that everything goes, but that our moral right to believe does not rest on any absolute ground. The best things we can do, it seems, is to examine more attentively the true notion of “right to believe”, especially about religious matters. This is exactly what authors of the papers in this book, from different perspectives, do. Cliffordian evidentialism and James’ pragmatism presents two extreme positions within which we find a whole spectrum of others, which some may perhaps find more plausible. The papers in this book covers position in between, and we hope that they will bring the attention of philosophers to this quite important topic. This book is a cooperative enterprise and, as editors, we would like to express our gratitude to all authors who participated in the project and submitted their papers. Due thanks go to Roger gathman for his proofreading work and his valuable improvements, as well as to Mariusz kaniewski, M.a. for his preparation of the index of names. Finally, it gives us pleasure to record here our gratitude to Prof. Janusz ostoja zagórski, vice Rector of kazimierz wielki university, for his kind and much needed financial support of the publication. DaRIuSz ŁukaSIewICz & RogeR PouIveT

The Right to Believe:

Perspectives in Religious Epistemology Dariusz Łukasiewicz & Roger Pouivet (eds.)

PeTeR van Inwagen

Russell’s China Teapot In 1952, Bertrand Russell received a commission from a periodical called Illustrated Magazine to write an article with the title “Is There a god?” In the event, the editors of Illustrated Magazine decided not to publish the article that Russell submitted to them, presumably because they judged (rightly, I’m sure) that their readers would find it offensive. My purpose in this paper is to examine some of the reasoning contained in “Is There a god?” I am afraid that the body of this paper will have to be devoted to getting clear on just what that reasoning is. I will begin by considering a sentence from the final paragraph of the article, the sentence in which Russell states the conclusion of his main argument: … there is no reason to believe any of the dogmas of traditional theology.

what does Russell mean by these words – and, in particular, by the words, ‘there is no reason to believe’? or, if you like, what does he take these words to imply? My question is, of course, rhetorical. let me explain what I have in mind by raising it. Suppose I am to be dealt a single card from a well-shuffled standard deck of playing cards, and that I have no information about the card I shall be dealt beyond what is contained in that statement. Then I have no reason to believe that the card will be black: of all the reasons I have for believing anything, none of them is a reason to believe that the card will be black. Suppose further that someone, let us say you, wanted to bet me that the card would be black. I should be willing to offer you any odds less than even odds – if I could negotiate no more favorable odds, I should be willing to agree to pay you $99 if the card turned out to be black, provided that


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you agreed to pay me $100 if the card turned out to be red. (at any rate, I should be willing to offer you odds in that range if I were a bookmaker whose livelihood consisted in taking bets of that sort in large numbers.) and the reason that I should be willing to offer you odds that fell somewhere in that range is obvious: I assign a probability of 0.5 to the proposition that the card will be black. and it is at least a defensible position that one might have no reason to think that a proposition was true and yet be constrained by reason to assign it a higher probability than 0.5. Consider, for example, the proposition that at least one of two cards dealt me (from that well-shuffled standard deck) will be black. It is, again, a defensible position that I have no reason to think that this proposition is true; nevertheless, reason dictates that I assign it a probability of 0.75. (But the idea of a reason for thinking something true is not as clear as it might be. Might someone not maintain that a proposition’s having a higher probability than 0.5 is a reason – a weak reason, perhaps; certainly not a decisive reason – for thinking it true?) Does Russell assign a probability of 0.5 – or even some higher probability – to each “dogma of traditional theology”? almost certainly not – and we need know nothing about Russell’s theological views to reach that conclusion. our knowledge that he was a mathematician will suffice. Presumably some pairs of traditional theological dogmas are logically independent of each other. and, presumably, the conjunction of two traditional theological dogmas is itself a traditional theological dogma. and any mathematician will know – indeed many high-school students will know – that if the probability of each of two independent propositions is 0.5, then the probability of their conjunction is 0.25. (More generally: it is pretty certain that Russell would have seen that it was impossible to assign the same probability to every dogma of traditional theology.) well, does Russell assign a probability of 0.5 (or perhaps even some higher probability) to any dogma of traditional theology? Does he, for example, assign a probability of 0.5 (or higher) to the proposition that god exists? – a proposition that is certainly a dogma of traditional theology, in the technical sense of the word ‘dogma’, even if it wouldn’t normally be referred to as such. (Presumably, Russell would assign few if any of the dogmas of traditional theology a probability higher than the probability he assigned to the proposition that god exists, since most, if not all, dogmas of traditional theology entail or presuppose the existence of god.) Russell has said nothing that constrains him to assign a probability as high as 0.5 to the proposition that god exists. The only statement he has

Russell’s China Teapot


made that is relevant to the question of the probability of the existence of god is the statement that there is no reason to believe that god exists, and it certainly doesn’t follow from the premise that there is no reason to believe a certain proposition that its probability is as high as 0.5. (The thesis that there is no reason to believe that god exists may constrain those who accept it from assigning a higher probability than 0.5 to the proposition that god exists. whether it does will depend on whether a proposition’s having a higher probability than 0.5 counts as a reason for thinking that it is true.) nor does it follow from the premise that none of the propositions that a certain person accepts constitutes a reason for accepting the proposition p that the probability of p conditional on the whole set of propositions that that person accepts is 0.5. after all, I have no reason to believe that in 1939 Poland invaded and occupied germany. (That is, among all the reasons I have for believing anything, none is a reason for believing that in 1939 Poland invaded and occupied germany.) But it certainly doesn’t follow that I should assign a probability of 0.5 to the proposition that in 1939 Poland invaded and occupied germany. and, in fact, I assign it a somewhat lower probability than that – 0 or some very good approximation to 0. and that, of course, is because I have some rather compelling reasons for accepting its denial. So, although the two theses ‘one has no reason to accept the proposition that god exists’ and ‘one should assign a probability of 0.5 to the proposition that god exists’ are mutually consistent, the former certainly does not entail the latter. and, as matter of reasonably well-attested historical fact, Russell did not assign a probability as high as 0.5 to the proposition that god exists. If he had been a bookmaker of the kind I imagined a moment ago, and if Theodoxa the Theist had said to him, “Russell, I want to place a bet that god exists – that is, a bet I win if god exists and lose if he doesn’t. what odds will you give me?”, Russell would have been willing to give Theodoxa just about any odds that might have been necessary to persuade her to place her bet with him rather than with some rival bookmaker. (of course, this bizarre little scenario presupposes that there would have been some way to settle the bet – but take that as given.) That is to say, Russell regarded the existence of god as highly improbable (or, if you like, highly improbable on the totality of the evidence available to him). But why? not simply because he had (so he supposed) no reason to believe that there was a god. (The playing-card example shows that this can’t have been the totality of his reasons for assigning a low probability to the existence of god.)


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Is it because he believed he had some reason – some very compelling reason – to believe that there was no god? no doubt. But what was this reason? – or what were these reasons? one would suppose both that if the author of an article called “Is There a god?” had had such a reason he would have presented it to his readers and that any reason he might have had was one that could be presented in the form of an argument for the non-existence of god. But the only argument for the non-existence of god that Russell considers in “Is There a god?” is the argument from evil. More exactly, he presents in passing an argument something like the argument from evil, but it isn’t really the argument from evil, since its conclusion is not ‘god does not exist’ but ‘god, if he exists, is wicked to a degree that is scarcely conceivable’.1 (That is, Russell does not treat ‘no being that is wicked to a degree that is scarcely conceivable is god’ as a conceptual datum.) So, in the last analysis, Russell presents no argument for the non-existence of god and hence, if he has a reason that supports his conviction that the existence of god is highly improbable, he does not present that reason to his readers. what, then, grounds this conviction? It certainly seems to be the case that Russell regards the statement ‘There is no reason to believe that god exists’ as having some sort of strong anti-theological or anti-theistic implications. But, surely, the strongest thesis that would be unacceptable to theists that can possibly be supposed to follow from this statement, this statement alone, is what we might call “neutral agnosticism”: the thesis that a rational person – a rational person who is aware that there is no reason to believe that god exists (and who, of course, does not suppose that he has some good reason to think that god does not exist) – will regard neither 1

“I will say further that, if there be a [cosmic] purpose and if this purpose is that of an omnipotent Creator, then that Creator, so far from being loving and kind, as we are told, must be of a degree of wickedness scarcely conceivable. a man who commits a murder is considered to be a bad man. an omnipotent Deity, if there be one, murders everybody. a man who willingly afflicted another with cancer would be considered a fiend. But the Creator, if he exists, afflicts many thousands every year with this dreadful disease. a man who, having the knowledge and power required to make his children good, chose instead to make them bad, would be viewed with execration. But god, if he exists, makes this choice in the case of very many of his children. The whole conception of an omnipotent god whom it is impious to criticize, could only have arisen under oriental despotisms where sovereigns, in spite of capricious cruelties, continued to enjoy the adulation of their slaves. It is the psychology appropriate to this outmoded political system which belatedly survives in orthodox theology.”

Russell’s China Teapot


the existence nor the non-existence of god as more likely than the other.2 and yet it seems clear that Russell regards ‘There is no reason to believe that god exists’ as somehow implying, if not atheism, then, as one might call it, “strongly negative agnosticism”: the thesis that the rational person – a rational person who is aware that there is no reason to believe that god exists – will assign a far higher probability to the non-existence of god than to the existence of god. (and he will do this even if he has no “positive” reason for thinking that god does not exist – no reason other than the absence of evidence for the existence of god.) as we have seen, however, strongly negative agnosticism does not follow from the “no evidence” thesis. and yet Russell, who has some reputation as a logician, apparently thinks that it does follow. why he might think this is an interesting question. The answer to this interesting question, if it can be found anywhere in “Is There a god?”, is to be found in a piece of text of approximately paragraph length, three sentences that have come to be known as “Russell’s teapot argument”: Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense.

(This argument is immediately followed by a coup de grâce that is such a beautiful example of Russellian rhetoric that I can’t resist quoting it: If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.)

Despite the fact that many atheists regard the “teapot argument” as a knockdown argument for atheism, it is not easy to discover what argument this 2

one way to be a neutral agnostic is to assign a probability of 0.5 both to the proposition that god exists and to its denial. another is to decline to assign any probability to either proposition.


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knockdown argument is. If the three sentences I have quoted contain an important argument, that argument deserves a clearer presentation. when one examines a piece of text that represents itself as an argument and one is not entirely sure what that argument is, the best strategy for getting clear on this point is usually to begin by asking what the intended conclusion of the argument is. That, at any rate, is the strategy I will employ. In my view, the conclusion of the argument is contained, appropriately enough, in its final sentence: But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense.

I think that the thesis expressed by this sentence, stripped of all rhetoric, is something like this: It is epistemically permissible to doubt whether there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit between the earth and Mars, despite the fact that the non-existence of such a teapot cannot be demonstrated by astronomical observation (or any other means).

But what is it to “doubt” an assertion? or, to adapt this general question to the present case, what is it to “doubt whether” there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit between the earth and Mars? here are two possible answers to that question: To doubt whether there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit between the earth and Mars is (to have considered the question whether there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit between the earth and Mars and) not to believe that – to lack the belief that – there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit between the earth and Mars. To doubt whether there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit between the earth and Mars is to believe that there is no china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit between the earth and Mars.

The first of these answers seems to be too weak, and the second too strong. Perhaps few will dispute my contention that the second answer is too strong. My contention that the first is too weak, however, may need a defense. I offer this. Suppose a single card is to be drawn at random from a standard deck, and someone says, “It won’t be the queen of diamonds.” I would not say in reply, “yes, you’re right. It won’t be the queen of

Russell’s China Teapot


diamonds,” although I might well say, “you’re probably right” or even “you’re almost certainly right.” That is to say, while I believe that the drawn card will probably not be the queen of diamonds, I do not believe that (I lack the belief that) it will not be the queen of diamonds. The reason for this is a simple one: if the drawn card is the queen of diamonds, that outcome will contradict nothing I believed before the draw. I certainly wouldn’t say, “golly, I didn’t think that would happen.”3 If that isn’t evident without argument, the well-known lottery Paradox provides materials for an argument for the same conclusion – an argument whose weakest premise is that anyone who accepts each of two propositions accepts their conjunction. all right: I don’t believe that (don’t have the belief that) the card drawn will not be the queen of diamonds. But it would be bizarre to say in reply to my colleague’s statement that the card will not be the queen of diamonds, “oh, I doubt whether that’s so.” one would not say both that it was highly probable that a certain hypothesis was true and that one doubted that hypothesis. and it seems nearly as evident that if my colleague had said, “The card drawn will be black,” it would be a strange thing if I said, “oh, I doubt whether it will.” The lesson seems to be this: whatever, exactly, it may be for someone to doubt a proposition, it must involve that person’s assigning it a probability lower than 0.5. and, in fact, it seems plausible to say that doubting a proposition implies assigning it a low probability – a probability significantly lower than 0.5. (how low is low? how low does a probability have to be for us to call it significantly lower than 0.5? Perhaps the following statement is a reasonable answer to these questions: ‘doubt’ and ‘low probability’ and ‘probability significantly lower than 0.5’ are all vague terms – but their vaugenesses “match up perfectly,” with the consequence that we may say without qualification that to doubt a proposition is to assign it a low probability or is to assign it a probability significantly lower than 0.5.) let us say, therefore, that we can read the conclusion of the “teapot” argument this way: It is epistemically permissible to assign a low probability to the proposition that there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit between the earth and Mars, despite the fact that the non-existence of such a teapot cannot be demonstrated. 3

Remember that it’s an unfortunate feature of english idiom that ‘I didn’t think that would happen’ means ‘I thought that wouldn’t happen’.


PeTeR van Inwagen

and this conclusion is obviously true: it would certainly have been permissible for someone (that is, someone in the epistemic position of Russell and his intended readers in 1952 – or, indeed, someone in your or my present epistemic position) to assign a low probability to the “teapot hypothesis.” That is the conclusion. But what is the argument? as we have seen, it cannot be an instance of this inference-schema: There is no reason to accept p hence, It is epistemically permissible to assign a low probability to p.

For that inference-schema is invalid. (If we substituted ‘The proposition that there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit between the earth and Mars’ for ‘p’ in the above schema, we should obtain an invalid4 argument with a true premise and a true conclusion.) But then what is the argument? well, suppose someone said this to me. “having identified the proposition that it is epistemically permissible to assign a low probability to the teapot hypothesis as the conclusion of the ‘teapot argument,’ van Inwagen, you went on to say that this proposition was ‘obviously true.’ you must have had some reason for saying that, and a reason for affirming a proposition can be presented in the form of an argument for that proposition. Might your reason for affirming the proposition that it is epistemically permissible to assign a low probability to the teapot hypothesis – if that were presented as an argument for that proposition – be the very argument that Russell would use to defend it?” let us see whether this is indeed so – whether my reason for believing that it’s epistemically permissible to assign a low probability to the teapot hypothesis might be Russell’s reason for believing this. If we are to see this, we must know what my reasons are for believing this, and I suppose that end would be best achieved by my telling you what those reasons are. 4

I am aware that if an argument is an instance of an invalid schema, it does not follow that that argument is itself invalid. (For example, the valid argument, ‘Russell was a fellow of Trinity; hence Russell was either a fellow of Trinity or a fellow of Peterhouse’ is an instance of the invalid schema ‘p, hence q’.) But the argument is nevertheless invalid. Suppose for example, that we were in possession of some extraordinary piece of evidence that raised the probability of the teapot hypothesis to some probability that is not “low” – 0.4, let us say. Then the premise of the argument ‘There is no reason to accept the teapot hypothesis; hence, It is epistemically permissible to assign a low probability to the teapot hypothesis’ would be true and its conclusion false.

Russell’s China Teapot


Before I do this, however, I must first say that, in my view, it is not only epistemically permissible for us today (and a fortiori for anyone in 1952) to assign a low probability to the teapot hypothesis, it would be epistemically obligatory for anyone in the twentieth or the early twenty-first century to assign a low probability to that hypothesis. and, in fact, not simply a low probability but a vanishingly small probability – a probability that, while not theoretically 0, might well be described as “essentially 0” or “0 for all practical purposes.” I have in mind probabilities of the sort that most of us would assign to the proposition that I shall die by being trampled by a water buffalo while crossing Times Square in new york City, or to the proposition that warsaw will be destroyed by the impact of a large meteor at 11:57 a.m. on May 16th, 2049. very well then: I’ll proceed for laying out the reasons I have for my belief – no doubt it’s also your belief – that the probability of there being a china teapot in orbit between the earth and Mars is vanishingly small. note first that if there is a teapot in orbit between Mars and the earth, it would have got there somehow. and not by any natural process, since china is an artificial material, a stuff that does occur in nature. here is one “origin story” (as they say in the comic books) for the orbiting teapot. extraterrestrial visitors to our planet, in pursuit of some unknown agenda, at some point in time before 1952, acting in disguise or through human agents, purchased, or otherwise acquired, a china teapot of human manufacture. They transported it into space, to some point that lay in the plane of the ecliptic and was about one hundred and seventy-five million kilometers from the center of the sun. They imparted to it – carefully, owing to its fragility – a velocity with a magnitude of 27.6 km/sec in a direction lying in the plane of the ecliptic and at right angles to a line connecting that point and the center of the sun. and then they departed, leaving the teapot to its own devices.

I take it that this is a story to which we would all assign a probability of “essentially 0.” There are of course many such stories, many possible “origin stories.” The teapot might have been placed in orbit not by extraterrestrials but by a secret cabal of nazi rocket scientists, unknown to history, who had achieved a level of rocket technology that the uS and the Soviet union would not reach for several decades. or we might suppose that the orbiting teapot was the work of a supernatural agency – god or a god or Satan or St Michael. we might even suppose that the teapot emerged (with exactly the right velocity vector) from a smallish black hole as it was giving up its intrinsic energy in a last, sudden, violent burst of hawking radiation.


PeTeR van Inwagen

(This last story, however, is vastly more improbable than the “extraterrestrial visitors” story and the “nazi cabal” story.) It seems evident to me that the aggregate probability of all these origin stories (the probability of their disjunction) is very low indeed. It seems to me that this aggregate probability is, like the individual probabilities of the members of the aggregate, essentially 0. I say “it seems to me,” but it’s very hard to turn the intuition behind this judgment into an explicit argument. The best I can do by way of providing an argument for that conclusion is to apply simple arithmetic to some made-up numbers. (I can say this much in defense of my employment of made-up numbers: the cogency of my argument is not very sensitive to the values of the quantities – the quantities measured by those made-up numbers – that figure in it.) Suppose, then that there are 1000 independent origin stories – 1000 stories that are consistent with all we know, each of them being a story of the coming to be of an orbiting teapot, and any two of which are logical contraries. That number – 1000 – is the first of the made-up numbers I promised you. But, for all it is made up, it seems to me to be not only plausible and reasonable, but generous: I’m inclined to think that the actual number must be a lot lower than 1000. (But how reliable are my intuitions, the intuitions of a human being, on this point? The stories I’m counting must include all possible stories, a class that no doubt includes stories that are inaccessible to the human intellect. after all, the “black hole” story was inaccessible to the human intellect till quite recently. I can only say that, although it is no doubt true that there are origin stories I am unable to comprehend, I cannot believe that the number of possible stories is very many orders of magnitude higher than 1000 – and, as I’ve said, the cogency of my argument is not very sensitive to my choice of made-up numbers. If there were a billion possible origin stories, that would not affect any essential feature of the argument. I would also say that, even if there are vast numbers of origin stories that I cannot comprehend, it still seems to me to be evident that the probability of any given story that entails the teapot hypothesis, let that story be as far beyond human comprehension as you may care to suppose, must be essentially 0. I mean – why a china teapot?; why not an earthenware teapot or a china giraffe or an earthenware giraffe?) all right: there are 1000 origin stories, and the probability of each of them, taken individually, is essentially 0. let’s assign a made-up number to be the upper limit of the class of probabilities that are essentially 0. let’s say – just to have a number – that a probability is essentially 0 if it is

Russell’s China Teapot


10 exp -20 or lower (that’s 1 divided by 100 billion billion). again, I think that the choice of this number, although arbitrary, is plausible, reasonable, and in fact constitutes a generous estimate of the upper limit of “essential zero-hood.” I would guess, if I had to guess – if my welfare somehow hung on the correctness of this guess – that the probability of my dying by being trampled by a water buffalo while crossing Times Square is significantly lower than 10 exp -20.5 now, given these made-up numbers, what is the aggregate probability of all the origin stories, the probability of their disjunction? our made-up numbers do not provide an answer to this question, but they do assign an upper limit to the aggregate probability. any one of the origin stories, since its probability is essentially 0, must have a probability equal to or less than 10 exp -20. So let us suppose that each of them has the highest probability that is consistent with this constraint – that probability of course being 10 exp -20. Then the aggregate probability of the origin stories is 1000 times 10 exp -20 or 10 exp -17 or 1 divided by 100 million billion or a decimal point followed by sixteen zeros followed by a lonely ‘1’. This is not, by the strict terms of our arbitrary definition, a probability that is essentially 0, but don’t attach any philosophical significance to that fact, which is no more than a logical consequence of our having assigned to each individual origin story the highest probability that a proposition whose probability was essentially 0 could have. however we describe it, it’s a very low probability, fairly close (as those things go) to the probability of a tossed coin’s landing “heads” fifty-six times in a row. (I hope I did the powers-of-10 to powers-of-2 conversion right. If not, my mistake doesn’t affect my point. If my number is wrong, the right number would have the same philosophical implications.) and, of course, the probability of the “teapot hypothesis” is equal to the aggregate probability of all the possible “teapot origin” stories. or at any rate it is if we count “The teapot came into existence, uncaused and ex nihilo, at just the right place with just the right velocity” as an origin story. If stories of that kind count as origin stories – and why shouldn’t they? –, then the proposition that every physical object has an origin story is, as we used to say, an analytic proposition, and the teapot hypothesis and the proposition that one of the “teapot origin stories” is true entail each other 5

note on infinite universe, closest 10 exp 20 planets that perfectly duplicate the earth up to this point in respect of your consciousness. “Closest” represents arbitrary choice of 10 exp 20 planets that have this feature out of the infinite totality.


PeTeR van Inwagen

– or they do if we don’t take the teapot hypothesis to specify the length of time for which the teapot exists (and let’s not)6. The bottom line is: I have as good reason to “doubt whether” there is a china teapot in orbit between the earth and Mars as I have to “doubt whether” a coin that I know has just been tossed fifty-six times has fallen “heads” every time. That is to say, this is the case given our made up numbers. But any even marginally plausible way of making up the numbers will yield a result with the same philosophical import: “… has just been tossed forty-two times has fallen ‘heads’ every time,” “… has just been tossed seventy-eight times has fallen ‘heads’ every time,” and so on. I have, moreover, as good reason to doubt whether there is a china teapot in orbit between the earth and Mars as I have to doubt whether I shall be killed by a water buffalo while crossing Times Square or as I have to doubt whether warsaw will be destroyed by the impact of a large meteor at 11:57 a.m. on May 16th, 2049. and, for each of these propositions, the good reason I have to doubt whether it is true has the same ground: I have very good reasons for assigning it a very low probability indeed – an understatement of understatements, since that probability is “essentially 0.” let us now return to the topic of Russell’s reasoning in “Is There a god?” as I have said, Russell seems to suggest or imply – I concede that he does not actually say this – that the argument There is no reason to believe that there is a china teapot in orbit between the earth and Mars hence, It is epistemically permissible to doubt whether there is a china teapot in orbit between the earth and Mars

is valid. The falsity of this thesis is masked by three features. First, since he does not explicitly affirm it, the reader is not invited to consider the question of its validity. Secondly, its premise and its conclusion are both true. Thirdly – but the third (and most important) feature requires a lengthy statement. 6

not that it would make any difference if we did. The proposition “one of the teapot-origin stories is true” and the proposition “a china teapot in orbit between the orbits of the earth and Mars existed for some period of time” entail each another. and, e.g., the proposition “There is now a china teapot in orbit between the orbits of the earth and Mars and it has been in that orbit for ten years” must have a probability equal to or lower than that of “a china teapot in orbit between the orbits of the earth and Mars existed for some temporal interval.

Russell’s China Teapot


we can easily imagine someone’s saying that we should reject the teapot hypothesis because there is no evidence for it – although it is hard to imagine anyone’s saying anything about the teapot hypothesis outside what David lewis has called the philosophy room. and, more generally, it is easy to imagine someone’s saying of any of many other hypotheses that we should reject it because there is no evidence for it. here is an example of such a statement that one might, with some pretense of realism, imagine being made in the ordinary business of life. Jack has suddenly and mysteriously disappeared, and the police are looking into the matter. a neighbor says, “I know he wanted to leave his wife and run away to the South Seas to paint. he always said that the only thing stopping him was lack of funds. and I happen to know that he was addicted to playing on-line poker. Maybe he won a large sum on line, collected his winnings, and ran off to follow his dream.” a police officer replies, “That’s very doubtful. There’s no evidence for it.” But, surely, the police officer’s very sensible statement means something along these lines: the prior probability of that story is very low (an on-line gambler’s winning a sum sufficient to underwrite a gauguin-style life in the South Seas is a very rare occurrence indeed); to take the possible truth of the story seriously, we’d need to be in possession of evidence that raised its probability significantly; and since we have no evidence for it at all, a fortiori we have no evidence that raises its probability significantly. In short, the prior probability of the story is low, and in the absence of supporting evidence, it retains that low prior probability.

and, of course, much the same thing is true of the teapot hypothesis – and with a vengeance. Its prior probability is essentially 0, and, in the absence of supporting evidence (an actual sighting by astonished astronauts of a teapot in orbit between the earth and Mars, for example), that probability is unchanged. we may state the third of the features of Russell’s reasoning that mask its invalidity as follows. The following inference is valid: The prior probability of there being a teapot in orbit between the earth and Mars is very low (in fact, essentially 0). There is no reason to believe that there is a china teapot in orbit between the earth and Mars hence, It is epistemically permissible to doubt whether there is a china teapot in orbit between the earth and Mars.


PeTeR van Inwagen

(valid but odd – since the premises obviously support the much stronger conclusion that it is epistemically obligatory to doubt whether there is a china teapot in orbit between the earth and Mars. and even this stronger conclusion sounds as if it’s supposed to be a joke; a person who said, “I doubt whether the result of the next 56 consecutive tosses of that coin will all be ‘heads’” would presumably be making some sort of joke.) and someone who – engaged in the practical affairs of everyday life but for some reason employing the jargon of professional philosophers – presents an argument of the form There is no reason to believe that p hence, It is epistemically permissible to doubt whether p

would naturally be taken to have presented an enthymeme, the suppressed premise of the enthymeme being something like ‘The prior probability of the hypothesis that p is low’ (or, more realistically, something like ‘If there is no reason to believe that p, the hypothesis that p has to be regarded as unlikely to be true’). owing to this fact, it’s easy to assume that someone who presents an argument of the above form must be presenting a valid argument in enthymematic form (the suppressed premise of the enthymeme being the corresponding statement of the form ‘The prior probability of the hypothesis that p is low’). This fact, together with the fact that ‘The prior probability of there being a teapot in orbit between the earth and Mars is low’ is obviously true, is an important part of the explanation of why many of his readers have been slow to see that Russell’s teapot argument depends essentially on an invalid inference. unless, of course, Russell meant the teapot argument to be an enthymeme of the sort I have been describing – unless the teapot argument was supposed to have ‘The prior probability of the teapot hypothesis is low’ as a tacit premise, a premise Russell perhaps regarded as so obvious that he thought it would have been pedantic to state it explicitly. (and I certainly concede that it’s obviously true.) But, if that is the case, what are the implications of the argument, so construed, for the epistemology of religious belief – and, in particular, for the epistemology of theistic belief? The only such implication I can see is this: that the argument The prior probability of the proposition that god exists is low There is no reason to believe that god exists hence, It is epistemically permissible to doubt whether god exists

Russell’s China Teapot


is valid. But, one may ask, why should one accept the first premise of this argument? I certainly see no reason to accept it. I certainly see no reason to accept it that in any way resembles the reason – presented in the form of an extended argument – I have given for assigning a low prior probability to the proposition that there is china teapot in orbit between the earth and Mars. I have no idea what a “parallel” argument would look like – a parallel argument, that is, for the conclusion that one should assign a low prior probability to the existence of god. I have given an argument for the conclusion that, prior to the consideration of such evidence as there may be for or against the teapot hypothesis, we ought to assign it an extremely low probability, a probability that nevertheless could in principle be raised by the acquisition of evidence for the existence of an interplanetary teapot. I see no way to construct an argument, an argument that employs reasoning that even superficially resembles my reasoning anent the teapot hypothesis, for the conclusion that, prior to the consideration of such evidence as there may be for or against the existence of god, we ought to assign an extremely low probability to the proposition that god exists. In any case, it is undeniable that Russell presents no reason to assign a low prior probability to the existence of god. I conclude that the strongest “theologically negative” conclusion that one can possibly deduce from ‘There is no reason to believe that god exists (and no reason to believe that god does not exist; I’ll allow the content of this obviously necessary parenthetical addition to be “understood” in those places in which it is needed in the sequel)’ is neutral agnosticism – the thesis that the proposition that god exists and its denial should be accorded precisely the same epistemic status. (In probabilistic terms: one should either assign to each a probability of 0.5 or else should decline to assign any probability to either.) and I should be remiss if I did not point out that a serious problem faces anyone who wishes to draw even that weaker conclusion – weaker, that is, than the conclusion of the teapot argument, viz. that it is epistemically permissible to doubt whether god exists: neutral agnosticism implies that it is not epistemically permissible to doubt whether god exists. It is a defensible position that if I am present when a fair coin is about to be tossed three times, I shall have no reason to think that it will not fall “heads” all three times. (whether one regards that defensible position as in fact correct depends on whether one regards a proposition’s having a probability higher than 0.5 as a reason for thinking it true.) nevertheless, my attitude toward that proposition will not be one of neutral agnosticism. I shall indeed be an agnostic as regards the question


PeTeR van Inwagen

whether it is false that the coin will fall heads three times – I shall accept neither that proposition nor its denial –, but not a neutral agnostic, since I shall assign a probability of 0.875 to that proposition and a probability of 0.125 to its denial. But even if neutral agnosticism (as regards the existence of god) can be validly deduced from the premise that there is no reason to believe that god exists (owing perhaps to some epistemically relevant feature of the proposition that god exists that it does not share with propositions about the outcome of an impending sequence of coin-tosses), that premise may nevertheless be false. whether there is evidence of the existence (or, for that matter, for the non-existence) of god is a question that lies outside the scope of this paper.

The Right to Believe:

Perspectives in Religious Epistemology Dariusz Łukasiewicz & Roger Pouivet (eds.)

John gReCo

Religious Belief and Evidence from Testimony In the latter part of the 20th century religious epistemology underwent somewhat of a revolution, centered on an investigation into the epistemology of religious experience. This work perhaps cumulated in 1991 with william alston’s Perceiving God.1 what made this a revolution was not the topic of religious experience – philosophers of religion had treated that topic extensively before. Rather, it was the methodology that alston and others employed. In sum, these philosophers took advantage of recent developments in the epistemology of perception and perceptual experience in general, and applied them to the epistemology of religious experience in particular. The idea was this: recent work in the epistemology of perception made traditional skepticism about religious experience out of date, precisely because that skepticism traded on an inadequate and out-dated understanding of the nature of perceptual evidence in general. The current paper takes that idea as its model. In short, I believe that recent developments in the epistemology of testimony make it time for a second wave of advances in religious epistemology. This paper constitutes an attempt along those lines. The paper proceeds as follows. Part one reviews three skeptical arguments regarding religious belief and testimonial evidence. The first two are versions of “the problem of religious diversity”: how can religious belief be reasonable in the context of conflicting testimony regarding religious truths? The third is hume’s famous argument regarding testimonial evidence for miracles. The common theme here is that testimonial evidence seems inadequate to support reasonable belief in matters religious, especially in the context of conflicting evidence. Part Two steps back from our three 1

alston, w. P. (1991). Perceiving God. Ithaca: Cornell university Press.


John gReCo

skeptical arguments in order to consider some recent work in the epistemology of testimony. Several issues regarding the nature of testimonial evidence in general are considered, and an account of testimonial evidence is defended. Part Three returns to issues regarding testimonial evidence and religious belief, and uses the results of Part Two to reconsider the skeptical arguments in Part one.

Part One. Some Problems in Religious Epistemology: Three Skeptical Arguments “The Problem of Religious Diversity” has been much discussed in religious epistemology.2 Stated very generally, the problem is this: The plurality of religious traditions, and the attending fact of conflicting religious beliefs among traditions, seems to undermine the epistemic standing of religious belief in general, including one’s own. here are two ways that the general problem can arise. First, I might reflect that it is merely a historical accident that I was born into one religious tradition rather than another, and therefore merely an accident that I received the testimony about religious matters that I did.3 Moreover, the religious beliefs I have now are largely influenced by my receiving the testimony that I did. If I had been born into a different tradition, and received different testimony, then I would not have the same religious beliefs that I do now. In fact, it is plausible that I would have religious beliefs that conflict with those I have now. But then it seems too much an accident that I have the religious beliefs that I do. even if I am lucky, even if I am born into the one true faith and I am handed down nothing but religious truths, it seems still just an accident that I am in that tradition and believe those truths. let’s call this “The Problem of accidental Belief.” The problem can be stated more formally as follows: The Argument from Luck 1. when one forms a true religious belief on the basis of testimony from within a tradition, it is just an accident (just a matter of luck) See for example, alston, Perceiving God, especially chapter seven; and Meeker, k., & Quinn, P. (eds.) (2000). The Philosophical Challenge of Religious Diversity. new york: oxford university Press. 3 For ease of exposition, I here treat atheism as a “religious tradition” and the belief that god does not exist as a “religious belief.” 2

Religious Belief and evidence from Testimony


if one forms a true belief on the basis of this testimony rather than a false belief on the basis of different testimony. In particular, if one had been born into a different testimonial tradition, then one would have formed different religious beliefs on the basis of different testimony, but it is just a matter of luck that one was born into his or her religious tradition rather than another. 2. knowledge cannot tolerate that sort of luck or accident. Therefore, 3.True religious belief based on testimony from within a tradition cannot count as knowledge. here is a second way that the problem can arise. I might reflect on the fact that I am nothing special when it comes to matters religious. I am not more intellectually gifted or more intellectually rigorous than the next guy. In the language of contemporary epistemology, many of the people who hold religious beliefs that conflict with mine are my “epistemic peers.” For example, many of those people base their religious beliefs on roughly the same sort of evidence on which I base mine – i.e. on testimonial evidence from within their own traditions. Moreover, many of those people have the same evidence regarding religious diversity that I do – they are just as aware as I am about the diversity of religious traditions, and the diversity of testimony therein. But then who am I to stick to my guns in the face of disagreement? For that matter, who are they to stick to their guns? Shouldn’t we all be more skeptical in the face of our common epistemic position? Consider a non-religious case: I confidently believe, and think I know, that our dinner bill comes to less than one hundred dollars. (let’s say I have just looked at the bill and added the total.) But then I find out that you, who are as well placed epistemically as I am, disagree. you confidently tell me that the bill has come to well over one hundred dollars. Can I reasonably stick to my guns here? Can you? Shouldn’t we now both lose our confidence, at least until the conflict can be explained and resolved? let’s call this “The Problem of Peer Disagreement.”4 here is that problem stated more formally: 4

The epistemology of disagreement has been much discussed in the recent literature. For example see, kelly, T. (2006). “The epistemic Significance of Disagreement.” In hawthorne, J. & and gendler Szabo, T. (eds.), Oxford Studies in Epistemology,


John gReCo

The Argument from Peer Disagreement 1. If my epistemic peers disagree with me on some issue, then it is unreasonable for me to continue believing as I do. I ought to lose my confidence, or even suspend my belief, at least until the disagreement can be explained and resolved. 2. But many people who are my epistemic peers disagree with me on matters religious. In particular, my peers in different testimonial traditions do. Therefore, 3. It is unreasonable for me to continue believing as I do in matters religious. Finally, consider hume’s famous argument regarding testimony about miracles.5 according to hume, it is never reasonable to believe, on the basis of testimonial evidence, that a miracle has occurred. There has been much debate about how hume’s argument is supposed to go, but here (I believe) is a plausible reconstruction. First, suppose we are presented with testimony that some apparent miracle has occurred – let’s say that someone has risen from the dead. according to hume, reasonableness requires that we weigh this testimonial evidence against whatever other evidence we have that the event in question did not occur. That is the first premise of the argument. But since the event in question is an apparent miracle, that guarantees that our evidence against its occurring will be very good indeed. here is the argument for that: If the event in question appears to be a miracle, then it must conflict with an apparent law of nature. But nothing could appear to be a law of nature unless we have very good evidence for it – unless we have excellent evidence for it, in fact. That is the second premise: that our evidence against the apparent miracle occurring will always be excellent. Finally, hume’s third premise is that our evidence in favor of the event’s occurring will always be less than excellent. That is because we 1. oxford: oxford university Press; Christensen, D. (2007). “epistemology of Disagreement: the good news.” Philosophical Review, 116, pp. 187-217; elga, a (2007). “Reflection and Disagreement,” Noûs, 41, pp. 478-502; and Frances, B. (2010). “Disagreement.” In Pritchard, D. & Bernecker, S. (eds). Routledge Companion to Epistemology. new york: Routledge. 5 From Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section 10, Of Miracles.

Religious Belief and evidence from Testimony


already know that people often testify falsely about purported miracles occurring. Sometimes people lie. Sometimes they are self-deceived. Sometimes they just make a mistake. In sum, the track record is not very good. and in light of that track record, the testimonial evidence for the present case is not very good either. In any case, it won’t be excellent. But now all hume’s premises are in place: our testimonial evidence that an apparent miracle has occurred will never be as good as our evidence that it has not occurred. and so we can never be reasonable in believing, on the basis of testimonial evidence, that a miracle really has occurred. here is the argument again: Hume’s Argument (reconstructed) 1. In any case where we are presented with testimony that an apparent miracle M has occurred, we must weigh that testimonial evidence in favor of M’s occurrence against our evidence that M has not occurred. 2. But if M is an apparent miracle, then M must conflict with an apparent law of nature l, for which our evidence must be excellent. (our evidence for l (and hence against M’s occurrence) must amount to excellent inductive evidence, or else l would not be an apparent law of nature.) 3. on the other hand, our testimonial evidence in favor of M’s occurrence will always be less than excellent. (This because testimony in favor of miracles carries a less than excellent track record: we know of many cases where testimony that some miracle has occurred was false.) Therefore, 4. In all cases where we are presented with testimony that some apparent miracle has occurred, our testimonial evidence in favor of M’s occurrence will always be weaker than our inductive evidence against M’s occurrence. (from 1-3) Therefore, 5. It is always unreasonable to believe, merely on the basis of testimonial evidence, that a miracle has occurred. (from 4)


John gReCo

A common problem? we have reviewed three arguments that threaten skepticism about religious beliefs based on testimony. The first is put in terms of knowledge, the second and third in terms of reasonable belief. Do our skeptical arguments have anything in common? Do they sound some common theme? Perhaps it is this: that testimonial evidence cannot give religious belief adequate support or grounding, especially in the context of conflicting evidence. Put differently, testimonial evidence is not “up to the task” epistemically speaking – it is inadequate to give us either knowledge or reasonable belief, at least in matters religious, at least in the sort of circumstances in which we actually find ourselves.6 one reaction that religious believers can have to this theme is to embrace it. That is, many believers are happy to embrace a skeptical conclusion, in favor of some brand of fideism, or anti-intellectualism, or even irrationalism. Two considerations should make us wary about this reaction, however. The first is that the resulting faith entails a kind of intellectual schizophrenia. That is because, in very many contexts, we are happy to express our faith confidently, without qualification, and without apology. For example, we teach our children that we are all god’s children, that god loves us, that god wants certain things for us, and that god wants certain things from us. and although we teach our children to be reflective and critical about such claims, and about what such claims mean, we also teach them not to be overly skeptical, overly cautious, or overly timid about their faith. That is, we also teach them not to be unreflective and uncritical about pressures not to believe. The second reason we should be wary of a skeptical reaction is more specific to present purposes. namely, that the three skeptical arguments directed at religious belief seem to prove too much. That is, it is at least plausible that they trade on considerations that, if sound, would have skeptical consequences far beyond the realm of religious belief. Consider that belief based on testimony is ubiquitous. So is conflicting evidence. accordingly, if we require too much for the epistemic adequacy of testimonial evidence, far-reaching skeptical consequences threaten. 6

The sort of reasonableness at issue here is itself “epistemic,” or the kind of reasonableness that is (among other things) required for knowledge. For ease of exposition, I will often talk below in terms of knowledge only. however, much of what is said applies to reasonable belief as well.

Religious Belief and evidence from Testimony


all this suggests that we should take a step back. In particular, we should more carefully consider what is required for testimonial knowledge and reasonable belief in general. More specifically, we should consider what testimonial evidence would have to be like in order to avoid skeptical consequences more generally. having done that, we will be in a better position to adjudicate our questions about religious belief in particular.

Part Two. Some Recent Work in the Epistemology of Testimony Recently there has been an explosion of interest in the epistemology of testimony.7 The contemporary literature does not discuss skepticism about testimonial evidence directly, but it is nevertheless driven by worries about skepticism in an important way. Much like contemporary epistemology in general, the epistemology of testimony is largely framed by an anti-skeptical methodology. That is, the name of the game is to understand how testimonial knowledge and testimonial justification are possible. That is, we begin with a methodological assumption that testimonial knowledge and reasonable belief based on testimony are possible and are even widespread. The theoretical task is to explain how that is possible, to explain what testimonial evidence must be like in order for testimonial knowledge and reasonable belief to be as wide spread as we think they are. a major motivation for anti-skepticism about testimony is anti-skepticism in general. In general, contemporary epistemologists assume that knowledge of various kinds is widespread, and they take themselves to be explaining how such knowledge is possible. But now the following substantive claim becomes important in this methodological context: we would have very little knowledge at all, if testimonial knowledge is not widespread. That is, our knowledge in general is heavily dependent on our testimonial knowledge in particular. Thus epistemologists who want to save widespread knowledge, who want to be anti-skeptical in general, are motivate to save testimonial knowledge in particular. I have put the forgoing in terms of testimonial knowledge, but we could say the same things about reasonable belief – that is, our reasonable 7

For excellent overviews of the relevant literature see: lackey, J. (2006) “knowing from Testimony.” Philosophy Compass 1/5, pp. 432–448; and adler, J. (2008) „epistemological Problems of Testimony.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, available at


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beliefs (even if they fall short of knowledge) in general depend heavily on other of our reasonable beliefs based on testimony, and so skepticism regarding the latter threatens a broader skepticism regarding the former. This kind of anti-skeptical motivation drives nearly every aspect of the contemporary literature on the epistemology of testimony. 1. Three Related Issues Perhaps the major issue discussed in the epistemology of testimony is whether testimonial evidence can be “reduced” to some other familiar kind. The issue here is whether testimonial evidence, and hence testimonial knowledge, is epistemically special, or whether, rather, it can be understood as arising from familiar epistemic sources such as perception and induction. Put another way: Does testimonial evidence (or knowledge, or reasonable belief) require special treatment in epistemology, insofar as it is an epistemically distinctive phenomenon? Two other issues that get a lot of attention are closely related to this one. First, can testimonial evidence generate new knowledge, or are all cases of testimonial knowledge cases of knowledge transmission from testifier to hearer? Second, is testimonial evidence, and hence testimonial knowledge, distinctively social? Clearly, testimonial knowledge is social in a superficial sense – it requires both a testifier and a hearer – but is it social in an epistemically interesting sense? again, does it thereby require special treatment in epistemology? 2. Different Cases Pull in Different Directions These three issues are hotly debated, largely because different cases pull our intuitions in different directions. Consider the following, for example: Case 1. a seasoned investigator questions a potentially uncooperative witness. The investigator asks questions and the witness answers them, but clearly the investigator should not just believe whatever the witness says. on the contrary, she will employ skills learned and honed over a career to discern what is and is not believable in what the witness asserts. Moreover, it is plausible to think of these skills in terms of bringing to bear inductive evidence – the investigator employs various well-grounded generalizations to determine whether the witness is telling the truth in a particular instance.

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But now consider some other cases: Case 2. a job applicant tells you that he has no criminal record. Case 3. you ask directions from a stranger in an unfamiliar city. he tells you that the train station is down the street. Case 4. you ask your friend whether he intends to come to your party, and he tells you that he does. Case 5. a third-grade teacher tells his students that england is west of France. Case 6. a mother tells her child that there is milk in the refrigerator. In Cases 1 and 2 (the investigator, the job applicant) it seems clear that knowledge requires something akin to good inductive reasons. By the time we get to Cases 5 and 6 (student/teacher and parent/child), it is less plausible that basing one’s belief on inductive reasons is required for knowledge, and more plausible that the speaker can believe straight away what she is told. It is also more plausible that something epistemically special is going on – that testimonial knowledge depends on a relationship between speaker and hearer that is present in these cases but not in the first. Cases 3 and 4 (asking directions, trusting a friend) seem somewhere in between. of course, it is not obvious how to handle any of these cases. That is, it is not clear what to say regarding any one of them. But more problematically, it is not clear that anything can be said about all of them together. That is because the different cases seem to place very different demands on the hearers. In particular, some cases suggest a necessary condition on testimonial knowledge – that the hearer needs something akin to good inductive reasons for knowledge – that she must base her testimonial belief on such reasons. But other cases suggest sufficient conditions for testimonial knowledge that do not include that necessary condition. Students can learn from their teachers, and children from their caretakers, it would seem, without extensive inductive evidence. and if we say that they can’t, then a much broader skepticism threatens, given the heavy dependence of all of us on our teachers and caretakers. and so a single account of testimonial evidence, one that explains how testimonial evidence gives rise to knowledge in all of the cases, seems unavailable.


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we can put the problem in in the form of a dilemma: 1. either testimonial knowledge requires inductive evidence on the part of the hearer or it does not. 2. If it does not, then testimonial knowledge is too easy. There will be cases counted as knowledge that should not be. 3. If it does, then testimonial knowledge is too hard. There will be cases not counted as knowledge that should be. Therefore, 4. an adequate account of testimonial knowledge is impossible: a given account must make testimonial knowledge either too easy for some cases or too hard for others. once again, I have put the forgoing considerations in terms of testimonial knowledge. But also once again, we could say similar things, and generate a similar dilemma, regarding reasonable belief based on testimony. we can say similar things about whether testimonial knowledge involves transmission, and whether there is a distinctive social dimension to testimonial knowledge. That is, our cases pull in different directions on these issues as well. Thus in Cases 1 and 2 it seems that nothing like transmission is going on, or that there is anything distinctively social involved in the hearers coming to know. on the contrary, it seems that the hearers must use something like inductive evidence to judge whether the relevant testimony is reliable. But by the time we get to Cases 5 and 6, the notion of “transmission” makes more sense – there does seem to be a sense in which the teacher transmits her knowledge to her students, and the parent transmits his knowledge to his child, and without anything like inductive reasoning on the hearer’s part required. likewise, there seems to be something distinctively social about the process of coming to know in these cases – transmission of the relevant sort plausible depends on the social relationship between speaker and hearer, and on the social roles they play in giving and receiving the testimony in question. again, the problem that our series of cases present is this: Some of those cases suggest a necessary condition on testimonial knowledge – that testimonial knowledge (or reasonable belief) requires something like basing one’s belief on good inductive reasons. But others of those cases

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suggest that testimonial knowledge is nothing like that. They suggest, rather, that testimonial knowledge is its own kind of animal, a distinctively social phenomenon that involves something like knowledge transmission. no single approach handles all the cases well. The thought might now occur that all of our cases should not be handled the same way – that testimonial knowledge does not make up a single epistemic kind. Testimonial evidence, we might say, is not homogeneous. That will not be satisfying, however, without an explanation regarding why that should be so. we need a theory that tells us why not all testimonial evidence (or knowledge, or reasonable belief) can be handled the same way. 3. A Proposal for Progress: The Point and Purpose of the Concept of Knowledge we get the sort of explanation we want if we adopt a suggestion from edward Craig in Knowledge and the State of Nature. when doing epistemology, Craig suggests, we ought to raise questions about the role that the concept of knowledge plays in our conceptual-linguistic economy: why do we have a concept of knowledge in the first place? what purposes does it serve? By raising questions about the point and purpose of our concept of knowledge, Craig argues, we put ourselves in a position to ask the following question about knowledge itself: what would knowledge itself have to be like, for the concept to serve those purposes? Craig argues that the central purpose of the concept of knowledge is to flag good information and good sources of information for use in practical reasoning. Put differently, the concept of knowledge is used to identify actionable information and sources of actionable information.8 It comes as no surprise, Craig argues, that beings like us would have such a concept. human beings are social, information-dependent creatures. That is, we have a great need for actionable information, and we greatly need each other to get it. The concept of knowledge addresses these needs. 8

More exactly, Craig suggests that the concept is used to identify good “informants”. The present gloss on that idea is a plausible reconstruction of what Craig intends, however, and jibes well with recent work on the close relations between knowledge, action and reasons. See Craig, e. (1990) Knowledge and the State of Nature. oxford: oxford university Press; hawthorne, J. (2004) Knowledge and Lotteries. oxford: oxford university Press; Stanley, J. (2005) Knowledge and Practical Interests. oxford: oxford university Press; and Fantle, J. & Mcgrath, M. (2009) Knowledge in an Uncertain World. oxford: oxford university Press.


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here now is an elaboration on Craig’s proposal. If Craig’s story about our concept of knowledge is even broadly correct, we should expect that the sources of knowledge come in at least two broad categories. First, there will be original sources of knowledge, or sources that originally get information into the system by means of reliable uptake. Thus sense perception (under the right conditions) is an original source of information about physical objects in our environment. Second, there will be means for distributing knowledge, means that reliably transmit true information from one person to another. Thus there will be mechanisms that get information into the system in the first place, and mechanisms that keep the information flowing. on the account of knowledge that emerges, knowledge from testimony begins to look paradigmatic. That is, it is paradigmatic of the second category of knowledge that we expect to find – knowledge grounded in the reliable distribution of reliably true information. we may take the case of scientific knowledge as an instance of this general picture. any item of scientific knowledge must have its original source, presumably in reliable method. But eventually that knowledge spreads through a shared system of knowledge by means of various kinds of reliable testimony. Through record keeping, formal and informal teaching, journal articles, public lectures, media reports, and the like, what begins as knowledge for a few becomes knowledge for many. In the case of scientific knowledge, then, various institutional and social practices are in place so as to bring true information into the system, but also to distribute it through the system. what holds for scientific knowledge in this regard seems to hold for knowledge in general. The account of knowledge that emerges makes testimonial knowledge paradigmatic, and predicts that it should be ubiquitous. 4. Application to our three issues The foregoing remarks do not constitute anything approaching a “theory of knowledge”. That is, they do not constitute a theory about the nature of knowledge, nor do they suggest anything approaching necessary and sufficient conditions. nevertheless, they are substantial enough to allow progress regarding our three issues in the epistemology of testimony. we take a brief look at each of these in turn, and then return to our three skeptical arguments aimed at religious belief.

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a. Reductionism vs. Anti-reductionism Can testimonial knowledge be reduced to some other kind of knowledge? Is testimonial knowledge sui generis, requiring its own distinctive treatment, or is testimonial knowledge merely an instance of, for example, inductive knowledge, requiring no special epistemology over and above that required for inductive knowledge in general? on the present approach, it is plausible to think that there are two kinds of testimonial knowledge: a) one in which testimony functions as an original source, along sense perception, reason, and other familiar originating sources; and b) one in which testimony functions as a distributing mechanism. In the first case, testimonial knowledge plausibly reduces to other kinds of knowledge. In the second case, testimonial knowledge is plausibly distinctive, and requires a distinctive treatment. This is plausible because the conditions for admitting information into the system are plausibly more demanding than the conditions for distributing that information once admitted. once admitted, and given the stamp of approval as “usable” or “actionable,” it is reasonable that information should be allowed to flow relatively freely for use by others. we may now reconsider the dilemma stated above. here again is its first premise: 1. either testimonial knowledge requires inductive evidence on the part of the hearer or it does not. we read that premise with a universal quantifier: it says that either all testimonial knowledge requires inductive evidence on the part of the hearer or it does not. understood that way, we now are in a position to take the second horn: not all testimonial knowledge requires inductive evidence. That brings us to premise 2: 2. If it does not, then testimonial knowledge is too easy. There will be cases counted as knowledge that should not be. on the present proposal, we have good reason for denying this premise. namely, testimony may at least sometimes function so as to distribute knowledge throughout the system, and do so without requiring inductive evidence on the part of the hearer. In this distributing role, the conditions for testimonial knowledge need not be so demanding. This answer allows us to embrace the truth contained in premise 2, and which made that premise prima facie plausible: that testimonial knowledge


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sometimes requires inductive evidence on the part of the hearer. It does when testimony functions as an original source of knowledge, functioning so as to admit information into the system in the first place, as it plausibly does in Cases 1 and 2. b. Generation vs. Transmission Does testimony generate knowledge, or does it transmit knowledge from one knower to another? our answer here is by now straightforward. In some cases (as in 1 and 2), testimony generates knowledge. That is, it generates knowledge for the hearer, since he or she cannot rely on the speaker to faithfully distribute the information in question. But testimony’s distinctive epistemic function is to transmit knowledge from one knower to others. This is plausibly the function of testimony in Cases 5 and 6, where the hearer can happily accept the information being distributed by the speaker to her audience. This answer raises an important question, however: when is it appropriate for a hearer to “happily accept” information from a speaker? In other words, when does testimonial evidence properly function in its distributing role in the transmission of knowledge, and when does it properly function as an original source of knowledge? This brings us to our last issue, regarding the social dimension of testimonial knowledge. c. Is Testimonial Knowledge Distinctively Social? In what way is testimonial knowledge a social phenomenon? Is it merely that at least two people are involved, or does the social character of testimonial knowledge go deeper than that? The following answer is plausible: at least in its distinctive function of distributing information within a social system, the social character of testimonial knowledge goes deeper than that. Specifically, testimonial evidence distributes information through the system only by means of relevant social mechanisms. Just as we exploit regularities in nature so as to effect the reliable uptake of information, we sometimes exploit social regularities so as to effect the reliable distribution of information. To see the plausibility of this, return to our six cases. In Cases 1 and 2, there is no social mechanism in place to underwrite a reliable transfer of reliable information. Put differently, there is no social relationship between speaker and hearer that would underwrite such a transfer. as our cases progress, however, it becomes increasingly plausible that there is such

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a relationship. In Case 3 a stranger is asked for directions, but even here there might be social institutions in place that make the exchange of information more or less reliable. In Case 4 (asking a friend) this seems even more plausible, and in Cases 5 (parent to child) and 6 (teacher to student) it seems obvious. That is, in these latter cases it seems obvious that there are social institutions and relationships in place that underwrite reliable transfers of information. In the case of teachers teaching students, this is quite explicit and formal. notice that, on the present proposal, hearers are sometimes relieved of epistemic burden by virtue of their occupying a relevant social role. This allows that, for example, children can learn (come to know) simply by listening to their parents. likewise, students can learn (come to know) simply by listening to their teachers. This oversimplifies somewhat, to be sure. But two important ideas are now in place. First, at least sometimes it is relatively easy to come to know by means of testimonial evidence. and second, at least sometimes this is made so by means of social institutions and relations designed for that purpose. all this is consistent with a third idea, however. namely, that testimonial evidence sometimes does not afford an easy transmission of knowledge, but rather requires good inductive evidence on the part of the hearer.

Part Three. Application to Religious Epistemology how should the epistemology of religious belief treat the evidence of testimony? one approach would be to treat testimony as an originating source of reasonable belief and knowledge. on that approach, the hearer (or receiver) of testimony would be treated akin to an inductive reasoner. The task of such a reasoner is to gather the relevant evidence, to judge the quality of the evidence on either side, and to form one’s beliefs accordingly. In this instance, the task would be to judge the quality of one’s testimonial evidence, presumably by means of considering such factors as relevant track records, competing explanations of the nature and content of the testimony, etc. In short, the receiver of testimony would be akin to hume’s hearer of miracles, and epistemic assessment of the receiver/hearer would proceed along roughly humean lines. of course, one might think that hume has got the nature and/or the content of the inductive evidence wrong, and that adjustments to our assessments of the inductive evidence have to be made accordingly. But the rough idea would be in place: testimonial evidence is a species of inductive evidence, and must be assessed accordingly.


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an alternative approach, however, would be to treat testimony as having a distributing or transmitting function. on this approach, the hearer or receiver of testimony might arrive at reasonable belief, or even knowledge, by means of his or her location in a social context. Such location, along with its constituting social roles, might be informal, as when “common knowledge” is passed from individual to individual by means of interpersonal communication. alternatively, the social location of speaker and hearer might be formal, as when traditional lore is passed from teacher to student by means of formal education. Clearly there will be many cases that fall in between. The task of religious epistemology, and of the epistemology of testimony more generally, would be to understand the nature and conditions of such knowledge by transmission. In this final part of the paper I will take this second approach. In particular, I want to consider the consequences of the approach for our three skeptical arguments. 1. Application to the three skeptical arguments. First, recall The argument from luck: 1. when one forms a true religious belief on the basis of testimony from within a tradition, it is just an accident (just a matter of luck) if one forms a true belief on the basis of this testimony rather than a false belief on the basis of different testimony. 2. knowledge cannot tolerate that sort of luck or accident. Therefore, 3. True religious belief based on testimony from within a tradition cannot count as knowledge. on the present approach, we may deny either premise 1 or premise 2. Regarding premise 1, we may deny that when one receives testimony from within a tradition it is “just an accident” or “just a matter of luck” that one forms a true belief on the basis of that testimony. on the contrary, if the transaction in question constitutes an instance of knowledge transmission, it is underwritten by a reliable transmission of reliable information. That is, the transaction will involve knowledge on the part of the speaker, derived ultimately from some original source of knowledge, and then a reliable transmission of knowledge from speaker to hearer. Moreover,

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the latter will involve social relations designed for that purpose, and so, again, the hearer’s believing the truth on the basis of the speaker’s testimony will be no accident. alternatively, we may deny premise 2 of the argument. That is, we may acknowledge that true belief on the basis of testimony involves some sort of luck; specifically, it involves the luck of being born into a particular tradition, and of occupying a particular social location within that tradition. But we may deny that knowledge cannot tolerate that sort of luck or accident. on the contrary, that sort of social endowment enables testimonial knowledge, much as one’s natural endowments enable knowledge through accurate perception and good reasoning. next, consider The argument from Peer Disagreement. That argument depended on the following premise: 2. Many people who are my epistemic peers disagree with me on matters religious. In particular, my peers in different testimonial traditions do. on the present approach to testimonial evidence, premise 2 is false. That is because the notion of “epistemic peer” that is operative in that premise is a very strong one – it requires not only that peers are equally intelligent and equally conscientious, but that they share the same epistemic position regarding the claim that p more generally. For example, epistemic peers must share the same evidence regarding p. But on the present account, people in different testimonial traditions do not share the same epistemic position and do not share the same testimonial evidence, and so are not epistemic peers in the relevant sense. one might think that simply being aware of another testimonial tradition, and being aware of the testimony within it, puts one in the same epistemic position as those who live within the tradition, at least with respect to the testimony in question. But that confuses a) merely hearing or knowing about testimony, with b) receiving testimonial evidence. The latter, we have seen, requires situation in a reliable testimonial exchange, and that, in turn, requires participation in social practices and institutions that underwrite reliability. Put differently, receiving testimonial evidence requires more than being in the right time and place geographically – it requires being in the right time and place socially. Finally, we return to the argument from hume. That argument depended on the following premise:


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3. our testimonial evidence in favor of M’s occurrence will always be less than excellent. (This because testimony in favor of miracles carries a less than excellent track record: we know of many cases where testimony that some miracle has occurred was false.) we may now see that hume’s support for premise 3 depends on treating testimony as an originating source of knowledge for the hearer. That is, it treats the hearer as an inductive reasoner, whose task it is to weigh her inductive evidence on each side of the issue and adjust her belief accordingly. But that is misguided in cases where testimony plays a distributing function. Put differently, the conditions for knowledge transmission are plausibly different from the conditions for knowledge by inductive reasoning. That being so, hume cannot assume that one’s testimonial evidence for a miracle will always be “less than excellent.” For even if that evidence constitutes less than excellent inductive evidence, it might nevertheless constitute excellent testimonial evidence. That would depend on the quality of the testimonial transaction, constituted by the quality of the original source (perhaps the miracle was eye-witnessed) and the quality of the social relations underwriting the testimonial exchange (perhaps the exchange is between trusted friends, verified by reliable authorities, etc.)9 2. Too Rosy a Picture? Does the present approach to testimonial evidence, and its application to religious belief in particular, paint too rosy a picture? Does it make rational religious belief and religious knowledge too easy? That depends on the answers to some further questions. First, it depends on the existence and the extent of originating sources of religious knowledge. knowledge (or reasonable belief) cannot be transmitted from speaker to hearer if the speaker does not have knowledge (or reasonable belief) to begin with. accordingly, the present approach to testimony and religious belief depends on more traditional issues in the epistemology of religion, i.e. issues regarding originating sources of knowledge and reasonable belief. But suppose we take it for granted that there are such originating sources, and that they are fairly widespread. That is, suppose we take it for granted that religious knowledge is fairly common. Questions still remain 9

hume cites a case involving such a verification process, but does not appreciate its social significance. Cf. hume, Enquiry, Section 10.

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concerning the conditions for the successful transmission of that knowledge. what, in general, are the conditions for the successful transmission of knowledge within a testimonial tradition? and are those conditions met by religious traditions today? These questions further divide. For we may ask: what are the conditions for successful inter-personal transmission? at the very least, those would seem to include personal expertise and inter-personal trust. what are the nature and conditions of these in general, and in regard to religious belief in particular? what more is required, over and above appropriate expertise and appropriate inter-personal trust? we may also ask: what are the conditions for successful institutional transmission? at the very least, those would seem to include institutional expertise and institutional integrity. In other words, institutional transmission requires institutional authority. what are the nature and conditions of these in general, and in regard to religious belief in particular? what more is required?10 Questions such as these frame a research program for social epistemology – for the epistemology of testimony in general, and for religious epistemology in particular. answers to them are required to determine the extent of rational religious belief and religious knowledge.11

here is one thought in that regard: It would seem that epistemic authority depends, in part, on moral authority. That is because immoral people and institutions cannot be trusted to tell the truth. This diagnoses a mistake of the Catholic Bishops: Trying to protect the teaching (i.e. epistemic) authority of the Church, they covered up sexual abuse by priests. But this in fact undermined the Church’s epistemic authority, insofar as it undermined her moral authority. accordingly, the Bishops will have to account for the epistemic harm they have done to the Church, as well as the more obvious moral harm. 11 Thanks for useful discussion to the participants in the conference The Right to Believe: Perspectives in Religious Epistemology, hosted by Dariusz Łukasiewicz and Roger Pouivet in Bydgoszcz, Poland in 2010. 10

The Right to Believe:

Perspectives in Religious Epistemology Dariusz Łukasiewicz & Roger Pouivet (eds.)

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Steps Towards an Epistemology of Revelation The Christian tradition is structured by three important affirmations about Christian faith: 1. Faith requires divine grace: it is not achievable for the unaided human mind and will. 2. Faith is voluntary: this does not necessarily mean that we decide whether or not to have it (doxastic voluntarism), but instead that true faith is not something that can be imposed upon us. 3. Faith is theoretically reasonable: even if we cannot prove that our faith is true empirically, accepting them is not absurd. The problem is that it is not clear how these three claims could be true together. a good way to pinpoint the difficulty, at least in its epistemological aspect, is found in an argument that I am borrowing from John greco.1 (1) knowledge is indeed a cognitive achievement. S knows p only if S has gone through the intellectual effort to know p, and thus deserves (intellectual) credit for believing the truth regarding p. Take, then, the case of knowing p if p is the proposition that god exists. 1

In his non-published paper “god, grace, and gettier”. I thank John greco for sending me this paper. he speaks about perception of god and revelation from god. But I am interested only here in the question of revelation and revealed truths. of course, as non-published, this paper does not represent the “official” thought of John greco…


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(2) a revelation from god requires god’s grace. (3) But if we define grace according to the Christian tradition, it undermines the epistemological credit behind knowing. It is never to S’s credit – it is not by his ‘works’ – that god, by his grace alone, reveals himself to S. Therefore, (4) a revelation from god does not yield knowledge of god. This argument could be taken as an up-to-date articulation of a very old problem concerning the relation between faith and reason. If we accord reason the power to determine knowing, how can we claim any moral right to believe in revelation? how can Christians believe in revealed truth without grossly sinning against rationality? and, in keeping with the Cliffordian notion of an “ethics of belief” that we mentioned in the Introduction, how could believing what is revealed be intellectually honest? For example, Daniel Dennett says: If religion isn’t the greatest threat to rationality and scientific progress, what is? Perhaps alcohol, or television, or addictive video games. But although each of these scourges – mixed blessings, in fact – has the power to overwhelm our best judgment and cloud our critical faculties, religion has a feature of that none of them can boast: it doesn’t just disable, it honors the disability. People are revered for their capacity to live in a dream world, to shield their minds from factual knowledge and make the major decisions of their lives by consulting voices in their heads that they call forth by rituals designed to intoxicate them.2

This is expressed rather mockingly, but of course I could name many ancient, modern and contemporary philosophers, including authorities like voltaire, Diderot, nietzsche and Clifford, who precede Dennett in expressing dismay about the malign effect of religion. My intention in this paper is to show that there is a way out of greco’s reasoning. greco himself proposed one, which I will describe; but I prefer another way out, borrow an argument from Thomas aquinas. 2

In a paper in The Guardian, “Is Religion a Threat to Rationality and Science?”, Tuesday 22 april 2008.

Steps Towards an epistemology of Revelation


let us first examine greco’s argument more attentively. 1. The first premise expresses greco’s characterization of knowledge as a cognitive achievement. This way of construing knowledge is derived from the virtue-theoretic account of epistemic normativity that greco has defended, and which I believe we can accept, in at least its broad outlines.3 let us suppose, with aristotle, that the intellectual virtues are abilities. Then knowledge is a kind of success from virtue. This is a thesis about what knowledge is. More specifically, and more importantly, it is a thesis about the sort of normative status that knowledge requires. The thesis, then, is that knowledge is an instance of a more general normative phenomenon – that of success through ability (or success through excellence, or success through virtue).4

Some French contemporary philosophers would perhaps offer the counterclaim that knowledge is a special sort of repression of desire or political alienation and not just a cognitive achievement. But this is an argument that goes in a vicious circle, for their own claim is either a cognitive achievement that they should be praised for or a political strategy detached from any epistemological claim. however, there might be other, and better, reasons for questioning greco’s first premise. For example, greco says that alvin Plantinga and george Mavrodes would accept (2), (3) and (4), thus locating (1) as the problem. If warranted beliefs result from properly functioning or reliable faculties, as Plantinga would say, then knowledge (identified as warranted belief) is not to the cognitive agent’s credit any more than proper digestion is to the credit of the one who digests. If you go to bed one night and wake up in the morning with the firm conviction, caused by god, that there is a god – this is Mavrodes’ example – you do not gain any epistemological or ethical credit from your knowledge. (and linda zagzebski even claims that this example meets Plantinga’s criterion for warrant.) But I do not think that we should so easily identify warranted belief and knowledge, even in the cases pressed by Plantinga and Mavrodes. It is one thing to reject a deontological account of knowledge (a sort of monitoring or control of our belief) in favor of the thesis that knowledge results In his book: Achieving Knowledge, A Virtue-Theoretic Account of Epistemic Normativity. (2010). Cambridge: Cambridge university Press. I myself defended a virtue-Theoretic account of epistemic normativity in: Le réalisme esthétique. (2006). Paris: Presses universitaires de France, chap. II (l’épistémologie des vertus). 4 John greco, Achieving Knowledge, p. 3. 3


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from the proper functioning of our sensible and intellectual faculties directed toward truth in an appropriate environment. It is another thing to identify warranted belief with knowledge. a belief could be warranted even if god were the direct cause of it. It might perhaps even be the best possible warranted belief. But would it be knowledge? It seems that there is necessarily an anti-luck component in knowledge. you cannot be admired because you were lucky, although you may arouse envy. But you can be admired for what you know. when we make up a list of the good qualities of a person, that person’s knowledge will be included, and will have the further impact of creating our expectations about that person. we expect, for instance, an airplane pilot to know how to fly a plane. In our ordinary life, we commonly hold people responsible for knowing things, and we praise those who are especially knowledgeable. If knowledge were like digestion, all intentional aspects, such as intellectual responsibility, that deserve admiration, and represent intellectual virtue and value, would disappear. So would our sense of expectation that one should know certain things, which is intrinsic to the division of labor, to education, and to interpersonal relationships. These aspects seem to be analytically related to knowledge. So, let us say that the first premise can be accepted, at least as a necessary (even if not sufficient) condition for knowledge. 2. The second premise of greco’s argument follows from what revelation is. The Catholic Encyclopedia says that revelation is “the communication of some truth by god to a rational creature through means which are beyond the ordinary course of nature”. when god speaks to us, even through the special inspiration of the historical human authors of sacred books, one can maintain that there is supernatural communication. The case of inspired scribes seems to be quite different from Saul of Tarsus’ case, where god acted and spoke directly. But the Scriptures also deliver “truth coming down to us from heaven”. even if an historical human author wrote down the text, it is god who speaks to us, and this requires god’s grace. Indeed, it is close to a direct perception of god. If the tax inspector sends you a letter, even written by an employee, you may consider that it is a communication from the tax inspector to you. So let us accept the second premise. 3. The dramatic moment in greco’s argument is the third premise, for it is upon this that the argument turns. Revelation undermines our epistemic credit because we are asked to believe what we are not allowed to believe: that god speaks to us. epistemic work, here, counts for nothing, when it

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should count for all. Revelation makes us religiously better by making us intellectually worse. Recall what locke said in the chapter on “enthusiasm” in the Essay: Immediate Revelation being a much easier way for Men to establish their opinions, and regulate their Conduct, than the tedious and not always successful labour of Strict Reasoning, it is no wonder, that some have been very apt to pretend to Revelation, and to persuade themselves, that they are under the peculiar guidance of heaven in their actions and opinions…

Is it possible to be both a good Christian and a good thinker? greco’s dilemma seems to show that it is not possible to reconcile the two. Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say if he found himself standing before god on the Judgment Day and god asked him, “why didn’t you believe in Me?” Russell is supposed to have replied: “I would say, ‘not enough evidence, god! not enough evidence!’” By Russell’s lights, it seems that we would do far better intellectually by not believing that god reveals truths to us than we would do by believing it. Russell’s criterion for embracing a belief is evidence. But the reasoning could be similar if the criterion were different. The reliabilist’s criterion of using the correct epistemic process seems likewise to warrant the same epistemological condemnation of faith. To listen to messages coming from heaven could seemingly never be a correct epistemic process. But even if we point to a means behind the knowledge, i.e. that god uses revelation to let us know certain truths, isn’t this in itself a paradoxical and shocking means to use upon his creation, which is after all created to be rational? we are tempted then to say that even if we apprehend divine truths in this way, we do not know them, because the achievement of knowledge deserves credit, and we seemingly deserve none if god does all the work. even worse, revelation could be described as an act of intellectual violence, akin to brainwashing. and when truths lie definitively beyond what we can understand, this violence is aggravated all the more. what does greco say about the puzzle he is presenting? he supports (1) and (2), and rejects (3). he says: – “grace does not undermine credit in cases where S’s own intellectual abilities continue to play an important role in the formation of belief.” – “god might reveal himself in a way that importantly involves the intellectual abilities of the believer.”


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– “Just as luck is compatible with an important role for one’s cognitive abilities [greco gives plausible examples that I will not examine here], grace is as well.” greco, then, finds reasons in the way we know things that contradict (3): grace would not undermine the epistemic credit of the knower. and (4) would therefore not be established. greco may have a point in showing that the contemporary sense of knowing is compatible with revelation. I think that aquinas also offers a very plausible solution to greco’s puzzle in Summa Theologiae, II-IIae, 2, 9. here is a passage from the objection 3 (and so the argument is one that will be criticized by Thomas): Further, he who assents to a point of faith, either has a sufficient motive for believing, or he has not. If he has a sufficient motive for his belief, this does not seem to imply any merit on his part, since he is no longer free to believe or not to believe: whereas if he has not a sufficient motive for believing, this is a mark of levity, according to ecclus. 19:4: „he that is hasty to give credit, is light of heart,” so that, seemingly, he gains no merit thereby. Therefore to believe is by no means meritorious.

I propose to reconstruct the argument this way: (a) If S assents to a point of faith, his motive to do so will either be sufficient or insufficient. (B) If S’s motive is sufficient, it amounts to a cause of his assent, understood as a psychological constraint. no merit accrues to S for being constrained to assent. (C) If the motive is insufficient, S’s assent is light (i.e. not weighty), and for assenting lightly he again gains no merit (nor can he be credited with achieving knowledge). Therefore (D) S’s assent to a point of faith is never meritorious. To this objection, aquinas answers that: The believer has sufficient motive for believing, for he is moved by the authority of Divine teaching confirmed by miracles, and, what is more, by

Steps Towards an epistemology of Revelation


the inward instinct of the Divine invitation: hence he does not believe lightly. he has not, however, sufficient reason for scientific knowledge, hence he does not lose the merit.

I think for better understanding of what aquinas says, we must take into account another passage of the Summa Theologiae, in II-IIae, 6, 1: as regards … man’s assent to the things which are of faith, we may observe a twofold cause, one of external inducement, such as seeing a miracle, or being persuaded by someone to embrace the faith: neither of which is a sufficient cause, since of those who see the same miracle, or who hear the same sermon, some believe, and some do not. hence we must assert another internal cause, which moves man inwardly to assent to matters of faith.

Christian revelation does not place us in the situation described in premise (B) above. when someone assents to a point of faith, they are not yielding merely to a psychological constraint. Instead, there are good non-psychological motives. First, there are miracles, for those who purportedly witness them. Secondly, there is persuasion by someone. The second case is, of course, more frequent. This is also a case we meet in non-religious contexts, when we are persuaded by testimony that appears convincing. however, these motives are not constraining “since of those who see the same miracle, or who hear the same sermon, some believe, and some do not”. hence, we have motives that are not sufficient causes in the sense of psychological constraints, and then, contrary to what (B) describes, merit for assenting is not lost. In the case of assent to a point of faith, (B) does not adequately describe the case and must be replaced by (B*): (B*) If S’s motive is sufficient, but does not amount to a cause of his assent, understood as a psychological constraint, merit may accrue to S for assenting. S is not, however, in the situation described in premise (C) of the objection. The faithful person assents, not lightly, but with a sufficient motive: the authority of god and the inspiration of holy Spirit. Such a motive would not be sufficient for scientific knowledge, which may judge it to be light, but it is sufficient in another way. So I rewrite (C) this way: (C*) If the motive is insufficient, in that it does not amount to a cause of S’s assent, understood as a psychological constraint, but constitutes an


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appropriate “internal cause”, which moves S to assent to a matter of faith, then merit accrues to S for assenting. From (a), (B*), (C*), what follows is not (D) but: (D*) S’s assent to a matter of faith may be meritorious. Some remarks are necessary. 1) one could object that aquinas is speaking about moral merit and not about intellectual (or epistemic) merit. and so aquinas’ reasoning would not be an answer to the kind of difficulty greco is concerned with. To which I would confess that I am not making a historical exegesis, but retrofitting the substance of aquinas’s passages for my own philosophical project. The appropriation of the argument puts it in line with aquinas’s teaching, in as much as aquinas does ask if believing in revelation is to believe lightly or not, for surely the problem he is posing is genetically close to the problem of epistemological ethics. Firstly, to believe lightly is an act, and every act can be judged from a moral point of view that assesses the responsibility of the actor – which is the question that is really at the center of greco’s problem. This is the problem of the relation between moral and intellectual virtues, and it is one that I have examined elsewhere as well.5 Secondly, the difference between the second element and the third element in Christian tradition (as we articulated it at the beginning of this paper) comes into play here. If the third element, faith, is theoretically reasonable, then it is intellectually meritorious. But it could be possible to be epistemically safe in the recognizance of revealed truths, but not to assent (and to accept) revealed truths. Thus, the condition that faith be voluntary is salient in aquinas’s example. epistemic merit is not sufficient for faith, while there is also a moral merit and a supernatural merit in faith. we could be enlightened by understanding that some truths are revealed, thus enlarging our epistemological possibilities; but we might not be converted, because it changes nothing in our will! This is the way it seems for me possible to understand this passage (Summa Theologiae, II-IIae, 8, 6, corpus): 5

R. Pouivet, “Moral and epistemic virtues: a Thomistic and analytical Perspective”, Forum Philosophicum 15 (2010).

Steps Towards an epistemology of Revelation


accordingly on the part of the things proposed to faith for belief, two things are requisite on our part: first that they be penetrated or grasped by the intellect, and this belongs to the gift of understanding. Secondly, it is necessary that man should judge these things aright, that he should esteem that he ought to adhere to these things, and to withdraw from their opposites: and this judgment, with regard to Divine things belong to the gift of wisdom, but with regard to created things, belongs to the gift of knowledge, and as to its application to individual actions, belongs to the gift of counsel.

aquinas uses here the quite important notion of the “gifts of the holy spirit”, upon which I cannot comment in the space of this paper. But clearly aquinas considers that the gift of understanding is related to what I call “epistemic merit”. 2) In the abovementioned objection examined by aquinas, a motive is a sufficient cause, and a sufficient cause is a psychological constraint. If you are under such a constraint, as in premise (B), epistemic merit is lost. you cannot do anything other than assenting, exactly like a jealous person who is unable to think that he is not betrayed. If you are not under a constraint, as in premise (C), epistemic merit is lost also, but this time because you are acting heedlessly. I think that the argument is close to a paralogism. “Motive” does not have exactly the same meaning in (B) and (C). In (B) it means a causal constraint; in (C), S lacks a ground for assent, but S is not under the causal constraint referenced in (B). If this remark is right, we may distinguish two kinds of motives: internal and external. The former are psychological constraints; the latter are extra-psychological reasons. In (C*), “motive” means “psychological cause”, and “internal cause” means a “reason”. 3) what does “internal” mean exactly? It does not mean “internalist”, in the contemporary sense that a person with justified beliefs has an internal access to the basis of those beliefs, a basis that consists in some subjective mental state. what is “internal” in the present case is a virtue, the virtue of faith. at the beginning of the eucharistic Prayer, the priest says “Sursum corda” (“lift up your hearts”), and the congregation responds: “we lift them up to the lord”. The heart is not here opposed to reason, as it has been in the later history of philosophy. It would make no sense for the priest to say: “now, don’t try to understand, just feel!” without making any pretention here to a deep historical and theological interpretation, I consider that “heart”, in this context, means an intellectual motivation.


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That we “lift” our hearts must indicate some intellectual or spiritual element. we shouldn’t be fooled by possible substitution of terms, here. For gregory of nyssa, the heart was the vegetative part of the soul; but it would make little sense to claim that the priest tells us to lift up the vegetative part of our soul! The source of this intellectual motivation is internal in the sense that we are disposed to hear, and to heed, god’s word. and this source is the virtue of faith – a disposition of our character. 4) aquinas says that “the inward instinct of the Divine invitation” makes us meritorious, even if we do not have sufficient reason to claim that we are conforming to the standards of scientific knowledge here. I said that this inward instinct is the virtue of faith. This virtue motivates the believer. and so, even if she lack sufficient reason for scientific knowledge, she has reasons to accredit revealed knowledge, and she can be, in turn, credited for assenting to them. grace does not undermine credit, even if the inward instinct of faith may be traced to Divine invitation, because it supposes the exercise of a virtue, an excellence, making us the best we can be. I do not think that for aquinas epistemic merit is of an inferior sort because it concerns non-scientific knowledge. Furthermore, I think he is right. epistemic merit is coordinate to the kind of knowledge you can achieve. To achieve knowledge of the truths that must be revealed, because we do not have the means to reach them by ourselves, is not the same as achieving knowledge in other matters concerning nature, and employing means in conformity with natural law. It would be worth examining attentively what aquinas means by “scientific knowledge”, but we don’t need to be diverted by this within the argument I am making here. My point is simply that it makes sense to think that as understanding sees epistemological possibilities beyond those given by ‘scientific knowledge”, so, too, there must be a kind of knowledge that is intellectually meritorious by being achieved within the domain of revelation. 5) Revelation does not suppose psychologically constraining motive acting upon the person who receives the revelation. when there is a glass on the table and I look at it, my perception of the glass on the table is psychologically decisive. But if a person witnesses a miracle, or is exhorted by someone to embrace the faith, there comes into play an understanding of what is going on, such that there may be those who see the same miracle, or who hear the same sermon, and do not believe. “Some believe, and some do not”, as Thomas points out. If someone sees a glass on the table and does

Steps Towards an epistemology of Revelation


not believe he sees a glass on the table, he is either crazy or is attending a course on epistemology where he is reading the First Meditation by Descartes. But if someone does not assent to a revelation, he is not crazy (although he has perhaps also read too much epistemology) – he merely lacks the virtue of faith. Is this lack a cognitive sin? as Robert adams says: “fears may be raised that the stigmatization of unbelief as sin will feed the flames of persecution”.6 The most important matter here is not finally to answer the question “Is the unbeliever cognitively vicious?”, but rather the question, “Can the person who believes in revelation by the grace of god, and has the virtue of faith, also be intellectually meritorious, and can the knowledge of god so infused be credited to him?” In this argument, I have tried to show that the answer is yes. 6) let us imagine this case. a nearsighted person awakes one morning with perfect vision. earlier, the status of all of her perceptual beliefs, at least when she wore no glasses, was suspect. The sudden recovery modifies everything: her perceptual beliefs are now legitimated. and even were her recovery based on the intervention of a supernatural cause, and her perceptual beliefs the results of the correct functioning of her sensory faculties (something causal), her belief that she sees things correctly (and not simply the fact that she sees the things correctly), even without glasses (something rational), is meritorious. Belief grounded in revelation may be compared with this case. Revelation cures us from unbelief, and gives us knowledge that we are physically and cognitively unable to reach by ourselves. we cannot take credit for this gift, but can only be grateful for it. But the knowledge through grace we now have, accepting the gift as a fact, can be credited to us. First, because it would have been possible to refuse that knowledge, by not assenting to what is revealed, and, second, because it is built upon the virtue of faith – and all virtuous acts are meritorious. To conclude, let me go back to what I called the dramatic moment represented by the third premise of greco’s puzzle. That premise could be taken to say that it is not possible to be a faithful Christian and a respectable knower; that Divine faith, belief in revelation, and knowledge through grace are epistemically irresponsible and trespass against the ethics of 6

Robert M. adams, The Virtue of Faith and Other Essays in Philosophical Theology. (1987). oxford: oxford university Press, p. 9.


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belief. like greco, aquinas was well aware of epistemological critiques of acts of faith and well aware of the arguments against them. and I think that the positive epistemology of faith and revelation he argues for disposes of the objection quite impressively, even if I suppose it would not impress those, like Daniel Dennett, who cannot imagine or understand knowledge beyond ‘scientific knowledge’.7


I would like to thank the audience at the Right to Believe Conference in Bydgoszcz (September 2009), the audience at a meeting at my university in December 2010, and John lamont for useful remarks. I especially thank Mikael M. karlsson.

The Right to Believe:

Perspectives in Religious Epistemology Dariusz Łukasiewicz & Roger Pouivet (eds.)


Faith As an Epistemic Good According to Aristotle:

Towards an Aristotelian Understanding of the Act of Faith

as my title says, this paper1 proposes to establish that the act of faith is neither the result of a scientific demonstration, nor an irrational spasm of the kierkgaardian heart, but is instead a good for the believer. It expresses the outcome of the act of belief, committed within the precincts of reason, namely, that faith is a good to be pursued by man to realize his end. Clearly, then, human faith and confidence are the principal concerns of this paper, although as a corollary concern it also touches upon their application to the realm of religious faith. The reference to aristotle is due to the fact that (1) contemporary discussions about the epistemology of faith are in large part about the relation between ethical virtues, epistemic virtues and the will, which are all categories of aristotelian ethics; and (2) these aristotelian analyses of the human act of knowledge may well be valuable in helping us understand the human act of faith as well as the religious one. Taking my second point as a challenge, this paper takes up the renewal of virtue ethics initiated by alasdair McIntyre and applied to the intellectual virtues discussed by linda zagzebski. while aristotle is often presented as a philosopher of science, science does not, for him, monopolize the entire set of valid modes of knowledge. Those of aristotle’s commentators who have approached him from this 1

I would like to thank to the participants of the Bydgoszcz meeting whose remarks about the oral version of this paper have mostly been taken into account in this revised text.



point of view have remarked that the works of aristotle contain not only a theory of science and of the scientific syllogism, such as we find in the Prior and Posterior Analytics, but treat and analyze other ways of knowing, each in their proper domain, as in the Topics, the Rhetoric and even the Poetics. In aristotle we can find: 1) The affirmation of a general inclination to know which is also an ethical good; 2) an understanding of faith as a way of knowing adapted to some subject matters; and 3) an understanding of faith as a way of knowledge adapted to some persons. Therefore the inclination and the ethical good of knowing are realized by faith for some persons or for some subject matters.

1) A General Inclination to Know and the Ethical Good The best expression of this inclination is found in the very beginning of the Metaphysics, with its famous first sentence: “all men by nature desire to know.”2 First, let us note the idea of the desire’s universality. all men are of the same species, the human species, and consequently they want to know. The claim is not that only man want to know in some way, because it is also necessary that animals know; for instance, animals need to know where to find food in order to survive. however, men are particularly called upon to know. aristotle employs the verb to know and not something like to know scientifically. That is to say that to know involves a broader sense of knowledge than that characterized by scientific proof. Reading aristotle, here, against the range of knowledges upon which he wrote, the sentence certainly does not imply that science is the only way of knowing. For instance, there is sensible knowledge (De anima 416 b 38-418 a 6), and within sensible knowledge there is a special way of knowing for each sense: to know by touch is not the same as to know by vision, and so on. Perhaps one may think that these sensible ways of knowing are inferior or subordinate to other ways like science. They are inferior because they do not by themselves apprehend essences. It is astonishing that aristotle 2

Met.A, 980 a: «Pantes anthropoi tou eidenai orègontai phusei».

Faith as an epistemic good according to aristotle


does not refer to science – to episteme – to justify the desire to know. after the first sentence already quoted, aristotle continues by justifying the desire to know. on this point, he says that it is the desire to see that shows the desire to know. The fact that men go to theatrical plays in order to see them and that this sensation gives pleasure to men is the sign and proof of the human desire to know. The inference from aristotle’s use of verb and example is that science is not the form of knowledge that characterizes man at all times and places, but is one among them. Science is discursive: making syllogisms entails personal and social development over time. Science must be acquired. But science itself depends on principles, on first things known. So science is not self-sufficient. In as much as we construct the hierarchy of knowledge to correspond with degrees of self-sufficiency, there must be more perfect ways of knowing than science. one such is insight. This more perfect knowledge is distinguished by its direct nature. unlike science, sensible knowledge like vision or touch is direct, without discourse. In intellectual knowledge, there is also a direct way of knowledge that aristotle compares to sensible knowledge because it is also immediate,3 without discourse, namely, insight (nous). In the nicomachian ethics, aristotle solidifies the identity between sensation and insight,4 because of former’s direct nature. Insight furnishes the principles of science, it is principle of principles;5 sensation and induction also produce the first things (ta prota) of knowledge6. Both sensation and induction are primary, or in aristotelian parlance, each functions as a principle, arkhè. Intuition is a direct transference of the information presented by the object to the knower. It is a fact of the world and not a belief. In contemporary terms, aristotle’s theory is attested to by the adaptation of animals to their surroundings,7 a capacity without which they could not survive. Returning to our point of departure, the opening line of the Metaphysics, another important aspect of aristotle’s epistemology is revealed by the fact that he uses the term “desire to know” instead of ‘will to know’. Desire is more fundamental in the order of human nature. we must read this reference to nature not only in the light of the universality of the desire De Anima, III, 429 a 16-18. Ethic. Nic., VI, 1043 b 5. 5 Anal. II, B, 100b12-17. 6 Anal. II, B, 100b3-5. 7 kornblith, h. (1995), Inductive Inference and its Natural Ground: An Essay in Naturalistic Epistemology, harvard: MIT Press. 3 4



to know, which places it in the natural history of men, shared by all members of the species, but also in the light of the spontaneity essential to desire itself. Men desire to know because of their determinate and constitutive principle of motion. That is to say that the desire to know is part of the attainment of their end, telos. They are complete men when they know, and, by contrast, the refusal to know is an harm that attacks the end of man, making it impossible for him to flourish; the man who chooses to not know, to not use his possibilities to know, is not simply acting passively, but is living in a self-destructive way. From this perspective, the natural desire to know takes on an ethical character. It is destructive and absurd not to want to move towards one’s end. So the desire to know, in the measure that it is a motion to the end, is good and rational for men, and its suppression for one reason or another is bad and irrational, since it is irrational and self-defeating to move against one’s proper end. Properly speaking, suppressing the desire to know is a form of violence against oneself. Thus, beginning with a fact in our natural history as a species, we are thrust into considerations that link the epistemological to the ethical. aristotle’s virtue ethics recognizes a species of intellectual virtues (aretai dianoētikai) as opposed to moral ones. unlike the contemporary idea of the value of neutral knowledge, aristotle incorporates the ethical nature of knowledge into the entire system of virtues that should guide our conduct. The kind of knowledge that falls under the practical, instead of the theoretical, is ultimately governed by the intellectual virtue of prudence. That is to say that prudence, like the moral virtues, is concerned with discovering the proper medium within which to investigate and understand different types of knowledge. Prudence does not take the place of the activity of the other virtues, but governs the when, where, means by which, and other elements of each of the ways of knowing. In particular, prudence ensures that the way of knowing befits or is appropriate to the object of knowledge. It is in this context that faith has its place.

2) Faith as an Adapted Way of Knowing Something given that there are a plurality of the ways of knowing which correspond to the plurality of realities to be known, aristotle is concerned that we get the alignment between the method, or way knowing, and the object known right. It is a great error, one due to a lack of education, to employ a way of

Faith as an epistemic good according to aristotle


knowing that is antithetical to the object to be known. For instance, he who treats physics as though it were nothing more than mathematics, or ethics as though it were nothing more than mathematics commits this error. he who confounds sensible knowledge with intellectual knowledge commits an error on a higher level. To be sure, for aristotle, the theoretical intellectual virtues, among which he includes science, rank high in terms of knowing. nevertheless, as I have mentioned, insight is more basic than science in that it is more universal, being rooted in our natural history. There is no absolute opposition between science and insight, but they are not to be confounded. To possess science and insight is posed by aristotle as the kind of ideal that we see with the person who has wisdom. one may also think of examples of pure insight, as in the pure act of thinking without discourse, such as with the first Mover’s knowledge. Science is valuable and befits certain kinds of subject matter. aristotle proposes science as a way of knowing the necessary relations that operate within some certain genus of beings. he understands necessity in two ways: first, syllogistic necessity, which comes about through the connection between the premises; and second, the necessity which is derived from the essence of the particular subject matter of a particular science.8 For aristotle, science partakes of both demonstrative and existential necessity. The genus of beings is further characterized, for aristotle, by the fundamental discontinuity between the realm of immobile beings and the realm of sublunary beings, who are subject to mutability. In the former, science is able to completely synthesize the two necessities, while in the latter, beings are partly necessary and partly contingent, leaving a margin that science cannot perfectly comprehend. Thus, while in this domain, there is room for some sciences that indicate what occurs most of the time, which is the domain of aristotelian physics, there are also modes of knowledge that are not based upon the analysis of a necessity operating among the objects of their interest. In the domain of these kinds of knowledge, contingency reigns. This contingency must be taken into account especially in the domain of human things, that is to say, of human action and practice. knowledge in this domain cannot be translated into the kind of science of phisis in which regularities indicate necessary relations, because here action is always particular, and an irreducible contingency must be considered as a part of the rational way of acting and of thinking about action. 8

Anal. II, A, 74b5-12.



To solve this problem, aristotle draws on the experience of human affairs to propose a way of knowing adapted to the subject matter. he wrote at least two books for this purpose: the Topics and the Rhetoric. The Topics deals with opinions, endoxa. Men who hold opinions about something will discuss it in order to know which is the better opinion. This is indeed the way the city must function, as members of the city confront questions of peace and war, of economic policy, etc. In the Topics, aristotle does not deal with the question of how we acquire opinions, which he reserves for the Rhetoric. one feature of opinions is that, contrary to the data of science, they change. In the course of discussing some action, one may proceed from one opinion to another one until eventually he who held one opinion at the beginning of the discussion holds the contrary opinion at the end. This variability is related to the fact that opinions deal with the attributes of sensible things “that do not always and necessarily follow”, as aristotle puts it in the Topics. So to hold any opinion, neutral in itself, one must be persuaded by it for reasons that are other than necessary in order to hold it. This is where the purpose of the Rhetoric comes in, employing the ‘existing means of persuasion [pistis]” in any particular case to convince a listener of the correctness of one’s opinion.9 The greek term pistis has been translated by persuasion, but it may also be translated by confidence or even by faith. The orator’s task is to create confidence or faith in his hearer, who thereby comes to believe the orator’s opinion. not only does the hearer come to agree with the opinion he has heard, but also he embraces it as his own opinion, thus possessing it as one of his own beliefs, for which he too would argue. This fullness of adherence makes the difference between opinion and faith. aristotle thinks that the speaker who uses rhetorical argumentation must also be able to support the contrary opinion, which is why he draws the parallel between the rhetorician and the dialectician at the beginning of the Rhetoric. Contrary to science, it is possible to move from one opinion to another, and the speaker must know the false opinion in order to oppose it. however, two contrary opinions are not of the same value. as a real type of knowledge, faith cannot be indifferent to the truth. aristotle solves this question by thinking that the true opinion is stronger, that is to say better able to convince than the false opinion10, as men have 9 10

Rhet. I, 1355b 26. Rhet. I, 1355a 21-22, 36-38.

Faith as an epistemic good according to aristotle


‘a sufficient natural instinct for what is true’ [1.1. 15]. True opinion can receive adherence or strong adherence. This is a point of contention between aristotle and the Sophists. It also distinguishes him from some contemporary renewals in rhetoric, like the work of Perelman.11 Perelman never speaks of the question of the truth of the opinion, but seems to allow us the leeway to decide what opinion to adhere to solely on the persuasive strength of the arguments presented for them. More charitably, he may have thought that the strength of the truth in these kinds of dispute is self-evident. For aristotle, the speaker who sustains the strong thesis may also detect fallacies12 or paralogisms because of which the false thesis must fail. on the contrary, the Sophist thinks that he may sustain the strong thesis as well as the feeble one with the same success if he can disguise the paralogisms he uses. as has been said, the variability of opinion is due to the indeterminacy of the subject matter of rhetoric. Rhetoric, opinion and faith are concerned first of all with human matters. Rhetorical speeches occur in politics, to convince an assembly, or in juridical events to convince a judge. To this end the speaker uses many means of persuasion, like rhetorical reasoning, enthymemata, common opinions with different degrees of authority, examples from the past, witnesses, proofs or evidence in the juridical sense, etc. all these means of persuasion are indirect ways of knowing. witnesses tell the judge what they have heard or seen, but the judge must repose confidence in the truth and accuracy of their witness. as well, since the events cannot be repeated, witness concerning them must rely on memory. evidence or proofs are not demonstrations of present facts, for they are signs of past events. even in the case of necessary signs (the cow has milk, then she has a calf …) or rhetorical syllogisms, such rhetorical persuasions are not scientific demonstrations because the very middle term, the explicit cause, does not appear as it should in a scientific argument. nevertheless, rhetorical persuasion is not illusory; the one who has been persuaded about something learns something, and in this sense, persuasion is synonymous with learning. That is the reason why rhetoric may be employed even to help the listener understand a scientific truth, even if he can’t understand the scientific demonstration. The hearer of a rhetorical speech is more informed at the end of the discourse than at its Perelman, CH. and olbrechts-Tyteca, l. (2008), Traité de l’argumentation: nouvelle réthorique, 6th ed., Bruxelles: E.U.B. 12 Rhet. I, 1355a 29-33. 11



beginning, and he is informed about matters that perhaps he could not have been taught scientifically. he has learned and has new knowledge, but he does not thereby possess the tools of science. That is to say that he has grasped information using his intellectual capacity, but this information has not been demonstrated to him as a necessary inference. This indeterminacy is common to human affairs, where rhetoric has its place, and to religious faith, where god is believed without being directly known through insight or a demonstration propter quid. The indeterminacy of the subject matter corresponds to, although it is not the same as, the impossibility for a human subject to determine the veracity of the kind of belief that is evoked in the face of an object that exceeds his intellectual capacity to know once and for all the truth about it. hence, we can infer, from the constitution of the various realms of knowledge as construed by aristotle, that to ask evidence of faith is to make an epistemological mistake, confounding science, insight and faith; in aristotelian language, because of a lack of education, one demands a mode of knowledge that does not fit the subject matter. Because of the indeterminacy, prudence has to judge to what extent it is reasonable to adhere to something. Therefore, the prudential act that governs reception and adherence (to the truths of faith) is a sign of the ethical nature of these acts. when linda zagbeski insists on the responsible use of the intellectual virtue, even in the religious act of faith, she is expressing an argument that is solidly in line with the aristotelian tradition.13 This responsibility concerns judging the quality of the prudential judgment as well as receiving new knowledge. here, zagbeski’s insight might be applied to the responsibility for attentiveness, for instance. The result we can derive from these aristotelian themes is that rhetorical persuasion is made possible by the fact that there is a complementarity between science and faith as pistos. Some things are to be known by scientific demonstration, and others rely on faith. The same thing may be known by science by one man and by faith by another: this depends on their respective capacities. Both labor under the condition that both seek the truth. The same person cannot know the same thing by science and by 13

In the case of revelation, the speaker cannot err about the fact that he or she has had a revelation. The inspired person is only responsible for the gift. on the side of the audience, the hearer is responsible, for instance, for the attention that he does or does not give to the speaker’s discourse. From another point of view, in most cases, the supernatural gift is given through a social context, as in the exercise of all virtue – this sociability is insisted upon by McIntyre.

Faith as an epistemic good according to aristotle


faith, as the former is a matter of demonstration, while the latter depends on an ultimate indemonstrability of the matter at hand. nevertheless, science as well as faith entails adherence to some belief about the world by the knowing subject. Therefore, faith, for an aristotelian, is marked by a relative inferiority in the way it becomes knowledge, but this is only a methodological inferiority, that of dialectical reasoning or rhetoric in comparison with demonstrative science. This does not entail an inferiority in the degree of reality of the known object. By contrast, some men are not able to know by science certain higher objects. Science and faith are both inferior to, or at least dependent upon, insight or vision. It is significant to note the meaning of this carefully worked out epistemological scheme for scientism, which takes science beyond its domain, that of necessary beings, and applies it to other genera of beings. Scientism tends to reduce rhetorical culture to aesthetical ornament. Resistance to the kind of scientism that was becoming dominant in the enlightenment took up the cause of renewing the culture of rhetoric, as for example, in the way vico opposed the scientism of the eighteenth century.14

3) Faith As a Way of Knowledge Adapted to Some Persons: Believing in Someone one of the reasons we believe in the truth of a particular speech is one has confidence in the credibility of the speaker, aristotle maintained. It is for this reason that the speaker’s moral qualities come into play, and the speech act is part of the whole ethos or way of life of the speaker. This ethos includes virtue (arêtè), prudence (phronèsis) and benevolence (eunoia).15 according to aristotle, these elements of the speaker’s character are infused into his technical rhetorical arguments, meaning that he presents his view of a policy or an action with reference to his moral character to persuade his listener of his belief. It does not suffice simply that the speaker possesses these qualities, but he must also persuade others that he possesses them in order to successfully accomplish his rhetorical task. however, although the truly virtuous speaker might at one time or another fail to accomplish his rhetorical task, overall, the stronger argument will go with the speaker whose virtue is true as opposed to the one whose virtue is only apparent. vico, g. Institutiones oratoriae (1989), Crifo, g. edit. napoli: Istituto Suor orsola Benincasa, 1989. 15 Rhet. 1377 b2-1378 a 19. 14



yet the speaker must not simply convincing display his or her virtues; the speaker’s task is to convince others that, as well, he or she has some knowledge of the subject matter. For instance, when speaking about public finances, the rhetorician has to show that he knows something of economics and the budget. The same holds true if he tries to convince others on a matter of military strategy, and so on. The record of the speaker’s abilities and expertise contributes strongly to the task of convincing the assembly. here, we might take an extreme case. Suppose that we were on a ship and, in a dramatic moment, were ordered by the captain to put on life jackets and to climb into the emergency boats. Surely, we would obey to the command. Certainly, in cases like this, a long speech would not be necessary to persuade us to obey. one could even imagine, in time of war, for instance, briefer orders like “go,” “stop,” etc., where rhetoric is reduced to bare imperatives. Is this not to say that, in these cases, we are not persuaded, that we put aside our reason to obey only by the submission of our will to that of another? First, one should remark that the command must be understood in order to be executed. Second, our obedience is not irrational. It is very reasonable to obey the officer16 during battle or the captain in the storm. why? Because they are clearly competent, so that our confidence in them is well placed. They are able to ensure our safety, which is a good and an end, both for those who give the commands and those who obey. hence, the will of the man giving the order does not eliminate the rationality of the confidence given to him. Because of the rationality of the command the will, which is for aristotle a rational desire, one can want to obey the order. In rhetorical terms, parallel to this psychological analysis, the ability of the speaker entails the rational and voluntary compliance of the hearer,17 that is to say, faith or confidence (pistis). These indications show that persuasion not only concerns the truth of the speaker’s argumentation but The risk of being punished in case of disobedience is not the first motive, and if it is, it is still a rational though utilitarian motive. 17 From this point of view, the rational motive of Christian faith is the «authority of god», where «authority» must not be taken to mean «power», but something like intellectual authority. In other words, the believer’s adherence is rational because it clings to revelation, wherein god speaks of himself, and he certainly knows himself best. he is the best theologian and proposes a good for man: to partake of the knowledge that he has of himself. Participation in divine knowledge was already envisaged by Plato and aristotle (Met. a, 982 b28-983a 8). on this point and its Christian continuation, see Bastit-kalinowska, a. (2008), «Dieu exempt d’envie: autour du prologue à la Métaphysique d’aristote et du début du discours de Timée», in Aristotle and Aristotelian Tradition, Bellis, e., Soveria Manelli: Rubettino, p. 21-30. 16

Faith as an epistemic good according to aristotle


also the person of the speaker. however, it is more correct to say that one is also persuaded of the practical utility of the speech by the trust that one may convincingly find in the speaker’s record and position. aristotle did not invent this personal dimension of faith. It was well known in classical antiquity, for instance in Roman law. In ancient Rome, the goddess Fides protected civil contracts and all transactions. even today, in the French Civil Code, contracts must be made and carried out in “good faith,” that is to say with trust in the partner. Because of this fact, trust is also the outcome of the means of persuasion. To give one’s trust to a speaker is reasonable if it means trusting someone worthy of trust. The same kind of argument holds for witnesses in a courtroom. Surely, what a witness testifies to is not a direct proof, nor a scientific demonstration. witnesses themselves speak of what they have seen or of what they are convinced of having seen. nevertheless, there are precautions that allow us to believe the witness or not. Is he a distant or proximate witness? are there one or several witnesses? lawyers and various laws have developed various criteria in order to determine what makes a witness worthy of belief or not, which parallel the extension of these conditions to other domains like history or politics.

Conclusion This paper has sketched out the case for taking aristotle’s epistemology to have something to tell us about the rationality of faith and belief. The difference in these domains of the human perception of the world is that they concern relations that are not brought together necessarily. That is to say that they can be, depending on the belief or faith, fully reasonable. Faith is motivated by rationality and amenable to a rational analysis that employs dialectical reasoning and understands rhetoric. There are rational means to acquire knowledge suitable for a certain subject matter or for certain types of individuals. This rationality makes the act of faith fitting for the rational human nature, because the ethical life consists in a life of virtue with reason, with a given act of faith being a reasonable act of knowledge and knowledge corresponding to human nature. This means that the act of faith is an ethical good in the sense that it is an act that corresponds to our rational nature and desire, a necessary act to perfect human nature concerning some subject matters or in the case of some types of individuals. Therefore, aristotle gives us the rudiments that allow us to construct a doxastic conception of the act of faith. There is an understanding



of faith – such as the kierkegaardian understanding that we alluded to at the beginning of this paper – that claims the impermeability of faith to reason. according to this line of thought, admitting reason into faith is the first step to falling victim to humanist or positivist critics, since it welds an indemonstrable position to the logic of demonstration.18 This last point cannot be developed now, but one might emphasize that it is also possible to reject the positivist on the basis of a right understanding of intuition and induction.19 as an ethical act, the act of faith is not an absurdity that man is obliged to refuse. nor is it the result of a scientific demonstration that would oblige ascent, denying the freedom of the believer. It is like all the moral acts, including the acts of our intellectual powers, an act governed by prudence, prudence in the inquiry about the reasons of faith whose rationality allows the will to adhere.20 as faith is the expression of a rational desire, the will cannot give up rationality without giving up the desire at the basis of faith. Pascal’s wager can probably be understood in this way, as a reasonable prudential act, even if the desire to know is clearly lacking. This interpretation does not exclude the pragmatist side of the wager: it is reasonable to bet that to engage in this or that type of worship, one will gain something, namely, faith and salvation. This is an instance of utilitarian type of rationality that steps outside of faith itself and simply inquires as to its consequences – but it is still a reasonable calculation. aristotle gives us a solid analysis of human faith. In this way, he shows us that faith is a normal human phenomenon indispensable for the whole of our practical and even theoretical lives. It is impossible to conceive of a human life without faith. For instance, all financial transactions by telephone or mail would disappear in the absence of faith. In the same way, without faith, it would be impossible to use authoritative references, unless there existed confidence in the expertise of colleagues more learned in some matters. wolterstorff n. (1999), “epistemology of Religion”, in Epistemology, ed. John greco and ernest Sosa, oxford, Massachusetts: Blackwell, p. 303-324; cf. also C. Stonescu (2009), «The doxastic ideal in traditional epistemology and the project of an epistemelogy of religion», Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies, 8, 22,, p. 53-62. 19 a positive re-evaluation of aristotelian intuition and induction can be found in groarke, l. (2009), An Aristotelian Account of Induction: Creating Something from Nothing, Montreal/london/Ithaca: Mcgill Queen’s university Press, 467 p. 20 without sufficient rationality, the will cannot adhere. 18

Faith as an epistemic good according to aristotle


This understanding of the human act of faith can be, and de facto has been, transposed to the religious context and applied to the religious act of faith. In this way, religious faith appears as an answer to and an effect of the proposal of divine rhetorical speech referring to knowledge about god, that is to say, a good for man that entails his flourishing as well as his salvation. historically, the transition from aristotle’s reasoning to religion has been constructed largely according to two models, the averroïst and the Thomist. according to averroes, we have three levels of knowledge. each of them corresponds to a way of reasoning and to a type of person. Starting at the bottom, there are: 1) The believer using rhetorical syllogisms and knowing by faith; 2) The theologian using dialectic and dialectical syllogisms, knowing by opinion; and 3) The philosopher using demonstrative syllogism and knowing by science. This model fits well with a religion whose revelation is presented as the equivalent of natural religion. The second, Thomist model reasserts the place of aristotelian adherence, neglected by averroes. adherence, or trust, becomes love and plays an important and necessary role. There is a difference between what has been revealed, the revelatum, and what needs to be revealed and believed, the revelabile, because the human mind cannot conceive the latter without revelation (e.g. Trinitarian faith, the Incarnation, etc.). Since different persons have different capacities to know, the border between what is believed of the revelatum and what is held by science depends on the intellectual capacities of each person. nevertheless, the believer also adheres by love to the parts of the revelatum that he could know by science.21 In the Thomist view, theology is a science that takes its principles from the revelations of the saints who have direct insight into the nature of the divine. The theologian who has faith in these principles and adheres to revelation by love may also achieve a higher science in relation to the humanly unknowable subject matter, the revelabile. That science constitutes theology and also contains some truths about humanly, philosophically knowable subjects, like the existence of god, for instance. 21

Science and faith are mutually exclusive in relation to the object known, not the way of receiving it, namely, by adherence.



on the one hand, the philosopher may know by science only a part of the revelatum. In this case, he is relatively superior in his way of knowing, for he knows by science and not by faith, but he is not superior in regard to the subject matter known. But he may or may not have love. on the other hand, this love gives the believer a knowledge by connaturality, by the gifts of the holy Spirit, knowledge that is higher than the science of the metaphysician. This is not to exclude the metaphysician from belief, but serves as a caution that the metaphysician may also be a believer but his belief depends on love.22 what differs between these two transpositions, the averroïst and Thomist versions, is the hierarchy of the sciences, because of the possibility of a scientific theology in Thomism.23 But for both models, the act of faith remains a rational one, because of the rational nature of man and especially the rational nature of the will. ultimately, the aristotelian source of the Thomist theology allows us to say that the act of faith can be a good for man to the extent of its reasonableness, while the addition given by the revelation of the saints is in the new knowledge given by love.

Cf. the case of Jacques Maritain, who simultaneously lived as authentic philosopher and mystics. 23 another difference is the importance of love. however, the theology of the sources (i.e. the study of the Bible and the ecumenical Councils as doctrinal sources), which is part of Catholic theology, often remains on the level of the kind of dialectic envisioned by averroes. 22

The Right to Believe:

Perspectives in Religious Epistemology Dariusz Łukasiewicz & Roger Pouivet (eds.)

CyRIlle MIChon

Aquinas and the Will to Believe I want to discuss the idea that faith is voluntary. In the Catholic tradition that I know best, this is a doctrinal teaching. It can mean many things, but Thomas aquinas offers the most privileged interpretation, which has been adopted as an expression of the Magisterium in the recent Catechism of the Catholic Church. There, aquinas is quoted for this quasi-definition of the act of faith: „Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by god through grace.” (Ipsum autem credere est actus intellectus assentientis veritati divinae ex imperio voluntatis a Deo motae per gratiam)1. The voluntariness of faith is then the voluntariness of the act of believing (credere) the divine revelation. now, though this sentence is not exactly aquinas’s definition of faith, it certainly contains what aquinas thinks is necessary and sufficient for the existence of faith. voluntariness is the feature I want to concentrate upon, but there are other aspects, one being certainty, on which I will also have something to say. I will begin by clarifying terms in order to isolate aquinas’s analysis of the act of faith. I will then criticize his use of the two criteria of certainty and voluntariness. and finally I will offer a proposal to repair his analysis in keeping with the spirit of the Catholic doctrine that faith is in some sense voluntary2. St. Thomas aquinas, Summa Theologiae II-II, 2, 9; cf Dei Filius 3; DS 3010. Quoted by the CCC n. 155. 2 I have to say that the position I defend is very close to that presented by Richard Swinburne, mainly in his Faith and Reason (oxford 1981), ch. 4, and appendix. But in presenting aquinas’s conception of faith, Swinburne does not focus on voluntariness at all (but on propositional belief vs trust, which is to be found in the lutheran view of faith). and so he does not propose to correct aquinas the way I do. See nonetheless the remarks on voluntariness on p. 109. 1


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1. The first thing to be said is that aquinas distinguishes faith (fides) as a disposition (a virtue) and the act of believing, the credere, which is considered as the actualization of the disposition. Both are studied separately in the Summa theologiae. First the act of faith (actus fidei) II-II, q.2 and then the virtue of faith, q. 4. The definition of faith is taken from the letter to the hebrews: “faith is the substance of the things hoped for, the evidence (substance) of things not seen” (XI, est autem fides substantia sperandarum rerum, argumentum non apparentium)3; that of the credere is taken from augustine: “to believe is to think with assent” (de Praedestinatione sanctorum II, 5: credere est cum assensione cogitare). now, though a disposition and its occurent actualization are distinct, they share many features, and voluntariness is one of them. aquinas takes the act of faith to be under the power of the will, and he considers the disposition of faith as a virtue, having a moral significance, and being meritorious. Second observation: the citation from aquinas in the first paragraph does not belong to those texts where aquinas is investigating the nature of faith (as disposition or act), but instead to a subsidiary question about the merit of faith. This has some relevance, in that two features that are present in the quoted sentence do not appear in what can be called the definitional texts. one is that faith refers to the divine truth, the object of faith is divine revelation. The other is that faith is set in motion by god, or more generally is a divine gift. as important as those characteristics may seem, they do not appear among the criteria by which aquinas isolates the act of faith from other psychological attitudes. This leads to our third clarification of aquinas’s statement: aquinas’s own proper characterization of the act of faith must be found in other parallel texts. Building on augustine’s definition, aquinas isolates the act of faith as a species of the propositional attitude of assent to a proposition, presupposing another attitude concerning propositional content. once a proposition (e.g. the proposition that aquinas was a great theologian) is considered by some thinking nature: (1) she can remain neutral, without assenting to nor dissenting from it: this is doubt; (2) she can assent to some degree; and (3) the assent can be fully determined (certain), but we have to make some further distinctions, according to the source of the determination. In the second case, aquinas distinguishes between (2.1) suspicion, when the motivation for assent is not strong, and (2.2) opinion, when the 3

In the article 1, aquinas criticizes those who refuse to take this statement as a definition of faith.

aquinas and the will to Believe


person simply fears the truth of the negation of the proposition. In the third case, if (3.1) assent is motivated by the content under consideration, then (3.1.1) the assent can be provoked by the sole consideration of the terms that constitute the content, which is an act of pure intelligence (evidentia ex terminis), such as happens for example in the apprehension of the first principles (principle of non-contradiction, of principles such as the whole is greater than the part). It can also be mediated by (3.1.2) an inference from premises that are self-evident, or deducible from such premises, so that the truth of the conclusion is logically warranted, and this is called science. however, if assent is not motivated by the sole content, but is still without degree, then we have (3.2) credere, the pure act of faith, as distinct from any other non-evident beliefs. and aquinas adds as a condition that the source of the certainty has to be the will4.


Determined by the content undetermined by the content (voluntary) (involuntary) given Suspended

uncertain certain

opinion intelligence




act of faith (credere)

So we see that a necessary and sufficient condition for faith is that it is an assent that is both certain and not motivated by the content it is directed to. This is very close to the kantian description of Glauben as subjectively sufficient but objectively insufficient. and this condition does without any reference to the proper object of faith (divine revelation), nor with any mention of a divine intervention. Finally, the condition of voluntariness is not itself necessary, and we can see it as filling the gap left when the assent is not motivated by the content (or by the intellectual understanding of the content), as in (2). It is a psychological fact, for aquinas, that when assent is given without analytic or objective evidence constraining the intellect, it must be motivated by the will. of course, an intellectual consideration of the content is always necessary, for there to be anything like assent, 4

See Sum. Theol. II-II, q.2, a.1 c and ad 3 (only text to distinguish between suspicio and opinio, and to insist on the cogitatio that remains in faith but disappears with intelligence and science). See also In III Sent. d. 23, q.2, a.2, qa1; Quaest. de ver., q. 14, a.1; Super Boet. de Trin. q.3, a.1 ad 4; Sum. Theol. II-II, q.1, a.4; In Hebr. 11, 1


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dissent or suspension of judgment. But, in all other cases, the content is not enough for the assent to take place, and an act of will is necessary. Doubt, suspicion and opinion share with the act of faith the condition of voluntariness. But faith, as well, shares with science that of certainty (full determination). I must say that it seems to me a bit “incredible” that when we fully characterize faith, the object of it drops out of consideration, as does reliance on some form of authority, ultimately of god (think of augustine: “knowledge relies on reason, faith relies on authority”5), nor is there even some particular intervention of god to help the believer’s unbelief with the grace or the gift of faith. But to say that sufficient conditions have been given without mentioning those features does not imply that they are not true features of faith, nor that they are not necessary for faith. It only means that one can isolate the specific psychological attitude of faith without those “true” and maybe “necessary” conditions. So I will not quarrel aquinas for leaving them aside, since he does mention them in other contexts, as in the quotation given at the beginning. But I will quarrel him with two necessary conditions that he gives that are indeed sufficient, but also redundant: the condition of certainty and the condition of voluntariness. 2. Concerning certainty. one may agree or admit that faith understood as the content that is revealed, and to which the believers give their assent, must be certain, since god cannot deceive nor be deceived. This is a special meaning of “faith”, which we could call “objective faith”, the fides quae creditur. But it is clear that our concern is with “subjective faith”, faith as a disposition of the believer, taken as a virtue, and with the act of faith which is a special kind of assent to a content, the fides qua creditur. aquinas’s description, in those texts, puts faith, intelligence, and science on the same side: the side of the fully determined assent that are without degrees, or certain in the subjective sense. a mind that has fully determined its stance towards a content cannot dissent from it, and is even unable to find the room to doubt and suspend its assent. aquinas’s view is then that the believer’s assent to an article of the Creed is as unavoidable as the assent to the proposition that it is raining is obvious when it is raining, or to the conclusion of an arithmetical proof that has been perfectly understood by the thinker. 5

and see vatican I, De Fide, canon 2: “it is required for divine faith that revealed truth be believed on the authority of god who reveals it.”

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I have the modern philosopher’s doubts about certainty being a necessary condition for knowledge6. I doubt that certain opinions concerning mundane matters are impossible to doubt without any kind of evidence. In addition, I am inclined to think that certainty is not a necessary condition for an act of faith. according to aquinas’s typology, either I cannot be fully certain that it will rain tomorrow, not that aquinas was a great theologian, or, since this belief cannot be based on evidence, such a fully determined assent would be an act of faith. This is absurd, and I take it that aquinas would choose the first option: such a certitude is an impossibility. But I do not see anything impossible in being fully certain that it will rain tomorrow. whatever it might be, I mainly have quarrel with the idea that an act of faith is incompatible with a certain form of doubt, so that the psychological attitude of the person with some degree of disbelief would not be one of faith, but of something like a partial belief, or rather a certain degree of belief. This makes doubt and faith mutually exclusive. But this puzzles us when we remember great believers (saints) who have admitted that they have spent some time in the night of faith, having doubts about what they nonetheless gave their assent to. The divine intervention might not be paralleled with a firm assent. let us suppose that on the Morning of the Resurrection, Peter and John stay in front of the empty tomb, John sees and believes, firmly, and Peter is shaken and begins to believe in the Resurrection, but with very little confidence. he is just above the limit between assent and dissent, very close to doubt. he is in the state of suspicion, or of weak opinion. now, say you had the power to see into John’s psychological attitude and saw that it was due only to human psychology – something like the denial of a person in mourning and suffering under some trauma – whereas Peter’s attitude is due to a constant and important inspiration from god, without which Peter would entirely resist believing in the Resurrection. I demand: who has faith? is it true that John has faith, and that Peter has none? My own inclination is to say just the opposite: John believes that Christ is alive, but not as an act of faith, whereas Peter is close to doubt, but he has faith. Concerning voluntariness, my objection consists of my agreement with the widely held contemporary notion that belief is a passive and not 6

of course, «science» in aquinas is not equivalent to the current notion of knowledge, though disagreement abunds on this last one. But certainly, aquinas’s notion is more demanding. nonetheless, it is not clear to me that even that demanding notion (direct evidence and deductions from direct evidences) requires certainty as a necessary condition. on the distinction between faith and knowledge, see Swinburne, Faith and Reason, p. 107 ff.


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a volitional state of mind. whether it is a question of dispositional or occurent belief (or judgment), neither are directly under the power of the will. To use our earlier example, we cannot believe at will that it is or will be raining, or that aquinas was a great theologian, nor can we stop believing it at will, nor is there any point in an internal command to believe it. This happens to be true of strong as well as of weak beliefs, and even of doubt as suspension of assent. If it seems to me to be more probable that it will be raining than not, I cannot suspend my judgment, but instead, the analysis of my belief in the greater probability entails the belief that it will be more likely to rain than not. I may not act on that belief, I may decide to go out, without umbrella, as if I believed that it would not be raining. I could deny that (I believe that) it will be raining. These are actions, that I can undertake or refrain from undertaking, and that I can be ordered to undertake. actions are under the power of the will, while passive cognitive states are not. now, actions may operate on a passive substratum, for instance when I hear a dog bark behind me and I respond to it by sticking my fingers in my ears. The hearing is not something I can help; the stopping up of the sound is something I can facilitate. Similarly, I may operate so as to have an indirect causative power over my belief. I can induce myself into a state of credulity or incredulity by, for instance, inquiring into a particular domain about which I am curious so as to end up with beliefs I would not have acquired without inquiry. It may not be in my power to not believe that the sun won’t rise tomorrow, but I may acquire knowledge as to why the sun does rise which leads to other beliefs, and in this way I exercise an indirect power over my belief, or over my standards or policies for belief. But this is not a matter of psychological or philosophical theory, a humean thesis, but instead a logical truth that belief is not due to my whim: if I knew that my belief (that aquinas was a great theologian) issued from my will, this would undermine it. If I knew that my belief that it will be raining was motivated by my wish to stay at home, I would not believe it anymore. It belongs to the concept of belief (weak or strong) and to the concept of doubt, that the thinker considers it as cognitively happening to him, and not as something he voluntarily does. now, one could argue that this might be true of belief in general, but not of the particular case of faith. In response to this, I must first highlight the fact that aquinas equates all non-evidential and non-scientific assents (beliefs in meteorological events as well as divine ones) as being voluntary. But let us make this not fully Thomistic distinction. aquinas says that the believer sees the good that there is in assenting to the revelation (to believe

aquinas and the will to Believe


that the Revelation is true)7. This is certainly true. But the question is: does he believe because of this consideration? If what we have been saying about belief in general is true, why should this not apply to faith? one might argue that there is more to faith than propositional belief, to which I would agree (and to which I will come back later). however, we are discussing faith and the act of faith (credere) as defined by aquinas, within his focus on the assent given to certain propositional contents (the articles of the Creed namely). one feature is proper to propositional faith: absolute certitude. I just criticized aquinas for his thesis that the act of faith has to be fully endorsed by the believer. But let us agree that it may have only a certain degree of certitude. one could then argue that, though the belief state is not voluntary, the degree of certitude is. But here I fear the same logic of belief kicks in. I do not see how one could raise or lower one’s own degree of certitude at will. Rather, it seems that we can act so as to indirectly create the conditions for a different degree of certitude, just as we could in the case of all beliefs. once we have put ourselves in a certain cognitive and affective situation, we are still bound up by the insulation of belief – including its degrees – from the will. Belief and its degrees are both cognitive states that happen to me, they are naturally occurring in me. Finally, one could say that the introduction of the will in the assent proper to faith is the way one can understand how the divine influence is exercised. The act of faith is moved by the will that is itself moved by the divine grace. But it seems the argument here lacks necessity: I do not see how this could be the only way for god to act on the believer. The first action of god in the process of faith is the act of revealing, through the prophets, his own truth. Revelation is addressed to the cognitive faculty by the way of a public message. and the private assent to this public message is also a revelation of a particular sort; that is, the revelation to this person that this message revealed to all is true. at least this is the way Jesus speaks to Peter when he tells him, after his explicit act of faith (“you are the Christ, the Son of the living god”): “Blessed are you, for this revelation does not come from flesh and blood that have revealed this to you, but from my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 16, 17). The divine influence on the particular believer, the influence that makes him believe, seems also to be a kind of light, directed to his cognitive powers rather than to his 7

Quaest. De ver., q.14, a.1 Sum. Theol., II-II, q.1, a.4; q. 2, a.1, ad 3; a.2 (which grounds the difference between credere in Deum, credere Deo and credere Deum, on the motion of the will: «the first truth is related to the will as it has the nature of an end»).


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will. I would not deny that grace influences the will, but I would insist that we can better describe the act of propositional faith by adducing the intellect as the better candidate for receiving the divine influence. Both the content and the assent have a divine origin, and both can be described in terms of revelation, light, knowledge that are given to mankind, to a people or to a particular person. we have to keep distinct two senses of revelation: the first is a revelation that makes a content known or understood, and the second is a revelation that makes it being believed, assented to. Perhaps we are misled here by the distinction public-private, for god can make a particular content that is known to only one person, but this is not enough to provoke assent: a further action is needed to make the content be believed. aquinas explicitly recognizes it when he says that faith is from God (a Deo) a) with respect to the things that are proposed on the outside (ex parte rerum quae exterius proponuntur) – the content; and b) with respect to the inner light on the inside (ex parte interioris luminis) – the assent8. In this part of the argument, aquinas does not mention the will. Surely adding the will later to this description of revelation is unnecessary, since it shifts the focus away from the event of the revelation itself, which is a matter of divine and not mortal action. 3. So far, we seem to be picking at aquinas’s description and the traditional statement that faith is voluntary, is meritorious, and, as far as dispositional faith is concerned, is a virtue. Is there no way, then, to rescue these statements? 8

In Boet. De Trin. q.3, a.1, ad 4. aquinas says: “… in faith by which we believe in god, not only is there acceptance of the truths to which we give assent, but also something which inclines us to that assent; and this is the special light which is the habit of faith, divinely infused into the human mind. This, moreover, is more sufficient for inducing belief than any demonstration, for, though from the latter no false conclusions are reached, still man frequently errs in this: that he thinks something is a demonstration which is not. The light of faith is also more sufficient than the natural light of reason by which we assent to first principles, since this natural light is often impeded by bodily infirmity, as is evident in the case of the insane. But the light of faith, which is, as it were, a kind of impression of the First Truth in our minds, cannot fail, any more than god can deceive us or lie; therefore this light suffices for making judgment.” with this I have no quarrel. But he then adds: “This habit of faith, nevertheless, does not move us by way of intellectual understanding, but more by way of the will; therefore it does not make us comprehend those truths which we believe, nor does it force assent, but it causes us to assent to them voluntarily.” and I do not see the justification for this addition.

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I guess that there is, and that you can see how. our reform consists in enlarging the concept of faith (disposition and act) so as to include some actions that are under the control of the will. There are actions that prepare the assent, and may lead to it. god’s first command is the command to listen (Shema Israel). In order to believe some particular content, one has to be acquainted with it: this might be the result of an involuntary encounter, but it might also be due to some active participation: inquiring, listening to, thinking about. let’s call these actions upstream with regard to the assent proper to the act of faith. and let’s also look at downstream actions, which follow the act of faith, and are in a certain accordance with it, even though they are not necessitated by it. The profession of faith is a first example. But so are the behaviors that are governed by signs and rituals belonging to divine revelation (prayer, charity and so on), and which can be said based on faith. aquinas made an important distinction between dead (or unformed) and living faith (or faith formed by love), according to the presence of charity in the believer. This helps us to understand James’ remark that the devils also believe, and they shudder (Jas 2, 19). Such belief and faith is not meritorious, according to aquinas. Meritorious faith has to go with works, actions, that suppose the presence of love. But aquinas does not reject the idea that belief without works is not even voluntary. I would go far enough to claim that one can exert the assent proper to faith without acting upon it. Such is the faith of James’s devils, whose faith is dead, being only the passive result of god’s inner revelation. at this point, a contemporary epistemologist would surely refer to the opposition of acceptance to the concept of belief. according to many philosophers, notably Jonathan Cohen, to accept a proposition is to take a special attitude towards it, while believing is just a passive state that has causes but over which one has no direct power. To bet is to take some stand towards a proposition, to build a strategy is to do the same with many propositions. But, as well as one can lie and profess a proposition one does not assent to, one can bet in favor of a proposition that one does not believe, or build a strategy that take as granted propositions that one disbelieve. I can accept advice given to me in extreme circumstances by a person I have every reason to disbelieve (he always betrayed me before), because I do not see any other way out of my problem. In that case I consider the proposition as true, I act as if it were true, though, if asked what I believe, I might answer that I believe the proposition is false. The requisites of action, or any purposive behavior whatsoever, can motivate acceptance even when belief is absent. and the reverse is possible: one can refuse to accept, even


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reject, what one believes, for some reason or other. Descartes’ methodological doubt consists in refusing to accept those propositions that one can believe but that one realizes can be doubted. w.k. Clifford’s example of the shipowner who should have rejected the belief he had that the boat would not sink was about whether belief itself could be blameworthy, and not just the decision one takes because of a belief. But, if belief is a passive state, one cannot be directly responsible for it. The shipowner can be blamed for what he did by not ensuring the safety of the ship, or for having accepted his belief, and acted on that belief and acceptance, but not for believing what he (passively) believed. given our notion that responsibility only makes sense in the framework of actions and decisions over which we have some control, we understand how there can be an ethics of acceptance, but not how there can be an ethics of belief. The engineers of an airline might well be incorrectly persuaded that a particular make of jet would not fail, but they do not accept their belief until all the procedures of its testing had been satisfied. of course, the usual situation is to accept what one believes, but belief and acceptance are distinct psychological phenomena, one passive and involuntary and one active and voluntary. now, if our definition of faith includes some actions before or after the assent, in particular if faith includes the acceptance of the belief that the Revelation (as expressed, for instance, in the articles of the Creed) is true, then we can understand how faith may be said to be voluntary. we could even understand that the divine influence is also given to the will, so that there would be three steps – the (public) revelation of the content, so that the person can know/understand it – the (private) inner revelation, so that the believer can assent to it – the inner action on the will, so that the believer can accept the belief he or she holds and profess it, act on it, die for it. Thus, if faith is understood in this broader sense as living faith or as formed faith (by charity), then there should be no problem in saying that faith is voluntary, is meritorious, or is a virtue. at least the problem I mentioned vanishes, repairing aquinas’s analysis to extend the characteristics of the act of faith further than assent to a propositional content. If this is done, we can draw interesting consequences. First, the question of the certainty of the assent to the Creed may be reconstrued as implying the full determination of the acceptance. This comes closer to the Christian experience, sanctioned by the gospels, that

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one may entertain doubts about this or that aspect of the divine revelation while at the same time accepting without hesitation the articles of faith, for which one would die rather than commit apostasy9. Second, since the assent could be moved by god, and thus be unfolded disguised, so to speak, under the felt aspect of the phenomenal character (such as certitude and voluntariness) of other kinds of assents, the believer would have no clue to identify his assent as an act of faith. one could argue the point that there is one or another specific contents of the revelation, like the Trinity of the divine Persons, that require divine assistance to be assented to meaningfully. This would always make faith a gift from god. however, this point is not self-evident, as it assumes that the revelation contains content that no one could have purely mundane reasons to believe in. Recall our contrast of the two hypothesized states of mind of Peter and John. The proper consequence to draw seems to me that there is no clear indication that one’s belief is occasioned by divine assistance, that is by faith. Faith is not naturally recognizable. or: faith is itself an object of faith, and also an object of belief as opinion. Joan of arc answered the question: “are you in a state of grace?” with the word: “If I am, please god let me in, and if I am not, please god set me in” (Si j’y suis que Dieu m’y garde, si je n’y suis pas que Dieu m’y mette). I suppose that the same could be said about faith. here, I must add a remark. Contemporary religious philosophers often assert that belief in the Christian revelation is just propositional faith. I disagree. The idea that faith is not only a belief in a certain content, but also a gift that could be possessed without being received, is well grounded in the Christian tradition. This implies as a consequence, that from a Christian point of view, belief in another content cannot be properly called faith (there is no faith in the doctrine of the Qoran, only belief, and acceptance). one might want to make a distinction between faith as a general propositional attitude, and supernatural faith. natural or human faith would be 9

This is the idea suggested by De veritate, q. 10 a. 12 ad s. c. 6: «ad sextum dicendum, quod illa quae sunt fidei, certissime cognoscuntur, secundum quod certitudo importat firmitatem adhaesionis: nulli enim credens firmius inhaeret quam his quae per fidem tenet. non autem cognoscuntur certissime, secundum quod certitudo importat quietationem intellectus in re cognita: quod enim credens assentiat his quae credit, non provenit ex hoc quod eius intellectus sit terminatus ad illa credibilia virtute aliquorum principiorum, sed ex voluntate, quae inclinat intellectum ad hoc quod illis creditis assentiat. et inde est quod de his quae sunt fidei, potest motus dubitationis insurgere in credente.»


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distinct from belief, for example, by including a certain confidence in the source of the content, or even by having some particular content. and supernatural faith would imply divine assistance and bear on the content of Revelation. But it is clear that what I am talking about, and what aquinas is talking about, is supernatural faith, be it or not a species of a more general psychological attitude. Finally, another consequence flows from the argument I am offering: there is no part of the divine Revelation that we could not believe on the basis of good reasons without the help of god. That is, we have no reason to think belief in it would be impossible on purely human grounds. This opens the door to argument in favor of any part of this content (from god’s existence or compatibility with evil to the resurrection of the bodies, or the Trinity of the divine Persons). But at the same time, this implies that no reasoning would produce (supernatural) faith, only belief and perhaps acceptance. Faith as I have construed it requires divine assistance. That a certain person has faith might be manifest in some actions that are above the human forces, according to our judgment. But we cannot be sure, as no human behavior is obviously above the human possibilities. we can certainly believe (by the way of conjecture) that we or others have faith, and we certainly can base this belief on the observation of our or their behavior. In doing so we could also receive divine assistance, but under the same phenomenal form: that is, I only believe it, maybe by faith, maybe not. now to conclude I come back to aquinas, and I ask: would he have accepted these remarks and mainly the emendation of his quasi-definition of faith that I proposed? would he have admitted that belief is not voluntary, that the pure assent is a passive reaction, and that only acceptance is really under the power of the will, as well as all other actions that can be based on the belief? well, since I believe that the distinction between belief and acceptance is a good and useful one, and I believe that aquinas was a great theologian, so I believe he would have made the distinction, and would have drawn the same conclusions.

The Right to Believe: Perspectives in Religious Epistemology Dariusz Łukasiewicz & Roger Pouivet (eds.)

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To Be in Truth or not to Be Mistaken? Introduction My aim, here, is, firstly, to sketch a map of the controversy staged in william James’ famous essay, The Will to Believe, between agnosticism and “the right to belief”; and secondly, to suggest that in polemicizing against agnosticism, James mistakenly weakens the distinction between it and atheism. Furthermore, James’ defense of “our right to adopt a believing attitude in religious matters” – reads, in the context of his examples, as applying to just one type of belief, i.e. the set of beliefs that concern the future life of a given person. My interpretation of the doctrine that hope has a right to be taken into account in the discussion of the truth of religion (James’ position) situates it in the broader context of James’ other themes – his empiricism, anti-scientism and personalistic ontology. In this broader perspective, James’ distinction between the desire not to be mistaken and the desire for truth resonates with James’ whole epistemology. My paper contains five sections: 1. The challenge of agnosticism consists in the precept that we should ‘avoid mistakes’; 2. The distinction between avoiding error and searching for truth, laid down by James as the first move to counter the epistemological assumptions of agnosticism; 3. The theism-atheism controversy, science and “our passional nature”; 4. Theism, the future, and “the deepest needs of our breast”; 5. Two responses to two objections and idealistic personalism.


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1. The challenge of agnosticism consists in the precept that we should ‘avoid mistakes’ at first sight agnosticism seems to be a universally valid position, especially if it is construed so as to be in opposition to the precept that we should make mistakes. when objective evidence, after it has been honestly consulted, is found insufficient to decide an issue one way or another, it seems reasonable to say: “I do not know”. Take for example the problem of the existence of extraterrestrial intelligent beings. If you are asked whether you believe in their existence, you may consider answering “yes” for various reasons – say, you have friends who believe in them, or you have seen or have heard about people who have seen uFos. In this case, even if uFos turn out to be weather balloons, it is still logically possible – given the countless number of solar systems – that there are intelligent creatures in the universe other than human beings. you may also consider the answer “no” because uFo sightings can be explained without resorting to the story that they are extraterrestrial vehicles with non-human intelligent beings on board. and quite apart from the uFo evidence, you may think that given our scientific knowledge about the peculiarities of the earth that have made life evolve upon it, the probability of the existence of non-human intelligent creatures in the universe is extremely low. Such differences of opinion can be found not only in the group of uneducated people but also among well informed scientists and philosophers. There is, however, another position that seems to be the most reasonable in the above controversy: to say: “I simply do not know if Martians exist”. In other words, I withhold my judgment; I refuse to say either “yes” or “no”. If I say “yes” or “no” I may “hit upon” the truth, but I may also be mistaken. Should I, however, gamble in such a way? wouldn’t it be better to avoid mistakes rather than to chase after a truth about which the evidence, up until this point, is inconclusive? By deciding to withhold my judgment I certainly avoid committing mistakes. This type of reaction is called agnostic. examples confirming the agnostic intuition can easily be multiplied, and we even find the attitude institutionalized in, for instance, the principle of jurisprudence that, from the point of view of the court, an accused person is legally innocent until proven guilty. If somebody is accused of committing a crime, people usually split into three groups: those who believe the suspect is guilty, those who believe she or he is not guilty, and those who say “we do not know”. The last reaction does not mean “we do not know and will never know” but rather “we do not know now,

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so we have to wait for further evidence”. In other words, proponents of agnosticism are far from renouncing their interest in truth, but, on the contrary, stick to the truth as they know it, which is that they lack the evidence to decide the matter on rational grounds. Thus, they say: “we prefer to wait for new evidence, and the only thing that can be truthfully said now is ‘we do not know’”. It is noteworthy that the answer “I do not know” or “I refuse to take any stand” or “I withhold my judgment” is not always a reliable indicator of agnostic attitude. If you are asked by robbers where your children are, you may say, “I do not know”. It does not mean, however, that you really don’t know where they are. you may know perfectly well that they are hidden in a secret place in your house but for the sake of their safety you simply refuse to reveal this information. obviously, in that case you are not agnostic: you intentionally hide the truth. There are also other cases as well where withholding one’s judgment or saying “I do not know” does not indicate the agnostic attitude so much as an unwillingness to search for evidence to confirm a supposition or form an opinion. For instance, I might say “I don’t know what I want for dinner” because I haven’t given the matter any attention and don’t feel it is a priority at the moment, even though only I would know, ultimately, the answer to that question. we have to restrict the term “agnosticism” only to the situations where somebody really does not know the answer to a properly formulated question and he or she does not want to make any mistake by guessing what the truth might be. even if proponents of agnosticism do not have to renounce their interest in larger truths, their main aim can be described in the form of the imperative: ‘Avoid mistakes!’. Thus, if you do not have sufficient evidence for accepting (or rejecting) a proposition, you should suspend your judgment. This imperative is premised not only on an epistemological and methodological principle, but also a moral one: to believe something without sufficient evidence is both a cognitive and moral error. The agnostic imperative was formulated by the 19th century British philosopher and mathematician william k. Clifford in his article The Ethics of Belief, published for the first time in 1877: “It is wrong in all cases to believe on insufficient evidence”1. James responded to this claim with his counter argument in his Will to Belief essay. If agnosticism is a universally valid position, religious people face quite a serious problem, since they seem to accept their major beliefs 1

Clifford w.k. (1879). “The ethics of Belief”. In Lectures and Essays, vol. II, london: Macmillan, 186.


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concerning the existence of god on “insufficient evidence”. Their response can take two forms: 1) they may show that they have good evidence supporting their conviction about truthfulness of religious beliefs or 2) they may claim that the rule of agnosticism does not apply universally, i.e. that at least in some cases there is no need for sufficient evidence, and that it is precisely these cases that motivate religious beliefs. In the first case we go to considerations in epistemology concerning, among others, the nature of human knowledge and its components (truth, justification, warrant), probability or necessity of some belief being true, etc. I will leave aside this line of argument, although of course there are great philosophers in the Christian tradition who have chosen to work in this field, especially alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, and Peter van Inwagen. The second strategy was developed by william James in the book The Will to Believe published for the first time in 1897, and specifically in the essay of that name.

2. The distinction between avoiding error and searching for truth, laid down by James as the first move to counter the epistemological assumptions of agnosticism william James admitted that in many cases, e.g. in solving scientific problems, when we do not have sufficient evidence for accepting or rejecting belief p or not p, we should suspend our judgment. as he puts it, historically, the rise of science has come with the objective testing of beliefs that are premised on what we want to be so, and a rejection of that subjective feeling as any kind of evidence. There are, however, cases when we have the right to believe despite the lack of objective evidence. To make his point he introduces certain terminological distinctions. he uses the term hypothesis for “anything that may be proposed to our belief”, and the term option for the decision between two hypotheses: “options may be of several kinds. They may be – 1, living or dead; 2, forced or avoidable; 3, momentous or trivial”2 a living option is one in which both hypotheses make some appeal to us or when they produce in us willingness to act. a dead option does not make such appeal to us. The feature of being alive or dead is not an objective feature of hypotheses (beliefs) but it refers to psychological state of mind of various individuals reared in various cultures reacting to certain 2

James w. (1979). The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy. Cambridge: harvard university Press, 14.

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situations. So e.g. if I am a crippled person without legs moving on a wheelchair, the option: “go to Mount everest” is probably a dead option, it does not appeal to me. It may stimulate my imagination, but is unlikely to trigger my willingness to act. on the other hand, the option: “go to the cinema or stay at home” may be a living one. as a rule an option is not simply living or dead for me but it may be more or less alive. If the option is completely dead I will just ignore it without deciding which hypothesis to choose. If the option is mostly living, I will have a strong feeling that I have to decide. a forced option is “every dilemma based on a complete logical disjunction, with no possibility of not choosing”3. If I say to you: “Stand up or do not stand up”, you have to choose one of the two disjunctive possibilities. But when I say: “Stand up or lie down” it is an avoidable option to you: you may stay sitting, you may kneel or walk away, and so on. To explain when the option is momentous and trivial, let me use william James’ example: If I were Dr. nansen and proposed to you to join my north Pole expedition, your option would be momentous; for this would probably be your only similar opportunity, and your choice now would either exclude you from the north Pole sort of immortality altogether or put at least the chance of it into your hands. he who refuses to embrace a unique opportunity loses the prize as surely as if he tried and failed. Per contra, the option is trivial when the opportunity is not unique, when the stake is insignificant, or when the decision is reversible if it later prove unwise. Such trivial options abound in the scientific life. a chemist finds an hypothesis live enough to spend a year in its verification: he believes in it to that extent. But if his experiments prove inconclusive either way, he is quit for his loss of time, no vital harm being done4.

The point of Jamesian distinctions between various kind of options is to say that there are many different types of problematic situations and it would be highly inappropriate to have one universal prescription for all of them. This is in line with pluralism that permeates his whole philosophy. For our purpose it is important to know that when an option is of the forced, living and momentous kind, James calls it a genuine option. If an option is genuine, we are not obliged, according to him, to suspend our judgment and wait for new evidence. we have a right to believe, which means we have a moral right to believe on insufficient evidence from the point of James w. (1979). The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy. Cambridge: harvard university Press, 15. 4 James w. (1979). The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy. Cambridge: harvard university Press, 15. 3


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view of science. This right is strictly connected with practical necessity of action that solves this type of problematic situations. James compares people who choose not to act in such a case to a man who hesitated “indefinitely to ask a certain woman to marry him because he was not perfectly sure that she would prove an angel after he brought her home”5. In other words, the nature of genuine options (or genuine problematic situations) is such that they exclude staying in the state of hesitancy and so also in the state of withdrawal of any judgment. let us consider the following option: “accept a religious (e.g. Christian) point of view or reject it”. For those who live in cultures where Christianity is the dominant religion, this is a living option. If we assume that a religious hypothesis may be true (not that it is actually true, but that it may be true), the option becomes momentous in Jamesian sense since “we are supposed to gain, even now, by our belief, and to lose by our non-belief, a certain vital good”. It is also a forced option, because “we cannot escape the issue by remaining skeptical and waiting for more light […]. we do avoid error in that way if religion be untrue, we lose the good, if it be true, just as certainly as if we positively chose to disbelieve”. as living, forced, and momentous this option is, then, a genuine one. In this case it would be unwise to wait for more evidence to make a decision because it is unlikely that during our short life we will obtain such evidence. we have to decide on insufficient evidence, and the real choice is only between being religious and atheist6. Taking an agnostic stance would in that case be unwise or even silly. James does not mean that we can thus stop looking for evidence and modifying our previous beliefs. according to him, the ideal for individual and social life should be ‘Look for the Truth!’, rather than ‘avoid mistakes!’ In many cases these two imperatives remain in perfect harmony: looking for truth is at the same time avoiding mistakes. But sometimes they push us in different directions. In the case of genuine options the ideal of avoiding mistakes leaves us in a state of fearful suspension, whereas the ideal of looking for truth makes us active, searching, and James w. (1979). The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy. Cambridge: harvard university Press, 30. 6 It has to be remembered that for any option the feature of being genuine is not universal but relative (the option may be genuine for me and not genuine for you). It means that for many people theism-atheism controversy is not a genuine option – they may be, for example, not interested in this problem at all. The Jamesian “right to believe” doctrine concerns exclusively genuine problematic situations. It is quite another question if some options regarded by certain people as not genuine should be treated by them as genuine or vice versa. 5

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risking. according to the pragmatist principle that beliefs are wrapped up in practices, the second attitude seems to be more fruitful for individuals and for society as a whole. By believing we can ‘hit upon’ the truth without having regular justification for it.7 It is important to remember one of James’ psychological claims about the relation between our habits, thinking and judgments (beliefs). habit “simplifies our movements, makes them accurate, and diminishes fatigue” and “diminishes the conscious attention with which our acts are performed”: The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work. There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation.8

The state of indecision is meant to awaken thinking: the psychological and evolutionary function of thinking is to react in cases where acquired habits do not solve the problem. Thinking does not escape the economic limits of energy assumed here: James takes it as a certain process in our mind that ends in forming a judgment or belief within a mental routine – it acts to simplify our life and in many cases enables our action. The emphatic connection between believing and acting is a well-known theme in James’ philosophy. From this perspective agnosticism seems like a waste of energy: it is a position that encourages staying in the state of indecision and inaction, when the point of belief is to facilitate some action. There are two conflicting ways of interpreting this position. First, that in case of genuine problematic situations it is impossible to achieve such a state, i.e. that in practice (and practice decides about content of our beliefs) it is identical to atheism. But the second is to take agnosticism as a position that is not only logically but also practically separate from theism and atheism. True, it is based on some belief, but this is a different kind of belief than theism or atheism, it is a belief about those two beliefs, a meta-belief. and sometimes “the desire for a certain kind of truth […] brings about that special truth’s existence” (James w. (1979). The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy. Cambridge: harvard university Press, 28). For example, if I assume that you like me I will behave as if you like me, and by that I may in fact stimulate your liking me. It is not, however, James’ intention to say that religious beliefs are of that kind. 8 James w. (1984). Psychology. Briefer Course. Cambridge/london: harvard university Press, 128, 129, 134. 7


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In relation to them it can be legitimately called non-belief. what practice can be supported by agnosticism? Much depends here on the genesis of the agnostic attitude. If it is a result of gradual resignation from theistic worldview, it can be even connected with the practice quite close to that stimulated by theism, or it can be a similar move away from atheism. at this point, its value depends on the lifestory of the agnostic.

3. The theism-atheism controversy, science and “our passional nature” James thus has reasons to not make a clear distinction between agnosticism and atheism, but if we accord the agnostic attitude a practical dimension, thus preserving it from atheism, his argument has a very interesting consequence for the debate between religious believers and atheists. It shows, that in the context of high agnostic demand for justification of our beliefs, not only a theist but also an atheist is a believer. If so, atheists cannot claim the superiority of their view over that held by religious people by saying that their position is one of rational non-belief. James was especially sensitive to the potential link between atheism and science. The root of this fallacy is, according to him, in lack of distinction between scientific and philosophical issues. In his 1892 Psychology. Briefer Course he wrote about relation of scientific evidence to philosophical problem of determinism and to ethical issues: let psychology frankly admit that for her scientific purposes determinism may be claimed, and no one can find fault. If, then, it turn out later that the claim has only a relative purpose, and may be crossed by counter-claims, the readjustment can be made. now ethics makes a counter-claim; and the present writer, for one, has no hesitation in regarding her claim as the stronger, and in assuming that our wills are ‘free.’ For him, then, the deterministic assumption of psychology is merely provisional and methodological. This is no place to argue the ethical point; and I only mention the conflict to show that all these special sciences, marked off for convenience from the remaining body of truth… must hold their assumptions and results subject to revision in the light of each other’s needs. The forum where they hold discussion is called metaphysics. Metaphysics means only an unusually obstinate attempt to think clearly and consistently. The special sciences all deal with data that are full of obscurity and contradiction; but from the point of view of their limited purposes these defects may be overlooked9. 9

James w. (1984). Psychology. Briefer Course. Cambridge/london: harvard university Press, 395.

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James was very much the self-described pluralist, as we can see from the coloring of this argument. we can interpret James as claiming that scientific evidence is neutral in relation to metaphysical controversies. In other words science – more precisely present science – is and should stay agnostic as to freedom of will or existence of god or gods. James maintained this position throughout his entire career. In The Varieties of Religious Experience, few years after writing The Will to Believe, he made a distinction between science and what he called sectarian science, which would be more or less what sometimes is called scientism. whereas science properly conceived is based on rational and empirical evidence, and has a sense of its own limits, sectarian science makes an imperialist grab to judge all discourse. That is why sectarian scientists are prompt to announce universality of naturalism and determinism whereas these positions are accepted in science only as methodological assumptions10. Peter van Inwagen emphasizes that in many areas, including philosophy, politics, and religion, we cannot agree on what counts as evidence. he thinks, however, that it does not follow from this that we have right to form our beliefs without (what we regard as) good evidence. The difference between us in what counts as evidence may be the result of some people having better insight than others. Clifford’s rule should be preserved, but it does not guarantee our agreement in all issues11. If we interpret James as holding that in some cases we have the right to believe without evidence, there is significant difference between him and van Inwagen. The difference becomes less obvious, when we ascribe to James the theory that I have right to believe on the basis of what I regard as evidence (assuming that I and you form opposite beliefs in the field where both of us are experts). In such a case James would agree with van Inwagen that certain kind of insight can constitute objective evidence accessible only by some people and not by others. what would be reason for that? In the context of religion the term “grace” can be used, in the context of psychology the term “talent” or “sensitivity. This disproportion in insights we observe quite clearly in many fields from mathematics to esthetics. however, if we limit the notion of evidence to scientific evidence or narrowly empirical evidence it follows See James w. (1985). Varieties of Religious Experience. Cambridge/london: harvard university Press, 105, 394, 408. 11 See van Inwagen P. (1996). “It is wrong, everywhere, always and for anyone, to Believe anything upon Insufficient evidence”. In J. Jordan, D. howard-Snyder (eds.), Faith, Freedom, Rationality. Philosophy of Religion Today, (137-153). lanham: MD Rowman & littlefield. 10


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that atheists and proponents of naturalistic scientism have the same right to their beliefs as religious people do. It is unlikely that metaphysical evidence for each of the views will ever be accepted by opposing parties. when we realize that besides various versions of atheism there are many different religions, each with its own credo, this conclusion is depressing. we have a right to believe in cases of genuine options, but there is no way to determine rationally what we should believe. James does not give any easy answer to this question. he notices that our passional nature not only lawfully may, but must, decide an option between propositions, whenever it is a genuine option that cannot by its nature be decided on intellectual grounds; for to say, under such circumstances, ‘Do not decide, but leave the question open,’ is itself a passional decision – just like deciding yes or no – and is attended with the same risk of losing the truth12.

It is not clear, what he means by saying that “our passional nature not only lawfully may, but must, decide an option between propositions”. Is it just a statement about facts (that our emotions decide in all or in majority of such cases), or is it also a statement about epistemic norm, and maybe even moral norm (that our emotions should decide)? James himself believed in superiority of the religious position over atheism, and he gave some reasons for that; he did not just announce the preferences of his own emotional nature. he was, however, conscious that those reasons will not be counted as objective evidence by atheists or agnostics. Maybe that is why he expressed his view as a defense of “right to believe” rather than “right to accept evidence that is accessible to me and not to you”.

4. Theism, the future, and “the deepest needs of our breast” To look closer at this issue, it is important to notice that our right to believe concerns just one type of beliefs, namely the beliefs that directly or indirectly concern the future life of a given person and his or her hopes. James is not clear about it in The Will to Believe but if we see this essay as an important step in forming his philosophy, we can find clarification of this issue in his Pragmatism. The critical side of the pragmatic method was designed to identify empty philosophical, especially metaphysical, controversies. 12

The Will to Believe, 20.

To Be in Truth or not to Be Mistaken?


The emptiness of such controversies is, however, strictly connected with their relation to time. and first of all I call your attention to a curious fact. It makes not a single jot of difference so far as the past of the world goes, whether we deem it to have been the work of matter or whether we think a divine spirit was its author. Imagine, in fact, the entire contents of the world to be once for all irrevocably given. Imagine it to end this very moment, and to have no future; and then let a theist and a materialist apply their rival explanations to its history. The theist shows how a god made it; the materialist shows, and we will suppose with equal success, how it resulted from blind physical forces. Then let the pragmatist be asked to choose between their theories. how can he apply his test if the world is already completed? Concepts for him are things to come back into experience with, things to make us look for differences. But by hypothesis there is to be no more experience and no possible differences can now be looked for. Both theories have shown all their consequences and, by the hypothesis we are adopting, these are identical. The pragmatist must consequently say that the two theories, in spite of their different-sounding names, mean exactly the same thing, and that the dispute is purely verbal. [I am supposing, of course, that the theories have been equally successful in their explanations of what is.]13

The situation changes completely if we see the same controversy in the context of our future life. here the metaphysical problem makes a difference to us, because it concerns our deepest hopes: as far as the past facts go, indeed there is no difference. Those facts are in, are bagged, are captured; and the good that’s in them is gained, be the atoms or be the god their cause. There are accordingly many materialists about us to-day who, ignoring altogether the future and practical aspects of the question, seek to eliminate the odium attaching to the word materialism, and even to eliminate the word itself, by showing that, if matter could give birth to all these gains, why then matter, functionally considered, is just as divine an entity as god, in fact coalesces with god, is what you mean by god. Cease, these persons advise us, to use either of these terms, with their outgrown opposition…But philosophy is prospective also, and, after finding what the world has been and done and yielded, still asks the further question ‘what does the world promise?’ … Theism and materialism, so indifferent when taken retrospectively, point, when we take them prospectively, to wholly different outlooks of experience. For, according to the theory of mechanical evolution, the laws of redistribution of matter and motion, tho they are certainly to thank for all the good 13

James w. (1975). Pragmatism. Cambridge/london: harvard university Press, 50-51.


PIoTR guTowSkI hours which our organisms have ever yielded us and for all the ideals which our minds now frame, are yet fatally certain to undo their work again, and to redissolve everything that they have once evolved…This utter final wreck and tragedy is of the essence of scientific materialism as at present understood. The notion of god, on the other hand, however inferior it may be in clearness to those mathematical notions so current in mechanical philosophy, has at least this practical superiority over them, that it guarantees an ideal order that shall be permanently preserved. a world with a god in it to say the last word, may indeed burn up or freeze, but we then think of him as still mindful of the old ideals and sure to bring them elsewhere to fruition; so that, where he is, tragedy is only provisional and partial, and shipwreck and dissolution not the absolutely final things. This need of an eternal moral order is one of the deepest needs of our breast.14

now, everything depends, how we treat “the deepest needs of our breast”. If we say that they merely provide a grand label for what comes down to wishful thinking, materialism is the metaphysics for us. If, however, we take these human hopes to intuit some extra-human content, some kind of theism is much better. Can we get rid of those “ifs”? James would probably say that it is more a question of experience and estimation of its significance in our total life than a problem that can be solved by rational arguments. arguments succeed experience, functioning, sometimes, to clarify it, and sometimes to deform it. That is why we should not treat them as the main tool of the branch of philosophy dealing with ultimate questions. also, estimation of our experiences has to take into account our total life – not just some of its fragments. In the light of this broadly empiricist and holistic philosophy, the choice – real and important to each of us – cannot be made on narrow rational or empirical ground.

5. Two responses for two objections, and idealistic personalism There are two important objections against James’ defense of the legitimacy of religious faiths. The first one is that it encourages irrationalism that might even be dangerous. he responded to this charge in the introduction to the book Will to Believe where the essay under the same title was published: 14

James w. (1975). Pragmatism. Cambridge/london: harvard university Press, 50-51.

To Be in Truth or not to Be Mistaken?


I quite agree that what mankind at large most lacks is criticism and caution, not faith. Its cardinal weakness is to let belief follow recklessly upon lively conception, especially when the conception has instinctive liking at its back. I admit, then, that were I addressing […] a miscellaneous popular crowd it would be a misuse of opportunity to preach the liberty of believing […]. what such audiences most need is that their faiths should be broken up and ventilated, that the northwest wind of science should get into them and blow their sickliness and barbarism away. But academic audiences, fed already on science, have a very different need. Paralysis of their native capacity for faith and timorous abulia in the religious field are their special forms of mental weakness, brought about by the notion, carefully instilled, that there is something called scientific evidence by waiting upon which they shall escape all danger of shipwreck in regard to truth […] 15.

This is a quite good response to the objection if the defense of our right to belief is directed against agnostics or skeptics or positivists and their conviction about omniscience of science. If it were directed to religious fanatics, it would be inappropriate and even harmful. Besides, our right to form some beliefs on the basis of faith is one thing, and our obligation to rationalize it another one. how and to what extent we can and should fulfill this obligation is still another matter. James was skeptical about the good done by the rationalization, dogmatization and institutionalization of religion, while seeing at the same time the human need for those processes. The second objection concerns pluralism of religions. his argument does not help us to decide which religion is better. It seems, then, that James leads us in the direction of relativism. his response to this charge is as follows: If religious hypotheses about the universe be in order at all, then the active faiths of individuals in them, freely expressing themselves in life, are the experimental tests by which they are verified, and the only means by which their truth or falsehood can be wrought out. The truest scientific hypothesis is that which, as we say, ‘works’ best; and it can be no otherwise with religious hypotheses. Religious history proves that one hypothesis after another has worked ill, has crumbled at contact with a widening knowledge of the world, and has lapsed from the minds of men. Some articles of faith, however, have maintained themselves through every vicissitude, and possess even more vitality today than ever before … [Faiths] ought to live in publicity, vying with each other; and it seems to me that (the régime of tolerance once granted, and a fair field shown) the scientist has nothing to fear for his own interests from the liveliest possible state of fermentation 15

James w. (1975). Pragmatism. Cambridge/london: harvard university Press, 7.


PIoTR guTowSkI in the religious world of his time […]. he should welcome therefore every species of religious agitation and discussion, so long as he is willing to allow that some religious hypothesis may be true […]. Religious fermentation is always a symptom of the intellectual vigor of a society; and it is only when they forget that they are hypotheses and put on rationalistic and authoritative pretensions, that our faiths do harm16.

according to my interpretation, the “right to believe” doctrine allows great variety of not only religious but also atheistic beliefs17. It does not mean, however, that all beliefs are equally good and acceptable. as the passage above implies, there is a Darwinian flavor to James’ theory of the rise and fall of specific religious beliefs, even if that theory ignores exogenous factors (the conquest of peoples with one religion by those of another, for instance) and concentrates on endogenous ones (claims made by specific religions, such as the claim that the earth is the center of the universe, are discredited by ‘widening knowledge of the world”). granted these contingencies, „the fittest” worldview would seem to be that which is the soundest in kind of a personalistic sense: namely, one which harmonizes objective impersonal knowledge with our individual human experiences and our deepest needs. This requirement is strictly connected with Jamesian individualistic and panpsychic ontology and with his empiricism. within this philosophy there are still problems with choosing this or that religion, but we can find a good reason in our sense that our existence is meaningful for preferring a general religious worldview over an atheistic one, especially if the latter endorses a scientifically based naturalism. The reason is this: contemporary science does not take into account the fact of subjectivity that generates first person perspective of our experience. Because of its goals (e.g. exactitude, precision, and universal knowledge) and because of its methodological assumptions (looking for natural causes of everything, e.g. mental phenomena), science is right to ignore the fact of our first person experience. however, it should never blind us to the fact that scientific categories (including “matter” and “nature”) are ultimately the results of human minds. This fact should be 16 17

James w. (1975). Pragmatism. Cambridge/london: harvard university Press, 9-10. atheism as a separate thesis “god does not exist” is just one simple belief, but it is usually connected with other numerous beliefs that are treated as integral to this view, and not necessarily shared by all atheists. This is the main source of plurality of atheisms. The situation is analogical to the diversity among theists, although it can be claimed that there is much greater plurality of views here arising from various interpretations of the term “god” in the thesis “god exists”.

To Be in Truth or not to Be Mistaken?


taken into account by any proper and full description of the world. at present, it is taken into account by religion, and rejected by science. In Varieties of Religious Experience he writes: The axis of reality runs solely through the egotistic places – they are strung upon it like so many beads. To describe the world with all the various feelings of the individual pinch of destiny, all the various spiritual attitudes, left out from the description – they being as describable as anything else – would be something like offering a printed bill of fare as the equivalent for a solid meal. Religion makes no such blunder. The individual’s religion may be egotistic, and those private realities which it keeps in touch with may be narrow enough; but at any rate it always remains infinitely less hollow and abstract, as far as it goes, than a Science which prides itself on taking no account of anything private at all. a bill of fare with one real raisin on it instead of the word ‘raisin,’ with one real egg instead of the word ‘egg,’ might be an inadequate meal, but it would at least be a commencement of reality”18.

This basically idealistic argument is in line with Jamesian skepticism as to the completeness claims of actual science, in conjunction with his postulate to broaden its scope so that now omitted facts can be included by future science and his idea that limits of naturalistic science can be partially overcome by philosophy. however, philosophy does not give us any ultimate knowledge but rather justifies our right to believe in this or that vision of the world. one of the criteria of choice between various metaphysical systems may concern the adequacy and accuracy of world description. Still, however, there will be debates about the meaning of those criteria. By accepting a personalistic ontology, James equips himself with good reasons for skepticism about metaphysical meaning of present scientific results based on naturalistic presumption. Religious worldview seems to be quite attractive in this perspective since – according to him – it includes essential element of the world that was not taken into account by science. In James’ time the dominant positivism endorsed by mainstream philosophers rejected any hint of a personalistic ontology, with its central claim that human subjectivity is the primary fact about the world. They were not only metaphysical naturalists but also, in supposing the progress of intellectual history, neo-hegelian idealistic monists. Do such people have right to believe in what they believe? Taking into account what was said before, the answer is yes. It does not mean, however, that we cannot 18

Varieties of Religious Experience, 394.


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argue about omissions in their ontology (this is what James is doing in many of his philosophical works). on the other hand, the persuasive power of narrow rational arguments is limited if we disagree about the interpretation of our basic experiences, and even the choice between rationalism and empiricism seems to be based on psychological reasons. But we do not have to embrace total subjectivism – certainly James did not. This situation means only that finding the proper instrument for making one’s choice of these positions is not simple, and that it ought to comprise an evaluation of the short and long term consequences of respective views in the lives of individuals and societies.

Conclusion The fact that throughout the history of humanity, people regarded as educated and wise, while differing in their worldviews, usually reject agnosticism in important matters, confirm Jamesian ‘will to believe’ theory taken as a psychological description of matters of fact. Do we have also “right” to believe in what psychological nature inclines us to believe? The answer to this question depends on some additional conditions. we certainly do not have this right in cases where there is good evidence supporting one of the opposing views. we have it if 1) there is no such evidence, and 2) the option is genuine. Such cases concern only beliefs that take some view about the future, and they cannot be formed exclusively on the basis of present science. In such cases it is better to accept the precept, “look for the truth!” then conform to the precept, “avoid mistakes!”. It is both more natural and more reasonable to form some belief than to stay in the state of agnosticism, which is itself a belief. It has to be remembered that for James the right to form beliefs in the cases described above does not mean the right to maintain them or maintain them in unchanged form. we have an intellectual obligation to look for their broad consequences and for their coherence with other uncontroversial beliefs. we have to be cautious, however, in declaring logical or empirical incoherence with other beliefs or facts. what seems to be incoherent at first sight can be coherent after detailed examination. James believed that the argument of violating logical principles is often misused. Reason is just an instrument of experience – that is why on social level if some set of beliefs does not violate basic moral rules and if people who accept those beliefs preserve at least some capacity for skepticism about their truth, they we can find no harm in their flourishing, which means that

To Be in Truth or not to Be Mistaken?


we cannot out of hand condemn the development of both their short and long-term practical consequences. Democratic idea of religious freedom and tolerance in relation to various worldviews that are not harmful in some general sense of “harm” finds its foundation in this theory. what kind of epistemology is involved in this view? To answer this question briefly one could say that it is strongly anti-Cartesian, broadly empiricist epistemology that views the mind as continually adjusting new data to old worldviews. For this epistemology, the data of science does not trump our deepest human hopes and personal experience, but rather all of this data must be part of the domain of knowing and believing. It is thus an epistemology without certitudes, full of “ifs”, and without such notions as “necessary”, “all” or “always. It is also epistemology that prefers our desire “to be in truth” over the desire of “not to be mistaken” in those cases where they are in conflict over genuinely ultimate questions.

The Right to Believe:

Perspectives in Religious Epistemology Dariusz Łukasiewicz & Roger Pouivet (eds.)

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Do We Have the Epistemic Right to Believe in Jesus?

An Epistemological Analysis of Some Arguments for Credibility of Christianity

The epistemology of religion (or religious epistemology) deals with the cognitive (or epistemic) status of religious beliefs and how they are justified. From the perspective of the general epistemology of religion, we can disregard particular kinds of beliefs; but as religious beliefs are various, we also need particular epistemologies to examine defined sets of beliefs. Christianity, for instance, is constituted by belief in Jesus of nazareth as the Resurrected Christ (Messiah) and god, and this brings up the particular epistemological issue of whether Christians have the epistemic right to believe in Jesus? In order to show this “right”, Christian apologists from the beginning of Christianity have formulated various arguments for the truth or credibility of the specific assumptions of its doctrine. In this paper, I will reconstruct and evaluate two types of apologetic arguments. with regard to the character of their most important premises the first one of them I shall call the a posteriori argument and the second one – the a priori argument.1

I. The a posteriori argument The a posteriori arguments for the right to believe in Jesus inherit the “historical Jesus” school of reasoning, and reference certain historical data 1

The arguments constitute the ‘internal factors’ in justifying the belief in Jesus. There is as well a set of arguments that rely on an ‘externalist element’. I omit them from discussion in this paper. Cf. w. J. abraham (2009, 159).


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concerning the person of Jesus of nazareth and the beginnings of the first Christian communities. The historical data forms the basis for demonstrating that the best (or the simplest) explanation of the story of the resurrection is that Jesus did actually rise from the dead, fulfilling a religious mission that changes our basic sense of the world. My reconstruction of the most important historically based arguments consists of three parts: assumptions, (a minimum of) historical data and explanation of the data (in the light of the assumptions). Assumptions The assumptions that background the a posteriori school are as follows: a1. There are data concerning the life of Jesus that are accepted by a majority of historians. a2. an interpretation of the data that is neutral in terms of the outlook on the world is possible – i.e. we can, in first analyzing the data, suspend the question of whether naturalism or theism is true or false, or whether miracles are empirically possible or impossible. a3. when evaluating the cognitive value of accounts given by people who lived in the 1st century a.D., one should be guided by two principles: the Principle of Testimony and the Principle of Credulity. The former tells us that ‘(in the absence of special considerations) the experiences of others are (probably) as they report them’ (Swinburne 2004, 322); while the latter tells us that ‘(in the absence of special considerations), if it seems (epistemically) to a subject that x is present (and has some characteristic), then probably x is present (and has that characteristic)’ (Swinburne 2004, 303). a4. we should reason to the best explanation in examining historical data; “the best” means here “the simplest”, and “the simplest” means: accepting the fewest theses reaching beyond the data. Historical data It is not easy to reach a consensus on what historical data concerning Jesus and his disciples is beyond reasonable doubt. C.a. evans (2009, 34) – following e.P. Sanders – claims that there are several ‘facts or activities about which we may be relatively confident’.2 I believe that the core of the facts accepted by the consensus is as follows: 2

Cf. a. Plantinga (2000, 414-418, especially 415), who in a critical manner examines a.e. harvey’s views and those of other representatives of the so called non-Troeltschian historical Biblical Criticism.

Do we have the epistemic Right to Believe in Jesus?


D1. Jesus was a charismatic religious teacher. D2. Jesus was aware of his exceptional (probably “sacrificial”) religious mission. D3. Jesus was executed about 30 a.D. in Jerusalem (probably because of “the temple conflict”). D4. after Jesus’ death a new religious community was formed, leaders of which claimed that they had seen the bodily resurrected Jesus and that he had given them the mandate to form a community of believers. D5. This community quickly spread over the territories of the Roman empire (in the 40s of the 1st century a.D. it already functioned in the cities of greece and hellenized asia Minor). Explanation Thus, our question is: how (in the light of assumptions a1-a4) can one give the easiest explanation of data D1-D5? Datum D4 and assumption a3 are of the key importance here. In the light of a3, the easiest explanation of D4 is accepting that Jesus did actually rise from the dead, giving his disciples the message which they then preached. unless we have a substantial reason to doubt honesty of the first Christian leaders (and in the authenticity of their records or the authenticity of the records of their records), we can – by virtue of the Principle of Testimony – accept that they in fact saw the resurrected Jesus (and heard his teachings).3 on the other hand, unless we have a substantial reason to doubt their cognitive competences, we can – in virtue of the Principle of Credulity – accept that the resurrected Jesus did in fact reveal himself to them (and gave them his teachings). The exceptional character of the (supposed) event, which is the rising from the dead, allows us to treat it as a sign confirming the truth of Jesus’ teaching.4 The original testimonies about the resurrection of Jesus are Christian testimonies. new Testament studies consider the proclamations of the resurrection of Jesus themselves as the earliest (cf. 1 Thes. 1:10); the list of witnesses is supposed to have been added later (cf. 1 Cor. 15:5-8), and the descriptions of Paschal Christophanies were the last (luke 24:36-43; acts 9:3-8). The latter are divided into more “corporeal” (as the ones concerning Cephas-Peter) and more “spiritual” (as the ones concerning Saul-Paul). according to w.P. alston (1997), contrary to some of the biblical critics (e.g. R. Fuller), there are no sufficient grounds to deny authenticity of the descriptions of the former ones (“corporeal”). 4 I do not analyze here in detail the question of interpretation of the teaching. To be sure, in the original Christian writings at least three layers of claims occur: (i) coming from Jesus, (ii) coming from his actual disciples (apostles), (iii) coming from the actual authors of the writings. In fact, however, all of them express or assume 3


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let us note that accepting that Jesus did actually rise from the dead and delivered the message to his disciples, which was then preached by them, constitutes a good explanation of D5 as well. For how is it possible to accept D3 and D5 at the same time? In other words: how is it possible, that after the death of Jesus a dynamic development of a group of his followers takes place, ones who not so much commemorate him (as their executed leader) but who propagate his strength-giving and living presence? as M. Bockmuehl (2003, 103) puts it, ‘it is a matter of historical record that [after Jesus’ death – J. w.] something happened – and that this changed the course of world history’ – ‘without an event that occurred after his death, we would almost certainly have no information of any kind about Jesus of nazareth’ (Bockmuehl 2003, 102). Evaluation The above argument (especially in its last part) could be developed in detail.5 owing to this it can become more credible. But this does not alter the fact that its value primarily depends on the value of the above mentioned assumptions. let us have a closer look at them. a survey of historical literature concerning the life of Jesus and the beginnings of Christianity casts doubt on a1, as it is simply stated. as Plantinga writes (Plantinga 2000, 402), ‘skeptical scripture scholars display vast disagreement among themselves.’ when we take into account non-skeptical authors, the disagreements mount. Rejecting a1 completely (understood as at least a postulate to search for a minimum consensus amongst historians), on the other hand, must lead to a radical historical relativism or skepticism, which we can turn just as well on the accounts of other personages from ancient times. I believe that data D1-D5 that I have specified can be accepted by most moderate researchers even if they don’t accept the other assumptions I have outlined, which is the best argument for a1. the exceptional character of the man called Jesus. what is more, the acceptance of reality of the resurrection of Jesus and the bestowal of the apostolic mandate to his disciples makes rational sense of the acceptance of the cult of Jesus (that can be seen in such writings as 1 Cor. 1:2-3 or Phil. 2:6,9-11) as a proper reaction to his person. 5 w.l. Craig (2008, 334-342) first reports the details as they appeared in the so called traditional apologetic (the arguments for the authenticity and “purity” of the gospels; arguments for reliability of the apostles: they were ‘neither deceivers nor deceived’); then (Craig 2008, 350-399) he presents the details of his argument: the hypothesis of an actual resurrection is the best explanation for the well documented facts: ‘the fact of Jesus’ empty tomb’, ‘the fact of the postmortem appearances’, and ‘the fact of the origin of the Christian faith’.

Do we have the epistemic Right to Believe in Jesus?


a2 is harder to accept than a1. Is it possible to be completely neutral, in terms of outlook on the world, in evaluating D1-D5? It is hard to find someone, who in the starting point of research of the beginnings of Christianity – as Plantinga puts it (Plantinga 2000, 414) – ‘doesn’t assume that miracles did or could happen; but that is quite different from assuming that they didn’t or couldn’t, and she [or he] doesn’t assume that either.’ a2 can be – similar to a1 – treated as at least a research postulate: try to interpret and explain D1-D5, being directed only by the data, and not by your own worldview. If we do not undertake such an attempt, we will be left either with scarcity of data, or with pluralistic abundance of its interpretations. Fulfillment of our cognitive curiosity will, however, not be possible. let us pass on to a3. It could be undermined in two ways: either by denying the universal value of the Principle of Testimony or the Principle of Credulity, or by showing that in the considered case restraints mentioned in the preceding provisions (in the brackets) occur (cf. Swinburne 2004, 310-323). with respect to the former issue, the charges against the discussed principles were soundly answered by Swinburne (Swinburne 2004, 304-310, 322-323); the principles can be then – at least for the purpose of the consideration – regarded as reliable. with respect to the latter issue, classical apologists have already given arguments against various hypotheses of deception or illusion (as attempts to explain D4).6 however, the existence of a more sophisticated religious illusion, whose mechanisms remain unknown to us, or which is similar to irrational behavior under the influence of a suggestion offered by a group (described by psychologists) – as suggested by J.J.C. Smart – cannot be ruled out in this case.7 also, it They (e.g. william Paley) pointed out e.g. (see note 5) that according to the historical records people calling themselves witnesses of the appearances of the resurrected Jesus – appearances that could be witnessed repeatedly and objectively (intersubjectively) – were normally cognizing and behaving human beings; what is more, the people did not benefit from propagating certain beliefs, because they were repressed for propagating them. 7 „The [Christian] argument relies on the sudden transformation of the disciples after the crucifixion [...]. The transformation was indeed wonderful, but the workings of the human brains are extremely complex and can be expected to issue in surprises. In any case the transformation may not have been all that surprising. experience of millennarian sects has given us instances of how resistant their devotees can be to empirical disconfirmation when their millennarian expectations do not eventuate. [...] a sect which behaved in this sort of way has indeed been studied [...] by the american psychologists [...]” (Smart 1996, 65). 6


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cannot be ruled out that the mentality of the founders of Christianity was radically different from ours: its religious ‘tint’ could influence their perceptions and attitudes, and result in a subconscious – theological or supernatural – interpretation of what they encountered and what they did. The possibility of such an illusion or interpretation should caution us against applying the Principle of Credulity or the Principle of Testimony to the new Testament without second thought. however, this caution does not undermine a2, nor lead to negating the grounds for the Christian interpretation and explanation of D1-D5. Certainly it cannot favour according to some principle understanding them in the naturalistic way.8 a4 remains to be examined. The following arguments can be put forward against its acceptance: reasoning to the best explanation sometimes may be fallible when we gather further empirical information; criteria of choosing the best (or the simplest) explanation are not unequivocal; historical sciences concern human activities – and those are of enormous variety and unpredictability – hence using methods typical of natural sciences in them can lead to false results. This is all true, but apart from the method of searching for the best explanation of historical data – comparing and “weighing” possible hypotheses – we do not have any other methods that would allow us to achieve more complete, though always only probable, knowledge of the past. as can be seen, a1-a4 are not unquestionable. on the other hand, if we refute them, we must abandon a posteriori attempts to construct the story of what actually happened with Jesus and who he was. Such an attitude can culminate either in accepting ignorance of the discussed question or in fulfillment (or replacement) of our ignorance by our prior worldview beliefs. Those who, while not being agnostics, are not satisfied with a posteriori and probabilistic knowledge about Jesus, must then have some other method to back up their epistemic right to believe that Jesus is the son of god. usually, the argument here stems from some more general worldview or philosophical theses. Such an approach is typical of the a priori argument. 8

even more so because it is hard to think that mentality of ancient people was different from ours to such an extent that there was not epistemic “sense of reality” (in discerning a repeating and reliable experience from a singular illusion, and acting in everyday life according to the former one) in it.

Do we have the epistemic Right to Believe in Jesus?


II. The a priori argument A priori arguments for the right to believe in Jesus do not proceed from historical data, but subordinate it to a certain system of speculatively justified theses. The theses, minimally supplemented by quite obvious empirical data are to (in a quasi-deductive manner) lead to the conclusion asserting the credibility of the Christian message about Jesus.9 The course of the argument Many versions of the a priori argument start with three theses justified on the grounds of the classical speculative metaphysics: T1. god exists. he created the world. T2. god is absolutely perfect. The manifestation of god’s perfection is love. T3. humans have a privileged status among all the creatures god created. let us supplement them with a quite obvious empirical and “sociological” observation. T4. human life is hard. In that case, on the grounds of T1-T4, we can assert: T5. god’s incarnation as a human is predictable (as highly probable) or (at least) morally necessary.10 The most expressive (among the ones known to me) version of such an argument was formulated by S. Judycki (2010, 69-106). To put it simply, it can be summarized as follows: (i) the existence of god is conceptually necessary; (ii) the incarnation of god is also conceptually necessary (with regard to his personal perfection and the fact of finiteness and suffering of the creation, which “demand” the participation of the Creator); (iii) events from the life of Jesus and his followers are so unique that if he was not the incarnated god, it would violate god’s goodness (cf. the Cartesian argument that assumes that god does not allow deceiving). 10 as Swinburne puts it (Swinburne 2003, 201): ‘any serious reflection on how a good creator god would react to a race of suffering and sinful creatures whom he has created must give considerable force to the claim that he must become incarnate’, i.e. ‘take a human nature and live a human life on earth’ in order ‘to identify with our suffering by sharing it’. 9


JaCek woJTySIak

let us note here that: T6. various religious descriptions or stories of incarnation express T5. In turn, on the grounds of T5 and T6 it can be asserted: T7. human incarnation of god “should” really take place, and one of the stories of incarnation “should” be literally true. which one? I should believe the story which is (at the same time) the most expressive, realistic and credible. and it is empirically known that: T8. The Christian story of incarnation is (amongst the religious records of incarnation known to us) the most (at the same time) expressive, realistic and credible. Therefore we can adduce from it the final conclusion, that the mentioned story is literally true, and thereby believing in Jesus as the incarnated god is justified. Evaluation as can be seen, in the reasoning presented above premises T1-T3 are of speculative character, and premises T4, T6 and T8 are (in a different sense) empirically derived; on the other hand, the remaining elements (T5 and T7) are simply conclusions derived from the previous elements. I believe that there are no significant obstacles on the way to the acceptance of the empirical premises (nB: only one of them – T8 – directly concerns the Christian description, however – in opposition to the a posteriori argument – it does not entail ascribing unconditional credibility, but only a relative and conditional credibility). In such a case, soundness of the argument depends on the speculative premises: in order to disprove the argument it is enough to undermine one of them. hence, the value of the argument rests on the strength of the insights supporting the main three theses of traditional speculative metaphysics. I will not discuss here the value of those insights. I will only point out that the dependency of the a priori argument on these considerations is both its advantage and disadvantage. The advantage is that the discussed argument does not get entangled with the historical disputes concerning the question whether the new Testament record reflects the most important

Do we have the epistemic Right to Believe in Jesus?


facts concerning Jesus faithfully.11 (as I have already mentioned, T8 says only that the Christian record is more credible than other – in principle unequivocally mythological – records of the incarnation). however, the cost of that is – and this is a disadvantage of the a priori argument – replacing a historical dispute with a metaphysical dispute, and in this way reducing the “empirical” problem of Jesus to the “speculative” problem of the nature of god and man.

III. Conclusion: towards the “mixed” argument This summing up of the advantages and disadvantages of the discussed arguments – advantages and disadvantages that are derived from our assessment of the nature of a posteriori or a priori knowledge itself – thrust upon us the following problem: is one of these arguments more fruitful than the other in justifying the epistemic right to believe in Jesus? according to my own analysis of the arguments, it seems like the best strategy consists of “mixed” argumentation, combining features of both procedures. The mixed argument relies on the assumption, wide-spread in contemporary epistemology, that almost each of our acts of cognition includes both the a posteriori component and the a priori one. If there is no experience without theory and there is no theory without experience, there is also no “pure” historical knowledge about Jesus without its framing worldview (or metaphysical interpretation), nor can we take a metaphysical argument for Jesus seriously which does not take into account the historical knowledge about him. The mixed argumentation – taking into consideration both the historical factors and the metaphysical ones (from the field of natural theology) – can be found in the writings of R. Swinburne. I would summarize (using my terminology) the essential points of the reasoning included in his book Was Jesus God? (Swinburne 2008) as follows: S1. The probability of the belief in divinity of Jesus (let us call it J) depends on (i) the value of the set of certain theistic beliefs of the kind of “god exists and loves us” (let us call it the a priori factor – A) as well as on 11

Due to the variability and relativity of the “historical data”, there will never be an end to these disputes.


JaCek woJTySIak

(ii) the value of the testimonies about the life of Jesus (let us call it the empirical factor – E).12 S2. when A’s probability is moderate, the probability of J is high: after all we have various and sound testimonies E, that Jesus (and nobody else) actually was characterized by such qualities (and performed such acts) such that they can be predicted on the grounds of A (if a loving god exists, he should reveal himself in a person such as Jesus). S3. Testimonies E are sound in the sense that ‘it is very improbable that we would have most of the evidence we do if Jesus did not live and teach in this [presented in the new Testament – J. w.] way’(Swinburne 2008, 113). S4. a very low (nearing 0) probability of A undermines the value of testimonies E, and thereby of belief J, however, a moderately low (about ¼) probability of A is enough – because of the merits of testimonies E – to assess the probability of J as being higher than ½. S5. The probability of J will rise if, by virtue of arguments from the field of natural theology, we accept a higher probability of A. as this paper has tried to show, the value of Swinburne’s argument (or a similar mixed argument) depends on whether we have a method of reliable assessment of the degree of probability of A and E and on whether the results of its (possible) application agree with Swinburne’s “calculations”. I believe that discussion (reaching beyond the scope of this paper) of these issues must be at the center of the discussion of the epistemology of the Christian religion in our time. References abraham, w. J. (2009). “The epistemology of Jesus: an Initial Investigation.” In Moser, P. k. (ed.), Jesus and Philosophy (149-168). Cambridge: Cambridge university Press. alston, w. P. (1997). “Biblical Criticism and the Resurrection.” In Davis, S. T., kendall, D. SJ &o’Collins, g. SJ (eds.), The Resurrection. An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Resurrection of Jesus (148-183). oxford: oxford university Press. Bockmuehl, M. (2003). “Resurrection.” In Bockmuehl, M. (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Jesus (102-118). Cambridge: Cambridge university Press. 12

‘By “a priori reasons” I mean reasons arising from the very nature of god and from the general condition of the human race why we should expect them to be true. […] the historical evidence about the life and the Resurrection of Jesus […] provides what I shall call “a posteriori” [or empirical – J. w. ] reasons’ (Swinburne 2008, 5).

Do we have the epistemic Right to Believe in Jesus?


Craig, w. l. (20083). Reasonable Faith. Christian Truth and Apologetics. wheaton: Crossway Books. evans, C. a. (2009). “Jesus: Sources and Self-understanding.” In Moser, P. k. (ed.), Jesus and Philosophy (27-40). Cambridge: Cambridge university Press. Judycki, S. (2010). Bóg i inne osoby. Próba z zakresu teologii filozoficznej. Poznań: w drodze. Plantinga, a. (2000). Warranted Christian Belief. oxford: oxford university Press. Smart, J.J.C. (1996). „atheism and Theism.“ In Smart, J.J.C. & haldane, J.J., Atheism and Theism (6-83). oxford: Blackwell Publishers. Swinburne, R. (2003). The Resurrection of God Incarnate. oxford: Clarendon Press. Swinburne, R. (20042). The Existence of God. oxford: Clarendon Press. Swinburne, R. (2008). Was Jesus God? oxford: oxford university Press.

The Right to Believe:

Perspectives in Religious Epistemology Dariusz Łukasiewicz & Roger Pouivet (eds.)

uRSzula M. Żegleń

Religious Beliefs in the Face of Rationalism* In this paper I shall inquire into a question that is near the heart of the philosophy of religion, namely, whether it is rational to have religious beliefs. In order to reply to this question, I shall first define what I understand by the rational subject, and next I shall give a brief characterization of religious beliefs (1) with regard to the believing attitude and (2) with regard to their content. It is important to note that my analysis of religious beliefs is synonymous with those maintained by the Christian (and in particular Catholic) religion, as opposed to some theoretically constructed natural religion. The Christian religion is revealed, and that is why in my analysis I shall appeal to the Bible and to some texts proclaimed by the Magisterium Ecclessiae.

I. The rational subject while it is trivial to say that „rationality” is an attribute of human being, how rationality is construed in philosophy has always been the subject of contention. let me start with four core characterizations of the rational subject, to whom I attribute the following: (a) the capacity for discursive thinking (especially to make inferences and use them in different reasonings); *

I am indebted to Dr Slawek wacewicz for his proofreading of this text, and I would like to thank the participants of the conference on “The Right to believe” for their remarks and discussion of the first version of this paper.


uRSzula M. Żegleń

(b) the ability to justify his beliefs in the light of standards which are epistemically valid; (c) the ability to communicate in language; and (d) the capacity for reflection. note that these characteristics are mutually dependent on each other. The capacity for discursive thinking (a) assumes having a language in which discourse is articulated (c), while epistemically justified belief (b) implies a discourse in which justification is formed. Meanwhile, reflection (d) allows for awareness and control of all the acts and capacities that make up reasoning and communication, and is the prerequisite to any kind of belief assessment. From the pragmatic point of view, these core elements provide the context for man’s ability to apply certain instruments and methods to change the world, in the light of the facts of that world, or, in other words, objective knowledge. here I don’t develop this issue, which belongs to the most topical and controversial in contemporary epistemology. It is enough to say very generally that this kind of ability is an attribute of rational subject, and it is especially important because the subject looking for reasons for his beliefs must use his potential for logical thinking, and out of that discursive process of reason and discovery is able to create the kind of publicly accessible knowledge that belongs to the whole community of humankind. The ability to communicate in language (in contrast to the more limited sign systems employed by other living things, such as the ‘dances’ of bees) allows the subject to conduct dialogue with another person and enter into social interactions. From the metaphysical point of view, the most important aspect of the rational subject is the way these core epistemological capacities produce another level of understanding, which interprets the order of the world in which the subject lives. The rational subject doesn’t just respond via reflex to the world, but looks for general explanations of facts and events in his closer or farther environment; he looks for a heuristic to explain nature, and he looks for meaning in his own existence in the world and his personal life. an important metaphysical aspect of reflection is its role in the human experience of the contingency of being. here, in reference to the subject, it means his experience of his own contingency, that is his experience of the fragility of existence as a mortal being. as we can see, my approach to rationality has a broader existential dimension than is countenanced in many epistemological theories. My above characterization of rationality is concerned with the cognitive equipment of the species, so to speak. These capacities are realized by individual subjects to different degrees and intents, which depend both

Religious Beliefs in the Face of Rationalism


on internal (e.g. neurophysiological) and external factors (e.g. cultural or arising from social interactions). But as a philosopher I am not interested in any individual subject, any concrete believer or society of believers. I leave this to the domain of psychologists or sociologists of religion. From the philosophical perspective of research I do not intend to describe any concrete subject, but rather I attempt to sketch out a certain model of the rational subject. Building this, I want to construct a certain model of believer as a person who has religious beliefs in the sense of the Christian faith. In the next section, then, I shall focus on the structure of religious beliefs, firstly with regard to their formal attitude, and then with regard to their content.

II. Religious beliefs characterized with regard to their attitude In my characterization of religious beliefs I appeal to a philosophically known structure in which a person believes a proposition, or Bxp. I will vary this in the analysis of religion in that I use the propositional attitude B – „to believe” in the specific sense given to it by the Christian faith. let us mark it by the index r as Br. appropriately p is a religious belief which means that it belongs to the set of truths of the Christian faith. In this sense religious beliefs are objective – they are proclaimed by the church (Magisterium Ecclessiae) and shared by the believers. They are objective, contrary to someone’s subjective beliefs, which can be ascribed to a specific believer, such as for example „god is my sole support in my homelessness”, „My guardian angel saved me from death in my last car accident” and so on. according to Christian theology (inspired by divine revelation) faith is the result of grace, and not of the believer’s knowledge.1 In faith that comes as a result of grace there is no room for doubts in the existence of god. one could argue, then, that the believer does not need to look for any 1

Contrary to many philosophers of religion I do not appeal to natural theology, at least not to the pure natural theology in which – roughly speaking – one looks for proofs for the thesis of the existence of god, often by means of logical tools, in appealing to scientific knowledge or looking for different signs of god in the world without appealing to Revelation. The methodological status of natural theology and the validity of its methods are the subject of many controversies among contemporary philosophers (such as alvin Plantinga for example) and theologians (among whom karl Barth belongs to the most known opponents of natural theology).


uRSzula M. Żegleń

evidence to accept religious beliefs, that his faith is completely passive, dogmatic, and thus far from any rational approach. But let me first characterize more exactly this case of Br construed as faith. „To believe” in the sense of faith means that the believer (1) harbors no doubts in the existence of god (and other fundamental truths of faith). It is even the essential sense of Br-attitude, that it – as faith – does not require any proof of “what we hope for and the existence of things not seen”. looking for proof belongs to the domain of reason. „To believe” is, however, not only a propositional attitude, but first of all a special kind of a relational attitude of the believing-subject towards god. That means that (2) the subject who is the believer has an inner and intimate personal relation to god as a person; (3) he trusts god completely (illimitably); (4) he has passed through a certain inner transformation which means the change of his own perspective of life, which means he rejects, at least in the way of thinking and estimation, the world in favour of a future life (what is “hoped for”) which is seen in the perspective of eternity and salvation. as we see, I propose here a very strong model of the believing attitude within the believer’s adult faith. according to point (1) the Br-attitude, contrary to the believing attitude in philosophical epistemology, which has the sense of doxa, is characterized by certainty (without any graduation).2 In this light, we can pose the rationality of this believer’s attitude, and as such, is it blind? In other words, is it blind because no rational subject will accept it? Roughly speaking, is the experience of faith such that reason cannot lead to it (as hume argued, among others)? yet if we look to the Magisterium Ecclessia, doctrine tells us that it is not blind. Following the Catechism of the Catholic Church one can say that „It is more certain that all human knowledge”, because „the certainty that the divine light gives is greater than that which the light of natural reason gives”.3 Both, however, participate in the element of light. nevertheless it could be treated as non-rational, but only in a narrow sense because, as has been already said, the believer’s attitude is not supported by knowledge (even not by someone’s knowledge about god), but it comes about through a grace which is 2 3

See Catechism of the Catholic Church, Ch. 3, especially article 157. See Catechism of the Catholic Church, Ch. 3, especially article 157.

Religious Beliefs in the Face of Rationalism


something supernatural and has nothing common with the human reason. also the believer’s trust (point 2) can be seen as very far from any rational approach, because it has no limit or condition, and as such it can be considered as being in conflict with reason or even with common sense.4 But in opposition to this view, one can say that it is rational for the believer to trust in god because he understands who god is for the believer – that is, the believer has a privileged relationship to the experience. Thus, his attitude to god is treated by him in some sense as a consequence of his knowledge of the nature of god as our Savior, full of love for the man. But this knowledge cannot be sufficient to warrant his belief in the existence of god in an objective sense. also the believer’s complete confidence in god does not entail some completely inwardlooking attitude, a passivity towards life, but entails a dynamism of acts (point 3). In the Christian faith, this dynamism must be strongly emphasized, which can be expressed by the thesis: there is no faith without dynamism (in the sense of Christianity). It is so because our faith is not born with us, and truths of faith are acquired in a wide sense of religious education within the church (i.e. in the community of believers by sacraments, liturgies and other forms of Christian life) and someone’s faith without any personal inner transition (which is just dynamic) cannot be treated as any adult faith (which is characterized here). Thus, the subject who assumes the Br- attitude has the concept of god (whose content has been formed either directly or indirectly by the Bible), he has the experience of god in his life, and he understands who god is to the extent he can, in as much as it is conformable to his faith. „Faith seeks understanding”, as one can read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (ch. 3, art. 158). I am using “experience” here in a broader sense than is given by epistemology, where human existence is wholly captured by cognition, but in a wide metaphysical or existential sense. also understanding is not treated narrowly in the sense of semantics or pragmatics, but rather in the epistemological sense as a kind of conscious (reflexive) cognition, directed at the supernatural, absolute being. looking back at point (1), I want to stress that in the context of adult faith also the believer’s certainty gains a certain dimension of rationality 4

Just this point belongs to the most topical in the philosophy of religion. See for instance J. Jordan (2007), Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God, oxford: oxford university Press or a. Plantinga (1983), Reason and Belief in God in: a. Plantinga and n. wolterstorff, eds. (1983), Faith and Rationality, notre Dame, 52-59; a. Plantinga (2000), Warranted Christian Belief, oxford: oxford university Press.


uRSzula M. Żegleń

because the believer constantly experiences the existence of god in his life and this special kind of experience is treated by him as the evidence for his beliefs. It is the believer’s certainty itself that makes his religious knowledge (i.e. the system of his religious beliefs) coherent. The believer as a rational subject occupies the appropriate attitude toward the content of his beliefs. how could he assert the truths of faith that god is the absolute (supreme) being, that he is in the form of the holy Trinity, that Jesus Christ rose from the death and so on, without certainty? Could one build a model of faith (being in agreement to the Magisterium Ecclesiae) on other attitudes than „to believe” in the strongest sense as „to be certain”?5 nevertheless, the essence of certainty in the believing attitude is always in the order of faith than reason, and even so-called periods of darkness in believer’s spiritual life (best known from many hagiographies) cannot impair this kind of certainty. I repeat again that it is warranted by grace, which in Catholic Christianity means that it comes through Jesus Christ from the holy Spirit.6 In this sense, religious belief in the truths of faith can be said to have a very specific justification which in some sense is transcendent (because it results from the external being) and in another is internal to the subject, because the supernatural transcendent holy Spirit reveals its power to specific and unique persons in the individual mind of (a concrete) believer. however, it must be stressed that certainty concerns attitudes to the fundamental truths of faith, and not someone’s subjective beliefs, which are too weak to bear the term „certainty”. In individual cases, doubts can be the path to mature faith. also in many cases of subjective religious belief, the attitude can be characterized by doubt, as it is in many concrete cases when someone, in spite of his faith in the existence of god and other fundamental truths, has many doubts concerning for example god’s relation to him. But the content of these subjective beliefs is different from the objective content of religious beliefs, i.e. those which belong to the fundamental truths of faith. It is the latter which form the subject of my considerations here, as the former is the subject of religious psychology more than religious epistemology. however, they are related, as the believer, as a subject, is restricted in his cognitive possibilities to the limits of defining his subjectivity. on the other hand, it is the nature of faith in revelation to comprehend an essential moment of mystery (which is seen for instance in the dogmas of, for example, the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, to the mystery 5

Being in agreement with Magisterium Ecclesia cf. what Jesus has said to doubtful Thomas, gosp. of St. John 20. 27-29.

Religious Beliefs in the Face of Rationalism


of Christ’s resurrection, etc.). as we read in the Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio „Christian faith immerses human beings in the order of grace, which enables them to share the mystery of Christ” (Ch. III, 33). The rationalist who wants to support his beliefs through reference to knowledge and who needs evidence will not accept this kind of thinking – it will instead be seen by him as rationalization for avoiding answers to questions which have no rational solution. what is incompatible for the rationalist in a certain philosophical approach (included strong evidentialism) is understood within the epistemology of Christian religion as revealed truth. Saying metaphorically, „the reason is open to the mystery” as could be quoted from the Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio in reference to the Book of Wisdom „Israel with her reflection, was able to open to reason the path that leads to the mystery”7. as has been already said, the religious believing attitude is considerably wider than in the epistemological dimension because it addresses existence – the meaning of the first and last things. This means that the believer looks for the ultimate explanation and understanding of the existence of the world, the history of humanity (and not only the particular nations or societies) as well as his own individual existence (which is not purely physical, but is realized in someone’s individual life, where a very rich individual dimension maintains a relation with a very rich dimension of communion). nothing is more reasonable than to search for explanation and understanding of our life and our collective existence on this planet. In fact, this is a universal attribute of human beings, found in all cultures. and again I appeal to Fides et Ratio (Ch. III, 29), where it is emphasized that the search for meaning implies the existence of something meaningful and accessible; otherwise, it would not be a universal human trait. as a ‘program’ of research, it is equally as rational as a scientific investigation. The scientist, too, is aware that science as the process of knowing will never reach any final form. But this doesn’t discredit our knowledge or our research now. But it is clear that there is the fundamental difference between science and religion. Roughly speaking, we could say that our finite reason with its limited cognitive possibilities stands before a vista of extremely rich reality, the complete grasp of which is impossible. But you can answer that it is so also in the case of physical reality. however, in the case of religion 6 7

Cf. gosp. of St. John 1, 17b: „grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”. See The Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio, Ch. II, 18. (www.vatican/va/.../encyclicals/.../ hf_jp_ii_enc_151019998_fides_et_ratio_en.html.)


uRSzula M. Żegleń

our finite reason stands in front of the infinite mystery of god.8 But at the same time, humans possess unique cognitive possibilities and an exceptional thirst for knowledge.9 as I’ve pointed out, the level of natural cognition is different from the level of faith, and the epistemology of religion distinguishes a special kind of cognition which is characterized in the order of faith. alvin Plantinga for instance, following the Calvinist tradition talks about a special ability of the human mind which is the divine sense (Calvin’s term sensus divinitas).10 But I am not appealing here to his (Thomistic/Calvinist) model, nor do I say that the epistemic equipment is different in case of believers and non-believers (which is evidently absurd). what I want to say is that the order of faith has a transformative dynamic, in which the appeal to the grace is legitimate. For example, when the believer reads the text of the Bible, he does not interpret it from a secular viewpoint: rather, he interprets it as the holy Scripture written under the inspiration of the holy Spirit, which is the highest guarantor of reliability. From such a perspective of faith and cognitive searching amongst the believers in the church (who are united by the communion), the believer undertakes the efforts to understand who god is, what is the sense of the events which were described in the Bible and so on. Faith simply gives a different perspective on cognition as applied to revelation, but it does not concern some new form of cognitive processing. analogically, one could say that someone’s experience (for example of clinical death or holocaust) affords a different view on death, suffering, and the values of life than would be the case with the views of a very young person who has never had any experience of mortality. also faith, understood properly, gives a richer context to propositions concerning the sort of cognition exercised by the believing subject who has (cognitive) access to the truths of faith (knowing them with certainty). we do not need to set up a vicious circle here, in which faith leads to belief, which then leads to faith. of course, no radical or narrow rationalism is in agreement with this approach, just as pure fideism, which does not leave any room for reason and is far from even moderate rationalism. But neither embraces all the spheres of human reality, leaving out fundamental questions which humans as rational created subjects ask concerning meaning. See The Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio, Ch. II, 18. (www.vatican/va/.../encyclicals/.../ hf_jp_ii_enc_151019998_fides_et_ratio_en.html.), Ch. II, 14. 9 See The Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio, Ch. II, 18. (www.vatican/va/.../encyclicals/.../ hf_jp_ii_enc_151019998_fides_et_ratio_en.html.), Ch. II, 16. 10 See his Warranted Christian Belief, p. 174. 8

Religious Beliefs in the Face of Rationalism


III. Religious beliefs characterized with regard to their content I characterized above the believing attitude, but as it is already seen from this consideration in order to have this attitude the believer must grasp the content of religious truths and understand it, at least to the degree that his conscious affirmation is cognitively ‘satisfactory’ (as opposed to, say, the affirmation of a delusion). nowadays The Rome Catechism strongly emphasizes that faith looks for understanding. But understanding cannot be reduced here to any semantic or pragmatic dimension, even if these dimensions (which can be included in the c) criteria of rationality) are also important – after all, the content of religious truths is determined communicatively by the holy Scripture, which requires interpretation. The adequate interpretation, being one of the most important subjects of theological research and delivered in church teaching, extends beyond the methods and dimensions applied in natural domains of human activities. First of all, it takes into account the revealed character of the delivered content. and my interest as an epistemologist lies just in whether it is rational for the subject to affirm this kind of content. So far, our answer is positive: I have argued that searching the ultimate explanations for questions that are irresolvable by science (they are not at all in the field of scientific investigations) is prima facie rational. at the same time, I attempted to show the specificity of the believing attitude towards the truths of faith with regard to the nature of faith itself (which means – the Christian faith, not someone’s faith in the various gods created in the history of human culture). The believer’s faith is given by grace, and not some endogenous capability. ultimately, our belief in the divine revelation must be given by god. But one can also imagine a cold, deistic god, discovered by the reasoning and reflecting subject (without appealing to the whole body of religious truths), and such a deist subject might accept the statement that god exists, that there is one god who is omniscience, who is the Creator. In this case the subject affirms the content without faith but only commits his natural reason. Could we say then that the subject has religious beliefs? I am afraid that the answer must be no, for the simple reason that religious beliefs must be embraced in the whole body of beliefs of faith, not separately. Taken separately they can be interpreted as inconsistent and contradictory with regard to their content. In cognition, natural reason can either affirm or reject such contents, and probably kant was right when he talked about the antinomies of our theoretical reason. The


uRSzula M. Żegleń

rational operations of our mind in cognition are not sufficient to grasp the content of faith (without grace) and to understand it. In the epistemology of religion I characterize understanding as a certain kind of experience that also has its dynamism and development – one can understand more, and more deeply. In relation to faith, understanding as a kind of experience is not only characterized as an epistemological property, but especially as a metaphysical and existential one, which arises when the subject both in its individual dimension and in the dimension of its relation to the community (but not only the small community of believers, but the whole humanity) is aware of itself as entering the history of salvation. From this, which is the perspective of faith, the content of revealed truths, which is seen as unintelligible by the subject untouched by grace, appears in its deeper sense. at this moment, the believer can identify with the sacred history, which includes the Fall, the Flood, abraham, Moses, David and the prophets, etc. what was seen as either foolish or unintelligible to natural reason, appears as meaningful, and no truth can be omitted because it is important in the chain of the history of salvation and hence in the whole body of beliefs which consist in the revealed religion. and what is more, as has been stressed above, their content is not only affirmed by the believer, but also has confirmation in his experience and, in a different way, also in his life. one could recall here John h. newman’s confession from his Apologies Pro Vita Sua, where he wrote „…whether it could work, for it has never been more then a paper system”.11 From the epistemological point of view this very widely understood experience of faith can be also treated as a very specific kind of testifying or justification of religious beliefs. If faith is taken in such a wide perspective, which engages many dimensions of the human person having religious beliefs in the sense of Christianity as the revealed religion, as the argument of this paper shows, it is quite reasonable not only on an epistemic, but also on an existential scale. References Catechism of the Catholic Church. (1993). Citta del vaticana: libreria editice vaticana; (www.vatican va/archive/eng0015/_InDeX.hTM) The New American Bible (2002). vatican: libreria editice vaticana (source: united States Conference of the Catholic Bishops); (www.vatican va/archive/eng0839/_ InDeX.hTM) 11

See J. newman, Apologies Pro Vita Sua, p. 299.

Religious Beliefs in the Face of Rationalism


newman, J.h. (1994). Apologies Pro Vita Sua. new york: Penguin Book John Paul II, (1998). Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio. vatican: libreria editice vaticana; (www.vatican/va/.../encyclicals/.../hf_jp-ii_enc_151019998_fides-et-ratio-en. html.) Plantinga, a. (2000). Warranted Christian Belief. oxford: oxford university Press.

The Right to Believe:

Perspectives in Religious Epistemology Dariusz Łukasiewicz & Roger Pouivet (eds.)

FaBIen SChang

Believing the Self-Contradictory* 1. Three logics of justification Traditionally, there are three sorts of attitude to religious belief that form the three great interlocutive positions in the discussion of religion: those who believe that god exists, or the believers;1 those who do not believe that god exists, or the atheists; and those who believe that neither position is justifiable given our human limits, or the agnostics. among the various thematics into which this discussion flows, one of the commonest, as it connects the abstraction of the topic with practice, is how to make a choice among these three stances. In other words, how do we justify our adherence to one of these three positions? The advocate for religious belief has at least one advantage, in that it is generally agreed that a belief needn’t be ascertained to be true in order to be held. I may have good reasons to find ‘x’ belief plausible without being able to prove it according to some verificational protocol. Thus, I am entitled to believe that god exists without having to establish his existence once for all. The lack of a conclusive proof doesn’t prevent me from believing something true. But still, I do need reasons to have acquired my belief. who knows anything about him? we must remember, here, that knowledge is not the point about god, anyway, as he is not simply the object of inquiry. after all, by definition, our entire being and social structure, including inquiry, is grounded on god. That we believe in god * I am grateful to Dorota Rybicka for our informal exchange about the present talk, as well as to the anonymous referee for his helpful notes. 1 “Believers” will be used as a synonym for the theists or positive believers about the sentence p: “god is existing”, throughout the paper. admittedly, the atheists are also believers; but they are negative believers about p.


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does highlight the fact that one can believe as strongly as possible without ever knowing anything about this possibly empty term. however, any belief ought to be justified before we can talk about its being true (or not): a belief must be justifiable in order to be a valid belief, that is, a belief that could be entertained by any reasonable subject. now what sort of justification do we need to believe correctly? let us state a first criterion for correct belief in terms of indefensibility: (1a) a given sentence p is justifiable only if the negation of p is indefensible, i.e. there is no evidence for p to be false.2 But this statement is still ambiguous: does the absence of justification against p mean that there cannot ever be such a justification, or, rather, does it simply have a temporal sense: up to the present, none has been found? In order to go beyond a merely falsificationist definition of justification, we add a further condition to the latter, as follows: (1b) any evidence for p entails that there is no evidence for its negation, ~p. The condition thus modifies the skeptic view of justification: (1a) entails (1b) from this perspective, whereas a mere falsificationist view doesn’t mean that there cannot be evidence for ~p if there are none yet. If we adopt (1a)-(1b) together, such a necessary condition for belief appears to be very stringent: it could satisfy a skeptic, but hardly an agnostic, or even a theist for whom the existence of god can be believed without a conclusive evidence.3 Moreover, an application of (1) would entail that very few sentences could be properly believed, because most of our beliefs rely upon empirical evidence whose falsifiability conditions make their negations clearly arguable. To loosen up our conditions in order to allow a greater scope for belief, an alternative, weaker condition for correct belief can be constructed from evidence can be an empirical datum, a thought experiment, a formal proof, or even an intimate experience. 3 By a “theist” is meant whoever believes in the existence of god. no relevant difference is made here between theism and deism, although depicting god as a universal class sounds more like an argument for deism (god as an impersonal logos). note that being an agnostic believer is not self-defeating: agnosticism merely means that it is not possible to establish the existence of god, and that this needn’t lead to atheism, since it is not possible to establish that there is no god, either. 2

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supposing a criterion of justifiability as defensibility, which should hold for both believers and atheists4: (2) a given sentence p is justifiable if p is defensible, i.e. there is some evidence for p to be true.5 The import of (2) is a “glass half full, glass half empty” story. That god may exist is a sufficient reason to believe in his existence (i.e. believing the sentence p: “god is existing”), according to the believer; that god may be not existing is a sufficient reason to believe in his inexistence, according to the atheist.6 however, it is unlikely that an armed truce like this will bring the religious discussion to a satisfactory close. alternatively, the mere possibility that god exists does not give the skeptic a sufficient reason to believe in his existence or even his inexistence. In a sense, this is agnosticism straight, in contrast with the soft logic of believers and atheists. at the same time, an anti-skeptic logic of soft justification would turn out to be troublesome if whatever possible is justifiable: any contingent sentence would entail that the believer is entitled to believe both p and its negation, i.e. ~p.7 Correspondingly, most of the atheists and believers seem at this stage in the debate to operate as partial or bad faith agents from a skeptic point of view, reserving a duplicitous double register of justification in which both take any evidence for or against the existence of god to be a sufficient reason to support their belief, but requiring that their opponent give conclusive (i.e. necessary) evidence for or against the existence of god. The atheist attitude can be depicted by substituting ~p for p in (2). let B stand for belief, and e for defensibility (ep means “there is an evidence for the sentence p”). Then (1) and (2) result in three distinct axioms for two opposite logics of justification, namely: (1a) Bp → ~e~p, (1b) ep → ~e~p, and (2) ep → Bp. ep entails ~e~p for a skeptic, but not for a mere believer: that there is no evidence for ~p (i.e. no evidence against p) does not force the believer to conclude that there is an evidence for p. This means that e proceeds like a strong modal operator  in the strong (conclusive) sense of evidence and like a weak one  in the weak (testimonial) sense: not any evidence for ~p is an argument against p in the latter case, for there can be evidence for both. 6 (1a) entails e~p → ~Bp (by contraposition), but not e~p → B~p. Thus (1) is not a proper logic for believers and atheists, but is adequate for skeptics. 7 let C stand for contingency. Cp ↔ (ep  e~p), then, by (2), Cp → (Bp  B~p). and given that the logic of the believer is taken to be normal, B~p → ~Bp. Therefore, (2) entails Cp → (Bp  ~Bp). 4 5


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In other words, they shift the burden of the proof (or conclusive evidence) onto their opponent, only: the agnostic theist would require any atheist being gnostic, and conversely.8 however, faith is a bad faith only if we already subscribed to the skeptic criterion for belief as requiring conclusive evidence, whether for or against a given sentence. against this strong criterion for evidence in (1), faith seems to be described better in terms of a special logic of merely religious belief that would support (2), while contravening one of the basic axioms of epistemic logic, namely: (3) If p is merely believed, then p is not known.9 unlike the skeptic, the believer does not require any conclusive evidence for his belief and this holds equally whether the belief is in the existence or inexistence of god. I need not have a definite proof to believe in him, while having some reason to prefer this opinion rather than the contrary one. and yet, (3) is hardly defensible for a believer in the sense that a logic of religious belief cannot go on claiming that logical knowledge is incompatible with religious belief, since a proof of impossibility or necessity should force the believer to either relinquish his belief or endorse non-belief, respectively. In this respect, St. anselm’s and Descartes’ alleged proofs for the existence of god are intended to show that believing is not only justifiable but necessary: I cannot not believe in god, and I believe in him all the more that I know that it is impossible for him not to exist. now given that (3) makes any allegedly religious belief incompatible with logical knowledge10, it should be replaced by another logic including logical knowledge. The believer’s argument is premised on a logic that is weaker than (1), but stronger than (2) and (3). The logic of the atheist amounts to taking non-belief and negative belief to be equivalent: ~Bp  B~p, so that ~ep → B~p. an abductive reasoning can display this partial treatment of evidence in the atheist: pain and injustice are taken to be a sufficient evidence against the existence of god, while the beautiful harmony in snow crystals is not sufficient to establish divine design. The converse is true for the believer. 9 according to the mainstream epistemology, epistemic logic states that knowledge is a justified true belief. accordingly, belief is one of the necessary conditions for knowledge and the following is given to be an epistemic axiom: kp → Bp. To the contrary, a religious belief assumes a logic of mere belief that is incompatible with the preceding axiom: if Bp → ~kp, then kp → ~Bp (by contraposition). 10 For if we can deduce logical knowledge from every logical truth, then no such truth should be believed according to (3): kp → B~p (see note 9). 8

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Consistency seems to be a necessary condition assuming that the believer in the debate recognizes the aristotelian Principle of non-Contradiction (hereafter: PnC).11 according to the psychological version of the PnC, no one may logically believe that god exists and does not exist. This rule equally holds for all our three parties: believers, atheists, and agnostics. as a way to strengthen (2), the participant in the debate must choose between believing either p or its negation ~p, even if there is evidence to support both contents. let us specify that consistency is not only a property of what the sentence says taken in isolation;12 rather, consistency expresses a relation between the given sentence p and the believer’s set of initially accepted sentences q. hence the resulting condition for correct belief: (4) a given sentence p is justifiable only if it is consistent with every other sentence q already accepted by the believer.13 Thus far, defensibility is a sufficient condition and consistency is a necessary condition for correct belief. against those who might still object that (4) is redundant with (2) due to the identity of defensibility and consistency, there is, in fact, a difference between them: a sentence p is defensible whenever it is not self-contradictory, i.e. not contradictory with itself; furthermore, it is consistent whenever it is not contradictory with other sentences q in a given belief set. For if p is inconsistent with a given set of beliefs a but self-consistent, this merely means that p should not be included in a, even if it is compatible with other contexts. however, if p is self-contradictory (or self-inconsistent), this means that p is impossible to be believed in every respect or irrespective of any belief set. Łukasiewicz (2000) stated three formulations of the PnC: an ontological version (no object can have and not have the same property); a logical version (two judgments where the one attaches to the object the very property refused by the other one cannot be true together); and a psychological version (any two convictions related to contradictory judgments cannot coexist in the same mind). (3) concerns the latter version. 12 This is self-consistency; the ensuing difference between contradiction and self-contradiction is detailed in the next section. 13 To simplify the criterion of consistency, we state that it requires the agent not to believe both a given sentence and its negation: (3) Bp → ~B~p. (3) is incompatible with (2), for ep → Bp, e~p → B~p and, therefore, (ep  e~p) → (Bp  B~p) entails by (2) that (ep  e~p) → (Bp  ~Bp). 11


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having unpacked the meaning of justification, we can now see that, in the context of the logic of belief, justification combines two interconnected but different modalities, namely: defensibility as conceivability, or mental possibility; consistency as logical possibility. Moreover, (2) and (4) entail that everything conceivable is self-consistent: (5) a sentence p is self-defensible only if it is self-consistent, i.e. believing p entails not believing its negation ~p, i.e. whatever is conceivable cannot be self-contradictory.14 If so, I cannot justifiably believe something inconsistent. This minimal condition for grasping a thought is at stake for our main point, which concerns religious belief about the existence of god. To sum up, we have proposed three semantically different modes of justification, which we will label as follows: a skeptical logic with (1), where an evidence must be conclusive to be properly evidential; a relativist logic with (2), where every evidence is defensible and leads to inconsistent beliefs;15 and a dogmatist logic for (4). The latter will now be the focus of our attention, as it has been favoured as a proper criterion for correct belief. as we will see, it seems to entail an atheist position about the religious belief that god is existing.

2. Is God a self-contradictory subject? a number of arguments contribute to the notion that the argument for god’s existence is self-defeating. note that “conception” differs from “imagination”, among the range of mental possibilities: the former concept gives us the formal object of a judgment, while the latter is derived from being somehow being able to picture the object. Descartes’ case of the chiliagon marks this difference out: a thousand-sided polygon can be conceived, but not imagined. hume supports (5) in his “enquiry concerning human understanding”: everything conceivable is possible, equating possibility with non-contradiction. Furthermore, (5) could be reasonably strengthened in the form of a biconditional, in the sense that it hardly makes sense to state that something self-consistent may be unconceivable. The question remains open, noting that the converse (5) seems to make sense only if “conceivable” is replaced by “(actually) conceived”. about the notions of conception, imagination, logical possibility and their logical interrelations, see Costa-leite (2011). 15 For a detailed analysis of these three sorts of justification, see ganeri (2002) and Schang (2010b). 14

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on the one hand, doubting the existence of god has been taken to be self-contradictory by St. anselm or Descartes: it is not possible to conceive the supreme Being as perfect without assuming his existence necessarily. To contemporary ears, this sort of argument somehow sounds like the performative account of the cogito once thinking of god is taken to be a caused action. according to this view, it is not only that such a conceivable sentence as “god exists” is consistent: its negation is self-inconsistent, so that god cannot be conceived as inexistent.16 however, looked at from the other side, such an argument does not make the atheist position self-defeating because it relies upon a contraposited version of (5): whatever is not self-consistent is not conceivable; god’s inexistence is not self-consistent17; hence god’s inexistence is not conceivable. now god’s inexistence is not a self-inconsistent judgment: it is merely inconsistent with the two initial judgments that existence is a predicate and every cause has a supreme cause, respectively. on the other hand, a logical consequence of god’s perfection may lead to the contrary conclusion that god’s existence is a self-contradictory idea that cannot be conceived accordingly.18 Is god a self-contradictory object? The referent of a sentence is not capable of being self-contradictory in the logical sense: contradiction refers only to a condition that emerges in language. Thus, when we analyze the term god for ‘contradictions’ in the language we use about god’s existence, we are using the subject at hand as a dummy singular term (a Russellian proper name) and a definite description, in accordance with Russell’s theory. For instance, any sentence about a round square is self-contradictory because it states something about a term that is round and not round. Can impossible objects, the referents of the subject, exist? In as much as existence is co-extensive with conceivability, there are necessarily no impossible objects. whatever is self-contradictory cannot be conceived. about St. anselm’s argument, see his Proslogion seu Alloquium de Dei existentia; about Descartes’ proof, see his Metaphysical Meditations, especially Books III and v; about the performativeness of the cogito argument, see hintikka (1962). 17 It could be replied to this account that existence might not be taken to be a predicate, as famously claimed by kant. But this does not undermine my point at all, insofar as “being existing” can be safely replaced there “being existing as such and such”. I thank the anonymous referee for emphasizing this technical point. 18 about St. anselm’s argument and its ensuing antinomy, see vuillemin (1971). 16


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as an exception to (5), Łukasiewicz took the case of the Trinity in order to make his point against the so-called universality of the PnC.19 let  be a complex sentence composed of three simple sentences p: “god is the Father”, q: “god is the Son”, and r: “god is the holy Spirit”. Prima facie,  is a conjunction of three contrary and, a fortiori, contradictory sentences that cannot all be true about the same object, because whoever is the Father is neither the Son nor the holy Spirit. To put it in Fregean terms: these three names are not, like the morning star and the evening star, different senses for one reference. each of the three is supposed to express one unique individual. If we employ a Quinean paraphrase to turn these singular terms into predicates, our will say that there are three different individuals and that god is each of these. If so, then the Trinity is to the effect that there is a x that is y and z while y is not z, so that the premises x  y, x  z and y z imply that x  x. Contradiction: it is impossible to believe such a sentence as , according to (5). while admitting this reading, Łukasiewicz begs the point in saying that contradiction may not be a necessary condition for meaningfullness or, rather, that it should be bracketed for certain sorts of religious beliefs that go beyond any rational understanding. however, there is another and obvious way to state that  is not self-contradictory without violating any property of classical logic, bringing up the issue of predication and the meaning of “being”, or in other words, the relation between identity and membership. as to whether  should be a contradictory sentence to be rejected by (5), let us return to the basic formulation of opposition in terms of predication with classes and their corresponding sentences (i.e. the basic form ‘S is P’ for p). what sort of Russellian proper name should god ever be, assuming that the Trinity really differs from a dummy proper name? any two sentences p and q are said to be contrary if and only if they cannot be true together and can be false together. They are said to be contradictory if and only if they cannot both be true and cannot both be false. accordingly, p, q and r should be contrary to each other: none of the pairs {p,q}, {p,r} and {q,r} can be true together, but they can all be false. a sample of contrary sentences has been displayed by keynes (1884) in order to characterize the aristotelian square of opposition within a logic of classes. Thus the universal pairs {A,E}, {A’,E}, {A,E’} and {A’,E’} are taken to be cases in point, where: A: “every S is P”, A’: “every not-S 19

See Łukasiewicz (2000), pp. 70-1.

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is not-P”, E: “no S is P”. and E’: “no not-S is not-P”20. which of these pairs is a counterpart of ? Following the Quinean paraphrase of singular terms,  states that whatever S-izes is P and only one x P-izes. although they are usually said to be contrary, there are two opposite conditions for these pairs to be true: {A,E} and {A’,E’} are true pairs if and only if no x is S, whereas {A’,E} and {A,E’} are true pairs if and only if every x is P. The first condition fulfills the atheist position in as much as it is construed in Christian terms, meaning that S is an empty class or, equivalently, that god does not exist if he is both the Father and something else (i.e. the Son and the holy Spirit). Conversely, the second condition can satisfy the believer’s claim if it entails that P is a universal class and requires for god to be everything (every x). The third pair {A,E’}: x ((S(x) → P(x))  (~S(x) → P(x)) is a plausible candidate for the truth of , therefore.21 letting P for “god” and S for e.g. “the Father”, it is true that the Father is god and not only the Father but the Son and the holy Spirit too, which are not S. By the same token, that god is P and not S prevents one from believing something self-contradictory with : the intersection (SP ∩ S’P) clearly differs 20

Such a translation of classes into universal sentences yields the following relations in first-order predicate logic: Sentences A: SaP A’: S’aP’  PaS E: SeP  SaP’ E’: S’eP’  S’aP {A,E}: SaP and SeP {A’,E}: S’aP’ and SeP {A,E’}: SaP and S’eP’ {A’,E’}: S’aP’ and S’eP’


Logic of classes SP S’P’ PS’ P’S SP ∩ SP’ S’P’ ∩ SP’ SP ∩ S’P S’P’ ∩ S’P

First order logic x (S(x) → P(x)) x (~S(x) → ~P(x)) x (S(x) → ~P(x)) x (~S(x) → P(x)) x ((S(x) → P(x))  (S(x) → ~P(x)) x ((~S(x) → ~P(x))  (S(x) → ~P(x)) x ((S(x) → P(x))  (~S(x) → P(x)) x ((~S(x) → ~P(x))  (~S(x) → P(x))

let us assume that v(P(x))  T. For every x, if v(S(x))  T then v(S(x) → P(x))  v(~S(x) → P(x))  T; if v(S(x))  F then v(S(x) → P(x))  v(~S(x) → P(x))  T. Therefore v((6))  F, and v((6))  T only if v(S(x))  T. hence A and E’ can be true together and are not contraries. The first condition is related to the well-known topic of traditional logic: the so-called “existential import”, stating that the aristotelian square is valid only if no class is empty. For a validation of the square with or without a non-empty model, see Schang (2010b) and a next paper with Saloua Chatti (submitted): “Import, or not import? how to handle negation inside the square”.


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from (SP ∩ SP) and implies that nothing contradictory is said about god in the Trinity. But there is still a problem. assuming that S and P are two unique classes with only one member, that god is the Father and someone other (the Son and the holy Spirit) entails that two individuals are one and the same: “S is P” means an identity (“S  P”), and this is more than merely saying a membership “SP” since identity (“S  P”) means two-sided membership (“SP and PS”). accordingly, the pair {A,E’} should be reformulated in stating that “every S is every P, and every not-S is every P”.22 It results in the following conjunction of biconditionals: (7) x((S(x) ↔ P(x))  (~S(x) ↔ P(x)), the truth-condition of which cannot be merely satisfied by the truth of every P: it is true only if every x is S, every x is P, … and no x is P. By obversion, that no x is P entails that every x is not-P and this amounts to a self-contradictory sentence (xP ∩ xP). no such sentence can be believed, unless we come to admit that some sentences are both true and false.23 But to do this is only presupposing what is forbidden by the clause of consistency (5) for every correct belief.

3. Is God a proper class? The problem can be stated as follows: how can god be everything without entailing a self-contradiction and, accordingly, being an impossible thing? a radical “solution” to this problem is to claim that nothing can be properly said about god, while everything is said by him (or his name). This means that god cannot be treated as a proper subject S in a predication like “S is P”, since no class can include him fully without restricting his domain of application and negating his “perfection” as it stands. a corollary of this assumption is that god cannot be individuated: no definite collection of properties can be attached to him in order to determine his identity; This formulation has been put forth by Sir william hamilton, in his doctrine of quantified predicates. 23 Such is the case with the logic in Paradox in Priest (1979), where some sentences are assigned the paradoxical truth-value {T,F}. Then v(S(x))  {T,F} entails that (7) is true: if v(P(x))  T, then v((S(x) ↔ P(x))  v(~S(x) ↔ P(x))  {T,F}; the same if v(P(x))  F, so that (7) is always true and false (and, hence, true). 22

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determinatio est negatio, as claimed by Spinoza,24 so that the very process of predication is unable to express anything consistent about god. But could anything be said without subsuming a subject under a given concept? That god may not fall under any other class than himself has been echoed repeatedly in hegel’s philosophy about eastern thoughts: according to the latter, contradiction doesn’t oppose two exclusive but, rather, inclusive or complementary sentences that may be accepted together if we sort them according to a context in which each plays a role in a sub-context. likewise, it has been argued elsewhere that some Indian non-classical logics admit a case where one sentence could be asserted and denied simultaneously or, conversely, that it can be neither asserted nor denied when it deals with some extra-rational entities like atman or Brahman.25 no wonder, if so, given that everything and nothing can be said about god: everything, as a predicate; nothing, as a subject. whatever the final word may be about this logical debate between the promoters of aristotle and heraclitus, set theory is the culprit that leads us to atheism if we put our belief into only well built sets; no sentence could make sense without resorting to a subsumptive relation between a class P and its element S. at the same time, the view that god is an unexpressible and universal class also avoids the well-known set-theoretical paradox that normally follows from it: if god is taken to be the set of all the sets, then it leads to the famous Russell’s Paradox that disallows such a universal set because it must include itself while, as the brackets of the set, not include itself.26 a way out to this self-contradiction occurs in John von neumann’s B. Spinoza, Opera Iv, “letter to Jelles”, 240; see also Łukasiewicz (2000), 60. another way to put it is that any sentence must be truly negated to be informative, following Carnap’s theory of information: tautology and contradiction say nothing, accordingly. 25 a sentence that can be both asserted and denied is said to be “avaktavya”, whose translation is variously rendered as “unassertable”, “undescriptible”, “unsayable”, or “unexpressible”. about these Indian non-classical logics and the status of contradiction within these, see e.g. Tripathi (1968) and Schang (2009a,2010). 26 Russell’s Paradox is an indirect consequence from Cantor’s Paradox (1891), according to which the set of all subsets of a (the powerset of a) has a strictly greater cardinality than a itself: Card((a)) > Card(a). now if a  u is the set of all the sets, then Card(a) > Card((a)). Contradiction. If we weaken a by stating that a universal set does not contain itself as a member, it follows from it that, if x is a member of itself, then it is not a member of itself by definition: xx  xx.; and, conversely, if x is not a member of itself, then it is a member of itself by definition: xx  xx. Therefore x is a member of itself if and only if it is not a member of itself: xx  xx. This set-theoretical formulation may be turned into a semantic version in terms of sentential truth and falsity: the sentence p, “p is false”, is true if and only if p is false. 24


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distinction between a set and a class: unlike a set, a proper class cannot be included within another set and figure in the left-sided part of a membership relation. In other words, everything said in connection with god should be said, not about him, but in his name: “god is love”, e.g., must be replaced with “love is divine”. Such a reversion would be trivial in a usual logic of classes S and P, insofar as S and P can be interchangeably treated as subjects or predicates by conversion;27 but it is not whenever class and proper class are separated and accounted for by the very special nature of god. It can be finally argued that, pace Priest,28 the distinction between sets and classes is an appropriate solution to the inconsistency of god’s perfection. The price to pay for a proper belief on this account is that god be not predicable, therefore not expressible by any other predicate that must be included into himself as a perfect, i.e. proper class.29 Such a reversion between subjects and predicates has been urged by ludwig Feuerbach as an atheist argument to the effect that “Man is to Man the supreme being”. according to Max Stirner, “So Feuerbach instructs us that, ‘if one only inverts speculative philosophy, i.e. always makes the predicate the subject, and so makes the subject the object and principle, one has the undraped truth, pure and clean’. [Anekdota II, 64]. herewith, to be sure, we lose the narrow religious standpoint, lose the God, who from this standpoint is subject; but we take in “exchange for it the other side of the religious standpoint, the moral standpoint. E.g., we no longer say ‘god is love’, but ‘love is divine’. If we further put in place of the predicate ‘divine’ the equivalent ‘sacred’, then, as far as concerns the sense, all the old comes back again. according to this, love is to be the good in man, his divineness, that which does him honor, his true humanity (it ‘makes him Man for the first time’, makes for the first time a man out of him). So then it would be more accurately worded thus: love is what is human in man, and what is inhuman is the loveless egoist”. (M. Stirner, The Ego and its Own, new york, Tucker, B. (ed.), 1907, 61). Feuerbach assumes hereby that whatever exists does so as a subject and must be individuated. we do not. 28 according to Priest, von neumann’s distinction and Tarski’s metalanguage “are not solutions. a paradox is an argument with premises which appear to be true and steps which appear to be valid, which nevertheless ends in a conclusion which is false. a solution would tell us which premise is false or which step invalid; but moreover it would give us an independent reason for believing the premise or the step to be wrong. If we have no reason for rejecting the premise or the step other than that it blocks the conclusion, then the ‘solution’ is ad hoc and unilluminating.” (Priest (1979, 220). 29 This account of god as unsayable entity nicely matches with the Judeo-Christian tradition as disallowing the very pronunciation of god’s name. For one can construe this as a response to the fact that god is not a Russellian proper name, while taking god to be that kind of name is to misunderstand god’s referential status. I thank again the anonymous referee for this relevant note. 27

Believing the Self-Contradictory


4. Conclusion: an ethics of justified belief after reviewing three logics of justification and opting for one feasible but consistent view of proper belief, it seems as if the meaning of the claim that god is perfect is not, per anselm and Descartes, that god is a necessary existent, but that talk about god shows that we have to go outside the limits of language in order not to utter self-contradictory statements about god. Must he be made silent, accordingly? yes, if we don’t want to fall into misleading predications about his nature. But our incapacity to grasp a thought that is only intelligible outside of our language doesn’t negate the content of such a dummy thought, it merely posits a relationship between it and our language, putting into relief the limit of the latter. In a nutshell, we are entitled to believe in god; but in silence, or in such a way that the words don’t purport to rule the true and the false. The point here is not that any proper logic for understanding god should violate the rule of non-contradiction by allowing true contradictions. Rather, a believer would be entitled to reply that god created everything and rejected a world in which contradictories could be true together for his thinking creatures.30 a final distinction is to be made between god as the cause of every creature and god as entertained by some of these creatures (i.e. us, the believing agents): that no one could think about him self-consistently does not imply that he does not exist, because he might still have wanted to restrict our understanding in accordance to his almighty and good deliberation. In other words: assuming that the order of truth is subjected to the order of good, whatever cannot be true for us might be true for him because, unlike fallible creatures, his perfect will leads him not to act badly, but, in relation to creatures of an imperfect will (who cannot, for instance, will their all of their conceptions to be imaginable) should restrict the understanding of those who can. here we have self-consistent grounds for claiming that our limited understanding is not a sufficient condition to decide about whatever is entitled to exist or not. I’m not entitled to believe anything properly about god, for want of any consistent judgment about him. But the failure of the believer to 30

Such an ethical account of the PnC is given in Łukasiewicz (2000): there is no logical proof for the PnC, which is viewed as a necessary condition for agents to live together; otherwise, mistakes and lies couldn’t be avoided and would lead to self-destruction. now if an ethical principle purports to restrict the range of possibility by will, then god can be entitled to think beyond non-contradictory things because he needn’t be restricted in his perfect will.


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convince the atheist conclusively that rational belief that god exists is still compatible with the belief in god and his attributes, including, most pertinently, as the one who limited our language for a good reason. here is a sufficient evidence for being both rational and a theist. References Costa-leite, a. (2011). “The logical structure of imagination”. Abstracta (Linguagem, Mente e Ação), 06, 103-116. hintikka, J. (1962). “Cogito ergo sum: inference of performance?”. Philosophical Review, 71, 3-32. keynes, J.n. (1884). Studies and Exercises in Formal Logic. london: MacMillan. Łukasiewicz, J. (2000). Du Principe de contradiction chez Aristote. Paris: l’eclat. Priest, g. (1979). “The logic of Paradox”. Journal of Philosophical logic, 8, 219-41. Russell, B. (1905). “on denoting”. In Mind, 14, 479-93. Schang, F. (2010a). “Two ancient dialectical logics: Saptabhaṅgī and Catuṣkoṭi”. Journal of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research, 27, 45-75. Schang, F. (2010b). “Questions and answers about oppositions”, forthcoming in New perspectives on the square of opposition, Béziau, J.-y. & Payette, g. (eds.), Peter lang, Bern (2010). Tripathi, R.k. (1968). “The concept of avaktavya in Jainism”. In Philosophy East and West, 18, 187-93. vuillemin, J. (1971). Le Dieu d’Anselme et les apparences de la raison. Paris: aubier Montaigne.

The Right to Believe: Perspectives in Religious Epistemology Dariusz Łukasiewicz & Roger Pouivet (eds.)

Jan woleńSkI

Logic, Right to Unbelief and Freedom By aligning logic and the right to unbelief with freedom in my title, I do not mean to suggest that the logical problem of right to unbelief is somehow more important than religious tolerance in general. In the experience of modern liberal societies, freedom, law, politics and social practice are certainly of crucial significance. yet I think that a bit of logical analysis is a good way to understand other issues, simply because conceptual clarity can’t be avoided when considering the problem of belief and the political order. Thus, let us start off by formalizing the problem. I consider “X has right to belief ”and “X has right to unbelief (or non-belief)” as kinds of normative or deontic statements. let us abbreviate them by the symbols XRB and XR–B respectively. Putting the negation in the front of both formulas we obtain (i) ØXRB (it is not true that X has right to believe) and (ii) ØXR–B (it is not true that X has right to unbelief). let me fix at the moment that (i) and (ii) mean “X has duty to belief but (ii) is equivalent to “X has duty to unbelief” (a closer analysis come later). now observe that (i), by expressing the view that belief is obligatory, is equivalent to “X–unbelief is prohibited”. note that although the negations expressed by the signs Ø and – are syntactically different, I can substitute between them, logically, to define duty to belief as prohibition of unbelief. however, we can also decompose belief into more complex formulas, viz. “X believes in p” and “X does not believe in p” (where p is the object of belief) or even “X believes that A” and X does not believe that A” (where A is a proposition expressing the content of belief). This allows us to apply more canonical formulas such as “it is a duty (obligatory) that X believes that A” and “it is prohibited that X does not believe that A”. anyway, (ii) can be always rendered by “X–belief is prohibited”. In my further remarks, I will use the simpler grammatical forms.


Jan woleńSkI

although duties, prohibitions and rights are always attributed to someone, the personal parameter X is not particularly relevant from the purely logical point of view. Consequently, we can base our analysis on the four basic forms expressing the normative status of beliefs: (a) belief is obligatory (belief is qualified as a duty), (b) unbelief is obligatory (belief is prohibited, unbelief is a duty), (g) belief is permitted (one has right to belief, one is entitled to believe), (d) unbelief is permitted (one has right to unbelief, one is entitled to unbelief). These introductory considerations suggest embedding a – d into the web of logical dependencies illustrated by the well-known logical square which is isomorphic with the logical square for traditional categorical sentences or alethic modalities – the diagram (D): a b



we have the following formal theorems (I list only some tautologies): (1) Ø(a  b) (duty to belief and duty to unbelief are contraries; both cannot be true, but can be false); (2) (a Þ g) (duty to belief entails right to belief; right to belief is subordinated to duty to belief); (3) (b Þ d) (duty to unbelief entails right to unbelief; right to unbelief is subordinated to duty to unbelief); (4) (a Û Ød) (duty to belief and right to unbelief are contradictories; if one is true, the second is false); (5) (b Û Øg) (duty to unbelief and right to belief are contradictories); (6) (g Ú d) (duty to belief and duty to unbelief are not contraries; both cannot be false, but can be true). This table is very important, because it shows that we can consistently conjoin g and d. otherwise speaking, the formula g  d is consistent. The diagram (D) can be further extended by adding new points, namely k, l, n and m. This leads to the diagram (D1)

logic, Right to unbelief and Freedom









m The new points are interpreted as follows: k – there are believers, l – there are unbelievers, n – believing or unbelieving are duties; m – believing and unbelieving are permissible. we have the following (among others) theorems: (7) Ø(n Û m) (duty to belief or duty to unbelief is inconsistent with right to belief and right to unbelief); (8) Ø(k Þ a) (it is not true that that the existence of believers entails duty to belief); (9) Ø(k Þ g) (it is not true that that the existence of believers entails right to belief); (10) Ø(l Þb) (it is not true that that the existence of unbelievers entails duty to unbelief); (11) Ø(l Þ d) (it is not true that that the existence of unbelievers entails right to unbelief); (12) (a Ú b Ú m) (belief is obligatory, unbelief is obligatory or belief and unbelief are permissible).


Jan woleńSkI

The formula m, which is equivalent to g  d, deserves a special attention. Introducing the personal parameter, it expresses the fact that X has the right to belief as well as right to disbelieve. This right can be qualified as strong, contrary to the d rendering, in which it is weak. Thus, weak rights can be constructed as “parts” of strong ones. The crucial difference consists in the fact that duty implies a weak right, but not strong one. Similarly, duty or prohibitions constitutes strong duty (the negation of strong right). Intuitively speaking, a strong right to belief (unbelief) is annihilated by the duty to believe or not to believe. Some general conclusions and/or conceptual suggestions come from (D1); they modify suggestions made in (i) and (ii) at the beginning. It seems reasonable to understand rights as strong rights, which agrees with our intuition that rights are not duties. otherwise speaking, any right is a fusion (combination) of a positive right (to do something) and a negative right (right to not do of something what constitute the subject of positive entitlement). Furthermore, the following (among others) conjunctions are consistent (verbal comments about particular formulas are considerably simplified): a  k (duty and existence of believers), a  l (duty and existence of unbelievers), b  k (prohibitions and existence of believers), b  l (prohibition and existence of unbelievers), n  k (strong duty and existence of believers), n  k (strong duty and existence of believers), m  l (strong duty and existence of unbelievers), m  k (strong right and the existence of believers) and m  l (strong right and existence of unbelievers). generally speaking, if s is strong duty or strong right, then the formula s  k  l. Thus, the logic of (D1) does not distinguish between any consistent combination of the factual state of affairs (that believers or unbelievers exist) and its normative status (that believing or unbelieving is obligatory or permissible). This corresponds to a well-known feature of logic, namely that, logical theorems are neutral with respect to the course of things in the real world. Philosophically speaking, duties and rights are imposed by normative acts. nothing special is assumed here about the content of the normative impositions save that they have formal existential characteristics. The foregoing considerations cohere with cognitivism as well as with non-cognitivism in meta-ethics. Incidentally, many of the above formal remarks apply to other forms of belief, for example, epistemic ones. however, there are also considerable differences. In particular, religious belief does not admit degrees. assume fallibilism as the theory of knowledge. If so, we are entitled to doubt in any epistemic result. Thus, if we have reasons to belief in A, we have also a right (reason) to believe

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not–A. however, if the degree of belief in A is high, the corresponding reasons for belief that not–A will be small. So-called virtue epistemology tries to develop a kind of deontics for knowledge.1 It is perhaps interesting that and not accidental that the expression “right to (belief) unbelief” does not occur in epistemological discussions about degrees of (epistemic) belief. Perhaps this fact is related to its normative character. on the other hand, virtue epistemology also considers epistemic duties with the result that we get a certain fuzziness in trying to define the concept of normativity. I observed at the beginning of this paper that I focus on religious matters, that is, belief and unbelief related to faith; I use the terms “belief” and “unbelief” as abbreviations of “religious belief” and “religious unbelief” respectively. yet this position requires some further comments. The concept of unbelief covers many different attitudes (all in various forms) toward religion, namely, atheism, agnosticism, scepticism or indifference.2 The analysis of this variety is not the concern of this paper. let me only remark that that all forms of unbelief either reject god or doubt his existence. of course, since there are dubious cases, for instance, pantheism, some amount of conventionality has to be applied. My own intuition is that believing in personal god does not constitute a sufficient condition of being a believer, and that thus the pantheist squeezes through when we are trying to collect all forms of religious belief. More importantly, non-believing in a particular god, but accepting another faith does not shape unbelief. This last point is significant, because many religions have historically considered or even consider today those who dissent or who maintain other than orthodox beliefs in god as unbelievers. This view in its extreme form maintained by fundamentalism (for example, Christian, Muslim or Judaic in order to restrict examples to basic monotheistic religions) qualifies heresy or heterodoxy as unbelief. The vocabulary used in this paper qualifies all forms of religious faith, orthodox or heterodox, as cases of religious belief. See F. huber, Ch. Schmidt-Petri (eds.), Degrees of Belief, Dordrecht: Springer 2009 for a general panorama of the problem of grading beliefs by pieces of evidence attributed to them and e. Sosa, A Virtue Epistemology. Apt Belief and Reflective Knowledge, v. 1, oxford: Clarendon Press 2007 as one of recently published accounts of virtue epistemology. 2 See R. Dawkins, “Foreword”, in T. Flynn, The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief, armherst: Prometheus Books 2007, pp. 14, J. woleński, “Theism, Fideism, atheism, agnosticism, in l.-g. Johannson, J. Österberg and R. Śliwiński (eds.), Logic, Ethics, and All That Jazz. Essays in Honour of Jordan Howard Sobel, uppsala universitet, uppsala 2009, pp. 512-521. 1


Jan woleńSkI

My position admits that various religious sects, independently whether large or small, or officially recognized or illegal are kinds of religion. This broad understanding of religion does not collide with restrictions of religious freedom or right to belief sometimes introduced by legal orders, for example, for security reasons, because it is commonly recognized that liberties can have exceptions. Furthermore, I will neglect such limitations as not relevant to the problem of tolerance, even if they turn up in the discourse that swirls around current political tasks. It follows from our general conceptual considerations that the right to unbelief (belief) does not require treating unbelief as a kind of belief. This statement can be extended to related strong rights. In fact, strong right to belief (unbelief) always consists in allowing that any person can believe in god or take the opposite attitude. Thus, we have serious reason to define religious tolerance as admitting religious belief or religious unbelief. This point has been frequently misunderstood in the history of liberal institutions. John locke, the father of liberalism, political and economic, limited the scope of the principle of tolerance by excluding the papists (Catholics) and atheists from its benefits. his attitude to Catholics was the result of 17th century english political affairs, but locke’s verdict toward atheists is more difficult to explain. Perhaps he considered atheism as socially dangerous; perhaps he limited religious freedom only to believers and concluded that unbelievers do not deserve right to unbelief. locke was not an exception. Some writers dealing with religious freedom, for instance, the Polish Brethren, left, consciously or not, the issue of atheism open; others, for instance many american state legislatures, followed locke in his unfriendly attitude to unbelievers. More specifically, legislatures in the British colonies in north america and later the uSa introduced penalties for atheisms. This practice, although more liberal and occasional, was sometimes continued in the 20th century as it is documented by the Bertrand Russell case in 1940; he was not allowed (by the local court in new york) to teach in the City College for his atheism. If we look at the diagram (D1) and the conclusions derived from it, locke’s view introduced legal prohibition of unbelief and, a fortiori, duty to belief. although his position is more liberal than, for example, the official Catholic standpoint declared by the Trident Council (Catholicism as the unique vera religio), it still restricts religious freedom to a spectrum of religions. on the other hand, some anti-religious regimes, anticipated by the Jacobins in France and continued by some communist states, liquidated the right to belief by introducing duty to unbelief.

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logic by itself cannot solve the problem of the scope of religious freedom, although it can clarify the structure of tolerance, suggesting there are no conceptual reasons in the conjunction between deontology and political rights to exclude unbelievers from its benefits. In order to have a wider perspective we must appeal to the concept of freedom, which we can construe as follows.3 Typically philosophers distinguish positive freedom (freedom to) and negative freedom (freedom from). although the latter consists in the lack of pressure which forces people to do something, the former refers to human capacities, liberties, etc. allowing people to realize their tasks directed by decisions and acts of will. Circumstances resulting in pressure in question can be subjective or social. we say that we are free when our actions are not completely determined by external circumstances. The traditional view maintains that negative freedom is a condition of positive freedom, meaning that our positive freedom, which entitles us to a good or service, is grounded in our larger negative freedom, that carves out a space of free choice for us to realize our tasks and desires to the best of our abilities. The distinction of both kinds of freedom has several aspects. ontological factors limiting freedom are often construed in terms of fundamental problems relating to determinism, indeterminism, free will etc. For obvious reasons I will disregard these great and controversial matters. Simply speaking, I assume that we feel free and that this commonsensical position is not without fairly solid foundations in our psycho-psychophysical nature. let me only remark that, according to the assumed view, radical determinism (roughly speaking, everything is predetermined or preordered in advance) excludes freedom equally as radical indeterminism (roughly speaking, everything is merely accidental or contingent). Thus, the commonsensical view seems to imply that the real freedom, negative as well as positive, always functions in the context of various natural limitations. Social and political aspects of freedom are much more important for discussing rights and their execution. although this picture, I agree, appears as somewhat naïve – disregarding such things as financial endowments, differences in access to opportunities, etc. – it fairly suffices to allow us to conclude that the right to belief and right to unbelief is a fundamental civic liberty. Decisions about choosing an attitude to religious faith are manifestations of positive freedom. These decisions occur against the background of the negative freedom warranted 3

For a more comprehensive account see J. Feinberg, “Freedom and liberty”, in e. Craig (ed.): The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 3, london and new york: Routledge 1998, 753-757.


Jan woleńSkI

by the social system, which are meant to protect these decisions against coercive forms of pressure. This picture applies to believers in secular environment as well as to unbelievers in religious one. Both attitudes require positive freedom and corresponding negative freedom, with the question being how much persuasion can be exercised on the side of believers or unbelievers to influence those undertaking decisions concerning religion. needless to say, negative freedom here is a universal enjoyed within a given political entity by everybody, and not separately by believers and unbelievers. of course, there are several practical problems to be solved. how to harmonize ways of expressing religious or secular beliefs in various segments of the social space? Take, for example, religious symbols in public school in which believers and unbelievers are present, but the former constitute the majority. one perhaps would like to argue that personal negative freedom defends an unbeliever X against participation in religious practices even in a passive way. In other words, X can abstain from attending religious teaching in public schools or from being taught in rooms with religious symbols. yet both situations are different. If X is a student of a school, he or she can refuse to participate in lessons of religion. In this case, his or her negative freedom conditions positive freedom manifested by right to be religiously educated or not. on the other hand, if a person is unbeliever is taught in places in which religious symbols are present, his negative freedom is illusive. however, believers can observe that the issue is not so simple, because their negative freedom requires tolerance for their religious principles. Consequently, the believers need negative freedom in order to realize their positive religious freedom. Both standpoints are mutually inconsistent, at least as far as the matter concerns postulates related to practical issues. Moreover, positive freedom and negative freedom go sometimes in opposite directions, although the scheme of reasoning seems the same in both cases. Thus, the division between both kinds of freedom is insufficient, although important, and should be somehow supplemented if the question of religious freedom is discussed. one of solutions consists in a defining a sharp borderline between public and religious sphere. however, this goes beyond the scope of the formal problem I set out to clarify in this paper. as that clarification shows, it is inherent to rights talk that its theoretical absolutes must be subject, in practice, to compromise.

The Right to Believe:

Perspectives in Religious Epistemology Dariusz Łukasiewicz & Roger Pouivet (eds.)

RenaTa zIeMIńSka

Scepticism and Religious Belief The Case of Sextus Empiricus1 The article presents the ancient sceptic Sextus empiricus’ view on religious beliefs. Sextus is an advocate of a radical form of scepticism that takes the total suspension of judgment as its goal; Sextus even goes so far as to suspend judgment about his own sceptical arguments. his philosophy is better conceived as a way of life without beliefs rather than a doctrinal approach to epistemology. Sextus as a philosopher writes about his own impressions without accepting his own words as true. It is in this context that Sextus’ discussion of religious belief should be read. Sextus makes three claims about the gods: first, he claims that we are unable to acquire a concept of god/gods; secondly, he shows that any proof of god’s existence is impossible; and thirdly, he gives famous argument from evil against providence. But, surprisingly, he prefaces his discussion of god by saying of sceptics that “we say that there are gods and we are pious towards the gods and say that they are provident” (Ph 3.2) In this paper I will argue that Sextus’ efforts to reconcile religious practice and radical scepticism fail. The superior contribution of scepticism to the philosophy of religion is given to us by another ancient sceptic Carneades, who advocated a weak assent to belief in religious matters. Sextus is not hostile towards religion, but in rejecting the validity of any religious beliefs, he ends up promoting a kind of behaviourism that empties religious observance of internal content. The word sceptic is often understood as having a similar meaning to atheist2, in as much as it describes a person hostile to religious faith. But 1 2

Scientific work financed by funds for science in years 2009-2011 as a research project. Cf. george Berkeley, who treats both terms as closely connected. See the titles of his works: A Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge. Wherein the chief


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the history of philosophy, shows us that there is, as well, a close connection between scepticism and fideism: we need only name nicholas of Cusa, w. ockham, M. de Montaigne, and B. Pascal3. The complex relation between scepticism and religious belief was already present in ancient scepticism. I will analyse the case of major ancient sceptic Sextus empiricus, whose many works had a profound effect on such early modern thinkers as Montaigne, as well as enlightenment era thinkers, like hume.

1. Sextus Empiricus as a sceptic Sextus empiricus (2nd century C.e.) is the only Pyrrhonian whose works we still possess. we have his Outlines of Pyrrhonism (Ph) and Adversus Mathematicos (M, composed of Against the Logicians 7-8, Against the Physicists 9-10, Against the Ethicists 11, Against the Professors 1-6). These texts are our main source for ancient sceptical arguments because many other sceptical books are lost or known only indirectly in short or dubitable reports embedded in the works of other writers. Sextus’ works are copious enough to serve as an important source of our knowledge about the whole of ancient philosophy. we are immediately confronted with a problem when trying to define Sextus’ scepticism, because he “neither reject[s] nor posit[s] anything” (Ph 1.10), and considers scepticism as “an ability to set out oppositions” (Ph 1.8) and “the ability to suspend judgment” (Ph 1.17) rather than as a dogma. Scepticism does not promote any thesis, any doctrine but a kind of practice, a way of life without beliefs. Sextus tries to characterize the sceptical practice in opposition to other ancient philosophers. according to him aristotle, epicurus and the stoics are dogmatists because they “think that they have discovered truth”, Carneades and other academics are negative dogmatists because they “have asserted that things cannot be apprehended”, they believe the truth cannot be discovered (in modern causes of error and difficulty in the sciences, with the grounds of Scepticism, Atheism, and Irreligion, are inquired into and Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonus. The design of which is plainly to demonstrate the reality and perfection of human knowledge, the incorporeal nature of the soul, and the immediate providence of a Deity: in opposition to Sceptics and Atheists. See The works of george Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, vol. 1-9, london 1948-57. See Richard h. Popkin, a. vanderjagt, Scepticism and Irreligion in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, Brill, leiden 1993. 3 Cf. R. Popkin, 2003 The History of Scepticism from Savonarola to Bayle, oxford university Press, xix.

Scepticism and Religious Belief


philosophy such a philosophical stance is called agnosticism). Sceptics oppose both groups, believing neither that anyone has so far discovered the truth nor that it is impossible to do so. Rather, the sceptics “are still investigating” (Ph 1.3)4. keeping on investigating may be logically consistent with suspending all judgments, but it is also psychologically implausible, for if I suspend all judgments through many years, my hope that I will discover the truth will gradually vanish. The core of Sextus’ texts consists of arguments against the possibility of attaining certain knowledge. he includes the ten modes of aenesidemus, i.e., arguments against trusting the information provided by the senses, and the five modes of agrippa, i.e. arguments against the possibility of rational justification of any thesis (we are in trilemma of infinite regress, reciprocity or dogmatism); he adds his own arguments against the possibility to establish the criterion of truth in rational way and many arguments against valid proofs. The sceptical arguments are instruments to reach a mid position between opposing judgments, intended to make it impossible to believe either one or the other position rationally. The result is suspending all judgments, and the lack of any belief, to the extent that even the arguments that Sextus uses to make us suspend our judgment also fall under suspicion about their truth value.

2. Sextus Empiricus about the concept and existence of God/gods Sextus’ texts (Ph, M 9-11) are stocked with arguments against god (or the gods), but they also contain some arguments for the existence of god against those who argue against his existence. Sextus discusses both the concept of many polytheistic gods and the concept of monotheistic god, as was the custom of his times. The stoics in particular were in the process of moving from many gods to the concept of one god (hankinson 1995, 242 and long 1990, 286). The situation of two radically different concepts of the divine did not discomfort Sextus’ scepticism, since his arguments show the problems with both what we mean by god or the gods and, even if we accept the concept, the problems with the existence of god. The first argument against the concept of god springs from the disagreement among philosophers. while the Stoics and epicureans agree 4

Sextus is unfair towards at least some academic sceptics, who suspended all judgments.


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that god is the indestructible (immortal, everlasting) and blessed, they disagree about what it is to be blessed. Stoics say that to be blessed is to act in accordance with virtue and to provide for the things subordinated to the power of the one so blessed. epicurus opposes this claim with the counter-claim that the highest blessedness is to be inactive and take no trouble to myself and cause none to others (Ph 3.4-5). Sextus suggests that there is no way to decide which view is right. Similarly, philosophers remain mired in many other conceptual and definitional disputes (is god corporeal or not, anthropomorphic or not, in space or not, within the universe or outside etc.). Sextus refers to the six arguments formulated by Carneades in his dispute with stoics (we know them as they were repeated by Cicero in De natura deorum 3.34-44) and adds many others. In Against the Physicists there are eighteen arguments against stoic’s theology, mainly against polytheistic gods (M 9, 182-3). But some of them seem to be important also in the discussion of a monotheistic god. The sixth of the eighteen shows the incoherence of the concept. It leads to sceptical thesis that god is neither a body nor incorporeal and no such object can exist. (1) If there is something divine, it is either a body or incorporeal (2) It is not incorporeal, since (3) what is incorporeal is inanimate and insensitive (4) nor it is a body, since (5) every body is changeable and perishable, whereas (6) The divine is imperishable, consequently (7) The divine does not exist (cf. M 9. 151) Typically, Sextus does not claim that this argument is conclusive. he presents the argument to give a dialectical counterbalance to common religious beliefs. Following Carneades, he shows the dilemma between god’s being sentient and imperishable (M 9.146-7) and between god’s being comprehensible to humans and being perfect (M 9.152-77). Canvassing the conflicting theories of god, Sextus suggests that the human spirit is incapable of acquiring a concept of god, because „we posses neither an agreed substance for him nor a form nor a place” (Ph 3.3). yet, even granting that god is conceivable, conceivability does not translate into a proof of existence. Rather, Sextus gives reasons to convince us that it is necessary to suspend judgment about whether gods exist or not. The first is again the dispute among philosophers that shows that the existence of gods is not-evident and in need of proof (cf. Ph 3.6). The second is the lack of valid arguments, which Sextus proves by surveying

Scepticism and Religious Belief


existing arguments and showing that they are invalid. In particular, he presents the ontological argument by Stoic Diogenes of Babylon: „the gods are of such a nature as to exist. But if so, then they exist. For if they ever did exist, they do now, just as if atoms ever existed they do now. For this sort of thing is ungenerable and incorruptible” (M 9.135). Sextus’ answer is that „not everything conceived has a share in existence” (M 9.49). Because Sextus has already shown that the intuition behind this argument, which depends on some conception of god, does not stand, he does not feel the force of that intuition that would confirm the first proposition: that the gods are of such a nature as to exist. having rejected the self-evidence of divine existence, Sextus then deploys, as his third reason, the positive arguments against their existence. The most space is devoted to the argument from evil. It is an extended version of epicurean argument with, typical for Sextus, clear dichotomies5: he who says god exists either says that he has providence for the things in the world or that he does not, and if the former then either for all or only some things. But if he had providence for all, there would be neither evil nor vice in the world: yet they say that everything is full of vice, and consequently he cannot have providence for all. But if only for some, why has he providence for some and not others? For either (a) he both wishes and is able to have providence for all, or (b) he wishes to but is unable, or (c) he is able but doesn’t wish it, or (d) he neither wishes it nor is able (Ph 3.9-10, transl. hankinson 1995, 238)

The first option is inconsistent with god’ power (god would be weak), the second option is inconsistent with the fact of evil, the third option is inconsistent with god’ goodness (god would be malign) and the fourth option is inconsistent with both his power and goodness (god would be both weak and malign). If they say that the gods provide for everything, they will say that they are the cause of evil; and if they say that they provide for some things or even for none at all, they will be bound to say either that the gods are malign or that they are weak (Ph 3.12).

according to Sextus, it is impious to say that gods are cause of evil or that they are weak and malign. This leads to the paradoxical assertion that those who say that the gods exist are being impious. Thus, it is more 5

other testimonies for epicurus’ concept of gods are briefer, cf. letter to Menoeceus in Diogenes laertius, X 123-4.


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pious to say that they do not exist (or at least that they have no providence for the world). If we do not want to be impious, we must say that god that has providence for the world does not exist. The argument from evil would seem to logically end at this point, but, in a gesture that is typical of Sextus’ argumentative style, after presenting many strong and weak arguments against some thesis, he does not accept the conclusion of his own arguments. In this case, he does not accept the conclusion that god does not exist. It would be negative dogmatism. Sextus’ position is not any thesis but suspension of judgment about god.

3. Suspending judgment and inconsistency To counter the arguments against the existence of god, Sextus then turns to atheism and its negative results. he refers to ancient atheists (like Diagoras of Melos M 9.51) and tries to argue against atheism. For instance we can find this weak argument: „if god does not exist, neither will piety, since piety is the knowledge of service to the gods; but piety does exist; so, too, do the gods” (M 9.123). Sextus juxtaposes the opposite claims (atheism and theism) and suspends judgment about god (concerning both concept and existence). The sceptic will not believe either side on the question of whether the gods exist or not. he is neither a theist nor an atheist. But if sceptic suspends judgment, what is his/her everyday activity? Does he attend religious ceremonies or not? we expect that disbeliever will be rather inactive in religious matters. But Sextus surprisingly says: „following ordinary life without opinions, we say that there are gods and we are pious towards the gods and say that they are provident” (Ph 3.2). „we accept, from an everyday point of view, that piety is good and impiety bad” (Ph 1.24). Sceptics suspend judgment about the existence of god but in practice are pious and say that god exists. we need not actually believe that the god exists and that s/he is benevolent to take part in religious ceremonies or even to act in a manner that is pious. But there is something unsatisfactory about this conclusion: it seems inconsistent or even hypocritical. In fact religious beliefs are only one example of the general problem for Sextus: how to live without beliefs? This is the most important problem for ancient sceptics and for Sextus as well. If a sceptic has no beliefs, s/he will be unable to choose a course

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of action, s/he will have no motive for doing anything, even assaulting dogmatists. This will lead to a kind of lethargy, to the end of activity, and even to the end of life (apraxia charge). Sextus answered to this charge in the Outlines of Pyrrhonism pointing to the possibility of life without beliefs due to following the appearances in the form of the fourfold observance. Sceptic guides his/her actions by (1) nature, (2) necessitation by feelings, (3) laws and customs, and (4) kinds of expertise. The sceptic as a human being follows nature and feelings. “By nature’s guidance we are naturally capable of perceiving and thinking. By the necessitation of feeling, hunger conducts us to food and thirst to drink” (Ph 1.24). But we may use these capacities so far as they don’t lead us to a dogmatic belief. Sceptic as a citizen respects the law and tradition concerning evaluations of things but s/he does not accept any common belief as true. Sceptic may also practice some profession, for instance to be a doctor like Sextus. according to Sextus a doctor need not accept any physiological theories to be good in the practice of curing diseases (Ph 1.238). Sextus also adds that he as a philosopher writes and speaks about his own impressions without accepting his own words as true (Ph 14). he says a lot but paradoxically he does not believe what he is saying.

4. Three recent ways to defend consistency In contemporary scholarship, three important schools of thought have tried to defend the consistency of the Pyrrhonian scepticism: (1) allowing a sceptic to have weak beliefs about things (Frede, Brennan), (2) allowing philosophy to be practiced without beliefs, as disposition and therapy (hankinson, williams) and (3) taking inconsistency as the effect of the development from the sceptic apprentice to the mature sceptic (McPherran, Bailey, Thorsrud). Michael Frede’s interpretation is to limit Pyrrhonian epochē to scientific, philosophical beliefs as concerning what really is, the real nature of things and to allow sceptic to have weak beliefs. Strong belief is “active acceptance as true”, weak belief is “merely passive acceptance” (Frede 1998b, 138). weak beliefs allow the sceptic to lead a normal life within which he accepts some beliefs and to philosophise against strong ones. also religious beliefs can have status of weak beliefs. Frede interprets Sextus consistently and reasonably but ascribes him a kind of Carneades’ fallibilism (we have no certain beliefs but we have some more or less justified weak beliefs). In my opinion, Frede presents us with the most


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reasonable reconstruction of the ancient sceptical program, one in which we can see, distinctly, a foreshadowing of modern scepticism. It is also good model for relation between knowledge and faith. But the problem is that Frede’s interpretation has a weak basis in Sextus’ texts. Sextus criticizes academics for approving what is persuasive, he suggests that there is no rational preference between opinions; he writes that only appearances are accepted by sceptics (Ph 1.228-30). Sextus rejects even the modest appeal to greater or lesser plausibility (cf. Striker 2010, 204). according to R.J. hankinson scepticism is a practice without any beliefs (hankinson 1995, 287) that is without any theses, theory, assertions, opinions, judgments etc. a sceptic can live by impulse and habit. Philosophy is just some disposition and ability: the disposition to epochē and the ability to produce opposite arguments. Sceptical philosophy is not any thesis but a way of life (agōgē). The question is why sceptics dislike dogmatists, if they have no beliefs. The reason can be just their disposition. The same is the status of the religious life: behaviour without beliefs. hankinson (1995, 296) is even ready to accept the Sextus’ story that a sceptic has a moral life without beliefs. The most serious counterexample for Sextus is the case of a tyrant compelling a sceptic to perform a forbidden act, for instance to kill his/her parents (M 11. 162-6). Sextus replies that the sceptic can make a choice without beliefs, led by his/her education and customs. It can be the result of appearances that created his/her dispositions. Such an answer seems difficult to accept. life without beliefs seems to lack essential elements of the human – it seems to be deprived of freedom, reason, emotion and values. If sceptic rejects all rational principles, he/she is lost for rationality. Sextus writes that all sceptics’ words are “implicitly cancelled by themselves” (Ph 1.15). In my opinion, hankinson’s interpretation cannot explain the logical power of sceptical arguments and it reduces sceptical philosophy to some kind of passive life in an animal style. Scepticism is left without rational force. But we can ask, if arguments are so worthless, why sceptics devote them so much attention? hankinson suggests that sceptical arguments are instruments for sceptical therapy. The third, developmental interpretation makes the important distinction concerning the function of sceptical arguments. according to alan Bailey we need to distinguish between the mature sceptic and the developing sceptic (Bailey 1995, 42). The developing sceptic must have many beliefs and the arguments, like agrippa’s five modes, must have some rational force for him/her. after converting to

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scepticism, the mature sceptic can extend his/her suspension on the very arguments that persuaded him/her to start a sceptical way. The modes were just a ladder to climb to the level of sceptical thinking. The development of sceptical position can explain why the sceptic uses an argument at one point and later rejects the same argument at another point. In fact, Sextus gives several metaphors to induce the impression that this use of logic is actually a return to the natural situation. Bailey’s and hankinson’s therapeutic model is supported by texts that deploy the metaphor of purgative drugs. Sceptical arguments “can be destroyed by themselves, being cancelled along with what they are applied to, just as purgative drugs do not merely drain the humours from the body but drive themselves out too along with the humours” (Ph 1. 206). The next famous metaphor is the throwing step-ladder. “Just as it is not impossible for the person who has climbed to a high place by a ladder to knock over the ladder with his foot after his climb, so it is not unlikely that the sceptic too, having got to the accomplishment of his task by a sort of step-ladder – the argument showing that there is not demonstration – should do away with this argument” (M 8.481)6. Sceptical arguments are like a throwing ladder, used for therapy and rejected together with other beliefs. The two metaphors are rhetorical tropes to cover the self-contradiction that threatens Sextus’ philosophy. In my opinion, the case for the developmental trajectory of scepticism fails to explain the way sceptical arguments tend towards self-refutation. If we pass over developing scepticism and look back from the ‘mature’ point of view, scepticism is deprived of its rational force – that is to say, the sceptical arguments that have led us there are worthless. The idea of the development is a good way to explain how the sceptic has and does not have beliefs, but it is parasitic on the dogmatist’s beliefs, which in the end justify the development of the sceptic. Scepticism may be consistent at the mature stage but without dogmatic arguments it is unjustified and irrational. 6

This metaphor is echoed at the end of wittgenstein’s Tractatus: “My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them – as steps – to climb out through them, on them, over them. (he must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.).” l. wittgenstein, Tractatus logico-philosophicus, 6.54. wittgenstein calls scepticism “nonsensical”. Radical scepticism can not even be coherently formulated, and so there is nothing to rebut. But he writes like Sextus that philosophy is not a theory but a kind of therapy.


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however, the most vital moment in ancient scepticism consists in the arguments that the sceptic uses against the possibility of acquiring certain knowledge. here we get to the heart of the sceptic’s problem with self-refutation: the arguments are formulated from dogmatic point of view. They presuppose some information about the world, the senses, the intelligibility of concepts and intellectual obligations, as for instance the often alluded to principle, “no certainty – no belief”, and for the arguments to work we must accept, for a moment, the dogmatic (in ancient sense) point of view. If we are convinced by the argument and reject this point of view and reject all beliefs and principles, then we cannot return to the argument at all, as the logical power of the sceptical argument is lost. Thus, scepticism can’t really present itself as a rational philosophy. and if sceptical arguments are powerful they are also self-destructive: when we have no beliefs, we have no reason to be sceptics. If Sextus’ scepticism is a rational philosophy it is inconsistent and if it is consistent it is irrational. I would argue, then, against the three interpretations above, that it is more plausible for Sextus to have been engaged in making a sort of reductio ad absurdum that shows how an over-ambitious rationalistic philosophy falls into inconsistency, then to claim that he was promoting an ultimately irrational practice or even promoting it as a phase in the development of some practice leading to wisdom (of either the esoteric sect or a passive animal life).

5. Inconsistency or irrationality To return to our religious questions, if we accept the basic inconsistency in Sextus’ view on religion, than we do not need to ascribe to him the view of religion as some kind of passive life in animal style and to treat his arguments as worthless. Sextus seems to be getting us to move towards some kind of religious behaviourism, in which the member of the religion actively performs what is required by the religion but is emptied out of any internal religious beliefs. This may be possible from the point of view of some esoteric sect, but it is obviously inconsistent from the common point of view (practicing religion seems to require beliefs). Carneades takes a more rational position: we are not certain in any judgment, but in practice we have right to accept what is credible (ac. 2.59). on the ground of this kind of scepticism, religious beliefs are among the other common beliefs and they are weak, probable or fallible assertions. Sextus finds this be a fatal weakening of the radical sceptical

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premise, and writes in order to assert himself as a more radical sceptic than Carneades (Ph 1.227). Sextus presents his view as one that is a curious mixture of the radical and the conservative: he is not hostile towards religion but rejects all religious beliefs. The consequence of this view is, as I have said, religious behaviourism, and a religious conservatism, or passivity, that hollows out practices as gestures performed without thinking, in mere instrumental conformity to living in society. Radical and global scepticism like Sextus’ is not about guarding religious beliefs from being subsumed by rationality, but instead, a way of depriving it entirely of rationality. In fact scepticism was sometimes an argument for radical fideism (nicholas of Cusa, gianfrancesco Pico). But the modern pattern of scepticism was the Carneades’ fallibilism (uncertainty but rationality). Such rational scepticism with weak beliefs and weak fideism is represented by M. de Montaigne. Because Sextus‘ writing about religion is very sophisticated and his position toward religion is ostentatiously reasonable – I cannot interpret his view on religion as irrationalism. however, I do interpret it as inconsistent. Sextus’ declaration „we say that there are gods and we are pious towards the gods and say that they are provident” (Ph 3.2) is, indeed, very suspicious. Read in the context of his entire work, it seems to be either an insincere declaration to neutralize the inconsistency between scepticism and everyday life, or some despairing attempt at connecting radical sceptical theory with the requirements of everyday life. References Bailey, a. (1990). “Pyrrhonean Scepticism and the Self-Refutation Argument. In The Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 40 no. 158, 27-44. Bailey, a. (2002). Sextus Empiricus and Pyrrhonean Scepticism. oxford: Clarendon Press. Barnes, J. (1998). The Beliefs of a Pyrrhonist. In: Burnyeat M., Frede M. (eds.), 58-91. Barnes, J. (2000). Introduction in: Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Scepticism. Translated by Julia annas, Jonathan Barnes, Cambridge and new york: Cambridge university Press. Bett, R. (ed.) (2010). The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Scepticism. Cambridge new york: Cambridge university Press. Brennan, T. (1999). Ethics and Epistemology in Sextus Empiricus. new york: garland. Burnyeat, M. (1976). “Protagoras and Self-Refutation in later greek Philosophy”. In The Philosophical Review, vol. 85 1, 44-69. Burnyeat, M. & Frede, M. (eds). (1998). The Original Sceptics: A Controversy. Indianapolis: hackett Publishing Company.


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Burnyeat, M. (1998a). Can the Sceptic Live His Scepticism? In Burnyeat, M. & Frede, M. (eds.). (1998), 25-57. Burnyeat, M. (1998b). The Sceptic in His Place and Time. In Burnyeat, M. & Frede, M. (eds.). (1998), 92-126. Cicero, (2006). On academic scepticism. Translated by Ch. Brittain. Indianapolis/ Cambridge (=ac): hackett Publishing Company, Inc. (=ac) Diogenes laertius, (2007). The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers. Translated by C. D. yonge’. kessinger Publishing. (=Dl) Frede, M. (1998a). The Sceptic’s Belief. In Burnyeat, M. & Frede, M. (eds.). (1998), 1-24. Frede, M. (1998b). The Sceptic’s Two Kinds of Assent and the Question of the Possibility of Knowledge. Burnyeat, M. & Frede, M. (eds.). (1998), 127-151. hankinson, R. J. (1995). The Sceptics. london and new york: Routledge. long, a. a. (1990). Scepticism about gods in Hellenistic philosophy. In griffith, M. & Mastronarde, D.J. (eds.). Cabinet of the Muses, atlanta: Scholar Press. long, a. a. & Sedley, D.n. (eds.). (2009). The Hellenistic Philosophers, vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge university Press 2009. (=lS) McPherran, M. (1987). “Sceptical homeopathy and Self-refutation”. In Phronesis, vol. 32 no 3, 290-328. Popkin, R. (2003). The History of Scepticism from Savonarola to Bayle. oxford: oxford university Press. Popkin, R. h. & vanderjagt, a. (1993). Scepticism and Irreligion in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. leiden: e.J. Brill. Sextus empiricus, (2000). Outlines of Scepticism. Translated by J. annas & Jonathan Barnes, Cambridge and new york: Cambridge university Press. (=Ph) Sextus empiricus, (2005). Against the Logicians. Translated by R. Bett, Cambridge and new york: Cambridge university Press. (=M 7-8) Striker, g. (2010). Academics versus Pyrrhonists, reconsidered. In Bett (ed.). (2010). 195-207. Thorsrud, h. (2009). Ancient Scepticism. Berkeley and los angeles: university of California Press. williams, M. (1988). “Scepticism without Theory”. In Review of Metaphysics, vol. 41, 547-588. wittgenstein, l. (1922). Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Translated by C.k. ogden. london: Routledge and kegan Paul.

The Right to Believe:

Perspectives in Religious Epistemology Dariusz Łukasiewicz & Roger Pouivet (eds.)

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Are We Morally Obliged to Be Atheists? Marian Przełęcki on the Right to Believe 1 one of the essential characteristics of the philosophy of the lvov-warsaw School is rationalism (Przełęcki 1989a, 56). This rationalism is very close to its construal in the tenets of logical empiricism2. however, the School was composed of Catholic believers (Bocheński, Drewnowski, Salamucha) as well as atheists (kotarbiński) who defended strong metaphysical theses in support of their atheism. These two belief sets might well be regarded as nonsensical from the point of view of logical empiricism. But there are, within the School’s notion of rationality, possible strategies to defend the rationality of religious belief. I want to present and discuss one such strategy, proposed by Marian Przełęcki, the eminent disciple and continuator of the lvov-warsaw School3. I think it is interesting not only to consider Przełęcki’s arguments in themselves from the purely philosophical viewpoint, but also to see how the rationalism of the lvov-warsaw School was preserved and developed in the late twentieth century from the viewpoint of the history of philosophy. The word “rationalism” has two meanings in the philosophy of the lvov-warsaw School. First, rationalism is an epistemological view that is in opposition to empiricism. In the second sense, more important for this I am very grateful to ela Łukasiewicz and Roger gathman for their philosophical comments, as well as for their improving the linguistic shape of the text. 2 This view is discussed by Jan woleński in Logic and Philosophy in the Lvov-Warsaw School (woleński 1989, 296-297). 3 Marian Przełęcki was a student of kazimierz ajdukiewicz, Janina kotarbińska and Tadeusz kotarbiński. 1


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paper, rationalism is the opposite of irrationalism, and is also called “anti-irrationalism” (the name introduced by kazimierz ajdukiewicz). In what follows I will use the word “rationalism” in the second sense. within the tradition of the lvov-warsaw School, the rationalism of beliefs was understood in the following way: beliefs are rational if and only if they are semantically determined and sufficiently justified (exact). This definition of rationality, though apparently simple, requires some clarification, which will be important to backgrounding our presentation of Przełęcki’s views on religious beliefs. let us therefore begin by explaining such concepts as belief, semantic determinacy and sufficient justification as they are construed or implied by the School. First, the very concept of belief has, as Przełęcki underlines, two basic meanings. In the first sense, a belief should be regarded as an assertive act (rejection is in this sense also an assertive act), and the object of that act of assertion is a sentence (or a proposition expressed by a given sentence). In the second sense, a belief is a state of conviction and its object is the truth of a given sentence or proposition4. The distinction between assertion and conviction has important consequences for the problem of rationality of religious beliefs. Firstly, belief understood as an assertion of a proposition is voluntary, dependent on the human will; whereas conviction is involuntary, it is a will-independent act. Secondly, assertion is not a matter of degree; something is asserted or is not asserted – it is a “dichotomous act” – degrees of assertion simply do not exist (see Przełęcki 2002, 82; also Reinach 1982, 319)5. By contrast, The distinction between belief as assertion and conviction was also present in Brentano and the phenomenological tradition, as described by adolf Reinach, but probably Przełęcki did not borrow it from Reinach (Reinach 1982, 319). It seems to have been his own decision to use the distinction. There is a problem with Przełęcki’s thesis that the object of assertion is a proposition. It would be better to say that it is a state of affairs which is asserted, not a proposition. The latter is rather a content of an assertion. The view that proposition is the object of belief is quite popular with many philosophers. a subtle analysis of the problem of what is the object of our beliefs and propositional attitudes is provided, for example, by John Perry in “Perception, action, and the Structure of Believing” (grandy, warner 1986). 5 Roger gathman raised the following objection regarding the distinction between assertion and conviction. as assertion is voluntary and conviction involuntary, one would expect that the former would indeed have degrees – that it would be subject to calculation that makes one thing more probable than the other – while the latter would not, as the believer ‘can’t help himself” as a vehicle for a will independent act. Thus, one would think that assertion would come about through the Pascalian 4

are we Morally obliged to Be atheists?


conviction has levels or degrees of certainty; one can be more convinced that something is the case or less so. There is also a difference between assertion and conviction regarding their temporality; assertion has no temporal extendedness, it is spontaneous and punctual, whereas conviction has a temporal extent. assertion is directly dependent upon conviction; the former is motivated by the latter, but this is not a causal dependence. I can be convinced that something is the case even though I do not assert that it is the case. The fact that assertion is a voluntary act and conviction is an involuntary mental state is important for the following questions concerning the moral status of beliefs (in both senses of the word): is it reasonable to evaluate beliefs from the moral point of view and can I be held morally responsible for my own beliefs? To these questions we will return later. The next concept that forms an essential condition for assigning rationality to belief is semantic determinacy (exactness), or, perhaps better, the postulate of semantic determinacy. It was clear to all members and followers of the lvov-warsaw School, Marian Przełęcki included, that any debate over a philosophical thesis and the possibility of its decidability (demonstration that it is true or false) requires precision with regard to its content – what a given thesis says should be unambiguous, and without any semantic blurring. The ideal is to formulate a sentence with only one sense. however, Przełęcki in his many papers on the logic of empirical theories repeatedly pointed out that even the language of scientific empirical theories cannot satisfy the requirement of exactness, because observation terms are by nature vague, and, therefore, sentences that include them are not unambiguous (Przełęcki 1969, 1988)6. But he also demonstrated that it is possible to construct a class of permissible interpretations, such that, if each of them is either true or false, then it is possible to decide, in the first case, that the sentence is true (it is the case if all its permissible interpretations are true), and in the second, that it is false (it is the case if all its permissible interpretations are false). The problem of decidability arises when, in the case of a given sentence, it is true in one interpretation and false in another. This may happen when a philosophical thesis is expressed wager, while conviction should always be absolute. In answer to this I would say that the key point here is that conviction is based on experience which is just a fact, and cannot be controlled or manipulated in any way by the believer. 6 observation terms are vague because they are introduced by ostensive acts. This vagueness is inherited by theoretical terms whose meaning is determined by logical relations to observation terms (Przełęcki 2002, 38).


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in the language of metaphors, for instance. In that case it should be treated as in principle undecidable, even though the interpretations are true or false (Przełęcki 2002, 191). There is, however, another possibility considered by Przełęcki; that is of those sentences which seem ambiguous at the beginning of its analysis, and show themselves in the course of analysis to be sufficiently precise; this sentence will be equivalent to the weakest of its permissible interpretations, that is, it will be equivalent with the alternative of all its permissible interpretations (Przełęcki 2002, 17). Therefore, because of the essential vagueness of our language, Przełęcki does not advocate “maximal” semantic determinacy (i.e. that a sentence has only one interpretation) but only a “sufficient” semantic determinacy (Przełęcki 2002, 37). Deficiency in semantic determinacy is a particular problem in the language of existential philosophy, as well as in the literary and religious discourse. another concept to which the claim that a belief is rational must refer is that of justification. Przełęcki follows the general opinion of the lvov-warsaw School in distinguishing two kinds of justification: a direct justification and an indirect justification of a belief. The direct justification of a belief consists in there being an empirical reason (direct empirical data) for its acceptance7. The indirect justification of a belief rests on its implicative relation with another belief (a sentence expressing it), which has already been accepted. It is important, given the two-fold semantics of justification, to explain what it means that a belief is “sufficiently” justified. Przełęcki makes clear that sufficient justification of beliefs depends upon the sense of the word “belief”. If by “belief” we mean an assertion (a belief which has no degrees), I’d suggest calling this an a-belief, then the belief is sufficiently justified if the degree of its justification is high enough. The degree of the belief’s justification can be identified with the degree of logical probability of the sentence expressing it, as it is the case in R. Carnap’s theory of confirmation. It is usual that the degree of probability of the accepted sentences with regard to all our knowledge is relatively high, greater than 0.5, or even close to 1 (Przełęcki 2002, 9-10). If what we mean by “belief” is conviction (a belief which has degrees), I’d suggest calling this a C-belief, then a belief in that sense is sufficiently justified if it is accepted with the degree which corresponds to the degree of its justification. Thus, a conviction is sufficiently 7

The word “belief” is used here in a more general sense, without presuming any of the two basic meanings of the word discussed earlier.

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justified if the empirical probability of its being true is identical with the logical probability of the sentence expressing it. If, for example, the degree of justification of sentence p is less than 0.5, then the belief that p is sufficiently justified, but the degree of certainty of that belief is low8. The postulates of sufficient semantic determinacy and sufficient justification are closely linked with the requirements of inter-subjective communicability and inter-subjective verifiability. one can debate in a rational way over a given thesis provided that the meaning and the manner of its decidability are accessible to all participants of the debate (Przełęcki 2002, 11). The postulates of sufficient semantic determinacy and sufficient justification are also closely related to each other. a belief can be sufficiently justified if and only if the sentence expressing it is sufficiently precise; we cannot have sufficient justification for beliefs whose content is not expressed precisely enough. Therefore, we are allowed to conclude that an a or C-belief is rational if and only if it is sufficiently justified. an a-belief is rational if and only if the degree of logical probability of its sufficient justification is high enough, while a C-belief is rational if and only if the degree of its subjective probability (the degree of certainty) is identical with the degree of logical probability of the sentence expressing it. Thus, beliefs which are not sufficiently justified are not rational; they are irrational. The rationality of beliefs is rigidly dichotomous; beliefs cannot be more rational or less so, they are either rational or irrational. The kind of rationality described above is also known as the “logical rationality”, or “methodological rationality” (Przełęcki 2007, 188). Przełęcki speaks also, though rarely, of rationality in a “weak sense”, “rationality in a formal sense”, or “rationality in a relative sense” (relative to a certain set of premises (2007, 102)). This “weak” rationality, contrary to, let us call it, “strong rationality” (logical rationality), consists in such characteristics of beliefs as being semantically well-determined, being non-contradictory and being inferred by a law of logic. This notion of rationality does not assume that it is uniquely determined by the concept of sufficient justification founded in empirical data. In my view, it is not correct to think that rational beliefs in a formal sense are beliefs sufficiently justified, if by justification we mean “indirect justification”. The latter term means allowing the justifying reason for 8

kazimierz ajdukiewicz says that the degree of conviction concerning a given sentence should be regarded as its degree of subjective probability (woleński 1989, 282).


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a belief to be another justified belief. In the end, any indirectly justified belief presupposes that at some point in the chain of beliefs, one of them will be directly justified. This is so because a belief is indirectly justified if the reasoning whose conclusion is that belief is formally and materially valid. an argument is materially valid if its premises are true or probable enough (Czeżowski 1959, 141). how can we decide whether the premises are true or probable? one can do that in an arbitrary way, just by assuming that they are true, like we do in logic by assuming some theses as axioms of the system, or one can do that by referring to some direct experience that is inter-subjective and verifiable. But our discussion about the rationality of beliefs does not concern theses of logic, or analytic truths, but sentences which say, or seem to say, something about the world; thus, indirect justification of a given belief presupposes direct justification of some other beliefs. hence, when Przełęcki claims that there is an essential similarity between the philosophy of the lvov-warsaw School and the philosophy of logical empiricism, he is referring to the common thesis of empiricism rooted in the humean tradition present in both philosophies (Przełęcki 2007, 103)9. The relation between the concept of “weak rationality” which contains the postulate of semantic determinacy, and the concept of “strong rationality” (let us call it “empirical rationality”) could be expressed as follows: all beliefs which are rational in the weak sense only are irrational in the strong sense, and all beliefs which are rational in the strong sense are rational in the weak sense as well. This summary helps us to understand Przełęcki’s views regarding such strongly Catholic philosophers as Bocheński, Drewnowski and Salamucha. True, he treated them as anti-irrationalists, but that was possible only because he recommended a divide between philosophical beliefs held for professional and private purposes (Przełęcki 2007, 95). Bocheński, Drewnowski and Salamucha all constructed arguments to demonstrate that god exists10. had they limited their philosophical work to the analysis of logical relations between premises of those arguments and the conclusion (i.e. the thesis that there is god) and separated their klemens Szaniawski, another eminent modern heir of The lvov-warsaw School, also stresses that rationality of thinking, i.e., “logical rationality” in Przełęcki’s sense, is based on empirical justification (Szaniawski 1983,7). 10 J. Bocheński, J. Drewnowski, J. Salamucha and also B. Sobociński were members of the Cracow Circle. They were inspired by the project of a scientific religious metaphysics as proposed by Jan Łukasiewicz, who sought to translate it into formal terms using the axiomatic method (Pouivet 2009). 9

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philosophical beliefs from their religious beliefs, it would not be possible to say that their philosophical beliefs were irrational – rather, they would simply have been logically diagnostic. But they didn’t refrain from taking a position and the price of that philosophical approach was a kind of “double thinking” as Przełęcki called it (2007, 103)11. apart from the strong and weak logical rationality predicated of beliefs, there is also “pragmatic rationality”, which is predicated of actions. an action is rational in the pragmatic sense if and only if it is valuable to the maximal degree with respect to the system of values accepted by a given agent (Przełęcki 2002, 95). hence, any evaluation of the pragmatic rationality of actions (behavior) must be relative to the evaluations by engaged and observing agents. If we regard the acceptance of a belief as a kind of action, then the concept of pragmatic rationality of beliefs can also be applied to evaluations of religious beliefs. let us now return to the question of whether the evaluation of a belief with regard to its logical and pragmatic rationality can have a moral status. In the context of this question it is important to use the distinction between beliefs as voluntary acts (assertions) and beliefs as involuntary acts (convictions). a-beliefs can be directly evaluated as to their moral character in the same way that all voluntary acts can, and by making such evaluations we can take into account beliefs’ rationality and irrationality12. Importantly, Przełęcki also subscribes to the thesis that human free will determines our voluntary acts13. But the fact that each act of will is determined does not make it impossible to evaluate it from the moral point of view. It is sufficient for the moral evaluation of each act, acts of will included, that the behavior of a given agent could have been different than it was, that is, that the person could have done otherwise than she did, and that she could have done otherwise because she could have willed otherwise. Thus, the possibility of an action does not emerge from the lack of causal determinacy, but it is I think that one can also find this kind of double thinking in the philosophy of kazimierz Twardowski. according to him, traditional problems of the philosophy of religion, such as the existence of god, god’s relation to the world, and the immortality of the soul could not be regarded as objects of rational, scientific and philosophical beliefs, but only as private religious beliefs (Łukasiewicz, D. 2009, 27). 12 This will be discussed in more detail below, now let me only point out that both logical and pragmatical rationality are highly estimated values. 13 Determinism of human will was a view typical of the eminent representatives of the lvov-warsaw School; it was held by kazimierz Twardowski, Tadeusz Czeżowski, Tadeusz kotarbiński. Jan Łukasiewicz was an opponent of this form of determinism. 11


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“the possibility in the dynamic sense” as Przełęcki’s teacher, Tadeusz kotarbiński, put it (1966, 31)14. Thus, in regard to the a- beliefs of an agent, we are right to say that these beliefs depend in part on the agent’s choice, which depended on her will. In regard to C-beliefs, as they are independent of the will, they are not immediately subject to such analysis. however, we must bear in mind that convictions are the result of many causes, among which are also some of our decisions and the situations that arise from the conviction and feed back into it. From this point of view, our convictions, even though directly independent of the will, can be subject to moral evaluation (Przełęcki 2002, 83). Thus, the deterministic conception of will is crucially important for the moral evaluation of actions, among which we include, directly, a-beliefs, and indirectly, C-beliefs. Perhaps, one of the most important consequences of such a theory of free will is that we are morally obliged to avoid such feelings as contempt, indignation or condemnation in relation to the agent whose actions we are morally evaluating. This is so because the causes of human decisions and actions are beyond control. For the moral evaluations of beliefs with respect to their logical and pragmatic rationality it is also important to adopt a system of moral values and a conception of human nature. Przełęcki distinguishes two main types of ethics: the ethics of dignity and the ethics of charity, which he also called the ethics of compassion and kindness (Przełęcki 2002, 100). Those two ethical systems are based on slightly different views on the human nature and fate. The ethics of dignity presupposes that the essential human features are reason and rationality. That assumption has been present in the western philosophy since the antiquity, in a long narrative that goes back before aristotle’s definition of the human, goes through the medieval modifications of aristotelian anthropology, for example, the definition given by Bernard of Clarivaux, and changes in the early modern period with the commencement of the Cartesian ego cogito. That is also, I think, the commonsensical attitude to the question of what makes the essence of human nature. The position that reason and rationality are of the human essence was also maintained by the members of the lvov-warsaw School15. This It is, of course, debatable whether this conception of human freedom is satisfactory because there is a problem of whether an agent could have willed otherwise than he willed, and, in consequence, whether he could have acted otherwise than he acted. 15 let us remember here Twardowski’s position, according to which, rationality embracing the ability to abstract, think logically, make prudent decisions and act in a way unaffected by passions and feelings, is a constitutive feature of a human being. 14

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rationalistic conception of human nature implies that values and attitudes like dignity, “intellectual honor”, pride, courage, determination and intellectual honesty must assume a prominent place in the ethical system as articulations and defenses of rationality. Such a rationalistic attitude is supposed to be a source of power in struggle against suffering, misfortune and despair. The ethics of charity does not reject rationality as one of the essential human features, but it presumes a more realistic view of human nature and fate. Blaise Pascal is a thinker who very aptly grasped this inescapable pessimism concerning humans: what a chimera, then, is man! what a novelty! what a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, imbecile worm of the earth; depositary of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error; the pride and refuse of the universe! (Pascal’s Pensѐes, 434).

Therefore, the ethics of charity claims that each human, as a sensitive being able to suffer and suffering, deserves the highest compassion and unlimited charity (Przełęcki 2002, 100). The ethics of dignity regards irrational actions, and the assertion of irrational beliefs, as an offence to human dignity, its humiliation. Thus, irrational beliefs deserve to be condemned; we are morally obliged to have rational beliefs and seek for them. The ethics of charity, recommending that we respect the good of other people at least as much as our own good, claims that the moral evaluation of our beliefs depends on the effect they have on our attitude to other human beings – do those beliefs serve the good of other people or do they harm others? (Przełęcki 1989b, 16). If we can conclude that irrational beliefs are socially harmful, then they deserve to be morally condemned; furthermore, according to the ethics of charity, we are morally obliged to accept rational beliefs only as they are socially beneficial. having explained those terminological and philosophical distinctions, let us now go on to the key problem, namely, the rationality of religious beliefs in Marian Przełęcki’s philosophy16. In his view, religious beliefs – in the a and C senses of “belief” – are irrational, both logically and pragmatically. Therefore, under the assumption that what has been said thus 16

It is worthy of note that to be counted as a religious belief, a belief must be dictated by a given historical religion. In the case of the Polish philosophers, it was the Catholic Church and its doctrine contained in the catechism.


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far is correct, we are morally obliged to be atheists17. It is worthy of note that he does not draw a distinction between agnosticism and atheism, since in both cases one does not accept the view that there is a god. So a believer is morally blameworthy for embracing irrational beliefs, in the same way that others who embrace irrational beliefs are culpable; and yet Przełęcki does not claim that the believer deserves to be morally condemned. There are two reasons for this reserve. The first depends on the determinism of the human will; the second invokes the ethics of charity (provided we accept this ethics). Charitably, we should feel compassion rather than condemnation for people who are doing wrong. let us in what follows explain Przełęcki’s argumentation in more detail. Religious beliefs are irrational in the logical sense of rationality because they are not sufficiently justified. why not? The key point here is the nature of religious experience. Przełęcki says that such an experience does exist and it may have a cognitive nature; thus, it is not reducible to pure emotions. however, his concept of religious experience is slightly ambiguous. I think it can be understood in a broad and a narrow sense. a religious experience in the broad sense consists mainly, but not exclusively, in our feeling (intuition) that there are significant values that really exist in some realm of being, and that there is some meaning in our life and in the world. a religious experience in the narrow sense depends on the experience of the presence of god who is described by the dogmas of Catholicism18. naturally, the last claim could concern other religions and beliefs based on them. according to Przełęcki, a religious experience understood in the narrow sense cannot serve as a sufficient justification for religious beliefs understood as assertions because it presupposes them; in other words, a religious experience does not precede religion, here, but, on the contrary, religion precedes a religious experience (Przełęcki 2002, 93). nor can the narrow religious experience serve as the justifying reason for religious beliefs understood as convictions because the degree of their justification, that is their degree of logical probability, is incomparably low in relation It is necessary to add the assumption that moral evaluations of beliefs which moral agents have is sufficient to formulate moral propositions (obligations included) concerning persons. as far as I know, Przełęcki himself did not entertain the radical claim that we are morally obliged to be atheists, not directly at least. But we can draw this conclusion from his assumptions. 18 Przełęcki understands the mystical experiences of the direct presence of god and union with god described by w. James as being at the center of religious experience in the broad sense (2002, 93). 17

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to the degree of conviction that they are true (to the degree of certainty). Believers should be and probably are certain of the truth of the dogmas of their religion; it lies in the nature of religious faith that a believer has certainty or, at least, is convinced of the truth of religious dogmas to a very high degree, but without sufficient empirical justification for these dogmas19. a religious experience in the broad sense is rather a kind of metaphysical or philosophical experience, strongly motivated by a sense of inconceivability of the world or a sense of mystery of existence (Przełęcki 2002, 107-108). It is very hard, if not sometimes impossible, to express the content of this experience precisely, which is why it generates metaphors and parables. however, Przełęcki maintains that such an experience can be the reason justifying some beliefs (convictions)20. a metaphysical belief based on the broad religious experience is rational if and only if the degree of its certainty (subjective probability of a given belief) is proportional to the degree of sufficient justification for the sentence or set of sentences expressing that belief. The degree of sufficient justification is very low, and hence metaphysical beliefs should rather be called “conjectures” or “surmises”. Thus metaphysical beliefs are not religious beliefs in the narrow sense, i.e. in the sense of religious faith, because they are semantically vague compared to, for example, the dogmas of Catholicism and they lack certainty. as said before, from the point of view of a humanist ethics (one based on the insight that rationality makes us human) the religious believer is morally deficient in as much as she embraces irrational beliefs that presumably injure our humanity. But why should irrational religious beliefs be morally wrong from the point of view of the ethics of charity, which was accepted by Przełęcki (1989b, 22)? Przełęcki’s answer is that rational thinking and its products, rational beliefs, are themselves values that structurally ensure reliability in the domain of intellectual work. each form of that reliability has a social and interpersonal character (Przełęcki 2002, 85). Thus, if we are not reliable in our intellectual work, we harm other people; we act against their good. The problem with this solution is that it is not quite clear why our irrational religious beliefs21 (provided they are In this context, the urge to demonstrate the truth of religious faith is doomed to self-contradiction. 20 he speaks here about convictions because the content of the metaphysical experience and the experience itself are independent of our will. 21 one may raise the objection that the rational ethics significantly undervalues spontaneity and overvalues predictability. however predictability of human action might be regard as benefit from the social point of view. 19


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irrational indeed) should be considered harmful to other people. Is an irrational religious belief like a virus spreading an infectious disease of irrationality onto other beliefs we hold, thus affecting our, say, moral or political choices?22 If this were the case, atheists would be morally obliged to defend other people and society from religious beliefs, and religious believers would be obliged to regard their religious beliefs as embarrassing and very private vices that they should try to overcome. Consequently, public confessions of faith should be prohibited as deliberate harm done to a community. I do not claim that the latter idea was ever expressed by Przełęcki himself, but rather it can be drawn as a conclusion from what he said about religious beliefs, ethics and rationality. on the other hand, Przełęcki subscribes to determinism of the human will and accepts the ethics of charity, which is also the ethics of compassion. what should be the attitude of an atheist, given these views, towards a religious believer? It must be the attitude of understanding and compassion, in particular in relation to persons who have irrational beliefs and are fully aware of their irrationality. Perhaps the optimum moral program for an atheists, then, is to argue for rational beliefs in public in the hope of arguing those who have irrational religious beliefs out of those beliefs, in the same way a psycho-analyst might free a patient of neurosis through the ‘talking cure.’ now, let us consider the question of the pragmatic rationality of religious beliefs. as said before, a religious belief is rational in the pragmatic sense if its acceptance (possession) maximizes the values ascribed by an agent to the consequences of his actions (Przełęcki 2002, 89-90). In other words, a behavior is rational if it is instrumental to bringing about an expected desirable result. In the case of religious beliefs, one may speak about “fruits of faith”, including enhanced psychological well-being caused by a sense of meaningfulness of our existence, a non-resentful acceptance to whatever happens to us, a relief in pain, a consolation in misery, and an attitude towards others of love, born of the conviction that they are all fellow creations of a supreme creator. There are also some moral benefits of faith: a greater ability to feel compassion, to act for the good of others and to overcome selfishness. In conclusion, a religious faith makes us 22

I think this idea can be supported by ajdukiewicz’s rationalist attitude, according to which, rationality has social significance, and, therefore, it should be employed in everyday activities to preclude nonsense and false beliefs (Łukasiewicz, D. 2009, 27).

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morally better and happier people. The moral benefits seem to be especially important if one accepts the ethic of charity, as Przełęcki does. however, Przełęcki contends that this interpretation of the pragmatic rationality of religious beliefs is false, for three reasons. Firstly, the belief that faith will bring some expected psychological or moral benefits is not in itself a sufficient justification, since history has shown that there are plenty of religious believers who are unhappy and who commit immoral acts. Secondly, it is possible to bring about the same tranquilizing effect in a morally more respectable manner – with the aid of rational beliefs. Thirdly, as said earlier, the pragmatic rationality can only be predicated of a beliefs, not C beliefs, as the latter are involuntary. we do not choose to have religious convictions solely because we foresee them being good for us; nor is belief in god chosen as a sort of happiness pill (Przełęcki 2002, 97). let us consider how strong these three objections really are. Regarding the first one, it is, of course, true that there are religious believers who are unhappy or/and morally bad; religious belief itself is not an index of happiness or morality. on the other hand, it is also true that there are believers who are happy and morally good. Thus, it is not irrational to think that one’s religious belief would put one in the set of persons who believe that they are happier and morally better thanks to their faith. The objection would only caution against thinking that religious belief alone would make one happier and morally better. as it happens, the moral codes promoted by most major world religions reflect a consciousness of this point.23 as to the second objection, Przełęcki suggests that there are two atheistic (or at least religion-independent) paths that lead to the same achievement of psychological and moral benefits that are supposed to result from faith. he argues that our happiness, linked closely to the feeling of sense of our and the world’s existence, can be achieved by the belief in the absolute nature of truth. although the transience of everything in the world and the awareness of death may give rise to a sense of meaninglessness24, Przełęcki maintains that if we do something morally good in our life, for example, and we act according to the ethics of charity, then the moral value of our actions makes our life meaningful, and this true proposition about 23 24

I’m grateful for this remark to Roger gathman. The certainty of one’s death is the root of religion in the opinion of Bogusław wolniewicz, another eminent continuator of The lvov-warsaw School and kotarbiński’s disciple.


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our actions was true before we performed them and will be true for ever25. The awareness of the absolute nature of truth regarding our own deeds should give us happiness and the sense of meaning in life26. This view presupposes not only the absoluteness of truth, but also the objective nature of moral values and the cognitive status of moral experience. If I am to feel the sense of my life because I act in a morally good way, then I must know that my actions are morally good27. From where do we know that? Przełęcki’s answer is to posit a moral experience by which we discover values, and that experience provides us with a sufficient ground for our moral beliefs, based on inter-subjective communication and verifiability – thus connecting the moral experience to rationality in the logical sense28. By means of moral experience, for example, we discover the postulates of the ethics of charity. Thus, it is possible to be happier and morally better, and yet be an atheist. one can pose, however, the question whether it is sufficiently justified to believe that having some experience of moral values and accepting those epistemological and metaphysical theses (the classical This conclusion is true regardless of whether we assume the absolute conception of truth, according to which a true proposition was, is and will be ever true, or we assume instead that true propositions may be found to be true but are now neither true nor false. Przełęcki himself subscribes to both sempiternity – the view that a proposition was true in the past and eternity – the view that a proposition will be true forever (2007, 137). 26 The idea of a relation between meaning and value of life with the absolute nature of truth is very typical of most of the eminent representatives of the lvov-warsaw School. I mean here kazimierz Twardowski, Tadeusz Czeżowski, Tadeusz kotarbiński. The crucial role is played by the absolute concept of truth and the classical theory of truth defended by Twardowski, leśniewski, Tarski and others. as to the absoluteness of truth, there is one eminent exception: Jan Łukasiewicz (also T. kotarbiński for a time) rejected the sempiternity of truth and defended only its eternity. Two other members of the School, Poznański and wundheiler, rejected the classical theory of truth. 27 Certainly, the knowledge of what is morally good is the necessary although not sufficient condition of morally valuable actions. 28 Moral beliefs, in Przełęcki’s opinion, differ from perceptual beliefs only with respect to the degree of semantic vagueness; they are more vague than perceptual beliefs but much more precise as to their content than religious beliefs (1996, 46). Moral cognitivism was a typical view for most philosophers from the circle of Twardowski. kotarbiński spoke about the “evidence of heart”, that is some moral data, which justify our beliefs and Czeżowski about “axiological experience”. It is rather doubtful that moral experience is independent of the morality which people accept, as it is doubtful that religious experience is independent of the religion which believers accept. 25

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theory of truth and the absoluteness of truth) will bring the same or very similar benefits as religious faith is expected to bring. It is questionable, given the history of human societies so far, that adherence to an abstract philosophical theory will actually make people happier and morally better. Przełęcki was aware of that problem; he clearly says that only our deeds – the realization of ideals determined by moral experience – enable us to become happier and morally better persons. Following the ethics of charity, in his view, we can live a life committed to the good of others and liberate ourselves from the feeling of absurdity and despair (Przełęcki 1989b, 23). as to Przełęcki’s doubts concerning the pragmatic rationality of convictions, it is true that they are directly independent of the will, but still, we could claim that they are indirectly dependent upon our previous actions and decisions. even if it is true that, contrary to Pascal’s wager, we cannot make a decision to believe in god (to be convinced that god exists), we can decide to live as if we believed in god. Taking into account what has been said so far, let us conclude that, in Przełęcki’s view, that we are morally obliged to be atheists who live like Christians in following the ethics of charity. But, and let us underline this thought that is at the core of the problem I am elaborating in this paper, if we are obliged to be atheists, both according to the standards of the ethics of dignity and the ethics of charity, we do not have the right to believe29. In his later writings, Przełęcki’s views on the pragmatic irrationality of religious beliefs mellowed to some extent. he agreed that it does happen that faith helps some people be happier and/or morally better persons – even though, as he still maintained, there is no material connection between religious beliefs and human happiness and moral perfection, and religious belief in divine providence is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for happiness and morality (2002, 103). That change was dictated by Przełęcki’s deeply pessimistic view on human life. according to Przełęcki, in moments when we face despair and suffering that we cannot escape, we do have the right to believe. on such occasions, we are morally permitted to give up our “intellectual dignity” and to ease our suffering by embracing logically unjustified beliefs. By doing it we can also gain more power to serve other human beings. The right to believe in such cases is based on extending the ethics of charity to ourselves and to all suffering humanity, following the precept of acting compassionately for the good of other 29

If I am obliged to do A, I am not allowed to do non-A.


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people and, in as much as we are human, seeking such relief for ourselves. Therefore, religious beliefs (assertions) could be considered rational in the pragmatic sense, although they are irrational in the logical sense of rationality30. If there is a sort of moral escape clause for crisis situations, are we still obliged to be atheists at other times? how do we make the right to belief and the duty to disbelief cohere? The answer depends on whether our irrational religious beliefs ultimately harm other people or not. as we have seen, Przełęcki put a lot of weight on the idea that the logical irrationality of certain beliefs would make the believer socially harmful, in as much as he or she would be intellectually unreliable. however, later he came to the conclusion that there is no evidence that the logical irrationality of our religious beliefs and lack of logical reliability in that domain will necessarily harm anybody, or threaten the rules of the ethics of charity. Thus, finally, we are not morally obliged to be disbelievers who act according to the ethics of believers; we do have the right to believe, but only under the higher duty to be rational beings. Thus, taking seriously the value of logical rationality, we are always under an obligation to think in a critical way about all our beliefs. we are obliged to bear in mind that our religious beliefs are irrational in the logical sense, and we should not let ourselves believe they are rational. In conclusion, Marian Przełęcki’s views concerning rationality of beliefs are typical of the lvov-warsaw School. It is particularly important that he stresses the role of experience as a justifying reason for beliefs (strong logical rationality). however, it is also characteristic of the lvov-warsaw School that those philosophers, by contrast to the vienna Circle, had a broad concept of experience, as we can see in the very phrase, moral experience. This broad concept of experience includes not only sense perceptions, but introspection, as well as moral and aesthetic experience (Twardowski, ajdukiewicz, Czeżowski, kotarbiński, Tatarkiewicz had that concept of experience). Przełęcki’s views are in this context even more liberal because he treated metaphysical experience (religious experience in the broad sense) as a justifying reason for metaphysical beliefs. however, Przełęcki’s existential pessimism regarding the human fate and the nature of the world, inspired by Pascal’s intuitions, makes his views distinctive 30

The thesis that religious beliefs are rational in the pragmatic sense is accepted by such followers of the lvov-warsaw School as Jacek Jadacki (2003, 201) and Bogusław wolniewicz (1993, 197).

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in comparison to the rather optimistic worldview of the main representatives of the lvov-warsaw School, who saw themselves in the tradition of the european enlightenment. In spite of his Pascalian pessimism and atheism, Przełęcki believed that it is possible for the human life to be morally valuable and meaningful. what secures life’s meaningfulness is the absoluteness of truth; the absolute nature of truth was the thesis defended by virtually all representatives of the lvov-warsaw School. whether Przełęcki’s conception of justification for beliefs and the thesis that religious beliefs are irrational in the logical sense could be successfully defended from the point of view of the contemporary analytic philosophy of religion and epistemology of religious beliefs is a subject for another paper. here, I have simply been trying to show how Przełęcki came to believe that religious belief is morally permissible. It is also an open question whether Przełęcki’s conclusion that religious beliefs are irrational in the logical sense and can be rational in the pragmatic sense could not be interpreted as a kind of „double thinking”, of which he himself accused some Catholic philosophers from the Cracow Circle. References Czeżowski, T. (1959). Główne zasady nauk filozoficznych. wrocław: zakład narodowy Imienia ossolińskich. grandy, R. e. and warner, R. (eds.) (1986). Philosophical Grounds of Rationality. oxford: Clarendon Press. Jadacki, J. (2003). Aksjologia i semiotyka. warszawa: wydawnictwo naukowe Semper. kotarbiński, T. (1966). Medytacje o życiu godziwym. warszawa: wiedza Powszechna. Łukasiewicz, D. (2009). „Polish ontology and the Brentanian Tradition”. In S. lapointe, J. woleński, M. Marion and w. Miśkiewicz (eds.) The Golden Age of Polish Philosophy. Dordrecht/heidelberg/london/new york: Springer, 16-31. Pascal, B. (1910). Pascal’s Pensées. Translated by w. F. Trotter, 1910. Perry, J. (1986). “Perception, action and the Structure of Believing”. In grandy, R. e. & warner, R. (eds.). Philosophical Grounds of Rationality, oxford: Clarendon Press, 333-361. Przełęcki, M. (1969). The Logic of Empirical Theories. london: Routledge and kegan Paul. Przełęcki, M. (1988). Logika teorii empirycznych. warszawa: Państwowe wydawnictwo naukowe. Przełęcki, M. (1989a). “The approach to Metaphysics in the lvov-warsaw School”. In Szaniawski, k. (ed.) The Vienna Circle and the Lvov-Warsaw School. Dordrecht/Boston/london: nijhoff International Philosophy Series: kluwer academic Publishers, 55-66. Przełęcki, M. (1989b). Chrześcijaństwo niewierzących. warszawa: Czytelnik.


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Przełęcki, M. (1996). Poza granicami nauki. warszawa: Polskie Towarzystwo Semiotyczne. Przełęcki, M. (2002). O rozumności i dobroci. warszawa: wydawnictwo naukowe Semper. Przełęcki, M. (2007). Horyzonty metafizyki. warszawa: wydawnictwo naukowe Semper. Pouivet, R. (2009). „Jan Salamucha’s analytical Thomism”. In S. lapointe, J. woleński, M. Marion and w. Miśkiewicz (eds.) The Golden Age of Polish Philosophy. Dordrecht/heidelberg/london/new york, 2009: Springer, 235-245. Reinach, a. (1982). “on the Theory of the negative Judgment”. In Smith B. (ed.) Parts and Moments. Munchen: Philosophia verlag, 315-377. Szaniawski, k. (1983). „Racjonalność jako wartość”. Studia filozoficzne, (no. 5-6), 7-15. woleński, J. (1989). Logic and the Philosophy in the Lvov-Warsaw. Dordrecht/ Boston/london: kluwer academic Publishers. wolniewicz, B. (1993). Filozofia i wartości. warszawa: wydział Filozofii i Socjologii.

The Right to Believe: Perspectives in Religious Epistemology Dariusz Łukasiewicz & Roger Pouivet (eds.)

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Can There Be Supernaturalism without Theism? Contra Tooley’s Thesis I Does supernaturalism entail theism? Clearly yes, I would say. But Michael Tooley has mounted an argument on the opposite side. In this article, I argue against Tooley and justify the entailment between supernaturalism and theism. The issue is important, since it emerged as a pivotal point of disagreement in the recent debate on religious epistemology between Michael Tooley and alvin Plantinga.1 In their joint work for the Great Debates in Philosophy series,2 Plantinga argues for the epistemic plausibility of theistic belief by claiming that philosophical naturalism is epistemically self-defeating in three different ways: “(1) if naturalism were true, there would be no such thing as proper function, and therefore no such thing as malfunction or dysfunction. hence there would be no such thing as […] knowledge. […] (2) […] The naturalist is committed to [a] sort of deep and debilitating scepticism[…][:] he has a defeater for whatever he believes, including naturalism itself. and (3) […] naturalism, insofar as it implies 1 2

Plantinga and Tooley 2008. This is a book series each volume of which focuses on a particular issue, with two distinguished philosophers arguing opposite stands about it. each author is required to make an opening statement and offer two replies, in which he can criticise the opening statement of the opponent, or defend his own arguments from the attacks of the other.


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materialism about human beings, has no room for the essential features of mental life, including in particular belief.”3 Tooley, in response, offers a number of traditional secularist arguments, as for instance the induction from the fact that there is evil in the world to the implausibility of theistic belief, and a defense of the coherence and consistency of naturalism. he also offers a more novel claim, which is that even if naturalism were self-defeating and, hence, supernaturalism were true, theism would not necessarily follow. The claim comes up twice in the book, although it is not elaborated at any length: the first time at the end of Tooley’s first reply, the second time at the end of his second reply, which also closes the book. The two instances make a crescendo of philosophical intensity: the first time, Tooley just hints to the problem, in the context of an evaluation of Plantinga’s general strategy: “even if some argument against naturalism were sound – he writes –, that would not serve to show that it was reasonable to believe in the existence of god.”4 The second time, he makes the point more explicitly: In his opening statement, Plantinga attempted to show that theistic belief is justified by arguing that naturalism is false – a strategy that a number of other theists are now adopting. In my response, I attempted to show that the arguments that Plantinga offered, interesting though they were, are not in the end successful. But beyond the question of the success or failure of particular arguments, there is the question of whether this whole approach is a promising one to pursue. It seems to me that it is not. The reason is that a refutation of naturalism would get one only to supernaturalism of some sort or other, and there is an enormous gulf between that conclusion and the conclusion that god exists. The argument from evil shows, moreover, that that claim cannot be bridged.

These words end the book. Plantinga never addresses this issue in the joint book under discussion here. Perhaps Tooley’s first formulation of the objection is not perspicuous enough for Plantinga to argue against, or perhaps Plantinga thinks that the point is too small to bother with. Maybe he is confident that he has a straightforward answer to offer anyway (we shall see in a moment what that straightforward answer could be). Be that as it may, this ending of the debate leaves the issue open and calls for further discussion. 3 4

Plantinga and Tooley 2008, 1. Plantinga and Tooley 2008, 217.

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In this essay I will mount an argument that, contra Tooley, any argument that concedes supernaturalism would have to concede theism. I will do this by setting it in a wider context than appears in Tooley’s discussion with Plantinga. In next section, I will try to come to a definition of ‘naturalism’ and ‘supernaturalism’; following this, I will discuss what ‘theism’ means; in the fourth section, I will present the argument that supernaturalism entails theism; and finally, I will offer some comments on the notion of transcendence for what I take to be a correct understanding of this issue, which relates, as well, to debate between Plantinga and Tooley.

II In order to explain why supernaturalism entails theism we need to have a sufficiently clear grasp of what ‘supernaturalism’ and ‘theism’ mean. In this section we will deal with ‘supernaturalism’ and in the next with ‘theism’. Furthermore, in order to grasp the meaning of ‘supernaturalism’, we need provisionally to understand what naturalism is. ‘Supernaturalism’ is, indeed, a compound word parasitic on ‘naturalism,’ which means that we need to understand what naturalism is in order to understand what difference the addition of the prefix ‘super’ makes. These semantic matters will help us understand what the relation between naturalism and supernaturalism is. when we try to define ‘naturalism’, however, we soon discover that there is a wide spectrum of philosophical positions which have been called ‘naturalist’ in the history of philosophy. In fact, it is safe to predict that most contemporary philosophers, in spite of their other differences, would claim that their views are consistent with naturalism. Plantinga himself, in the mentioned book, recognises this difficulty: what is the basic idea of naturalism, the core notion in terms of which all [the diverse positions which call themselves ‘naturalist’] can be understood, perhaps as analogically related to it? This is by no means an easy question; naturalism is not at all easy to characterize. […] Indeed some who think about naturalism believe that it isn’t a doctrine at all; it isn’t a belief or a position.5

Plantinga goes on to suggest that naturalism is best understood as a way of looking at the world, exemplified by the approach of Bertrand Russell 5

Plantinga and Tooley 2008, 17.


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and described by Quentin Smith as “the thesis that there exist inanimate or animate bodies, with animate bodies being either intelligent organisms or non-intelligent organisms, but there exists nothing supernatural.”6 as Plantinga recognises this definition is not that helpful, since it deploys the word ‘supernatural’ which presupposes the grasping of ‘natural’, as we have seen. he does not struggle – however – to find a satisfactory account of the concept under discussion, and he somehow rests content with the claim that “the best way to get at naturalism […] is to contrast it with theism”: “the basic idea of naturalism […] is that there is no such person as god, or anything at all like him.”7 as I speculated, Plantinga might not have replied to Tooley’s first formulation of the objection that supernaturalism does not entail theism because he thought he had a straightforward answer at hand. now we can see what that answer could have been: if the best way to get at naturalism is to contrast it with theism, i.e. to think of it as atheism, then some proof that naturalism is false would be a proof that theism is true. yet even Plantinga does not straightforwardly equate naturalism with atheism, instead maintaining that naturalism is sufficient, but not necessary for atheism: even an atheist can reject naturalism, if, for example, he believes “in the Stoics’ Mind, or Fichte’s absolute I, or Plato’s Idea of the good, or aristotle’s unmoved Mover, or hegel’s absolute.”8 he doesn’t explain his instances, but perhaps he thinks that it is simply obvious that no contemporary naturalist would even consider hegel’s absolute I or the Stoics’ laws or Mind a serious metaphysical possibility. It seems to me that this elucidation of ‘naturalism’ is hardly a satisfactory one, for at least three reasons. First, it stipulates rather than explaining why contrasting naturalism with theism is the best way to get at the former. Second, Plantinga proposes a contrastive definition of ‘naturalism’ in relation to atheism, but then he goes on to add that atheists could reject naturalism without justifying that claim. This is a problem, since, if really “the best way to get at naturalism” is to contrast it with theism, and if the Stoics, Fichte, Plato, aristotle, and hegel are really atheists, then they either should be counted among the naturalists or naturalism can’t be best conceived by contrasting it with theism. Furthermore, the notion that all of these authors are atheists is a lot more complicated than Plantinga seems Smith 2001, 202, quoted in Plantinga and Tooley 2008, 18. Plantinga and Tooley 2008, 19. 8 Plantinga and Tooley 2008, 18. 6 7

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to assume here, as we shall see. Third, this definition spoils Plantinga’s own argumentative strategy precisely in the direction envisaged by Tooley: for if even some forms of atheism could count as supernaturalism, Plantinga’s arguments against naturalism could not establish the truth of supernaturalism as he proposes. Indeed, that argument would only prove the truth of a disjunction of views, in which theism figures only as one of the disjuncts, while at least one of the others includes Tooley’s position of the supernaturalist version of atheism. Failing in three ways is sometimes better than failing in a single one: one might hope that by improving the definition of ‘naturalism’ offered by Plantinga in at least one of the first two respects, the problem pointed out by Tooley can also be overcome, i.e. that Plantinga’s general strategy can be rescued. This is what I will try to do, but, before getting into that, we need to make some preliminary methodological remarks. Concepts like naturalism signify complex clusters of positions that cannot be grasped just by analysing current usages of the relevant words. Current usages are important, but the reasons why those usages are allowed and established, while others are rejected, also provide crucial information. Current usages depend on what and how the referents of words are, but also on the history of the community which came to conceptualise those referents in certain ways. In other words, these concepts (i.e. naturalism) have historical trajectories, which characterise them as particular ways of thinking about a reality of which the image changes with the various discoveries of the intellect. Thus, there are an array of different naturalisms which followed one another throughout history. Plantinga suggested that ‘naturalism’ refers primarily to a particular way of looking at the world, and I believe that this point can be accepted, since it is a sufficiently wide way to characterise what any philosophical stand (among which we find naturalism) attempts to do – it gives some account of the whole of reality, or at least of its major aspects as they press upon experience. If we want to understand why we can call some current ways of looking at the world “naturalistic”, in distinction from others, we would need to see how these stances originated in the course of the history of western philosophy. This is much too big a project for this paper. I only mean to suggest that looking at the family resemblence linking together the current uses of ‘naturalism’ will only give us part of the story: we also need to look at how current naturalisms originated, what philosophical problems they were prompted to solve, what assumptions about the world, knowledge, and philosophical enquiry they came from.


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My candidate for a crucial moment in the pedigree of naturalism is the development of aristotelianism between the late Middle ages and the Renaissance, which, as we know, made conceptually possible the origin of modern science. Renaissance philosophy is certainly famous for its “naturalism”, the character of which is best found, it seems to me, in its early phases, for example in the work of Bernardino Telesio (1509-1588). his opus magnum, Nature according to its own principles (De rerum natura iuxta propria principia), was an attack on some aristotelians of his time, in the name of an allegedly more authentic aristotelianism. as the title suggest, his enterprise was to offer an account of the natural world that relied solely on the principles (i.e., constitutive elements, causes, forces, etc.) that were internal to it. In doing this, he certainly could be said to have followed in the track of the aristotelian project, while in another sense he took an important step away from aristotle.9 as it is well known, aristotle wrote a number of works in which he attempted to describe the physical world, which, in his view, is the world of which we have sensual and perceptual experience. Thus he wrote works on biology, on geology, and on physics, i.e. his Physics, which is the most general account of the operations of the physical world. In his view, the physical world is characterised by motion (taken in the widest sense, as including local motion, growth and decrease, change of characteristics, etc.), and is populated by objects (substances) that have powers of different sorts (some are animate, some are inanimate, i.e. some have intrinsic principles of motions, some are moved from without). The physical world enjoys a certain independence, in the sense that the motions which characterise it can be accounted for or explained in terms of the exercise of powers by the substances which populate it. Therefore, operations within the physical world can be accounted for or explained, since it has an intrinsic order which our reason can capture. however, the independence of the physical world is not absolute: motion is the actualisation of a potentiality by a power, and in order to account for the existence of motion in the physical world at all, aristotle suggests, at the end of his Physics, we need to introduce the existence of a first mover which is completely actual, and, thus, not itself moved. Being motionless, the first mover will not be part of the physical world, where everything is movable, as we have seen. Furthermore, being completely actual, the first mover cannot exercise actions which require the actualisation of powers, and thus 9

For a treatment of these points of the work of Bernardino Telesio, see my De anna 2011.

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it can only move “by desire”, as the final cause of all physical things: in this way it is the ordering principle of physical reality. The first mover is the object of a different inquiry than that constituted by physics, which is why aristotle wrote his Metaphysics. This investigates a realm or reality different from the physical world, which is constituted of unchangeable and perfect beings (i.e., without potentialities needing actualisation).10 Telesio appropriated aristotle’s notion of nature, which is the world of our experience, where everything is in motion, and which is self-sufficient in the sense that motion can be explained in virtue of the powers of the objects contained in it. Telesio thus agrees with aristotle that natural motion follows an intrinsic order of the physical world, which rational enquiry can find out.11 But he moved away from aristotle in an important way by dismissing the first mover argument. The independence of the physical world is absolute for Telesio, and the physical world, i.e. “nature”, can be fully accounted for just by looking at its intrinsic principle, “juxta propria principia.” when this is done, nothing is left out, no further metaphysical enquiry is needed. The question of an ultimate explanation of the origin of order in the physical world, of the origin of the “energy” which supports the power of physical substances, is altogether overlooked. The impression that he leaves is that there is nothing to say about or against metaphysics and ultimate explanations – he writes as if aristotle had just written his physical works, without his Metaphysics. historians have speculated about the reason why Telesio takes an agnostic position to metaphysics: on the one hand, it could have been due to his devout Catholicism, as he (at least formally) had an answer in his religion to his quest for an ultimate explanation;12 on the other hand, it could have been the sly move of free thinker who did not dare challenging theistic belief in the open in order to avoid persecution.13 This poses an interesting question, both in itself and for an historical and psychological understanding of the roots of naturalism, but we can leave it aside for the purpose of the paper and merely remark on this foretaste of what, in modernity, has come to be a common reaction to metaphysics. Cf. aristotle, Metaphysics, 1073a 1-13. although Telesio explicitly quotes aristotle, the source of his conception of nature is certainly not just aristotle, and he is probably influenced by the ways in which aristotelian nature came to be interpreted in the course of the Middle ages and the early Renaissance. 12 Cf. De Franco 1996, ch. 1, in particular 74-9. 13 Bondì 1997, p. 103. 10 11


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It must be observed that Telesio’s metaphysical silence in no way commits him to materialism: his exclusive focus on the physical world is not a form of physicalist materialism, as we would expect nowadays. In his view, indeed, the physical world is made of three principles: matter and force, the latter being divided in heat and cool; and it includes also spirit, spiritus, i.e. a vital force within animals, characterised by warmth and motion, which cannot be perceived by the senses. when spirit cools and rests, it solidifies, and becomes perceivable by the senses. The physical world that we can perceive with the senses, then, does not exhaust reality, but only includes matter and the solidified parts of the more inclusive spirit. on the other hand, the spirit which cannot be perceived is not part of a different reality: it is made of the same stuff as the perceivable world, only in its rarefied form: the perceivable world is only a part of the physical world, but they are the same reality, since they are made of the same stuff. The main traits of Telesio’s thought are common to most forms of Renaissance naturalism and were inherited by modern philosophers too: the physical world is conceived as nature with a capital ‘n’, i.e. as an absolutely independent and exclusive reality, in which laws operate, thus creating an order that is so structured as to be comprehensible to at least a part of that order, the human mind. It may be the case that not the whole of nature is empirically accessible to the human mind – for instance, there may be sub-atomic events we can’t understand, or dimensions we can only mathematically construct – but it is still one single reality, since the parts which are empirically accessible and those which are not are of the same sort. Thus, for example, hobbes’s rigorous materialism led him to claim that all that is, is corporeal, and the physical world is ordered in that all bodies follow strict laws of motion. In hobbes’ cosmology, some bodies are too small (atoms) and others are too big (god) to be perceived, but they are of the same kind. he refers to atoms and their powers, where Telesio refers to matter and forces, but both share the view that all of reality is exhausted by the principles of the physical world. what counts here is not that nature is material or physical, but that it exhausts reality, that it is all there is, and that it can be fully explained with reference to forces immanent to it. I would suggest that the conception of nature as an absolute reality that emerged in the Renaissance is the common ancestor of many different and diverse modern and contemporary philosophical positions which, their diversity notwithstanding, could all be considered “naturalist”, contrary to Plantinga’s claim. Thus, for example, Spinoza thought that there is one

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only substance (natura naturans, or god), and all physical objects are just modifications of it (natura naturata), modifications which follow rational patterns: they are not just the same sort of thing, but they are even the same substance. god is nature and all that exists is a modification of this one substance. (If you feel resistance to the idea that someone who speaks about god might be a naturalist, take hobbes as an example: he does speak about god, but he is certainly a naturalist; he takes god to be as corporeal as anything else – just made of the same stuff as us, dogs, and stones, i.e. atoms). Furthermore, what holds for Spinoza, holds for hegel: he is also dependent on the conception of nature of the Renaissance. absolute spirit, according to him, is not a principle different from nature and constituting a separate reality; rather, nature is but a moment of the becoming of the absolute spirit, which needs to be overcome in the process of the returning of spirit to itself. It would be unfair to apply the word ‘naturalism’ to hegel in a strict sense, since he saw nature as a mere moment of the development of spirit and reality is really spirit, according to him; but, in his view, spirit is “the truth and the final end of nature” (hegel 1830, § 251), its fulfilment we could say, and nature is identical to spirit in its objectified phase of development; in this way his idealism is one of the possible developments of Renaissance naturalism, rather than a denial of it. ultimately, hegel’s absolute idealism is “compatible with naturalism” (Beiser 2005, 68). Contrary to what Plantinga suggests, then, I would not consider Spinoza and hegel straightforward anti-naturalists, although, of course, they would not agree with contemporary versions of naturalism. what differentiates contemporary naturalism from hegel, I would argue, is not the formal of the naturalistic attitude, but a bifurcation which occurred in the very bloodline of naturalism: hegel thought that he had described in philosophical terms the phases of the progress of the human mind up to its end in his logic, and that he could encompass all knowledge, including scientific knowledge, in a way such that even scientific discoveries turned out to be necessary steps in the process of historical development of his “logical” system. But science was progressing beyond the point recognised by hegel, and august Comte did not buy into his presumptions about the possibilities of the absolute spirit: he claimed that science would not be absorbed in a superior form of knowledge, like hegel’s absolute spirit, but, after a theological phase and a philosophical phase of the history of human kind, will constitute the definitive form of knowledge, and it will vary only in its extension, not in its kind. The scientific method is the right way to approach nature (still conceived as nature), and the sciences will


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be able to explain everything about reality, including the operations of the human mind (psychology) and the processes of society (sociology). Philosophy has to progressively fade away as the sciences take its place on the path towards a complete explanation of reality. This finally brings us up to the modern history of naturalism, which is what we are normally taught, starting in the late nineteenth century and proceeding through the twentieth and concentrating on such american thinkers as John Dewey, ernest nagel, Sidney hook and Roy wood Sellars. This sketch of the background of naturalism is not meant to undervalue the enormous differences among Spinoza, Comte and hegel. My point is only that those differences assert themselves as varying conclusions that begin with the shared assumption of naturalism. Certainly, each of them conjoined naturalism to other assumptions which the rest did not necessarily accept, and reached conclusions which might contradict those of the others. In order to get at contemporary forms of naturalism we need to add a further step to this history, which was spelled out by David Papineau:14 contemporary varieties have a materialist/physicalist bent which was never a large thematic among the positivists or the first american naturalists. up until the early twentieth century, newtonian physics was still the paradigm, action at a distance was as acceptable as an exercise of force through direct contact, and the conservation of energy was still undigested as a principle in most philosophical metaphysical schemes. In this framework, one could still think about spontaneous, mental or psychic forces as respectable scientific entities. This led to the flourishing of a non-physicalist psychiatric and psychological literature. when the scientific paradigm changed with relativity and with the permeation of the principle of conservation of energy into all areas of physics, the mind came to be identified with the brain. This identity has made the mind into another physical object, thus annexing the last seemingly extra-naturalistic entity into the naturalistic cosmology, and making possible the current, physicalist forms of philosophical naturalism. what is the point of this rough historical overview? I am not suggesting that all forms of naturalism are the same or even very close to each other, but rather that assumptions made at some points in history have imposed upon and conditioned the spectrum of available philosophical possibilities for centuries. I am not assuming here a hegelian or otherwise historicist conception of history, i.e. one in which history is seen as having a direction, or an immanent principle of development, or an intrinsic rationality. My 14

Papineau 2002, appendix.

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claim is only contingent upon what actually happened to the Renaissance conception of nature in the subsequent history of western philosophy. My point is that the particular way of conceiving nature which was introduced in the Renaissance was subsequently assumed as a common premise and articulated in different, sometimes even divergent directions. Thus, if we go back in the bloodline of a particular variety of naturalism, we find assumptions which that variety shares with other branches originating from the same ancestor, and at each junction we will find a trait, the typical trait of the trunk from which that junction branches out, which will be shared by all views branching from it. at each of those junctions, then, we can offer a different definition of naturalism. The further we go back in a bloodline, the vaguer the definition will be, the higher the number of views comprehended in that definition will be. how far back do we need to go to answer the question ‘does supernaturalism entail theism’? It depends on what exactly we are asking, when we ask that question. It seems that in the case of Plantinga’s strategy for defending theism, he can go quite far back in the bloodline of current physicalist views, in fact all the way to the general conception of naturalism of the Renaissance: his three arguments against naturalism, indeed, rely on a naturalism with the plainest scope as the thesis that nature can be fully explained in its own terms, being an absolutely independent reality. I would argue that any view which denies the existence of an external cause of the internal order of the world of experience is committed to the denial of what Plantinga calls proper function (and, hence, of knowledge), to a radical scepticism with regard to explanations about why things are as they are, and to the rejection of a special ontological status for mental states (including beliefs), for the reasons brought forward by Plantinga. It is a secondary matter, for the theism argument, what the specific terms of the functioning of the world may be. My proposal, then, is to substitute Plantinga’s definition of naturalism as atheism, with the definition according to which ‘naturalist’ is any view which [1] admits the existence of an ordered world which we have experience of, [2] claims that this world has ordered features and operations, and [3] denies that such ordered features and operations can only be fully accounted for and explained by introducing entities which are not of the same kind of those populating that world and which, for that reason, belong to a different realm of reality. So far we have construed what ‘naturalism’ is in its essence; now we need to explain what ‘supernaturalism’ is. how does the prefix ‘super’ vary the meaning of ‘naturalism’ as we have discussed it so far? The prefix


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‘super’ does not deny the content of the word which follows it, but suggests that there is something above, or more than, or greater than that which the word refers to. So, ‘supernaturalism’ does not deny that there is nature, but suggest that there is something above, or greater than, or more than it. Importantly, it is not the negation of nature – rather, the two are in a relation, for a super-A must be related to A in order to be more or greater than it. Indeed, in the understanding of naturalists, the absolute independence of nature makes the supernatural, at the very least, unnecessary to nature, if not a delusion about nature, whereas supernaturalists do not deny nature an ontological status, but do grant it only partial autonomy. now, if we only have empirical access to the natural world, and the supernaturalist claim is not merely delusive, then surely the claim that the supernatural exists is co-extensive with the claim that nature in itself does not allow us to derive a sufficient explanation for all the characteristics of nature? Supernaturalist, then, is any view which [1] admits the existence of an ordered world which we have experience of, [2] claims that this world has ordered features and operations, and [3] claims that such ordered features and operations can only be fully accounted for and explained by introducing entities which are not of the same kind of those populating that world and which, for that reason, belong to a different realm of reality. according to these definitions, the only difference between naturalism and supernaturalism is their disagreement on [3]: one is the assertion, the other the denial of the same point. we should make some epistemological remarks. First, the above definitions are purely metaphysical, by which we mean that the distinction between entities populating the world of our experience and entities which are not of the same kind of those populating that world is a metaphysical distinction and not the epistemological distinction between what is object of experience and what lays behind our experience. Indeed, even naturalism can claim that the ultimate constituents of the world of our experience do not appear to us, but lay behind what appears to us and their existence can only be inferred from what appears to us. Think of atoms or electrons, for example: these are not objects of our experience, but they need to be introduced in a physical explanation of our experience. In this example, the point of naturalism, according to the above definition, would be that the objects which populate the world of our experience lay behind our experience, but are immanent in that world. The point of supernaturalism, instead, would be that besides the objects laying behind our experience that constitute the micro-level of the world we experience on the macrolevel (electrons), there must be objects which lay behind our experience

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and, furthermore, are part of a reality which does not appear to our experience in any way (for example, there might be atoms laying behind our experience and populating the world of our experience, but there will be also angels, which are inhabitants of a reality different from that which appears to us). our second point is that an epistemological corollary follows from the above definitions: the entities of supernatural reality are not of the same kind as those of the world of our experience, but they need to be somehow related to them, otherwise we would not be able to think about them. In our thinking, we deploy concepts which are articulated throughout our encounter with the objects of the world of our experience, and thus we can think of something which is not of the same sort as the things of our world, only to the extent it bears some resemblence to the things of that world. This corollary will be further discussed in the fourth section. Supernaturalism is only one of the possible negations of naturalism: naturalism, as we have shown, is a conjunction of several traits, and there are other ways of denying it. Supernaturalism denies the autonomy and the exclusivity of nature; one kind of anti-naturalism might deny the intrinsic order of nature, which our cognitive capacities can grasp; another form of anti-naturalism might deny that we really have empirical access to the one existent reality, and proclaim that all our experiences are illusory and constitute a veil of Maya masking the unknown. note that this opens a further problem for Plantinga’s quasi-identification of naturalism and atheism. we have noted that he seems to concede some atheistic forms of non-naturalism, which already tells us that atheism and naturalism are not identical. The denial of naturalism by way of the two other approaches I point to in my last paragraph also become problematic for Plantinga, since – on the other side of the identity – it isn’t clear that all anti-naturalisms are theisms. however, as my proposal does not equate naturalism with atheism, I am basically concerned to rescue his strategy only from his careless concession to Tooley’s claim that there can be supernaturalism without theism. I will not be making other arguments that take up my two other forms of anti-naturalism, here. The definition of supernaturalism which I have proposed is similar to one suggested by Peter Forrest (1996),15 which is worth discussing in order to highlight some characteristics of my definition: 15

he proposes it in the context of a discussion of the opposite direction of the conditional I am discussing here, i.e. whether theism implies supernaturalism. he tries to claim that it does not, in the attempt to rescue theism, on the assumption that supernaturalism is implausible.


gaBRIele De anna Supernaturalists differ from naturalists because they resort, in their explanations, to either or both (i) entities for which neither the familiar entities around us nor those mentioned in the natural sciences establish a precedent; and (ii) violations of laws of nature (Forrest 1996, 3).

This definition provides a general framework within which many interpretations of ‘naturalism’ and ‘supernaturalism’ can be constructed. It is similar to mine in defining naturalism as the view that the physical world (thought of as the world of our everyday experience and the world of scientific investigation) can be fully explained without deploying entities that are not of the same kind as those which fill it. This definition, though, differs from mine in dealing more directly with current physicalist forms of naturalism, in virtue of its reference to the entities “mentioned in the natural sciences”, and to possible “violations of laws of nature.” I prefer to avoid explicit reference to science as a source of knowledge of the physical world, because of the historical considerations in which naturalism was first formulated, as I have argued above. however, I certainly accept that scientific knowledge can be one of the ways in which we come to know the ordered features and operations of the world of our experience, according to my definition. Furthermore, I have also a further reason not to mention the violation of laws of nature, which is typically thought of as a case of supernatural intervention: it seems to me that the supernaturalist does not need to make the implausible claim that a supernatural intervention by god breaks the laws of nature, since he can more plausibly claim that the intervention of god in some fundamental features of the physical world changes locally the laws of nature when he acts in ways which seem to us miraculous (see wynn 1999, 488-9, and van Inwagen 1995).

III So far, I have tried to offer a definition of ‘supernaturalism’ as a preliminary step to justify my claim that supernaturalism entails theism. Before proposing my justification, I now need to define ‘theism.’ etymologically, ‘theism’ refers to any view which admits the existence of a god (theo), but this does not take us very far: the greek religion spoke of many gods, but that it is not a view that we would call ‘theistic’, if we use the word in the way in which it is used in the Plantinga-Tooley debate. If we turn to the history of the word, indeed, we can notice that it has always been used in a rather specific way since it was introduced into

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philosophical use by the english 17th Century Platonist Ralph Cudworth, as all the dictionaries and encyclopaedias teach us. he defined ‘theism’ as the view that “all things in the world do not float without a head or governor; but that there is a god, an omnipotent understanding Being, presiding over all”, who is “essentially good and just”, and lets us be “principles and masters of our own actions” (Cudworth 1678, xxxiv): here the definition seems to be shaped by particular conceptions of god, those related to the monotheistic abrahamic tradition. It is in this sense, indeed, that Plantinga and Tooley use the term, in their discussion. Plantinga gives a rich account of ‘theism’: theism, in his view, is any religious or philosophical conception which conceives of a god who is personal (i.e., who is conscious, has affections, has beliefs, has intentions, and acts), non-physical (he acts by willing), omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good; who created the world and sustains it in existence (Plantinga and Tooley, 1-5). Tooley, more briefly, but consistently with this definition, claims that, according to theism, “god must be a person, and one who, at the very least, is a very powerful, very knowledgeable, and morally very good person, and who ideally, is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect” (72). In this way, Tooley offers a two-fold definition of god here: one is that of an omnigod, a god who has all his distinctive properties at the highest degree,16 the other of a quasi-omnigod, a god who has the same properties as the other, but only at a very high degree. This is a two-fold definition rather than two separate definitions, since the set of relevant properties is the same in the two cases, and what varies is only the degree at which god possesses them. In my argument, the degree of omnipotence is irrelevant, and only the set of identifying properties will matter. hence, I will consider Tooley’s as a single definition, and, in order to avoid tediousness, I will refer to his view as the omnigod definition, which will also count for the quasi-omnigod definition. This way of defining theism is, in some ways, philosophically unsatisfactory. as Tooley recognises, this definition starts from a survey of what people or leading religions usually understand by ‘god’, thereby bypassing all philosophical and metaphysical arguments which have been given to support and justify the attribution of certain properties to god. This raises two problems, in my opinion. First, a philosophical investigation should not rely on the contingencies of traits that religions or other cultural forms 16

In their debate, Tooley and Plantinga by “omnigod” mean a definition of god as being both omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good.


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have taken in history. Second, although the definition is generic, in the sense that – as both Plantinga and Tooley recognise – several, different views could satisfy it, it is in a way (potentially) too rigid. It claims that the god of theism must be personal, omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good; but let us imagine that philosophical reflection discovers that god cannot be omniscient; we should conclude that the resulting view is not theism, but this is implausible, since it is still a question of the same Being that traditional religions refer to; of that Being our reflection says that he is not omniscient, contrary to what was thought. how can it not be theism, if it admits the same entity that theism speaks about, although granting it a diverse set of properties? In order to offer an example of this definitional mismatch, I will consider a case taken from Tooley, although this issue constitutes a problem also for Plantinga. after defining theism in the way we have seen, at page 74, Tooley doubts that the god of Protestant Fundamentalism, Catholicism, and Islam17 can be called morally perfect, and he even claims that he must be morally evil, since he is the maker of a “very bad” world, i.e. a world which contains hell, which is a world where some people receive eternal punishment – this, Tooley claims, must be bad. let us call ‘abrahamic supreme entity’ the god of Protestant Fundamentalism, Catholicism, and Islam. Tooley’s conclusion that the abrahamic supreme entity is evil, besides being omnipotent and omniscient, is inferred from various assertions, at least these: (i) he is the maker of hell, (ii) hell is a place for eternal punishment, (iii) a world containing a place for eternal punishment is bad, (iv) a creator of a bad world must be evil. Some of these assertions are assumptions taken from abrahamic religions (i and ii), others are premises believed by Tooley (iii and iv). The conclusion that the supreme abrahamic entity is evil is inconsistent with the claim of abrahamic religions, according to which the supreme entity is morally perfect. From the point of view of Tooley, who believes in his premises, this must be a problem for abrahamic religions. one would expect him to suggest that abrahamic religions have inconsistent beliefs about god, and thus should be readjusted: either their supreme entity is not as morally perfect as they claim, or he is not the maker of hell, or the amount of punishment inflicted in hell is very limited and compatible with a morally perfect creator. Surprisingly, though, Tooley does not draw any of these conclusions, and moves by a logic to 17

one could doubt that Protestantism, Catholicism and Islam have the same god. however, Tooley assumes that thesis and I will follow him on this for the sake of the argument, since, for reasons of space, I cannot justify or criticise that claim here.

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which he is rather bound by the other premises he accepts to conclude that the supreme abrahamic entity is not god. at page 216, indeed, he claims that, if the argument from evil is sound, “some non-theistic form of supernaturalism might be true. Perhaps there is an omnipotent and omniscient deity, but he is evil, to a greater or less extent, or morally indifferent.” This is an important statement, since it summarises the structure of his entire argumentative strategy. The fact that he calls non-theistic the supernaturalism compatible with the conclusion of the argument from evil entails that an omnipotent, omniscient and evil being would not be god. and since the abrahamic supreme entity is, according to his previous argument, omnipotent, omniscient, and evil, he must conclude that that entity is not god. This result is unsatisfactory in two ways. First, apart from being counterintuitive, the result is inconsistent with the “denominational” definition of theism that he had offered at the beginning: if, as he claims, he takes his definition of ‘god’ from a survey of what leading religions believe, how can he conclude that the supreme entity of abrahamic religions is not god? what religions are leading, if the abrahamic one are not? Second, this way of proceeding makes one’s identification of an entity with god totally dependent on one’s meta-ethics, and this is awkward. a retributivist, for example, could reject Tooley’s premise (iii), and claim that the abrahamic supreme entity is morally perfect, and, hence, that he is god. now, suppose that someone who shares Tooley’s moral intuitions becomes really persuaded through rational argument that there is an omnipotent and omniscient being who gives eternal punishment. would that person conclude that that being is not god, or would she rather be challenged in her meta-ethical intuitions? of course, the problem doesn’t arise if she takes the idea of omniscience and omnipotence from a survey of traditional religions, but it does if she is rationally persuaded that there is an entity with those properties. My point here is not about the truth of particular claims of natural theology (e.g., it is not a quick refutation of the argument from evil), but about methodology (i.e., language, definitions and their use in philosophical arguments). Plantinga and Tooley start by accepting a definition of god taken from religious traditions, without philosophical justification, and then proceed to argue about whether there is or there is not a being with the relevant characteristics. But this makes their conclusions wholly vulnerable to the contingencies of their initial, unjustified definitions. It seems to me that natural theology should go the other way around: it should not start off with a preconception about what and how god should be,


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given some standard we have, but it should rather try to form a rational conception of a supreme being, if one is called for by philosophical reasons, and then try to understand what properties that being must have. only in a subsequent phase can it compare that being with the supreme entities of traditional religious belief. The upshot of these remarks is that, in order to address the question of whether supernaturalism entails theism, we need a more flexible definition of theism, one which allows for the possibility that views may vary in respect to the properties that they attribute to god, and still be considered versions of theism, as far as it can be guaranteed that they refer to the same entity when they speak of god. In other words, we must look for a way of thinking about theism that allows for the possibility that there are different concepts of god, i.e. different way of thinking about god, which are related enough, though, to let us presume that when philosophers of different persuasions discuss god, they are referring to the same entity. as noted above, Tooley’s definition of ‘god’ allows some flexibility about the degree at which god has his properties, but leaves no room for variations about the range of his properties. My point is that we need some flexibility also about the range of properties god must have, and about our criteria for granting him such properties. we are dealing with the vagueness of the concept of theism, similar to the vagueness of the concepts of naturalism and supernaturalism, which we had to face in the previous section. In both cases we want to reach definitions that are broad enough to allow us to see how different views can be encompassed within them. however, the case of theism is different than that of naturalism, which we analysed by following a historical-phylogenetic procedure. ‘naturalism’ refers to a particular set of philosophical possibilities which originated in antiquity (i.e., in ancient atomism, in stoicism, and in the thought of naturalist aristotelians, like Theophrastus and Strato), was revived during the Renaissance, and diversified in the past few centuries of western philosophy. our historical analysis brought out the family relations between the varieties of naturalism. The vagueness of ‘theism’, however, is in a way more complicated: its history does not have the central density around which the contingent features of naturalism have collected over time. given the multi-faced character of theism, one could wander whether a general and comprehensive definition of it is possible. Maybe there are just as many theisms as there are ways of speaking of ‘god’, but there is no relation among them. John Bishop (1998) has made a similar point. he is annoyed by the argument from evil, which he takes

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to prove that there cannot be an omnigod (i.e., the god of theism, as defined above: omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good). however, he is not prepared to give up his religious attitude for that reason, nor to retreat into irrational fideism. Thus he investigates the possibility of outlining “an adequate alternative concept of god, satisfying the following requirements: (i) the concept must be genuinely distinct from the concept of omnigod; and (ii) the concept must be acceptable as authentically a concept of God; that is, belief in the existence of a god of the kind the concept specifies must be religiously adequate to the theistic religious tradition, in the sense that it could count at least as one viable expression of that historical tradition” (Bishop 1998, 174).

he recognises that this is an important point also for the issue under discussion here in relation to Tooley, i.e. for any attempt to overthrow theism through an argument from evil. For if we grant the concept of a god that is alternative to the omnigod, the argument from evil alone does not overthrow theism. Subsequently, Bishop goes on to suggest the criteria that a suitable concept of god should fulfil: a concept is a concept of God if it “is the concept of something belief in whose existence plays a certain functional role within […] the psychological economy of the theist” (176). his main attempt is to establish the possibility of an alternative conception of god which might play that functional role, and he only briefly sketches the proposal that he would endorse, i.e. that of god as a real feature of the universe which warrants Christian hope. I am not interested in discussing the latter aspect of his proposal here. Rather, I will try to develop his claims about the possibility of alternative concepts of god, in the hope that they may help to characterise a way of thinking about god which gives us more flexibility in the desired sense specified above than the “denominational” definition proposed by Plantinga and Tooley. one of Bishop’s criteria requires that an alternative concept of god “be one viable expression of [the Theistic religious] historical tradition”. as we have seen, Bishop spells out viability in terms of “the psychological economy of the theist.” I doubt that by playing this functional role a concept would satisfy the mentioned requirement. Believers of what can be identified as a “theistic religious tradition” (roughly, Judaism, Christianity and Islam), indeed, can be characterised by a number of psychological attitudes, such as hope, or trust; but psychological attitudes are not alone at the centre of their religious life: they co-exist with epistemic attitudes to a divine reality, which simply means that the believer in these theistic


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traditions thinks that his beliefs are true, by which he means that god truly exists and that this truth was revealed to people like us in the past, and that a tradition of passing down these truths from generation to generation is worth of trust. Furthermore, the believer thinks that there are rational arguments to support at least some of the core beliefs of his religion: arguments are not available for all revealed truths, but at least for a number of them, which he supposes thereby give rational support to the rest (preambula fidei). The theist does not take these truths to be matters of indifference, but instead believes that there is an Individual, a Being, whose properties might remain mysterious to us, but who is to be thanked for all we perceive and for what we are. In sum, the psychological attitudes of the believer in the Theistic tradition are varied and tied to several beliefs about reality, which might not need to be as rich as the definition of Cudworth’s Theistic god, but cannot be as thin as Bishop’s vague general feature of a reality which should be able to justify Christian hope. when can we say, then, that the requirements for a concept being of God are met? I would say that a concept is a concept of God, when it is close enough to the classical, rich, core definition of the theistic God (i.e., an omniGod, who is personal, i.e. free and loving) to secure identity of reference with it.18 Besides theism, there are – both as metaphysical possibility and as historical philosophical views – other conceptions of the universe, which are incompatible with theism, and offer alternative explanations of what the first principle or the origin of the universe are: atheism, agnosticism, deism, pantheism, polytheism, panentheism, being the main ones (cf. Peters 2007). Those views either do not imply that there is a Being having the characteristics of the theistic god, or even imply that there is no such Being. My claim is that a view can be considered a kind of theism to the extent that it is closer to classical, core theism than to any other alternative view of the universe. In this case, indeed, it refers to the same sort of entity as theism. Before refining my proposal, I would like to offer an example of the kind of flexibility of reference that will be useful in discussing the theistic god. let us imagine that I leave my office, the window of which is wide open, for half an hour, and when I come back 18

note that Tooley’s definition is not consistent with mine: his definition is flexible enough to allow variations in the degree at which the relevant entity must have its properties; thus a quasi-omnigod conception of god, although different from the traditional omnigod conception, would be close enough to it to allow identity of reference. But his definition is too rigid to allow variations in the list of properties that an entity must have in order to be called god, whereas mine does.

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I realise that a pile of sheets of paper on my desk, a draft of one of my colleague’s book, is all messed up. But it is messed up in a peculiar way. The sheets still form a perfectly ordered pile, but the order of pages is changed. I am sure the order of pages was correct when I left, but now the odd and the even pages form two series, one increasing and one decreasing, and are piled one on top of the other. what happened? let us imagine three hypotheses. First, the wind from the window could have blown all sheets up, and they must have fallen off back in a pile with this new order: an unlikely arrangement, but not any less likely then any other possible one. Second, some man could have come through the window and played this trick on me: he must have been a fit chap, since my office is at the third floor and he must have climbed his way up. Third, the flying robot my colleagues from the engineering department are working on could have escaped and be troublemaking in the neighbourhood. For each hypothesis, I claim that there is something responsible for the event: a blow of wind, a person, a robot. and in each hypothesis, I describe the responsible things through some of their characteristics. let us now suppose that it turns out that a man did the trick, and so my second hypothesis was correct; but, contrary to what I had thought while formulating that hypothesis, the man was not fit, he was fat. he had not climbed his way through the window, but he had been sly enough to pretend he was an IT technician and to ask a spare key of my office from the porter, just for the sake of playing this trick on me. I can still say that it is true that there is a man who changed the order of the pages on the manuscript on my desk, as the second hypothesis said, but that man did not have the characteristics I thought. Still, my inexact description succeeded in referring to him. how much can his characters vary from what I had thought of, in order for the second hypothesis to remain the correct one? This is a tricky question and I cannot address it fully here. For our purposes, I can just note that if they vary too much, it may turn out that it was not true that a man did it, and thus the second hypothesis turns out to be false. For example, let us consider a different supposition: the individual which did the trick was a humanoid, which looked exactly like a human, climbed the wall, and entered my office through the window: but it is a different sort of robot under development at the engineering department; in this case the third hypothesis would be correct, not the second. Basically, when we stretch the shifts in characteristics from the original second hypothesis too much, we end up referring to another entity than that referred to in our hypothesis, which means we end up with a different hypothesis.


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le us go back to my proposal: I would like to claim that in thinking about god, things are similar to our thinking about the three hypothesis of the example. The thought that there is a traditional theistic god, an omnigod, is the thought that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good Being, who created all there is apart from himself, and, in his goodness, providentially intervenes in the world to lead the free agents inhabiting it to moral perfection, thereby making his existence shine in his creation. we can manage to have a thought about that entity, even if we think a little bit differently about him. But if our thoughts change radically, we just end up thinking about something different, and so we end up in one of the alternative views (atheism, agnosticism, deism, polytheism, pantheism, panentheism). any way of thinking which is closer to traditional theism than to any other of these views, though, can be considered as a way of thinking of god within the framework of theism. we can imagine an n-dimensional semantic space – i.e., a space in which each point represents a possible object of reference19 of the relevant word – with the traditional theistic meaning of ‘god’, i.e., omnigod, at its centre, and n axes departing from it, where n is the number of attributes of god granted him by traditional theism. along each axis, we have views that depart from traditional theism in the respect relevant for that axis, and eventually end up in a different view. Thus, if we take the attribute of power, we can start from theism and follow the direction of decreasing levels of power: at some point we will meet polytheism (the gods have only limited power, at least since one limits the power of another), then to deism (the great architect cannot intervene in nature at all)20, then eventually to agnosticism (the agnostic commits himself neither to the existence nor to the inexistence of god, since he believes that the universe manifests no signs of the existence of such a being; hence, the supreme entity which is an open possibility for him must be such as to leave no sign of his existence in the universe, i.e. it must exercise much less power on I should rather say a possibly infinite set of objects of reference which are all perfectly identical in respect to the degree to which they posses the properties that generate the semantic space, and which may differ for other properties. But I take this to be an irrelevant complication. 20 we can at least imagine versions of Deism according to which god does not interfere with the world because he has reasons not to (e.g. to let people find their way through the world and grow in virtue). But this is still a sense in which he cannot act: he is bound by his reason. The attribute of power, in the current discussion, should not be read as a qualified possibility of some sort, but as the actual exercise of a potentiality. 19

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the universe than god or the deistic architect), then, finally, to atheism (there is no god, and thus he has no power); on the other hand, if we follow the direction of increasing powers, we come to pantheism and panentheism, according to which god can do anything which is logically consistent, not being limited even by human free will or by the nature of things he created. let us consider a second axis, i.e. the dependence relation between god and the world. In the direction of decreasing degrees of dependence, we encounter deism, for which the great architect started the universe-machine, but then let it operate absolutely independently, then we find agnosticism, for which either there is no supreme entity or there is one which leaves no sign in the universe, i.e. which does not intervene in the operations of the universe, since its existence is not required for an explanation of the origin of the universe even, and, finally, atheism, for which the independence of the universe from any god is so certain that the existence of god can be denied. In the direction of increasing degrees of dependence, we find polytheism, for which all happenings in the natural order are referred to the activity of some god, then panentheism, for which anything which happens in the universe is the result of the activity of the divine which manifests itself in the natural order, and finally pantheism, for which all natural events occur in the divine. now I can offer a refined version of my initial account of what an alternative concept of god could amount to. Remember that the initial account was the following: a concept is a concept of God, when it is close enough to the rich definition of the theistic god (i.e., the omnigod) to secure identity of reference with it. The new account I want to propose is this: a concept is a way of thinking about God, if what it refers to finds its object somewhere in the semantic space either occupied by ‘God’, or in near proximity, taking the “God” space to be identical to that constructed by classical theism. Nearness to the God of classical theism is measured against that to any analogous term as intended by alternative cosmological views (atheism, agnosticism, deism, polytheism, panentheism, pantheism). here, a term analogous to god would be whatever word is deployed by views different from theism to serve the main purposes that ‘god’ serves in theisms: i.e., referring to an entity who constitutes an ultimate explanation, who is worth of respect and admiration, who is the ground of existence and/or obligation, who exists in absolute ways. examples could be ‘nature’ for pantheism, ‘deity’ for deism, ‘the fundamental laws of nature’ for atheism, ‘the gods’ for polytheism, ‘the unknown’ or the laws of nature for agnosticism, ‘the cosmic soul’ for panentheism. of course, these examples do not exhaust all possibilities in each category.


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IV Finally, then, we are prepared to engage with the question we started out with: why supernaturalism entails theism. It should be clear, by now, that this entailment is only apparently simple: it is instead a conjunction of entailments, one for each variety of supernaturalism. The truth of each entailment, furthermore, should be established case by case, since the relation of each form of supernaturalism with its particular form of theism will have to be supported on the base of its particular features. however, I have argued, in section two, all supernaturalisms have a common historical root, which is also a general basic assumption of all them, on the base of which they then diverge, both historically and theoretically. even if the features common to all forms of supernaturalism are not specific enough to entail a particular position concerning god (the relation of which with traditional theism could then be investigated), I can at least hope to show that those features must entail positions concerning god, according to which ‘god’ has to be interpreted as referring to a point included in a part of the semantic space of ‘god’ surrounding the core theistic meaning of ‘god’, i.e. a part of the semantic space of ‘god’ which, according to the discussion in the above section, can be called “theistic.” My argument moves through two steps. Firstly, I will consider two particular cases of supernaturalism and discuss how they entail two particular forms of theism. Secondly, I will suggest that the reason why those particular examples of supernaturalisms entail senses of ‘god’ which are in the theistic area of the semantic space of ‘god’, has to do with features which are common to all supernaturalisms, even if the particular point in the semantic space of “god” that each version of supernaturalism entails is due to specific features of that form of supernaturalism. This will allow me to reach the general conclusion that supernaturalism entails theism, where ‘supernaturalism’ refers to all views which have the typical supernaturalistic common features, and theism refers to a family of views which deploy the term ‘god’ as referring to any point of the semantic space of ‘god’ that is found in (or in the part surrounding) the core traditional, theistic meaning of ‘god.’ The first example of supernaturalism which I would like to discuss is aristotle’s metaphysics. as we have seen, according to aristotle the physical world displays regularities and order, which can be explained in terms of causal interactions between objects; he took ‘casual interactions’ in a quite general sense, as including the relation between a seed and the tree originating from it, the relations between parents and offspring, the relation

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between a craftsman and an object produced by him, besides examples which would be more akin to our terminology, like the case of a moving ball hitting a resting ball and putting it in motion. his analysis of causality and motion (i.e., change) leads him to claim that all physical substances are made of matter and form, the former being a potentiality to being informed in certain ways, the latter the actuality of a structure received by an object when it comes into existence or changes. Furthermore, he claimed that all causation involves four kinds of causes, formal, material, efficient and final: the first two would account for the fact that each object is made of matter and form, the third would account for the need of a force being exercised in order for an object to be structured according to a particular form, the last relating to the fact that living creatures seem to have ends build into their very nature, i.e., the tendency to grow according to certain patterns and forms. he observed that efficient causes require actualising their potentiality, although each actualisation of a potentiality must be the result of a prior exercise of power by another efficient cause. however, we cannot accept an infinite regress of causes, otherwise we would not have a beginning of the process and we could not account for the fact that powers have indeed been exercised, or so he claims. For this reason, we have to introduce a first mover, which is not moved by a prior cause. But in order to exercise its role of cause without being caused, it must be completely actual, with no potentiality. This means that it cannot be material, since matter is potentiality. now, since physical reality is constituted of things made of matter and form that have potentiality and actuality and move, the first mover cannot be part of the physical world. This leads aristotle to supernaturalism: the order to be found in the physical world can only be explained by a cause which is outside that physical world; furthermore, the objects of the supernatural reality are not of the same sort as the objects of the world of our experience, as the definition of supernaturalism requires: indeed, the objects of our world are made of matter and form, are constituted of potentialities and actualities, and are movable, whereas supernatural reality is made of entities which are fully actual, have no matter, and are unchangeable. (Consider, further, that, consistently with the corollary to the definition of naturalism put forward in section two, supernatural realities are still explained by deploying concepts that we use to describe our reality: ‘actuality’, ‘matter’ (privation of), ‘change’ (privation of), and below we will use also ‘happiness’ and ‘perfection’). now I would like to claim that aristotle’s supernaturalism entails a sort of theism. In order to do that, I will first highlight some features of


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his supernatural reality. In book XII of his Metaphysics, aristotle claims that since the prime mover is fully actual and immaterial, its substance must be thinking, but thinking is a form of life, thus the prime mover must be a form of life. Furthermore, since thinking is the most perfect and happy form of life, the prime mover must be perfect and perfectly happy.21 It must be perfect also for another reason: being fully actual it has no potentiality, and, thus, it cannot be perfected in any way; i.e. it is perfect in its nature. But what can a thinking, fully actual entity think about? not about other things, otherwise its thinking would be an apprehension, and it should thus move from potentiality to actuality in that respect, which is incompatible with its full actuality. Therefore, it must be thinking about itself. Furthermore, as a mover, it cannot operate or exercise a power on the physical world, otherwise it would move, and, subsequently pass from potentiality to actuality, which again violates its full actuality. The only way it can move the physical world, then, is by desire: it moves the physical world by being the final object of desire to which all physical things strive, through their build-in-ends, by the final causes which define them in their natures. In this way it is an ultimate object of love, i.e. the final explanation of the order which we can recognise in the physical world. are these features of aristotle’s supernaturalism enough to claim that it is a form of theism? Certainly, it is not a full-bodied traditional theism: the first mover is not the providential personal god of Christianity or Judaism, who acts in the world with miracles and who intervenes in human affairs. It cannot even think about humans. It is not omnipotent: there are plenty of potential acts that lay outside its scope, like, for instance, typing on my computer. It is certainly not omniscient: it does not know anything about what is going on in the physical world. But even if this is not the god of theism, it is not that far away from him, and, in many ways, it is closer to him than to any other alternative fundamental cosmological entity. of course, it would be too much of a god for atheists and agnostics. Furthermore, it is quite personal: it thinks and it is happy. It lacks some of the personal features of the theistic god, since the mover does not love men, nor get angry with them. But at the same time the mover is even further from polytheism, since it is not a god which can mess around with humans. The mover clearly has his own independent being, distinct from the being of the physical world, which distinguishes this entity from those 21

of course, ‘perfection’ here means fulfilment of one’s nature, and has no “moral” significance in our sense.

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of pantheism or panentheism. although he is not omnipotent and omniscient, he is probably the most powerful and the most intelligent being: he has the power to move (although by desire) the whole physical world, and he always thinks of the most perfect thing, himself. he has much more power than the polytheistic gods or the deistic great architect of the universe. It is true that he does not intervene in human affairs, but unlike epicurus’ gods or the deistic great architect he is not idle, since all the order and the motion in the physical world depends on his continuous presence as a final cause and prime mover. In sum, it seems to me that aristotle’s First Mover occupies a point of the semantic space of ‘god’ which is within the domain of theism, and, as we have seen, it occupies that point because of the character and features of aristotelian supernaturalism. hence, his supernaturalism entails his theism. let us now consider the second example of a supernaturalist view which entails theism: the proposal put forward by John Foster (2001). Foster argues that the natural world displays many examples of regularities and that these call for explanation. “at this point the argument presents us with two options, which bring us to the theistic conclusion by different routes” (160). on the one hand, one can assume “that the explanation of the regularities, in their basic form, has to be supernatural”, whereas the second option explains regularities by way of laws of nature, “i.e. laws conceived as forms of natural necessity.” But the second option requires an explanation of the necessity of the laws of nature, which by its nature is not strictly necessary, Foster claims that any such explanation must appeal to what is in essence a supernatural cause. In brief, his view is that there is no way to account for the necessity of laws, but to claim that there is something causing that necessity, since he takes that, contrary to hume’s claim, lawfulness is explained by individual causation, rather the other way around. But a cause explaining the lawfulness of natural world cannot be part of the natural world itself, and thus it must be supernatural. This view is open to some obvious objections: why would an appeal to supernatural reality explain what is left unexplained at the level of natural reality? why would a supernatural cause be ultimate and require no further explanation on its turn? It seems to me that Foster could marshal arguments to meet these challenge, but I am not interested in exploring these issues here: I am simply interested in the entailment between supernaturalism and theism. If I have set forth some parts of Foster’s arguments here, it is not to support them, but only to claim that the distinctive features which make his view a form of supernaturalism, entail also theism.


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Concerning that entailment, Foster claims that both horns of his disjunctive argument lead to a theistic explanation. In both cases, “various further considerations support the conclusion that the regularities [and the laws] are imposed on the world by god.” his treatment of this last step of the argument is not very extensive, but interesting for our purposes. he claims: It is not hard to see how such a suggestion [i.e., supernaturalism] would tend to issue in an argument for the existence of god – a god of the broadly Judeo-Christian kind. on the one hand, if we accept the existence of such a god, we have a perfect explanation for why the regularities obtain. Thus, as omnipotent creator of the universe, god has the power to make its internal workings regular in the relevant ways: and we can plausibly credit him with purposes which give him reason to do so. on the other hand, there does not seem to be any rival supernatural hypothesis which is anywhere near as plausible. Such alternatives as we can think of either fail to provide such an effective explanation of the regularities or strike us as too contrived or fanciful to be taken seriously (Foster 2001, 149).

The point, here, is that if we want to explain the regularities which occur in nature and we come to the conclusion that we have to do that by appealing to a supernatural order, then we end up with theism, since the supernatural cause(s) must be “god”, i.e. a “Judeo-Christian kind” of god, acting “with purposes which give him reasons.” (Indeed, the feature of acting for purposes makes the referent of “god” as used by Foster fall within the theistic region of the semantic space of “god”). according to Foster, furthermore, all alternatives, all other supernatural explanations of regularities are either unconvincingly contrived or otherwise unacceptable. his argument is a bit compressed, but I would like to offer an interpretation of it, which, it seems to me, makes it clearer and stronger. If we want to explain the regularities of the natural world, we need some explanation of their necessity; yet this involves an appeal to a higher level of existence than is possessed by any of the entities which populate the natural world itself, as they are among the things that are necessitated. In an argument similar to that by which aristotle gets back to the first mover, we take it that the entities that satisfy this description will have to be unlike natural entities at least in this respect, that they are not subject to natural regularities and are not thereby necessitated. This is the only way in which we can “have a perfect explanation for why the regularities obtain.” But things which act to cause effects, and cause those effects without being necessitated and subject to regularities, act by will and for reasons. hence, these supernatural causes must act by will and for reasons. and

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the uniformity of the regularities of the universe and the unity that it manifests seem to call for an “omnipotent creator of the universe”, [explain why single] which is the best characterisation of a cause which must have “the power to make internal workings [of the universe] regular in the relevant ways.” The issue at stake in Foster’s argument, then, is whether personal/intentional or mechanical/causal explanations should be given priority and his point is that if we want to explain the mechanical features of the natural world we need to see it as the effect of intentional action, as the result of a cause which is not subject to that mechanism. Far from being hidden, then, god would manifest himself as the cause which can best explain the features that we recognise in the natural world when we try to explain it. he is not one of the objects of the natural world since he is not subject to natural regularities, but he can be conceptualised by means of inducing, from the concept of regularity, an agent who can think of regularities and bring them about through his actions.22 So far we have considered two versions of supernaturalism, aristotle’s and Foster’s, and we have noted that both entail theism, or at least a view about “god”, according to which the word “god” refers to a point in the theistic region of the semantic space of “god.” Both supernaturalisms claim that the world is ordered: according to aristotle there is an ordered pattern of causal interactions which leads to the generation and decay of living things, through the actualisation of potentialities of matter. Following a similar logic, according to Foster the natural world behaves according to regular patterns that are studied by the natural sciences. according to both supernaturalisms, furthermore, the order of the natural world cannot be accounted for in terms of entities which populate it, meaning that we can only find the most perfect exploration by turning to entities which are not of the same sort of those of the natural world, even though they can be thought of through concepts which we form by interacting with the natural world. aristotle found that the best explanation of the causal order of the physical world, is to make it due to a first cause, who is not a physical object, since he is fully actual, but who thinks and exists in full actuality, in analogy with humans intellects and physical object in general. Foster sees the regularities of the natural world as similarly requiring a Cause that exists outside them and on another level, in that it is not subject to natural regularities, but is capable of thinking, intending, and realising all natural 22

on the natural world as the means through which god manifests himself, cf. oakes 2008.


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regularities, like – although to a greater degree than – some of the beings we have experience of (humans). Both the aristotelian first Cause and Foster’s Cause of regularities are in the range of theism, since they have personal features (they think and will, unlike the basic laws, or principles of the reality admitted by atheism), are not of the same kind as the objects populating the reality of the natural world (unlike the prominent being of polytheism, pantheism and panentheism), but are not completely irrelevant for what goes on within the natural world (their actions support the operations within the natural world throughout, unlike the great architect of deism).23 In sum, both the versions of supernaturalism we have looked at entail theism. now I would like to claim that what holds for the two versions of supernaturalism that we have considered, holds for all sorts of supernaturalism: they entail (some version or other of) theism. In doing this, I am not attributing universally to all members of a class some property which we only know to belong to some members. Indeed, my argument is that the reason why both versions of supernaturalism entail theism depends on features they have in common with all supernaturalisms, not on their individual features. Individual characteristics determine what kind of theism each form of supernaturalism entails, but general features of supernaturalism purport that each individual view must entail one of the particular views, which fall in the theistic region of the semantic space of “god.” The two examples I have discussed are just meant to illustrate how the general features of supernaturalism are relevant. In both examples, indeed, we can see how supernaturalisms try to account for the order which they recognise in the world of our experience by appealing to supernatural causes, i.e. causes which are not part of that world, but are in important ways related to it. Since the supernatural causes must account for the order of the world of our experience, they cannot be ordered by it, i.e. their operations must 23

one could object that the deistic architect is also engaged with the world: he made and started its operations. True, but this is consistent with my claim that the concepts of “god” fill the semantic space of the world with continuous variations along different axes. Deism can be seen as a view which occupies an extreme position along the axis of the god-created world relation. according to deism, the order existing in the world is fully explainable according to basic natural laws, which can thus account for everything. So, once the world is made and started, god has nothing to do with it, to the extent that it cannot be called “supernaturalism,” at least if supernaturalism requires that forms of order in the world call for a continuous and persistent relation between god and it. esthetical and moral order can be among the features of the world that a supernaturalist might recognise as requiring an explanation of this kind.

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be above the laws applying to that order; on the other hand, since they have to explain that order, they must in some way exemplify or instantiate it, while not being subject to it. The only way in which this combination of possibilities can be realised, as has been realized since aristotle, is that the supernatural causes think, intend, and actualise the order of the world of our experience. But this means that a suitable supernatural cause must be personal (unlike the basic laws of nature of atheistic naturalism), cannot be identified with the world of our experience or with anything in it (unlike the main beings of polytheism, pantheism, panentheism), and cannot be too irrelevant for what goes on in the world of our experience (like the deistic architect). hence, supernaturalism(s) entail(s) theism(s).

V If my argument is sound, Plantinga’s strategy can be defended from Tooley’s objection that supernaturalism could be true while theism would still be false. I have argued that there is no version of real supernaturalism that does not entail some version of theism. In this way, Plantinga’s argument against naturalism, and in favour of supernaturalism, proves theism. however, in making this argument, I have had to eliminate some of the baggage from Plantinga’s position. The three important qualification I make are as follows: first, one has to confine Plantinga’s argument to those versions of the argument against naturalism that lead in the direction of supernaturalism – conceding that other ways of denying naturalism are possible, as for instance those objections deny the absolute autonomy of natural world. Second, I have modified one of Plantinga’s notions of supernaturalism in holding that, contrary to what he claims, some views might be incompatible with contemporary forms of naturalism, but still be in the naturalist tradition (e.g., hegel’s and Spinoza’s). Third, I have weakened the rigidity of the definition of theism accepted by Plantinga and Tooley, since I have claimed that, contrary to what they both say, views which deny that god has all the attributes of the (quasi-)omnigod might still be in the realm of theism (e.g., aristotle’s metaphysics). however, I hope that it is clear that the modifications of the concepts of supernaturalism and theism that I have suggested are based on independent philosophical reasons deriving from the philosophical theistic tradition, and, hence, are not ad hoc modifications introduced just for the sake of defending Plantinga’s argument. Consequently, they do not interfere with the dialectic of the debate with which I have been engaged.


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one worry about my way of construing the notions of supernaturalism and theism is that the loss of referential rigidity makes them seem vague or imprecise. In my view, supernaturalism must claim that we can explain the world of our experience by means of entities that are not of the same sort of those which inhabit that world, but which we can still think about. Theism, furthermore, specifies a list of properties by deploying concepts which we normally use for objects of our worlds, and claims that god must have (at least) an adequate number of those properties. The problem here is: how can we apply concepts which acquire their meaning in our experience of the natural world to entities which are not part of it? what are the exact criteria for the application of a concept to a supernatural reality? I would like to suggest that we do not, as theists, need an answer to this question. one feature of the concept of God is precisely that it applies to a Being who is not part of the world of our experience, but who is still closely enough related to it for us to be able to understand what we mean by saying that god exists. This is what is traditionally called god’s transcendence. The difficulty of explaining it, though, has led to negative theology (which stresses the unbridgeable difference between god and the world), and to kantian, transcendentalist objections to metaphysics. In both cases, we are led to the view that god is too far away from us for us to be able to say anything about him, and this, in turn, denies us a capacity for transcendence. god becomes “totally other.” on the other hand, if we make the concept of god too familiar, then it is easy to prove that nothing could instantiate it and retain the supernatural characteristics of god. once we have set our concept of God in a way such that we think we have a clear and full grasp of what and how god is, we lose god’s transcendence. Maintaining a notion of transcendence requires that we acknowledge the possibility that there is something which, in instantiating that concept, exceeds our conceptual capacities although not our conceptual sense of what transcendence is. we cannot expect to be able to think about god clearly and precisely. The Thomistic notion of analogy – which in my view is not very far from the view on analogy suggested by kant at the end of the Prolegomena – was meant to explain precisely the possibility of a transcendent use of concepts: the analogical use of concepts, in that sense, purports that a concept is a way of thinking about a thing, which does not necessarily articulate a clear definition involving an individualising set of empirically detectable characteristics of that thing; rather it recognises that we can succeed in thinking about some things, just by mapping them to things which are more familiar to us and have resemblance relations to

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them. I hope, in my defence of Plantinga’s argument, that I have also succeeded in making plausible my reliance on similar notions of analogy and transcendence. In my view, arguments – no matter whether for or against theism – that do not allow for an analogical use of terms and for a notion of the transcendence of god, and try, by contrast, to specify a rigid definition of god, fail to come to terms with what traditional religions express through the word ‘god’.24 References aristotle. Metaphysics. (1924). w.D. Ross, (ed.), oxford: Clarendon Press. Beiser, F. (2005). Hegel, abingdon and new york: Routledge. Bishop, J. (1998). “Can There Be alternative Concepts of god?”. Noûs 32: 174-188. Bondì, R. (1997). Introduzione a Telesio. Rome-Bari: laterza. Cudworth, R. (1845). The True Intellectual System of the Universe. london: Thomas Tegg. De anna, g. (2011). “Telesio e la critica alla nozione aristotelica di intelletto”. In Carlo Fanelli, Sandra Plastina e emilio Sergio (eds.), Telesius redivivus. Bernardino Telesio tra naturalismo rinascimentale e scienza moderna. Soveria Mannelli: Rubbettino. De Franco, l. (1996). Introduzione a Bernardino Telesio. Soveria Mannelli: Rubbettino. Forrest, P. (1996). God Without the Supernatural. A Defense of Scientific Theism. Ithaca: Cornall university Press. Foster, J. (2001). “Regularities, laws of nature, and the existence of god”. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 101: 145-161. hegel, g.w.F. (2004). Philosophy of Nature: Part II of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences. Translated by e.v. Miller, oxford: oxford university Press. oakes, R. (2008). “life, death, and the hiddenness of god”. International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion, 64: 155-160. Papineau, D. (2002). Thinking about Consciousness. oxford: oxford university Press. Peters, T. (2007). “Models of god”. Philosophia, 35: 273-288. Plantinga, a. & Tooley, M. (2008). Knolwedge of God. oxford: Blackwell. Smith, Q. (2001). “The Metaphilosophy of naturalism”. Philosofia, 4: 195-215. van Inwagen, P.(1995). God, Knowledge, and Mystery. Ithaca: Cornell university Press. wynn, M. (1999). “In Defence of “the Supernatural: a Response to Peter Forrest”. American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, 73: 477-495.


I am very grateful to Professors Brunello lotti and Ramon Tello and to an anonymous referee for very deep and thoughtful comments on a previous draft of this essay. all mistakes in the final version are entirely due to my faults and stubbornness.

The Right to Believe:

Perspectives in Religious Epistemology Dariusz Łukasiewicz & Roger Pouivet (eds.)

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On the Interrelation between Forgiveness, Rationality and Faith In the 18th century Bishop Butler devoted two of his «Sermons», 8 and 9, to the subject of resentment and forgiveness, the latter defined as the overcoming of former, and the former consisting of a “deliberate and settled” anger that feeds on the perception of an unwarranted injury. Butler’s analysis of resentment of injury situates it at the heart of society, and thus raises the stakes for understanding forgiveness. as he writes: But from this, deliberate anger or resentment is essentially distinguished, as the latter is not naturally excited by, or intended to prevent mere harm without appearance of wrong or injustice. now, in order to see, as exactly as we can, what is the natural object and occasion of such resentment, let us reflect upon the manner in which we are touched with reading, suppose, a feigned story of baseness and villainy, properly worked up to move our passions. This immediately raises indignation, somewhat of a desire that it should be punished. and though the designed injury be prevented, yet that it was designed is sufficient to raise this inward feeling. Suppose the story true, this inward feeling would be as natural and as just: and one may venture to affirm, that there is scarce a man in the world, but would have it upon some occasions. It seems in us plainly connected with a sense of virtue and vice, of moral good and evil. Suppose further, we knew both the persons who did, and who suffered the injury: neither would this make any alteration, only that it would probably affect us more. The indignation raised by cruelty and injustice, and the desire of having it punished, which persons unconcerned would feel, is by no means malice. no; it is resentment against vice and wickedness: it is one of the common bonds, by which 1

I am very grateful to the anonymous reviewer for his critical comments, his competent suggestions and help with improving my english. I thank the participants of the conference The Right to Believe for stimulating discussion of the issue of this paper.


geRhaRD heInzMann society is held together; a fellow feeling which each individual has in behalf of the whole species, as well as of himself. (Butler, 1827, Sermon vIII. upon Resentment and Forgiveness of Injuries – Matt. v. 43, 44).

In this paper, I would like to bring out the rationality of forgiveness and make it relevant given the utilitarianism predominant in the public policy, economics and ethics of modern societies. however, in this general framework I will omit the discussion of the difficult problems how to recognize that someone has really and sincerely forgiven or what practical circumstances favor the act of forgiveness. My concern is human and not Divine forgiveness and my aim can be expressed in three main questions: (1) are there necessary symptoms for offering forgiveness? (2) how forgiveness is motivated? and (3) how can this motivation be philosophically (rationally) justified? In order to answer these questions, let’s first bring together some characteristics of the concept of forgiveness.

I. Forgiveness as overcoming of resentments The act to forgive is not identical with a simple forgetting, nor is it the elimination of resentment by grace. as Pamela hieronymi (2001, 530) has put it, “Ridding oneself of resentment by taking a specially-designed pill, for example, would not count as forgiveness.” There is no known pill that you can swallow that would eliminate the capacity to resent. Thus, forgiveness demands the overtaking of resentment in the right way, i.e. for a good reason. The following features of well-reasoned forgiveness are essentially based on accounts given by Joanna north (1987) and Pamela hieronymi (2001). (1) The injured party, upon rationally determining that he or she has been unfairly treated in a serious way, forgive in the following instances: (a) when the injury is provoked by a moral but not natural evil. The degree of forgiveness is determined by the degree to which retribution may be justified, so that if retribution is inappropriate, forgiveness of the injury will consist of recognizing that inappropriateness. The wrongdoer is someone held for responsible. It makes no sense to forgive her if she acts simply “naturally” but not willfully – that is, the injury perpetrated is not committed by a morally whole, intending individual. we recognize special circumstances if the perpetrator of a wrong is either not fully morally capable, due to youth, or special states of mental illness, or if the perpetrator’s act was an unintentional accident. In such a common sense context, the act

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of (not genuine) forgiveness is attenuated to an index of rational behavior of the injured party. (b) Forgiveness is a consequence of a freely decided moral choice. More exactly, genuine forgiveness requires deciding to foster the disposition to forgive, which is implemented when the victim abandons resentments and their related responses (to which the victim has a right) without, nevertheless, the victim surrendering self-worth in the bargain. (c) The process of forgiveness may be reinforced by – but is not identical to – fostering sentiments likely to generate empathy with the offender, such as compassion, the recognition of the unconditional worth of all humans, generosity, and moral love (to which the wrongdoer, by nature of the hurtful act or acts, has no right). (d) The process of forgiveness does not require excusing of the offender, or forgetting the offense concerning the victim (see e.g. the golden inscription near the Paris Cathedral: “we forgive but we don’t ever forget”). My emphasis in (b) on the decisional character of forgiveness requires some caution: I do not mean that one can abandon resentment just by deciding to do so and offer forgiveness at will. what I say is that, to properly forgive, we should fostering the disposition to forgive through an act of will. as we will see later, the effective performance of forgiveness resulting in a “non-natural” empathy depends on a complex dialogical process able to change our “heart”. Forgiveness is a core Christian concept: Jesus’ admonition, «forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors» is so important that it forms the basis of the lord’s Prayer. Charles griswold has briefly sketched out the many meanings of the greek term, sungnômê, making the claim that even if it “was known to Plato, aristotle, and their contemporaries as well as successors” in greek philosophy, the ancient philosophers did not praise it a virtue nor use it to play any significant role in greek ethical thought. our question (3): How can the motivation to forgive be rationally justified? may imply an historically conditioned transference of a religious theme into philosophical reasoning and, in the modern era, into the sphere of secular political life. Indeed, the thematic of forgiveness has been incorporated, worldwide, in questions concerning the political and judicial order. when Japan’s Prime Minister, for example, asked the Chinese people to forgive Japan’s past aggressions (allers/ Smit (2010), XIII/XIv), he was using a rhetoric that has become common in dealing with past historical injustices, from apartheid to latin american ‘dirty wars’. Is it also possible to transfer the significance of the Christian concept of forgiveness “into


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a socio-political practice of restoration and reconciliation?” (vorster 2009, 366). This depends on the mechanisms by which the past is socially mediated, for, as kant said, “for once wrong has been done it cannot be undone, even by god” (north 1987, 499).

II. Motivations for forgiveness If the abandon of resentments is exclusively motivated by compassion or love, one speaks of “emotional forgiveness”. These can be so intense that the mechanisms of fostering forgiveness is superfluous, and thus the determining role of the decision in forgiveness is lost. In this picture, feature (1b) is clearly violated. Indeed, it is not even sure that emotional forgiveness is cognitively adequate, in as much as the victim could herself incorrectly project her own feelings and motivations onto the situation of the offender, and thus forgive in error. So strong emotional forgiveness may miss its purpose because it does not forgive in the right way. If, instead, we engage cognitively in willing the disposition to forgive, i.e., abandon our resentments, one speaks of “decisional forgiveness” (worthington /Scherer 2004). In this case there are two kinds of motivation: (i) extrinsic motivation (e.g. accepted moral principles or religious obligations), (ii) Internal motivation. If the decision to forgive were due to extrinsic motivations, forgiveness would become a means either for individual feeling or for collective consciousness. The evil would be put in balance to the benefit resulting of its ignoring. There would be no more forgiveness, but a sort of amnesty. Clearly, much ethical discourse has distinguished between the kind of duty that commands forgiveness and the kind of utilitarianism, which suggests that forgiveness should happen because it would lead to the greater happiness of the parties involved. I will conflate these motives only with regards to their extrinsic character and not with respect to their intrinsic values. So, in pursuit of the ideal form of forgiveness, we seem to be committed to internal motivation. To analyze the dilemma this poses, consider the following two arguments. Thesis 1: “Decisional forgiveness” should be motivated by internal “reasons”. Indeed, is there any purely internally motivated forgiveness? If we view the internal, here, from the point of view of psychology, the question can be re-phrased to consider the problematic nature of the psychological personal

on the Interrelation between Forgiveness, Rationality and Faith


benefit of forgiveness to the forgiver. If it is true that “unresolved anger saps the strength of a person, as he must direct a portion of his energy to maintaining resentment” (gudan 2005), then we would seem to have a motive that uses forgiveness as a means for something other than itself. Thesis 2: Forgiveness may be motivated by internal religious consciousness. The dilemma of forgiving in the right way has been posed by the psychological benefit that we may aim at in forgiving to ‘move on’, or as a matter of ‘health’. If all personal benefit is considered as a purely extrinsic motivation, i.e. inadequate to motivate “decisional forgiveness” (thesis 1), one probably has to search motivations for decisional forgiveness in the internal religious consciousness. yet forgiveness chosen by a religious (internal) source can nevertheless imply a personal benefit for the offended person – indeed, the forgiveness for others, advocated in the lord’s prayer, is tied up in the personal benefit of being forgiven by god. Thus, pure forgiveness, which I qualify as naïve altruism, should not be consciously chosen for the personal benefit. In the absence of any convenient and reliable criterion of what is in a given situation the internal and extrinsic part of the motivation of forgiveness, I propose a methodological shift by asking the following question: are there philosophical reasons to give weight to personal benefit as intrinsic to the forgiving process, so that the endeavor to respond to the wrongdoer are internally motivated by a rational process of adoption of the moral principle of beneficence? If personal benefit could be interpreted as internally motivated, forgiveness could be consciously chosen for this reason. I will call this kind of forgiveness dialogical altruism. To conceive forgiveness as dialogical altruism presupposes that the victim adds two further conditions to the features enumerated under (1): (e) The victim should recognize the moral value of the offender, (f) The victim should be conscious of his own moral value, i.e. to have self-esteem and self-confidence. an apparent theoretical difficulty consists in the fact that these are the same conditions upon which resentment is founded. Thus, forgiveness, the attempt to transcend resentment, seems to confirm the moral superiority of the victim in such a way that forgiveness is a sort of disguised act of resentment. So something more should be add in order to explain the function of dialogical altruism.


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III. How can the motivation to forgive be rationally justified? A The dialogical framework In order to open up my argument, I will first argue against standard claim that embeds the dictum that “Morality seeks the good” in the view that “rationality is the neutral instrument of reasoning”. I will not adopt a deconstructive point of view and deny any neutrality to reasoning, but I will deny the separation of reason and morality. often, theoretical philosophy and practical philosophy are strongly differentiated. The question “what can I know?” is opposed to question, “what should I do?” If this differentiation is accepted as a metaphysical principle, our questions concerning forgiveness concern primarily theoretical philosophy. and yet I will pursue and reinforce the kantian idea to found theoretical rationality on practical rationality, because, finally, to “know” is also an action which is constrained and motivated by purposes. and where there are purposes, there are values. are there some rational internal motivations for choosing forgiveness as dialogical altruism? obviously, rationality is what should be first defined. There exist at least (2) Two necessary conditions for practical rationality: (i) To pursue no purely causal interaction (ii) To accept belief revision In short, rationality must be conceived in a dialogue, conceived as “competition by argumentation” where the two roles of teaching and learning occur always together (lorenz (2010, 144-45). This approach in ethical reasoning goes from Plato to herder and up to Buber. B Forgiveness and repression what can we say from a dialogical point of view with respect to three types of reactions – which are by no means exclusive – against highly unfair treatment? (3) Indifference and resignation (4) Punishment (5) Forgiveness applying our conditions, we would rule out indifference, the stoic pose, because it violates the first criterion of rationality: pursue interaction with others. Resignation, more indirectly, puts up barriers to interaction with others in as much as it diminishes the areas in which the self interacts.

on the Interrelation between Forgiveness, Rationality and Faith


Indeed, what about the rational character of (4) and (5)? First, punishment can take different forms: (i) It could take the form of vengeance. vengeance (distinguish from retribution) is the satisfaction of a feeling that puts us in a causal and therefore „natural” situation. So, the revanchist punishment is irrational as indifference was. vengeance is a violation of rational interaction with others. This might not be true of all punishment. (ii) It could take the form of repression by duty, even by respect, conceived not as vengeance, but as rational measure according to the rules of justice or to the code of family education. now, both positions, punishment in this latter sense and forgiveness seem to restrict the equality of the moral balance between the interlocutors on different levels: the punishment limits the offender’s rights of certain actions; forgiveness inflicts on myself a restriction of my rights to have emotional reactions (I believe I have the right for resentment) in a manner similar to resignation. So far, the dialogical frame provides no clear criterion to qualify or disqualify rational punishment or forgiveness. Quite apart from dialogical reasoning, one could argue that neither an official repression as a legal action nor a private repression is an adequate response to resentment. It rests on a categorical mistake: resentment is a moral notion, repression a directly or, in the private case, an indirectly legal measure and application of a law or general principle, whereas resentment is the expression of an individual feeling. So, forgiveness, as a moral gift to the offender, seems to be a more appropriate response to overpass resentment. as a virtue, konzelmann has argued, forgiveness is not subject to the claims of normative „duty” (2008), and to possess the virtue of forgiveness is already the decision to put the will in the disposition to undertake the task of forgiving novitz (1998). It does not presuppose punishment. nevertheless, to say that she should begin to forgive although she has good reasons to punish may simply condition the cultivation of resentments by creating a sense of wrong, instead of exceeding it. Forgiveness without punishment seems purer, and to accord forgiveness without any repentance of the offender seems supererogatory. obviously, from a systematic point of view in which we try to achieve the most genuine forgiveness, repentance is not necessary, but in reality it does facilitate forgiveness by acknowledging the injury. The injury is, in a sense, doubled when it is not recognized as an injury.


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If this reasoning is correct, you could forgive and punish at the same time, since the punishment would be on the plane of action, and the forgiveness would be on the plane of giving a ‘moral gift’ of feeling. This would make forgiveness at best epiphenomenal. This strikes me as an unsatisfactory result. Thus let us look more deeply at the dialogical frame. C How the Dialogical standpoint could give an internal motivation of forgiveness Concerning the realization of forgiveness, we need distinguish two features: the point of view of the victim who gives forgiveness and the perspective of the offender. I begin with this latter. (6) has the offender a right to receive forgiveness? In order to answer we have to resolve the following dilemma. (7) (i) Does one have rights because one has dignity? or, inversely, (ii) Does one have dignity because one has rights? If we choose to affirm (ii), we are elevating human law over humanity, in that dignity is inherent in the latter. But I suppose we will very quickly enter here in an infinite regress: how to define human laws without the notion of dignity? I hold, therefore, that the logic moves in the other direction, and we should choose to affirm (i) But who has dignity? It may be that we grant dignity to animals, or to objects, or to the environment. But this is different than human dignity. we don’t want to identify human dignity with kant’s moral autonomy: the latter is lost if she considers someone as tool to an end, for example by lying, although this doesn’t violate human dignity according to our common sense. on the other hand, in the case of a murderer who, in so doing, losing his dignity, a question is posed when she repents and regains it: who should then be forgiven: the wrongdoer or the repentant? To solve this problem, it seems to be reasonable to adopt Schaber’s (2010) position: human dignity, contrary to social dignity, is not a contingent but a permanent property that cannot be lost and not be acquired. Deryck Beyleveld (2010) proposes certain capacities, none of which is necessary or sufficient, that are part of what we mean by speaking of human dignity.

on the Interrelation between Forgiveness, Rationality and Faith


human dignity requires in “normal” cases the capacities to feel vulnerable, to desire, to value. In any case, the “personhood of the offender and its dignity has often been obscured to the offended person. In other words, the offended person has been “demonized”, and one does not forgive a demon” gudan (2005). But on the other side, the recognition of the human dignity of the offender does not give him a right to be forgiven by the victim; on the offender’s side, she can underline her human dignity by showing honesty or repentance and beg for forgiveness, but that act must be imbued with the idea that forgiveness must be freely given by the victim. Concerning the point of view of the victim, (8) the value of forgiveness lies in the fact that it “essentially requires a recognition of the wrongdoer’s responsibility for his action, and secondly that forgiveness typically involves an effort on the part of the one wronged: a conscious attempt to improve oneself in relation to the wrongdoer” (north 1987, 499). while demanding a kind of dialogue, forgiveness – just as punishment – implies a lack of moral balance between the participants. This asymmetry is philosophically trivial with respect to the relation of forgiveness between god and us: if god created us, his forgiveness is only a logical consequence of his own action: by his forgiveness, he recognizes himself as responsible for our freewill and by asking him for forgiveness we admit him as our creator. naturally, the lack of balance between god and ourselves is such that we cannot forgive god. This seems properly absurd. now, the asymmetry between the wrongdoer and the victim should not be overestimated: it is “only” moral but not logical: just as the victim can offer or refuse the wrongdoer’s begging for forgiveness, the wrongdoer can refuse or accept the act of the forgiver. The moral superiority of the forgiver exists in the fact that he has the freedom not to forgive, but as a genuine forgiver he should not introduce this conscience of moral superiority in the dialogue. The latter would actually pervert forgiveness into another guise of resentment. In discussing forgiveness, we should not forget that it can be auto-referential in character in the sense of self-forgiveness. Much more, this may be a necessary element. In fact, who is unable to forgive herself, or to forget her own errors, i.e. to be self-confident, and who is always reminding others of her errors, will fatally conflate the act of forgiveness and resentment, never really forgiving because lacking of self-respect. This seems to be a first step in the genesis of our understanding of forgiveness. what must


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be noticed, however, as a second step, which is logically prior, is that it is only the other who shows me that I am myself error-prone and that I made a mistake. one of the misunderstandings of the Judaea-Christian tradition, which had the most harmful consequences, was the misunderstanding to presuppose the maxim of charity (instead of obtaining it as a result of dialogical construction), i.e. that «the other thinks as myself, because we are all brothers». This is exactly the kind of intellectual imperialism fought by Martin Buber. according to his approach, I can construct myself only with respect to others. « on pense comme on se heurte», said Paul valéry and for the Swiss philosopher Ferdinand gonseth, “the dialogue begins by meeting others, that is to say by meeting persons who do not think as myself”. The awareness of making a mistake presupposes logically the other and self-forgiveness is the result of individuation and socialization through the dialogical process. She cannot forgive herself to be as she is, when she does not know who she is in comparison with others. The auto-reference of forgiveness forbids introducing in the dialogue itself the moral superiority of the forgiver. we should accept mutual vulnerability. Indeed, self-forgiveness is not yet forgiveness. In a third step, the internal motivation to forgive could now be described by the formula: forgive others theirs debts as you forgive yourself in order to be yourself. If the situation of forgiveness is characteristically shaped by an asymmetrical dialogue between the victim and the offender, the offender is nevertheless not simply a passive recipient or a beggar for forgiveness, but a participant in a dialogue in which the common narrative reconstruction of the past incident is required simply so as to make the act of forgiveness to be referentially intelligent. To forgive implies for both parts to “change” their own person. But this change doesn’t signify a literal wiping out of sins for the wrongdoer. Such a literal interpretation was perhaps the reason for kant’s neglect of forgiveness: there cannot be “a reversal in a supposedly irreversible process of crime. […] what is annulled in the act of forgiveness is not the crime itself but the distorting effect that this wrong has upon one’s relations with the wrongdoer” (north, 1987, 500). north’s conjecture finds support in the dialogical approach. It follows that “apparently ‘instantaneous’ forgiveness is really moral weakness” (p. 506) or absolution of culpability expressed by excusing. Forgiveness exceeds excuse, resentment and repentance by allowing constructing a relation of offering and accepting. I have been saying forgiveness bears on the nature of dialogue and self-esteem. This latter aspect is largely recognized in the literature novitz (1998) but

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joined with the fictive capability to identify imaginatively with the wrongdoer (311/312). So long as this identification has no firm rational foundation genuine forgiveness has to be based on dialogical altruism, and cannot concern the relation between persons not directly involved. we can neither forgive those who are absent or dead nor can we forgive as proxy for those who are absent or dead. with this regards something like the faith that we are persons of the very picture of god seems necessary. References allers, Ch. R. & Smit, M. (eds.), (2010). Forgiveness in Perspective. amsterdam/new york: Rodopi. Beyleveld, D. (2010). “human hope, human Fear, human Dignity”, lecture on the Conference Human Dignity, Contingent Dignity, and Rank, June 28. Bielefeld: zIF. Butler, J. (1827). Fifteen Sermons Preached at the Rolls Chapel. Cambridge: hilliard and Brown; Boston: hilliard, gray, little, and wilkins. Transcribed by leRoy Dagg, 2002 ( gudan, e. (2005). Beyond Extrinsic Forgiveness: Recognizing the Dignity of the Offender. arlington: The Institute for the Psychological Sciences. hieronymi, P. (2001). “articulating an uncompromising Forgiveness”. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 62, 529–555. Internet encyclopedia of Philosophy: konzelmann, a. (2008). “Collective Forgiveness and normative enactment”. 6th european Congress of analytic Philosophy. krakow. lorenz, k. (2010). Logic, Language and Method. On Polarities in Human Experience. Berlin:De gruyter. north, J. (1987). “wrongdoing and Forgiveness”. Philosophy, 62, (no. 242), 499-508. novitz, D. (1998). “Forgiveness and Self-Respect”. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 58 (no. 2), 299-315. Schaber, P. (s.d.). Menschenwürde und Selbstachtung. Ein Vorschlag zum Verständnis der Menschenwürde. universität zürich. vorster, J. M. (2009). “an ethics of Forgiveness”. Verbum et ecclésia 30 (1), 365-383.

The Right to Believe:

Perspectives in Religious Epistemology Dariusz Łukasiewicz & Roger Pouivet (eds.)


Transfiguration of Human Consciousness and Eternal Life In the Christian religious tradition, the ‘transfiguration’ signifies the change of physical appearance of Jesus Christ referred to in Mark 9: 2-10. The account reads as follows in the new Jerusalem translation: and he said to them, ‘In truth I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of god come with power.’ 2. Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain on their own by themselves. There in their presence he was transfigured: 3. his clothes became brilliantly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them. 4. elijah appeared to them with Moses; and they were talking to Jesus. 5. Then Peter spoke to Jesus, ‘Rabbi,’ he said, ‘it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses and one for elijah.’ 6. he did not know what to say; they were so frightened. 7. and a cloud came, covering them in shadow; and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. listen to him.’ 8. Then suddenly, when they looked round, they saw no one with them any more but only Jesus.

Together with other signs, the meaning of the transfiguration is to reveal the divinity of Jesus. yet this is to take an exclusively spectatorial view of it, which is the point of view of Peter, James and John. But there are textual indications that we may also legitimately assume that there is another point of view, that of Jesus himself. From this perspective, the transfiguration consisted not only in the change of his physical appearance, but also entailed essential changes in his conscious relation to himself, to the world of things and to other persons. yet, is it not the case that the problems concerning transfiguration of Jesus are totally closed to philosophical analysis because we have no access to his transfigured consciousness save



what this finally exterior account tells us? In addition, one could argue that there is no universal philosophical import here, since the evangelical transfiguration gains its meaning only in the context of a particular religious belief. For Christians, it points to the excellence of god and promises that he is not forever inaccessible to direct knowledge, even if that access consists, in the end, of „listen[ing] to him”. But contrary to this relativising objection, I am of the opinion that there are speculative (philosophical) means which allow us to reconstruct some features of the transfigured consciousness. The transfiguration of the human consciousness that is the very gate to eternal life consists in the following qualitative changes. First, there is a sudden annulment of the opposition between appearances and reality (or, in kantian terms, the opposition between appearances and ‘things in themselves’). Second, there is an actual experiential access to the relation between universality and particularity that seems to happen in real human time. Third, human persons will directly experience the way in which different kinds of objects transform into other objects. Fourth, our relation to the fundamental features of the world will be changed: the experiential structure of space will be internalized and time will cast off its normal, measurable structure. Fifth, we will gain direct access to our personal uniqueness and in this way we will achieve the ultimate explanation of our consciousness. By the formula ‘ultimate explanation of our consciousness’ I mean that we will get to know how our consciousness ‘flows’ from our personal uniqueness. Sixth, the opposition between external and internal world will be annulled. all these changes will not only bring about the knowledge of who we are, but also for the first time we will see the world, or, in other words, we will experience what the ‘world in itself’ looks like. These dramatic changes will be superior to any event in the transformation of the a-semantic animal consciousness into semantic human consciousness that is part of our biological heritage. I am not proposing, in this short article, to describe and analyze all of the above mentioned aspects of the transfigured consciousness. Instead, I want to concentrate on the problem brought out by central fifth claim: that is, on the problem of the direct experience of one’s own personal uniqueness. what motivates the philosopher of religion to speculate on the nature of the transfigured consciousness? Remember, here, that transfiguration occurs in more than one religious tradition; the Buddha, for instance, was physically transfigured near his death in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta. I will argue that there are four motivations for seeking, here, a deeper meaning

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to what it means to have a religious belief. First, from our comparison, as humans, of the existence of animal consciousness and the existence of human consciousness, we receive validation for thinking that there are different stages of cognition (or different stages of knowledge) and also different world pictures. If these two forms of consciousness exist, we can infer that there may be many possible forms of experience of the world beyond the next stage immediately after animal conscious experience. as I will further suggest, this inference is associated with the idea of the eternal life of human persons, for in the eternal framework we have every right to expect to experience a higher form of consciousness of the world, especially when compared with animal experience and with our present form of cognition. The second thing motivating reflection on transfiguration is that the transfigured consciousness seems to share the features of so-called absolute consciousness. By ‘absolute consciousness’ I mean this ‘core’ of human consciousness which we call ‘self’ or ‘ego’. This entity can be called ‘absolute’ because it evades every kind of experiential objectification. The third motivation consists in the theme raised by classical theism according to which god is necessarily a conscious being, yet it seems obvious that, unlike what is humanly attainable, god’s consciousness knows his own absolute consciousness, directly experiences his own ego or, in other words, knows directly who he is. Thus, god’s consciousness is structurally different from the animal, human and absolute conciousness. The fourth motivation confronts us when we consider the problem of individuation of human persons. Individuation for the Christian is a particularly intricate business, given the problem of individuation of persons belonging to the holy Trinity. In addition to animal and human consciousness there is obviously one more kind of entity that deserves attention. what I have in mind here are pure spirits (angels). Because we assume that they are conscious creatures, pure spirits must have experiences of their own mental states which are somehow centered around something similar to the ego-center of human consciousness; we can thus assume that pure spirits must also be capable of experiencing some kind of world. what kind of knowledge do they have especially at their disposal, and what kind of sense to they possess of their own individuality? g.a. McCool, in his book From Unity to Pluralism. The Internal Evolution of Thomism characterizes the knowledge which god and these pure rational and conscious creatures have of themselves in the following way:


STanISŁaw JuDyCkI as pure spirits, god and the angels know their essences intuitively. Thus they are immediately aware of their connaturality with other beings and of the sympathetic love to which connaturality gives birth. Man, the lowest of the spirits, is a form received in matter. Therefore he has no intuition of his essence. he is immediately aware neither of his connaturality with other beings nor of his sympathy toward them. The imperfection of his self-awareness accounts for his deficient way of knowing other beings.1

McCool’s notion that the angels and god know their essences intuitively is suggestive, but needs to be unpacked. I would suggest that the ‘essence’ cannot be understood apart from individuality, or uniqueness, and that the ‘intuition’ that enables god and the angles to grasp their individual essences – that is, a first order, non-reflective knowledge – must be of a very peculiar kind, wholly unknown to us as human persons, whose instincts are fall into two fundamental types: perceptual intuition and the intuition characteristic of our imagination. I will begin with the problem of the semantic dimension of human consciousness. Consciousness, to the extent that we know its nature, is either simple phenomenal consciousness, which recognizes different objects in the world and reacts to many types of stimuli and is blind to its own existence, or self-consciousness, which takes into account both the fact of phenomenal consciousness and the fact that consciousness can reflect about its own existence. we normally assume that animals, or at least more complicated animals, are equipped with simple phenomenal consciousness. human beings also evidently possess this kind of consciousness. But simple phenomenal consciousness characteristic of humans is dramatically different from animal phenomenal consciousness: animal consciousness is a-semantic, whereas human phenomenal consciousness and human self-consciousness are, I would say, semantically ‘saturated’. It is not easy to say what semanticity itself is: everyday human action and interaction and the cognitively complex discourses of the sciences, humanities, in religion, philosophy, and theology are all necessarily semantic, i.e. everything has some meaning inscribed in the motivation and elaboration of action and discourse. Meaning, furthermore, is an object of understanding and interpretation – we make meaning from meaning. we understand meanings of words, meanings of concepts, of sentences, meanings of indexical expressions (‘now’, ‘here’). even so – called syncategorematical expressions (‘and’, ‘or’) have meanings. But first of 1

McCool, g.a. (1992). From Unity to Pluralism. The Internal Evolution of Thomism. new york: Fordham university Press 1992, 65.

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all, objects that surround us possess meanings: something in our perceptual field we interpret as a star, something other as a mountain, mouse trap, cell phone and so on. If we put aside discussions concerning the existence of ideal (Platonic) meanings, then it is certain that meanings (semantic information) do not exist in themselves: meaning sets up, at a minimum, a triadic relationship between the asemantic object and an interpreter out of which meaning emerges. Thus, the ground of the possibility of meaning requires that there exist some meaning-making subject capable of understanding this meaning. a few remarks are in order about the principal formal features which characterize semantic information. Semantic information is general, which means that concepts we have enable us to overcome particularity of situations and particularity of perceptual images. That is, such tokens are given to us meaningfully through a higher logical type. our concepts and beliefs (judgments), then, refer to what is general, to theoretically many situations, images, or individual things, and even to unbounded classes of individuals. Secondly, semantic information is susceptible to the distinction between truth and falsity. By using concepts we can form beliefs (judgments), and to these beliefs we can ascribe truth or falsity. Thirdly, semantic information is inferentially interconnected: from one kind of content it is possible to infer other contents, and from one concept other concepts. If I walk along the beach and see a jellyfish, this will start a chain of associations going from the particular content of this perception to other contents such as: ‘a creature living in the sea’, ‘an organism’, etc. This feature of our conscious mind enables us to transcend the ephemeral one-time-only-ness of the experiential data we are constantly receiving, making it possible to go from what is given in some determined situation to the unobservable things and in the end to form the idea of a world. admittedly, it is true that animal consciousness must somehow categorize stimuli that it receives, but it does not categorize them semantically in the way described above. Perhaps animal consciousness categorizes input which it receives with the help of something similar to our human pictorial schemes or stereotypes, but animal stereotypes do not posses any semantic generality. They probably only have different levels of plasticity but plasticity is quite another thing than semantic generality. From this follows that animals are not aware that they are living in a meaningful world and therefore they do not know or care what kinds of beings they are.



animal consciousness is not only devoid of any semantic dimension, but it also does not reflect upon itself. This means that it is not the kind of consciousness in which all its contents would have some – active or passive – reference to one pole which we call subject or ego. I would argue that self-consciousness is not possible without concepts, without some kind of access to semantic information: I am able to feel myself to be a subject of my own conscious states, I am able to feel myself to be some determined subject or ego only when I am able to know that I am a human being, and that the creature I am differs from rocks, plants, from animals, stars, clouds and from other human beings. what is important here is the fact that human phenomenal consciousness is always accompanied by self-consciousness, which means that in every moment when we perceive objects in the world, in every moment when we are thinking of something, everything which happens in our stream of consciousness is accompanied by conscious – clear or less clear – reference to the center of consciousness, to the ego, to the subject who we are. here however we encounter a fundamental problem. objects in the so-called external world perceived by our human consciousness, objects appearing to our self-consciousness, i.e. our mental states, the whole temporal structure of consciousness, and by this I mean the so-called ‘stream of consciousness’ with experiences of the changing present, with all the data of memory and with anticipations of future experiences and thoughts, even the ego itself – all these items become conscious by being transposed into a higher level of consciousness, and it is on this higher level of consciousness that we are conscious of these ‘things’. But, evidently, this tiered hierarchy of consciousness is not able to grasp this absolute consciousness, the very system itself, as an object. absolute consciousness is not something which is extended in three dimensions of time, it is not something which has the structure of a stream, it is not something which is comprised of discernible mental states. as such this consciousness can be called absolute consciousness, although I would like to stress that we should try to get rid of all ‘mystic’ associations which this expression seems almost naturally to generate. This ‘final’ consciousness is absolute exclusively in the sense that it cannot be made conscious as an object while, at the same time, it is just this consciousness which makes all other ‘elements’ of consciousness conscious. Into this picture of human semantic consciousness, both in its phenomenal aspect and in its self-conscious dimension, we must introduce one more very important element, which can be called ‘anticipation’.

Transfiguration of human Consciousness and eternal life


anticipation functions in every mental act and consists in the directedness of human consciousness to the whole field of possible experience. every act of our conscious mind ‘non-thematically’ aims at the totality of possible objects of cognition, every act anticipates being as an infinite totality and only in this way we can become conscious of determined objects of our experience. anticipation arises not by generalization from what human conscious subjects have already encountered in the world, but rather it is immanent within consciousness and makes possible the processes of generalization. In animal consciousness there are no traces of this peculiar activity of the human mind and this why animals are not ‘open to the world’ and are, so to speak, ‘closed’ in the particular situations that they encounter. without anticipation, objects of perceptual intuition would become something absolute and each epistemic act would be wholly externalized. I would like to suggest that, given this narrative of the hierarchical difference between animal and human consciousness, the transfiguration of human consciousness is a matter of radically changing the way we now categorize data of our experience. In transfiguration, not only our experiential input becomes wholly different from what we now receive, but also the modes of its categorization change. In order to speak about these new modes, I need to talk about trans-semantic consciousness. I am well aware that for many philosophers the idea of trans-semantic categorization will be very hard to swallow. They would say that trans-semantic categorization must inevitably lead us to the brink of irrationality, because semanticity seems to be the only ground for human rationality. Contemporary antirealism has almost convinced us that the same set of data can be differently interpreted by applying different semantic tools and that each of these interpretations must lead to a different world or at least to a different picture of the world. But what I want to suggest here by introducing the concept of trans-semantic categorization is by far more radical: here, we do not envisage different sets of concepts applied to categorize some set of experiential data, but instead we transcend semantic categorization altogether. we will become able to categorize the data that we will be receiving in such a radically different way from what we now have at our disposal that this will dramatically affect our experience and understanding of the world. The leap to trans-semantic consciousness is just as radical as the leap from a-semantic animal consciousness to semantic human consciousness. If animal consciousness could get human semantic tools to categorize its data, it would become able to see that it lives in a world and



only in this way it could enter into communicative relations. we absolutely cannot imagine what amazing surprise it would be for animal consciousness to discover that it lives in the world in which human beings now live. But this idea of future trans-semantic categorization should not be interpreted as a new form of antirealism. on the contrary, only through the medium of trans-semantic categorization human consciousness will become able to see the world in itself. I want to stress here that also other changes mentioned by me at the beginning are a part of the trans-semantic process. as semantic consciousnesses, we understand abstractly that one kind of object can transform into another kind of object, but we cannot perceive it. we can mathematically diagram but not perceive how, for instance, some determined length of electromagnetic waves is transformed into a highly individual shade of blue. By using our current epistemic abilities we can perceive only sequences of events, not transformations as such. In trans-semantic consciousness, however, we can experience perceptually and consciously how one kind of things transforms into another kind of things. It seems to me that this transformation of our experience, its transfiguration, as I call it here, is not made possible only by means of a radically different way of categorizing the data of experience, but that there is also something I would like to call ‘subtle experience’ or ‘total closeness’ between the subject and the data it receives. Subtle experience falls outside the field of trans-semantic categorization, as the former is structured by the absence of any categorizing apparatus whatsoever. This new kind of experience thus consists in an infinitely subtle differentiation of what is given, in a very subtle but cognitively important feeling. as such it stands in total opposition to the famous ‘raw feeling’ which some contemporary epistemologists want to ascribe to small children. when adult epistemic subjects perceive some shade of a blue color, in order to grasp and to understand what they perceive, they must have at their disposal not only the concept of blue and the concept of color, but they also must be in possession of many, many other concepts: the concept of a spatially extended thing, the concept of smell as something different from the concept of color etc. according to some representatives of coherentist strand in contemporary epistemology, very small children, who do not yet possess any concepts, are only able to feel the sensation of a blue color but are not able to grasp and understand what they see. That is, they feel, but they do not know what they feel. But it seems to me that in order to overcome this disjunction, adult semantic categorization is only one possible method.

Transfiguration of human Consciousness and eternal life


another possibility would consist in a more subtle differentiation of experience itself. If each individual shade of a blue color could be felt with a very, very high precision, then cognition would consist in a pre-semantic discrimination or, more generally speaking, it would be a pre-categorial discrimination. It seems to me that the trans-semantic consciousness is not simply a matter of academic speculation, but that we do have hints and premonitions, in our adult mode of experience, of this ‘absolute closeness’ between the subject and the data it receives. when we now perceive some determined shade of a blue color and when we discriminate it from other shades of blue and from all other objects in the world, then we, so to speak, ‘touch’ something which transcends every kind of categorization. That is, we consciously ‘touch’ individual essence of this shade of blue. If this very blurred contact with individual essences of all things could be sharpened to a very high degree, then we would be in full contact with all individual essences and we would also become able to experience how these individual essences interact with each other. In both cases, i.e. in the case of trans-semantic categorization and in the case of pre-categorial discrimination, the mechanism of anticipation would continue to function under the terms of an important modification: the world would cease to be experienced as something alien to us perceivers. we would understand everything that surrounds us. and what would happen if the idea of such a radical transformation of our epistemic situation were applied to internal knowledge, to self-consciousness? as I already suggested, in such a case we will begin to experience our personal uniqueness, we will be irradiated with the immediate knowledge of who we are. The problem concerning our uniqueness or our individual essence seems to be one of the most difficult problems in philosophy and perhaps it is even the most difficult philosophical problem of all. what is the individual content that fills the shape of every person in a somehow unique way? Is this a kind of sensuous content? Does it have some spatial shape? on the one hand, it seems that a conscious subject, an ego, conceived as an entity different from its own stream of consciousness, cannot have any spatial appearance. on the other hand, the unique content of every person must be capable of having some shape, but this shape must be unique and as such it must be an adequate expression of the uniqueness of every particular person. This is a limit-situation in as much as speculative theorizing touches the limits of conceivability. here, we must rely on metaphors to guide us by going from experience as we know it to the possibility of an altered



experience that transcends our actual cognitive incapacity. If we always lived surrounded by a deep darkness and if in this situation we had only tactual awareness at our disposal, would we be able to make even the slightest supposition that such a person as painted by Rafael in his Madonna Tempi is possible? or that such a person as a famous Johannes vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring can exist? Speculations allowing the possibility of existence of non-tactual entities, made by some members of the ‘tactual society’, will be treated by its other members as completely empty, because ‘to exist’ would mean ‘to be perceivable by touch’ and ‘to have tactual shape’. every suggestion that shaped colors could exist would be treated by more soberly disposed representatives of the tactual community as cognitive nonsense. however, our own experience, informed by our five senses, takes for granted visual shape. It is also obvious to us that to some degree personal uniqueness can be expressed by talented painters by using colored visual shapes. Through experiencing our own personal uniqueness rather than being alienated from it, we will become able to see how our consciousness of the world derives from this uniqueness. our present mode of consciousness can be described, as St. Paul described it, as a distorted mirror not only because it cannot perceive things in themselves but also because our consciousness does not see its own ground. either through trans-semantic categorization or through pre-semantic sharpening of experience, the transfigured consciousness will see its individual essence. Seeing our individual essence will enable us to experience how from this essence flows the unique kind of our conscious experience of the world. In this way the transfiguration of consciousness will lead to the objectification of absolute consciousness. absolute consciousness will be filled up with our unique content – in a way that can be compared to the stained glass that is filled with light and, only then, produces its unique configuration of colors. human consciousness will not only see itself as seeing, which is already the case now, but first of all it will see itself as the source of its unique light. animal consciousness a-semantically feels the world but it does not see it and it also does not see itself. human beings know semantically some aspects of the world, but they do not know themselves. god’s consciousness knows directly all objects including itself in eternity. In the transfiguration event, human consciousness imitates the immediate awareness of god’s consciousness, although the end result is not omniscience but communication with other persons: the heavenly kingdom. when we become able

Transfiguration of human Consciousness and eternal life


to see our individual essences we will also be able to perceive our unique relations to all other persons and all things. It seems to me that there are no other words which would better describe this new experience of the world than sympathy or love, but these have only a metaphorical meaning, as this experience of love is inherent to the transfigured future experience and knowledge. when we say that we are delighted with the beauty of some work of art, would we say that we love it? Maybe some of us would say this but at the same time these people would admit that such words as ‘love’ or ‘sympathy’ can only signal this unique delight which they feel every time. In this way, as I have argued, transfiguration is a subject for reflection in the philosophy of religion. It is inherent to the promise of religion that there be a leap from our semantic consciousness to a higher one. The transfigured consciousness will experience directly its unique relation to all objects. It will be in a position almost ‘to paint’ these relations, and then to retain their characteristics in memory.

noTeS on The auThoRS Michel Bastit is Professor of ancient Philosophy and Metaphysics at the university of Burgundy (Dijon). he is also member of the archives Poincaré (nancy). he has written several papers and books on aristotle, Thomas, Substance. Current research: possibilities of physical proofs of the existence of god from the point of view of modern science and philosophy of nature, and the possibility of a natural theology extracted from first cause. Gabriele De Anna studied at the universities of Padua, Italy (laurea, Dottorato) and St andrews, Scotland (M.litt, PhD). Since 2001, he has been tenured researcher at university of udine (Italy). he was visiting Fellow at the Centre for Philosophy of Science, university of Pittsburgh (uSa, 2005-6), Marie Curie Fellow at the university of Cambridge (uk, 2007-2008), and replacement on the First Chair of Philosophy at Bamberg university (germany, 2008-2009). his main interests are metaphysics and political philosophy. he authored four books, including: Identità e persona (Milan, Bompiani (2007, with g. Boniolo and u. vincenti), Causa, forma, rappresentazione. Una trattazione a partire da Tommaso d’Aquino (Milan, Francoangeli, 2011). his edited volumes include: Evolutionary Ethics and Contemporary Biology (Cambridge: Cambridge university Press, 2006, with giovanni Boniolo), and Willing the good. Empirical challenges to the explanation of Human Behaviour (newcastle, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, forthcoming). John Greco holds the leonard and elizabeth eslick Chair in Philosophy at Saint louis university. he is the author of Achieving Knowledge: A Virtue-theoretic Account of Epistemic Evaluation (Cambridge, 2010) and Putting Skeptics in Their Place: The Nature of Skeptical Arguments and Their Role in Philosophical Inquiry (Cambridge, 2000). his edited volumes include The Oxford Handbook of Skepticism (2008); Sosa and his Critics (2004); The Blackwell Guide to Epistemology (1999); and Virtue Epistemology: A Reader (with John Turri), forthcoming from MIT Press. Piotr Gutowski is Professor of Philosophy at John Paul II Catholic university of lublin, Director of the Department of history of Modern and Contemporary Philosophy, and the director of College of Interfaculty Individual Studies in the humanities at John Paul II Catholic university of lublin, Poland. he published several books (in Polish) on various aspects of contemporary philosophy, among others Process Philosophy and Its Metaphilosophy (1995), Between Monism and Pluralism: A Study of the Genesis and Foundations of John Dewey’s Philosophy (2002), British Philosophy at the Close of 20th Century (with T. Szubka, 1998), Science, Philosophy, and Life. The Foundation of William James’s Thought (2011).


notes on the authors

Gerhard Heinzmann is Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the university of lorraine in nancy (France) and Director of the lorraine Institute for humanities and Social Sciences (uSR 3261 of the CnRS). he is the editor of Publications of the Henri Poincaré Archives (Birkhäuser) and of the journal Philosophia Scientiae (kimé). Specializing in philosophy of mathematics and logic, he is the author of numerous articles and books on the philosophy of Ferdinand gonseth, Jean Cavaillès, Paul Bernays and henri Poincaré, among them Zwischen Objektkonstruktion und Strukturanalyse. Zur Philosophie der Mathematik bei Henri Poincaré (1995). a book on cognitive intuition in mathematics is under press and two textbooks on the discussion about the foundations of geometry and arithmetic around 1900 are in preparation. Stanisław Judycki is Professor of Philosophy at the university of gdańsk, Poland. he is the author of Intersubjectivity and Time. A Contribution to the Discussion Concerning Edmund Husserl’s Late Philosophy (lublin: Tn kul 1990), Mind and Synthesis. The Case Against Naturalistic Theories of Mind (lublin: Redakcja wydawnictw kul 1995), Consciousness and Memory. A Justification of Anthropological Dualism (lublin: Tn kul 2004), God and Other Persons. An Essay in Philosophical Theology, (Poznań: ‘w drodze’ 2010), and numerous articles. his work ranges over epistemology, contemporary philosophy (phenomenology, kantianism), philosophy of mind and philosophical theology. Dariusz Łukasiewicz, Professor of Philosophy at kazimierz wielki university in Bydgoszcz, Poland, Director of the Institute of Philosophy. Current research: Polish Brentanism and philosophy of religion. he is the author of Stany Rzeczy i prawda, Szkice filozoficzne (Bydgoszcz: akademia Bydgoska 2002), Filozofia Tadeusza Czeżowskiego (Bydgoszcz: akademia Bydgoska 2002), Bóg, wszechwiedza, wolność (Bydgoszcz: epigram 2007), Sąd i poznanie w fenomenologii Edmunda Husserla (Bydgoszcz: wSg/Rolewski 2008); edited volumes: Actions, products and things. Brentano and Polish Philosophy, (with arkadiusz Chrudzimski, Frankfurt: ontos 2006). Scientific Knowledge and Common Knowledge, (with Roger Pouivet, epigram Publishing house/kazimierz wielki university Press, 2009). Cyrille Michon is Professor of Philosophy at the university of nantes. he has published in the field of Medieval Philosophy and Philosophy of Religion. Recently Qu’est-ce que le libre arbitre? (Paris, vrin, 2011), and (with Roger Pouivet) Philosophie de la religion: Approches contemporaines (Paris, vrin, 2010). Roger Pouivet, Professor at the université de lorraine, Director of the laboratoire d’histoire des Sciences et de Philosophie – archives Poincaré (Centre national de la Recherche Scientifique). Roger Pouivet works mainly in philosophy of art (especially in ontology and metaphysics of art), epistemology of religious beliefs. his publications include: Esthétique et logique (Mardaga, liège, 1996), Qu’est-ce que croire? (vrin, Paris, 2006, 2nd ed.), Le réalisme esthétique (Presses universitaires de France, 2006), Qu’est-ce qu’une oeuvre d’art? (vrin, Paris, 2007), L’ontologie de l’oeuvre d’art (vrin, Paris, 2010, 2nd ed.), Philosophie du rock (Presses universitaires de France, 2010), La philosophie de Nelson Goodman (with J. Morizot, vrin, Paris, 2011). he edited recently (with C. Michon): Philosophie de la religion: Approches contemporaines (vrin, Paris, 2010).

notes on the authors


Fabien Schang, Doctor in philosophy lhSP henri Poincaré (uMR 7117), university of nancy 2 (France). Professional interests: philosophy of logic, philosophical logics, Polish school in logic (abstract operators of consequence and rejection, algebraic semantics), epistemic modalities, eastern logics, formal epistemology, ancient philosophy. Most important publications: “Questions and answers about oppositions”, in New Perspectives on the Square of Opposition, Béziau, J.-y. & Payette, g. (eds.), Peter lang, Bern (2011); “MacColl’s Modes of Modalities”, Proceedings of the Conference for the Centenary of hugh MacColl’s Birthday - Boulogne sur Mer, 9-10 octobre 2009, in Philosophia Scientiae 15 (1) (2011); “Two Indian dialectical logics: saptabhaṅgī and catuṣkoṭi”, in Journal of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research 27 (2011). Peter van Inwagen holds the John Cardinal o’hara Chair in Philosophy at the university of notre Dame. Research interests in contemporary metaphysics, philosophy of religion, and philosophy of action. his main books include The Problem of Evil (oxford university Press 2006), Ontology, Identity, and Modality: Essays in Metaphysics (Cambridge university Press 2002), The Possibility of Resurrection and Other Essays in Christian Apologetics (Boulder, Co: westview Press 1998), God, Knowledge and Mystery: Essays in Philosophical Theology (Ithaca: Cornell university Press 1995), Metaphysics (Boulder, Co: westview Press 1993, rev. ed. 2002), Material Beings (Ithaca: Cornell university Press 1990), An Essay on Free Will (oxford university Press 1983). Jacek Wojtysiak is Professor of Philosophy at John Paul II Catholic university of lublin, head of the Department of Theory of knowledge at the Faculty of Philosophy; the author of four books and many papers, some of them were published in english in: Polish Journal of Philosophy, European Journal for Philosophy of Religion and Studies in Logic and Theory of Knowledge (SLTK); the co-editor of SLTK; interests in metaphysics, philosophy of religion and philosophy of language. Jan Woleński, Professor emeritus of Philosophy (Jagiellonian university, krakow), President of the european Society for analytic Philosophy (2005-2008), member of Institut Internationale de Philosophie, Polish academy of Sciences and the Polish academy of arts and Sciences. The author of over 550 scientific publications in various languages, including 14 authored or edited books. Current research: philosophical logic, epistemology, history of logic and philosophy, particularly in Poland. Books in english include: Logic and Philosophy in the Lvov-Warsaw School (Dordrecht: kluwer 1989), Kotarbiński: Logic, Semantics and Ontology (ed., Dordrecht: kluwer 1990), Philosophical Logic in Poland (ed., Dordrecht: kluwer 1994), Alfred Tarski and the Vienna Circle: Austro-Polish Connections in Logical Empiricism (ed., with eckehart köhler, Dordrecht: kluwer 1999), Essays in the History of Logic and Logical Philosophy (kraków: Jagiellonian university Press 1999), Handbook of Epistemology (ed. with I. niiniluoto and M. Sintonen, Dordrecht: Springer 2004), Essays on Logic and Its Applications in Philosophy (Frankfurt a. M.: Peter lang 2011).


notes on the authors

Renata Ziemińska is Professor of Philosophy at the university of Szczecin, Institute of Philosophy, the Chair of epistemology, editor-in-Chief of Analiza i Egzystencja. Interests in epistemology (epistemic externalism, truth and skepticism), her papers in english include: “was Pyrrho the Founder of Skepticism?” in Polish Journal of Philosophy vol. v, no.1 (2011); “Descartes’ Meditations in the history of Scepticism” in Studies in Logic, Grammar and Rhetoric 15 (2009); “Two notions of the Internal and goldman’s epistemic externalism” in J. Malinowski, a. Pietruszczak (eds.), Essays in Logic and Ontology (Rodopi 2006). Urszula M. Żegleń is Professor of Philosophy at nicolaus Copernicus university in Toruń, in the field of her research is philosophy of mind, epistemology (especially the problem of rationality), philosophy of logic, ontology (especially Ingarden’s and Meinong’s ontology), semiotics and history of the Polish philosophy. She is the author of Modalność w logice i w filozofii. Podstawy ontyczne [Modality in logic and Philosophy. ontic Foundations] (Polskie Towarzystwo Semiotyczne, warszawa, uw 1990), Wprowadzenie do semiotyki teoretycznej i semiotyki kultury [Introduction to Theoretical Semiotics and Semiotics of Culture] (Toruń 2000), Filozofia umysłu. Dyskusja z naturalistycznymi koncepcjami umysłu [Philosophy of Mind. Discussions with the naturalistic Conceptions of Mind] (Toruń 2003). She edited several collections including Philosophy of Mind in the Lvov-Warsaw School, (axiomathes, Trento, Centro Studi per la Filosofia Mitteleuropea, vol. vI, 1995), Donald Davidson. Truth, Meaning and Knowledge (london-new york, Routledge 1999), Hilary Putnam. Pragmatism and Realism (ed. with James Conant, london-new york, Routledge 2002).

InDeX oF naMeS abelard, P. 7 abraham 124 abraham, w. J. 103, 112 adams, R. M. 57 adler, J. 33 aenesidemus 151 agrippa 151, 156 ajdukiewicz, k. 161n, 165, 176 allers, Ch. 215, 223 alston, w. 27n, 105, 112 annas, J. 159n anselm, St. 130, 133, 139 aristotle 59-71, 137, 140, 150, 168, 182, 184n, 202-207, 209, 211, 215, 237 atman 137 augustine, st. 7, 74, 76 averroes 71n Barnes, J. 159n Barth, k. 117 Bastit, M. 59, 237 Bastit-kalinowska, a. 68 Bayile, a. 150, 155-157, 159n Beiser, F. 187, 211 Bellis, e. 68 Berkeley, g. 149 Bernard of Clarivaux 168 Bernays, P. 238 Bernecker, S. 30 Bett, R. 159n Beyleveld, D. 220, 223 Béziau, J. 140, 239 Bishop, J. 196-198, 211 Bocheński, J. 161, 166 Bockmuehl, M. 106, 112 Bondi, R. 185, 211 Boniolo, g. 237

Brahman 137 Brennan, T. 155, 159 Brentano, F. 162, 238 Brittain, Ch. 160 Buber, M. 218, 222 Burnyeat, M. 159n Butler, B. 213n, 223 Calvin, J. 122 Cantor, g. 137 Carnap, R. 137, 164 Carneades 149, 152, 155, 158n Cavaillčs, J. 238 Chatti, S. 135 Christensen, D. 30 Chrudzimski, a. 238 Cicero 152, 160 Clement of alexandria 7 Clifford, w. 7, 8, 9, 48, 82, 87, 93 Cohen, J. 81 Comte, a. 187n Conant, J. 240 Costa-leite, a. 132, 140 Craig, e. 37n, 147 Craig, w. l. 106, 113 Crifo, g. 67 Cudworth, R. 193, 198, 211 Czeżowski, T. 166n, 174, 176n, 238 David 124 Davidson, D. 240 Davis, S. T. 112 Dawkins, R. 145 De Franco, l. 185, 211 Dennett, D. 48, 58 Descartes 57, 82, 130, 132, 133, 139, 240 Dewey, J. 188, 237


Index of names

Diagoras of Melos 154 Diderot, D. 48 Diogenes laertius 153, 160 Diogenes of Babylon 153 Drewnowski, J. F. 161, 166 elga, a. 30 elijah 225 epicurus 150, 152n, 205 evans, C. a. 104, 113 Fanelli, C. 211 Fantle, J. 37 Feinberg, J. 147 Feuerbach, l. 138 Fichte, J. g. 182 Flynn, T. 145 Forrest, P. 191n, 211 Foster, J. 205-208, 211 Frances, B. 30 Frede, M. 155n, 159n Fuller, R. 105 gabriele, a. de 180, 184, 211, 237 ganeri, J. 132 gathman, R. 10, 161n, 173 gauguin, P. 23 gendler Szabo, T. 29 gianfranscesco, P. 159 goldman, a. 240 gonseth F. 222 gonseth, F. 238 grandy, R. e. 162, 177 greco, J. 27, 47-52, 54, 57n, 70, 237 gregory of nyssa 56 griffith, M. 160 griswold, Ch. 215 groarke, l. 70 gudan, e. 217, 221, 223 gutowski, P. 85, 237 haldane, J. J. 113 hamilton, w. 136 hankinson, R. J. 151, 153, 155-157, 160 hawking, S. 19 hawthorne, J. 29, 37

hegel, g. w. h. 182, 187n, 209, 211 heinzmann, g. 213, 238 heraclitus 137 herder, J. g. 218 hieronymi, P. 214, 223 hintikka, J. 133, 140 hobbes, Th. 186n hook, S. 188 howard-Snyder, D. 93 huber, F. 145 hume, D. 27, 30n, 41, 44, 118, 150, 205 husserl, e. 238n hylas 150 Ingarden, R. 240 Inwagen, P. van 8, 11, 18, 88, 93, 192, 211, 239 Jadacki, J. 176n James, St. 225 James, w. 7, 8, 81, 85, 87-100, 170, 237 Jesus Christ 79, 103-113, 120n, 215, 225 Joan of arc 83 Johannson, l.-g. 145 John Paul II 125 John, St. 77, 83, 120n, 225 Jordan, J. 93 Jordan, J. 119 Judycki, S. 109, 113, 238 kaniewski, M. 10 kant, I. 123, 133, 210, 216, 222 karlsson, M. M. 58 kelly, T. 29 kendall, D. SJ 112 kenny, a. 8 keynes, J. n. 140 köhler, e. 239 konzelmann, a. 219, 223 kornblith, h. 61 kotarbińska, J. 161 kotarbiński, T. 161, 167n, 173n, 176n, 239 lackey, J. 33 lamont, J. 58

Index of names lang, P. 140, 239 lapointe, S. 177 leibniz, g. w. 7 leRoy, D. 223 leśniewski, S. 174 lewis, D. 23 locke, J. 146 long, a. a. 151, 160 lorenz, k. 218, 223 lotti, B. 211 luke, St. 105 Łukasiewicz, D. 10, 45, 161, 167, 172, 177, 238 Łukasiewicz, e. 161 Łukasiewicz, J. 131, 134, 137, 139n, 166n, 174 MacColl, h. 239 Malinowski, J. 240 Marion, M. 177n Maritain, J. 72 Mark, St. 225 Mastronarde, D. J. 160 Mavrodes, g. 49 McCool, g. a. 227n Mcgrath, M. 37 McIntyre, a. 59, 66 McPherran, M. 155, 160 Meeker, k. 28 Meinong, a. 240 Menoeceus 153 Michael, St. 19 Michon, C. 73, 238 Miller, e. v. 211 Miśkiewicz, w. 177n Montaigne, a. 140 Montaigne, M. de 150, 159 Morizot, J. 238 Moser, P. k. 112n Moses 124, 225 nagel, e. 188 newman, J. h. 7, 124n, 137n nicholas of Cusa 150, 159 nietzsche, F. 48 niiniluoto, I. 239


north, J. 214, 216, 221-223 novitz, D. 219, 222n oakes, R. 207, 211 ockham, w. 150 o’Collins, g. SJ 112 oesterberg, J. 145 ogden, C. k. 160 olbrechts-Tyteca, l. 65 origen 7 ostoja zagórski, J. 10 Paley, w. 107 Papineau, D. 188, 211 Pascal, B. 70, 119, 150, 169, 175-177 Paul, St. 9, 105, 234 Payette, g. 140, 239 Perelman, Ch. 65 Perry, J. 162, 177 Peter, St. 77, 79, 83, 105, 225 Peters, T. 198, 211 Philonus 150 Pietruszczak, a. 240 Plantinga, a. 8, 49, 88, 104, 106n, 113, 117, 119, 122, 125, 180-183, 186n, 189, 191-195, 197, 209, 211 Plastina, S. 211 Plato 68, 182, 215, 218 Poincaré, h. 238n Popkin, R. h. 150, 160 Pouivet, R. 10, 45, 47, 54, 166, 178, 238 Poznański, e. 174 Priest, g. 136, 138, 140 Pritchard, D. 30 Protagoras 159 Przełęcki, M. 161-178 Putnam, h. 240 Pyrrho 240 Quinn, P. 28 Rafael, S. 234 Reinach, a. 162, 178 Russell, B. 11-15, 18, 22-25, 51, 133, 137, 140, 146, 181 Rybicka, D. 127


Index of names

Salamucha, J. 161, 166, 178 Sanders, e. P. 104 Savonarola, g. 150, 160 Schaber, P. 220, 223 Schang, F. 127, 132, 135, 137, 140, 239 Scherer, D. 216 Schmidt-Petri, Ch. 145 Scot Duns 7 Sedley, D. n. 160 Sellars, R. w. 188 Sergio, e. 211 Sextus empiricus 149-160 Sintonen, M. 239 Smart, J. J. C. 107, 113 Smit, M. 215, 223 Smith, B. 178 Smith, Q. 182, 211 Sobociński, B. 166 Sosa, e. 70, 145, 237 Spinoza, B. 137, 186-188, 209 Stanley, J. 37 Stirner, M. 138 Stonescu, C. 70 Strato 196 Striker, g. 160 Swinburne, R. 8, 73, 77, 88, 104, 107, 109-113 Szaniawski, k. 166, 177n Szubka, T. 237 Śliwiński, R. 145

Thomas aquinas 7, 48, 52-56, 58, 73-82, 84, 237 Thomas, St. 120 Thorsrud, h. 155, 160 Tooley, M. 180-183, 191-198, 209, 211 Tripathi, R. k. 137, 140 Tucker, B. 138 Turri, J. 237 Twardowski, k. 167n, 174, 176

Tarski, a. 138, 174, 239 Tatarkiewicz, w. 176 Telesio, B. 184-186, 211 Tello, R. 211 Theophrastus 196

yonge, C. D. 160

valélery, P. 222 vanderjagt, a. 150, 160 vermeer, J. 234 vico, g. 67 vincenti, u. 237 voltaire 48 vorster, J. M. 216, 223 vuillemin, J. 133, 140 wacewicz, S. 115 warner, R. 162, 177 williams, M. 155, 160 wittgenstein, l. 157, 160 wojtysiak, J. 103, 239 woleński, J. 141, 145, 161, 165, 177n, 239 wolniewicz, B. 173, 176, 178 wolterstorff, n. 8, 70, 119 wundheiler, a. 174 wynn, M. 192, 211

zagzebski, l. 49, 59, 66 ziemińska, R. 149, 240 Żegleń, u. M. 115, 240