A Czech reader sent me some materials in which he raises the title question. One of them is a YouTube video. I will unpack the question in my own way and then pronounce my verdict.
Suppose what ought to be evident, namely, that we are morally responsible for our actions. Among actions are those that could be labeled 'theoretical.' Among theoretical actions are those we engage in when we do philosophy. (And please note that philosophy is indeed something we do: it is an activity even if it culminates in contemplation.) Philosophical actions include raising questions, expounding them, entering into dialog with others, consulting and comparing authorities, drawing inferences, generalizing, hunting for counterexamples, testing arguments for validity, deciding which issues are salient, and so on.
Given our moral responsibility for our actions, including our philosophical actions, there is the admittedly farfetched possibility that we do wrong when we philosophize. Given this 'possibility' are we not being intolerably dogmatic when we just 'cut loose and philosophize' without a preliminary examination of the question of the moral justifiability of philosophical actions?
Suppose someone were to issue this pronunciamento: It is wrong, always and everywhere, to do anything whatsoever without first having established the moral acceptability of the proposed action!
Or as my correspondent puts it: No action can [may] be performed before its ethical legitimation! He calls this the "methodical rule of the ethical skeptic."
The draconian demand under consideration is obviously self-referential and in consequence self-vitiating. If it is wrong to act until I have shown that my action is morally permissible, then it is wrong to engage in all the 'internal' or theoretical actions necessary to determine whether my proposed action (whether theoretical or practical) is morally permissible until I have shown that the theoretical actions are morally permissible. It follows that the ethical demand cannot be met. (A vicious infinite regress is involved.)
Now an ethical demand that cannot be met is no ethical demand at all. For 'ought' implies 'can.' If I ought to do such-and-such, then it must be possible for me to do it, and not just in a merely logical sense of 'possible.' But it is not possible for me to show the moral permissibility of all of my actions.
I conclude that one is not being censurably dogmatic when one just 'cuts loose and philosophizes,' and that we have been given no good reason to think that philosophizing is morally wrong.
Panayot Butchvarov, Anthropocentrism in Philosophy: Realism, Antirealism, Semirealism, Walter de Gruyter, 2015, p. 33:
As used in epistemology, "justified" is a technical term, of obscure meaning and uncertain reference, indeed often explicitly introduced as a primitive. In everyday talk, it is a deontic term, usually a synonym of 'just' or 'right,' and thus 'justified belief' is a solecism. For it is actions that are justified or unjustified, and beliefs are not actions.
The argument is this, assuming that moral justification is in question:
a. Actions alone are morally either justified or unjustified. b. No belief is an action. Therefore c. No belief is morally either justified or unjustified. Therefore d. 'Morally justified belief' is a solecism.
(b) is not evident. Aren't some beliefs actions or at least analogous to actions? I will argue that some beliefs are actions because they come under the direct control of the will. As coming under the direct control of the will, they are morally evaluable.
1. It makes sense to apply deontological predicates to actions. Thus it makes sense to say of a voluntary action that it is obligatory or permissible or impermissible. But does it make sense to apply such predicates to beliefs and related propositional attitudes? If I withhold my assent to proposition p, does it make sense to say that the withholding is obligatory or permissible or impermissible? Suppose someone passes on a nasty unsubstantiated rumor concerning a mutual acquaintance. Is believing it impermissible? Is disbelieving it obligatory? Is suspending judgment required? Or is deontological evaluation simply out of place in a case like this?
2. It makes sense to apply deontological predicates to actions because they are under voluntary control. Thus it makes sense to say that one ought to feed one's children because (apart from unusual circumstances) it is within one's power to feed one's children. So if it makes sense to apply deontological predicates to beliefs and related propositional attitudes, then they too must be under voluntary control. If I cannot help but believe what I believe, then I cannot be morally censured for believing, disbelieving, or suspending judgment.
3. This brings us to the question of doxastic voluntarism: Are any of our (occurrent) believings under our direct voluntary control as regards their coming into existence? To introduce some terminology:
Extreme doxastic voluntarism: ALL beliefs are such that their formation is under one's direct voluntary control. Limited doxastic voluntarism: There are only SOME beliefs over the formation of which one has direct voluntary control. Doxastic involuntarism: There are are NO beliefs over the formation of which one has direct voluntary control.
Note that the issue concerns the formation of beliefs, not their maintenance, and note the contrast between direct and indirect formation of beliefs. Roughly, I form a belief directly by just forming it, not by doing something else as a means to forming it.
4. I am a limited doxastic voluntarist.
a) Clearly, one cannot believe at will just anything. One cannot believe at will what is obviously false. It is obviously false that the Third Reich continues to exercise its brutal hegemony over Europe, and no one who is sane has the power to believe this falsehood at will, just by deciding to believe it.
b) One cannot not believe what is obviously the case. It is obviously the case that this thing in front of me is a computer monitor. Can I disbelieve this perceptual deliverance? No. Seeing is believing. It is a more subtle question whether I can suspend judgment in the manner of Husserl's phenomenological epoche. But this is a topic for a separate post. For now I am happy to concede that one cannot disbelieve at will what is obviously the case.
c) The matter becomes much more difficult when we turn to propositions from religion, philosophy, science and elsewhere that are neither obviously true nor obviously false. It is not obviously true that God exists, but neither is it obviously true that God does not exist. It is not obviously true that doxastic voluntarism is true, but neither is it obviously true that it is not true.
Suppose I am concerned with the freedom of the will, study the issue thoroughly, but am torn between libertarianism and compatibilism. It is surely not obvious that one or the other is true. If the positions strike me as equally well-supported, then nothing at the level of intellect inclines me one way or the other. Must not will come in to decide the matter, if the matter must be decided? Or consider the weightier question of the existence of God. Suppose the arguments pro et contra strike me as equally probative so that, at the level of intellect, I am not inclined one way or the other. If the issue is to be resolved, must I not simply decide to believe one way or the other? But William Alston, doxastic involuntarist, will have none of this: "How could we do that any more than, lacking any reasons at all for one alternative rather than another, we decide to believe that the number of ultimate particles in the universe is even rather than odd?" (Beyond "Justification," p. 65)
This response packaged in a rhetorical question strikes me as very weak. No one cares what the number of particles is let alone whether it is odd or even. Indeed, it is not clear that the question even makes sense. (How could one possibly count them?) The God question is toto caelo different. In Jamesian terms, the God question is live, forced, momentous, and not intellectually decidable. A live issue is one that matters to us and seems to need deciding. Whether the number of ultimate particles is odd or even is certainly not live. A forced issue is one that is compulsory in the sense that we cannot not take a stand on it: to remain agnostic or uncommitted on the God question is practically to live as an atheist. There is nothing forced about the particles question. A momentous issue is one about which it matters greatly which position we adopt. The particles question is clearly not momentous. An intellectually undecidable question is one which, if it is to be decided, must be decided by an act of will.
So what I would say to the doxastic involuntarist is that in some cases -- those that fit the Jamesian criteria are clear but not the only examples -- the will does in fact come into play in the formation of beliefs and indeed legitimately comes into play. To the extent that it does, a limited doxastic voluntarism is true.
If so, then some belief formation is under the control of the will and is morally evaluable, contra Butchvarov.
W. K. Clifford is often quoted for his asseveration that "it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence." Now one of my firmest beliefs is that I am an actual individual, not a merely possible individual. A second is my belief that while there is an infinity of possible worlds, there is exactly one actual world and that this world of me and my world mates is the world that happens to be actual. (Think of the actual world as the total way things are, and of a merely possible world as a total way things might have been. For a quick and dirty primer, see Some Theses on Possible Worlds.)
But not only do I have insufficient evidence for these two beliefs, it looks as if I have no evidence at all. And yet I feel wholly entitled to my acceptance of them and in breach of no plausible ethics of belief, assuming there is such a subject as the ethics of belief.
Consider the following argument that I adapt from D. M. Armstrong, who borrowed it from Donald C. Williams:
1. Exactly one of the infinity of possible worlds is actual.
2. This world of me and my mates is a possible world.
Therefore, very probably,
3. This world of me and my mates is merely possible.
This is an inductive argument, but a very strong one. While it does not necessitate its conclusion, it renders the conclusion exceedingly likely. For if there is an infinity of worlds, how likely is it that mine is the lucky one?
And yet the conclusion is absurd, or to be precise: manifestly false. Is it not perfectly obvious that this world of ours and everything in it is actual? I am convinced that I am actual, and that all this stuff I am interacting with is actual. I am sitting in an actual chair in an actual room which is lit by an actual sun, etc.
But how do I know this? What is my evidence? There are no facts known to me that are better known than the fact that I am actual (that I actually exist). So my evidence cannot consist of other facts. Is it self-evident that I am actual? You could say this, but how do I know, given the above argument, that my actuality is objectively self-evident as opposed to merely subjectively self-evident? Subjective self-evidence is epistemically worthless, while objective self-evidence is not to be had in the teeth of the above argument. No doubt I seem to myself to be actual. But that subjective seeming does not get the length of objective self-evidence. I now argue as follows:
4. If it is wrong to believe anything on insufficient evidence, then it is wrong to believe anything on no evidence.
5. I have no evidence that me and my world are actual.
6. It is not wrong to believe what is obviously true.
7. It is obviously true that I am actual.
Therefore, contra Clifford,
8. There are some things it is not wrong to believe on insufficient evidence.
This is not a compelling argument, but it is a very powerful one. Not compelling because the Cliffordian extremist could bite the bullet by denying (7). He might say that the ethics of belief enjoins us to suspend belief on the question whether one is actual.
Now this is psychologically impossible, for me anyway. But apart from this impossibility, it is surely better known that I am actual than that Clifford's extreme thesis is true.
There are other obvious problems with the thesis. Any tyro in philosophy should see right away that it is self-vitiating. If it is wrong to believe anything on insufficient evidence, then it is wrong to believe Clifford's thesis on insufficient evidence. But what conceivable evidence could one have for it? None that I can see. It is not only a normative claim, but one stuffed with universal quantifiers. Good luck! If you say that the thesis needn't be taken as applying to itself, then other problems will arise that you can work out for yourself. Why do I have to do all the thinking?
Note also that if you take Clifford's thesis to heart you will have to suspend belief on all sorts of questions outside of religion, questions in ethics, politics, economics, climatology, etc., questions you have extremely firm opinions about. The practical upshot, if one were consistent, would probably be a full retreat into Skeptic ataraxia. At least until the political authorities came to put you in prison. Then you would begin believing that some things are just and some are not, etc., and damn the insufficiency or nonexistence of the evidence for the contentious beliefs.
Our doxastic predicament is a bitch, ain't she? Well, what do you want for a Cave?
I thank Tully Borland for pushing the discussion in this fascinating direction.
Affirming the Consequent is an invalid argument form. Ergo One ought not (it is obligatory that one not) give arguments having that form.
Modus Ponens is valid Ergo One may (it is permissible to) give arguments having that form.
Correct deductive reasoning is in every instance truth-preserving. Ergo One ought to reason correctly as far as possible.
An argument form is valid just in case no (actual or possible) argument of that form has true premises and a false conclusion. An argument form is invalid just in case some (actual or possible) argument of that form has true premises and a false conclusion. Deductive reasoning is correct just in case it proceeds in accordance with a valid argument form. 'Just in case' is but a stylistic variant of 'if and only if.'
Now given these explanations of key terms, it seems that validity, invalidity, and correctness are purely factual, and thus purely non-normative, properties of arguments/reasonings. If so, how the devil do we get to the conclusions of the three arguments above?
View One: We don't. A, B, and C are each illicit is-ought slides.
View Two: Each of the above arguments is valid. Each of the key terms in the premises is normatively loaded from the proverbial 'git-go,' in addition to bearing a descriptive load.. Therefore, there is no illict slide. The move is from the normative to the normative. Validity, invalidity, and correctness can be defined only in terms of truth and falsity which are normative notions.
View Three: We have no compelling reason to prefer one of the foregoing views to the other. Each can be argued for and each can be argued against. Thus spoke the Aporetician.
I am on the hunt for a deductive argument that is valid in point of logical form and that takes us from a premise set all of whose members are purely factual to a categorically (as opposed to hypothetically or conditionally) normative conclusion. Tully ( = Cicero?) the Commenter offered an argument that I make explicit as follows:
1. It is snowing 2. For any proposition p, if p, then it is true that p. Therefore 3. If it is snowing, then it is true that it is snowing. (2, UI) Therefore 4. It is true that it is snowing. (1, 3 MP) 5. For any p, if p is true, then one ought to believe that p. Therefore 6. If it is true that it is snowing, then one ought to believe that it is snowing. (5, UI) Therefore 7. One ought to believe that it is snowing. (4, 6 MP)
Does this argument do the trick? Well, it is plainly valid. I rigged it that way! Is the conclusion categorically normative? Yes indeed. Are all of the premises purely factual? Here is the rub. (5) is a normative proposition. And so the argument begs the question at line (5). Indeed, if one antecedently accepts (5), one can spare oneself the rest of the pedantic rigmarole.
But I have a second objection. Even if the move from 'is' to 'ought' internal to (5) is logically kosher, (5) is false. (5) says that whatever is true is such that one ought to believe it. But surely no finite agent stands under an obligation to believe every true proposition. There are just too many of them.
If one ought to do X, then (i) it is possible that one do X, and (ii) one is free both to do X and to refrain from doing X. But it is not possible that I believe or accept every true proposition. Therefore, it is not the case that I (or anyone) ought to believe every true proposition. (One can of course question whether believings are voluntary doings under the control of the will, and (surprise!) one can question that questioning. See my Against William Alston Against Doxastic Voluntarism.)
Still and all, truth does seem to be a normative notion. (5) doesn't capture the notion. What about:
5*. For any p, if p is true, then p ought to be believed by anyone who considers it.
The idea here is that, whether or not there are any finite minds on the scene, every true proposition qua true has the intrinsic deontic property of being such that it ought to be believed. I say 'intrinsic' because true propositions have the deontic property in question whether or not they stand in relation to actual finite minds.
But of course plugging (5*) into the above argument does not diminish the argument's circularity.
Here is a possible view, and it may be what Tully is getting at. Truth is indissolubly both factual and normative. To say of a proposition that it is true is to describe how it stands in relation to reality: it represents a chunk of reality as it is. But it is also to say that the proposition qua true functions as a norm relative to our belief states. The truth is something we ought to pursue. It is something we ought doxastically to align ourselves with.
This is murky, but if something like this is the case, then one can validly move from
p is true
p ought to be believed by anyone who considers it.
The move, however, would not be from a purely factual premise to a categorically normative conclusion. My demand for a valid instance of such a move might be rejected as an impossible demand. I might be told that there are no purely factual premises and that if, per impossible, there were some, then of course nothing normative could be extracted from them.
According to Bryan Magee ("What I Believe," Philosophy 77 (2002), 407- 419), nobody knows the answers to such questions as whether we survive our bodily deaths or whether God exists. Citing Xenophanes and Kant, Magee further suggests that the answers to these questions are not only unknown but impossible for us to know. Assuming that Magee is right on both counts, what follows?
One inference one might draw from our state of irremediable ignorance about ultimates is that it provides us with 'doxastic wiggle-room' (my expression): if one cannot know one way or the other, then one is permitted either to believe or not believe that we survive and that God exists. After all, if it cannot be proven that ~p, then it is epistemically possible that p, and this epistemic possibility might be taken to allow as reasonable our believing that p. Invoking the Kantian distinction between thinking and knowing (Critique of Pure Reason, B 146 et passim) one could maintain that although we have and can have no knowledge of God and the soul, we can think them without contradiction, and without contradicting anything we know. Does not the denial of knowledge make room for faith, as Kant himself famously remarks? CPR B xxx: Ich musste also das Wissen aufheben, um zum Glauben Platz zu bekommen... "I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith...." (And given that contact with reality is a great good, would it not be better to venture contact with the unknowable portion of it via faith rather than have no contact with it at all by insisting that only knowable truth is admissible truth?)
This inference, however, the inference from our irremediable ignorance to the rational allowability of belief in the epistemically possible, is one that Magee resolutely refuses to draw, seeing it as a shabby evasion and an "illegitimate slide."(408) Thus he holds it to be illegitimate to move from the epistemic possibility of post-mortem survival to belief in it. As he puts it, "What I find myself wantingto drive home is not merely that we do not know but that the only honest way to live and think is in the fullest possible acknowledgment of that fact and its consequences, without ducking out into a faith of some kind, and without evasion or self-indulgence of any other sort." (417) Near the beginning of his essay, Magee cites Freud to the effect that no right to believe anything can be derived from ignorance. (408)
The relevance of the Freudian point, however, is unclear. First of all, no one would maintain that ignorance about a matter such as post-mortem survival justifies, in the sense of provides evidence for, the belief that one survives. And a person who thinks it rationally allowable to believe where we cannot know will presumably not take a deontological approach to belief in terms of epistemic rights and duties. In any case, the issue is this: Is it ever rationally permissible to believe where knowledge is unavailable? Magee answers this question in the negative. But I cannot see that he makes anythingclose to a convincing case for this answer. I will simply run through some questions/objections the cumulative force of which will be to neutralize, though perhaps not refute, Magee's view. Thus I play for a draw, not a win. I doubt that one can expect more from philosophy. This post presents just one of my questions/objections.
One problem with Magee's argument is that it seems to prove too much. If we have no knowledge about such metaphysical/religious matters as God and the soul, and so must suspend belief in them lest we violate the putative epistemic duty to believe only on sufficient evidence, then we must also suspend belief on a host of other issues in respect of which we certainly cannot claim knowledge. Surely, the very same reasons that lead Magee to say that no one knows anything about God and the soul must also lead us to say that no one knows whether or not there are cases in which justice demands capital punishment, or whether or not a just society is one which provides for redistribution of wealth, or whether or not animals have rights, etc. Indeed, we must say that no one knows what justice is or what rights are. And of course it is not merely about normative issues that we are ignorant.
Do we know what motion, or causation, or time are? Do we know what properties are, or what is is for a thing to have a property, or to exist, or to change, or to be the same thing over time? Note that these questions, unlike the God and soul questions, do not pertain to what is transcendent of experience. I see the tomato; I see that it is red; I see or think I see that it is the same tomato that I bought from the grocer an hour ago; applying a knife to it, I see or think I see that slicing it causes it to split apart.
For that matter, Does Magee know that his preferred ethics of belief is correct? How does he know that? How could he know it? Does he have sufficient evidence? If he knows it, why do philosophers better than him take a different view? Does he merely believe it? Does he believe it because his fear of being wrong trumps his desire for the truth? Does he want truth, but only on his terms? Does he want only that truth that can satisfy the criteria that he imposes? Would it not be more self-consistent for Magee to suspend belief as to his preferred ethics of belief? Why is it better to have no contact with reality than such contact via faith? Isn't it better to have a true belief that I cannot justify about a life and death matter than no belief about that matter? Does the man of faith self-indulgently evade reality, or does the philosopher of Magee's stripe self-indulgently and pridefully refuse such reality as he cannot certify by his methods?
No one knows how economies really work; if we had knowledge in this area we would not have wildly divergent paradigms of economic explanation. But this pervasive ignorance does not prevent people from holding very firm beliefs about these non-religious issues, beliefsthat translate into action in a variety of ways, both peaceful and violent. It is furthermore clear that people feel quite justified in holding, and acting upon, these beliefs that go beyond what they can claim to know. What is more, I suspect Magee would agree that people are often justified in holding such beliefs.
So if Magee is right that we ought to suspend belief about religious matters, then he must also maintain that we ought to suspend belief about the social and political matters that scarcely anyone ever suspends belief about. That is, unless he can point to a relevant difference between the religious questions and the social-political ones. But it is difficult to discern any relevant difference. In both cases we are dealing with knowledge-transcendent beliefs for which elaborate rational defenses can be constructed, and elaborate rational refutations of competing positions.
In both cases we are dealing with very abstruse and 'metaphysical' issues such as the belief in equal rights, a belief which manifestly has no empirical justification. And in both cases we are dealing with issues of great importance to our welfare and happiness. On the other hand, if Magee thinks that we are justified in holding beliefs about social and political matters, something he does of course hold, then he should also maintain that we are justified in holding beliefs about religious matters. There is no justification for a double standard. In this connection, one should read Peter van Inwagen's Quam Dilecta, in God and the Philosophers, ed. T. V. Morris (Oxford University Press, 1994), 31-60. See especially 41-46 for a penetrating discussion of the double standard.
Just a quick question. You recently posted that you think atheism can be intellectually respectable. Fair enough. But wouldn't you agree that intellectual respectability in general seems to be assumed more often than it should be?
To put a point on the question: Do you think materialism is intellectually respectable? I seem to recall you saying that (at the least) eliminative materialism is a view you wouldn't bother teaching in a philosophy course. Yet it also seems that some people, even those who would argue that theism isn't intellectually respectable, would bend over backwards to deny that EM isn't as well.
We should begin with a working definition of 'intellectually respectable.' I suggest the following:
A view V is intellectually respectable =df V is logically consistent with (not ruled out by) anything we can legitimately claim to know.
People claim to know all sorts of things they do not know, which explains the qualifier 'legitimately.' Note also that truth and intellectual respectability are different properties. What is true might not be intellectually respectable, and what is intellectually respectable might not be true. Truth is absolute while intellectual respectability is relative to the class of people to whom 'we' in the definition refers. And which class is this? Well, it would include me and Peter Lupu and other astute contemporaries who are well apprised of the facts of logic and mathematics and science and history and common sense. It would not include a lady I once encountered who thought that the Moon is the source of its light. That opinion is not intellectually respectable.
There are indefinitely many views that are clearly not intellectually respectable, and indefinitely many that clearly are. The interesting cases are the ones that lie in between. Let's consider two.
1. Eliminative materialism. This is defended by some otherwise sane people, but I would say it is not intellectually respectable. For it is ruled out by plain facts that we can legitimately claim to know, such facts as that we have beliefs and desires. It is a position in the philosophy of mind that denies the very data of the philosophy of mind. Here is an argument that some might think supports it:
(1) If beliefs are anything, then they are brain states; (2) beliefs exhibit original intentionality; (3) no physical state, and thus no brain state, exhibits original intentionality; therefore (4) there are no beliefs.
But anyone with his head screwed on properly should be able to see that this argument does not establish (4) but is instead a reductio ad absurdum of premise (1) according to which beliefs are nothing if not brain states. For if anything is obvious, it is that there are beliefs. This is a pre-theoretical datum, a given. What they are is up for grabs, but that they are is a starting-point that cannot be denied except by those in the grip of an ideology. Since the argument is valid in point of logical form, and the conclusion is manifestly, breath-takingly, false, what the argument shows is that beliefs cannot be brain states.
2. Theism. Not every version of theism is intellectually respectable, obviously, but some are. If you think otherwise, tell me which known fact rules out a sophisticated version, say, the version elaborated over several books by Richard Swinburne. ('Known fact' is not pleonastic in the way 'true fact' is; a fact can be unknown.)
a. Will it be the 'fact' that nothing immaterial exists? But that's not a fact, let alone a known fact. Abstracta such as the proposition expressed by 'Nothing immaterial exists' are immaterial but indispensable. Arguments to the effect that they are dispensable merely show at the very most that it is debatable whether abstracta are dispensable, with the upshot that it will not be a known fact that nothing immaterial exists. No one can legitimately claim to know that nothing immaterial exists.
b. Will it be the fact that nothing both concrete and immaterial exists? Even if this is a fact, it is not a known fact. I am arguably a res cogitans. We do not know that this is not the case the way we know that the Moon is not fifty miles from Earth.
c. Will it be the fact of evil? But how do you know that evil is a fact at all? Can you legitimately claim to know that the people and events you call evil are objectively evil and not merely such that you dislike or disapprove of them? But even if evil is an objective fact, what makes you think that it is logically inconsistent with the existence of God? The Hume-Mackie logical argument from evil is almost universally rejected by contemporary philosophers.
My claim is that there is no fact which we can claim to know -- in the way we can claim to know that the Moon is more than 50 miles from Earth -- that rules out the existence of God. But I also claim that there is no such fact that rules it in. Both theism and atheism are intellectually respectable. I take no position at the moment on the question whether one is more respectable than the other, or more likely to be true; my claim is merely that both are intellectually respectable -- in the way that eliminative materialism and the belief that the Moon is its own source of light are not intellectually respectable.
You asked if there were any other options besides:
A. Rationalism: Put your trust in reason to deliver truths about ultimates and ignore the considerations of Sextus Empiricus, Nagarjuna, Bayle, Kant, and a host of others that point to the infirmity of reason.
B. Fideism: Put your trust in blind faith. Submit, obey, enslave your reason to what purports to be revealed truth while ignoring the fact that what counts as revealed truth varies from religion to religion, and within a religion from sect to sect.
C. Skepticism: Suspend belief on all issues that transcend the mundane if not on all beliefs, period. Don't trouble your head over whether God is or is not tripersonal. Stick to what appears. And don't say, 'The tea is sweet'; say, 'The tea appears sweet.' (If you say that the tea is sweet, you invite contradiction by an irascible table-mate.)
D. Reasoned Faith: Avoiding each of the foregoing options, one formulates one's beliefs carefully and holds them tentatively. One does not abandon them lightly, but neither does one fail to revisit and revise them. Doxastic examination is ongoing at least for the length of one's tenure here below. One exploits the fruitful tension of Athens and Jerusalem, philosophy and religion, reason and faith, playing them off against each other and using each to chasten the other.
I recommend (D). Or are there other options?
John Bishop (University of Auckland) has a book , Believing by Faith: An Essay in the Epistemology and Ethics of Religious Faith (OUP, 2007) which is perhaps the best book that I have read on the subject. He argues for what he calls a ‘supra-evidential fideism’ in which one is ‘morally entitled’ to “take as true in one’s practical and theoretical deliberations” a claim that lacks evidence sufficient for epistemically-justified acceptance or rejection.
It is a developed Jamesian’ approach to the right to believe. He does not allow for beliefs that go contrary to the weight of evidence, thus he rejects Wittgensteinian fideism. One may believe beyond the evidence, but not against the evidence. He holds that one must always respect the canons of rational inquiry and not dismiss them, even in matters of faith. Yet, by the very nature of the faith-issue, they can be transcended with moral entitlement.
Nor does he allow for ‘induced willings-to believe.’ He holds that one who already has an inclination / disposition to believe is morally entitled to do so if the issue is important, forced, and by the nature of the issue cannot be decided upon the basis of ‘rationalist empiricist’ evidential practice.I came across the book on a list of important books in philosophy of religion on Prosblogion.
I think that it is a type of fideism that combines your categories B and D – fideism and reasoned faith.
Is William G. Lycan rational? I would say so. And yet, by his own admission, he does not apportion his (materialist) belief to the evidence. This is an interesting illustration of what I have suggested (with no particular originality) on various occasions, namely, that it is rational in some cases for agents like us to believe beyond the evidence. (Note the two qualifications: 'in some cases' and 'for agents like us.' If and only if we were disembodied theoretical spectators whose sole concern was to 'get things right,' then an ethics of belief premised upon austere Cliffordian evidentialism might well be mandatory. But we aren't and it isn't.)
Being a philosopher, of course I would like to think that my [materialist]stance is rational, held not just instinctively and scientistically and in the mainstream but because the arguments do indeed favor materialism over dualism. But I do not think that, though I used to. My position may be rational, broadly speaking, but not because the arguments favor it: Though the arguments for dualism do (indeed) fail, so do the arguments for materialism. And the standard objections to dualism are not very convincing; if one really manages to be a dualist in the first place, one should not be much impressed by them. My purpose in this paper is to hold my own feet to the fire and admit that I do not proportion my belief to the evidence.
1. The arguments for dualism and the arguments for materialism both fail. 2. The standard objections to dualism are not very convincing. 3. It is rational to be a materialist.
In my opinion (1)-(3) is a consistent triad. If so, what does 'rational' mean? It cannot have the Cliffordian meaning according to which one apportions one's belief to the evidence. For that would require suspension of belief on the issues that divide dualists and materialists given the truth of (1) and (2). But Lycan does not suspend belief; he remains a committed materialist. He believes beyond the evidence in that he believes on insufficient evidence. The evidence is insufficient because it is counterbalanced by the evidence for the position he disbelieves. However we define 'insufficient evidence,' it seems clear that if the evidence for p and the evidence for ~p are equal, then the evidence for either is insufficient.
Lycan's is an interesting case because it doesn't display all of the Jamesian marks. The issue is live for Lycan and for the people here present, but is it forced and momentous? An issue is forced in the sense of William James if it is such that one's remaining theoretically agnostic about it is tantamount to deciding it in a particular way. James gives the example of a man who hesitates to get married. "It is as if a man should hesitate 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. Would he not cut himself off from that particular angel-possibility as decisively as if he went and married someone else?" (Will to Believe, p. 26) The man who refuses to commit himself to marriage commits himself to bachelorhood nolens volens.
But surely dualism versus materialism is not a forced option in the Jamesian sense. For one thing, one might reject both in the manner of the idealist. The positions are not logical contradictories of each other but logical contraries: they can't both be true, but they can both be false. Second, it is not the case that a suspension of judgment is tantamount to an opting for one side. If you take no position on dualism versus materialism, how does that commit you to one side or the other? On the God question, if one takes no position on whether or not God exists, then it it strongly arguable that one is a practical atheist: the agnostic lives as if God does not exist. And similarly for the immortality of the soul: to take no position is to live as if the soul is mortal. Or at least this is plausibly arguable. But the dualist need not be a substance dualist, and if he is not a substance dualist, then it is very difficult to see how the dualism versus materialism option is forced. And even if the dualist is a substance dualist, one might be a substance dualist without being committed to the immortality of the soul or mind.
A momentous option is one in which "We are supposed to gain, even now, by our belief, and lose by our nonbelief a certain vital good." (WB, 26) But I think it would be a stretch to think that the rather technical and abstruse issues that divide materialists and dualists are momentous in James' sense.
All this notwithstanding, the Lycan quotation above illustrates how rationality needn't require apportioning one's belief to the evidence. Or will you argue that Lycan is irrational in remaining a materialist despite his newfound insight that the arguments for it are not compelling?
I have been thinking about belief and whether it is under the control of the will. This question is important since it lies at the foundation of the very possibility of an 'ethics of belief.' People believe all sorts of things, and it is quite natural to suppose that some of the things they believe they are not entitled to believe, they have no right to believe, they are not justified in believing, they ought not believe. The characteristic beliefs of Holocaust deniers, for example, are not only demonstrably false, but also such that their holding by these nimrods is morally censurable. One has the strong sense that these people are flouting their epistemic duties.
Let us begin today's meditation with a passage from John Locke's A Letter Concerning Toleration:
The articles of religion are some of them practical and some speculative. Now, though both sorts consist in the knowledge of truth, yet these terminate simply in the understanding, those influence will and manners. Speculative opinions, therefore, and articles of faith (as they are called) which are required only to be believed, cannot be imposed on any Church by the law of the land. For it is absurd that things should be enjoined by laws which are not in men's power to perform. And to believe this or that to be true does not depend on our will. (Treatise of Civil Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration, ed. Sherman, p. 204, emphasis added.)
William P. Alston boldly maintains that "no one ever acquires a belief at will." (Beyond Justification, Cornell 2005, 67) This blanket rejection of doxastic voluntarism -- the view that some belief-formation is under the control of the will -- sounds extreme. What about beliefs that one acquires as a result of reasoning? Are not some of the beliefs acquired in this manner acquired at will? And if so, then is it not right to talk deontically of the permissibility and impermissibility of some beliefs?
Note that there are two connected questions. One concerns whether or not any beliefs are under the control of the will. The other concerns the legitimacy of deontic talk in respect of beliefs. A negative answer to the first question removes the second question, while an affirmative answer to the first question leaves the second question open. Let's think about this.