« An Exchange Relevant to the Problem of Dirty Hands | Main | Daniel Dennett (1942-2024) »

Friday, April 19, 2024


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

“The other problem is that he is a dogmatist: his doxastic security needs are so strong that he cannot psychologically tolerate the idea that he might be wrong. He wants objective certainty about ultimates, as all serious philosophers do, but he confuses his subjective certainty, which falls far short of knowledge, with objective certainty, which knowledge logically requires.”

On your recommendation, I am now reading Jaws of Death: Gate of Heaven, and as much as I value certain insights in it, principally concerning the negative aspects of death, I too am put off by von Hildebrand’s repeated assertion of certainty in matters that evade our cognitive powers. And the net effect of this dogmatic approach to the great metaphysical mysteries is that I take little reassurance or comfort from what he has to say about the survival and destinies of souls after the death of the body. Although I affirm the truth of the Gospel message and practice my ancestral faith, I refuse, even at my advanced age (78) and approaching death to confuse belief with knowledge. Further, I agree “that faith confers an important life-enhancing benefit to the sincere believer whether or not it is objectively true.” I would like it to be true, but I can’t know that it is, and yet my living the faith in my actions, moral and devotional, confer a purpose and dignity to my life that is in itself of great merit.

Hi Bill

I think von Hildebrand's key point you quoted in bold is "Faith gives comfort only if it is true." It is an over-generalized statement about human psychology, it is not argument (unless he argues for it in the book elsewhere). As you convincingly show, some people will get comfort from faith in their lifetime even if religious beliefs ultimately turn out to be false. Pascal's wager is also a very strong argument against von Hildebrand's position. Although it is somewhat different from yours, Pascal relies on pragmatic value of faith that von Hildebrand dogmatically, and IMHO incorrectly, denies.


I am happy we agree.

Let me now recommend another book that holds to an orthodox RCC line which appeared in French in 1960 and was translated into English the following year: Louis Boyer, Introduction to the Spiritual Life. Rich, subtle, and well-worth your time.

Available from Amazon for about $20.


As you say, DvH is running up against the defensible pragmatic approach of Pascal.

What I don't like about Pascal is his formulation in terms of a wager -- which strikes me as crass and trivializing, But of course Pascal was a great mathematician who worked in probability theory which probably (pun intended) explains the betting formulation.

Hey Bill,

Thanks for another rather substantial and serious post. There is alot to meditate and unpack here.

You're welcome, EG.

Agreed with your response to Hildebrand, but still disagree with you. With this type of reasoning, any delusion is good as long as it's therapeutic.


No, you're missing the point. The question is whether Christian belief must be true to be life-enhancing in the here and now. DvH say yes; I say no: Xian belief is life-enhancing whether or not it is true. But that is not to say that any old belief is life-enhancing.

"Clearly, or so it seems to me, we reap the benefits of this faith here and now, whether or not there is anything on the other side of the Great Divide"

Would a young man who was killed for refusing to renounce his Christian faith reap the benefits of that faith if it turned out to be false? Not that the question doesn't apply to older martyrs, I say young because they could still have many years ahead of them.


Good comment. Reasonable question. I'd answer yes to your question. The young man lived a life that seemed meaningful to him

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo
Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 10/2008



May 2024

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31  
Blog powered by Typepad