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II. Classical Evidentialism, Deontologism, and Foundationalism

In God and Other Minds, I took for granted what was then axiomatic: that belief in God is rationally justifiable only if there are good arguments for it, and only if the arguments in favor of it are stronger than the arguments against it. The origin—at least the proximate origin—of this idea is to be found in the work of Locke I’ve been outlining. A belief is acceptable, he says, only if it is either itself certain or else probable (i.e., more probable than not) with respect to propositions that are certain for me. Christian belief, clearly enough, is not certain for me: it is not self-evident, incorrigible, or a deliverance of the senses. Hence, if it is to be acceptable, it must be probable with respect to propositions of these sorts. Locke doesn’t, so far as I know, explicitly raise the question whether I must know or believe that the belief is thus probable, if it is to be acceptable for me; I think he assumes that it must be. He thinks of the matter in terms of applying a test: 82a certain belief p comes within your purview; you are to determine whether it is probable with respect to what is certain for you in order to determine whether it is acceptable for you. But then you will accept the belief only if you see or believe that it does pass this test.

Evidentialism is the claim that religious belief is rationally acceptable only if there are good arguments for it; Locke is both a paradigm evidentialist and the proximate source of the entire evidentialist tradition,7272   In “Reason and Belief in God,” I suggested that Aquinas was also an evidentialist in this sense; various people (Alfred Freddoso, Norman Kretzmann, Eleonore Stump, Linda Zagzebski, and John Zeis in “Natural Theology: Reformed?” in Rational Faith: Catholic Responses to Reformed Epistemology, ed. Linda Zagzebski [Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993], p. 72) remonstrated with me, pointing out that things were much more complicated than I thought. The fact is that Aquinas is an evidentialist with respect to scientia, scientific knowledge. But it doesn’t follow that he thought a person could properly accept belief in God, say, only if he had (or there are) good theistic arguments. On the contrary, Aquinas thought it perfectly sensible and reasonable to accept this belief on faith. from him through Hume and Reid and Kant and the nineteenth century to the present. Locke’s classical evidentialism is one element of a larger whole that also includes classical foundationalism and classical deontologism. This connected complex of theses and attitudes has been enormously influential in epistemology since the Enlightenment, and enormously influential especially with respect to our question, the question of the rational justifiability of religious belief: call it the classical package. The classical package includes ways of thinking about faith, reason, rationality, justification, knowledge, the nature of belief, and other related topics. It is hard to overemphasize the importance of these ways of thinking for the de jure question. We have seen how Locke is the fountainhead of the evidentialist tradition, one of the elements in the classical package; but he is also a main source, for us moderns (and postmoderns), of the other two elements: classical foundationalism and classical deontologism. I now turn to them.7373   I examine classical foundationalism in detail in WCD and “Reason and Belief in God”; here I shall be brief and schematic.


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