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D. The Argument for Practical Rationality

The unhappy developments just explained, says Alston, present us with a “crisis of rationality” and a “desperate situation”: “The course of the argument led us to the conclusion that with respect to even those sources of belief of which we are normally the most confident we have no sufficient noncircular reason for taking them to be reliable” (146). What are we to do? Well, we are obliged to settle for second best: although we can’t show that any of these practices is reliable, perhaps we can show that we are rational—practically rational—to engage in them. 120Alston offers two connected arguments for supposing that it is practically rational to engage in these practices. According to the first, in essence, it is perfectly sensible or rational to continue to form beliefs in the SP and CMP ways, because (1) those ways do not lead to massive inconsistencies, (2) there is no reason to think them unreliable, (3) we know of no alternative doxastic practices whose reliability we could demonstrate in an epistemically noncircular fashion, and (4) changing to some other practice would be massively difficult and disruptive. According to the second argument, any socially and psychologically established doxastic practice that meets certain other plausible conditions is prima facie rational (i.e., such that it is prima facie rational to engage in it); such a practice will be all-things-considered rational if, as far as we can see, there is no reason to abandon it. These two arguments are connected, as I shall argue below; it is only the second that he explicitly employs with respect to CMP.

Suppose we begin by examining the second argument; as we shall see, this argument leads back to the first. Here is how Alston puts the matter:

My main thesis . . . is that CMP is rationally engaged in since it is a socially established doxastic practice that is not demonstrably unreliable or otherwise disqualified for rational acceptance. If CMP is, indeed, a socially established doxastic practice, it follows from the position defended in Chapter 4 that it is prima facie worthy of rational participation. And this means that it is prima facie rational to regard it as reliable, sufficiently reliable to be a source of prima facie justification of the beliefs it engenders. And if, furthermore, it is not discredited by being shown to be unreliable or deficient in some other way that will cancel its prima facie rationality, then we may conclude that it is unqualifiedly rational to regard it as sufficiently reliable to use in belief formation. (194)

The basic contention is that it is prima facie rational to engage in CMP . . . because it is a socially established doxastic practice; and that it is unqualifiedly rational to engage in it . . . because we lack sufficient reason for regarding it as unreliable or otherwise disqualified for rational participation. (223)

The main premise of this argument, then, is:

It is prima facie rational (practically rational) to engage in a socially established doxastic practice, and unqualifiedly rational (rational all things considered) to engage in a socially established practice that doesn’t encounter severe internal or external incompatibilities.

And in chapters 5 through 7 Alston goes on to argue that CMP is indeed a socially established doxastic practice, and that it does not encounter severe internal or external incompatibilities.

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