Symposium on the Epistemic Nature of Faith


This symposium on Lara Buchak’s “Can it be Rational to have Faith?” will commence on Sunday 26 August and run through to 02 September. The symposium will be led by Sandy Goldberg (Northwestern), Trent Dougherty (Baylor), and Lara Buchak (Berkeley).

All are welcome to participate.

(OUP is offering a 20% discount on Probability in the Philosophy of Religion, in which Lara’s paper appears. Please contact for further details.)

Opening Remarks by Profs. Goldberg and Dougherty

1) Goldberg: Religious Faith and Disagreement

Lara Buchak’s paper, “Can it be Rational to have Faith?” is an extremely thoughtful, clearly written paper defending the epistemic rationality of faith (under certain conditions). In this post I want to ask whether this defense, as it stands, can be used to vindicate the rationality of faith against what I regard as one of the stronger grounds for doubt: the argument from systematic religious disagreement. To be fair, the question of disagreement is not addressed in her paper; but since it is an important source of skepticism regarding the rationality of faith, I would be most interested to hear from Buchak how she sees her proposed analysis bearing on this matter. In what follows I state the case for skepticism as briefly as I can, if only to make clear where I think more commentary would be helpful.

To a very rough first approximation, Buchak characterizes faith that p as a matter of acting (or being disposed to act, or preferring to act) on the assumption of p, prior to acquiring further evidence bearing on whether p. (She proceeds to sharpen and modify this formulation in various ways, to avoid various objections and counterexamples, but since these sharpenings will not be relevant to my discussion, I will ignore them – interesting though they are.) With this as her characterization of faith, she construes the question pertaining to the rationality of faith in something like the following way: when is it (epistemically and practically) rational to act (prefer to act; be disposed to act) on the assumption of p, prior to waiting to collect more evidence bearing on whether p?

This strikes me as a very interesting question, and Buchak’s answer is thoughtful and engaging. Still, I think that many of those who are worried about the rationality of faith are worried about a slightly different (more traditional) question. To be fair to Buchak, I will pose this alternative question in the terms she herself provides. Buchak assumes a certain kind of evidentialism about epistemic rationality, according to which one ought to proportion one’s beliefs (or one’s doxastic states more generally) to the evidence; and she assumes a version of subjective Bayesianism, according to which one’s degree of belief in a proposition must obey the probability calculus, where modifications of one’s degree of belief must proceed by conditionalization on new evidence (17). The alternative (more traditional) worry is whether, given the prevalence of religious disagreement, the adopting an attitude of faith that p by a subject who is aware of this disagreement is compatible with the aim of proportioning one’s doxastic states to one’s evidence. Such a worry can be developed insofar as (i) one endorses (something like) this evidentialist/subjective-Bayesian framework and (ii) one regards faith that p as a species of taking the world to be a certain way (namely, as being such that p). Let me explain.

The challenge that systematic (peer) disagreement poses to the rationality of religious faith is a special and particularly strong case of the challenge that (peer) disagreement poses to the rationality of belief in any matter on which there is such disagreement. Given limitations of space, I will assume some familiarity with the literature on the epistemic significance of (peer) disagreement, and will say only this: whatever one thinks on that matter, when the disagreement is systematic – widespread and persistent, with lots of different competing camps, and where the disagreements bleed into other matters besides the particular proposition at hand – whatever epistemic significance one assigns to disagreement per se will be magnified. Why this is so is easy to see from an evidentialist perspective: if the fact of disagreement with a peer over whether p is itself a piece of evidence bearing on the question whether p,[1] then insofar as the disagreement is systematic, one has (or knows of) significantly more evidence of this sort.

Consider in this light the sorts of disagreement that are relevant to the question of religious faith. There are disagreements between those who believe in God (i.e., those who acquiesce in the truth of the proposition that God exists) and those who don’t; disagreements among the believers themselves, insofar as they come from different religions; disagreements within a religion, between the vairous denominations or sects (i.e., Catholicism and the various Protestant denominations; the various sects within Orthodox Judaism, as well as the other movements – Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionsm, etc.); and disagreements as well even among co-religionists (those in the same denomination of the same religious tradition). To be sure, not all of this disagreement is peer disagreement; but at least some of it is. And this is something that any worldly subject knows. It would thus seem that, for a good many (most? all?) of the propositions in whose truth one might have faith, any worldly subject knows that there is a good deal of (second-order) evidence bearing on the truth of proposition in question, in support of a denial of the position she herself accepts.

Now I submit that, given such a subject, it is far from clear whether, in acquiescing in the truth of the proposition in question, she is being epistemically rational.[2] For suppose that, even in the face of her recognition of systematic religious disagreement, she continues to endorse (acquiesce in the truth of) the proposition in question. Even so, she will acknowledge—or at any rate, she ought to acknowledge—that there are others who are equally smart, equally knowledgeable of the arguments and evidence, equally attentive and motivated to get things right, and who would be highly motivated to discern their errors if they could, who nevertheless failed to do so, even having given the matter a good deal of their time and effort. But more than this: she will acknowledge—or at any rate she ought to acknowledge—that it is not only in the present case, but in the entire history of the discussion of these matters by disagreeing parties, that the vast majority of those who are in the wrong have not been brought to see the error(s) of their ways, despite the best efforts of those on the side of truth (as she sees it). And this conclusion, in turn, should tell our subject something about the discernibility of the sort(s) of truth and falsity that are at issue here. Even as she continues to endorse (acquiesce in the truth of) the proposition(s) in question, and so even as she continues to think that she has the truth on her side, still, given the persisting systematic disagreement, she must acknowledge that truth and falsity here are not easily discernible by very many people as smart as she is, as knowledgeable of the relevant arguments and evidence, who have had a good deal of time thinking about the relevant issues, who work in a manner that is at least somewhat independent of others, who are as highly motivated to endorse what is true as she is, etc. In these circumstances, I submit, she should not be confident that she does have the truth on her side. Her total evidence (including the evidence of widespread disagreement) does not warrant any significant degree of belief in the proposition that constitutes her view on the matter. It is in this context that I ask whether it really is epistemically rational for her to acquiesce in the truth of the proposition in question. Perhaps it is; but I think it takes more to establish this.

Buchak does not address the question of disagreement’s bearing on the rationality of faith, so in some sense the question I raise is orthogonal to the one she is asking. Still, since she is interested in the rationality of faith, and since this is one of the leading worries people have had on this score, it seems a good question to ask. In particular, I wonder whether she has any thoughts about how to get her analysis to bear on the challenge from religious disagreement. I should conclude by noting that I don’t think any of the (otherwise very useful) distinctions she draws can help her avoid this challenge. That is: let us grant Buchak the distinction between epistemic rationality and reasonableness, and grant as well that the former (as opposed to the latter) is a consistency notion (19) having to do with changes of belief (pp 17-18, fn 10). Still, the challenge from disagreement can be posed as a challenge regarding how one ought to modify one’s credences (alternatively: one’s “aquiescences”) in the face of systematic disagreement. Let us grant Buchak as well that there is an interesting question concerning the epistemic rationality of faith which amounts to “the question of whether it can ever be rational from an agent’s own point of view to have faith,” and that this question remains interesting even after we agree to table the question whether the agent has “objective reasons to have faith.” (19) Still, the challenge from disagreement can be posed as a challenge regarding whether, once one is aware of the systematic nature of religious disagreement, it is rational from within one’s own point of view to acquiesce in the truth of a disputed religious proposition. In short, it seems that even after we agree to take Buchak’s analysis on its own terms, serious questions remain regarding the rationality of faith. I for one would welcome her further thoughts on the matter.

[1] According to Richard Feldman – one of the leading proponents of Evidentialism in epistemology – evidence of a peer disagreement is “evidence of evidence.”

[2] In what follows I am borrowing from Goldberg, S., “Disagreement, Defeaters, and Assertion.” Forthcoming in D. Christiansen and J. Lackey, eds. Disagreement (Oxford: Oxford University Press); and Goldberg, S., “Defending Philosophy in the Face of Systematic Disagreement.” Forthcoming in D. Machuca, ed., Disagreement and Skepticism (New York: Routledge).


2) Dougherty: (i) Reply to Goldberg

Sandy raises—with characteristic Goldbergian clarity—an objection to Lara’s thesis based on an interesting and hot topic in epistemology: the philosophical significance of disagreement. He draws some on his forthcoming piece in _Disagreement and Skepticim_, and I will draw upon my piece in that same volume in rebuttal. I there defend a Bayesian account of disagreement inspired by Richard Jeffrey’s “Alias Smith and Jones” which was inspired by a conversation with Stew Cohen.

People often speak of epistemic *peer* disagreement and I agree that in an ideal kind of case skepticism follows. (Sandy speaks of “others who are equally smart, equally knowledgeable…equally attentive” etc.) So suppose I have testimony from S1 and S2 and they are of equal reliability and one affirms p and one affirms not-p. By my Bayesian lights, all I can rationally do is suspend judgment. In this case the “split the difference” view is right. But we can easily generalize this to n testifiers of all levels of reliability. So suppose I am S and I have the testimony of four other individuals, two of which—S1 and S2—are “smarter” than I am and assert “p” two of which are “dumber” and assert “not-p.” We can assign appropriate weights to their testimony and calculate an average score much like averaging tests of different weights: (1.2*S1 + 1.5*S2 + .7*S3 + .6*S4)/4. The latter two summands will me negative, since they are on the not-p side. Now for the application.

One of the reasons I became Catholic is that it shares with Judaism a strong affirmation of, as Tevye shouted from the rooftops, Tradition! Sandy spoke of trans-temporal disagreement, but there is also trans-temporal agreement, mounting up. Saint Thomas Aquinas cites some prior authority in every single one of his hundreds if not thousands of questions he considers in his Summa Theologica. He cites Augustine a great deal, but only three people get special titles “The Philosopher”—Aristotle (whom the Thomist Dante calls “The Master of Those Who Know”)—“The Rabi”—Maimonides—and “The Commentator”—the Muslim Averroes. These four greats had disagreements too, of course, but they were all united in affirming theism. And though these individuals stand out, they are just the tip of the iceberg of the massive tradition in favor of theism.

Furthermore, these greats are “peerless” when it comes to today. I think a great deal of Sandy, but he’s no Maimonides! 🙂 It’s almost impossible for anyone today to achieve the kind of philosophical mastery that the greats had what with iPhones and CNN. The greats devoted their entire lives to study and meditation and are thus without peer today. And notice that it’s not just Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Anselm, Abelard, Bonaventure, Scotus, Nachmanides, Maimanides, Al Ghazali, Al Farabi, and Avicina who are to be weighted here against naturalism. But even as diverse a group as Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Locke, Berkely, Hume, Kant, and Hegel all reject naturalism. Their theism is quite different at times, but I would hate to be a naturalist and have to explain the rationality of departing from this tradition. And even among them some stand out. I think Aristotle, Aquinas, and Libniz are the best of the best, and their theism is quite similar. There is nowhere near enough space to do justice to the kind of argument I am gesturing at here, but the weight of the testimony for theism is immense. There are smart people today who detract their arguments, of course, people much smarter than myself. Yet they too are dwarves compared to the giants of the past. So I do not disagree with Sandy in principle, only in application. And it is only on the basis of the testimony of such historical giants that I would find it acceptable to disagree with one such as him, clearly one of superior acumen.

3) Dougherty: (ii) Reply to Buchak

Lara and I are completely agreed: “One should proportion one’s beliefs to one’s evidence…one should not take non-truth-conductive reasons as reasons for belief” (17)! 🙂 There are other matters which are less clear to me though. Lara’s detailed, stimulating paper offers much to think about. There are many fundamental issues I’ll need to gloss over concerning the relationship between faith and belief and the relationship between practical rationality and theoretical rationality, concerning the nature of evidence and evidentialism (which I do *not* take to be a view about *change* of credence) and probabilism (I certainly do *not* think all priors are created equal), about what it means to “inquire”, the connection—elusive, I think—between *statements* involving the *word* “faith” and the *nature* of the *thing* faith, about whether there is really just one property expressed by the diverse examples she gives, and the like. All of these fascinating fundamentals I’d like fuss over I’ll have to finish some other time, so that I can focus on the “big picture” which is itself quite fecund.

First, I’d like to say some things on behalf of the—“acting as if I were certain”—account of acts of faith she rejects early on, for it bears relevant similarities to the Pascalian account of acts of faith (not *faith*) I endorse. My position is that an act A is an act of faith in proportion to what one risks on it, going “all in” and not hedging one’s bets. Briefly, (i) it doesn’t require much mental accounting when you go all in. There are no side bets; (ii) there is surely a natural line to be seen—even if not analyzed—between standard acts of faith and statements about them; (iii) one doesn’t have to “treat his credence in X as higher than it in fact is” if one’s utilities are set high enough. What acts of faith reveal when we bet everything is not maximal credence, but rather maximal concern. If I utterly trust my friend even though I acknowledge non-trivial evidence of his betrayal, I do not act on false credences: I express my passion: that it is far worse to me to bet against him and be wrong than to bet on him and be wrong. The fact that the Pascalian account of an act of faith is essentially revelatory of the passional side of faith is, I think, a strong mark in its favor.

Here is a supposition which I take away from the chapter: that Lara agrees with this.

(1) Since Lara’s unit of analysis is the practical rationality of *acts* of faith, such as being a missionary, her thesis has no immediate bearing on the question of the epistemic justification of beliefs presupposed by them, such as whether God exists.

I call this a supposition because I see some evidence of it, but it was never fully explicit enough for me to be very confident of and I think the text also contains some evidence against the supposition that Lara thinks (1). She seems clear about the distinctness of acts of faith and epistemic rationality, but the traditional account of faith includes a doxastic component (See Swinburne’s _Faith and Reason_) and the linguistic evidence strongly supports this. The official account is propositional “A person has faith *that* X…” It strikes me that the work Lara wants done could be done by quantifying over acts rather than propositions “A is an act of faith iff…” and then she could distinguish between classes of presuppositions.

The examples she generalizes from are all acts of trusting a *person* first and foremost with some *proposition* only coming in secondarily. Epistemic justification, by contrast, is primarily concerned with propositions and then only secondarily with persons (to investigate doxastic J). Here’s one reason why what I call the “Personal Paradigm” makes a difference or may well make a difference to her project. On the Personal Paradigm, there is nothing special about faith acts. They are just an instance of plain old-fashioned expected utility. If I love my wife, my friend, or God, then there will be a massive disutility set to no “sticking by” them during times of accusation. The absolute value of this disutility will be much higher than the absolute value of the disutility of “looking like a fool” if it turns out she did cheat, he did lie, or He doesn’t exist, even if the latter has a great deal of disutility. Not to have such utilities would be to suffer from a kind of bad moral character. So, again, what acts of faith reveal of importance, they do so via utilities, not probabilities: they reveal the underlying character of the individual. (This seems related to but not the same as the “interpersonal costs” discussion on p. 27. I’d love to hear Lara comment on this.)

And notice that the Personal Paradigm doesn’t translate well to a certain class of propositions presupposed by personal trust: that my wife is not a cyborg, that my friend is not a Martian, and that God exists. In each case, the existence assumption isn’t supported by an act of faith. We can exercise faith that our spouse, friend, or God will “be there” for us in times of need, but we can’t exercise the kind of faith Lara analyses to trust that they ARE there. 🙂 So Lara’s question “Can it be rational to have faith?” seems to me to translate into “Can it be rational to ignore evidence in a certain class of cases”? I agree with her that the answer is Yes. However, I think we should have already known for standard decision-theoretic reasons. Furthermore, the question does NOT seem to me to translate into “Can it be rational to believe that God exists, apart from adequate evidence?” with an affirmative answer from anything Lara says.

It may well be that she never had the slightest intention of it being otherwise (p. 20 gives me this impression), so this may not be a criticism but rather just a call for explicit clarity. In addition to being super-smart, Lara is super-friendly, so I’m sure she’ll be happy to make it explicit one way or the other. Thanks Lara!

Event Details
  1. Dani Rabinowitz

    I want to look a little more closely at the relationship you identify between faith and knowledge.

    1) On page 2 you state that “We make assertions of faith only … when the evidence we have is inconclusive … These considerations suggest that a person cannot have faith in propositions of which he is antecedently certain or for which he has conclusive evidence.” As I understand you, if one knows that p, one cannot be said to have faith that p. (I’m assuming that no probability short of 1 turns a true belief into knowledge.)

    Now consider the k-norm for assertion and practical reasoning. That is, ‘assert p only if you know p,’ and ‘use p as a premise in your practical reasoning only if you know p.’

    When we consider these two positions side-by-side, it seems that if one asserts that p on faith or if one deliberates on one’s faith that p, that one will be in violation of the k-norm for assertion and practical reasoning.

    We thus have a making of an interesting tension. Either the advocate of the k-norm of assertion and practical reasoning must admit that assertions and deliberations made on faith that p violate a norm and that such ‘faith-based’ assertions and deliberations deserve some kind of censure. What this censure amounts to will depend on how one conceives of the status of such norms. (For example, consider how one might respond to the following question: may I hold S accountable for her actions if she acted on faith that p? where ‘accountability’ might involve all or one of moral, financial, or legal accountability) On the other hand, if assertions and deliberations made on the basis of one’s faith that p seem uncontentiously acceptable, then this makes for some date putting pressure on the k-norm for assertion and practical reasoning.

    What I am trying to get at here is the following thought: if one has prior reasons for thinking the k-norm the appropriate norm for assertion and practical reasoning, then even if your account of faith is correct, it may be rational to have faith that p yet in violation of other epistemic norms governing actions in which faith is commonly involved.

    2) In your paper you describe the faithful person as follows: “the faithful person does not look for evidence for the purposes of deciding whether to do A. Thus, if he does look for evidence, he considers this search irrelevant to his decision to do A” (pg. 15).

    Suppose we then assume that knowing p puts one in a better epistemic position with regard to p than when p is just probable on one’s evidence. That is, it is epistemically better to know p than to rationally/justifiably believe p.

    Suppose further that at T1 S has faith that God exists, as you define faith. Does your view entail that if at T2 S looks for further evidence that God exists at T2 so as to come to know that God exists, that S is being unfaithful towards God or that S is demonstrating a relevant lack of faith? Does the attempt to get into a better epistemic position amount to being unfaithful? If it does, then that seems somewhat of a counterintuitive result.

    3) If faith is a virtue, commendable, or something of value for the theist, then does that entail, as per your account, that it is better to have faith that God exists than to know that God exists, where the latter rules out the former?

    1. Lara Buchak

      Thanks for raising these points, Dani. For (2), I defer to Michael Pace’s comments below, and I need to think a bit more about (1)). However, a brief reply to your point (3). I think that faith is a virtue precisely because of the evidential situations we find ourselves in with respect to God, our friends, and propositions upon which our important life-projects depend (and because of the relevant utilities). If Abraham could have credence 1 that sacrificing Isaac is compatible with the good, or if a wife could have credence 1 that her spouse is constant, then I think that is better than having faith in these things. In a world where we could have credence 1 in these things, faith would be less valuable. (I am not sure exactly how to translate full-belief knowledge into the credence framework, but I suspect that roughly the same point holds.)

  2. Dani Rabinowitz

    Trent, in defense of Sandy, might we not suppose that for every Aquinas, Maimonides, and Avicenna that there was at least one epistemic peer of theirs that believed atheism true? That is, despite their being experts of a very high pedigree, might we not reasonably suppose that they had epistemic peers who disagreed with them on the truth of theism? If yes, then we have the kind of systematic disagreement Sandy speaks of all the way to the top. That I think it reasonable to make such an assumption is based on some accounts in the Talmud of leading scholars who became heretics e.g. Elisha ben Abuyah (אלישע בן אבויה‎). That is, I assume that throughout history there were cases of leading theistic intellectuals who became atheists i.e. stories the opposite of Anthony Flew’s.

  3. delan

    What, if any, are the limits to faith? That is, if I claim that unicorns exist because I have faith in unicorns how is that any different than claiming that God exists?

    1. Lara Buchak

      I think it’s worth taking this question seriously, and answering it will help illustrate what I think are the facts about faith. Having faith in the existence of unicorns is no different in principle than having faith that God exists. One might act on the supposition that there are unicorns, just as one might act on the supposition that God exists — and in either case, one might act without requiring further evidence. However, faith cannot be rational unless one has a particular epistemic attitude towards the existence of unicorns or the existence of God (for example, one thinks the existence of one or the other is likely on the evidence), *and* faith cannot be reasonable if the epistemic attitude itself is defective. So, if there is no evidence for the existence of unicorns or the existence of God, then faith in unicorns/God is irrational or unreasonable. However, many people think there is evidence for the existence of God, whereas (I assume) no one thinks there is evidence for the existence of unicorns. So the difference is not in which things you can have faith in, but in whether there is evidence that supports having faith.

      The general point is this: faith, like belief, cannot be rational without appropriate evidence. In many cases one will have a belief in X and also have faith in X. However, faith and belief are *not* the same attitude: the former is more tied to action and the latter to mental assent. Moreover, in some cases, given what limits of the possible evidence telling one way or the other out there in the world, faith will be rational even though belief is not. In other cases, belief may be rational even though faith is not.

  4. Michoel Stern


    Regarding heretics in the Talmud:

    Elisha ben Abuyah: He was not a heretic in terms of today’s Atheist. The Talmud records he refused to do teshuva because he had heard a bas kol (voice from Heaven) say that everyone can repent but “Acher” i.e. Elisha ben Abuyah . On top of that, the Talmud records that Rabbi Meir and Elisha ben Abuyah were talking on Shabbos, Elisha ben Abuyah was on a horse and at a certain point he told Rabbi Meir to go no further because of tachum (a restriction of traveling a distance on Shabbos). I have just begin Daf Yomi, so I cannot say no case of the Talmud exists of a person for abandoned Judaism for intellectual reasons; however, I am not aware of such a recorded case.

  5. Lara Buchak

    I want to start by saying that I am thrilled to discuss my work here, and I am grateful to the Association for the Philosophy of Judaism for hosting the discussion. Thanks to everyone for participating, and special thanks to Professors Goldberg and Dougherty for their kind words and extremely thoughtful and detailed engagement with my paper.

    I want to start with thinking about the question Sandy poses about disagreement. For those of you who are relatively unfamiliar with the debate, I think it’s helpful to separate (as Graham Oppy and others do) cases of disagreement concerning beliefs that are not deeply embedded in one’s web of beliefs from those concerning beliefs that are. An example of the former is a case in which you and I have done some mental math to figure out our restaurant bill and disagree about the result of the calculation. An example of the latter is a case in which you and I disagree about something and this implies that we likely disagree about a wide range of topics, hold different values, or disagree about what the relevant evidence is supposed to be; for example a disagreement about whether the death penalty is permissible. And there is a range of cases in between. My own view is that in the former kinds of cases, disagreement should (generally) lead one to revise one’s credences. I also tend to think the same holds in the latter kinds of cases, but this is much less clear to me, and I wanted to flag this as a place where some people might get off the boat. Some might think that because religious beliefs are so deeply embedded in an individual’s web of beliefs, one can continue to rationally adhere to one’s high credence in theism or Orthodox Judaism or the like. Perhaps as we go down the list of Sandy’s examples, we get to disagreements about beliefs that are no so deeply embedded (e.g. those among co-religionists).

    That said, let’s assume a fairly strong conciliationist view: an individual who has an antecedently rational high credence that God exists, who meets an epistemic peer with a low credence that God exists, ought to revise his credence downward. And let us see how this view interacts with my view about what faith is and when it is rational to have faith.

    One thing that’s really interesting is that the credences involved in this kind of case often have the relevant structure mentioned in my paper. Assuming there’s a relevant act with the right utilities (the theist is about to enter a monastery, say), then the evidential situation before the individual talks to his peer is as follows. He has a high credence that the Christian God exists (or whatever the relevant proposition is that makes going to the monastery a really good thing to do is), and this credence is based on a lot of evidence. He knows that talking to his peer – gathering the evidence that the peer thinks the Christian God exists or not – will have one of two results. If his peer agrees that the Christian God exists, then he will revise upwards his credence slightly, so that it is still practically rational to go into the monastery. If not, he will revise downwards his credence to something “middling” (maybe 0.5 – the important point will be that it won’t be very close to 0 or 1). So this evidence-gathering process in this situation has the characteristic features that can make it rational to commit to going into the monastery before gathering the evidence.

    What will happen when he does encounter the evidence? Or, more specifically, how does honoring one’s past commitment weigh against doing what is practically rational given one’s current beliefs? This is a more nuanced question than I have space to go into here, but I want to suggest that it can sometimes be practically rational to honor one’s commitments – even if they are just commitments to oneself – even if doing so is not rational on one’s current evidence in the absence of a commitment. So, in brief, the would-be monk ought to revise his beliefs downward (assuming the strong conciliationist view of disagreement) but continue with his commitment and join the monastery. (Sounds scary? Well, that’s faith for you.) Of course, I am not suggesting that this person should stick with the being-a-monk plan regardless of what evidence he encounters, and it might be that there’s some point at which honoring one’s past commitment gets less weight. And there is a lot more to say about how to think about agency in light of the fact that, I think, rationality requires you to sometimes go with your past decisions rather than the ones you would currently make.

    So point in favor of my analysis, I think, is that it allows you to maintain your action commitments in the face of (some) disagreement while at the same time changing your beliefs in a way that reflects the evidence (this is assuming that the strong conciliationist view is correct, of course).

    When we think about what’s in stake in the disagreement debate, I think we have this feeling that there are two desiderata pulling against each other: appropriate humility in response to thoughtful peers and not being so paralyzed that one can’t act in matters that are really morally important. And my account of faith allows us to satisfy both of them.

    To be fair, I should say that there seems to be a third desideratum: acting in accordance with what one believes at the time. And that is what my account gives up in these cases. So maybe one helpful way to think about the disagreement debate is that there is a triad of propositions that each seem reasonable but are jointly inconsistent:

    (1) I ought to revise downward my credence when I encounter a disagreeing peer.
    (2) I ought to be able to act on my “first-order” (non-revised) credences or convictions, particularly in important moral matters.
    (3) I ought to act in accordance with my current credences.

    And I give up the third: on my account when one has faith – when one is committed to a course of action even if future evidence makes it seem like a bad idea – one can act on one’s commitments rather than one’s current beliefs. And, furthermore, that turns out to be the rational way to act in a certain (very limited) range of cases.

    (Thoughts about points raised by Trent and others coming soon…)

  6. Lara Buchak

    Trent raises a lot of interesting points. One thing he asks about is the relationship of my thesis to the question of epistemic justification of beliefs presupposed by acts of faith. A related question is about the relationship, on my account, of having faith in X to believing X. These questions are tricky, because my account is in terms of credences (“degrees of belief”) and it is far from clear how, if at all, this formal framework matches up with the ordinary “folk” notion of belief. So let me start with faith that X and a particular credence in X. On my account, one can have faith that X while having a low credence in X. This is to say, very roughly, that one can have faith that X while thinking that the likelihood on the evidence of X is low.

    Let me next say something about belief in X and one’s credence level in X. I don’t think there is a neat formal relationship between these two mental states. Certainly nothing like “one believes X if one’s credence is higher than 0.5,” and also (though less obviously) nothing like “one believes X if one’s credence is over some particular threshold.” Indeed, I tentatively think that each of these entities serves a very different role in our mental life. Credence – based on evidence – is the thing that rationalizes what we might call “personal action,” action where the primary considerations have to do with the outcomes for oneself. Belief – also based on evidence – is the thing that rationalizes moral judgments. (I am develop these thoughts further in a paper devoted to the relationship between rational belief and rational credence, a draft of which I am happy to send to anyone who emails me.) And some philosophers argue (though I myself am not sure about this) that practical considerations play a role in whether one has a justified belief in a particular proposition.

    So all these points add up to my not being very clear about the relationship between credence and belief, which also means I am not sure what follows from my account about the relationship between faith and belief. (Can one believe X if one has a very low credence in X? Maybe. Here’s an example that might convince us that one can. Consider belief in a particular historical or legal theory. The conjunction of the elements of the theory is unlikely, simply because there are so many of them and each one has some probability of being false given the evidence. I believe I heard versions of this example in Mark Kaplan’s _Decision Theory as Philosophy_ and L.J. Cohen’s _The Probable and the Provable_.)

    But I can say something about the general spirit of my position that is relevant to this question. I see faith as primarily a matter of action-commitments rather than cognitive-commitments. However, cognitive-commitments will be relevant in two ways: first, faith can only be rational if one has certain cognitive commitments. Second, it might be that there are cognitive-commitments that underlie action in the sense that to intend to act in a certain way entails that one has these commitments (e.g., to “take it on board that X”). Importantly, though, the intentions to act will give rise to or explain these commitments, not vice versa, and so they are different from belief (on the traditional picture). But, finally, it is an open possibility that these commitments are sometimes incompatible with certain beliefs (e.g., it might be that to take it on board that X is incompatible with disbelieving X). I realize this is written in broad strokes, but I hope it gives you some idea of where I’m coming from and what the open possibilities are for the relationship between faith and belief on my account.

    In even broader strokes, here’s my tentative suggestion about what my account says about the relationship between faith and belief. (1) As long as we accept a fairly standard picture of belief whether practical considerations don’t come into play overly much, it follows from my account that one can have faith that X while lacking belief that X. (2) Whether it follows from my account that one can have faith that X while actively disbelieving X is an open question whose resolution depends on some tricky stuff in philosophy of mind and action theory.

    Insofar as the epistemic state we’re interested in is credence or degree of belief I do have some very definite things to say. First, that one has faith does not say anything about what one’s credences are, or about whether one has justified credences. That one has rational faith – or that one ought to have faith – does entail certain facts about one’s credences, and importantly, about one’s utilities and the character of the potential evidence “out there” in the world. It does not entail that one has a high credence in the relevant proposition, although given that rational faith depends on the utilities and (in particular) the potential evidence, it will turn out that in most actual situations one needs a high degree of belief in X in order for faith in X to be rational. (I note further that if a subject has unreasonable credences, then she might have faith that is rational given her credences, but is not well-grounded – and so we might say that it is unreasonable.)

    I want to add that I think Trent is right to distinguish between an account of an act of faith and an account of faith that X, where X is the ‘presupposed’ proposition in the act of faith. Trent is right that at a basic level what I give an account of is something being an act of faith. So one could take my definition as being a definition of an act of faith. But I also hold a thesis about the relationship of which propositions one has faith in to which acts of faith one is willing to undertake. Still, maybe it is helpful to distinguish these to make clear the option of being on board with my account of acts of faith without being on board with my account of what faith is.

  7. Michael Pace

    Thanks to all involved for this great symposium! I really love Lara’s paper and am glad it’s getting this attention. The points she makes about faith requiring ceasing the search for evidence, and the epistemological considerations she brings to bear to explain when doing so is appropriate are very insightful.

    I wanted to explore a worry for Lara’s analysis of faith that Trent mentioned briefly above. It seems to me that the account doesn’t have a strong enough doxastic component. Lara claims to be agnostic as to whether faith entails belief. She says in a footnote that it *might* be right in some circumstances to say things like “I have faith that p but I have no idea if I believe p.” This may be right. But I think faith at the very least is belief-like in ways that Lara’s account doesn’t capture.

    Consider an example: Suppose I offer you a lottery ticket for $1 that will pay one million dollars if it is selected out of a hat that contains a total of 100 tickets. (Suppose also that you trust that all the details of the contest are legitimate.) You might well take the bet, recognizing that the expected utility of doing so far exceeds that of the status quo. Yet you will also likely recognize that there is a .99 chance that you *will not* win and only a .01 chance that it will win. It seems to me that Lara’s account commits her to saying that in the case described you have “faith that your ticket will be chosen, expressed by your purchasing the ticket.” But the fact that you think it overwhelmingly unlikely that your ticket will win makes this claim counterintuitive. (I think I would describe myself as believing I *won’t* win, in which case I ought to be able to assert that I have faith that I will win (with respect to purchasing the ticket) but I actually believe I won’t win.)

    My intuition is that faith that p (like belief) requires at the very least having a degree of confidence on which p is more likely than not.

    I also have the intuition that the following “correctness” condition is true of faith no less than belief (See Fantl and McGrath 2009 and Ross and Schroeder 2012 for discussion in connection with belief):

    Correctness: Having faith that p when p is true implies being right about whether p is the case, whereas having faith that p when p is false implies being wrong about whether p is the case.

    On Lara’s view there will be cases of faith that violate Correctness. Suppose you accept an offer to pay $1 for a bet that pays $1M if heads comes up on either of two tosses of a fair coin. You wisely take the bet, but (alas) you lose, despite the odds. Again, I think it follows from Lara’s account that you had faith. But you might not adopt an attitude that meets the correctness condition. If you were told ‘Ha, so you were *wrong* about whether heads would come up, weren’t you?’ you might reasonably say in your defense: “Look, I take no stance on the matter. I merely assigned it a high enough probability (.67) to motivate me to bet on it’s being true, and I saw that I had better commit to making the bet rather than getting additional evidence.” This seems not to be a case of faith, and it thus seems that (to the extent that Lara’s account is intended as an analysis of “faith” in ordinary contexts), it fails to require a strong enough doxastic commitment.

  8. Tim O'Connor

    Nice paper by Lara and great discussion thus far.

    1. I want to echo the worry that Dani expressed in the opening comment about Lara’s proposal that “the faithful person does not look for evidence for the purposes of deciding whether to do A. Thus, if he does look for evidence, he considers this search irrelevant to his decision to do A” (pg. 15). As Dani observes, this seems to have the awkward consequence that seeking a better epistemic position concerning the propositions acquiesced to in faith is unfaithful. This would comes as news to Anselm, ‘patron saint’ of Christian philosophers, who (echoing Augustine) commended faith seeking understanding, where understanding involves in part a better grasp on the grounds of the truth of what is accepted. I take it that Anselm did *not* take the sole or even primary purpose of the religious apologetics in which he engaged to be that of convincing other people, contra Lara’s characterization of the faithful apologist (p.15). Instead, we *honor* God by using the rational faculties we have been given in seeking some measure of understanding of God and God’s purposes. We cannot do this fully, it seems to me, without also seeking and weighing evidence.

    2. I wonder what Lara might think of a different characterization of faith, one that is a variant of her third rejected analysis (p.10). On it, faith involves a resolute refusal to modify one’s credences in the face of countervailing evidence — up to some unspecified threshhold. Consider her example of faith in the faithfulness of one’s spouse. Over time, it is easy to acquire trivial bits of evidence which are perhaps slightly more likely on the hypothesis of unfaithfulness than of faithfulness. But we think it wrong — a failure of appropriate trust — to continually modify one’s credence in the faithfulness of one’s spouse in response to such evidence. Likewise with bits of evidence that are more substantial, though far from overwhelming.
    Is such a refusal to continually conditionalize epistemtically irrational? Yes, if subjective Bayesianism is correct. But we might instead take the plausibility of the opposite verdict to be one brick in the case against Bayesianism as a fully general account of epistemic rationality. Lara’s unlikely to go down that road! But it seems to be descriptive of many instances of faith that are rooted in interpersonal trust, including faith in God. Perhaps the Bayesian who isn’t a really obnoxious friend (!) will conclude that some instances of faith involve a measure of epistemic irrationality but are fully morally justified.

    1. Lara Buchak

      (2) is an interesting suggestion, Tim. One thing that seems to be true is that there are two cognitive stances that one takes towards a proposition and the evidence for it. First stance: what is my attitude, stepping back, about the relationship between this evidence and the epistemic status of this proposition? If I were considering the situation from a third-person standpoint, for example, what credences should I adopt? Second stance: given my personal and interpersonal and intentional commitments, what is my attitude towards the epistemic status of this proposition? I think we both agree that faith fits into the mix in the second kind of stance: it is an attitude governed by requirements that come from the personal or interpersonal or intentional sphere, or the first-person standpoint. The standard assumption is that credences fit into the first: credence is an attitude governed by requirements that come from the third-person standpoint.

      We might say, perhaps, that the puzzle about faith is how the attitudes required by these two stances relate to each other, without requiring some irrationality on the part of the faithful person. I’ve suggested that rational faith is possible because faith is not primarily an attitude that requires one to adopt credences different from the credences one thinks are licensed on the evidence. Perhaps a general way to put your suggestion is to solve the puzzle in the following way: deny that one ought to adopt the credences licensed by the third-person standpoint. (And since rules like conditionalization only make sense from the third-person standpoint, subjective Bayesianism is false.) What do you think about this picture of the puzzle of faith, and the way different “moves” might be cataloged?

      I tend to think that credences ought to be governed by requirements that come from the third-person standpoint. However, I do think that the debate about disagreement and/or the uniqueness thesis could put some pressure on that. For example, if one rejects the uniqueness thesis, one might think that any credence function out of a range of credence functions is permissible — and that I can stick with the one I have because it’s mine.

  9. Michael Antony

    I found Lara’s paper to be extremely interesting and challenging. I’ll describe one concern I had, and maybe add something more later.

    Imagine someone sympathetic to dispositional accounts of belief suggesting not that belief that P involves a complex disposition to exhibit a range of behavioral/psychological responses across contexts, but rather that there are distinct beliefs that P for distinct contexts/responses. Such a view might entail that I have one belief that Paris is in France relative to my disposition to reply ‘France’ when asked what country Paris is in, a second belief that Paris is in France relative to my disposition to book a flight to France when I want to visit Paris, and so on. In spite of any theoretical benefits such a view might have, it seems fair to say that the states it describes aren’t beliefs. Our concept of belief doesn’t cut state-types that finely.

    If I’ve understood Lara’s view correctly (and I’m not sure I have), it seems that much the same can be said about it. Her analysis of faith refers to particular actions (or dispositions regarding particular acts), but arguably our concept of faith doesn’t cut state-types so finely as to give rise to a distinct type of faith-that-X for every action A we might (be disposed to) perform as an expression of our faith that X. If it did, my faith that my car will start relative to the action of driving to work would be distinct from my faith that my car will start relative to the action of driving to the gas station near my work, or driving my youngest daughter to school, or driving her to school on Tuesdays at 7:32 A.M., or the action of starting my car to prove to a friend that it will start, etc. For an observant Jew, there would be 613 distinct states of (say) faith-that-God-exists for each of the 613 commandments kept, and indefinitely many other besides. But this doesn’t seem to get our ordinary concept of faith right, or the semantics of ‘faith’.

    Lara motivates this part of her view by offering cases in which our concept does distinguish types of faith-that-X relative to different actions — for example, my faith that my car will start relative to driving to work versus relative to taking a life-saving organ to the hospital (p. 3). However, it seems that such relativity can be accommodated while remaining more faithful (!) to our ordinary concept. One might hold that the semantics of ‘faith’, like that of ‘knows’ according to many contextualists, involves shifting standards across contexts (possibly the same standards as ‘knows’, ‘certain’, etc.). Such a view would account for Lara’s examples involving relativity, but also be such that, relative to a given standard, faith-that-X would be expressible by indefinitely many distinct acts. (I wonder how this relates to Lara’s comment on p. 4 that faith can be said to be context-dependent or to come in degrees.)

    I assume Lara wants her analysis of faith to be relative to particular actions mainly because that fits with her explanation of how faith can be practically rational. But if what I’ve said is right, it may be a further reason to think that Lara’s type of account will have a better chance of explaining acts of faith than faith itself.

    I’ll conclude by adding that I’m not convinced that actions/dispositions-to-act are essential to faith at all. I believe that I have faith that there is an external, mind-independent world (relative to quite strict standards for knowledge, certainty, etc.). But I’m at best unsure that discovering that there isn’t an external, mind-independent world (relative to those same standards) would make any difference to my behavior. It certainly doesn’t seem that it must make some difference.

    1. Lara Buchak

      Great question, Michael. I did not mean to suggest that there is a distinct type of faith-that-X for every action A, so I’m sorry that wasn’t clear. What I wanted to do is provide an analysis of an act of faith in a particular proposition, and then suggest the further thought that whether one has faith-that-X can be cashed out in terms of which acts of faith-that-X one is willing to perform. The point that I might have faith relative to one act but not another has two possible explanations, I think. The first is, as you mention, that whether one has faith shifts standards across contexts. The second is that faith is an attitude that comes in degrees. (This is discussed briefly at the paragraph on the top of p. 227 – top of p. 4 in the linked version). The second seems to me like a good way to go, and would make sense of the idea that a person can have a weak faith or a strong faith, more or less faith, and so forth.

      1. Michael Antony

        Thanks for your reply Lara. It helped me better understand your position on faith being context-dependent versus coming in degrees. However, I’m still puzzled about your view of faith-that-X. On p. 5 (of the linked version) you write, “I propose, then, to make *faith that X, expressed by A* the basic unit of analysis…and define the other constructions in terms of this one.” There are indeed other constructions you define in terms of that one, but not, so far as I can tell, the common construction for propositional faith, “S has faith that X,” expressing that a subject S has faith that X, *simpliciter*. In your reply to my comment you suggest “that whether one has faith-that-X can be cashed out in terms of which acts of faith-that-X one is willing to perform.” Is it right to say that how this cashing out gets done isn’t something you go into in your paper? For if I understand your reply, given your use of the plural ‘acts’, you are suggesting something (roughly) along these lines: where A, B, and C are (all of the?) acts relevant to a subject S’s having faith that X, whether S has faith that X simpliciter (relative to a degree of faith, or context) is some function of whether S has faith that X expressed by A, whether S has faith that X expressed by B, and whether S has faith that X expressed by C. But you don’t discuss any such function in your paper.

        Related issues come up for your account of the practical rationality of faith. You propose conditions in which faith that X, expressed by A, is practically rational. But whether a subject S’s faith that X, simpliciter, is practically rational, it seems to me, requires taking into account not only S’s faith that X expressed by A, but also S’s faith that X expressed by B, and so on for many other acts. For even if S’s faith that X expressed by A is practically rational, if S’s faith that X as expressed by other acts is practically irrational, S’s faith that X simpliciter could also be practically irrational (intuitively, at least), could it not?

        I don’t think anything I’ve said here, if it’s right (and, again, I don’t feel confident it is), need threaten your analyses in your paper. I think it points to a need to say something more explicit about the relation between your analysis of *faith that X expressed by A* and *faith that X* (simpliciter). And it may mean that your analyses concern only part of a larger, more complicated story about faith.

  10. Michael Pace

    This is a defense of Lara against the worries raised by Tim and Dani. Lara says “the faithful person does not seek further evidence for the purpose of deciding whether to do A [some salient action].” It is compatible with her approach that the faithful person seeks evidence for other purposes. On Lara’s view, for example, the person with faith that God exists treats this proposition as sufficiently probable to ground dispositions to engage in a variety of religious practices. The religious person prefers engaging in these practices to waiting for more evidence that God exists before doing so. I think Lara can allow that a person of faith might seek further evidence for other reasons. She explicitly raises the example of the apologist who seeks more evidence for the purpose of converting others. But I think she can also allow that a faithful person might pursue more evidence for the purely epistemic aims of gaining more understanding, certainty, or knowledge-for-knowledge’s-sake. What is prohibited, if the person genuinely has faith, is that she seeks more evidence *for the purposes of deciding whether to engage in religious practices*. It does seem right to me that a person who seeks more evidence before engaging in religious practices thereby exhibits a lack of faith.

    1. Lara Buchak

      Michael gives exactly the reply I would give (thanks, Michael!). I would add that in certain circumstances the act of seeking more evidence for the reasons Michael raises (understanding, certainty, knowledge-for-knowledge sake) is not only permitted, but might itself be faithful for a certain kind of person, both intuitively and on my definition. It might be that for some people there would be a real emotional cost to finding out that one is wrong about, say, the truth of the religious claims that one is committed to, enough of a cost to mean that one would rather not find this out all things considered. If there is such a cost, and there is a significant payoff to knowledge-for-knowledge’s sake (or God’s sake) if the religious claims are true, then the act of inquiring has the right risky structure. If one is committed to the inquiry even if it starts to seem like it is going badly (i.e. it starts to seem like you’ll end up rejecting your dearly held claims) – or if one would be willing to not look at meta-evidence about how such inquiries generally turn out before proceeding – then looking for more evidence for these purposes would be an act of faith. But even if the costs don’t give it the right structure to make it count as an act of faith, looking for evidence for knowledge-for-knowledge-sake-reasons would be permissible for the faithful person, as long as (as Michael notes) one is not looking for the evidence for the purposes of deciding whether to engage in the relevant religious practices.

      1. Michael Antony

        Lara, what would you say about a teacher who has faith that a student will earn better grades, or an employer who has faith that an employee’s performance will improve, but the student’s and employee’s progress are monitored to see which improvements, if any, occur? Teachers and employers as a rule monitor the performance of students or employees they have faith in – and at least partly for the purpose of deciding whether to *continue* making an extra effort to help the student, continuing to employ the worker, etc. But this needn’t diminish the teacher’s and employer’s faith in the student or employee, it seems to me. One might think it’s institutions that require the monitoring, and not the teacher and employer themselves. Perhaps, but it also seems that the teacher and employer can fully approve of the monitoring requirement, both in general and for the specific students or employees they have faith in.

      2. Dani Rabinowitz

        Lara and Michael, I think my second concern about the relationship between knowledge and faith was not put as clearly as I hoped. Let’s look at what Lara writes again: “the faithful person does not look for evidence for the purposes of deciding whether to do A. Thus, if he does look for evidence, he considers this search irrelevant to his decision to do A” (pg. 15). Suppose that I do x owing to my faith that p. That is, I don’t wait for further evidence to do x. I then realize that knowing p is a better epistemic position to be in than having faith that p, all the while continuing to do x. Once I realize this I begin to garner further evidence with respect to p so that I can come to know p instead of having faith that p. Once I do come to know p on the basis of this further evidence, all the while continuing to do x, have I done something amiss? Have I been ‘unfaithful’? Have I ‘lost my faith’? This question struck me withe reading Lara’s not opening the envelope example.

        1. Lara Buchak

          This question is wrapped up in the relationship between knowledge and credence, and I would want to deny this claim that you made earlier:

          > I’m assuming that no probability short of 1 turns a true belief into knowledge.

          But I think I can reconstruct the spirit of your question: what if one has faith that p (an attitude that on my view requires that the evidence not be conclusive) and then by inquiring for purely epistemic purposes or purposes other than deciding whether to do the act of faith, ends up with conclusive evidence that p? Has she lost her faith? And if so, does that mean she did something that led to her losing a virtue?

          Here’s a concrete example of the situation you describe. I have faith that my husband will pick the kids up after school (p). I don’t need to call his employer to double-check that he left on time, and so forth. Then I realize I’ve been meaning to ask little Suzy’s teacher about what sort of social personality she’s been developing (being in a better epistemic position with respect to one’s children seems like a desirable thing). I call Suzy’s teacher, and she mentions to me that she sees my husband pulling up in his car. I now have conclusive evidence that p (let’s assume). The conditions are no longer in place for my attitude towards p to count as faith. But I wouldn’t say that I’ve lost faith that my husband will pick up the kids, because to lose faith in p implies that p is an appropriate object of faith and that I don’t meet the conditions for having faith. Once I have conclusive evidence, p is no longer an appropriate object of faith. Of course, I still have faith in my husband, because I have faith in him with respect to other propositions.

          I argue that faith is good because of facts about how one ought to act in particular situations. The reason that faith is a virtue is because it’s the best response to particular evidential situations, situations in which it’s possible to either exhibit faith or not exhibit faith. But that doesn’t mean one ought to try to get into those evidential situations. (Compare: feeding the hungry is good because it’s the best response to world poverty, a situation in which it’s possible to either feed the hungry or not — but we shouldn’t try to get into a situation of world poverty or to avoid getting out of one if we’re already in one.)

          It might be that the primary virtue is having faith in a particular person (or deity). If that’s right, then in the example I maintain the virtue but am unable to exhibit it in this situation because it’s the wrong kind of situation for it (just like I might have the virtue of generosity but be unable to exhibit it when there’s no world poverty).

          Also, you write:

          > I then realize that knowing p is a better epistemic position to be in than having faith that p, all the while continuing to do x. Once I realize this I begin to garner further evidence with respect to p so that I can come to know p instead of having faith that p.

          In the situations we’re considering, your evidence is such that you couldn’t set out to know p, since your evidence with respect to p is inconclusive. You could set out to make your evidence conclusive one way or another: but if you know that there’s a way to do that, then your situation will likely be one in which faith is not rational (remember, unless there are extremely high “postponement” or “personal” costs, the possible counterevidence has to be inconclusive in order for the evidence-gathering to be practically irrational). Again, faith is rational — and virtuous — because of the situations in which we find ourselves. That’s why religious faith or faith in another person often end up being virtuous, whereas faith in domains in which the evidence out there in the world is much less sparse (e.g. faith in a particular scientific theory), and perhaps in which there are lower costs to postponing decisions, is often not virtuous.

        2. Lara Buchak

          Also, for anyone interested in the relationship between knowledge and credences, I found Sarah Moss’s “Epistemology Formalized” particularly illuminating.

  11. Michael Pace

    Some accounts of faith (I have Robert Audi and William Alston in mind) suggest that having faith that X entails desiring or preferring that X be true rather than false. I think Lara might need to add such a criterion. Suppose a die-hard democrat finds himself in the depressing situation (for him) of being confident that Obama will lose the next election. Someone offers him a significant bet that will pay a lot if Obama loses. He prefers the state of affairs {Obama losing and I take the bet} to {Obama losing and I don’t take the bet}. He also prefers {Obama winning and I don’t take the bet} to {Obama winning and I take the bet}. Since he has to act now or forfeit the chance to take the bet, he goes with his current evidence and preferences and takes the bet. Is this an act of faith? Does he have “faith that Obama will lose, expressed by his taking the bet”? I think Lara’s definition commits her to saying it is, but it seems strange to me to describe things this way, and precisely because he doesn’t outright prefer Obama’s losing to Obama’s winning. Republicans might be expressing their faith by taking such a bet; a Democrat would not be. There’s a quick fix to this objection, if it’s right. Lara need only add that the subject prefers X to ~X.

    1. Lara Buchak

      I agree with the objection. The idea that one must prefer that the proposition be true made it into my brief gloss on interpersonal faith (pg. 228, fn. 3), but I neglected to include it in the definition of propositional faith. So Michael is right, and I agree that I need an additional condition. Thanks for the suggestion for the quick fix. The only problem I can see is that we’d want to make it clear that such a preference isn’t because of the acts the agent is committed to. In your example, once the democrat takes the bet, if she cares more about the money than how things go for the country, she would prefer that Obama lose. So she would then satisfy the condition, but that sounds a little weird to me (does it to you?). So we’d have to formulate the condition in such a way that the desire or preference for X to be true can’t be because of how things go for me: I think X is an instrinsically better state of affairs than ~X, maybe?

    2. Menachem

      I am not at all familiar with philosophical account’s of faith, so I am curious why the preference of desire is seen as a condition. I understand the discomfort with saying that the diehard democrat has faith that Obama will lose the election or for someone to say that she has faith that her adulturous husband has cheated on her recently. But what about someone, for example, who would much prefer a state of affairs in which God did not render homosexuality an abomination, but refrains from pursuing his sexual preference because he thinks that God did render it so. Can we not describe him as having faith that homosexuality is an abomination.

      1. Sam Lebens

        I have a similar worry to Menachem’s.

        Perhaps Lara can say that a believing homosexual may believe that homosexuality is, as described in the Bible, an abomination, but that such a belief is still oddly described as faith.

        But how about the following case:

        Imagine a religion that believes that in 1,000,000 years, a messiah will come and introduce a utopic age. The believers of this religion have faith that in a million years, the world will be saved. But, what action will it dispose its believes to act in accordance with? Furthermore, I can imagine that, for the believer in this religion, it is very important to him that the world really will be saved in 1,000,000 years, and yet, I don’t see how the importance attached to the belief can be easily cashed out in terms of Lara’s formula: A person has faith that X, expressed by A, only if that person performs act A when there is some alternative act B such that he strictly prefers A&X to B&X and he strictly prefers B&~X to A&~X.

        In the case that I’m painting, I don’t see what the relevant action would be, and yet I want to call it faith. And I don’t see why x’s failing to be true would affect the agent’s preferences for action, and yet, I still want to call this faith *important* to the agent.

        Sorry to be adding this just on the last day of the symposium. I’ve been following it with excitement. The discussion has been marvelous. Thanks to everyone, especially to the Lara, Sandy and Trent.

  12. Sandy Goldberg

    Thanks, Lara, for your thoughts on disagreement. I think I understand your view a bit better. But I still have my worries.

    I want to begin by agreeing with you that there are differences between cases of disagreement like the mental-math (check-splitting) case, on the one hand, and cases like that of religious disagreement, on the other. But I (think I) disagree with you about the right conclusions to draw. I tend to think that the sort of systematic disagreement we have on religious matters ought to make us skeptical that anyone has a reliable route to truth on such matters. Let me try to explain.

    We agree that religious disagreement is systematic. Let me be a bit more explicit about how I understand this. By saying that religious disagreement is systematic, I understand that there are many interconnected religious disagreements, of long duration (centuries), with multiple disagreeing parties, where the disagreements themselves appear intractable. I should add, for good measure, that at least some of the proponents of the various sides of this disagreement are among the most learned of people around. (Trent names some of the luminaries in his post.) Now I say this: one need not be a proponent of a strong version of conciliationism in the epistemology of disagreement to regard this as pretty impressive evidence for thinking that there is no reliable route to truth here. One need only be impressed by the systematic nature of the disagreement, and the many serious, scholarly, smart, and well-informed people who continue to disagree about these matters. Anyone who is aware of these facts must ask herself what it is that explains the persistence of systematic religious disagreement. The fact that this disagreement persists, even in the face of centuries of (some version or other of) “interfaith dialogue,” does not inspire confidence regarding the human ability to reliably reach religious truth. It is for this reason that I take the facts of systematic disagreement to provide substantial evidence for thinking that there is no reliable route to truth on these matters. But perhaps you disagree: perhaps you think that, while this is good evidence for thinking that many (perhaps most) people have gone wrong, and so do not have a reliable route to truth here, those who in fact have it right (assuming that there are some who do) have no reason to question the reliability of their own insights. But, try as I might, I can’t find myself moved by this. And my worry is that no one should be moved by this – no one, that is, who acknowledges the fact of systematic religious disagreement.

    Now I put this in terms of reliability and evidence, and of the need to explain the persistence of the systematic disagreement. I have not put this in the terms your Bayesian subjectivism requires. But I would have thought that even the subject who is a Bayesian subjectivist would be impressed with this evidence; and even she might wonder how best to explain the persistence of systematic religious disagreement.

    One final point. My worry is not over practical rationality (whether it is practically rational to act, or to prefer to act, on the assumption of p, prior to getting more evidence bearing on whether p). It is over epistemic rationality. Let me understand this in your terms, as being structured by the stricture to proportion one’s credences to the evidence, and by the Bayesian update rule (etc.). The worry is simply this: insofar as faith that p requires representing the world as being such that p – something I think you assume, at least insofar as acquiescing in the truth of p involves a commitment to the truth of p (if only for the sake of action) – the question remains whether such an attitude conforms to the stricture to proportion one’s attitudes to the evidence.

  13. Trent Dougherty

    A few all-too-brief comments:

    1. Just say “No!” to knowledge entailing probability 1!
    2. Knowledge is not incompatible with faith-acts: I know my UIAA-approved rope will hold he, but I don’t exercise any faith until I trust it on a climb.
    3. Knowledge is a stone-age (well, maybe bronze-age) concept we can live without when we have probabilities (Thank you Pascal!).
    4. I do not think the historical record provides evidence that the theistic tradition has an atheistic counterpart. And I don’t buy suppression arguments as the main explanation for this. I read A History of British Atheism with great interest, but there’s no counterpart to the theistic tradition.
    5. Unicorn comments should fly away to lesser blogs.
    6. I, too, am puzzled by the relationship between credence and belief but take it that one can’t (reasonably) believe what one takes to have low probability. Swinburne in both _Faith and Reason_ and _Epistemic Justification_ has some interesting things to say about this.
    7. Just say “No!” to pragmatic encroachment on the epistemic! 🙂
    8. This sounds wrong: “p, but probably not p”. Really bad.
    9. I think that the argument from rationally believable largish conjunctions to rationally believable sub-.5 probability beliefs fails to appreciate just how well-confirmed certain facts are. There is basically no reason to doubt, say, Caesar did X (fill in appropriate X), so there is no sense having a credence much less than 1.
    10. And when it comes to theories then for the most part, I don’t think belief is the right attitude.
    11. I am not convinced the ordinary notion of belief is coherent.
    12. Yes to Correctness! (Doxastic, not political…)
    13. It could be that there is a usage of “have faith that” that overlaps with “hope that” and is compatible with lower credences. I think there is ample textual evidence that this is *not* the dominant sense in the Christian scriptures or the Christian tradition. I think it may be a popular (i.e. “vulgar”) post-Refermation usage. Thus, one cannot offer an analysis of some *one thing* that is both an account of the dominant usage in Scripture and Tradition *and* this post-Reformation usage. The latter is not far from simply “betting that” (which may be an expression of strong confidence or an act of desperation) which would explain a lot.
    14. I worry that Lara’s account means I don’t have faith, since I look for evidence for further confirmation, not just for apologetic reasons. And I take it that this is in part just because of my *personality*. I think it would be practically rational for a person of intellectual integrity with my evidence to stop *actively* inquiring just as it would be so for them in the case of, broadly speaking, biological evolution (sans atheistic metaphysics plug-in). But I also continue to look for additional confirmation there, too. 14b. Beyond my personality (anyone get the CS Lewis reference there?), I also inquire into the evidence because it can support *understanding*, so in neither case does my inquiry imply insecurity or “lack of faith.” 14c. This goes back to what I took to be one of my central points: Lara is giving an account of something about the RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PERSONS (sorry, not shouting, just can’t to HTML here). That is very, very different than the idea that BELIEF THAT GOD EXISTS is a proposition that we can get off the epistemic hook for. This is a really, really central point for me.
    15. Just reading Tim’s post, it seems he touches on some points I’ve touched on here. Tim! When have I ever let you down?! Calling me a bad friend! Juuuusst kidding. The Bayesian can modify their credences—thus following epistemic norms—without being a bad friend. In fact, it is precisely BECAUSE I update my credences AND YET stand by you that I express my friendship VIA the values that are revealed in my decision not to hire a PI. This is the part of my original comments where I argue that faith acts are not centrally about the credence side of the decision theory but the value side.
    16. I like MA’s teacher/boss case.
    17. In line w 15, it sounds like MP’s suggestion of a desire constraint is well-put. Ah! Lara agrees, good!
    18. Here is the kind of case I find most telling. I have credence 1-n that God exists and 1-m that mere Christianity is true where n and m are very close. I am called upon to express faith that Jesus is the Messiah (A. the Romans come to my door asking, B. I am in a position to save a life but likely lose my own, C. to show kindness that cannot be reciprocated, what have you). Do I first take out my _Defense of the Christian Faith_ book and reassess? No, not if I abhor betraying Christ more than I abhor the consequences of A, B, or C conjoined with the falsehood of the proposition. Is there something “faithless” about doing so? Probably. Does it matter to these judgments whether n is greater than or less than .5. Not as far as I can tell. 18b. Insofar as Lara is trying to capture this, I am totally on board, though the presentation, I think, needs to focus on values and requires no special definitions: one has faith in this sense when one is practically rational to act like THIS. That is, in short: S has faith that X when one’s value-structure is such that, regardless of credences, it is practically rational to take the plunge. 18c. But notice that there’s nothing special about not seeking evidence here, it goes just the same with, say, brushing one’s teeth.

  14. delan

    Busy brushing my teeth and looking for a “lesser blog” but still have faith that faith is no path to knowledge.

  15. Trent Dougherty

    BTW, the background wallpaper for this blog is awesome!

  16. Dustin King

    Thanks to Lara and all the other participants for the thought-provoking paper and discussion. I wanted to raise a concern about the centrality of gathering or not gathering evidence to the phenomenon of faith. To start, the following three examples strike me as pretty standard uses of having faith in someone or something:

    1) I’m stranded somewhere, but a friend has promised to come get me. My friend is later than expected, and, meanwhile, another person offers to give me a ride to somewhere at least a little more pleasant or convenient. I decline the offer on account of the fact that I have faith that my friend is on his way.

    2) I prepare some important documents that the department I work in must submit to the head of the company. My boss submits them without reviewing them herself, explaining that she has faith that I’ve completed them appropriately.

    3) A friend tells me that he saw my girlfriend out at a nice restaurant at what appeared to be a romantic dinner with another man. I assume that either my friend was mistaken or that there was some benign reason for my girlfriend to be at the restaurant with the other person. I assure my friend that I have faith in my girlfriend and her faithfulness.

    It seems to me that only the second example fits the model of abstaining from obtaining information before performing a specific action. The first example could fit the model if you added something about deciding not to call the friend for the purposes of confirmation, but that doesn’t seem to me to be a necessary part of understanding my having faith in my friend in that circumstance. The third example doesn’t involve any particular action, but, even if we just focus on the evidential aspects of it, the key feature seems to be interpretation of evidence one already has rather than a decision about obtaining more.

    What jumps out to me as a common thread is some sort of background character assessment. I think that my friend is reliable and thus unlikely to have forgotten his responsibility in this instance. My boss thinks that I’m competent and careful, and, therefore, trusts me to prepare these particular documents without oversight. I believe that my girlfriend loves me and wouldn’t do anything to hurt me, so I consider it much more likely that there is a misunderstanding rather than betrayal.

    When someone has made such a background character assessment, it makes sense that it would affect the circumstances in which that person gathers more evidence. However, I’m not sure why I should take evidence gathering, or lack thereof, to be the central feature in what’s going on. What sorts of motivations are there for doing so?

    Also, while abstaining from gathering evidence before performing an action might be one way to demonstrate faith, I’m having trouble seeing why it would be necessary. Acting in spite of contrary evidence or interpreting existing evidence favorably seem like they could also play that role. Are there reasons to think that committing to action instead of gathering evidence has some sort of priority over these other modes of demonstration?

  17. Charles Leitz

    Dr Buchak has already touched on some concerns related to this issue in a previous comment, but I am curious about the specifics of her response to a claim like “Bob’s faith that p entails at a minimum that Bob refrain from believing ~p”

    She writes in the above comment that
    “Whether it follows from my account that one can have faith that X while actively disbelieving X is an open question whose resolution depends on some tricky stuff in philosophy of mind and action theory.”

    This open question is, at least to my mind, an important one as regards the epistemic rationality of faith. If faith that p does imply disbelief that ~p, then it seems like it isn’t as straightforwardly independent of epistemic rationality as professor Buchak’s paper might suggest. Indeed, if something like LOOK-E is true, faith seems like it will be epistemically irrational (bracketing issues of “cost-negligible”, the meaning of which in a peculiarly epistemic context is tricky to elucidate). Is the epistemic rationality of faith really subject to tricky stuff in phil of mind and action theory?

    1. Lara Buchak

      Great question. Here are my thoughts. The reason I think that the question is open is because I am not sure about the status of:

      (A) One can perform the act that is only beneficial if p, while actively believing ~p.

      I am not sure about this because I am not sure about the semantics of “belief” here. For example, consider a poker player who puts money in the pot, when she will win only if the queen of hearts comes up next (q). She has a very low credence in q, but nevertheless her action is rational because of the amount of money in the pot. Does she believe ~q? I’ve heard conflicting reports (perhaps others could weigh in here).

      If (A) is false, then faith precludes active disbelief. But that will be because there is some connection between action and belief (or between action and how much evidence is required for belief, or between action and contextual standards for belief-ascriptions). So epistemic rationality will already bring in these factors. If (A) is true, then faith is compatible with active disbelief, and there will be no issue about the epistemic rationality of faith.

  18. Lara Buchak

    I just want to say something briefly about this position that Trent lays out, because I think it has some initial plausibility:

    > an act A is an act of faith in proportion to what one risks on it, going “all in” and not hedging one’s bets.

    There is something right about this, and it is the same idea that underlies the first part of my analysis. However, I don’t think that this condition builds enough into the analysis of faith, for reasons like the following. I don’t think that an act like, e.g., betting $1 against a $6 pot that a heart will come up is an act of faith even in a weak sense. More generally, I don’t think we’d want every act that a good Bayesian agent would perform to count as an act of some faith in the proposition on which the act would turn out well. We need an additional condition, which in my view is the condition that one not look at further evidence. With the additional condition, the only situations in which the good Bayesian agent will end up having faith are the situations like those in sections VII, VIII, IX of my paper: evidence out there in the world is spotty, there are postponement costs, or there are interpersonal costs. And I think this fits better with when we tend to apply the term “faith.” Performing an act of faith has got to be something more than taking a risk — it’s got to involve taking a risk *and* having a particular attitude towards the evidence.

  19. Karen Frost-Arnold

    Thanks to Lara for the excellent paper, and thanks to everyone for the interesting discussion.

    I’ve been wondering how Lara would mark the distinction between an act that expresses faith and an act that’s just a pretense of faith. One feature we commonly attribute to trust (which I take it is similar to Lara’s notion of faith) is that it reduces our anxiety and simplifies our plans in a way that pretending to trust doesn’t. For that reason, I agree with Hieronymi (“The Reasons of Trust” 2008) that we need to be able to distinguish between having faith and pretending to have faith.

    Consider a modified version of an example from Hieronymi. You and I have agreed to meet for dinner tomorrow. But in the morning, I learn that you have just been invited to another event at that time. I now have reasons to doubt that you will show for our dinner. If you’re going to stand me up, I’d prefer to stay home. But if you’re going to show up, I’d rather go than stay home. I could call you to check that you’ll be there, but I think that this would do damage to our relationship by showing a lack of faith. So I prefer not to collect additional information. I think it’s very likely that you’ll stand me up, but I’m not certain either way. What I am sure about is that it would really damage our relationship if I stand you up and show a lack of faith. So I decide to go because you will take this as a sign of my faith. But I know I’ll spend the whole day feeling anxious about sitting at the restaurant alone, and I find myself making plans for how I’ll entertain myself when you don’t show up. Aren’t I merely pretending to have faith? But it seems that Lara’s account would call going to the restaurant an act of faith.

  20. Lara Buchak

    Great question. Here are my thoughts. The reason I think that the question is open is because I am not sure about the status of:

    (A) One can perform the act that is only beneficial if p, while actively believing ~p.

    I am not sure about this because I am not sure about the semantics of “belief” here. For example, consider a poker player who puts money in the pot, when she will win only if the queen of hearts comes up next (q). She has a very low credence in q, but nevertheless her action is rational because of the amount of money in the pot. Does she believe ~q? I’ve heard conflicting reports (perhaps others could weigh in here).

    If (A) is false, then faith precludes active disbelief. But that will be because there is some connection between action and belief (or between action and how much evidence is required for belief, or between action and contextual standards for belief-ascriptions). So epistemic rationality will already bring in these factors. If (A) is true, then faith is compatible with active disbelief, and there will be no issue about the epistemic rationality of faith.

    1. Lara Buchak

      Oops, this was a reply to Charles Leitz’s comment. I’ve reposted it up there, so I invite the moderators to delete this instance of it.

  21. Lara Buchak

    I want to thank you all for such a thoughtful and helpful discussion of my paper! This has been fantastic. Special thanks to Trent and Sandy. I am sorry I didn’t have time to address all of the concerns here (especially those of Michael, Michael, Menachem, Sam, Dustin, and Karen), but I will certainly be thinking about them as I refine and defend my views on the topic.

    I am planning to finish a companion piece to this paper later this fall, so please send me an email if you’d like to see a draft when it’s finished.

    Once again, thanks to Dani and the Association for the Philosophy of Judaism for hosting this discussion, and to all the participants for interesting, thoughtful, and well-articulated comments.

  22. Michoel Stern

    I know I am late in making this contribution; but I think the comments of my friend (through an e-mail), Dr. Joshua Golding of Bellermine university who has authored a couple of books related to this topic [Rationality and Religious Theism (Ashgate Philosophy of Religion Series) and The Conversation: A Novel by Joshua L. Golding (of which I had the honor of reading and commenting in the manuscript)] could add an interesting perspective to this conversation:

    Hello R’ Michoel,

    As I wrote yesterday, I believe there is a great deal to be said in response to Goldberg; one could probably write a paper showing the problems with this argument. I’ll just keep it as brief as I can with a few points. Feel free to quote anything I say here, if you would like to.

    First, I would concede that the fact that there has been systematic disagreement among apparently rational, smart people over controversial issues should in certain cases engender some humility about one’s own view. If one cannot offer an argument that is rationally compelling to convince all humans that one’s own religious view is correct, one should concede the live possibility that the other person could be right. However, I don’t think Goldberg’s argument is correct in saying that systematic disagreement among rational people should lead us to give up on the notion that there is a reliable route to truth in such matters, nor that we should somehow lose confidence in our own beliefs (which by the way are two very separate claims).

    1. I made the point yesterday to you that such “systematic disagreement” seems not only a feature of religious controversy, but also seems to hold for other topics: politics, morality, meaning of life issues, aesthetics, other philosophical topics, etc. Smart and supposedly very rational people have been arguing about these and many other issues for centuries, and so will Goldberg say the same about such issues (that they are therefore in principle undecidable by reason or that there is no reliable route to truth on these issues)? Perhaps so, but then why does Goldberg “pick on” religious views per se? Goldberg should be concluding that there is no reliable route to truth for many such matters. (But maybe that is indeed Goldberg’s view.)

    2. There is arguably a self-defeating fallacy in Goldberg’s argument. To get off the ground, the argument assumes (rightly or wrongly) that the arguers in the past are “scholarly, smart and well informed”. So if they are smart and well informed, then shouldn’t we perhaps take that as ‘evidence’ that the debate is a meaningful one, not just people blowing hot air, so to speak. Yet if Goldberg’s conclusion is right, there is no reliable way to truth on these matters; hence these people are really blowing hot air; hence we should conclude that these people aren’t so smart after all…but if they aren’t so smart after all….then the premiss of the argument is faulty!!

    3. Another self-defeater: Goldberg argues that we should abandon hope for settling rationally the truth of theses which have remained controversial over time. But Goldberg’s argument itself is controversial; evidently, smart people disagree with it (for they think there is a reliable route to truth); hence if Goldberg’s argument is right, one should not have too much confidence in Goldberg’s thesis!!

    4. In my opinion, this is perhaps the main flaw in the argument: the argument moves from “Many smart people systematically disagree over religion” to the claim that “There is no reliable way to settle such disagreements.” But there are perhaps many other possible explanations for why there has been systematic disagreement about religious topics (as well as about the other topics mentioned earlier). One possible explanation for example is that even ‘smart, well informed, scholarly’ people can be subject to bias, faulty inferences, lack of knowing the whole picture, etc. To mention one example….Hitler wasn’t stupid, the Nazis weren’t stupid; yet they had wildly false beliefs about the superiority of the so called Aryan race, and the supposed demonic, subhuman quality of certain other races. Now I realize Hitler and the Nazis are an extreme case, but the point I’m trying to make is that even smart people can be blind sided and make mistakes. On a smaller scale, we can all make mistakes, we have biases that are hard to uproot, we don’t know the whole picture, etc. The activity of “reaching the truth” is a human project that takes place over time, and perhaps we still have a ways to go, but if we keep trying patiently we will get there. It is entirely possible that some views held by ‘smart’ people are very wrong, some are partially wrong, some have grains of truth, some are pretty much right, etc. Perhaps there is so much controversy about religious matters (and other matters) because the issues are difficult and it is hard to know the truth reliably as it is for simple matters (such as what are the weather conditions). But that does not imply that it is in principle impossible to know the truth reliably at some time in the future. Nor does it somehow imply that if I have a view that seems rational to me to accept all things considered, I should suddenly question myself because I know that other rational people have a different view.

    5. While it is true that many smart and well informed people have disagreed over religion, that does not mean that every argument offered by everyone about religious matters is equally ineffective or inefficacious. Each argument must be looked at individually to determine, is it a good or bad one. In one of Plato’s dialogues, he says that some people are ‘misanthropes’ – people who dislike humans, and other people are misologists — people who dislike arguments and arguing — these latter people have become frustrated with the fact that some people argue with one another and they therefore conclude that all arguing is a waste of time. Goldberg’s position reminds me of Plato’s misologist.

    6. Some contemporary religious philosophers might say that Goldberg shows himself or herself to be an “evidentialist.” (Maybe he is not an evidentialist, but this argument seems to be so.) This is the idea that one can only reach beliefs based on evidence, and all beliefs based on evidence are ultimately to be based on other beliefs which are self-evidential. If there is no sufficient evidence for one’s beliefs one should throw them out or at least “question their reliability.” But many philosophers today believe that evidentialism has been ‘debunked’. I’m not sure what Goldberg would say to this.

    7. I believe Goldberg may be operating with a somewhat simplistic notion of rationality. Goldberg’s view seems to be that if there is no rationally compelling argument to settle a controversy, then, therefore, the debate is is useless or fruitless — we should all just either be agnostics, or if we are religious, we should admit that we are fideists ( i.e., admit that our faith is not based on rational considerations). But a position can be rationally defensible for a given community or a person, even if it is not rationally compelling for all humans. (This is a distinction I talk about in my books.) Even if I cannot convince my Christian colleague or my atheist colleague that Orthodox Judaism is true, that does not necessarily mean that it is not the most rationally defensible position for me to adopt. When it comes to adopting a religion, many complex factors must be taken into account, including person experiences, tradition, etc. There is also a role that “judgment” plays. This factor is a bit murky I concede, but rationality is a bit murkier than we might like. From someone else’s point of view, perhaps atheism does make more sense than theism. But that does not preclude the possibility that over time if we have extended conversations (and if the atheist starts coming over on Shabbos) he might perhaps change his mind and become a believer. By the way, Goldberg ignores the fact that despite all the systematic disagreement, some people do in fact change their minds after hearing certain arguments — shouldn’t we take this as “evidence” that rational persuasion in such matters is possible? In any case, I think we can concede the point that in religious controversies there is often no rationally compelling argument to settle the matter, but that doesn’t mean that arguing about it is futile, nor that some arguments are better than others, nor that some positions aren’t closer to the truth than others, nor that some positions aren’t more rationally defensible for some people than others.

    8. There is of course the pragmatic route that one could take, by that I mean, that even if epistemic considerations do not settle a controversy, there might be pragmatic reasons for adopting certain positions. However I take it that Goldberg may perhaps admit that point; he would claim that to resort to pragmatic reasons is to give up on a ‘reliable route’ to truth. Although that may be so, pragmatic considerations may still be a rational way to resolve a dilemma about what to believe.


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