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I. Religion & Virtue Theory > Bishop on the shift from propositional-attitude focused to agency-focused dimen

John Bishop's recent "The Philosophy of Religion: A Programmatic Overview" (available at Blackwell's 'Philosophy Compass') argues that philosophy of religion should focus on agent as well as propositional evaluation, and "not only on the epistemic justifiability of holding religious beliefs but also on the moral justifiability of commitment to their truth in practical reasoning."

I here quote Bishop at length from his summary, in order to ask JBers what virtue-theoretic approaches in philosophy of religion might add or subtract from Bishop's points in his section, "A Case for Exploring Fideist Options":

["Here is a summary of the views I have advanced about the current state of the debate on the justifiability of theistic religious beliefs:

First, there has been a failure fully to appreciate the significance of the distinction between the belief-state of holding a proposition to be true and the action of taking it to be true in (practical) reasoning. The evaluation of the justifiability of religious beliefs cannot therefore be confined to belief states, it should also include mental actions of practical commitment to the truth of what is believed. (We need to recognise the difference between propositional-attitude-focussed and agency-focussed dimensions of evaluation.)

Second, the question of the justifiability of taking a religious belief to be true in one's practical reasoning is ultimately a moral question, since religious beliefs (virtually by definition) influence morally significant actions and styles of life.

Third, there is a major issue about how the moral justifiability of taking a religious belief to be true is related to the epistemic evaluation of that belief, and of practical commitment to its truth. In particular, the question arises whether the thesis of moral evidentialism holds – if not universally, then, at least for religious beliefs and their ilk. According to that thesis (which deserves to be afforded considerable prima facie plausibility), practical commitment to p's truth is morally justifiable only if p's truth is sufficiently supported by the agent's total available evidence.

Fourth, it is important to take seriously the possibility that core theistic truth-claims are evidentially ambiguous, even though it is clear that many philosophers continue to work, more or less hopefully, in what has been historically the mainstream with the aim of 'disambiguating' either for or against theism.

Fifth, the question arises whether stepping outside the mainstream by accepting evidential ambiguity requires the defender of the moral justifiability of practical commitment to theistic truth-claims to reject moral evidentialism and defend some form of fideism (i.e., a claim to the effect that such commitment without adequate evidential support can sometimes be justifiable).

Sixth, the important insight that the truth of theistic beliefs need not be evidentially ambiguous relative to a specifically theistic evidential practice – as expressed in different ways both in isolationist (or 'Wittgensteinian') epistemology and in Reformed epistemology – seems incapable of deployment in a moral evidentialist defence of theistic commitment. Such commitment can be justifiable under evidential ambiguity, then, only if practical commitment to a religious truth-claim without sufficient support from one's evidence can be morally permissible.

If this sixth and last claim is correct, it is reasonable to hold that anyone who accepts evidential ambiguity and wishes to defend theistic (or, for that matter, 'positive' atheistic) commitment will be obliged to defend some version of fideism. And this conclusion, of course, has important programmatic implications for philosophers of religion."]
October 31, 2007 | Registered CommenterGuy Axtell