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Epistemology

J. P. Moreland on Epistemological Particularism

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According to methodism, one must know how one knows before one can know and if one cannot answer the skeptical question of how one knows, then one is defeated by the skeptic. By contrast, epistemological particularism is the view that there are some particular items of knowledge (or justifiable belief) that one can know (justifiably believe) without knowing how one knows them, without the need for criteria for knowledge. According to the particularist, the skeptical question of how people know what they know is a heuristic guide for insight, for extending knowledge from clear paradigm cases to borderline cases. This is done by surfacing from clear cases certain criteria for knowledge (which are justified from prior knowledge of the clear cases and not vice versa), and employing these criteria to borderline cases in order to extend knowledge.

Dallas Willard on Defining Knowledge

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I take knowledge in the dispositional sense to be identical with the capacity to represent a respective subject matter as it is, on an appropriate basis of thought and/or experience. In the occurrent sense it consists in actually representing, at a point in time, the respective subject matter as it is, on an appropriate basis of thought and/or experience. This is not intended as an analysis or definition of knowledge, but as an initial description of cases which count as knowledge or knowing.

Dallas Willard on Knowledge Sans Belief

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The absence of any reference to belief in my statements on knowledge and knowing will be immediately noticed. The absence is intended, and though rare today in discussions of knowledge it is by no means unique in the history of the theory of knowledge. … Belief I understand to be some degree of readiness to act as if such and such (the content believed) were the case. Everyone concedes that one can believe where one does not know. But it is now widely assumed that you cannot know what you do not believe. Hence the well-known analysis of knowledge as “justified, true belief.” But this seems to me, as it has to numerous others, to be a mistake. Belief is, as Hume correctly held, a passion. It is something that happens to us. Thought, observation and testing, even knowledge itself, an be sources of belief, and indeed should be. But one may actually know (dispositionally, occurrently) without believing what one knows.

Richard John Neuhaus on America

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Intellectuals are inclined to think that they are certified as intellectuals by virtue of their capacity to complexify, and the messiness of history is such that any conflict provides ample opportunities to highlight evidence contrary to the general truth. In the present war and the larger story of which it is part, I continue to believe that America is — on balance and considering the alternatives — a force for good in the world. And I continue to be impressed by how many otherwise sensible people criticize that proposition as an instance of uncritical chauvinism rather than the carefully nuanced moral judgment that it is.

Os Guinness on Bad Faith

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Without truth we cannot answer the fundamental objection that faith in God is simply a form of “bad faith” or “poor faith.” The wilder accusation of “bad faith” … is one of the deepest and most damaging charges against these faiths in the last two centuries. Jews and Christians believe, critics say, not because of good reasons but because they are afraid not to believe. Without faith, they would be naked to the alternatives, such as the terror of meaninglessness or the nameless dread of unspecified guilt. Faith is therefore a handy shield to ward off the fear, a comforting tune to whistle in the darkness; it is, however, fundamentally untrue, irrational, and illegitimate — and therefore “inauthentic” and “bad faith.”

Dallas Willard on Methodological Naturalism

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One could retreat to a mere methodological naturalism and say that scientific method is our only hope as human beings. Whether or not we can adequately specify naturalism or know it to be true, one might say, the “scientific method” must be exclusively followed for human well-being. Naturalism would then be a humane proposal, not a philosophical claim. The proposal would be to assume in our inquiries that only the physical (or the empirical) exists and to see if inquiry based upon that assumption is not more successful in promoting human ends than any other type of inquiry.

Skepticism and the Veil of Perception

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Since Descartes, one of the central questions of Western philosophy has
been that of how we know that the objects we seem to perceive are real. Philosophical skeptics claim that we know no such thing. Representationalists claim that we can gain such knowledge only by inference, by showing that the hypothesis of a real world is the best explanation for the kind of sensations and mental images we experience. Both accept the doctrine of a ‘veil of perception’: that perception can only give us direct awareness of images or representations of objects, not the external objects themselves. In contrast, Huemer develops a theory of perceptual awareness in which perception gives us direct
awareness of real objects, not mental representations, and we have non-inferential knowledge of the properties of these objects. Further, Huemer confronts the four main arguments for philosophical skepticism, showing that they are powerless against this kind of theory of perceptual knowledge.

Phillip E. Johnson on the Age of the Earth

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In this I tend to share the concern of Richard Lewontin, who wrote in the New York Review of Books: "Who am I to believe about quantum physics if not Steven Weinberg, or about the solar system if not Carl Sagan?" What worries me is that they may believe what Dawkins and [Edward O.] Wilson tell them about evolution. What worries me is that so many physicists and geologists seem to think that the peppered moth or finch beak observations illustrate a mighty creative force that produced moths and birds in the first place. I hope that they apply more rigorous standards for evaluating evidence when they are estimating the age of the earth.

Richard John Neuhaus on Catholicism

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Priests and academics born into Catholicism tend to know all the inside stories, the flaws and foibles and legendary figures of the Church, and can regale one another with the rich lore of its characters and scandals. It is one big extended family. In that company, status is often contingent upon demonstrating that one has transcended the “Catholic ghetto.” That explains, at least in large part, why dissent from official teaching carries the panache of being sophisticated. The disposition is: “Yes, I am a Catholic (or a priest, or a theologian), but I think for myself.” The remarkably improbable assumption is that what one thinks up by oneself is more interesting than what the Church teaches.

Virtue Epistemology

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Virtue epistemology is an exciting, new movement receiving an enormous amount of attention from top epistemologists and ethicists; this pioneering volume reflects the best work in that vein. Featuring superb writing from contemporary American philosophers, it includes thirteen never before published essays that focus on the place of the concept of virtue in epistemology. In recent years, philosophers have been debating how this concept functions in definitions of knowledge. They question the extent to which knowledge is both normative (i.e., with a moral component) and non-normative, and many of them dispute the focus on justification, which has proven to be too restrictive. Epistemologists are searching for a way to combine the traditional concepts of ethical theory with epistemic concepts; the result is a new approach called virtue epistemology — one that has established itself as a particularly favorable alternative. Containing the fruits of recent study on virtue epistemology, this volume offers a superb selection of contributors — including Robert Audi, Simon Blackburn, Richard Foley, Alvin Goldman, Hilary Kornblith, Keith Lehrer, Ernest Sosa, and Linda Zagzebski — whose work brings epistemology into dialogue with everyday issues. ~ Product Description

Richard John Neuhaus on America and Meaning in History

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One reason American history is no longer told in terms of redemptive purpose is that we no longer think of history itself as having a purpose. History is a matter of this happening and then that happening and then the other thing happening, and who is to say what it all means? As the man said, “History is just one damn thing after another.” The very idea that history should have a meaning strikes many of our contemporaries as highly improbable, maybe even nonsensical. If there is no purpose, there is no meaning. There is, although perhaps only on the surface, something attractively modest about this way of thinking. Especially when it is contrasted with the pride, presumption, and delusions of divinely ordained power that sometimes attended talk about “Christian America.”

Alvin Plantinga Defining Christian Belief

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Christian belief is produced by a cognitive process (the “internal instigation of the Holy Spirit” [in Aquinas’ words] or the “internal testimony of the Holy Spirit” [in Calvin’s words] functioning properly in an appropriate epistemic environment according to a design plan successfully aimed at truth.

Richard Dawkins on Baffling Quantum Phenomena

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Quantum theory is counterintuitive to the point where the physicist sometimes seems to be battling insanity. We are asked to believe that a single quantum behaves like a particle in going through one hole instead of another but simultaneously behaves like a wave in interfering with a nonexistent copy of itself, if another hole is opened through which that nonexistent copy could have traveled (if it had existed). ¶ It gets worse, to the point where some physicists resort to a vast number of parallel but mutually unreachable worlds that proliferate to accommodate every alternative quantum event. Other physicists, equally desperate, suggest that quantum events are determined retrospectively by our decision to examine their consequences. Quantum theory strikes us as so weird, so defiant of common sense, that even the great physicist Richard Feynman was moved to remark, “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.” Yet the many predictions by which quantum theory has been tested stand up, with an accuracy so stupendous that Feynman compared it to measuring the distance between New York and Los Angeles accurately to the width of one human hair. On the basis of these stunningly successful predictions, quantum theory, or some version of it, seems to be as true as anything we know.

Joe Firmage on Scientific Knowledge

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You are not alone in a lack of understanding about the nature of inertia. Physicists do not know why objects resist acceleration — why objects push back when pushed. They do not know for sure why your head snaps back when your car speeds up. Inertia “just is.” Also, contrary to popular assumption, scientists don’t understand the mechanism that causes matter to attract itself — the force of gravity that makes objects fall to the ground. To be sure, scientists have painstakingly measured the rates of fall and resistance, and so we can build all sorts of technology that work flawlessly within the equations of these everyday forces. But we do not know why these forces work the way they do.

Richard Dawkins on Just Plain Truth

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It is simply true that the sun is hotter than the earth, true that the desk on which I am writing is made of wood. These are not hypotheses awaiting falsification, not temporary approximations of an ever elusive truth, not local truths that might be denied in another culture. They are just plain true. It is forever true that DNA is a double helix, true that if you and a chimpanzee (or an octopus or a kangaroo) trace your ancestors back far enough, you will eventually hit a shared ancestor.

Can Theists Really Think?

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Jeffrey Jay Lowder, founder of the Internet Infidels, offers a welcome clarification of the term ‘feethinker,’ in his article, “Is ‘Freethinker’ Synonymous with ‘Nontheist?‘” He ultimately agrees with Bertrand Russell that what defines a freethinker is not the content of his beliefs, but because “after careful thought, he finds a balance of evidence in their favor.” In principle, then, Lowder concedes that a theist could be a freethinker. His unremarkable conclusion is noteworthy because it demurs from the pervasive opinion of many skeptics that the defining characteristic of religious people is their unthinking credulity. Consider, by way of contrast, the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s ‘nontract’ (sic), “What Is A Freethinker?” Still, Lowder rejects the possibility that an Evangelical Christian could be a freethinker. Considering Lowder’s familiarity with the recent flowering of excellent Christian scholarship, especially in philosophy, his denial of Christian “free thinking” is, in the end, a bit puzzling.

Paul C. Vitz on Freud

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Freud makes another strange claim, namely that the oldest and most urgent wishes of mankind are for the loving protecting guidance of a powerful loving Father, for divine Providence. However, if these wishes were as strong and ancient as he claims, one would expect pre-Christian religion to have strongly emphasized God as a benevolent father. In general, this was far from the case for the pagan religion of the Mediterranean world-and, for example, is still not the case for such popular religions as Buddhism and for much of Hinduism. Indeed, Judaism and most especially Christianity are in many respects distinctive in the emphasis on God as a loving Father.

Kim Walker on Loss of Faith

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It’s a familiar story now. Young Christian was born into a God-fearing household. He learned to read from an illustrated children’s Bible (one of those with the sex and nastiness carefully bowdlerised). He went to a Christian school. He joined a Christian group in college. He got into an argument with an atheist and found his knowledge of the Bible wanting. He set out to study the Bible in greater depth, so he could answer the atheist’s objections all the better. He found the Bible hopelessly flawed and suffered a crisis of faith. He went to his church so his faith might be restored, but found no convincing answers for his questions. He left the church, convinced that there was something wrong with him, which made him unable to believe and left him eternally damned. He discovered that there was life after religion, and that it wasn’t all bad, and that there are more things in heaven and earth than his priest ever told him about. Now he calls himself an atheist.

Phillip E. Johnson on Rationality, or the Lack Thereof

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We all like to believe we are more rational than we really are. The painful truth is that we are naturally inclined to believe what we want to believe, and we may adopt some fashionable intellectual scheme because it allows us to feel superior to other people, especially those unenlightened masses who need the crutch or the discipline of religion. Of course people may also adopt a religious creed in order to justify themselves, especially in times or places where religion is fashionable. Everybody is subject to the temptation to rationalize. The temptation is probably greatest for those with the most intelligence because the more intelligent we are, the easier we will find it to invent convenient rationalizations for what we want to believe and to decorate them with high-sounding claptrap. Unless we take the greatest precautions, we will use our reasoning powers to convince ourselves to believe reassuring lies rather than the uncomfortable truths that reality may be trying to tell us.

Edna Ullmann-Margalit on Presumptions and Defeasability

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Given my focus on practical rather than theoretical reasoning, I may at this point consider weakening the principle of total evidence and examining a presumption instead. The presumption to be examined establishes, for purposes of rational action, a generic bias in favor of more knowledge rather than on less. To defend the adoption of the presumption in favor of being maximally informed amounts to defending the belief that following it will lead, in the long run, to better overall results, in terms of goal fulfillment, than the results of following its antithesis (i.e., a presumption establishing a generic bias in favor of acting on the basis of less knowledge rather than on more), or indeed better than the results of a case-by-case balancing (i.e., of following no rule or presumption at all).

The Myth of Certainty

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Do you resent the smugness of closed-minded skepticism on the one hand but feel equally uncomfortable with the smugness of closed-minded Christianity on the other? If so, then The Myth of Certainty is for you. Daniel Taylor suggests a path to committed faith that is both consistent with the tradition of Christian orthodoxy and sensitive to the pluralism, complexity and relativism of our age. The case for the questioning Christian is made with both incisive analysis and lively storytelling. Brief fictional interludes provide an alternate way of exploring topics at hand and vividly depict the real-life dilemmas reflective Christians often face. Taylor affirms a call to throw off the paralysis of uncertainty and to risk commitment to God without forfeiting the God-given gift of an inquiring mind. Throughout he demonstrates clearly how much the world and the church need question askers. ~ Product Description

Knowledge, Belief, And Character

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There have been many books over the past decade, including outstanding collections of essays, on the topic of the ethical virtues and virtue-theoretic approaches in ethics. But the professional journals of philosophy have only recently seen a strong and growing interest in the "intellectual" virtues and in the development of virtue-theoretic approaches in "epistemology". There have been four single-authored book length treatments of issues of virtue epistemology over the last seven years, beginning with Ernest Sosa’s Knowledge in Perspective ("Cambridge", 1991), and extending to Linda Zabzebski’s Virtue of the Mind ("Cambridge", 1996). Weighing in with Jonathan Kvanvig’s The Intellectual Virtues and the Life of the Mind (1992), and James Montmarquet’s Epistemic Virtue and Doxastic Responsibility (1993), Rowman & Littlefield has had a particularly strong interest in the direction and growth of the field. To date, there has been no collection of articles directly devoted to the growing debate over the possibility and potential of a virtue epistemology. This volume exists in the belief that there is now a timely opportunity to gather together the best contributions of the influential authors working in this growing area of epistemological research, and to create a collection of essays as a useful course text and research source. Several of the articles included in the volume are previously unpublished. Several essays discuss the range and general approach of "virtue theory" in comparison with other general accounts. What advantages are supposed to accrue from a virtue-based account in epistemology, in handling well-known problems such as "Gettier," and "Evil-Genie"-type problems? Can reliabilist virtue epistemology handle skeptical challenges more satisfactorily than non-virtue-centered forms of epistemic reliabilism? Others provide a needed discussion of relevant analogies and disanalogies between ethical and epistemic evaluation. The readings all contribute to our understanding of the relative importance, for a theory of justified belief, of the reliability of our cognitive faculties and of the individual’s responsibility in gathering and weighing evidence. Highlights of the readings include direct exchanges between leading exponents of this approach and their critics. In addition, the volume includes contributions from feminist writers who offer a reassessment of the intellectual virtues from witin their own research paradigm. ~ Product Description

Alvin Plantinga on Religion as a Placebo

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[I]s this posture in fact possible for a human being: can a person accept it, and accept it authentically, without bad faith or doublethink? I am to remain a Christian, to take part in Christian worship, to accept the splendid and powerful doctrines of traditional Christianity. However, I am also to take it that these doctrines are only mythologically true: they are literally false, although accepting them (i.e., accepting them as true, as literally true) puts or tends to put one into the right relation with the Real. And how can I possibly accept them, adopt that attitude toward them, if I think they are only mythologically true — that is, really false? I could, indeed, believe that they are mythologically true; believing that, however, doesn’t move one toward the right kind of life; it is only believing the teachings themselves that allegedly has that salutary effect. Once I am sufficiently enlightened, once I see that those doctrines are not true, I can no longer take the stance with respect to them that leads to the hoped-for practical result. I am left, instead, in the position of a sad and disillusioned Gnostic. I no longer hold Christian belief; I recognize, as I think, that it is in fact false. I also see, of course, that those who do accept it as true are mistaken, deluded; but at any rate they are in the fortunate position of enjoying the comfort and strength and consolation these false beliefs bring; they are also being moved closer to the right kind of life.

Colin McGinn on the Grammar of Scientific Explanation

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Can we gain any deeper insight into what makes the problem of consciousness run against the grain of our thinking? Are our modes of theorizing about the world of the wrong shape to extend to the nature of the mind? I think we can discern a characteristic structure possessed by successful theories, a structure that is unsuitable for explaining consciousness. … It there a “grammar” to science that fits the physical world but becomes shaky when applied to the mental world? ¶ Perhaps the most basic aspect of thought is the operation of combination. This is the way in which we think of complex entities as resulting from the arrangement of simpler parts. There are three aspects to this basic idea: the atoms we start with, the laws we use to combine them, and the resulting complexes … I think it is clear that this mode of understanding is central to what we think of as scientific theory; our scientific faculty involves representing the world in this combinatorial style.