Princeton Symposium on the Philosophy of Religion
Friday, May 14th
4:00pm - 6:00pm
Kant thought that moral considerations about what ought to be the case can sometimes justify (or even require) theoretical conclusions about what exists. His moral “proof” of God and the afterlife was influential in the Idealist and Pragmatist traditions, fell out of favor for a while, and is now being reconsidered in connection with newfangled “pragmatist” and “moral encroachment” theories in epistemology. In this short talk I’ll look at some of the moving parts in an effort to highlight both the promise and the pitfalls of moral arguments generally.
“Objective Reasoning in Religion”
There is a certain, not very well understood, epistemic strategy that we expect journalists, judges, parents, and especially natural scientists to follow: to take an objective point of view. This strategy seems to call for some sort of bracketing of one's perspective, background, interests, or desires. For example, a climate scientist is expected not to allow her political views to influence her evaluation of the extent to which the data supports a hypothesis.
Following Kierkegaard, I argue that "be objective" is not an absolute epistemic imperative. In particular, increasing one's level of objectivity comes into tension with other desirable attitudes, such as caring passionately about the outcome of one's inquiry, or ascribing moral worth to the object of one's inquiry. I argue then that are good reasons not to treat religious inquiries as continuous with inquiries in the natural sciences.
“Theodicy, Cosmodicy, and the Nightmare-Defense”
Most responses to the problem of evil work by suggesting that there is – or could be – some morally justifying reason why a perfectly good, knowing, and capable God would cause or allow the kinds of horrendous suffering that beset our world. This strikes me as an impossible task. But even if there could be such a justifying reason, it would leave God unspeakably tainted or sullied. I will therefore suggest a response to the problem of evil which avoids morally justifying reasons altogether, and instead – by appeal to dream-skepticism – pushes back against the claim that there really are horrendous sufferings in the first place. This response turns out to be relevant to a form of the problem of evil that is faced by atheists as well as by theists.
“Faith and Traditions”
One phenomenon arising in epistemic life is allegiance to, and break from, a tradition. This phenomenon has three central features. First, individuals who adhere to a tradition seem to respond dogmatically to evidence against their tradition. Second, individuals from different traditions appear to see the same evidence differently. And third, conversion from one tradition to another appears to happen suddenly or discontinuously rather than gradually and smoothly. This paper uses recent work on the nature and rationality of faith to show that these features can all emerge from individuals acting rationally—in particular, from individuals rationally having faith in the core assumptions of their tradition.
Zoom Link: https://princeton.zoom.us/j/91816024385