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How Could Prayer Make a Difference? Discussion of Scott A. Davison, Petitionary Prayer: A Philosophical Investigation

Caleb Murray Cohoe


I critically respond to Scott A. Davison, Petitionary Prayer: A Philosophical Investigation. I attack his Contrastive Reasons Account of what it takes for a request to be answered and provide an alternative account on which a request is answered as long as it has deliberative weight for the person asked. I also raise issues with Davison’s dismissive treatment of direct divine communication. I then emphasize the importance of value theory for addressing the puzzles of petitionary prayer. Whether a defense of petitionary prayer is successful depends on whether it can support the sort of requests that are central to the theological practices of the religion in question, explaining how they could be known to be effective, and this depends on the value theory of the theology in question. As an example, I show the relevance the traditional distinction between temporal and spiritual goods could have for knowing whether one’s prayers have been answered. How prayers could make a difference also depends on the theology in question, raising issues of ecclesiology and collective action that demand further attention.


Petitionary Prayer; Reasons; Value Theory; Collective Action; Ecclesiology

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