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Quasi-Fideism and Religious Conviction

Duncan Pritchard


It is argued that standard accounts of the epistemology of religious commitment
fail to be properly sensitive to certain important features of the nature of religious conviction. Once one takes these features of religious conviction seriously, then it becomes clear that we are not to conceive of the epistemology of religious conviction along completely rational lines.
But the moral to extract from this is not fideism, or even a more moderate proposal (such as reformed epistemology) that casts the epistemic standing of basic religious beliefs along nonrational lines. Rather, one needs to recognise that in an important sense religious convictions are not beliefs at all, but that this is compatible with the idea that many other religious commitments are beliefs. This picture of the nature of religious commitment is shown to fit snugly with the Wittgensteinian account of hinge commitments, such that all rational belief essentially presupposes certain basic arational hinge commitments, along lines originally suggested by John Henry Newman. We are thus able to marshal a parity-style argument in defence of religious commitment. Although religious belief presupposes basic arational religious convictions, it is not on this score epistemically amiss since all belief presupposes basic arational convictions, or hinge commitments. The resulting view of the epistemology of religious commitment is a position I call quasi-fideism.

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